In need of co-operative

“At a very early period in the movement, co-operation set before itself the task of becoming mentally independent as being quite as important as that of becoming independent in its groceries.”

Our local high street Co-operative Food is about to turn into a Quidsaver. Meanwhile Barkingside (not somewhere most people are too poor and ground down to spend an extra few pence making sure the producers and workers get paid OK) apparently finds it “too dear” and prefers to drive to Tesco and Lidl as if the world owes it cheap food and owes the producers a slow asphyxiation. And if it’s hard for us (and for most of us round here I seriously doubt it) imagine how hard it is for them. Quidsaver, like Tesco, probably depends on slave labour somewhere down its murky supply chain.

Since Barkingside consumers are not so poor as ignorant, I read this history of co-operative education by Keri Facer and try not to indulge my futile neighbourhood fury.

From it:

“… a ‘learnt associational identity’ (2011) was expected to grow out of the experience of mutual support and participation in democratic practices. Co-operative education was understood not only to be education about co-operation, but education through participation in the co-operative movement. Education was not a professionalised theoretical activity, rather ‘education and co-operation were at times coterminous, woven into interconnected webs of working class activity’”

but

“The first tension is a product of a commitment to co-operative values. The commitment to self-reliance and self-responsibility, and the flourishing of a highly divergent co-operative movement, means that there was resistance to a universal centrally dictated model of education. Instead, there were tensions between the need to maintain local autonomy and the desire to build a wider movement, between the growth of common feelings and solidarity through locally determined societies and the efficiencies to be gained from formality and national organisation. The principle of local autonomy tended to prevail, and as a consequence, there was often scant local formal education provision.”

And now, again,

“As of 2011, and the publication of the new Public Services Bill which paves the way for co-operative and mutual models of public services delivery, the Co-operative College is also exploring how to support the development of co-operative models of children’s services provision, music services, early years and youth provision.”

Read on for how that’s going (promisingly).

 

Light on a killer

At 10.30 after the pub I put on a 70 lumens head torch and went out into the garden.

First I quickly and accurately cut a wide variety of slugs in two just behind their heads. If I do that every night my tender young borage and poached egg plants may grow up to attract pollinators, and my parsley, cabbage, lettuce and strawberries may grow up to feed me. Slug pellets poison way more wildlife than the slugs they’re intended for and shouldn’t ever be used. But I can’t be having the slugs, and I can’t see the difference between killing them like this and killing them in any other way (even the harmless-seeming ones or the more removed ones like beer traps. I’ve tried to repel them but the barrier method (copper coil) doesn’t seem to fully work. Reading that last sentence back it sounds a bit dodgy.

I’m very touched to find what I think is a common frog on a strawberry leaf. When I gently touch it, its skin is cool and moist. It doesn’t let me kiss it so for now I just have the one boyfriend. I don’t know where it will find water – maybe there is still a pond nearby after all. I just reported it on iSpot. Barkingside is suburban.

In the light of my head torch the air is teeming with pollen grains, more than I realised there could be without me noticing them in my nose and throat. Apparently this is only medium levels. Or maybe it’s just my garden?

I move seedlings onto a table in the greenhouse for the night where the slugs won’t get them. There is no cat crap on the lawn because I strimmed it down enough to use my Bosch push mower (zero electricity, even does stripes). The lawn is soft and green. There are black slugs on it. I don’t know what these ones do – I don’t see them on my plants.

A pipe in the eaves spouts water down the wall of the house. Matt comes back, listens to a pipe in the hot water tank cupboard, then puts on the head torch and goes up a ladder to the loft where I have never been because it is very dark, dirty, spidery and gendered. I waggle pipes, and he turns one off.

The spouting stops and yippee – I don’t have to have a shower.

 

If you’d voted UKIP in Redbridge

Today UKIP made contact through the letterbox. Nobody is expecting a major swing to them in Redbridge so I don’t really need to write this. Maybe somebody living in a south-east coastal town or up north will read it. Pledge by pledge, this is their leaflet.

Early reference to ‘tired old parties’.

Political parties don’t get tired because they’ve been around a long time. And anyway, UKIP is famously old, backed by old and supported by old. And anyway, what’s so wrong with old? In fact, what is ‘old’?

Deduct half a point for making cheap statements and half a point for negativity.

UKIP Councillors would have the right to vote in the best interests of the people that they represent, rather than following a predetermined party line.

The strapline of the entire leaflet, which blatantly contradicts the statement above, is ‘Vote UKIP Get UKIP’. Both statements can’t be true.

