Monday, 8 July 2013

Is Labour Trying To Lose The Next Election?

That is the question I've been asking myself in recent weeks. Watching the behaviour of the Labour leaders, its the only rational conclusion I can come to.

For three years, Labour leaders have correctly stuck to their guns, and pointed out that Britain's terrible economic growth has been due to the economically illiterate policies of the Liberal-Tories. Austerity was an ideologically driven programme that was not only hitting workers hard, but was also damaging British Capitalism. As more and more economists, more and more organisations representing the interests of capital itself started to be more and more vociferous in echoing that very message themselves, and when, therefore, Labour was facing an open goal they then mis-kicked to such an extent that not only did they miss the open goal, but the ball bananad to such an extent that it ended up in their own goal.

Just at the very moment when the IMF was coming out more openly than ever before in telling Osborne to change course, it is instead Ed Balls and Ed Miliband that did the about face. They now committed themselves to implementing the very Liberal-Tory cuts they had for three years been opposing! That at a time when even sections of the Tory Party were unsettled and beginning to raise the need for an end to austerity. How on Earth could they think this was a good tactical move. Cameron and Osborne must have thought Christmas had come, and wasted no time embarrassing Labour over the change of course.

The same shift in Labour policy could be seen in relation to Welfare. Once again over the last few years Labour has pointed out the inequality of the Liberal-Tory policies on benefits. In relation to Family Tax Credit, the Government was forced to amend its policy, and it has come in for increasing opposition over the bedroom tax. But, Labour's policy now seems hardly distinguishable from that of the Tory's.

Once again they have missed a wonderful opportunity. Labour could have accepted the principle pushed by the Tories that work should pay, and which seems electorally popular, and turned it not just in Labour's favour, but in favour of the majority of workers employed and unemployed. Welfarism, like its earlier predecessors such as the Poor Law, is a means of maintaining a section of the population in a state of economic misery for prolonged periods, and in a state of dependency upon the capitalist state. Not that it is the capitalist state that finances it. Just as Poor rates were financed out of Parish contributions by workers, so Welfarism is financed out of the taxes of workers. Indeed, it is that fact that enables the capitalist state to drive such a wedge between contributors and recipients, even though most recipients are themselves or have been themselves contributors! At the same time that it holds millions of workers in such an abject condition, it thereby via various payments such as tax Credits, Housing Benefit and so on, acts to subsidise low paying, inefficient small employers.

Labour could have seized on the principle that work should pay, and committed itself to a policy that would really go some way to achieving that. They should have committed themselves to raising the Minimum Wage to around £18,000 p.a. or about two-thirds of the national average wage. Having done so they could then scrap all of the multitude of benefits and credits that make up workers low wages, and which benefit inefficient employers. They should also have committed themselves to scrapping all of the fudges such as the Winter Fuel Allowance, that was brought in because Gordon Brown had only increased pensions by 75p. Instead they should raise the pension up to around £12,500 p.a. or half the average wage.

Similarly, whilst a Minimum Wage of £18,000 would meet the requirement of making work pay, and be an incentive for workers to take work when it was available, workers also need to be adequately provided for against unscrupulous or inefficient employer sacking them, and thereby putting pressure on those out of work to take low paying jobs. Raising Unemployment Benefit to half the average wage, would achieve that goal too.

In the programme he wrote for the
 First International, Marx set out the role of
the Workers Friendly Societies, in providing
their social insurance.  In the programme
he wrote for the French Socialists,
he called for the state to keep its hands off
those funds.
But, Labour needs to be more radical than that, and again taking the Tories at their word. Cameron's catchphrase on coming to power was the Big Society, letting people run things for themselves. To prevent the capitalist state clawing all these things back in future, like they have always done in the past, Labour should negotiate with the TUC to take this social insurance out of the hands of the state and place it directly in the hands of the workers themselves. A Big Society project if ever there was one.

Labour and the TUC should calculate the nominal value of the social insurance fund that is theoretically held by the state to cover future pensions, unemployment, sickness etc. It is only theoretical because in practice, the state takes all workers' taxes and national insurance payments for these things and uses them immediately for whatever it wants, such as building nuclear submarines. Having calculated this pot, it should be transferred into a Workers Social Insurance Fund, run as a co-operative, and democratically managed by all of its contributors. We should bring in to it all of the workers pension funds held in various company pension funds.

On that basis the current divisions between workers in the state and non-state sectors would be removed, with all workers having a joint interest in their own single pension fund. The TUC could negotiate with employers for them to make additional contributions, thereby providing an incentive for workers to join a TU, and also meaning that negotiations over the nominal wage and social wage become combined.

