Category Archives: Trade Unions

There’s Only One Bob Crow

Like many people on the Left, The Cat was shocked and saddened to hear about the sudden death this morning of Bob Crow at the relatively young age of 52. When I first heard the news, I refused to believe it and thought it was another Tory wind-up. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

Bob Crow was loved and respected by the members of his union, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (the RMT) and was admired by many outside the RMT. Many of us wished he could have been our union leader instead. If you look at Unison, for example, you have to ask yourself “What good is Dave Prentis”? How does he fight on behalf of his members”? The answer is, he doesn’t. He sells them short all the time.

The Right were fond of describing Mr Crow as a “dinosaur” and frequently claimed that he belonged to a past era. The Right’s use of this kind of terminology is deliberate: the Tories and their friends want to consign trade unions to the past and with them, workers’ rights. This suits them perfectly, because  the neoliberal world that we are currently forced to inhabit has no need for such fripperies as civil liberties and human rights. Such things get in the way of profits.

What this country needs are more Bob Crows, not less of them. But then, there was only one Bob Crow. He will be a hard act to follow.

Here he is in action a few weeks ago on The Sunday Politics.  Andrew Neil wasn’t prepared for this.

Farewell, Comrade Bob.

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Filed under Maritime and Transport Union, Rail, Trade Unions

Another Reason to Hate Virgin Media

Usain Bolt should be ashamed of himself.

Not only does Virgin Media make loads of money through a variety of hidden charges (late payment charge, non- Direct Debit charge and so on), they also don’t recognize unions.

I remember reading how Virgin Media had derecognized the Communication Workers Union (CWU) last year.

Since Virgin Media made the outrageous declaration before Christmas, the union and its reps at the company have been out all over the country, despite the snow and ice, distributing leaflets, explaining the situation and encouraging staff to join the union. CWU has also launched a special offer for new members at a discounted rate of £4.99 a month for their first year.

This has resulted in a boost in membership as staff at Virgin Media increasingly realise the benefit of an independent, democratically accountable trade union over a staff forum set up by the company.

Union Home reported that:

Virgin Media bombarded its staff with company propaganda in letters, emails and website messages, at compulsory briefings with company directors and even phonecalls from managers to employees who had not yet voted. How did they know? Was this not an anonymous process? And if managers knew who had voted, did they also know which way they voted? These were some of the concerns being passed to us by employees. The company did allow us a short statement on their intranet (described as ‘very difficult to find’ by one employee). We’re told that managers are receiving a break-down of the voting results to see who got the ‘right’ result for the company. What they will do with the information is anyone’s guess.

This is the modus operandi of a union-busting company. They disseminate anti-union propaganda among the workforce and coerce them into accepting inferior pay and working conditions through a combination of lies, smears, bullying and intimidation.  They even held a referendum… it was rigged.

For years, Richard Branson has cultivated a media image as a cuddly capitalist who looks after his workers.  But capitalists rarely care for their workers and Branson, who throws a strop when people refuse to bend over for him, has been employing union-busters for years.

Here’s Branson pleading with workers to throw away their rights. Note the easy smarm. Note the oily charm.

This article from The Daily Mirror shows just how ruthless and grasping Virgin Media is.

A broadband bill has gone viral online after a man was charged an extra £10 – for being DEAD.

Furious Jim Boyden posted a photograph of his late father-in-law’s Virgin Media bill on Facebook after the company added a fine for late payment.

The image was accompanied by a message to Virgin which apologised for his father-in-law having “the unheard of nerve to be dead and therefore being unable to pay you.”

The picture, posted on Monday, has now been shared by more than 84,000 times.

The bill breakdown shows “D.D Denied-Payer deceased” next to a charge of £63.89, referring to the fact that the dead man’s bank had declined the payment.

As a result, Virgin Media added a “late payment charge” of £10 to the bill.

This blog from Nicholas Shaxson tells us that Virgin Enterprises, the company that sells the Virgin brand to other companies, so they can pose as fully-fledged Virgin companies, moved its operations from London to Geneva.