The thing about party lines is that aren’t all about bossy people at the top pushing their agenda on the little guy. Party lines are chosen by candidates, not the other way round – otherwise the candidate would presumably be standing as an independent. The major party themes are also developed by consensus, rather than on one person’s whim.

Another important point about party lines is that they broadly let voters know what they’re getting when they vote for a candidate – if UKIP Councillors don’t have a party line on anything, then a vote for UKIP is like voting for an independent candidate. The reason few independent candidates succeed is that, without the benefit of a selection process within their party, most of them give the impression of being superficial, inexperienced, ill-disciplined people of uncertain principles, pursuing vanity projects or narrow single issues. Those who don’t mainly fail to convince voters that they will be able to sufficiently inform themselves to properly think through every decision – this constant need for reliable intelligence is where a political party comes in very handy. If you want an independent candidate, then don’t vote UKIP – vote for the kindest, most generous, most hard-working, most intelligent candidate.

Deduct 2 points for incoherence.

UKIP Councillors would work to provide much-needed permanent leisure facilities around the borough.

I thought this could only mean a permanent swimming pool – a Labour pledge after the Conservatives were criticised for proposing to waste a lot of money on a temporary pool. But UKIP don’t mention a pool, which indicates that they are reluctant to pledge a pool. So they aren’t pledging a pool. What exactly are they pledging?

Deduct 1 point for vagueness and coyness.

UKIP Councillors would work to keep control of council tax, ensuring a fairer Redbridge for all residents.

What do they mean, ‘keep control of’? Where does council tax threaten to wander off to? Is somebody trying to snatch  it? To the best of my knowledge, this statement is meaningless.

Deduct 5 points for misleading scaremongering. Add 2 points for striving to seem less racist by mentioning ‘all residents’.

UKIP Councillors would work to ensure that housing policy will reflect the needs of all residents.

This is not distinctive – every single candidate will pledge to do this in their own way – because it is absolutely core to a councillor’s job. The question is, according to what principles would they balance the needs of all residents? And what about those who seek to become residents? Again, there is no UKIP line to which we can refer here.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text and 3 points for taking voters for fools (making confident pledges without declaring any principles).

UKIP Councillors would work to improve street cleansing across the whole of the borough.

Again, this is not distinctive – all candidates pledge this.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text.

UKIP Councillors would work to improve law and order in the borough.

See above.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text.

UKIP Councillors would work to improve facilities for the elderly and vulnerable.

Again, this is something that all councillors have to do, irrespective of their political persuasion. It isn’t optional at all. But by going out of their way to mention older people while omitting younger people who have had their services cut and thin job prospects, UKIP again demonstrate a failure to understand intergenerational tensions and inequality.

See above – deduct 1 point for wasting text, and 2 points for poor selectivity.

UKIP Councillors would work to provide priority in adult social care for local residents.

I don’t understand what this means – are there non-local residents who are demanding adult social care? I don’t think you can apply for social care unless you are a local resident. Given UKIP’s reputation for stoking fears of foreigners, I detect some nasty insinuations in this pledge.

Deduct 5 points for groundlessly planting suspicion that social care is being poached by non-residents.

I’m missing anything on local jobs, healthcare or schools. Deduct 5 points for each of these important omissions.

Help us to make a difference in Redbridge on May 22nd 2014

Change for the worse, I’m certain.

Turning over, we get the smiling face of James Kellman – I think this is a lightly customised national leaflet, since our UKIP Action Team seems to be just one gent.

We learn he is a long-term local man. He is happily married. Turkish wife. Why would he mention the nationality of his wife? Because UKIP is characterised for the attraction it exerts on racists and xenophobes. He worked for Transport for London for 20 years and is now self-employed with more time. Former Conservative, disenchanted with the main parties on the EU.

He has one specific desire: transparency in Council matters. He doesn’t say what this means, or where they fall short now (the meetings are already public and well-documented, for example).

“You will no doubt have several candidates from different parties doorstepping you – it is felt better to leave you in peace”.

UKIP have not attracted enough volunteers to knock on our doors and talk with us about our local concerns, so this is really making a virtue of necessity. On the ‘leaving in peace’ part, what James hopes to distract us from is that canvassing is an important part of democracy. Working street by street, sitting councillors, candidates and party volunteers gain a deep familiarity with their constituency and those who campaign throughout the year can grasp changes for the worse or better. They report fly-tipping and anything else that needs fixing as they encounter it, and they have a chance to start illuminating conversations with residents who would otherwise be unlikely to make a first approach to a politician. This is another benefit of being in an organised, disciplined party rather than a loose collection of Europhobes with barely anything to unite them.

