The Common Good and Trade Unions.

Europe is in the midst of an economic and social crisis, deepened by the migrant situation. At times like these we all tend to look at our own basket of goods and become a little self-oriented. However, throughout the ages, pioneers, our conscience, have tried to steer us in the direction of a better society. A society that does respect the right of the individual within a community made up of active and participatory citizens. And a goal of working towards a society that gives prominence to the notion of the common good.

This is an area were the Trade Union (TU) movement could take the lead. It has the resources and the organisation to have an immediate impact.

To speak of the common good is to open a can of worms for several reasons. Some philosophers will immediately jump up and scream of Utilitarianism (what’s best for the majority). Other politically minded servants of the present establishment will merely shout ‘bunkum’! Loudly, of course! Others on the left in politics will nod and add their wisdom; ‘good luck with that’. Those on the far left will raise their banner and advise; ‘call for revolution’!

Without doubt it is a tall order and needs a unity of purpose that has dissipated over the last few decades. Once there was a definite class aspect to politics but now it is much more diverse with ‘identity politics’ Fukuyama (p438) a whole host of interest groups pursuing their own campaign. In so doing the opposition to right-wing government’s has weakened considerably.

The poor have no champion. Once it was the Trade Union movement and then the Labour Party but both have been weakened over the past decades. To some the Labour party has lost its soul as it searched for credibility from the business class. The TU’s have never quite recovered from the Winter of Discontent of 1979 and the years of Thatcherism.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_Discontent

Identity politics is a gift of huge magnitude for the 1 percent. As it disperses the opposition into small and at times, irrelevant bodies who shout a lot then drive home for a ready-made meal. Alternatively, they agree to meet at the out of town shopping centre (Mall) for a big mac. Here they castigate those who go to football matches, are at home watching TV or hanging around the betting shop all day. Meanwhile, other campaigners are demanding a halt to air pollution.

Individualism is the cry of the day by the horde that cannot see beyond the mirror. It is also the cry of the neo-liberal economists whose view is the predominant one and the voice of the austerity economic programme. These economists opine that we are all rational individuals that know what we want and act accordingly. But wait, pay heed to the wisdom of Ha-Joon Chang (p194):

“There cannot be such a thing as an individual without society”.

Contrast the ‘rational individual’ opinion with that of the philosopher Jürgen Habermas who suggests that the press feed us celebrity gossip and we behave as “mindless consumers”. The quest to be in fashion, regardless, that garment suits or not. The insistence, almost, of only wearing a designer item and having the name brazen across the garment. Leaves me in little doubt, I’m with Habermas!  www.britannica.com/biography/Jurgen-Habermas

Consider also the opinion of John Stuart Mill, “One whose desires and impulses are not his own, has no character, no more than a steam engine has no character.” Sandel (p51)

The Santa Clara University adopts a stance that the common good is unattainable because it’s in direct conflict with a pluralist society. And that a pluralist outlook is more in tune with our individualistic approach to life. Pluralism suggests that interest groups counter each other and thus create a political balance. I dealt with this issue on my previous post Europe: Moving Politically Right by quoting Francis Fukuyama that powerful interest groups with substantial funds seriously undermine democracy. www.scu.edu/ethics-resources/ethical-decision-making/the-common-good

Moreover, the common good and pluralism are not conflicting ideologies. One of the premier thinkers of pluralism Isaiah Berlin notes that we have to be thoughtful, listen carefully and sympathetically to the needs and wishes of others; therefore we are in the same ballpark. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_philosophy)

Furthermore, when we examine the philosophy of the neo-pluralists the political understanding is in tune with other thinkers, “the political agenda is biased towards corporate power”. This analysis gains wide support from Francis Fukuyama and others illustrates that we cannot rely solely on a balance of interests to aid democracy. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluralism_(political_theory)  In essence we need people power!

Jim Hightower is unequivocal: “The corporations don’t have to lobby the government any more. They are the government.” Chang (p172)

The Workers Struggle

The demise of class politics makes it more difficult, in some ways to create the environment to promote the common good. The sheer number of diverse groups with their niche political views means it’s harder to find common ground. Nonetheless, I believe it can be achieved, the philosopher John Rawls maintains that we can find, “certain general conditions that are [   ] equally to everyone’s advantage”. Sandel (p143) My list would be:

  • Free health care. An end to the slicing down of the NHS.
  • Clean Air Act. An approximate 40,000 deaths annually in UK.
  • A focus on good education for ALL.
  • Municipal community services, e.g. sports centres, swimming pools etc. What Michael Sandel (p243) refers to as the ‘infrastructure of civic life’.

