Category Archives: Economy

Labour’s Triumphant #neweconomics

Yesterday, the Labour Party held a conference that put some serious theoretical grounding for the ideas that drove the enthusiasm for the party’s manifesto of last year. It started with production of a report commissioned by John McDonnell into “Alternative Models of Ownership”, which uses studies from round the world (including here in Britain) into how genuinely innovative alternatives to both the private sector and the old model of centralised nationalisation can make our society better. The link is here.

The scope of the event was very broad, and included:

  • Combining and democratising different forms of ownership, including municipalisation and co-operatism.
  • Looking at how privatised services are, right now, being in-sourced throughout the world in an almost “silent revolution” in services that is happening on all continents and across the Global North/South divide.
  • How modern technology affects work, removing some jobs but actually creating others, and how the role of organised labour is essential to directing automation and AI in a progressive and ethical way.
  • How the knowledge and data-based economy has become severely monopolistic and how democratic structures, like radical municipal authories in Barcelona (or even our very own Transport for London) can resist this and form a data commons and digital sovereignty that works for people not a tiny number of massive multinational businesses.
  • How participatory authorities, many of which have formed as a result of an unlikely alliance between grassroots campaigners and tech experts frustrated by the problems with neoliberalism, have been assembled and work in practice.
  • Putting forward our positive vision of how technology and industry could be like. The legacy of Mike Cooley and the Lucas aerospace workers was a really important touchstone for this.

The conference opened with big names, culminating in a closing speech by Jeremy Corbyn, but the contributions and questions from the floor were also really good and Jeremy actually referenced this in his summing up. But the most exciting thing about it was something raised by veteran campaigner Hilary Wainwright, who said that for the first time, we have a socialist vision that is built not around putting all our faith into massive scale nationalisation run by the state, but by the participation of ordinary working people, and that the closest we’d ever really got to this before was not 1945 (which, in any case, we all know cannot go back to) but to the brief experiment in which Tony Benn tried to collaborate with the Lucas workers back in 1977. Our socialism will not be top-down: it will be decentralised democratic public ownership.

SERTUC: Changing the Narrative and Establishing Our Vision of the Future

Today’s meeting of South East Region Trades Union Congress (soon to be renamed TUC in London, East and South England, LESE) was made two exceptionally good addresses from Labour politicians.

The first talk was from Emma Dent Coad MP, who last year went from the elation of winning a shock election victory for Labour in the constituency of Kensington & Chelsea to the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Emma, a lifelong resident of the borough, a student of architecture and a Labour councillor for twelve years could not be a better person to take on the K&C Tories. The high-handedness of their council administration was almost comically awful long before the tragedy of Grenfell. This was a council that accused Labour of virtue-signalling when they proposed letting a food-bank have the use of a council property, and then praised food banks as being superior to the welfare state. They were enthusiasts for the most extreme rightwing think tanks that permanently label working-class communities as “broken” by “dependency culture” and propose to fix them through means of pure social cleansing, with madcap plans to relocate Londoners to places as far afield as Hastings and Peterborough, places that they would feel completely lost in.

Emma argued that the ideological assault of the Tories cannot be fought on its own terms, which she likened to a sort of rightwing bullshit bingo. “We must challenge the social determinism of the elites… Keeping us debating in a middle ground does not help those we want to represent… We must change the narrative against the monetisation of housing and use our own language, not the language of the Tories.”. During the discussion, numerous delegates raised the ideological attacks that have come from the media, both against Emma and Labour and, horribly, the Grenfell survivors themselves, who are falsely presented as having in some way benefited from the fire. Emma said that this was part of the ideological offensive, and definitely something that is hardening up right now.

After Emma Dent Coad, we were treated to the first adress to SERTUC by Labour Shadow Chancellor for decades, John McDonnell. John informed us that had had the very great pleasure of speaking to City of London asset managers, and telling them he was absolutely in favour of investment from all investors that pay taxes and recognise unions. What he wanted to talk to us about, though, was PFI and the fallout of the Carillion collapse.

For 20 years, Jeremy and I campaigned against PFI in public services… which is all about making money by ‘sweating the assets’, which means cutting wages and spending.” He explained that the figures, which many people refuse to believe even when presented to them, that the private sector has made services anywhere between 40 and 70% more expensive. He said he had earlier in the week, he’d been discussing Carillion with Royston Bentham, a heroic worker blacklisted by that company for fighting for health and safety at work, just one example of a person who knows only too well working under these conditions are like.