I think it comes to minus 33.

I’d score the other parties in the minus, but that would be the lowest out of Greens, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. And although I am extremely appalled with politics, I believe that in a democracy we get the political leaders that the middle classes deserve. I am middle class, and so I have shared responsibility to strive for a better politics. A protest vote for the shambles that is UKIP has no part in that.

Rich and Conservative, Ken Livingstone?

Just to note that Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London who is himself content, as a reputedly rich tax avoider, not to vote Conservative, told viewers of last Tuesday’s Newsnight on BBC2 that Jews were rich and so voted Conservative.

“If we were talking 50 years ago, the Roman Catholic community, the Irish community in Britain, the Jewish community was solidly Labor. Still the Irish Catholic community is pretty still solidly Labor because it is not terribly rich.

“As the Jewish community got richer, it moved over to voting for Mrs Thatcher as they did in Finchley”.

He thereby perpetuates, in these times of UKIP and anti-minority sentiment, the myth that Jews are rich while others struggle to get by.

It seems like a case of unsavoury wishful thinking of him to focus on class here. For a start, we know that Thatcher got in on the back of white working class voters, as UKIP may this year and next. And then there’s the fact tha,t since he has this weird thing about Jews – who comprise a bare 0.5% of the electorate, he should at least be vaguely aware that in 2010 the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (IJPR) reported an even Conservative / Labour among British Jews, with many floating or undecided voters. Like most British young people, Jewish young people are less likely to vote Conservative. Single and secular Jews, ditto. And like women in general, Jewish women are more likely to grasp that voting Conservative is not in their interests. To pick up on the Conservative leanings of religious Jews, it is the most religious who are most likely to live in poverty, according to a 2011 IJPR report.

So Ken’s assertion seems more and more spurious.

From his experience of alienating Jews and the ensuing coverage, I surmise that Ken Livingstone knew what he was saying. I’d say he’s one of those who holds negative views of Jews. Antisemitism goes hand in hand with other errors of judgement so it was no surprise that, even though Boris Johnson had a terrible record at the time, Livingstone contrived to lose the last London mayoral election for the Labour party (the cleverest of whom refused to compromise their principles on him).

What UKIP supporters say

Searching the web for the phrase “UKIP supporters say” reveals how poorly UKIP serves the interests of its supporters, and the difference between what they want and what UKIP offers.

80% of UKIP supporters say that tackling the gap between rich and poor should be a government priority, according to the High Pay Centre. In contrast UKIP’s commitment to flat taxes and abolishing inheritance tax would benefit only rich families. One critical response from the left-leaning Tax Research Centre points out that, since the top 10% of earners currently pay 59% of all income tax, collapsing National Insurance and Income Tax into a single fixed rate for all would only serve to reduce the overall tax-take available to spend on public services while also preventing the rich from making a proportionate contribution. Moreover, the vast majority of UKIP supporters who responded to 3 months of YouGov polls in 2014 said that parents were right to “call in favours” to advance their children’s job prospects. That’s commonly known as nepotism, and it’s generally considered bad for morale, trust and equal opportunities. All of which is the opposite of tackling the gap between rich and poor.

UKIP positions itself as a party for working class people. See above for why this is doubtful. Tangentially, some according to a Populus survey for the Financial Times earlier this year reported in the Daily Mail, 4 in 10 UKIP supporters voted Conservative in the 2010 general election, the next largest proportion did not vote or chose a smaller party, while 15% chose the Liberal Democrats and only 7% voted Labour.

UKIP supporters are less likely than other EU opponents to appreciate the quality of the UK’s public services, according to Prospect. But UKIP is well-known for taxation policies which, while incoherent, lean strongly towards reducing public spending on these services.

61% of UKIP supporters say they will definitely vote in the European Elections, The Mirror reports, based on the . This is more than any other party’s supporters. And yet on working for their constituents, UKIP MEPs have a very poor track record

91% of UKIP supporters want to cut the 1.5% of government spending which is allocated to overseas aid, reports The Mirror. But pollution and climate change do not respect borders.

57% of UKIP supporters say they would like to live in mainland Europe, according to Prospect Magazine. However, if UKIP succeeding in withdrawing the UK from the European Union they would be far less free to do so, particularly if the UK’s influence continues to become more proportionate with its place in the world (i.e. less of an empire-wielding bully).

