The Labour right-wing still doesn’t get it

Let’s face it, the New Labour cabal, the right-wing of the party and the ‘power at all costs’ sections of the Labour Party (often they are one and the same) just do not want Jeremy Corbyn or his socialism. They’ve tried every dirty trick in the book and according to their official spiel he is ‘an honest man, but just not leadership material’.

Okay then, working on that assumption, it clearly does not occur to the Labour right that the answer to the question is: another leader who embodies everything Jeremy Corbyn stands for; all the things that are the reason so many people have made an effort to support him. Of course there have been claims from all quarters claiming that this person or that person actually believes in all the same basic things Jeremy Corbyn believes, which if true makes you wonder why they so urgently need to replace him.

Do they just think he’s the wrong figurehead or is it really the policy they hate? Because they also keep making digs about ‘the politics of last century’ and ‘a dated approach’ etc etc. Unfortunately for them the ‘politics of last century’ is the real core of Labour. It is also the real core of right-wing politics too because despite the giddy excitement about the advent of broadband internet and accelerated globalisation, the gritty local problems of last century have not gone away. If people take the trouble to remove their PR-drenched media goggles for a moment they’ll see that things like the 21st century job market bears an uncanny basic resemblance to the pre-WW2 job market. Casual labour, work uncertainty, no real contracts, poor or non-existent sick pay, companies shirking employee welfare issues, suppression of organisation and industrial action through negative PR. Oh it’s a long list.

All of this disintegration of rights and conditions built up over 150 years – part of that including the foundation of the Labour Party to uphold these very values and achievements – has also occurred and been accelerated under Labour governments. Select representatives keep popping up on telly repeating that New Labour introduced the minimum wage, something they failed to implement in every previous Labour administration. Big deal. It didn’t stop the growth of zero-hour contracts or other capitalist trickery to bend the rules. New Labour homed-in on that little policy (of offering working-age people not much more than a fiver per hour) to cover the fact that they had no plan to offer any other traditional Labour Party policy and a master plan to cut loose with a host of neo-liberal shenanigans, which is exactly what happened. Then a crash and depression happened and a lot of people lost patience with the same old lies.

Unfortunately it took that economic crash to shake awake a good portion of the people who are sympathetic to what Corbyn represents and also created enough discontent to prevent the bigwigs at the top of the Labour Party from dismissing it as ‘fringe elements’ and carrying on unabated with the New Labour debacle.

On Saturday morning (that’s later on this morning), if the polls are correct, Corbyn is going to sweep Owen Smith and his cheerleaders into obscurity. If we are to believe the anti-Corbyn offensive he is also going to also sweep the Labour Party into obscurity. Well we’ll see. He’s the one calling for unity, they are the ones predicting collapse. It’s because they’ve fully absorbed and adopted the New Labour/right-wing economic rhetoric that social justice and national prosperity is achieved through deregulated market capitalism, privatisation, austerity for poor people etc ad nauseum. Jeremy Corbyn, or what he represents, is the backlash to all that. They still don’t get it.

 

Jeremy Corbyn won the battle, but now there is the war

Corbyn’s Cabinet

Despite a full month of cheap character assassination attempts (from right and the alleged left), Jeremy Corbyn blew away the ‘competition’ to take the Labour leadership. That’s the big news and there isn’t much left to do, but speculate because Corbyn has been pretty much tight-lipped since his victory. In a world of rolling 24-hour news this is a disaster and so as usual the television ‘journalists’ have been on one of the biggest speculation benders since September 11. They really have no idea what is going on and so they continue wheeling out crapshoot analysis and soundbites to pad out the thin reports and fill up airtime. It’s painful to watch and yet also infuriating. Every report is bathed in the same cynical, ‘realpolitik’ that proclaims: ‘Only the paradigm of post-Thatcher neo-liberalism is real, everything else is extremism and illusory’.