How important is this kind of abusive tax practice to the Virgin empire? Well, it’s hard to know exactly, but in 2002 Branson was quoted in this way:

“Virgin’s offshore status has been crucial to its development: it allowed money to move from business to business without massive tax liabilities. “If we had not done it the way that we did, Virgin would be half the size that it is today,” argues Branson.”

So overall the rich get richer, the poor get poorer markets get distorted, and there is no net benefit to the world of any kind. Quite the opposite.

People like Branson get awards all the time. No doubt he’s a good businessman in some ways. But this stuff counts as a serious, serious black mark against his name, during these times of national strife.

What is interesting about this is the comments under the Telegraph story – readers are generally a right-wing bunch, but most of the ones, at least at the top, are unremittingly hostile to Branson’s move. Perhaps that comes more from feelings of patriotism than anything else, but still, it’s interesting.

Even if they’ve relocated to Geneva, isn’t it time Virgin’s offices were occupied?

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Filed under Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights

While Europe is on strike, Britain’s unions sit on their hands

If you don’t know by now, Europe’s unions have walked out on strike today in protest against the austerity measures being implemented by their governments. Meanwhile in Britain, there’s nothing.

A month ago, the TUC leadership proudly announced that they had consulted its members on whether or not to go for a general strike. Since then nothing has happened. It’s all gone a bit quiet.

Like it or not, the UK is geographically located in Europe, not the USA or the middle of the Atlantic  So what happened? It seems to me that our union leaders talk a good talk but when it comes to real action, they’re completely inert. They should be telling their members to express solidarity with their continental comrades and walk out. Instead, they pontificate, prevaricate and procrastinate while the government walks all over us.

A few weeks ago,  Dizzy Doug Carswell claimed that there was “no austerity in Britain”. Such sentiments come from the same wellspring as “there’s no poverty in Britain”. But that’s relativistic tosh. This may not be India or Chad, but for a supposedly rich nation, people are going hungry and many are forced to make the choice between food and heating.

Are we that cowed in this country that we can’t bring ourselves to strike back against those who inflict daily punishments on the nation’s workers, the disabled, the elderly and the poor?

The TUC is weak and led by a bureaucracy that would rather pimp its members to the nation’s rapacious capitalists than fight for jobs.

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Filed under Society & culture, Trade Unions

Marching for a Future that Works

I march, I protest, therefore I am. The Tories, UKIP and their LOLibertarian friends don’t protest because they don’t need to and even when they try to organize a rally, it’s a complete flop. The word “pathetic” springs to mind when I recall The Rally Against Debt last year, which attracted a mere 150 people. With that kind of dedication, it comes as no surprise that the Chinless Ones can’t even muster an insignificant counter-demonstration.  But perhaps it’s not a lack of dedication, rather, it’s more a sign of their complacency and the notion that they are born to rule. They don’t march or protest, therefore they rule.

As usual, I set off late to the march and it’s unlikely that I’ll reach Embankment in time. Somehow today feels different to the other rallies and marches that I’ve been on – even my choice of music seems strangely out of place.  I have Be-Bop Deluxe’s Modern Music on mp3 player instead of my usual march-rally-demo music courtesy of The Redskins. I’m sitting on the Number 10 bus; it moves slowly up the road as we pass a row of 8 Number 9s. The bus pulls up at the stop outside Olympia and people seem to appear from nowhere as they jostle to get on the bus. I’m expecting heavy traffic along Kensington High Street. To my surprise it isn’t too bad. Then, the driver comes upstairs to tell us that the route’s been changed because of the march. I should have known, really.

The bus heads down Bayswater Road, taking me away from the march but close to the rally point in Hyde Park. It’s getting late, there’s no point in hopping off the bus and taking the Tube to the Embankment. It’s Saturday and a lot of the network is closed for the ongoing upgrades. This is London. To be honest, I’m not sure that I want to listen to a load of dull speeches from the likes of Prentis and most of all, Miliband, whose appropriation of the phrase “One Nation”, still makes me feel queasy. Why is he speaking anyway? I’m at Marble Arch, there are tourists and shoppers (probably one and the same, really) not paying attention to where they’re going.