UKIP supporters are most likely of any party’s to drive every day and least likely to ride a bicycle, The Mirror reports. There is no discrepancy here between what UKIP supporters seem to want and UKIP’s policies. Nevertheless it’s worth saying that, to weigh against their obvious benefits, cars emit poisonous substances which have a negative impact on human health and ecosystems. National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory records state that road transport contributes about one fifth of air pollutants – and DEFRA’s summary of the effects of air pollution make grim reading – cardiovascular problems, lung disease including cancer, breathing difficulties and asthma. Environmental Protection UK points out that the UK is struggling to keep some areas within the limits set by the European Union. A 2012 coalition government policy reports that 55% of car journeys are less than 5 miles. According to Sustrans “a depressingly high proportion of short trips are made by car, 23% under a mile, 33% 1–2 miles, and 79% 2-5 miles (only 20% of these journeys are for work – shopping and school runs are a sizeable proportion). Motivated by health and well-being, there is a consensus on reducing short journeys by car to protect children (not least children who are car passengers), ill people, and people with respiratory problems. So, are UKIP local government candidates campaigning for better cycle routes and public transport? There is no mention of public transport in UKIP’s local manifesto! A search for UKIP “public transport” reveals that in the Forest of Dean UKIP candidates make one passing reference to public transport is overshadowed by promises of free parking and road maintenance. Telford and Wrekin UKIP insist that “Telford was designed for the car and would make the town driver friendly once again.” In Dudley a UKIP candidate attempts to fight private providers’ cuts to local public transport, but doesn’t mention a strategy. And most surprisingly, although outside London transport is the preserve of local government, UKIP’s 2014 local manifesto contains no reference to public transport and one reference to reducing parking charges.

UKIP supporters cheer on UKIP as a maverick plucky alternative to the established political parties. But like the Conservatives they are bankrolled by millionaires seeking influence to further business interests. Then there’s the growing catalogue of hypocrisies. According to a former UKIP MEP (though of doubtful standing) writing in the Daily Mail, Farage is known for muscling through policy changes through force of character rather than democratic deliberation among party members. Only days after Farage commented on his advertising campaign that “Most parties use actors. We use Ukippers“, UKIP’s poster campaign was exposed as improperly featuring Irish actor Dave O’Rourke posing as an unemployed UK voter. Farage was taken to task for employing his German wife (whom he does not pay minimum wage) and then claiming that no Briton could work as hard. UKIP has nothing to say to the millions of UK expats living abroad about integration and not taking jobs from the local citizens. So it’s unsurprising that UKIP donor Paul Sykes employs workers from mainland EU in jobs that UK workers could do just as well, and that the enormous fortune of UKIP Housing spokesperson Andrew Charalambous includes three quarters of a million from housing benefit, including that paid by migrant tenants. Hypocrisy and incoherence, all the way. And by the way I don’t think the problem is the hypocrisy – I am relieved that the UKIP millionaires are taking money from and giving money to migrants on the same terms. The hypocrisy is only a symptom which shows up the bad policies.

UKIP supporters are eager to emphasise that UKIP is not racist. But despite spectacular attempts at ‘weeding’ out the racists UKIP has attracted, they just seem to keep on coming. When Enfield candidate William Henry recently stated that Dudley-born actor, broadcaster and comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to a “black country”, senior UKIP officials closed ranks. Farage has obliquely defended Henry by changing the subject, while the deputy chair Neil Hamilton tried to distract us by calling the matter a distraction. it is understandable that most people assume that UKIP favours discriminating against minorities in Britain. Its 2010 manifesto was disproportionately concerned with British Muslims (93% of supporters think it is acceptable to single out ultra-orthodox Muslim women about their attire), its 2014 manifesto overtly associates Romanians with crime as if national identity could be a cause, and its recently-launched poster campaign is generally thought reminiscent of the British National Party (BNP leader Nick Griffin also claims this).  It is inadequate simply to claim not to be racist – anti-racism is something which needs to be evidenced in policy and demonstrated through action. UKIP are not taking these measures, because to do so would interfere with their activity in the European Parliament where they are the largest party in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping of extreme right-wing MEPs. The leader of the next largest party, Italy’s Lega Nord is on record suggesting opening fire on boats of Africans who wanted to migrate to Italy, while another of its MEPs called for segregation between immigrants and native Italians. There’s far worse to worry about with the Europe of Freedom and Democracy, but I’ll stop there. (Only, is it any wonder, with gangs of MEPs like those, that the EU struggles to get things done?).