Labour is going to sieze the opportunity presented by this emergency to finally end PFI. Not only will there be no more PFI contracts, but John pledged to bring services back in-house and “re-establish the credentials of direct labour and

Defaced branding is seen outside Carillion’s Royal Liverpool Hospital site in Liverpool, Britain, January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Phil Noble

services. We will end privatisation, full stop.”. The bigger ideas for reforming industry and work included:

  • There will be reform of the financial auditors to put an end to the tax avoidance industry
  • Workers will not just get onto company boards, but there will be a workers’ right to buy to enable people to take ownership of businesses they work in
  • Trade union rights will be fully restored, with the Tory anti-union laws repealed within the first 100 days of the Labour government
  • A ministry of labour will be established that will enable and enforce sectoral bargaining

McDonnell emphasised, particularly in response to discussion from the floor, that a radical Labour government will only succeed if we rebuild the mass labour movement to allow it to survive, and that we need to set ourselves the target of doubling the size of our trade union membership. He rounded up by saying that Labour is holding a potentially ground breaking conference on alternative models of ownership on February the 10th that he urged people to attend, and left us with these words: “We’ve spent a lifetime working towards this, lets sieze the moment!”

A Follow-Up from the Lucas Plan Conference: Trades Unionists Endorse Defence Diversification

The conference to mark 40 years since the Lucas Plan, in which rank and file workers put together a revolutionary programme for repurposing weapons technology for progressive purposes to both save jobs and help society, has had a superb follow up. A an excerpt is here:

So What Happened to Our Conference Motion 16 The “Lucas Plan”, Arms Conversion and
Socially Useful Production? 1st TUCJCC renamed it Defence, Jobs and Diversification then sent it to TUC Congress 2nd It was accepted onto agenda and heard on Tuesday 12th September PM.

The motion is now the property of the General Council and has been referred to the TUC Economic and Social Department for Action. Their first action will be to consult with those Unions directly affected-we’ll keep you updated with any progression.

In the Meantime?
TUCJCC wanted you to know what had happened with your motion, particularly with the announcement of further job losses in BAE and the potential for further announcements of job losses from supply industries across the UK. They would specifically like you too

  1. Those Trades Union councils covering the area of the BAE job losses already announced to contact the Unions involved and ask how they (and we) could help (if not already involved).
  2. The TUCJCC regional representatives will raise within their own Regional Executives the wider issue of potential job loss within the wider supply chain industries.
  3. Discuss the motion within your own Trades Union Councils and consider how your
    affiliate could encourage both the TUC and Labour Party to act on it.

 

The for a link to the full motion and repot: So What Happened to Our Conference Motion 16-final copy (002)

Blacklist Support Group statement on Carillion

Carillon admitted in the High Court that they blacklisted workers who complained about safety on their building sites, while at the same time milking public sector contracts for millions. Workers on projects run by Carillon need to be paid and are entitled to their pensions but no more public money should be given to the bosses of the disgraced company. In any civilized society, these people would be facing criminal charges.

When you invite blacklisting human rights abusers to run the NHS and school meals, don’t be surprised when vampire capitalism attempts to suck the taxpayer dry. The government should bail out the NHS not Carillon or their bankers. The government should nationalise Carillon now at the current market value of their shares (nothing) and go further by banning all of the construction companies involved in the blacklisting human rights conspiracy from any publicly funded contracts.

Ideas whose time have come: report on the excellent Lucas Plan conference

On Saturday the 26th of November, Birmingham was host to “The Lucas Plan – An Idea Whose Time has Come?” and I think it was easily one of the best labour movement conferences held this year. It used the 40 year anniversary of the release of the seminal document as the basis for a wide ranging discussion about the work, technology and social and environmental justice. It is a rare achievement to so perfectly unite the labour, peace and ecological movements.

The conference was opened with a short introductory film, The Plan, and then an address from Phil Asquith, one of Lucas Aerospace trades unionists who, in response to the threat of job losses and following an intense discujobsnotbombsssion about progressive alternatives with Tony Benn (then Minister for Industry in the Labour government) helped to create detailed proposals for diversifying the use of high technology away from destructive military purposes toward making products that could actually make the world a better place and be socially useful.

Aside from generating excitement and debate amongst progressive people across world, Phil emphasised that the plan was successful in two very important ways. The first of these is that the plan, in the short term, did enable the workers to stave off compulsory redundancies (obviously the original point). The second, longer term achievement is that many of the radical designs and inventions that the workers’ proposed, Phil cited hybrid engines as a really good example, have since been industrially realised. The conference opened up the possibility that it might make a third contribution: it’s spirit of using the talents and creativity of workers’ exercising control over to produce for social and environmental gain, rather than private profit, could help diversify technology away from the carbon economy and create an economy that could fight the menace of climate change.