This leads nicely onto the view of Karl Popper, as cited by Bryan Magee (p80)

“We must demand that unrestrained capitalism give way to economic interventionism”.

A view that finds resonance with Noam Chomsky, (p217) “…it’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations”.

Building a powerful foundation for the common good would be a long term project. However, the TU movement has the wherewithal to be the standard bearer which can raise the issue of the common good, not as a political crusade but as an essential part of everyday life.

To achieve this end the TU’s would have to stand independent of the Labour Party on this specific agenda to reach as wide an audience as possible. The Labour party has not done much for the working class since 1945. The economy and what’s best for business has dominated their thinking.

A Potted History

Back in 1969 the then Prime Minister (PM) Harold Wilson tried to introduce laws to limit TU activity and hold wages down – In Place of Strife. Ironically, his plans were scuppered by James Callaghan, who ten years later would attempt something very similar when he broke the 1974 Social Contract agreement which lead to the Winter of Discontent 1979.

It proved to be a disaster for the Labour Party. Callaghan had made several errors of judgment which lead to the electoral victory of Margaret Thatcher.

Eighteen years later, and with most of the gains of 1945 privatized (A beautifully orchestrated hoodwink of the populace). In came Tony Blair, and the expectation, was that he would rescind the anti-union laws that had been enacted by Thatcher’s governments. Not a finger lifted!

www.libcom.org/history/1978-1979-winter-of-discontent

www.news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7598366.stm

The poor have gained very little from the Labour Party except for numerous platitudes. The TU’s also stand bereft, constrained by the power of the law while successive governments have allowed unrestrained capitalism. More privatization, welfare cuts and some 800,000 + zero hours contracts; the poor continue to pay for the banking crisis.

Here then, is a new recruitment drive for the TU’s; a fight for the common good. A simple programme that few could disagree with but with the powerful message that we should all gain from the wealth created. The TU’s are in a strong position to organise local and national meetings to promote the single agenda.

thVWJRZYWDHowever, if I were a member of the 1% I would not be too worried as too many high ranking Union officials are in a position to declare, ‘I’m alright Jack’. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) are trapped in their mindset, “the way we help business” in its opening blurb. The very strong Stalinist tendencies of the Left in politics suggest that they would want to dictate policy as viewed from their particular bent. www.tuc.org.uk

I revert back to Popper to put them in the picture:

“The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for a good society nonsensical,” Magee (p116).

This then is the prime reason we cannot have a list of demands to suit every possible group with a political agenda. Moreover, it should not develop into a left V right shoot out at the OK corral. The common good is for the benefit of the community as a whole e.g. clean air!

“The environment is mine,” said the individual.

“And mine!” said another.

“Ours,” said their sister. It’s time we bound hands.

But first let us begin our campaign with an online petition whereby those who sign up, agree, that they will only vote for the political party that commits to enforcing the policy in the next parliament.

Colour doesn’t matter, policy does!   Power is the peoples.

Do some good – join Robin Hood.

Ha-Joon Chang      Economics: The User’s Guide.

Noam Chomsky     How the World Works.

Bryan Magee         Popper.

Michael Sandel      Justice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Road to El Dorado

 

 

They jet speed ahead leaving the people bemused by their haste. The people cry for them to wait. But the Pseuds’ don’t listen. The people try to pull them back and call out for the Pseuds to explain. The Pseuds won’t stop or slow down.

The people try once more to hold the Pseuds’ back with little success.th5JO5Q6I2

“Catch up!” the Pseuds’ scream back at the people. You need to follow! You need to follow”.

The people pull harder. “Be aware, there’s a cost to everything”.

“Passé,” the voice of the Pseuds’ drifts back.

“Wait,” the people cry, “rushing leaves little time for thought”. Their voices carry on the wind. “What you lose in speed you gain in understanding,” the voices of the people harmonized on a cloud of cold air. “We don’t want to change everything all at once. We should keep what’s good and think before we step into the unknown. What colour will we find at the end of this road? Walk, so that all can follow, leave no one behind to a bedlam of hate and envy. Walk, we will still get there and we can examine the route forward so as not to make mistakes that haste can cause”.

“Hurry,” the distant voice of the Pseuds answered. “We must get to El Dorado”.

“What would be the point?” ask the people. “If we are forced to leave many behind, the goal is worthless. You do not listen. What makes you so sure that you are right? You can run but we will not be dragged. We have come to a crossroad, you think politics, and, we think community”.

And so the great paradigm continues. The attempt to herd the people lapses because those who anoint themselves as leaders fail to understand the beauty and strength and value of community.

