Dead Men Left

Friday, April 28, 2006

"At least nine councillors..."

The Telegraph's estimate, a few days ago:

Tower Hamlets
In Tower Hamlets the loss of Oona King's Bethnal Green and Bow seat to George Galloway last year suggests that Respect could gain at least nine councillors in predominantly Muslim areas, and perhaps even the ward of Shadwell, solidly Labour since 1919. With the Lib Dems stirring in the north of the borough, and the Conservatives likely to take all six councillors for the Isle of Dogs, Labour will lose this borough in the heart of the East End after being assailed on three different fronts.

The stirring of the Lib Dems is being somewhat disrupted by the presence of Respect, who certainly give every impression of running them close in wards like Weavers.

Some (not many) of the postal ballots have already been counted. Still not finding any Labour voters on the doorstep.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Slightly rambling around Tower Hamlets

Been reading Michael Young's last book, The New East End, which has appeared to rapturous praise from certain quarters. Will write a proper review/rant about it later, but as a taster: by god, this is shite. (See also here and here. Both articles, if anything, understate how very bad this book really is.)

Throwing this soggy communitarian fag-end aside (complete with unpleasant hacking cough, and promises never to touch the stuff again) and returning to the real New East End: several hours spent, over the last two weeks or so, pounding Whitechapel's salubrious streets with our three Respect candidates has convinced me that we are on the verge of a breakthrough here. (I'm not the only one.) Now, I'm not convinced - but then, I've never been convinced - that Respect is going to win control of the council, although it is a possibility. What seems most likely is that, given the complete fragmentation of the Labour vote, we'll end up with a council split four ways - potentially with Respect as the largest single block.

Particularly striking is that this fragmentation seems to be taking place across the constituency. Whitechapel itself is a poor and predominantly Bengali area that delivered a huge vote for George Galloway last year. From canvassing elsewhere, however, it's clear that sections of the white working class are looking to Respect as a viable alternative to New Labour. As I've said before, Respect simply could not have won George his seat without the support of white working class Labour defectors. The demographics of the constituency dictate as much, and certainly the canvassing returns made clear that our support was arriving from across BG&B.

Given the exceptional circumstances of that election, though, there was no guarantee that such support would be maintained. By all accounts, for a significant minority of longstanding Labour voters, it has been, and has even strengthened: we have an excellent slate of candidates, presenting a solid political programme. Getting the candidates out, meeting people, and having the arguments where needed has materially contributed to Respect's support.

So I'm reasonably chipper about proceedings, thus far. Anybody wanting to see the East London Respect bandwagon rolling onwards should get down to Liverpool Street Station at 10.30am this Saturday for the mass canvassing and leafletting - we're aiming for at least four hundred people out across the constituency, matching last year's near-heroic effort.

New Labour have chosen the same day to mobilise their remaining activists in East London. Curiously, and despite frantically talking up the Nazi threat there, they're chosing not to send them to Barking and Dagenham. Instead, it's all out to prop up their corrupt and ailing council in Tower Hamlets. Important to get your priorities right, I suppose; internal Labour Party polls a few weeks back (I'm reliably informed) put Respect on something over 10% across London - which, considering we're not standing right across London, suggests a very significant amount of support in the east. Another one for the rumour mill: guess which "Party of Liberation" is reportedly offering its support for New Labour in Shadwell?

Monday, April 17, 2006

No Pasarán, New Labour style

Typical complacent New Labour smug quacking noises:

The Home Office minister, Andy Burnham, said indications of growing readiness to consider a vote for the BNP reflected a trend towards protest voting, especially at local elections, but he played down the significance of the party's threat.

"When people hear their views, I think they will see them for what they are," he told Today.

Someone should tell Margaret Hodge:

White working-class families feel so neglected by the Government and angered by immigration that they are deserting Labour and flocking to the British National Party, a minister admitted yesterday...

"They can't get a home for their children, they see black and ethnic minority communities moving in and they are angry," said Mrs Hodge, the employment minister... Mrs Hodge said the pace of ethnic change in her area had frightened people.