Of course, the economic power that this would give to workers would be tremendous, because it would mean that they had the power to invest or disinvest from companies on a massive scale. Any company not meeting workers demands for a reasonable pay rise etc., could quickly find itself either having investment in its shares removed, or else could find itself being taken over by the workers pension fund, and management transferred to its workers. Once again, a Big Society project if ever there was one, extending the principles of democracy into the dark crevices of the capitalist system. It would also be a far more effective means of dealing with excessive CEO salaries and bankers bonuses than any of the convoluted, bureaucratic solutions that so far Vince Cable has failed to even introduce.

But, the events of the last week cap all of these previous capitulations to the Tories. I have no idea what went on in Falkirk. On the face of it, it seems that there were underhand and bureaucratic manoeuvres going on. But, it seems, and its almost always the case, that such manoeuvres were not just being undertaken by one side. These kinds of practices have happened in the LP, and most other organisations for as long as anyone can remember. Thatcher's selection was rigged, for years Labour's NEC has intervened to ensure the candidates it wanted were selected, and those it didn't were not. Back in the late 1980's, having been selected for the County Council by my Branch Party, the Regional Organiser contacted the Branch Chair to say, if they confirmed the selection the Region would close down the Branch. For years, back in the 1970's, I used to turn up to my previous Branch AGM confident that this year we had enough votes to take control only to find half a dozen pensioners, who no one had seen before, turned up having been signed up by the old guard at the local Community Centre, Bingo session the week before, their subs paid for them.

So, nothing is new. But, back in the ear;y 1980's we did manage to take control of my old Branch, because we did what needed to be done. Each week out on the streets, knocking on doors talking to people, dealing with their problems, helping them organise, and thereby recruiting real genuine members who would turn up week in week out, not just to vote. That is the real issue in Falkirk. It is the failure of those who want to bring about change to go out and actually do that work of actually winning people over. It is bureaucratic politics that has dominated the TU Broad lefts and rank and file movements for the last 30 years or more, which has focussed on the mechanics of turning out votes to win elections, pass resolutions and so on rather than win the battle of ideas and build something solid.

Do we really want to invite them in to investigate and arbitrate
disagreements within our movement???
That is an issue, however, that members of the LP, and of UNITE and other unions need to address themselves, but it an issue that they should address within the movement and not across the pages and screens of the capitalist media, not across the floor of a capitalist court, and certainly not across a police interview table! It has also been a fundamental principle that we do not bring the capitalist state in to adjudicate these issues within the movement. It is an indication of just how far removed the current leaders of the Labour part are from that tradition that they should do so. Bringing in the capitalist courts is bad enough, but bringing in the capitalist police to investigate the internal workings of the movement is beyond the pale. Whoever is responsible for it should be drummed out of the Party in disgrace.

Its the Tories who should be embarrassed by their
connections with the multi-billionaires, not Labour with its
 links to millions of ordinary workers in their Trades Unions!
But, of course, that too stems from the failure of the Party leadership to fight for the idea of the labour movement too, just as UNITE seem to have failed to do that to win genuine members to the Party. Instead, the Party leaders have again capitulated to the Tories because they are embarrassed by the link with the Trades Unions themselves. So long as labour is embarrassed by its links with millions of ordinary workers organised in the Trades Unions, because it feels that this link might lose it the vote of middle class voters, the Tories will have no difficulty themselves embarrassing them about it. Instead of being embarrassed about it, Labour should rejoice in its links with the Trades Unions, and then the Tories thrust will lose its sting.

If Labour joined with the TUC to put forward a campaign around the kinds of policy outlined above not only could they take the fight to the Tories, but they would open up the potential to win over large numbers of voters and to create millions of new TU members. When the Tories say you are doing the bidding of the unions, we would say, yes, and proud of it, because that means doing the bidding of millions of ordinary workers, whereas you do the bidding of a handful of multi-billionaires, of the bankers, the oligarchs, the tax dodgers and the rest of that crowd of parasites that live of the fat of the land created by those millions of Trades Unionists, those ordinary workers whose interest you have no concern for.


George Carty said...

Would raising the minimum wage be futile though by causing even more jobs to be moved to low-wage countries, or given to illegal immigrants working for less than the minimum wage?

Boffy said...

No. Any jobs that were going to be moved to low wage economies would likely already have been moved on the basis of current wage levels. The whole point is that the way to deal with competitiveness is actually not through low wages.

Marx quotes a number of bourgeois economists from the time who make the point that wherever wages are low the price of labour is high. That is because where wages are high, business is led to find more efficient methods of producing. He gives the example of the British textile industry, which was far more competitive than its European competitors, despite wages in Europe being 50% lower than in Britain. The reason was the higher level of productivity in Britain because of more investment in better machines.

The answer to employers paying below minimum wage levels i.e. breaking the law is to send them to jail. The answer to them exploiting illegal immigrants is to scrap immigration laws so no one is illegal. Labour should have the same free right of movement as capital. Then all workers would be free to join TU's and stop unscrupulous bosses.