Following the opening session, there were three rounds of workshop sessions, with four choices of workshop in each. It is a credit to the quality of the meetings that the Breaking the Frame collective had organised that I and most of the other people I spoke on the day where experiencing genuine dilemmas trying to decide which ones to go to! Myself I went to:

  1. A meeting by a councillor in the Isle of Wight and an organiser with London-based community organising group on how to draw up policy proposals for green jobs and sustainable housing.
  2. An introduction to the seminal book “Architect or Bee?”, written by Lucas Aerospace workers leader Mike Cooley, laying out some of the deeper political ideas behind and raised by the Lucas Plan.
  3. A discussion about workers and robotic and automation, lead off by an agricultural worker and a logistics worker. Getting these two points of view was an extremely good start on this issue, which is a massive controversy within the movement at the moment,lucas-aerospace-systems-equipment-sticker and I was pleased to hear an very sophisticated discussion from the floor around the issue.

I was unable to go to meetings I would have very much like to hear on topics like arms conversion and the real meaning of socially useful production. I do hope the organisers make recordings of these available online.

The meeting heard addresses from two union deputy general secretaries, Tony Kearns of the CWU and Chris Baugh of the PCS, and two MEPs, Molly Scott Cato of the Greens and Julie Ward from Labour, and it was really good to see them strongly endorsing the ideas of the event. It felt like a real step forward for a specifically left environmentalism and, as one person said near the end of the day, the theme of workers’ control and ran through everything. This was a concept our movement used to hold dear and ought to return to. Tony Kearns probably put it best when he emphasised that we have already seen that the institutions of the top of society – businesses, governments and even the TUC – have already failed to take the steps needed to protect the environment, so we have to be like the Lucas workers and think from the bottom up.

Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Lucas Plan!

 

Veteran trade unionists and younger activists see Nobel prize-nominated plan as inspiration for the future

Leading figures from the left, trade union, environmental and peace movements are coming together at a conference on November 26th with a fresh perspective on tackling current crises, using the ideas of socially useful production pioneered in the Lucas Plan. The Plan, produced by workers at the Lucas Aerospace arms company, showed how jobs could be saved by converting to make products that answer a social need, rather than weapons. See www.lucasplan.org.uk, or the notes below for more information on the Lucas Plan.

The conference will focus on 5 key themes:

  • The Lucas Plan and socially useful production.lucas
  • Arms conversion and peace.
  • Climate change and a socially just transition to sustainability.
  • The threat to skills and livelihoods from automation.
  • Local/community economic and industrial planning.

Linking all these issues is the need to rethink how we can produce what people and society actually need and overcome corporate domination through their control of technology.

Highlights of the conference will include:

  • Talks by Phil Asquith, Brian Salisbury and Mick Cooney (Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine).
  • Screening of a new film on the Lucas Plan by Steve Sprung.

Contributions from: Chris Baugh (PCS), Suzanne Jeffery (Million Climate Jobs Campaign), Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper), John McDonnell (tbc), Natalie Bennett, Molly Scott-Cato and Jonathan Essex (Green Party), Philip Pearson (TUC), Romayne Phoenix (People’s Assembly Against Austerity), Mary Pearson (Birmingham Trades Council), Manuel Cortes (TSSA, tbc), Mika Mino-Paluello (Global Justice Now), Philippa Hands (UNISON), Stuart Parkinson (Scientists for Global Responsibility), Dave Elliott (Open University), Liz Corbin (Institute of Making), Tony Simpson (Bertrand Russell Foundation), Dave King (Breaking the Frame), Simon Fairlie (The Land magazine), Karen Leach (Localise West Midlands), Marisol Sandoval (City University), Tom Unterrainer (Bertrand Russell Foundation), John Middleton (Medact), Gail Chester (Feminist Library), plus more speakers to be announced.

The conference on the Lucas Plan 40th anniversary will be held at Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (138 Digbeth, Birmingham, B5 6DR) on November 26, 2016. See www.lucasplan.org.uk. The conference is being organised and sponsored by: former members of the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine, Breaking the Frame, PCS, UCU, Million Climate Jobs Campaign, Green Party, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Campaign Against Arms Trade, CND, Left Unity, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Red Pepper, War on Want and Conference of Socialist Economists

Tickets are £10/£5 concessions: To book for the conference, visit

www.lucasplan.org.uk/tickets. For more information, email info@breakingtheframe.org.uk

BACKGROUND INFO: The Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine’s Alternative Corporate Plan (‘The Lucas Plan’) was launched in 1976 and became famous worldwide, sparking an international movement for socially useful production and workers’ plans. Facing the threat of redundancies, the Combine collected 150 ideas from shop floor workers about alternative socially useful products that could be produced by the company, instead of relying on military orders. Many of the innovations in the plan, such as hybrid car engines, heat pumps and wind turbines were commercially viable and are now in widespread use. Although the Alternative Plan was rejected by Lucas Aerospace managers, it was instrumental in protecting jobs at Lucas in the 1970s. The Combine was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and Mike Cooley received the Right Livelihood Award in 1982. More information about the Plan, including the 53-page summary of the five 200 page volumes, can be found on the conference website, www.lucasplan.org.uk.