Two thirds of UKIP supporters say that they will even vote UKIP if it is likely to be a wasted vote, reports the Daily Mail. This means that Labour, pro-EU and one of the last parties most UKIP supporters want to see in power, is most likely to prevail in the 2015 general election.

And lastly here’s a curious thing. According to Prospect 4% of UKIP supporters would vote to stay in the EU. Perhaps they are the truly disaffected.

Omitted: housing, defence, countryside, and climate change, among many other things.

 

Goodbye marking boycott

In insisting that poverty is an absolute threshold and that there is no need to concentrate on equality, trickle-down Tories are fond of telling us that a rising tide floats all boats. Trade unions tacitly accept this reasoning when they campaign for a pay rise for high paid staff along with lower paid ones. And in the context of global warming, a rising tide floods all fields.

A relatively high turnout of University and College Union members have voted in an indicative ballot to abandon the pay dispute and and marking boycott. I wish UCU approached things differently. I wish we genuinely and universally supported fair pay. Whether or not we asked for a larger share of public expenditure, what fair pay should involve is action on reducing inequality by campaigning to redistribute overpay to end underpay. It’s not just Vice Chancellors who are overpaid, it’s professors, consultants and senior professional staff. UCU in its second, less-known claim (the inspiring one that it somehow neglected to publish on its own website and decided not to take action about) observes that 25% of higher education staff get paid above the top of the single pay spine. That’s staggering given that amounts to more than £63,358. A quarter of staff! It is hard to turn round to the public – the shop workers, barristas, secretaries and administrators – and say that they should have more. But this is what campaigning for a pay rise across the entire spine amounts to, because paying above the spine is a matter of market forces. And yet those jobs are wonderful jobs which are their own reward. And yet many of the other 75% struggle on their wage and conditions. I want wages based on principles that find the middle ground between the evils of ‘psychic wages‘ and the evils of the market for public institutions.

Yes to Piketty and his plan to tax the rich. And yes to the New Economics Foundation who point out that overpay leads to the pollutants of over-consumption including greenhouse gases and landfill fodder. I wish the labour movement would face up to these things and stop trying to convince us that underpay is the only cause of inequality. I wish trade union leaders would stop acting like New Labour, “supremely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”. Or like Tory philanthropists who think it best for wealth, and therefore influence and decision-making, to be concentrated among a few individuals to bestow on deserving others as they see fit. I wish the labour movement would put its own house in order before trying to start a revolution elsewhere. And I wish that a marking boycott, with its drastic effects on job seeking end-of-programme students, had never been considered. Better an admissions boycott (though there are plenty of reasons why this is risky, including the fact that the Conservatives are seeking to shrink higher education and we don’t want to do that for them).

And I think this shame is why the UCU hardliners have just lost the vote to escalate the dispute.

If I weren’t such a slow, easily-disorientated thinker, diffident public speaker, over-vulnerable to attacks from the hard left and the hard managers, I would try to win an official role myself. Meanwhile I wring my hands on this blog.

 

Hi tech, the hyper-meritocracy and the rest

A lot of people think that investment in hi-tech will get the world out of the economic doldrums. Under the current system of distributing wealth I very much doubt it. Recently I read an April 2014 edition Prospect article by John McDermott titled You’re next. Will technology make professional jobs redundant? (behind a paywall) which reminded me that not only do I doubt it but I expect the opposite. It reminded me to leave myself a note here about the several things I’ve come across recently which point most persuasively and ominously in this direction.

From the aforementioned McDermott:

“Behind the voguish discussion about technology is perhaps a more important trend: the declining share of income going to labour than capital. And without a political response, the type of technological change discussed by [techno-optimists] Brynjolfsson and McAfee would only further such a divergence.”

McDermott speculates that “new machine age continues to regard capital at the expense of labour”. Because of what I’ll euphemistically call a distribution problem, that capital is concentrated in the hands of a few. For this reason he doubts that education can address the inequalities inherent in a hyper-meritocracy – even with the indignity of ‘venture-philanthropy’. I was reminded of the My Teacher is an App episode I wrote about recently – the Waldorf school in silicon valley where the Google and Yahoo employees send their kids to keep those creative little minds far, far away from the operation of a computer.