My ankle, which hasn’t been hurting up till now, starts to hurt. It’s an old war wound, so to speak; a compound fracture held together by a steel pin. It’s been giving me a bit of pain recently, often making it hard to walk. I limp through Speakers Corner, where there are, oddly enough, no speakers. There’s the usual range of left-wing paper stalls; all of them competing with one another for the ideological souls of passers-by. Gawd, even the RCG are here displaying a banner with their ever-present “Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!” slogan in big bold letters.  The issue of class doesn’t interest this lot. Some things never change.

After 24 hours of rainfall, the ground is heavy with ponds of water in between the woodchips  and patches of mud. It looks like the aftermath of a festival. It’s swampy. I fear I’m going to be on my feet for much of this.

I limp towards Hyde Park Corner. As I arrive I can see the head of the march and behind that, a big brass band coming through the somewhat blingy Queen Mother Gate.  Gawd, it’s ugly. Unite has given out vuvuzelas to people. Some may think that’s an inspired move. I’m not so sure. Lee Jasper rides past on his bike one-handed, a vuvuzela pressed to his lips. His saddle is far too low – again. I can see a helicopter hovering over what seems to be Oxford Circus/Regent Street. I know UK Uncut are focussing their attention over there and I’m tempted to quick-march over but my ankle has other ideas.

I hang around the gate, in the hope that I might see someone I know, but it’s pretty hopeless, so I limp back towards the rally point and take photos of some banners.

Richard ‘Tidy Beard’ Branson gets the caricature treatment on this one. Here’s another that caught my eye

The kindest cut, for sure.

The first speakers come and go and then, Christine Blower of the NUT comes on but I miss most of her speech because I’m looking for the loo. It goes down well. She’s the scourge of Hon Tobes and his chum Pob. Len McCluskey follows Blower and comes on like a rock star, saying all the right things. “We’re marching against a millionaire government… the whole rotten elite!” he says. The crowd loves it. He talks about the recent government scandals. Mitchell’s gone and Osborne’s been caught trying to blag first class travel with a standard class ticket on a train journey. One rule for them? You betcha. McCluskey starts to wind up his speech, “Food banks in one of the richest countries in the world?”, he demands in mock disbelief. He tells us that he want to “boost the minimum wage by a pound an hour”. I think we need to do better than that. Everyone should be paid a living wage. A citizen’s wage, maybe?

I need to eat my sandwich but there’s nowhere to sit… well, nowhere dry at any rate. A placard would be handy but I don’t carry other people’s placards; I prefer to make my own, if possible. I’ll have to bide my time…

Kevin Maguire in full effect!

The Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire bounces onto the stage and announces that he’s going to be the compère for the next half hour. He’s an entertaining fellow on television but working this crowd could be a tough gig for him. He looks cool and casual, he cracks funnies but I’m not sure they’re hitting the spot. There are huge  Daily Mirror balloons being suspended from people who wandering about the space.  The presence of these balloons tells us something about the ideological tenor of the British press: it is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Tories. But the Mirror is not The Morning Star. That’s on sale too, along with the smaller Weekly Worker. More people are arriving and it’s starting to look more like a rally. There are over 100,000 here already. There was just 150 at the Rally Against Debt.

Ed Miliband is introduced. He is greeted with a mix of boos, heckles and polite applause. I add my obligatory cry of “Traitor!” to the mix. Behind me someone says, “Blair never did this”. Yes, but that doesn’t prove a thing. Mr. Ed is playing liberal father to this crowd of, what he sees as, naughty children in need of a damned good chiding. “End the privatization of the NHS” he says. That gets a cheer but then he begins to talk about this newly-resurrected “One Nation” stuff. He’s in denial. It’s true. He repeats Labour’s commitment to cuts if it got into power, which gets the boos it deserves and makes me wonder why he bothered to come here in the first place. He leaves the stage to the sounds of boos and applause ringing in his ears. Here’s a choccy drop, now sit up and beg, Ed.

The dreary Prentis comes on. He’s still dull and still running his union like a brothel but he leaves to cheers and applause. He pressed the right buttons for some folk, I guess, but not The Cat. I find my friends to the left of the stage in time for Big Bob Crow. I find a discarded placard and sit down and eat my sandwich. This is better. Crow speaks about the changes in employment laws that strip workers of the right to take their employer to court for unfair dismissal. He also calls for a 24-hour general strike. Come on, be bold! Call for a three-day strike!

