Tag Archives: Chile

Life on Hannan World (Part 9)

The occasion of Milton Friedman’s 101st birthday…no, he’s still dead, I just checked… has moved the Lyin’ King to pen this gushing tribute to the man whose economic theories have quite literally turned the world into a toilet. Dan opines:

Today would have been Milton Friedman’s hundred-and-first birthday. The Chicago economist, who died in 2006, is already acquiring that almost Homeric status that normally comes only decades after a man’s life.  Perhaps social media have speeded up the process, or perhaps it’s the fact that Friedman’s strongest enthusiasts are often students with no direct memory of their hero.

Friedman, darling of neoliberals everywhere and supporter of Pinochet’s Chile, where his theories were rammed down people’s throats, is given the airbrush treatment… well, that’s not quite true. Friedman’s supporters refuse to see any flaws in the man. In their eyes, he was the very model of economic perfection. So no need for the airbrush.

Yet for someone who talked so movingly about ‘freedom’, Friedman was capable of turning a blind eye to political repression. For him, all that mattered was the functioning of the free market with its insistence that social relations be reduced to financial transactions between actors. Friedman was also fervently against any form of regulation, so in a pure Friedmanite dystopia, surgeons can practice without proper qualifications and driving licenses would be banned. Can you see the dangers? Yes? Well, Dan can’t.

Here, Hannan tells us:

Friedman did not limit himself to academic theories; he had a keen sense of how to translate ideas into action. He understood politics very well, and used to say that his aim was not to get the right people elected, but to create a climate where even the wrong people would do the right thing. Every year I spend in politics I find that insight more brilliant.

Yes, Friedman understood politics so well that in his perfect world, certain kinds of political activity would have been outlawed because they didn’t fit into his perfect model of a rampant capitalist society.

Here we get to the core of the blog:

What mattered to him most of all? Oddly enough, it was nothing to do with monetary policy, or indeed with economics at all. He believed that the single measure that would do most to ameliorate society was school vouchers.

School vouchers, loved by Pinochet’s Chicago Boys and loathed by those who have had to put up with a substandard education, have become a sort of gold standard in the eyes of the Right.  Higher education, too, has moved backwards. For the last few years, students have been protesting over the inequalities of the education system. Dan simply ignores this.

He had first suggested the idea as early as 1955 – in an intellectual climate so unfriendly that he might as well have been proposing that children be cooked and eaten.

You can see where this is heading and predictably enough, Dan tells us:

But the climate shifted, not least through Friedman’s own interventions and, by the end of his life, a few places were prepared to give his idea a go. Chile had led the way in the 1980s, followed by Sweden in the early 1990s. Milwaukee became the first city in the US to adopt vouchers 23 years ago, and around a quarter of a million American pupils are now benefiting.

“Chile had led the way in the 1980s” he says. No mention of the oppressive weight of the Chilean ‘small state’ crushing those below. No mention of the thousands rounded up, tortured and executed. No mention of the oligarchical free-for-all ushered in by Pinochet’s ‘hands off’ approach to the economy and its disastrous consequences for ordinary Chileans. He continues:

Though Britain has stopped short of full-blown vouchers, Michael Gove has plainly embraced the idea that governments can fund schools without running them, and the free schools programme is one of the greatest of the Coalition’s achievements.

The truth of the matter is that the Tories have been historically opposed to the state school system and have spent the better part of 60 years talking it down when they’re out of power and running it into the ground when they’re in government.  The unspoken dictum here is “some state schools are bad, therefore the state education system is bad”.

The Cat believes that the Tories would prefer it if everyone paid for their schooling and if you can’t find the money, that’s tough. You will die illiterate and ignorant. Why? Because it’s God’s will. That’s why.

Finally Dan tells us:

With his wife, he established the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has helped thousands of students, especially poor students, to get a decent education.

“Choice” has been used as a battering ram since the 1980s. But choice is neither here nor there. You can only have what is available. The Tories believe that if you don’t live in the catchment area of a school that you’ve fetishised, then you should be able to bypass the rules and send your kid there anyway. Better still, set up your own free school where you can be free to inculcate children in any superstitious tosh that occupies your thoughts.

While 75% of free schools were found to be “good” or “outstanding” by OFSTED inspectors, 25% were not. This article from The Guardian says:

One of the first free schools to open has been placed on special measures and given an inadequate rating by Ofsted inspectors, in an untimely blow to the government’s flagship education policy.

Adding:

Inspectors were severe on the primary school’s leadership, saying its governors failed to grasp the school’s “serious shortcomings”, while school leaders “believe the school is far better than it is”.

The inspection team gave the school the lowest grade, of “inadequate”, in three of four categories, for pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management. “Too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly,” inspectors concluded. “Unless this is put right quickly, pupils are unlikely to flourish in their secondary schools and future lives.”

To borrow from the Tories’ lexicon of smears, I could say that “some free schools are poor, therefore all free schools are poor”. But unlike Dan,  I’m not that petty.

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Filed under Conservative Party, Education, Government & politics, Neoliberalism, Society & culture

The Chilean equality protests

There have been ongoing protests against the two tier education system in Chile for the last year or so but these have quickly turned into protests against economic inequality as much as anything else. The media in the UK has been largely silent about these large-scale demonstrations, for reasons that are best known to themselves. I have written about Chile’s economic and political systems several times on this blog and I have also alluded to the relationship between what the Tories are doing to state education here, and what happened to state education under Pinochet.

Here’s an interesting article from The Council for Hemispheric Affairs, from which I will quote a couple of excerpts. This one tells us,

By establishing market competition, the privatization policy was intended to “weed out” inefficient and disorganized schools as students, aided by readily-available voucher subsidies, gravitated toward institutions that would provide a better education.

Sounds familiar. No? There’s more…

Despite the government’s ostensible goal in equalizing the quality of education for students across economic lines, three discernible types of inequalities have emerged in its wake: stratification and inequality in access to private education, substantial differences in the quality of education received, and unequal opportunities for students pursuing higher education.

We already have a deeply-rooted class system in this country but the Tory-led government wants more. Let’s read on,

The introduction of education vouchers has produced an increasingly stratified school system in Chile on the basis of socioeconomic status. Unrestricted school choice in Chile has exacerbated stratification within the Chilean school system rather than provide more opportunities for low-income students to access better schools. Although such students now have the ability to apply to private institutions, two factors have prevented them from gaining equitable access to these schools. Low-income students suffer from a lack of information concerning school choice. They also rarely have the necessary means of transportation to attend private schools in urban areas.

Choice and equality are in conflict with one another.

As a result of these educational vouchers, the school system has become increasingly stratified due to “creaming,” in which private institutions have enacted selective admission policies designed to accept only the “cream of the crop.” These discriminatory policies have resulted in a sorting effect, in which higher income students have migrated in large numbers to subsidized fee-based private schools, while lower-income students remain entrapped in municipal public schools.