Protect Jobs, Defend Living Standards – Trades Union Councils’ Programme of Work for 2016/7

Protect

The theme for the Trades Union Councils Programme of Work for 2016 to 2017 is ‘Protect Jobs, Defend Living Standards’. It sets out a positive vision of trade unions as we know them to be: a democratic force for fairness in the modern workplace. It highlights the role that trades union councils play in developing and promoting trades unions and in campaigning on the core values of the TUC and the union movement.

The key areas of campaigning for the year are:

  1. protecting workers’ rights to strike, promoting trade unionism and building union organisation;
  2. setting out the case for a high investment, high productivity economy with great jobs and skills at its heart;
  3. making devolution and decentralisation work for people;
  4. reaching out to young workers;
  5. support and campaigning for the Welfare Charter
  6. fighting racism and fascism

This programme of work has developed by the TUCJCC to ensure that trades union councils can identify their part in TUC campaigns and help implement the resolutions passed at the 2016 trades union councils conference.

Read the programme in full.

State of the Economy Conference Report Back

State_of_the_economy

This Saturday, the Labour held a ground-breaking conference on a vision of the future for the left. John McDonnell kicked off events by introducing a speech by the internationally renowned economist Ha-Joon Chang, who layed out a powerful case for the re-industrialisation of Britain. I would be unable to do justice to his full presentation and those of the many other good speakers, hopefully they will be made available on-line soon.

What I will do is focus on the absolutely superb content of the first breakout workshop I attended. In his opening remarks, McDonnell said that part of the point of the event was that Labour isn’t just a party of protest, it is a party that is looking to make real and lasting change. He said he wants Labour to lead an entrepreneurial state, with the setting up of a National Investment Bank and a co-operative sector that will be doubled in size. The workshop “Alternative Models of Ownership” provided some vision of how these aspirations could, and in some cases do, work in practice.

The session had three speakers, the first of whom was Professor Andrew Cumbers of Glasgow University, a writer on the failure of neoliberal policies worldwide and the emergence of new forms of enterprises and services that ave been formed in opposition to them. He said Latin America had led the way, as a result of the struggle against privatised water and sanitation, in which novel “hybrid” water providers have been established, which combine state and co-operative ownership. It is a form de-centralised public sector, that does not have to depend on the massive public sector model left wing governments relied on in the 20th Century. This hybrid model has more recently spread to France and even some American cities. It also how green electricity is being implemented in parts of Europe, including much of Denmark and even the English city of Nottingham. Cumbers said that we, as a movement, need to grapple with widely-held criticisms of the old models of centralised public ownership, and point to working alternatives that aren’t just the market.

The second speaker was easily one of the most qualified people in England to discuss such matters. Councillor Matthew Brown was able to talk about what he and his colleagues in Labour-run Preston Council have done to significantly improve the local economy. Preston council has made radical changes by looking around the world at progressive municipalities and learning from them. One of the key examples for all this has been the Spanish Basque Country’s venerable co-operative Mondragon Corporation. Mondragon’s long-standing commitment to what it calls community wealth building has contributed to the regions living standards being around 30% better than the national average. This has led the council to become interested in two key concepts:

  • Anchor Institutions – the services, groups and business that hold the local economy together
  • Sticky Capital – the concept of getting wealth made in the area to get re-invested and spent in the area

Mondragon

Based on this thinking, the council has achieved the following:

  • Vastly expanded the living wage at local businessesGuild
  • Promoted co-operatives to fill gaps in the local economy
  • Expanded the membership of credit unions and introduced a local “guild money” scheme to encourage people to spend local
  • Begun a campaign to get people to “move their money local”, into smaller regional building societies which are more secure than the big banks

Set up a Social Forum to find out what people in Preston want to see done for the economy
The Preston Model is currently one Labour’s most exciting successes and something we should really be talking about everywhere.

The final speaker in the session was Jenny Rouse, who works for left wing think tank the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. She followed on from Councillor Brown’s presentation by talking about how the approaches Preston have used can and are be applied in other cities. She also revisited some of the themes that Andrew Cumbers had discussed, saying that all the traditional sectors of the economy have there own drawbacks (the private sector chases profit, the public sector is bureaucratic and the voluntary sector is governed by its funding) and that all three need to be moderated with a people-focused strategy.

This was only one of ten workshops throughout the day, and the content of the others will hopefully be available elsewhere. The second one I attended was on Technology and the Future of Work, which contained some very interesting discussion about automation, decentralisation and the rise of the self-employed as a large proportion of the working class, which was also very good. The conference ended on a very high note with a broad panel of speakers and a closing speech from Jeremy Corbyn. It has been a huge success and will, hopefully, be only the first of many such events as we work towards a Labour government.

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