Crow is followed by Mark Serwotka. “Francis Maude walked into the Coventry tax office and the workers walked out”, he tells us. The crowd loves it. Maude is another relic of the Major sleaze years; the man who advised the nation to store petrol in jerry cans, empty baked bean tins and old milk bottles to beat a manufactured panic at the pumps.  He’s not the sharpest tool in the box. Serwotka tells us of the need to have “strike action right across the country”. The crowd concurs. It’s the only way.

It’s 3pm and there are still marchers arriving at the park.  My friends want to leave. I’m feeling a little tired too. We part and I head to The Bling Gate to meet someone else who’s just arrived. On the way, I bump into someone from uni who’s in the Socialist Party. We have a chat. For some reason, the Worker’s Revolutionary Party is mentioned, I make some comment about Gerry Healy and his sexual abusiveness and go off to meet my other friend. It’s getting late and when I meet her, it’s time to head home. It’s starting to get dark and my ankle is really giving me a hard time.

When I get home I hear there were 200,000 at the rally. The Rally Against Debt could only muster a tiny 150.

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Filed under Cuts, Government & politics, Trade Unions

The Doctors’ Strike

Some called it a strike, others called it industrial action, whatever it was, it was a sign that something wasn’t right. The last time doctors took industrial action was in 1975.

Yesterday’s strike was greeted with the usual round of media booing and hissing. Wednesday I received a couple of tweets from Kathryn Stanczyszyn of LBC Radio. The first asked if I knew anyone who’d had a routine operation or an appointment cancelled and the second said “the BMA say it’s not a strike”. I didn’t know anyone, so I couldn’t help.  I sent a final reply, “Like I say, if GPs are taking industrial action, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark”. I wasn’t expecting a reply and I didn’t get one.

I support any industrial action. People have the right to withdraw their labour and that includes doctors. This government hasn’t been able to label the British Medical Association (BMA) as ‘trots’ but they have trotted out the usual spiel about the strike being “wrong” and “pointless” (Lansley’s word not mine). Industrial action is never pointless and most certainly isn’t wrong.

The front page of today’s Evening Standard (which came with an “EXCLUSIVE WORK BY DAMIEN HURST FOR OUR READERS”) screams, “PATIENT FURY WITH STRIKING DOCTORS” adding “But four out of five London GPs refuse to join pension protest”.  The article continues on page 4 where we are greeted with a quote from non-striking GP, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, “Other people are facing hardship, this is an own goal for the BMA”, he opines.  Pravda couldn’t have done a better job. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that this paper was owned by a Russian oligarch. It is, you say? Well, there’s a surprise!

MPs even suggested ministers should now look at further cuts to medics’s “gold plated” pensions, which are far higher than those for millions of workers in the public and private sectors.

Now they’re laying it on with a trowel. Notice how these hacks casually drop in “public sector”. This is the same public sector that the Evil Bastard has been attacking since the Con-Dems took power.  To give their article a veneer of ‘balance’ they provide the views of a doctor who “didn’t vote for industrial action” and one who did. The doctor who didn’t is… yes, you guessed it, the same doc who was quoted earlier. Yeah, that’s objectivity.

The BMA’s chairman, Dr. Hamish Meldrum, gets a single sentence in which to offer a defence, compared to the smirking, smarmy Lansley, who gets three paragraphs, his case made for him by the trio of hacks who wrote the article.

The strike is over but the backlash from the right-wing press will continue. For them a strike is always wrong and the government line should never be questioned. And that’s the problem: the media never asks why. Instead they try to find vox pops that support their predetermined position and thus create the impression that there is a consensus against industrial action.