Presently, the Tories and their associates in the press have conducted a concerted campaign against the state education system. This has taken the form of op-ed pieces by journalists who are sympathetic to Gove’s ‘reforms’ as well as the usual drip feed of comments and articles that complain about “Marxist” teachers who have “corrupted the minds of our youths”, who all seem “unable to recognize” elements of a by-rote history syllabus: dates, names, places and so on. Such a history syllabus teaches pupils nothing other than the recall of information. The Tories see the teaching of critical thinking in subjects such as history as fundamentally dangerous, because those who can think for themselves represent a threat to the neoliberal project because they possess the ability to analyze and criticize. This isn’t something our leaders want. They want consumers. In the collective mind of the Right, free schools offer the perfect means to correct this tendency by inculcating the values of classical liberalism (sic), religious dogma and superstition in the young. Kill their cognitive abilities at an early age and they will be putty in their hands.

The two-tier education system that began under Pinochet has been left to operate intact since the dictator lost the plebiscite in 1988 and the country was returned to ‘democracy’. But this democracy is a fatally flawed one; the institutions and legal mechanisms that were put in place under El Caudillo, were never dismantled, repealed or modified. Instead, successive Chilean governments have turned a blind eye to the building tensions. Now matters have come to a head.

An article on the BBC website opens with this characteristic establishment view,

Chile is usually regarded as one of the most orderly and stable countries in South America, so the images that have come out of the capital, Santiago, in recent days have been especially shocking.

The presumption that Chile is “orderly and stable” is predicated on the myth of the Chilean ‘miracle’ and all the repression that came with it. The repression, like the wheat’s chaff, is simply discarded by apologists for the sake of getting to the narrative grain that supports the notion of the mythological ‘miracle’.

However this article tells us something else: that 45% of students go to state schools, 50% go to voucher schools, which are subsidized by the state and the rest go to elite private schools. The state system has been allowed to decay, while those schools that receive state subsidies through the voucher/tax credit scheme flourish. These voucher schools have done a great deal to create a system of educational haves and have-nots. We can see the potential danger of this in Gove’s  divisive free school system.

The rationale behind the voucher schools and free schools is predicated on the slippery Hayekian notion of consumer choice in an education ‘marketplace’, in which all social relations are magically transformed into relationships between consumers and vendors. We have witnessed, with our own eyes in this country, what the effect of forced marketization has had on, for example, the NHS. It’s a cancer that eats away at the very patient that the plan was intended to cure.

What is revealing about the current situation in Chile is that the former Education Minister, Joaquín Lavín, was a prominent supporter of Pinochet and wrote a book titled  Una revolución silenciosa (A Silent Revolution), which praised The Caudillo’s  economic policies. This also tells us something about the direction and tenor of the  Piñera government: it tried to reclaim the fragments of the glorious Pinochet years. Indeed, there were no less than three of the original Chicago Boys in  Piñera’s first cabinet. Although Lavín was replaced in a reshuffle last year by Felipe Bulnes (who left the role six months later to take up his post as Ambassador to the United States) nothing has been done on the part of the government to address the fundamental issues. Indeed, the reshuffles are cosmetic and amount to little more than window-dressing.

Desperate and with the president’s approval ratings in decline, there are signs that the Piñera government is resorting to even more extreme measures to crush dissent. This article from Al-Jazeera is particularly illuminating.

This article from Huffington Post says,

President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday a tax overhaul he is sending to congress will raise $700 million that will be enough to bring real changes to Chile’s education system. He spoke as thousands of students marched in the streets to denounce the plan as insufficient.

“This is a very profound change. It seeks quality and equal education. It establishes a system of credit that favors 90 percent of the students, and the state will provide the resources,” Pinera said in national television broadcast. “Businesses will have to pay more taxes.”

Here Piñera offered a sop to the protesters and nothing more. The state education system remains in tatters.

Watch as Milton Friedman, who argued for education vouchers, defends his ideas in this clip.

It’s interesting how no one challenges his ideas. The word of Friedman, the principal architect of neoliberal economics, is holy writ. Notionally axiomatic, the Right clings to his theories like a heavy person adrift at sea holding onto a tiny piece of driftwood for comfort.

As if to rub salt into the wounds of those who suffered at the hands of the DINA and the rest of Pinochet’s security apparatuses, Pinochetistas have recently released a documentary praising the dictator. This prompted another series of protests.

Here’s an edition of Faultlines that was shown on Al-Jazeera in January 2012.

Part of the blame for the current situation must lay with the centre-right La Concertacion electoral front, which did nothing to reverse Pinochet’s policies. They failed to dig deep into the soil and pull out the weeds, roots and all. But did they have the power to do so without repercussions?

Each demonstration in Chile tends to end with the gendarmerie using water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the protesters. This shouldn’t surprise us because the biggest threat to Chilean democracy is, of course, the military, who still enjoy a great deal of political influence. The armed forces have never left the political stage and wait in the wings for their moment.

Today has seen more protests with buses set on fire.

Piñera has another two years to run on his presidency and at this rate, he won’t be getting a third term unless…let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

POSTSCRIPT

Here’s Camila Vallejo’s blog. Vallejo is the Vice President of the Chilean Federation of University Students.

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Memo to Dissembling Dan and his rich chums

Today in the Torygraph, Dan Hannan has written some pure drivel about #OccupyLSX. Apparently he went down to St Pauls Cathedral to have a “chat” with the camp and to try and convince them that he is right and they were wrong (he’d tell you otherwise). Today he’s produced what he’s called his “Memo to the Occupy protesters: here are ten things we evil capitalists really think”.  Here’s what he says.

1. Free-marketeers resent the bank bailouts. This might seem obvious: we are, after all, opposed to state subsidies and nationalisations. Yet it often surprises commentators, who mistake our support for open competition and free trade for a belief in plutocracy. There is a world of difference between being pro-market and being pro-business. Sometimes, the two positions happen to coincide; often they don’t.

Well, that may be the case but it’s your version of capitalism that’s destroying us. By the way, there is no such thing as free trade.

2. What has happened since 2008 is not capitalism. In a capitalist system, bad banks would have been allowed to fail, their profitable operations bought by more efficient competitors. Shareholders, bondholders and some depositors would have lost money, but taxpayers would not have contributed a penny (see here).

Wrong, Dan, it is capitalism. You certainly can’t describe it as ‘socialism’.

 3. If you want the rich to pay more, create a flatter and simpler tax system. This is partly a question of closing loopholes (mansions put in company names to avoid stamp duty, capital gains tax exemption for non-doms etc). Mainly, though, it is a question of bringing the tax rate down to a level where evasion becomes pointless. As Art Laffer keeps telling anyone who’ll listen, it works every time. Between 1980 and 2007, the US cut taxes at all income levels. Result? The top one per cent went from paying 19.5 per cent of all taxes to 40 per cent. In Britain, since the top rate of income tax was lowered to 40 per cent in 1988, the share of income tax collected from the wealthiest percentile has risen from 14 to 27 per cent.