The Ennobled Leadership:

The ‘left’ in politics are more divided than their polar opposites on the ‘right’. It seems that every thought generates a faction on the left. So many factions, so many political views from the mealy-mouthed do-gooders to the fascists on the extreme left, each demanding, each with a ten point plan to reach El Dorado. Each faction is adamant that they alone hold the map; only their programme can activate the sequence of events that will lead to the Promised Land.

Moreover, just as the political class on the right fail to take cognizance of the electorate th3XEPWNZGso it is with the left. The people are encouraged to follow not to lead. Hence the concept of ‘democratic centralism’ under which the leadership dictate the policy to be adhered to. A comrade may challenge the leaders of the party but they better remember to sleep with their eyes open. Force is the key noun in the left’s armoury. If they can’t dictate they seek to brainwash, which is just a slightly more subtle means of using force.

We have witnessed the dictatorial power granted to the leadership under ‘democratic centralism’ since the Russian Revolution of 1917, in every communist state. They have all ended up as a one-party state with the merest semblance of democratic involvement of the people. The conclusion is simple, only the leadership understand and know what is in the best interest of the people.

Democracy is no panacea!thOMVN3EG7

At every election you can tot up the promises made. Choose between candyfloss, ice cream or free rides at the fair. Yes folks step right up, get your free entertainment here! Unfortunately, the truth is that they treat the electorate as children because once you have swallowed their banal offerings and voted accordingly, you are removed from the equation. After the election they do what they had planned to do all along. Their party manifestoes are not even decent toilet paper!

The priorities of all the political parties are as one – look after the interests of big business, nothing else matters. Such an outlook will be with us for a long time because there is no alternative to capitalism around at the moment. The Labour Party (UK) is the most contemptible as they profess to be the organ of the workers. Where are all the great stags of the Labour Party that said they would rally to the needs of the poor? Look to the House of Lords on £300 a-day or to the board of some illustrious company on a fat salary or jet setting around the globe doing ‘charity work,’ on a fat salary.

And where are the poor? “Here mate! Nothing’s changed”.th9ISRWBAA

Politicians’ will never allow the electorate power because they do not trust the people to make the decisions that the political class deem necessary. Yet how are the voting public to come to terms with decision making if they are never allowed to participate. Even a car mechanic serves an apprenticeship.

The political class fear the people will not understand the principle of ‘the politics of the possible’ and that the voters will act spontaneously and irrationally and thus screw up the happy medium that has been created. Herein lies the essence of truth, that politicians have become complacent and too wrapped up in the cosy thickness of their environment. They have come to believe their own spin. The spin becomes like rote learning and unthinkingly they rat-a-tat-tat the same old spiel.

Behind the veil of democracy the politicians make their compromises, make their deals and over lunch congratulate each other on a good day’s business. As obvious as the conclusion is, it needs to be spelt out for the benefit of the politicians, the political class do not believe in democracy except as a means to an end.

The politicians’ anthem:

thCA57R6FMVote then disappear,

Go down the pub and have a beer;

Leave us to belch and fart and cheer

That over lunch we’ve made a deal that’s clear – as mud!

Who the . . . . mentioned the EU?

Hope springs eternal and so it always will be. Where there is community there will be a future. Community teaches us that there are always needs to be met. “When you have done, you have not done, for there is more”. (John Donne) The power lies with the click of the finger and the art of the mind. The internet opens up a new field of expression that cannot be extinguished by the big boys. The authorities will seek to curtail it as has been done in China and other tyrannical regimes but the people have the wit to overcome.

Quote from Charles Handy The Empty Raincoat p67. The actual quote from John Donne reads:

“When thou hast done, Thou hast not done, For I have more”. A Hymn to God the Father

The people will have the ability to organise their own polls and to let the politicians know what they like and dislike. There will be no need for a violent revolution; the power of the vote, the power of democracy will finally emerge as it should, as an expression of the peoples’ will. There are dangers as with all advances that the process can be derailed by gangs who fixate on one item politics.

Nonetheless, the future can be bright as political parties can be encouraged to include in their manifestoes the legislation they plan to pass and the rationale behind their thinking. The electorate can then voice their opinion on-line. Be aware, politicians speak gobbledegook which is intended to confuse you and put you off, but someone in the net family will explain it in clear English. Power has always been yours. Take it and make it work for all!

 

 

Social Dmocracy:Blind Man’s Buff (Blindland 9)

Social democracy (SD) the harbinger of change was planned to transform society for the good, to the betterment of all. As society progressed through the social democratic vision the poor would gather the greatest harvest. In general terms the whole of societythBHNITY72 nationally and internationally would accrue a massive uplifting. Oops, the bubble burst! All the thinking, all the slogging, all the good intentions to make the world a better place thwarted by a little pinprick of a gene called self.