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Filed under BMA strike 2012, Journalism, Media, propaganda, Tory press, Yellow journalism

Postcards From The Barricades (Part 9)

As usual, I’m listening to The Redskins on my mp3 player to get me in the mood for today’s march and rally in defence of public sector pensions. But the rally is about more than pensions: it’s about jobs and security. It’s also about the cuts that are being imposed upon the lowest paid workers. In most other circumstances, when a bigger person picks on a smaller or weaker person, the bigger person is called a “bully” and rightly so.  Bullies have become very much a feature of light entertainment schedules in recent years. I’ll talk about that a little later on. The coalition government and its chums in Fleet Street are the bullies. No mistake there. There are 23 millionaires in the cabinet, it’s not as if they’re going to have to make a choice between food and heating this Winter.

The BBC News Channel spent the entire morning, interviewing as many right-wing voices as they could muster in advance of the marches and rallies.  All of them repeating the same tiresome “This strike is wrong, blah, blah, blah…”. I don’t have time to listen to much of it as I’m too busy trying to get out of the door in good time for the march.

The man sitting next to me on the Tube is reading a copy of The Times, the headline reads “Osborne Strikes First”.  Ha ha, very funny. I alight at Holborn. I hate this station because the exit from the Piccadilly Line northbound platform is far too small. It’s like an inadequate storm gully that’s blocked with a few leaves and twigs, which overflows at the slightest hint of rainfall. As soon as I step out of the station, I’m swept along by a passing group of marchers down Kingsway. I arrive at Lincolns Inn Fields. It’s crowded and there are certainly more people here than the BBC’s Jon Sopel estimates. There are a few children about too. Here are a couple of kids getting into the spirit of things.

I walk along the southern side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I can see some UCU balloons in the distance.  I spend a bit of time milling about, looking for people I know when I meet some familiar faces from UEL. One of them sees Dennis Skinner and shouts “Beast of Bolsover”! He smiles and nods.  Here’s The Beast scoffing a biscuit.

I can also see Peter Tatchell to my left but he has his back to me. We begin to make our way to Victoria Embankment,   I’m actually at the front of the march for a change. I took this picture of this rather funky looking float, I’d guess you’d call it.

The march proceeds slowly around Aldwych and onto The Strand. I find myself standing next to the BBC’s Mike Sergeant (yes, he is the son of John), who doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything. No sign yet of Paraig O’Brien. We’re finally allowed down The Strand. Lee Jasper cycles past me, he’s shouting through a loud hailer.

Either his bike is too small for him or the saddle is too low. At any rate, he shouldn’t be peddling with his arches. I walk past a load of scaffolding opposite Gilbraltar House, there are loads of photographers hanging from it. A security type says to them, “You realise it’s not fixed”. It looks fine to me; it would take more than twenty blokes to pull down this load of scaffolding. A few elephants, maybe… Security dude is being a spoilsport. Typical.

The French Confédération générale du travail, (CGT) have sent a delegation too.

It is one of five such confederations and is considered to be the most moderate. They’re not what you might call militant syndicalists either, the CGT… then again, nor is the TUC.

The pace of the march seems to be dictated by the authorities. Is there someone somewhere who is timing all of this? Working out the average speed over the distance travelled?  My phone goes off. I find somewhere to take the call. I’m not one of those people who walks and talks on the phone at the same time. As I finish the call, I can overhear some bloke next to me say, “They look like civil servants” adding “The problem with these marches is they attract activists”. Spoken like a true Sun reader. No irony. Full of sneering contempt for his fellow workers.

We arrive at Victoria Embankment. The speeches begin. The NASUWT’s John Rimmer’s speech gets cut short. I’m not sure why. Maybe he wrote too much and ran out of time. I don’t know. The UCU speaker who followed spoke without the aid of notes and was passionate but didn’t venture beyond slogans. I miss most of Christine Blower’s speech because I’m being distracted by the whispered news that some form of direct action is going to take place near Piccadilly Circus.

Unite’s Len McCluskey tells us that there are 50,000 on the march. Not bad for mid-week.  He’s followed by Ken Livingstone, who reminds us that MPs, who work in the public sector receive a pension of £40,000 per annum. He tells us that suicides on the tube network have doubled because of the redundancies and the debt people have been saddled with. Mark Serwotka of the PCS closes the platform speeches. “You are the people that make this country tick”.  For sure, because without public sector workers, the bins wouldn’t be emptied. I can’t think of anyone who would sign up to the idea of taking their refuse to the dump themselves. “It’s time that the Labour Party got off the fence and supported this  strike”, Serwotka says. I agree. The message coming from the Labour leadership is confused. There are Greens on this march and yet I didn’t see a single Labour Party banner.