I often argue with one of my closest work colleagues. I think that, because of the way this society is organised, computers will take away jobs from more humans than they create jobs for. He is skeptical. Here is a concrete example of my being right. April 2nd was Autism Awareness Day. I’ve twice been thrown into the company of a student at work I’m almost certain is on the spectrum, and I’ve become quite interested in what I understand his challenges to be (and many others – autism is one-in-a-hundred), so I listened to an RSA recording titled Autism at Work: Releasing Talent and Harnessing Creativity. From it I discovered that people with autism tend to be punctual, like routine, are content to do the repetitive tasks their colleagues dislike – and, in passing, that they are losing precisely those jobs to computerised labour. Most people with autism would like to be employed but, squeezed out by machines and misunderstandings, most are not.

Certainly Luddites were right about the problem of machines. Why is technology so attractive to employers that they would prefer to render vast tracts of their potential custom without the disposable income to actually buy their product? Humans, as variable capital, are unreliable. When they go wrong, the employer pays twice – once for their sustenance as workers (their food, fuel, shelter i.e. their wage) and once for their replacement while they take their compassionate leave, maternity, sickness, industrial dispute, resignation or whatever. Machines only need maintenance and phased replacement. Philosopher of education David Blacker devotes quite a lot of the early part of his book The Falling Rate of Learning (sorry, it’s Zero Books – I received it as a gift otherwise I would have hesitated because of at least one of Zero’s authors) to this matter. Citing the economist Tyler Cowen (as does John McDermott above – she must be worth reading. Oh. He’s not a she.) Blacker doubts that hi-tech can sustain education beyond a basic level.

“The trouble is that once those initial large productivity gains have been reaped, the return on the human capital investment levels off – perhaps to the point of unfeasibility. Ironically, while technological development made human universal education possible, those same technological developments and subsequent productivity increases render further education for the masses mostly a waste.”

But surely workers are needed to actually make and run the machines? And here it gets very dark, but very plausible, and I will quote at length (pp47-47 of the 2014 Kindle Edition),

“As the machines get better, however, by definition even a smaller percentage of the machine-maintainers are ultimately needed. This level of expensive educational investment simply does not “pay” with regard to most people, because more and more of us are not exactly needed for much of anything. No longer needed as workers, the domestic masses are needed as open mouths into which to force feed as much consumption as possible, an irrational strategy that purchases short-term overconsumption at the price of long-term underconsumption (due to the inevitable ensuing debt overload) and hence is defeating of its very purpose. Domestically at least, neoliberalism really needs consumers and otherwise neutralized types (e.g. the incarcerated) rather than the industrial era of capitalism’s skilled and semi-skilled labor. For the dirty little secret of the high tech economy is that, despite incessant boosterism to the contrary, it does not need widespread technical competence; most jobs in the high tech environment demand stultifying activities that require nothing beyond basic literacy – if that. … For every “high tech, high wage” worker enjoying a cool workplace at google.com, there are many, many more who are “enjoying” the inverse proportion between high tech and their job demands: the higher the tech, the dumber the worker can be and, ultimately, in the best case neoliberal scenario, phased out altogether where possible (via outsourcing and/ or further automation).”

But even though so many of the biggest companies in the world are involved in peddling consumables (Google is primarily an advertising company, for example) nobody thinks a consumer economy is a good idea. In Blacker’s world very few people get paid sufficiently to consume, so his expectation is that they will be allowed to perish. Which reminds me of the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which temporarily sobered up the establishment for a week or so.

In the book Blacker distinguishes between old kinds of capitalists – upstanding, patrician, enlightened sorts – and new, socially useless kinds who avoid paying tax and when faced with healthy competition, instead, blob-like, attempt to absorb their competitors. He mentions in passing that Henry Ford, one of the old kind, decided to pay his workers $5 per day to create a blue collar middle class which could afford to buy his cars. For the first time I thought of him fondly. Then a bum note crept in – could this even work in a profitable industry? Apparently not – I read a right-winger insisting that Ford paid over the going rate simply to retain a particularly skilled workforce which was very costly to replace at a time – 1913 – when demand for labour outstripped supply.

Not like now. Even if there is growth, it doesn’t have much of a chance to touch the majority of us.

Bonus links:

  • On BBC Radio 4′s The Bottom Line, 29th March, Evan Davies interviews a panel of entrepreneurs who service the super-rich. I found them craven, venal, and generally revolting, and I had the impression that they even embarrassed their host.
  • And spitting in the eye of that, The Austerity Delusion, a May 2013 talk at the RSA by political economist Mark Blyth, who in answer to an audience question points out that, no, the world’s richest can’t buy enough services to flush a stagnant economy – (also available as audio only – but if you don’t really grasp Ivy League economics you may need his slides).