The scale of the idiocy here is close to awe-inspiring. On one side, New Labour minister blithely assumes that the rest of the country is as serenely liberal as he is. Ignore the fascists and they'll just go away. On the other, New Labour minister, in a panic, repeats and embellishes the "views" so complacently dismissed by her colleague. Joined-up thinking where it matters.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Department III

There are so many wonderful New Labour moments in this:

Des Smith, who resigned from the council of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) in January after telling an undercover reporter that Downing Street would recommend donors "for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood", was released on bail after a day of questioning by officers from Scotland Yard's specialist crime directive.

He certainly did, the silly sod, though apparently not to the "fake sheik". Anyway, just to add to the delicious pre-emptive Schadenfreude:

Lord Levy, the Labour party fundraiser who is Mr Blair's tennis partner, is president of the SSAT. Lord Adonis, the junior education minister, wooed potential sponsors when he worked in the Downing Street policy unit as the prime minister's education adviser.

Adonis, profiled in disappointingly crawling fashion here (what were Red Pepper thinking?), is the working-class hero behind the entire Academy scheme. Some more cynical folk out there may well have been wondering why those made very rich by emphatically not dispensing largesse should suddenly blow fat wads of cash transforming failing schools into centres of excellence, ho ho. They might idly glance at Adonis' own democratic credentials. Tsk.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Absolute surplus value II

Just to add to the post below: the current drive to carve up pensions and extend working lives is a simple smash-and-grab operation to expand absolute surplus value. It's a frontal assault on real wages, something comparatively rare under advcanced capitalism outside of deep recession.

A great deal has been written, recently, regarding an apparent US productivity "miracle". Much of this sudden increase in growth has been attributed to the retail sector, and the introduction of ICT to enable more efficient working practices: just-in-time delivery, minimum number of items in stock, and so on. It strikes me that much of these implicit increases in relative surplus value - to the extent that retailing produces surplus value at all - from improved technology are disguised increases in absolute surplus value: that ICT's major funciton, in low-cost bulk retailing like WalMart, is to improve staff monitoring. Actual working practices, one suspects, remain much the same: it's just somewhat harder to shirk when a computer is logging your every move. ICT, to this extent, is waste production; it does not directly contribute to the system's productivity, but is a necessary function of the system's inability to completely regulate its labour inputs.

(The same argument about improved monitoring is harder to make for ICT in other service sectors - something anyone reading this at work will well appreciate.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Absolute surplus value, China, and the North

Ah, splendid:

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former president, on Sunday underlined the seriousness of the situation when he said the country's institutions were in a state of disarray not seen since the late 1950s when, amid the Algerian political crisis, the constitution was rewritten to create the Fifth Republic.

"The normal functioning of institutions must be re-established," said Mr Giscard d'Estaing, in an article written for Le Journal du Dimanche. The government, he added, should as soon as possible put forward a new law withdrawing the new job contract. "It is time to get out of this mess."

"The normal functioning of the institutions must be re-established...": which put me in mind of Ed's commentary on Andrew Glyn in the Guardian a few days ago.

Glyn writes:

A piece of conventional wisdom about the world dear to economists is that the share of national income going to workers stays pretty stable. Karl Marx disagreed; he argued that labour-saving capital investment would limit demand for labour, while also bankrupting small-scale producers, in agriculture for example. They would swell the labour supply, creating a permanent "reserve army of labour" that would prevent real wages growing as fast as labour productivity. Workers would thus spend an increasing proportion of working time producing profits for capitalists - a falling share for labour or a rising rate of exploitation, in Marx's terminology.

All well and good, as far as it goes. Ed briefly discusses Glyn's account of the crisis of the 1970s at his blog: in brief, Glyn views the the slide in profit rates commencing from the late 1960s onwards as driven by the strength of organised labour. Capital, in the guise of neoliberalism, was then able to reassert itself, boosting profit rates and restricting labour's share of the national income. The obvious problem with this account is one of timing: the most sustained increases in real wages in the post-WW2 period occur at precisely the same time as the most sustained increases in national income and productivity. It's then difficult, as Ed rightly says, to see why the crisis would then only occur in the 1970s, and not the 1950s. (Glyn's problems are caused by an elision he makes, on the basis of a neo-Ricardian interpretation of Marx, between economic variables in price terms, and economic variables in labour-value terms... but that's by-the-by.)