I get home to hear the usual nonsense about the strike. Gove assumes the role of a graverobber and fashions a narrative from bones of long-dead trade union leaders. It’s unconvincing and undignified stuff. He cuts a desperate figure of a man. All guff and no substance.

Later on The One Show, Jeremy Clarkson is asked for his thoughts on today’s strike. Here’s what he says,

Franco would have loved him. Pinochet too. He’s a bully and bullying has become Britain’s national pastime. Top Gear is as much about bullying as it is cars. Some of the nation’s current crop stand-ups rely on getting laughs by picking on the little guy. H L Mencken once said “Comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable”.  There by the grace of God and all that stuff. Clarkson thrives on his role of professional gobshite and all-round boor. But this time, he’s overstepped the mark. A wise man once told me that, “There’s no such thing as a joke”. I truly believe that Clarkson meant what he said. By the way, Clarkson is a pal and neighbour of Lord Snooty and Rebekah Brooks.

I’ll leave you with this picture of a man with a well-pimped wheelchair.

The fight goes on!

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Filed under Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights

Cable: if you go on strike, we’ll make things worse for you

Business Secretary and former SDP member Vince Cable has told the unions that going on strike will risk Britain’s fragile economic recovery. He has also told them that the government will tighten its already draconian anti-union laws. Cable has got that so wrong: the recovery was threatened the moment The Hon. Gid decided to raise VAT and impose swingeing cuts on the public sector. Whether this government likes it or not, the private sector relies on the public sector for a lot of its work. Threatening the unions with further draconian legislation is pretty low. Britain already has the toughest anti-union legislation in Europe and its anti-union laws are on a par with those of the US and Chile.

A number of public sector unions are to go out on strike later this month. As a member of the UCU, I will be joining them.

This from today’s Independent

Union chiefs will be warned by a cabinet minister today that a concerted programme of industrial action against the Government’s austerity measures could result in anti-strike laws.

Up to one million workers are expected to walk out on 30 June in protest against the spending cuts, and further shows of union strength are planned for the autumn.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will tell a union conference that such moves could backfire by playing into the hands of senior Tories pressing for fresh controls on industrial action.

You can read the rest here.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending, Trade Unions

Why right libertarians take semantic refuge in classical liberalism

Classical liberalism in action – Victorian workhouses were prisons for the poor

Recently, I’ve noticed the numbers of right libertarians who have suddenly started claiming that they’re really “classical liberals”. Like cockroaches when they’re exposed to the light, vigorous scrutiny of their soi-disant libertarianism sends them scurrying into the gap between the skirting board and the floor of discourse. There, in the darkness, they feel safe. There they can claim that they are “classical liberals”. But their new-found old position relies entirely on the mass ignorance of the term “classical liberalism” and the historical materialism of the 19th century when classical liberalism (then called liberalism) was first applied as an economic doctrine.

These born-again classical liberals will apply the same narratives that exponents of neoliberalism will use as a defence of their doctrine: that wealth can only be created for all  if the state is “smaller” and business is freed from “bureaucracy” and “red tape” and that wealth will consequently trickle down to those below. This, they argue, will bring forth ‘freedom’ but the freedom that they speak of only applies to a small section of the population: the factory owners and the rentier capitalists. Trickle down doesn’t work, yet these born again classical liberals will claim that it does – though none of them can point to examples of where trickle down has succeeded.

So what are the key defining features of classical liberalism and how does it differ, if at all, from right libertarianism?