Simpler tax system? Yes. Progressive tax system? Yes. Flat tax? No, they only benefit the rich. The Poll Tax was a flat tax. Those on lower incomes had to pay the same amount of tax as those people drawing down 6 figure salaries. This is dishonesty but then, this is what I have come to expect from Dissembling Dan. Another thing that Dan doesn’t mention about Art Laffer and Reaganomics is that millions of Americans lost their jobs and many more suffered as a result of the new tax system. Far from reducing overall debt, Reagan actually managed to create more debt. As for “closing loopholes”, the Tories will make the right noises but will fail to act. They don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

4. Those of us who believe in small government are not motivated by the desire to make the rich richer. We’re really not. We are, in most cases, nowhere near having to pay top rate tax ourselves; our most eloquent champions over the years have been modestly-paid academics. We believe that economic freedom will enrich the country as a whole. Yes, the wealthy might become wealthier still, but we don’t see that as an argument against raising living standards for the majority.

The motivation behind the movement to create a “smaller” government is to protect the interests of capital, thereby making the rich richer. Night watchman governments will exist only to rubber stamp the diktats of corporate interests and to use force against those who act against those interests. Just have a look at Chile, then magnify that by 2.  By the way, Dan’s rich.

5. We are not against equality. We generally recognise the benefits in Scandinavian-style homogeneity: crime tends to be lower, people are less stressed etc. Our objection is not that egalitarianism is undesirable in itself, but that the policies required to enforce in involve a disproportionate loss of liberty and prosperity.

This is contradictory. Here, Dan says that he is not “against equality” but then ends by saying that egalitarianism will result in a ” disproportionate loss of liberty and prosperity”. What he doesn’t say is that he’s worried that his class – the ruling class – is scared of losing its privileges; the privileges that it assumed for itself as a result of exploiting others who are less privileged.

6. Nor, by the way, does state intervention seem to be an effective way to promote equality. On the most elemental indicators – height, calorie intake, infant mortality, literacy, longevity – Britain has been becoming a steadily more equal society since the calamity of 1066. It’s true that, around half a century ago, this approximation halted and, on some measures, went into reverse. There are competing theories as to why, but one thing is undeniable: the recent widening of the wealth gap has taken place at a time when the state controls a far greater share of national wealth than ever before.

Here, Dissembling Dan seems a bit confused. He’s mistaken his hat stand for a hat. Comparing the present day to 1066 is like comparing apples with oranges. When he says, “Britain has been becoming a steadily more equal society since the calamity of 1066″, I wouldn’t expect to be struggling under the same brutal feudal system that the Normans imposed on the country but, at the same time, the last vestiges of feudalism remain – particularly with regards to property and common ownership of the land. He could have easily said that “Britain has been becoming a steadily more equal society since 43” or since the so-called “Glorious Revolution”. Utter nonsense.

7. Let’s tackle the idea that being on the Left means being on the side of ordinary people, while being on the Right means defending privileged elites. It’s hard to think of a single tax, or a single regulation, that doesn’t end up privileging some vested interest at the expense of the general population. The reason governments keep growing is because of what economists call ‘dispersed costs and concentrated gains’: people are generally more aware the benefits we receive than of the taxes they pay

In this paragraph, he tries to deflect attention away from the way the right (the Tories) protect their interests through the use of legislative mechanisms. Not content with hammering the low and medium waged by demanding that they work more hours for less money, the Right also attacks their culture. There are many examples of this: The Six Acts, The Licensing Act (1737), The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Since the Tories came to power in 2010, they have moved swiftly to carve up the rest of the welfare state (in spite of having no mandate to do so). Top of their list is the NHS, an institution that is despised by our Dissembler-in-Chief and which they want to privatize. Remember this?

8. Capitalism, with all its imperfections, is the fairest scheme yet tried. In a system based on property rights and free contract, people succeed by providing an honest service to others. Bill Gates became rich by enriching hundreds of millions of us: I am typing these words using one of his programmes. He gained from the exchange (adding fractionally to his net worth), and so did I (adding to my convenience). In a state-run system, by contrast, third parties get to hand out the goodies.

This has come straight from Ayn Rand’s dead mouth. She said that capitalism was the “only moral system”. When Dan says that capitalism (or rather his variety of capitalism) is “the fairest scheme yet tried”, he does not mention other “schemes”. Doubtless, he has in mind the economic system of the USSR, which was not socialism at all but a bureaucratic form of capitalism. Furthermore, Bill Gates has not “enriched” me or anyone else. That’s bullshit. He enriched himself and then turned into a present-day Victorian philanthropist. Was it a sense of guilt on Gates’s part? Maybe. If it was guilt then some of this nation’s rich could do with a dose of that guilt and start paying higher taxes.

9. Talking of fairness, let’s remember that the word doesn’t belong to any faction. How about parity between public and private sector pay? How about being fair to our children, whom we have freighted with a debt unprecedented in peacetime? How about being fair to the boy who leaves school at 16 and starts paying taxes to subsidise the one who goes to university? How about being fair to the unemployed, whom firms cannot afford to hire because of the social protection enjoyed by existing employees?

What on earth is he talking about? Fairness “doesn’t belong to any faction”… what does that mean? Nothing. Here it would appear that he was running out of ideas to fill up his list of ten. These examples of ‘unfairness’ are nothing more than diversions. Riding in the slipstream of these thoughts are education vouchers and a two-tier health service.

10. Let’s not forget ethics, either. There is virtue in deciding to do the right thing, but there is no virtue in being compelled. Choosing to give your money to charity is meritorious; paying tax is morally neutral (seehere). Evidence suggests that, as taxes rise, and the state squeezes out civic society, people give less to good causes.

More Randian drivel. The subtext here is that charities won’t be able to do good works if we have a more egalitarian economic system.

Well, there you go, comrades. I don’t expect the tents outside St Paul’s to fold overnight. But perhaps we might at least engage honestly on some of these issues rather than talking past each other. ¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

I’m not your comrade and you have signally failed to engage honestly.

Hannan would claim that the occupiers don’t have any ideas or that they don’t have an argument. What Hannan isn’t going to do is listen and take on board ideas, especially if those ideas don’t intersect with his barmy brand of  neoliberalism. For him, a Randian world of unfettered capitalism and shrunken states is the path to ‘freedom’.  Yet, history shows us that when capitalism is unregulated it leads authoritarianism because the state acts only to protect the interests of the capitalists, many of whom enjoy exceptional privileges under the iron rule of the caudillo.

Dissembling Dan’s preferred version of capitalism has already been imposed on the people of  Chile and now his government want to complete the neoliberal project that was started under Thatcher.

Far from having no ideas, the Occupy movement has shown that it has more ideas than our current government (and Dan Hannan), who want more of the same.

Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it

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Filed under Conservative Party, economic illiteracy, Economics, Government & politics, laissez faire capitalism, Late capitalism, neoliberalism, Spiv capitalism

Chile, neoliberalism and discontent

Chile is the birthplace of neoliberalism. It is the country where this damaging economic system was first imposed. In the years since the departure of Augusto Pinochet from La Moneda Palace, the ‘reforms’ that he forced onto the Chilean people remain almost completely intact. None of the successive left-ish governments had the courage or the decency to truly change things beyond the piecemeal. Granted, while Pinochet was still alive, he remained a threat and a rallying point for his followers and could call on his old friends in the military to intervene should these governments swing too far to the left. He also made himself Senator-for-life, a role that he was forced to relinquish after he’d  returned to Santiago after his house arrest in Surrey pending charges of human rights abuses in Spain.

But the chickens have come home to roost in this Freidmanite free market paradise. Three months ago, classroom boycotts by students and pupils led to mass student protests that have morphed into general protests against the right wing (some would say pale Pinochetista) government of Sebastian Piñera. A general strike was called for this week.

Today, during the second day of strikes and demonstrations, a 16 year old boy was shot dead by the police and nearly 1400 people have been arrested. Scores of people have been injured.

The Guardian says,

President Sebastian Pinera’s ministers played down the significance of the protests. Police estimated Santiago’s crowds at just 50,000 and said only 14% of government employees stayed off work.

Union leaders claimed 600,000 people joined demonstrations nationwide. Raul de la Puente, president of the government employees union, said 80% of his members joined the strike, at the cost of two days’ pay.

Pinera said the strike was unjustified, claiming Chile‘s economy was growing strong and providing more opportunities. He said he remained open to those seeking dialogue, although his administration has refused to discuss some student and union demands, arguing the real work of reform must be done in Congress.

Does any of this look familiar? It should. Lord Snooty said, when public sector workers went on strike over pensions in June, that the strikes were “unjustified”. Here’s what The Economist says,

The students want education, which in Chile relies heavily on private funding, to be turned into a non-profit, state-dominated, system. The unions want the mostly private pension system to be supplemented with more state provision. They also want changes in labour laws and an increase in business taxes to pay for more social spending. And they are demanding a new constitution. Like many of the things the protesters want changed, the constitution dates from the 1980s and the dictatorship of General Pinochet (although many of its clauses have since been amended).

Remember, this is Chile. Yet the Tory-led government want to pursue exactly the same course. People can read the riots in this country as purely criminal acts of looting and violence. In a society where conspicuous consumption is idealized and wages have stagnated and the cost of living has spiralled, those riots can be seen as economic rebellions. This is what is currently taking place in Chile.

Oddly enough, there is no mention of the protests in Chile on the Daily Telegraph website. I have checked its Chile section and there is nothing.

Piñera’s government is in denial. The Financial Times tells us that,

Rodrigo Ubilla, interior ministry undersecretary, said it had turned out to be “a big failure” with low turnout and most of the country working normally.

But Chile is not working normally. Three months of protests by university students demanding free education have exposed festering social sores.

Further down the article, Sebastian Aguilera of the Economist Intelligence Unit said,

the Pinochet-era foundations for healthcare, pensions and education “were experiments, back in the day. Some go right and some go wrong. I wouldn’t say the education system is a failure, far from it. But it certainly is not fair”.
The FT article also notes
Mr Piñera has two other problems. One is the renewed spectre of Pinochet. That was always going to be a problem – his is the first government of the right in more than half a century and although Mr Piñera himself is more to the centre-right, some in his entourage have been saying very dictatorship-era sounding things lately.

I reported in this blog how Piñera had appointed some former Chicago Boys to his cabinet.

The left-ish Concertación electoral bloc isn’t faring too well either. Like the Labour Party in opposition here, it has failed to take the lead. Indeed, it followed the post-Pinochet governance formula. Labour, under Blair, stuck to the neoliberal formula of the Thatcher and Major governments. It is in a similar moral and political bind under the leadership of Ed Miliband.

Here’s a Euronews report

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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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Institute of Directors – Our solution for growth: end collective bargaining

When I saw this story from the BBC, I thought that I had gone to sleep for a year and woke up thousands of miles away in Chile. The Institute of Directors have today called for an end to collective bargaining for public sector workers,

The IoD has put forward 24 “freebie” proposals, which it says would cost the government nothing but would benefit growth, particularly in the private sector.

Among the most controversial would be the call to curb trade union negotiating power in large public sector bodies, said BBC business correspondent Joe Lynam.

The IoD also suggests that workers should pay a deposit of £500 when taking their employers to industrial tribunals to deter what it describes as “vexatious claims”.

Who says the IoD is not out of touch when they make proposals such as these? What this Tory-led government and its partners in the IoD and Taxpayers Alliance want is for this country to adopt the Chinese economic model with a bit of Chile on top. In essence this is the laziest of lazy thinking: stimulate growth by denying workers their human rights in what is supposed to be a ‘liberal democracy’.  There is nothing democratic about the IoD or its proposals.

A spokesman for the Trades Union Congress said the IoD’s real aim was to make life easy for directors at the expense of their workforce and to lower pay and conditions in the NHS.

Brendan Barber the General Secretary of the TUC said,

“Our economy is not struggling because of the relatively modest platform of rights people have at work,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Taking these away and taking away collective bargaining from the NHS, that would do nothing to generate growth.

“We need decent fair pay systems, and collective bargaining is the way to deliver that.”

Naturally, the Treasury responded to IoD’s proposals with enthusiasm,

“We are glad the IoD has agreed that our deficit reduction strategy is central to growth.

“We have been clear that the Budget will build on work we have done already as we move towards a new model of economic growth.”

A “new model for economic growth”? This can only mean one thing: a new kind of economic slavery. Hayek argued against centralization in his book The Road to Serfdom. The title says it all.  However in order to fully pursue a Hayekian economic order, civil liberties have to be suppressed and workers are forced to work for peanuts and for longer hours while the rich get richer at the expense of those who work for them. Nothing must interfere with profit.  Ironically, the very things that Hayek argued have the potential to create a new form of serfdom. But Hayek didn’t notice this because, like a spurned lover,  he was too busy formulating an extreme antithesis – a poison penned letter –  to Keynesianism. But Hayek wasn’t really thinking about ordinary workers when he wrote his book, he was thinking about the wealthy.

These people won’t stop until many of us are working 14 to 16 hours a day in workplaces that are surrounded by razor wire and security guards with dogs.

Run them out!

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Filed under Economics, Government & politics, Growth, Late capitalism, Public spending, Spiv capitalism

Hannan’s cosy take on the Freedom Association

McWhirter

Norris McWhirter: the world was so much better in black and white

David Baddiel has put Dan Hannan’s nose out of joint by announcing on a programme on BBC Radio 5 that The Freedom Association (Dan is a member of the council, though he doesn’t mention this in his blog) is kind of “sub-BNP”. Our Dan isn’t happy. He says,

If I complained about every instance of BBC Leftism, I’d never blog anything else. Although the Beeb has tried to address the overt partisanship in its news department, many of its drama, comedy and consumer affairs programmes remain as jejune as ever. (All Rightists are evil, every Tory is one step away from Hitler, won’t it be hilarious when Thatcher dies etc.)