Update – see too:

  • Equity in the Age of the Robot – a Resolution Foundation event on 29th April 2014 with Diane Coyle, Izabella Kaminska, Alan Manning and Michael Osborne. Follow the Twitter hashtag #robotage.

 

 

Hey Euan Sutherland, how about I take my Co-operative bonus now?

I bank with the Co-op, shop with the Co-op and have a Co-op mortgage.

As a member of staff in a UK higher education institution (not this example, though) I’m entitled to an NUS Extra card which gives me an astonishing range of discounts at a number of major retailers. This includes 10% off at the Co-op. Until today I had only claimed a discount once. On that one occasion I didn’t feel great about it and decided that I’d rather give the Co-op the money than save it for myself.

Today, though, I got to the till and remembered the morning’s news that

“The embattled Co-operative Group, still reeling from a banking scandal and preparing to lay off up to 5,000 employees, faces a new storm over plans to pay its chief executive more than £3.5m in his first year in the job, while massively boosting the salaries and bonuses of other senior staff.”

and

“Salary consultants brought in by the Co-op based the proposed remuneration packages on comparisons with FTSE 30 and FTSE 100-listed companies of a similar size to the mutualised group that is owned by its 8 million members. But the huge salary increases are likely to be seen by some as at odds with the history of the co-operative movement and its traditionally egalitarian ethos.

“Under the proposals, Sutherland will be paid a base salary of £1.5m this year, plus a £1.5m retention payment. With pension contributions and other extras, such as compensation for buying him out of his previous contract, Sutherland will receive £3.66m this year. His predecessor, Peter Marks, received just over £1.3m last year.

“Richard Pennycook, the chief operating officer, will receive a £900,000 salary and a retention payment of £900,000. Six other executives will be paid salaries between £500,000 and £650,000 – and the same amount in retention. In the past, senior executives of the Co-op received between £200,000 and £400,000.

“It has also emerged that Rebecca Skitt, the Co-op’s chief human resources officer, who joined in February 2013, left last month with a proposed pay-off totalling more than £2m.”

at which point I got out my card and claimed my paltry £1.24.

Nobody – least of all a Co-op employee – should be getting that kind of money. The Co-op should shun that level of inequality. They should see through this kind of financial exsanguination – especially when they’re laying off the people who work at their farms and pharmacies.

And did I mention that I am not an effing charity?

I’m not dumping the Co-op but I do feel that they dumped me some time ago. My discount is going to make quite a lot of difference to me in the coming months and years. I should think the Co-op would be glad to have it, but it’s money they won’t get because they hired consultants from a financial tradition that has already got this country in trouble several times over, and then followed their recommendations to fleece me.

They badly need to get back to their mutual roots. They need to recognise the difference between greed and motivation.

Sorry Vova, they choose differently.

Russia sneaked its military into Ukraine without insignia and established a military occupation in Crimea. Putin seems to be trying to provoke retaliation from Ukraine’s caretaker government, using the newly deposed and discredited puppet president Viktor Yanukovich as a pretext.

Sorry Vova, they choose differentlyPutin has done this for a number of reasons. One is because, as a fossil fuel bully, Russia can do what it likes in a world which refuses to green. Another is because he reckons its Black Sea Fleet based in Sevastopol has a crucial strategic role in protecting Russia’s South Western border – indeed its admiral has said Russia will never give it up. Which is related to the fact that he hopes to buffer Russia from the European Union and establish a rival to the Eurozone called the Eurasian Economic Zone; this determination to limit the European Union is a reason, if not the main reason, why he had Russian troops invade Georgia at the earliest opportunity. Another reason is that Crimea – the south-eastern peninsula that Russia is occupying – is the part that Catherine the Great conquered in 1813 and Khrushchev ‘gave’ to Ukraine in 1954, which consequently has (according to Russia Today, so perhaps a generous estimate) an ethnic Russian, Russian-speaking bare majority of 58% in the 2001 census, who make up by far the largest ethnic group, many of whom have dual Ukrainian and Russian citizenship. As an autonomous republic Crimea is far more inclined to Russia than the west of Ukraine (which looks to Europe), and in 2009 rejected a US diplomatic post which the Ukrainian government had been encouraging.

But it’s not that simple Vova, my dear nationalist. According to the sadly late Natalia Panina, a researcher at Ukraine’s Institute of Sociology, the Russians who number over 8 million or 17.3% of Ukraine’s population in the 2001 census (she among them) have not faced significant discrimination (question e2, p48) or social distance in Ukraine. In fact, they were part of the overwhelming majority of 90% who voted for Ukrainian independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.