The newspapers have been doing the same and the most notable observation to be made is that  a portion of the mainstream left-liberal press now contains more of the worst shower of opportunistic bullshitters than the average PR boardroom. The Blairite acolytes are really foaming at the mouth. Their candidates were trounced and Nu Labour is being dropped into its long overdue grave. In the pages of the newspapers the spew of vitriol has congealed the Tory hacks and the Blairism hacks into one unsightly gob of phlegm. The Guardian in particular has shown its true colours. Its commentators may as well be leader writers for the Murdoch papers and yet they are being paid to write their garbage for an alleged social democratic newspaper. The Guardian is now a pathetic gravy train of middle-class chancers and must be regarded as such by all those whose political interests lie outside of the decayed paradigm that has dominated politics and economic policy for the last 35-40 years.

Perhaps the only remark worthy of consideration is that Corbyn’s leadership victory does not mean he is poised for national victory, perhaps not even easy victory within the party he now leads. The Labour Party at its top is no longer the Party of Clem Attlee; it’s not even that of Neil Kinnock. The parliamentary party is shot through with passive acceptance of Nu Labour Neo-Liberalism. There is a reason why many of those faces we’ve seen on the Labour front benches, over the last decade or so, have resigned. They thought socialism had died and now it has come back in the form of the new leader it makes them look too much like members of the Tory Party. Perhaps they are going to sit back and wait, hoping that ‘Corbynism’ will flounder and collapse, so they can eventually re-assume their positions, with a told-you-so smile upon their smug faces.

As Corbyn named his cabinet yesterday and today made his first appearance on the front benches in the Commons, the same old newspeak rubbish has been employed in every report. All his appointments are ‘left-wingers’ (a phrase heaped with pejorative implications) and they have ‘far left’ ideas and policies (as opposed to the obvious policies sensible people would have); mention of his shadow chancellor has to include that he ‘once vowed to overthrow capitalism’. In the Tory press the Labour Party now forms a ‘danger’ to the economy and society! The political orthodoxy, and most of the country, has now been dragged very far down the path of believing in a twisted ideology. One informing us that corporate capitalism, austerity, a free-for all in housing prices (with soaring rents and housing shortages); low wages, job insecurity, child poverty, gutted public services etc etc, is the new political norm. That it is inevitable and unavoidable and the politics that administers this poison is ‘good governance’. On Saturday a large portion of the Labour Party elbowed the Blairist usurpers aside and said no. They are not the entire country and certainly not the people voting Tory, Lib Dem or UKIP, but it is a seed that may grow, if it is nurtured.

Corbyn’s cabinet choices are far more diverse than the media hacks are pretending. At least two of the women in the top jobs did not back the new leader, yet he appointed them. There are in fact very few so-called ‘hard left Corbynites’ in this new cabinet. The media is, as usual, making a sensation out of something that merely contrasts with the usual grey cesspool of politics.  They can’t fight the fact that Corbyn is authentic and likeable as a person. He is not an expenses thief (his are fact amongst the lowest, if not the lowest) and his message is not wrapped in the usual clichéd political phraseology that seems to affect every major politician whose face appears in public. Corbyn’s real challenge will be convincing enough people that his democratic-socialist alternative – for the economy, for essential public services, for society as a whole – is a better, fairer and more progressive prospect than the politics of pandering to the super-rich and operating as an arm of the corporate boardroom (which is probably in a tax haven). If the ‘ordinary voter’, the people who really ‘feel the pinch’ and live from salary to salary as it is claimed a majority of people do, seek an alternative, then they have another choice. Convincing people to undo the cultural habits that have developed under neo-liberalism (debt-fuelled lifestyles, consumption greed), something which is also a necessity for such an alternative, is a tall order indeed.

The core problem

‘In the various e-newsletters I receive from several left-wing organisations there is often a tone of desperation. There is also the familiar ‘call to arms’, the ‘arms’ in question being petitions, ignored peaceful marches and the get-togethers that hope to spread new roots and deepen the already-existing ones.  I’ve attended my fair share of the latter over the years and disappointment has never been very far behind.

It has always been a mistake to rely on the assumption that the next person’s understanding of something you think you share, is the same as your understanding of it. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a socialist gathering where everyone has been asked why they say they are socialist, or what they hope to achieve with it? Since the total triumph of Neo-liberal economic policy much of the left has taken the position of pressure group. Pressuring for what? That is the question. It appears to be the regular agenda of issues anyone calling themselves “left-wing” engages with alongside the core problem.