The promise of a better world, dating back to the late 19th century, has been left by the roadside. The thoughts of Lassalle, of Marx and Engels among a host of thinking people who tried to give a scientific rationale to accomplishing socialism, gather dust.

From the start there was contradiction on the best way forward, revolution, proposed by Marx or evolution which was to win the day. Marx (1878) would eventually accept that parliamentary democracy could secure better conditions for the workers and social democracy became the main vehicle to drive the whole of society forward.

It was in Germany with Ferdinand Lassalle followed by August Babel and Wilhelm Liebknecht (1869) that the Social Democratic Party (SPD) would be founded. Latterly, Eduard Bernstein would add his considerable intellect to the debate and it is he who is generally viewed as the main proponent of the social democratic ethic: “… a better society can be achieved by working within the existing political order”. www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/551073/social-democracy

In the UK the voices of the Fabian Society and the Independent Labour Party (ILP) gave their weight to the peaceful route. Only where no democracy existed did revolution occur, Russia 1917 and China 1948. As the franchise was extended it was the obvious hope that the majority, the lower classes, would hold the balance of power and the Social Democrats would have all the power necessary to implement the changes to benefit all.

The stimulus for these pioneers to put themselves at the vanguard of revolutionary change was more than self-interest. Their altruism was fed I’m sure by the horror of everyday life which they witnessed unfold before them; the abject poverty of the many as opposed to the spectacular opulence of the few. These thinkers were not looking for recognition to enhance their financial state, they genuinely believed in the betterment of mankind.

Over the years some significant changes did materialize in the UK, the vote for women 1918/ 1928. The rise of the Labour Party as a credible opposition and Party of power which would lead to the seismic shift in 1945/51 with the nationalisation of many industries and the setting up of the National Health Service (NHS). The welfare state has without doubt saved many, many people from fear and anxiety and saved many lives.

Defining social democracy also has its contradictions:

  • Political ideology that advocates a peaceful, evolutionary transition of society from capitalism to socialism using established political processes.   Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia
  • Social democracy is a general term for political doctrines that claim an important role for the State and the community in shaping and directing a society’s economic and social life. www.sociologyindex.com/social_democracy.htm

Note the omission of ‘from capitalism to socialism’. The Times they are a changin’ Bob Dylan

Major changes were afoot in 1959 when the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) dropped its Marxist programme which it had held since the days of Babel and Liebknecht in 1869. In that same year 1959, Hugh Gaitskell the leader of the Labour Party (UK) tried to do the same but was outvoted. A portend for the future, Margaret Thatcher became an MP. It seems that being electable became the prime focus. Being elected is fine, if the politicians, once elected provide some legislative muscle to the benefit of the people. Instead the politicians recognised the growing global economy and didn’t know how to deal with it.

Entrenchment and a narrowing of outlook dominated the thinking of the hard core socialists. The Left held on like bindweed but with little hope of choking the life out of capitalism. A few concessions here and there maintained the Left’s belief but politics was no longer about the big picture of socialism; the massaging of capitalism was the new vade mecum. The other problem for the Left was that the electorate were on the move too and the old tired message of socialism had lost its impetus.

thBZNBAEI3Unfortunately, socialism came to conjure up a picture of the little Red Book of Mao Zedong, of everyone dressing the same, of repression and monotony. The Cold War of Gulags and the Berlin Wall allowed the Gibbers of the media to exercise their wit and their propaganda sang like a bird on the wire. For some, socialism was devoid of emotional input and of exhalation. Individualism had become the key to self-fulfilment, the condition manufactured and satiated by the multinationals. The thinkers had gone to make a career for themselves in TV etc. And the fast buck became the essential buck.

One of the few concessions made came in 1976 when the Germans spread the notion of workers participation via Co-determination, first introduced in 1951. Naturally, the new law was bitterly opposed by the employers. A year later the Bullock Report commissioned by Harold Wilson of the Labour Party proposed the introduction of Co-determination in the UK but it never happened. A few years later the EU tried to introduce the Fifth Directive which would have granted workers’ rights similar to the German model but it was allowed to drift beyond the clouds.

www.eurofound.europa.eu/emire/GERMANY/CODETERMINATION-DE.htm

The spiral downwards speeded up during the seventies and the eighties. Crippling inflation of 25%+ in the UK saw the Labour government introduce wage restraint, it worked, and inflation gradually fell. However, the cost was borne by the workers’ as wages did not keep pace with the cost of living. James Callaghan who had taken over from Harold Wilson in 1976 kept wages in check. In 1978 when Callaghan had an opportunity to go to the polls he forwent the chance and continued the policy of wage restraint.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Party_(UK)

Disaster struck in the form of the Winter of Discontent when union members came out in droves. The scale of the strikes and the nature of them, dead not buried, meant the Gibbers in the media created stories of hell. People were disgusted by the actions of some unionists and come the next election (1979) Margaret Thatcher was elected the new Conservative Prime Minister.