Classical liberalism’s key features are

  • Individual liberty
  • smaller state/limited government
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and the needy
  • Social Darwinism
  • Utilitarianism

Right libertarians

  • Individual liberty
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Smaller state/limited or no government
  • Freedom of speech. religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and needy
  • Social Darwinism

As you can see, there isn’t much difference between either of them and when right libertarians suddenly proclaim that they are “classical liberals”, they are dishonest in making this largely artificial distinction. The real reason for declaring themselves as classical liberals has more to do with romanticism, nostalgia and outright dishonesty than anything else. They want to go back to a time when people knew their place and stayed there. Social mobility did not exist; the working class stayed in their place. They were denied access to higher education and were tied to their places of work. Knowledge was reserved for the privileged and the powerful. In the eyes of the dominant political hegemony, knowledge in the hands of the subaltern classes was considered dangerous (think of William Tyndale’s struggle to publish the Bible in English). Because with knowledge and ideas came the possibility that authority could be questioned, which could lead, in turn, to civil disobedience and insurrection…even though this happened anyway and was met with considerable force.

The neoliberals and those right libertarians who subscribe to the small state notion are actually the  descendants of classical liberals. They can no more return to the past, then I can become the King of Tonga. They have selectivized the past by appropriating certain memories of the classical liberal period, which always seem to orbit the sun-like narrative of the British Empire. When one puts the point to them that Adam Smith’s assertion that “free markets will lead to world peace” is fallacious proposition, they will respond by asking, “did free market states go to war against each other”? It’s a red herring. There were plenty of wars, many of them waged by free market states against other nations. Free trade relied on wars and the colonization of other countries. It also meant outdoing the competition from other free market nations. Presumably, for our apologists, the Opium Wars were not waged in the name of free trade but were waged to punish the Chinese for not accepting opium rather than silver as payment for silk? It’s a fatuous argument but it’s the sort of defence right libertarians would use.  In the 19th century, the British Empire was the biggest drug pusher on the planet- there is no getting away from it.  It was because of this idea of  “free trade” that countries like China were forced to “open” their markets and thus open themselves to decades of foreign domination.

Classical liberals denied the right of workers to organize. It was only when the last of the Combination Acts was repealed that workers were able to organize in any meaningful way.  Socially, classical liberals were very much against the idea of the relief of poverty and sought to contain it within the Poor Laws. The workhouse, which had been around since the 14th century, saw an expansion in the 19th century after the passing of the Poor Law of 1834. Today’s born again classical liberals have similar ideas with regards to the poor and the unemployed, for whom they have resurrected the artificial distinctions of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Any money spent on the relief of poverty was seen as another impediment to the freedoms of the rich and powerful. One ‘argument’ that I encountered was “The working class were richer (sic) in 1899 than they were in 1801”. But this is another red herring: the working class were never “rich” and lived in overcrowded rented accommodation. Few of them moved up the social ladder. Those that did became the petite bourgeoisie: the shopkeepers, market traders or were otherwise recruited as instruments of oppression, nor did they buy their own properties in leafy districts of the industrial cities nor did any of them become industrialists. There was a glass ceiling preventing those at the bottom from becoming say, MPs, because of the property qualification.

The right libertarian is a dishonest creature that substitutes myths and tropes for facts. They extrapolate their arguments from sets of numbers in the hope that no one will spot the flaws in their thesis – which always overlooks society in favour of cold economic statistics. This decontextualization of numbers from the societal whole is their only defence and it’s a weak one. But the worst offence is to claim that they are “classical liberals” when they are really right libertarians looking for a way to divert attention away from their very postmodern interpretations of  selfishness and greed by hiding in the darkness of the past.

The use of the phrase “classical liberalism” by right libertarians is therefore an exercise in semantic subterfuge and should be laughed off as such.

UPDATE 11/5/11 @ 1213

I found this interesting blog written by an anarchist. Right libertarians don’t live in the real world.

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Postcards From The Barricades (Part 8)

Topshop after it was attacked

Today’s TUC led march was billed as the “March for the Alternative”. There were other events taking place around London that I was hoping to get to but I’m not omnipresent. I set off to the march and rally by bus rather than the Tube. The traffic along Kensington High Street was bumper to bumper. This journey was going to take longer than normal and as the bus arrives in Knightsbridge, I decided to get off and walked the rest of the way. I walked past the set of swanky apartments. There were security guards hanging around and a couple of cops.  I really don’t think a breakaway group has this place in mind but, given the level of paranoia among the filthy rich, perhaps it isn’t so surprising. I had arranged to meet my old friend, Matt, who had come up for the day from leafy, affluent Hampshire. We had a coffee from a nearby stall and as we did so, the head of the march arrived. We joined the other marchers and headed towards the rally point. There was a chilly easterly blowing and I began to regret not wearing a pair of gloves.