The ‘core problem’ refers to the problem of the plutocratically-owned capitalist economy. Not just a selection of its worst activities and the deleterious effects, but the problems arising from its very existence as the dominant underlying cause of social misery. It always stood to reason that the solution was its removal. Well, not quite. The second rung of socialism, the non-revolutionary path, has been satisfied with keeping capitalism on, but making sure it is safely chained-up and under strict supervision. From this we got the entire circus of sideshows including: reform socialism; social democracy; market socialism; capitalism with a ‘human face’. It has led here. To the universal triumph of capitalist markets presided over by powerful vested interests. Its products are the ugly transformation of work into profitable stupidity. To the unemployed wasteland of hundreds of years of human skills that are ‘no longer required’; forced into obsolescance in an economy that values a narrow ideas of ‘skills’ and yet dresses it up as the last word in skill diversity. It has led to housing scarcity; more poverty; chronic debt; economic catastrophe; more pollution; more reckless consumption.

It failed. Capitalism hasn’t been harnessed for the best outcome for all. People in all age ranges: the under-25s, the over 40s, the over 50s, a great mass of people, are with the programme. Some might be upset with various bits of ‘the programme’, some little result of it that complicates and adds uncertainty to their lives, but ‘the programme’ of neo-liberal economic dominance is perceived as simply the way of the world. It has failed dismally, beyond creating a consumption Mecca and replacing human skill with automation, and yet the greatest PR exercise ever has been in presenting this dismal failure as the greatest success story in the history of humankind.

In the Netherlands – which is a rather right-wing country within Western Europe – the socialist parties are neutered. The clearest sign that they have had to kneel down and kiss the ring of triumphant neo-liberalist ideology is the moderated language now used in reference to capitalist economics. The SP (socialistisch partij) is a decent organisation. It is critical of the governments of the day (which are invariably either centre-right or right-wing and all neo-liberal), but its critique always falls short of condemning the core of the problem. They are not averse to wheeling out the populist line of ‘getting small businesses working’; the sort of stuff appealing to the popular idea that capitalism, being essentially morally neutral, is merely hijacked by crooks and corporatism. The same basic idea feeding into the sub-normal fantasies of libertarians and followers of the Smith religion. Most importantly, they have no counter-offensive, no clear informational antidote to the all-pervasive neo-liberal ideology impregnated deep into general culture.

To express fundamental opposition to neo-liberalism (essentially extreme capitalist rationalisation) is considered equal to opposing empirical reality. An explosion of different and disparate ideas clouds the problem. Since the rise of ‘new atheism’ in the U.S. and the theatre of ‘birthers’ and ‘911 conspiracies’, an entire swath of people keen to disassociate themselves from flat-earth thinking likes to stick closer to what is regarded as the ‘rational truth’. Capitalist economics, in all its forms and guises, has the rather enviable position of being considered ‘normal reality’. To most of the world it is not so much an economic system among many as it is just something that ‘is’, like the weather or the sea. Capitalism is not considered as a ‘way’ of running an economy, it is thought of as ‘the’ economy. That is a powerful position to occupy and renders everything else as mere alternatives.

The current left (and even the left of the past) has concentrated too much on criticism and too little on portraying itself as legitimate. Walking the streets in crowds shouting ‘socialism now!’ instantly makes you into a sideline critic rather than someone playing equally on the field. Where is the magazine of heterodox economics that can counter the dominance of ‘The Economist’ as a mainstream discussion of economics? Current socialist thought is not far from the position of ‘alternative’ medicine compared to medical science; the latter seen as the rational truth, the former as a pretender with some crank adherents. One major failing is that the ‘core problem’, the economy, is focused upon less and less as socialist movements – especially the Netherlands International Socialists – busies itself with popular sociology and a never-ending series of anti-racism marches. Too often it is students who move up through the ranks and become academics making their careers as ‘theorists’ within these organisations. The small faithful applauds and the rest of society remains oblivious and carries on living under the ‘normality’ of the corporate-capitalist economy, sometimes happy, sometimes disgruntled.

By getting sidetracked from the ‘core problem’ socialist organisations are going nowhere apart from the next ignored and contained march and the next forgotten ‘conference’.