Hmmm, he clearly hasn’t paid much attention to the BBC’s news output since the Tory-led government took power. The BBC has practically bent over backwards to please the government. Its coverage of anything that occurs outside the faux left-right axis of Parliamentary politics has been woeful. That aside, Hannan’s take on both The Freedom Association and the McWhirter brothers is informed wholly by his membership of the organisation. You could say, that in a Bourdieusian sense at least, that he’s brought both his political and cultural capital to bear on this blog. Let’s read on,

Norris, whom I got to know as a teenager, was a kind, generous and modest man: a man of real and deep friendships, who had the gift of kindling enthusiasm in others.

Good for you. Presumably this happened while you were at Marlborough or did he pop out to Peru to hang out on your parent’s ranch? He continues,

This shouldn’t need saying, but since Mr Davies is throwing Mosleyite slanders around (they were, incidentally, blackshirts, not brownshirts), it’s worth recording that Norris played his part in the war against Hitler, serving in the Royal Navy. He was, above all, a lover of freedom: he could see that the corporatist Heath-Wilson state was deleterious to personal liberty as well as to economic prosperity. Nowadays, most of us can see that, but in the 1970s his was a brave and lonely voice.

What Dan overlooks from the lofty height of his ivory tower is that The Freedom Association is a very right-wing organisation that supported the apartheid regime in South Africa which it described as a “free country” that was part of the “free world” (sic). TFA also supported the English cricket tour of  South Africa in the early 1980’s. TFA’s reason for doing this had nothing at all to do with freedom, it was an expression of solidarity with a vile right wing regime whose idea of freedom was relative to a person’s skin colour. It can therefore be argued that Hendrik Verwoed loved freedom too.

Dan provides us with a link to Thomas Cranmer’s (not the very dead archbishop) website. Cranmer says,

But during the Radio 5 interview is an appalling misrepresentation by Baddiel of The Freedom Association, which Norris established in 1975 with his twin brother Ross and Viscount De L’Isle. The Association is at the forefront of campaigning in defence of personal and political freedom.

The TFA do what? That’s funny, I thought they actively supported regimes that offered no personal or political freedoms – especially if you’re poor or working class. Countries like Pinochet’s Chile were considered worthy of their support. That’s not just glaringly obvious hypocrisy, it’s a perversion of the English language. TFA does not stand for freedom  –  at least not the kind of freedom that is accessible to all.

Indeed, the TFA make every effort to stifle people’s freedoms. During the Grunwick dispute, TFA was involved in John Gouriet’s strike-breaking efforts (Gouriet was a founding member of TFA). TFA are against people’s right to join a trade union, which means that they are against free association…unless you happen to be a member of TFA or any other right wing group of course.

TFA was involved in the March for Free Expression in 2006. The subject of their ire wasn’t the fact that someone had accused the McWhirter brothers of being fascist (their political views were quite clearly very close to fascism) but the fact that they wanted to “express solidarity with the right-wing Danish paper Jyllands-Posten” over its decision to print racist and anti-Muslim cartoons.

One of the official sponsors of the “March for Free Expression” was the Freedom Association, whose campaign director Mark Wallace was a platform speaker at the Trafalgar Square rally. This organisation gained notoriety in the 1970s for its energetic defence of the “freedom” of Grunwicks to oppress and exploit its employees without interference from the trade unions. Equally energetically, it has defended the right of racists to promote hostility towards minority ethnic communities.

While I am not a fan of David Baddiel, he does have a perfectly valid point about TFA and the McWhirter brothers.  The only defence that Hannan can muster in support of McWhirter is,

…it’s worth recording that Norris played his part in the war against Hitler, serving in the Royal Navy.

That proves nothing. In fact, some of the most rabid fascists in this country “fought against Hitler”. Colin Jordan who founded the National Socialist Movement was in the army with the Royal Army Educational Corps during WWII. He ostensibly ‘fought against Hitler’.

Meanwhile on TFA’s website, they’re calling for Baddiel to be sued for slander. Seriously! I kid you not. So concerned are TFA with this notion of freedom of speech that they’re trying to silence someone from expressing their views. Over-sensitive to the point of the absurd and demonstrably against anything that doesn’t conform to their notion of freedom, TFA actively seeks to curb the freedoms of others. In their exhortation to their members they say,

TFA is built on core values of promoting individual freedoms and civil liberties for all, which is why we are so shocked that Baddiel chose to compare us to the British National Party (BNP). The views of the BNP are the ideological opposite to those of The Freedom Association.

TFA promotes ‘freedom’ – which is why it works to break strikes and smash unions. TFA are probably closer to the BNP than they realize (the BNP supported apartheid-era South Africa too). In fact, under the Nazis, trade unions were banned.  That’s a historical fact that has passed Hannan by and he’s got a degree from Oxford in…wait for it…history.  I suspect that the phrase “historical materialism” is one that never passes his lips.

While TFA claim to be advocates of freedom, the ultimate expression of their ideas would be an authoritarian state ruled by some caudillo who would look after the interests of capital, while suppressing dissent and enslaving those who literally cannot pay for their freedom.

This sudden jerky movement from TFA should only be seen one way: as an attempt to control discourse.

UPDATE: 22/1/11 @ 1044

This blog has been linked to a TFA blog about an article written by Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail. The article contains one noticeable factual error

He also suggested that his libertarian organisation, The Freedom Foundation, was akin to the BNP.

Letts is supposed to be a professional  journalist and here he is getting the name wrong! The Freedom Foundation is an alcohol and drug dependency charity. Duh.

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From Hayek to Rand: a short stroll through neoliberal thinking

Hayek: the Daddy of Neoliberalism

Friedrich von Hayek was the daddy. He was the Thatcher government’s philosophical anchor. He was one of the high priests of neoliberalism.  Hayek was the man whose book Thatcher famously slammed down on a table and declared “This is what we believe in”! The book in  question was Hayek’s second attack on socialism titled The Constitution of Liberty. His first, The Road to Serfdom is given similar veneration by Conservatives and is no less visceral in its straw man critiques of socialism and liberalism. This is an odd position for a man who was wedded to the ideals of classical liberalism but it is the social aspects of liberalism that Hayek rails against, not its economic message.

In the first chapters of the book, Hayek rails against both liberalism and socialism. He holds Britain (or England as he says) as a model economy and it is through Britain’s free trade policies of the 19th century that his notion of liberty is predicated. he says,

The rule of freedom which has been achieved in England seemed destined to spread throughout the world

He ignores the methods by which the British idea of freedom was exported throughout the world: by the barrel of a gun. The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944. Hayek, an Austrian economist had taken a position at the London School of Economics. In Vienna he had been influenced by Ludwig von Mises, the founder of the Austrian School of Economics whose name has gone on to grace the title of a US right wing libertarian think tank. Interstingly enough for a self-confessed ‘liberal’, von Mises gave his support to Englebert Dollfuss’s Austrofascist regime. Von Mises served as economic advisor to Dollfuss until the latter was assassinated by the Nazis.  The Jewish von Mises would have found it difficult to live under a Nazi regime because of its racial purity laws.