Between 1980 & 1993 there were six major pieces of legislation that boxed the unions in. The miners’ strike of 1984/5, which Thatcher had prepared for and won, allowed her a free hand to bind the unions more thoroughly than ever. Union membership has fallen since; from 13m in the 1980s to just over 7m in 2000 and below 6m by 2012. www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_unions_in_the_United_Kingdom

During her period in power Margaret Thatcher was to batter at and bring down the ramparts of old Labour. Under privatization of Water, Electricity, British Gas and BT and several others the self-gene was let loose and people rushed to buy shares. Share ownership rose from 7% to 25%. The sale of council houses likewise brought its own stampede with over one million being sold. The gold rush was on and all the Left could do was watch.

The final blow to any pretence that social democracy still held a glimpse of a socialist future came from the Trojan Horse of New Labour. “These days, many social democrats are largely indistinguishable from their Conservative opponents, as a result of both types of parties converging around the centre of the political spectrum”. www.rationalwiki.org/wiki/social_democracy

And so it proved when Tony Blair became leader of Labour. He set the warning flare in 1994 with an article in the Fabian magazine and in a special Easter conference in 1995 sealed the fate of Clause 1V. (Sydney Webb 1917) However, the game had long been up for the social democrats since the Bad Godesberg conference in 1959. It was clear that the leadership both in Germany and the UK where seeing the world from a different perspective than the traditionalist. When the mind has wondered off course it is easy to get lost, or find what you have been looking for.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clause_1V

Leszek Kolakowski in 1982 pointed out that social democrats merely offer, “…an obstinate will to erode by inches the conditions which produce avoidable suffering, oppression, hunger, wars, racial and national hatred, insatiable greed and vindictive envy.” Quoted from Ben Jackson

www.academia.edu/1763736/Social_Democracy

By ‘inches’ will take a very long time and the idea of socialism will have disappeared into the fog of history. For example, the social democrats control the EU but have failed to utilise that power. The EU is essentially an economic club to assist the nations of Europe to fare better in the global market. Therefore workers’ rights are not a priority and if challenged the EU leadership will bring out their present stock answer; if the workers fail to let them control the vagaries of capitalism there will be no treats. And there you have it children, capitalism is the one true master. Overlords rule, ok!

In the UK the outlook is cloudy, e.g. Anthony Giddens in his book: Beyond Left and Right: The Future of Radical Politics writes, “Socialism is the pursuit of ideas of social cooperation, universal welfare, and equality-ideas brought together by the condemnation of the evils and injustices of capitalism. It is based on the critique of individualism and depends on a belief in group action and ‘participation’, and collective responsibility for social welfare”. Has it not always been so? Giddens has his detractors and so the squabble goes on. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_democracy

Meanwhile, the Labour Party leaders of the past walk hand in hand with their partners along a secluded beach: the Kinnock’s walk away to make their millions (£), the Blair’s do likewise, and the Miliband’s will likely continue the trend. Where’s Robin Hood when you need him, alas, he’s just a fictional character! Obviously they have never read, William Blake:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand

Till we have built Jerusalem

In England’s green & pleasant Land.

The Oxford Library of English Poetry Vol: 2 edited by John Wain

th171YMN79The Left have long been lost and have lost the prospect of galvanizing the people even with essentials like human rights. They have turned the issue into a peepshow by advocating the rights of individuals to have a sex change and legal assistance for illegal

Human Rights at a glance

Human Rights at a glance

immigrants. They were batted off the field when the Conservatives pushed through same sex marriage in church. Thus a trivial tit-for-tat plays out while the need for real human rights continues unabated: slavery, child labour, mass sexual exploitation of women and children, et cetera. Human Rights have become a money spinning industry, in need of a soul.

Environmental issues are also a graveyard for the Left as they try to cherry pick specific areas such as fracking. The opponents of fracking probably turn up in their cars and use their smart phones to implore others to join them; meanwhile, taking pics of police brutality. And not a moment’s thought about their personal carbon footprint. No thought either for the slave labour used to manufacture the phones or the carbon cost of the car. Phones and cars are a tangible experience of individualism and are viewed as essential items; being such they have become divorced from conscious thought about others misery and global warming. Dah!