Getting the message about privatised work

Two years back a post here highlighted the sorts of shenanigans that were going on in the aftermath of the Dutch privatisation of the postal service. The typical official position is that private ownership has increased efficiency and reduced costs, and if all we did to verify this was to look at those two broad accounting figures, we would have to agree that this is indeed the case.

We need to look deeper to find out exactly how, at a time when the internet has caused general paper mail to reach an all time low, private mail companies still manage to stay in operation, when none of these outfits are successfully making a profit (an argument constantly given in Britain in favour of privatising Royal Mail). The answer of course has been the casual/flexible work model: the practice of hiring people at arm’s length, without a proper contract, for day work, short-time seasonal work and as speciously designated ‘self-employed’ people to deliver the masses of corporate mail at the lowest possible price. This mail includes everything from routine business correspondence to the mountains of advertising ‘junk mail’ specifically handled in the Netherlands by companies like Selekt Mail.

There hasn’t really been much written in English about the situation in the Netherlands, which in fact serves as a useful case study of the effects of postal privatisation on employees. I’d like to point readers to an excellent essay in the London Review Of Books by James Meek which serves as a brilliant exposé of the shady goings-on in the privatised Dutch postal service.

The essay concerns an unnamed postwoman with a council flat filled to the point of intrusion with crates of undelivered mail. She is behind on her deliveries because of weather, illness, personal problems and fights a battle to make the crates disappear faster than the new crates can arrive.

‘I couldn’t cope and at Christmas 2006 I had about 90 of these boxes in the house. By New Year’s Day we had 97. There were even boxes in the toilet.’

Her story is really one of the common stories of people of all ages in the Netherlands employed in the massive casual work industry. Any high street in the Netherlands counts a myriad of casual work bureaus – most notably Randstad – that provide their ‘members’ with casual work that sometimes changes by the day (if it manages to be a full day of work). There is a mountain of unskilled work and warehouse work and this provision of short-term workers allows companies to dispense with the troublesome business of interviewing, hiring and maintaining properly employed staff. Meek’s essay captures the essence of how it works and what it means in terms of meaningful employment:

The postwoman is paid a few cents for each item of mail she delivers. The private mail firms control their delivery people’s daily post-bag to make sure they never earn more than €580 a month, the level at which the firms would be obliged to give them a fixed contract.

For the postal services it has led to the complete death of ‘The Postman’ in the Netherlands. As Meek points out, a Dutch household doesn’t have a ‘postman’ it has postmen/women all working for competing firms as casual labour, earning nearly half the legal minimum wage without any job security. In many cases these are just students taking work in-between classes, not as worried about job security, less fussy about the sort of living wage a person with a family might worry about.

The private postal arrangement is particular pernicious in the way it intrudes into lives. Meek mentions people sorting mail out on the sink and in bed. It is a classic extraction of surplus-value technique masquerading as self-regulated work, which is what really lies at the heart of the casual work scam. A pretence of increased freedom and responsibility about your own working life which actually manifests itself as the unpaid carrying of extra responsibility and the carrying out of work for the lowest remuneration possible.

Meek’s essay is but one highlighted part of a horrible jigsaw puzzle of fractured work in the face of privatisation and employment liberalisation in Europe. It’s worth reading to help get the message.

Unhealthcare, the corporate insurance way

Healthcare and its affordability has been an omnipresent issue in the United States and beyond since the ascension of Obama. To have reformed the system to a collectively funded one would probably have had implications far outside of America. In Europe, health services funded in-part or wholly by taxation have been constantly and gradually eroded and ‘reformed’ over a 30-year+ period; Obama’s hijacked plan is like a green light to the European privatisation lobby.
In England particularly, the previous and the current government have had to conjure a lot of PR to try to make it appear that the NHS is still more-or-less the same service that people rely on, whilst at the same time engineering as many budget cuts or part-privatisations as they can possible achieve.
In one sense, England is a lot better-off than many other places. America’s swathes of uninsured are a ubiquitous phenomenon, the internet is filled with forums requesting and offering medical advice for people with no insurance or people with bad insurance hoping to save a few dollars. Dentistry is notoriously expensive, and since regularity of care is a must in preventing problems, regular, comprehensive care simply stands outside the affordability of many families.