The von Mises Institute ‘scholar’, Lew Rockwell has a selective take on fascism here. He completely rewrites history by airbrushing out von Mises involvement in Dollfuss’s regime.  Indeed apologists for von Mises will brush aside any suggestion of  his collaboration with the “it was a lesser evil [than communism]” defence. We can see the start of a pattern here: those who would describe themselves specifically as classical liberals would go on to offer their support for authoritarian regimes. Hayek and Friedman both lent their support to Pinochet’s Chile – Hayek visited there in 1984. The libertarian rhetoric obscures the reactionary and authoritarian tendencies that are present within their strain of classical liberalism. Von Mises left Austria for the United States and together with Hayek and Friedman they founded the Société du Mont-Pèlerin, which became a sort of anti-Kenynesian think-tank; a hothouse for neoliberal thinkers. You can read their Statement of Aims here.

Neoliberalism is essentially a late 20th century variant of classical liberalism. Whereas the the emphasis of classical liberalism was on free trade, limited government and so forth, Hayek and his contemporaries Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman, placed greater emphasis on the notion of the individual as a sovereign being who was unimpeded by regulation or ‘red tape’ and free to act as agents consumers within a ‘liberal democracy’. This, they posited, would move human society along a progressive path because competition, they argued, is the natural human condition and the logic was that competition was therefore good for progress. In other words, system that entirely deregulated economic activity would produce greater wealth and thus greater happiness and provide an outlet for natural competition.  To achieve this, all social relations would become market relations: everything that was once publicly-owned would be bought and sold in a market place (Gilbert, 2008). This included the welfare state, much of which was largely dismantled by Thatcher in the 1980’s. Neoliberalism is classical liberalism that has been taken to an extreme.  Everything and everyone must make a profit. Thatcher once declared that she wanted to see a “nation of entrepreneurs”. Everyone would become an entrepreneur, un petit capitaliste, a shopkeeper, a spiv whether they wanted to be one or not.  The former nationalized companies were expected to make profits for their shareholders, the lessons of history were apparently forgotten as the government sold the public a romanticized image of the age of the great railway companies; it was an image that was intended to restore a lost pride in an underfunded rail network that was now re-branded using, in some cases, the names of the Big 4 rail companies (like GWR).

Nostalgia was a new way of selling government ‘products’. But nostalgia is history that has been purged of those discourses that do not conform to the narrative of the dominant ideological class. Gil Scott-Heron says in his beat poem, B-Movie

The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards.

What the government failed to mention was the fact that all the so-called Big 4 railway companies (Southern, LNER, GWR and LMS) were struggling before they were nationalized in 1945.  LNER never made a profit.  It is impossible for an enterprise that serves the public interest, such as a publicly-owned railway, to turn a profit. They are public enterprises. Such enterprises are necessary for the greater good of the nation because they stimulate the economic growth of which Hayek and his disciples claim to be in favour. Publicly-owned enterprises are therefore  too important to be left to the devices of the market. As we have seen with rail privatization, the situation is chaotic: there are multiple train operating companies, a separate rail infrastructure company and at least 3 different regulators, which includes the Department for Transport.

Material wealth underpinned this notion of the individual and the human being was magically transformed into a rational calculating machine free only to make money and consume commodities. This is best illustrated by Adam Curtis’s examination of Nash’s game theory and its employment in the neoliberal project in his documentary, The Trap – What Happened to our Dream of Freedom? (BBC2, 2007). In the film he says that the theory was employed by the West during the Cold War. It produced the so-called theory of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’, which was a sort of ‘who blinks first gets annihilated” game. Nash’s theory also filtered into the sphere of economic thought and resonated with Hayek.  It was posited that human beings are irrational beings that act only in their own self interest and that people need to be given targets to acheive that will eventually become benchmarks. In Hayek’s grand vision there is no room for altuism. There is no alternative (TINA). One of the cornerstones of neoliberalism is its insistence on personal responsibility

Freedom to order our own conduct in the sphere where material circumstances force a choice upon us, and responsibility for the arrangement of our own life according to our own conscience, is the air in which alone moral sense grows and in which moral values are daily recreated in the free decision of the individual. Responsibility, not to a superior, but to one’s own conscience, the awareness of a duty not exacted by compulsion, the necessity to decide which of the things one values are to be sacrificed to others, and to bear the consequences of one’s own decision, are the very essence of any morals which deserve the name.

Nietzsche would question the use of the word “morality” here. He said “morality is the herd instinct of the individual”. Morality is imposed on others by those who dishonestly claim that they have some form of moral authority or a superior framework of morals to the Other.

The Tories were in the electoral wilderness for 13 years. During this time they had 4 leaders, 3 of whom offered little different to the standard Hayekian formula that had been fused with romanticism (Hague’s Save the Pound campaign slogan). The election of David Cameron in 2007 was portrayed as a break with the past. He was a fresh-faced old Etonian with some blue blood in his veins. In spite of his evident poshness, Cameron was immediately compared to Blair but the comparison relied solely on the fact that they were both relatively young when they became party leaders. Blair had no philosophical anchor unless you count Giddens. Indeed Blair claimed to be “beyond ideology”. He was neither right nor left (sic).

There is no such confusion with the Tories, they are right wing. But Cameron

A is A

had to make some kind of break with the past. Hayek was deemed too old fashioned; too closely associated with the Thatcher years. More importantly, they were swept along by the tide of  libertarian thinking in the United States. These libertarians were searching for a new ‘philosopher’ to help them solve the economic mess that they and their associates in the banking and finance sector had got us into. They looked for a new way of justifying their attacks on the poor. So with nary any hesitation, they turned to Ayn Rand.

Last year, I was watching Newsnight, I don’t remember the exact month but they were running an item on Rand. If I remember correctly, Douglas Carswell,  MP for Clacton, whom I had never heard of at the time, came on to talk about her.

That was the first sign of what was to come.

I also noticed that Rand was being talked about more in the quality press. There was talk of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie making a film based on Atlas Shrugs. Pitt and Jolie are self-confessed fans of Rand. There are others too ranging from Oliver Stone to Ronald Reagan. In April of last year, Carswell penned this blog.

Rand ’s ideas are back.  Or more accutrately, Rand’s ideas never went away.  They were simply ignored by that leftist elite that presides over our culture and our institutions.  But now the internet means all those quangocrats, bogus academics and Guardianistas no longer call the cultural shots like they did.

The left are going to hate it.

Not just the left but anyone with a shred of humanity in their soul, Doug. Carswell talks of a “leftist elite” but what is this “leftist elite”?  He assumes that because the UK hasn’t fully embraced the authoritarian libertarianism of Hayek et al, then the country is dominated by these “leftist elites”. To be sure, this is a phrase that Carswell has borrowed from the lexicon of the US Right where Rand is still very big business. Carswell also ignores the fact that his own party, the Conservatives is a party full of elitists – many of them are millionaires and sit in cabinet (there’s 22, count them).