On the ‘Western’ front, there are many theoretically possible actions nobody wants to take for fear of inflaming the situation (note that Russia has no such worries itself) and this means that Russia will grab Crimea. On the diplomatic front, Russia is chairing the G8, so Foreign Secretary Hague and other members will refuse to attend some imminent meetings. Somebody had better take diplomatic measures to reduce social distance between ethic Russians and other ethnic Ukrainians, including reinstating Russian as an official minority language (a big mistake on the part of the acting government because it has been both widely supported and also considered of low importance). In the UK it’s long been time to pursue a reversal of increased dependence on Russian coal in recent years (without mindlessly transferring it to authoritarian states like Qatar, where we get a chunk of our gas or narc-fuelled states like Colombia). Ukraine’s south is hot and sunny. Ukraine needs an economic boost – perhaps it would be a good idea to fund renewables like solar in the dry sunny south of Ukraine, along with the infrastructure to export it. This could help in at least two ways, I think. The UK government is actively considering withdrawing some Russian visas and freezing assets.

A bit more from other places and positions:

  • I’ve been worrying about China partnering with Russia and coming for Europe, but on Channel4 blogs, ex-AWL Paul Mason considers whether a Russian invasion of Ukraine will push the west into an economic war. He doesn’t anticipate World War 3 but the end of globalisation if (big if) China decides to get involved and sides with Russia. Perhaps then this country can stop outsourcing low wages and climate change to other people’s countries.
  • If the end of globalisation happens, then perhaps the Stop the War Coalition (London-based pro-Baathist/Islamist/Communist, anti-UK/US/EU campaign group masquerading as an anti-war group) will disband, job done. I checked by its site to confirm that they still have wildly erring priorities. Put it this way, they won’t be participating in any ‘Hands off Ukraine campaign’ unless the hands in question are ‘Western’. It’s ironic that if Stop the War were anti-Russian dissidents in Russia they’d be in prison by now. They invariably remind me how much I like the UK.
  • Yanukovich falls. Back the left! – Alliance for Workers Liberty. “Our solidarity should be with left-wing and working-class forces in Ukraine which will fight to open up democracy, to push back the far right, and to help working people in Ukraine defend themselves against the neo-liberal “reforms” now demanded by the EU and the IMF in return for loans to enable Ukraine to manage payment deadlines.”

All for now.

Update: Timothy Snyder writes authoritatively on the spurious claims from Putin about protecting Russian compatriots. Via Bob From Brockley on Twitter.

My teacher is an app

Did you know that Rupert Murdoch has a Head of Education? My Teacher is an App just finished on BBC Radio 4. Thanks to a colleague I didn’t miss it.

The brain-based learning side of things is really promising but the big business ‘vultures’ (as Sarah Montague called them) are frankly disturbing. This is one example of what another colleague and I often debate – I tend to argue (too vaguely) that in societies like ours technology, unless open, is prone to replace people because it is cheaper (doesn’t need holidays, benefits, sick leave, etc). My Teacher is an App provided a good example in the Rocketship school (charter school run by a business, a bit like a Free School in the UK)  in a poor part of San Jose which was experimenting with classes of 100 students, 3 teachers and many computers.

It’s a basic Marxist* tenet that people, being ‘variable capital’, are always vulnerable to being replaced with ‘fixed capital’. Software is more predictable than people and doesn’t require sleep, weekends, compassionate leave or holiday.  This displacement has happened ever since the industrial revolution and is always very hard for the cottage workers or equivalent – this is why workers campaigned for and won a welfare state.

Now though I’m wondering (not for the first time, but more so in this credit crunch time) where on earth, in a capitalist society, is the ‘added value’ of educating a society in geometry if that kind of knowledge can be replaced by machine knowledge? My neighbour has just returned from Gujarat where the state education system there doesn’t even nearly accommodate all the kids – education is a luxury outside a skills-based or knowledge economy. So are pensions, incidentally. For a long time the UK has been among the few knowledge economies – but what about now in this newly multi-polar world? Are we moving into a post knowledge economy? What will work look like? And if we don’t have jobs in a world where only big business owners and their few workers have money, then will we become a non-working non-class?

Watch the Google and Yahoo workers closely and you soon pick up that the best start you can give their kids will by by rationing computers. You can bet the Waldorf school where those same Google and Yahoo workers send their kids – the school without a single computer – was a private school.

*Don’t be alarmed – think of Marx as a knowledgeable and firmly establishment commentator.