The Dutch system operates on a private insurance system, much along the lines of the American system. The system is very lightly regulated, so that the ruthlessness of insurers is tempered somewhat, but not by much. Of course the succession of centre-right governments has never presented any real obstacle for the insurance companies. In 2005 a nationwide push tried to make sure everyone in the Netherlands was insured; not by increasing affordability or widening coverage capabilities, but by sending out ‘checkers’ to make sure people were buying insurance, and to fine them for not doing so. These people turned up at places like homeless hostels to find out who was insured. They enquired at a charity medical clinic I was supervising, asking how many were insured – an odd question for a place offering charity care for the uninsured.

Beginning this year the dental provision offered as part of the insurances packages will disappear. Previously insurers would pay ‘part’ of the costs, something which seemed to turn on its head the very point of having insurance. This latest move amplifies that absurdity. So now individuals will be expected to pay out-of-pocket for costly dental treatments; and it is costly. Molar removals, with added costs, easily amount to 250,- euros, and check-ups can be as much as 70-80 euros. Whomever can afford it gets treatment, those who can’t won’t – it’s another view of the tiered health system between the haves and the have-nots. Richer people have an emergency pot of money, the poor and the working poor generally live from month-to-month, with no emergency funds. They have two choices: bad teeth, or health debts, often eventually paid to a debt-recovery agency, with interest.

Health insurance is undoubtedly a racket. But if healthcare is to be a privately purchased commodity, and increasingly so since the coverage insurance offers is shrunk down further, then unaffordable insurance offering scant coverage ought to disappear, since it is poor financial investment. It is of course maintained through a mixture of politico-legal and economic ideology, maintained by corporate interests. Health is not really a purchasing choice in the same way electronics and other consumer durables are purchased. Like food and shelter it is a captive market that operates on fear or peace of mind. Just as the housing markets are dominated by neo-liberal swindling and financial speculation, so the health industry has its own money speculators, with a captive customer base, some bullied and cajoled or legislated into providing an endless supply of money for international money markets.
Their aim appears to be a situation where insurance premiums constantly rise as coverage constantly decreases in proportion. In 2010/2011 the Dutch will see another rise in insurance premiums that will leave tens of thousands either in healthcare debt or completely uninsured and in ill-health, facing unfair prosecutions as ‘wanbetalers‘ (people who don’t pay their bills), rather than people who simply can’t pay their bills.

Incomes are not rising, they are freezing or shrinking. So we reach a typical point of absurdity in neo-liberal economic policy: people actively lose spending power, but are asked or coerced into purchasing the ever more, and ever more expensive, commodities (including ‘services’) that keep the neo-liberal economic merry-go-round turning. Since the collapse of the banks and financial markets there has been a constant discussion about the levels of personal debt and the near-complete absence of a culture of saving money. The culture of ‘living on credit’ was initially wheeled-out as a contributing cause of mass indebtedness, yet health insurance is itself a contributor to indebtedness that cripples the very extra spending power the neo-liberal machine desires to keep it going. So at the bottom end it comes apart at the seams as the poorer sections of society live in a constant cycle of debt, credit-fuelled debt, forced payment of impossible living costs through the filter of debt-collection and all its resulting misery and poverty. The architects remain untouched.

Britain’s Con-Dem coalition have been talking big this week. Vince Cable has been dubbed “red” for his attack on the ruthlessness of capitalism left-to-its-own-devices. Danny Alexander talked about rectifying the enormous tax gap created by super-wealthy tax-dodgers. No matter how well-meant, the Lib-Dem critics are allied with a senior partner committed to preserving neo-liberalism by making the little taxpayer suffer for little in return.

They will privatize the Post Office and push through the budget-cuts, criticised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, among others, as unfairly targeting the poorest sections of the society. And health will not go unscathed. The trajectory of the Post Office has not followed British ‘national’ policy, it has followed the policy of the European Union’s commitment to economic liberalisation, and within this the UK’s NHS is viewed as an obstacle. It doesn’t matter that it is funded without requiring a tax rate any higher than the Netherlands or France or Germany. It is simply a target because it does not fit in with economic ideology. An ideology where national well-being and even ‘customers’ come last in order of importance.