Rand, like Hayek, placed the individual at the centre of her philosophy. The Noble Soul was the habitus for her ideas of rational self-interest or, as I would suggest it be called, rationalized  selfishness. This selfishness was further rationalized as ‘freedom’. For Rand, freedom could only be achieved through unbridled laissez-faire capitalism which she described as “the unknown ideal”.

When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

The sudden fetishization and appropriation of Rand’s philosophy by some Conservatives is odd. On the surface, there is little to choose between Hayek and Rand. In both cases, the arguments against collectivized activity by Hayek and altruism by Rand ignore the complexities of human existence which reduces humanity to its most bestial level; an unfeeling lump of flesh that only has the capacity for making money . Emotions, community and family ties, empathy, sympathy and kindness are all erased by Rand. If one should show kindness to another, she would argue, then it is done entirely out of self interest. She does not say why.  Regarding emotions, she wrote,

Emotions are the automatic results of man’s value judgments integrated by his subconscious; emotions are estimates of that which furthers man’s values or threatens them, that which is for him or against him—lightning calculators giving him the sum of his profit or loss.

This is a rather strange rationalization of emotions, which are in themselves, hard to pin down.  What this passage certainly reveals to us is Rand’s coldness. Perhaps it is because she thought of relationship with other people as a means to an end. So cold was she that she rationalized emotions as products in a system of exchange, profit and loss. Her coldness is further revealed in her pronouncements on humour.

Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous . . . . The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.

It is arguable that Rand had no sense of humour because it does not figure in the calculus of profit and loss.

Ayn Rand has been portrayed as a philosopher. Her philosophy, which she named Objectivism, has become the template for those who are either unfamiliar with Hayek or have been persuaded to read her fiction because it is supposed to be some sort of rite of passage.  It is possible to argue that Rand was deeply misanthropic, seeing only the potential for making money and rejecting human complexities as an almighty inconveniences – which she categorically ignored. She once said,

Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.

It is not clear what she means by the word “virtue” but she employs the word in the title of her book The Virtue of Selfishness. When Rand died her followers placed a wreath in the shape of a 6 foot high dollar sign beside her grave. It was an oddly pertinent symbol of her cupidity, though her supporters thought otherwise. Here she declares her selfishness

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

Other people are simply there for their usefulness. Not because there is any desire for companionship or anything like it. Rand had no use for companions. She had disciples. She was a cult leader.

It is easy to see where phrases like “socialized medicine” come from too,

Socialism may be established by force, as in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—or by vote, as in Nazi (National Socialist) Germany. The degree of socialization may be total, as in Russia—or partial, as in England. Theoretically, the differences are superficial; practically, they are only a matter of time. The basic principle, in all cases, is the same.

The alleged goals of socialism were: the abolition of poverty, the achievement of general prosperity, progress, peace and human brotherhood. The results have been a terrifying failure—terrifying, that is, if one’s motive is men’s welfare.

Of course this presupposes that capitalism has never been responsible for countless deaths, the loss of liberties or the imposition of an authoritarian regimes that were wholly supportive of the idea of unfettered capitalism as a ‘cure’ for all ills. I am thinking here of Pinochet’s Chile.

As this article from Mother Jones suggests, the world of Rand is an upside down one. In an deliberate inversion of logic, Rand’s thesis is that the rich and powerful are the oppressed, while the poor, the vulnerable and the low-waged – whom she labelled “looters” and “moochers” – are the oppressors. It is now easier to recognize the source of the coalition’s policies in relation to those on the lowest income scales. Those who receive state welfare benefits (including those on Disability benefits) have been consistently painted as “scroungers” regardless of their circumstances. The Tory press has been at the forefront of this war against the subaltern classes by printing a drip-feed of stories about “chavs”, “dole cheats” and so on. They have acted as the Conservative Party’s unofficial information service. It is arguable that the only reason the Conservatives have adopted Rand’s philosophy is to legitimate selfishness and greed. Rand’s ideas provide and instant justification to the false premise that the poor and the unemployed are stealing money directly from their pockets through taxation.

A better world is out there.

Bibliography

Duggan, L (2003). The Twilight of Equality? Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy. Boston: Beacon Press

Gilbert, J (2008). Anticapitalism and Culture. Oxford: Berg

Hayek, F. A. (1983). The Road to Serfdom, London: Routledge Kegan Paul

Nietzsche, F (2008). Beyond Good and Evil. Cambridge University Press

Rand, A (1975). The Romantic Manifesto. London: Signet

Rand, A (1964). The Virtue of Selfishness. London: Signet

Filmography

Curtis, A (2003). The Trap – What Happened to our Dream of Freedom? (BBC2)

UPDATE: 30/1/11 @ 0102

Tidied up blog and made some clearer connections

UPDATE: 23/2/11 @ 1957

Made some additions to the text and did some further tidying up.

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The ugly truth behind the Chilean Miner’s TV extravaganza

Piñera unmasked

Socialist Unity has  produced this interesting article,

Deeply moved, nearly a billion of us looked on. A whole nation—managers and workers, rich and poor—united in a common effort to save 33 Chilean miners, with their President leading from the front. Emotion, suspense, ratings, huge advertising revenues. But what did this TV extravaganza conceal ?

That the “saviours” were in fact the culprits. Three hours before the landslide, the San José miners had requested permission to leave after hearing suspect noises. Their bosses’ refusal imprisoned them under several tons of earth. Is this surprising ? No. On the 30th July, a Ministry of Labour report had already flagged up important safety problems at the San José mine, but no action was taken, and the Ministry kept silent.

Of course everyone was overjoyed at the happy ending. But the rescue show masked the extent of the problem : four hundred Chilean miners have died in the last decade. And more importantly, it masked the causes. “Poor investment and safety standards” said Marco-Enriquez-Ominami, Sebastián Piñera’s opponent in the last presidential elections. In fact, in 2009 alone, 191,000 work accidents were recorded in Chile, in which 443 workers died. And the Chilean government is directly responsible, as, it has refused for the last twelve years to ratify the International Labour Organisation Convention C176 on health and safety in mines. Business enjoys unrestricted freedom, while the workers have no rights.

You can read more of the article here. Read my blog on the return of the Chicago Boys here.

The media spectacle may have died down but one of the former trapped miners, the Elvis impersonator, Edison Peña appeared on the Late Show. A new Chilean television personality in the making? Maybe the president can use his influence to make that happen. Yes?

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Britain’s anti-union culture: the labour landscape since 1979

I have noted elsewhere how Britain has become more like Chile in recent years. I admit that there are few stories of trade unionists being set upon by the state’s thugs in today’s papers, but the Battle of Orgreave Colliery showed us what levels the state was prepared to stoop in order to impose its will. Thatcher used the police as  her own personal gendarmerie, yet if one watched the BBC news reports for that day, one would come away with the impression that the miners were the aggressors. But thanks to the very good work of Glasgow University Media Group we learned the truth: it was the police who charged the miners and not the other way around.