There are broadly similar difficulties in Glyn's account of China's spectacular economic growth in recent decades. First, the recovery in the rate of profit since the early 1980s was brought about in the developed North by a brutally effective attempt to maximise what Marx called "absolute surplus value". There are two ways to boost profits: you either make your workforce work more effectively, or you make them work harder and longer. "Relative surplus value" is increased with the former; "absolute surplus value" with the latter. If the working day can be extended - and it has been, reversing 100 years of progress - and if real wage growth can be minimised or even reversed - real wages in the US stayed constant between 1975 and 1995 - "absolute surplus value" can be increased: capital can grab a greater share of output. It's crude, but it has been singularly effective for capital, at huge human cost.

Second, the maintenance of the neoliberal order - such as it is - has depended on the intervention of a massively expanded financial system. The problem with restraining real wages is that this also restrains purchasing power; if you don't pay your workers as much, they cannot buy as much; if they cannot buy as much, capital cannot sell as much.

John Maynard Keynes proposed expanding government expenditure to make good the gap between what consumers can afford, and what is offered for sale; after a burst of post-war enthusiasm for the concept of government-led "demand-management", the political risks were, by the 1970s, considered too great. Instead, the extraordinary growth of private, consumer credit was allowed to make good the difference. The second phase of the neoliberal age - the period over which China rose to global economic prominence - has leaned ever more heavily on the crutch of global finance. Consumers, especially those in the US, borrow to buy cheap manufactured goods from the Far East. The system functions, as long as the credit can continue flowing.

Glyn's brief account passes over this critical dependence. A recovery in the rate of profit was only possible globally because of an initial rise in absolute surplus value across the developed world - quite independently of China's later liberalisation. This recovery was then only sustained because a liberalised financial system could ensure markets for goods were maintained on cheap credit. In Glyn's apocalyptic scenario, the appearance of a Far Eastern "reserve army of labour", millions-strong, puts such pressure on workers in the North that "[t]he bargaining chips would be in the hands of capital to a degree not seen since the industrial revolution."

But who, then, would buy the goods this Chinese proletariat produce? If real purchasing power in the North collapses as a result of competition from the South, it would seem neoliberal capitalism has very few options: the only one that presents itself as politically acceptable is a frenetic expansion of an already-bloated consumer debt. This is not a secure position from which to cast "bargaining chips". Other, as yet politically unacceptable solutions may start to present themselves.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Who dares, issues writs

...not a single post for a whole week, and then all you get is snippet from the Worst Paper in All England (arguably), the Sunday Telegraph. (Actually, scrub that: it's not even the worst Sunday paper; that honour belongs to the Sunday Times, which I wouldn't use to wipe my arse with. I really wouldn't, actually, horrid semi-glossy paper last time I checked, not absorbent.) Between irksome work and less irksome elections, blogging has slipped down the priority list somewhere. Very poor. Will try harder in future.

Ben Griffin followed his storming speech to the international peace conference in November with an interview for the Telegraph, during which the ex-SAS soldier declared the invasion of Iraq to be "illegal". Cue repercussions:

Ben Griffin, who left the Special Air Service in June last year after spending three months on operations in Baghdad, has been informed that the Government is considering "civil proceedings" against him after he described the war as "illegal" in a Sunday Telegraph interview...

In a letter to this newspaper, however, the Treasury Solicitors, who act as the Government's legal representatives, claimed that Mr Griffin had breached a binding and life-long "solemn undertaking" not to disclose any events of his career in the SAS without first informing the Ministry of Defence.

The letter states that to breach the confidentiality contract, which all members of the special forces have to sign before they are allowed to join the elite units, is an "actionable civil wrong"

There's a lot of this low-grade intimidation taking place around various bits of the UK state, sometimes creeping over into slightly higher-grade and more unpleasant proceedings. Quite what whoever is making the decision hopes to gain in Griffin's case is hard to judge, especially given the failure of previous legal warning shots to produce the salutary lesson desired. Ours not to reason why, etc.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Let freedom reign

Figures within Iraq's majority Shia alliance have for the first time urged Ibrahim Jaafari to stand down as PM to help a national unity government form...

This week senior Shia politicians said US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had told them President George W Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" the retention of Mr Jaafari.

And the punchline:

Mr Jaafari responded by saying the comments undermined Mr Bush's commitment to democracy in Iraq.