I checked my camera and I was annoyed that it needed batteries. I had to use my mobile phone instead. The picture quality is going to be inferior. We sat and listened to a couple of speakers. Then came Brendan Barber who gets a fairly decent welcome. He was followed by Ed Miliband. Matt and I and many others boo him. He talked the same rubbish that he does for the cameras. Like so many politicians of his ilk, he name-checks the suffragettes and others. “We know what this government will say”? he says. That was my cue for a heckle “What would your dad say”? I have a pretty loud voice, so there was every chance that he’d heard me. I followed that with “Your dad must be spinning in his grave”! He made a comment about Martin Luther King. God, this is cheap. “How dare he”? demanded Matt. I agree. It’s pretty shabby and an insult to the great man. We decided to leave for Oxford Street. Milly Band wrapped up his speech and was followed by UNISON’s Dave Prentis. It looks like we got out in time. Prentis is a really dull speaker.

Milly Band speaks

We got to Oxford Street to see that Topshop had been attacked. There was a line of riot cops standing in front of the store. I shouted “Phillip Green is a tax dodger”. But it was really too late for that. I could see David Aaronovitch being interviewed by a television crew. What’s he doing here? Surely he isn’t demonstrating? Of course not and when the interview is finished, he scuttles off. No doubt to write a hatchet job on UKUncut and the march.

Former student radical Aaronovitch scuttles off to write a hatchet job for the Murdoch press

I encountered Robin Hood as we walked towards Tottenham Court Road.

It's Robin Hood!

We went off down Poland Street. Years ago, I went to castings on this very street. We stopped off for coffee and tea and took a seat on some steps. We saw another march heading down Wardour Street towards Oxford Street and head it off.

We decided to head for Trafalgar Square We avoid Piccadilly Circus and walk down Haymarket. Suddenly, there was a terrifying scream. I rush off to see what’s going on and take a few pictures but the TSG has surrounded someone who appeared to have been wrestled to the pavement. I don’t want to get anywhere near the TSG, they’ll hit and kick you as soon as look at you. Matt gets a better shot of it than I do. He has a proper camera.

We get to Trafalgar Square and there are still people marching towards Hyde Park Corner. I get a text from Andy, who’s down from Bury with his family. I haven’t seen him for well over 20 years. We meet and chat. I can see someone carrying a placard with a man’s face on it with the word “DEMAND” underneath. The face looks like that of John Maynard Keynes. When I get home I find out that’s exactly who it is.

Keynes? Yes! Hayek? No!

We can see helicopters over Piccadilly. We soon discover that Fortnum and Mason’s is being occupied by UKUncut. It started to get chilly, so we decide to find somewhere to have a hot drink and a seat. But most of the cafes are full and we have to walk all the way down The Strand till we find one with some seats. On our way, we spotted a anti-Mugabe demonstration on the north side of The Strand. This really is a day for demonstrations but my guess is that particular protest will be ignored because of all the others.

When I get home, the rolling news coverage is full of the usual rubbish about how “violence” had “overshadowed the peaceful TUC march”. The usual suspects come out and blame a “hardcore of activists”. I decide to check the Telegraph blogs for a laugh and I’m not disappointed when I see this blog from Dan Hannan. The comments are a psychoanalysts’ dream. Hannan asks “WHAT alternative”? If we told him the alternative, he wouldn’t listen nor would he want to know. As far as he and his buddies are concerned, it’s a case of TINA. But in the 30 years that we have lived under a neoliberal economic system, there have been 3 recessions and 3 very serious financial crises. Wages have stagnated and the cost of living has gone up. Compare that with the Keynesian period. It’s a no-brainer. Sunny Jim Callaghan’s decision to adopt monetarism eventually led to Thatcher’s enthusiastic embrace of neoliberalism. Now look where we are – again.

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The Redskins – Unionize

Great song

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