Since 1979 the trade unions have been painted variously as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘greedy’. The tabloid press – largely controlled by Conservative sympathizing proprietors – prints smear after smear about the unions. The same papers will also tell us how any strike is likely to affect you. On strike days we are treated to vox pops of angry commuters who have had to battle in  to work because of a tube strike. A typical vox pop might run like this,  “I’m absolutely livid. Why do they have to strike? They’ve got jobs. They should be grateful”. The same channel may even wheel out an economic ‘expert’ (usually someone like Ruth Lea or Digby Jones) who will inform us that “strike days costs the British economy x amount”. How do they work out such precise figures?

The press-created Winter of Discontent of 1978 has been used as a stick to beat the unions with since the election of Thatcher in 1979. Unions were described as “too powerful” and held responsible for the nation’s ills. In the unions, the Tory press found an easy scapegoat. Curiously enough, no one asked searching questions about Britain’s managers who,  prior to 1979, were more than happy to take long lunches and run companies like their own personal piggy banks.

Let’s remind ourselves what anti-union laws have been passed since 1979. I found this on the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union’s website,

1980 Employment Act

  • Definition of lawful picketing restricted to own place of work
  • 80% ballot needed to legalise a closed shop
  • Funds offered for union ballots
  • Restricted right to take secondary action
  • Code of practice (six pickets)
  • Repeal of statutory recognition procedure
  • Restricts unfair dismissal and maternity rights
  • Unfair dismissal rights from 1 year to 6 months in companies under 20

1982 Employment Act

  • Further restrictions on industrial action – eg. definition of trade dispute
  • Further restricted action to ‘own’ employer
  • Employers could obtain injunctions against unions and sue unions for damages
  • 80% rule extended to ALL closed shops every 5 years
  • Compensation for dismissal because of closed shop
  • Removed union only labour clauses in commercial contracts

1984 Trade Union Act

  • EC elections every 5 years by secret ballot
  • Political fund ballots every 10 years
  • Secret ballots before industrial action

1986 Public Order Act

  • Introduced new criminal offences in relation to picketing

1988 Employment Act

  • Unions to compensate members disciplined for non-compliance with majority decisions
  • Members can seek injunction if no pre-strike ballot
  • Union finances to be open to inspection
  • Unions prevented from paying members’ or officials’ fines
  • Action to preserve post entry closed shop made unlawful
  • New restrictions on industrial action and election ballots
  • Ballots for separate workplaces
  • Ballots for non-voting EC members
  • Election addresses controlled
  • Independent scrutiny
  • Establishment of CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members)

1989 Employment Act

  • Tribunal pre-hearing review and proposed deposit of £150
  • Exemption of small employer from providing details of disciplinary procedures
  • Restricts time off with pay for union duties
  • Written reasons for dismissal now require 2 years’ service
  • Redundancy rebates abolished
  • Abolition of training commission

1990 Employment Act

  • Attack on pre-entry closed shop – unlawful to refuse to employ non-union member
  • All secondary action now unlawful
  • Unions liable for action induced by ANY official unless written repudiation using statutory form of words sent to all members
  • Selective dismissal of strikers taking unofficial action
  • Extended power of CROTUM

1992 Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act

  • Brings together all collective employment rights including trade union finances and elections; union members’ rights including dismissal, time off; redundancy consultation; ACAS, CAC and CROTUM; industrial action legislation
  • Does not cover individual rights like unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, maternity etc (these are covered by 1978 EPCA)

1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act

  • Individuals can seek injunction against unlawful action
  • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action
  • Members to be involved in ballot to be identified
  • Attack on Bridlington procedures
  • Written consent for check-off every three years
  • Financial records, including salaries, to be available
  • Checks on election ballots
  • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots
  • All industrial action ballots to be postal
  • Postal ballots on union mergers
  • New powers for Certification Officer to check union finances
  • Higher penalties against unions failing to keep proper accounts
  • ‘Wilson/Palmer’ Amendment (sweeteners to those moving to individual contracts)
  • Unlawful to dismiss heath & safety rep in course of duties and those walking off unsafe site
  • Right of individual to challenge collective agreement in contravention of equal treatment terms
  • Changes to Transfer of Undertakings Regulations
  • Changes to redundancy terms (consultation)
  • Abolition of Wages Councils
  • Changes to Tribunals and EAT procedures

1999 Employment Relations Act

  • Amendments to Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992
  • Recognition and negotiation procedures for employers with at least 21 workers, establishment of bargaining unit
  • Derecognition from loss of trade union independence or majority support of bargaining unit
  • Complaint process for use of political funds and breach of union disciplinary, electoral or other internal rules
  • Dismissal for participation in official industrial action deemed unfair
  • Ballot and notice provisions for strike or industrial action
  • Abolishes offices of Commissioner for Rights of Trade Union Members and Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • Funds to be provided to assist in developing employment partnerships
  • Amends Employment Rights Act and TULRA to prevent complaint over unfair dismissal if action for purposes of national security

As we can see, when Labour introduced the 1999 Employment Relations Act, it left the anti-union laws intact. It was a piecemeal bit of legislation designed to placate those who feared a return to the 1970’s and to pay lip service to the worker’s rights. CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members) was created to advise members on taking action against their union. It also happens to be one of the most amusing acronyms that I have ever seen and offers itself readily to abuse (just put an “S” in front of the “C”).

In today’s climate, management would rather negotiate with individuals – if at all. Negotiating with individuals leads to a divide and conquer situation where worker is pitted against worker. In cases like this, there can only be one winner: the boss.

Today membership of trade unions is lower than it has been in the entire history of the movement. Anti-union legislation is mainly responsible but the number of people working on short-term contracts has also increased and few private sector companies have any active trade unions. If Labour are lucky enough to be re-elected it is unlikely that they will repeal any of the anti-union laws. I would recommend any union that is currently affiliated with Labour to disaffiliate at once. We need a party that will look after the interest of workers and not be beholden to capitalists or their apologists. But that party also needs to have a good chance of gaining seats in the Commons. Under the present system and the one proposed (AV) this is unlikely to happen. Therefore the need to reform the voting system is vital. The anti-democratic tendencies of the main parties have to be curbed because it was these anti-democratic tendencies that led to the abolition of the metropolitan councils, Section 28 and the Poll Tax.

People need unions now more than ever.

UPDATE:

I discovered this interesting blog about the Lawful Industrial Action Bill. It fell in the Commons last week due to a lack of enough MPs to support it. This is very depressing.

Out of 255 Labour MPs (or thereabouts) only 82 could bring themselves to support the Bill. Green MP Caroline Lucas supported it together with one SNP, one Plaid Cymru, and even 2 Tories. Four Labour MPs were out of the country, one in hospital, one ill, and one at a funeral. Hilary Benn, Maria Eagle and Gareth Thomas, excelled themselves by being present in the Commons but refusing to vote for it. The rest appear to have nipped off to their constituencies (or their second homes). The right of workers to strike was not sufficiently important for them to stay in London on a Friday.

You can read a list of who did and who didn’t vote here.

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