Dutch refuse-collector strike over

[Utrecht/Amsterdam]
For just over two weeks now the bins have been overflowing onto the usually rather spotless streets of Amsterdam and Utrecht. The city council had failed to reach any sort of agreement with refuse collectors and both central city bins and household rubbish has piled up in the streets.

Strike action began on the back of  demands for job security and a minuscule salary raise which amounts to about 20 cents an hour extra. Local government has hoped that the state of the streets and any associated public opinion would force the refuse collectors back to work. The unions and strikers have been present in the train and bus stations and have answered the public’s questions and concerns about why the strike action has been taking place. Many travellers have expressed support and solidarity.

The city refuse collectors have seen themselves parted into two groups with one group striking and another — consisting of mostly workers hired from work agencies, but also some full-timers — not joining the strike and waiting to go back to work. A striker interviewed for RTV-U local radio expressed dismay that the non-striking full timers would benefit from the action whilst at the same time they were offering no support and actively endangering it.

Local businesses have been regularly appearing on news bulletins to complain about the mountains of rubbish they produce not being taken away, with one wheeling out the complaint that

“it’s a shame that a historic city like Utrecht has to suffer by looking so untidy”

Businesses have attempted to overcome the problem by hiring containers and removing the piles of rubbish themselves, a move that has largely been unsuccessful as tons of plastic and paper and general refuse produced by businesses and consumers continues to line the streets.

A major Cub Scouts event taking place in Utrecht this afternoon saw many travellers from around the Netherlands arriving into the Central Station this morning with surprised expressions. One traveller with the scouts remarked that the city looked more like “the Streets of Lagos”.

As of today the report from both the FNV and the city council representatives is that an agreement has been reached, including both job security and a pay rise from next year, which will effectively put an end to the strike, although no-one is sure when the collecters and street sweepers will be back to work to remove the accumulated rubbish.

Just last month saw a similar successful strike action amongst cleaners active inside Utrecht’s central station which revolved around another tiny pay demand which both the city council and private hire firms had refused.

Travellers this morning arriving to a rubbish-strewn Central Station

(foto: JMV, ossp media)

What’s inside the Con-Dem big-top?

There is a lot of frivolous talk going on in the UK media about the amazing new ‘fair centrism’ of the Tory-Lib coalition. The official consensus dripping from many lips is that it’s all about stability in the face of difficult financial  decisions, and all the other similar talk we’ve been hearing for the last six months.

It’s astonishing though to see who is coming up to pat the Tories on the back for their little policy sweeteners.

Billy Bragg, the  left-wing activist/musician appeared on This Week expressing pleasure at the idea that I.D. cards would be dropped, and of course the demise (?) of the plan for a  third runway at Heathrow Airport. Andrew Rawnsley declared that the coalition had placed the Tories “back to the centre”. The centre of what exactly?

Leaving aside issues like I.D. cards, to pretend that “new” Tory economic policy is somehow a magic wand of ‘freeing up free-enterprise’ for the good of all is a sign of having no sense of history and an even weaker sense of Tory economic policy, including the economic plans of this weighted coalition.
Labour had its Peter Mandelson, and the Tories have Oliver Letwin, precisely that sort of right-wing, rabid privatising lunatic, obsessed with cutting everything and who thinks a government of more than four people and a dog is ‘big government’.
I suppose he’s the sort of arch Tory the LibDem presence is supposed to be taming…which makes one ask why he’s been installed as as ‘policy developer’, sitting round that crowded cabinet meeting table? Read his book Privatising the World to get a better handle on his beliefs. The only difference is that this time, unlike 2001, Letwin doesn’t need to go into hiding when he says he wants to slash spending into oblivion and privatise the world. For Letwin this is a dream come true because now he has the perfect vehicle for offering up all his cherished privatisation and public service budget-cutting fantasies.

Let us make no mistake about this: it is the public sector, and thus finally the public, which is going to be forced to pay for the private sector’s money-circus meltdown. It will happen because no government will touch the sacred cow of the private sector – that so-called “engine of wealth creation” which runs and operates on taxpayer handouts whilst protecting its private wealth stores.

It is a re-run of the 80s in spirit, no use in fooling ourselves that it’s new just because the dates are different (although many of the faces are actually the same).