Friday, 12 April 2013

The feeling of gut (a paean to the inherent value of a trade union in the 21st century)

I felt the need to explore, as the central thesis within my PhD, the question whether Labour Movements had any relevance in industrialised Western societies? I have a great dislike for postmodernism. It's essentially conservative. I took exception to those (many of whom characterised themselves as 'leftist') who promoted the idea there had occurred a 'culture shift', epitomised by the post-materialists (and many social movement theorists), who argued that those traditional forms of labour movement organisation based along clear class lines, had largely become irrelevant in advanced Western societies. Within this new paradigm encapsulated in the phrase coined by Daniel Bell - the post-industrial society - new modes of production were emerging based upon information, new computer-based technologies and knowledge itself. The new political players in this brave new world were those whom Inglehart saw as holding new 'values [that] give high priority to environmental protection, tolerance of diversity and rising demands for participation in decision making in economic and political life.'1 The decentred working class were within this schematic, increasingly peripheral to social change or necessary for 'making things'. It was as if we didn't need 'life's essentials' or 'things' in this post-industrial, ungrounded futurama.

The feeling of gut

I had a gut feeling that the post materialists/post industrial society theorists were far from correct. For a start, the shops were full of these 'things' called 'consumer goods' or what Marxists might call 'commodities'. Someone made them somewhere. I knew this to be the case as we didn't yet have the technology that Jean Luc enjoyed on the Enterprise that could manufacture a Klingon Bat'leth from nothing in your bedroom, deep in the Alpha Quadrant.
A Klingon warrior
Yet it went deeper than Star Trek or the goods stacked on the shelf in my local Morrisons. I'd been a trade unionist but I'd also been an active campaigner against racism and fascism for many years (I still am). Many in my union and in other unions like me, were also active anti-fascists and anti-racists. I'd also spent many years studying the development of anti-fascism in the inter-war period, and it was clear that throughout the twentieth century, trade unionists and in particular organised working class socialists and communists, were at the fore when it came to combating fascism. I looked at trade unions as organisations in the workplace. I was struck with how they acted as an oasis of democracy in an environment fundamentally hostile to the idea of democracy in any shape or form. I saw democracy (not necessarily in its liberal democratic form although this form was often organisationally projected onto labour movements) as akin to a 'super-value laden' concept, because it underpinned all the values so valued by the post materialists.

Actively anti-fascist

I'd played in bands that supported the campaign for justice for the young (predominantly) black men who've tragically died at the hands of the institutionally racist police. I've demonstrated in Oldham and helped 'deter' the National Front (NF), the British National Party (BNP) and other assorted racists from taking control of the streets. I'd spent countless wet Sundays with many other activists, trudging the streets of Oldham, Burnley and Salford, forcing soggy anti-BNP leaflets through letter-boxes with the aim of stopping convicted holocaust deniers like Nick Griffin getting elected to local councils. Sadly, I've stood outside the main gates of a cemetery in Prestwich alongside Jews and non-Jews with the common aim of demonstrating solidarity against the racist morons who sought satisfaction and enlightenment in the smashing of Jewish gravestones and graves. An anti-fascist is pro-democrat. 

The quickest way to be labelled an anti-Semite?

Despite the above, sometimes even I find it difficult to come to terms with being labelled 'anti-Semitic. I hear you asking "why on God's or Yahweh's blue-grassed earth would anyone cast a chap with such a pedigree of opposing racism etc in such a manner?" It centres on my support for the Palestinians which engenders in some a form of accelerated apoplexy. This usually manifests itself after a chap's made his position on the Palestinian issue clear, say at a party or maybe in a fine public hostelry. A pattern usually emerges which goes along these lines: a) the immediate suspension by the pro-Israel/Zionist type of any concept of critical thinking or critical analysis, and, b) the adoption and hurling by the pro-Israel type of the allegation of 'anti-semitism'. No Palestinian supporter is immune from attentions of the pro-Israel/Zionists as Liberal MP David Ward discovered after he'd 'compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.' It's part of a strategy designed to batter all opposition to Israeli policies of oppression, apartheid and expansionism into silence. Historian Ilan Pappe has written on such tactics.

A concept known as 'property'

Regular readers of this blog will know my politics. I'm no fan of the concept called 'property'. But we live in a liberal democracy that is itself part of the framework of capitalist society. Capitalism, like all class societies, is a system premised upon the political, social and economic dominance of the majority by the few. It's also premised on competition and as a consequence, crisis. As the most advanced form of class rule to date (not meant to mean 'advanced' as a measure of progressiveness), and with a huge productive base, it's also been known to engage in  increasingly destructive 'World Wars'. 

First they came for the speaker-outers and organisers...

In periods of severe economic crisis, capitalism also tends to throw up the likes of a Mussolini, a Franco, and their next door neighbours, the Pinochets and Hitlers of this world. They present themselves as almost messianic saviours of the people for the people.*  As prolonged economic crises grip nations by the throat, in their wake emerge their human embodiment - acute social crises. Such a heady mixture often raises the spectre of dictatorship. Totalitarian types prefer the 'firm hand' methodology. They also look to the 'hostile to freedom of speech' school for ideas to bring calm to society. But one thing leads to another. From the perspective of dictatorship-chap, it makes sense to jettison freedom to speak freely because usually it tends to associate with other freedoms such as the freedom to combine and the freedom to organise politically. It's difficult to be a dictatorship-chap when lots of people actively and legally organise to stop you. 

Then they came for the minorities...

Another handy little instrument of rule from the dictator's tool-box-of-rule is something called the 'scapegoating' of minorities as few dictatorship-chaps embark upon a policy of scapegoating the majority for obvious reasons. Thus, Hitler's iron rule was marked by his vicious hatred and persecution of the Jews, blaming them for the twin evils of Bolshevism, and in caricaturing Jews as rapacious financiers. Conveniently, he would hold them both responsible for the economic catastrophe inaugurated by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. As things got worse for Hitler's regime after the decisive defeat of German troops at Stalingrad in 1943, the intensity of destruction of the Jews and other groups increased. Hitler's vitriolic anti-semitism, and his military-industrial regime ensured that millions of innocent people including hundreds of thousands of the Roma people and in excess of six million Jews, were dispossessed of their property and eventually, their lives.

Geese sauce maketh a return

It's not that I've suddenly developed an inalienable urge to embrace property rights. Property and property rights are a feature of all forms of class society. Property rights privilege and elevate 'things' over people. That's why people sleep rough and millions of buildings stand empty. If I could borrow Sooty's magic wand,** I'd use it to clean the house, re-grout round my bathroom sink, and abolish all property immediately.  But I've had a thought and as readers of this blog will know, this is nearly always a bad thing. I do actively embrace a 'lil' something called 'justice'. And I've thought of a way where one wrong may be able make a right.

It's not right

It was unjust that the property of those persecuted by the Nazis, expropriated by a gang of organised criminals and their collaborators, should remain denied to them. Now this the bit where I qualify this position. If in my view it is right and justified for the descendants of the dispossessed Jewish people to return and legitimately reclaim what was/is theirs, then accordingly, it is right and justified for the Palestinians to do the same. It's such a simple concept. That's why I like it. For the Palestinians, it reaffirms the idea of the 'one state solution' and the right to return, and holes below the waterline the idea of crumbs from the table encapsulated in the 'two-state solution'. This is important for all those Palestinians who still retain the keys to the front doors of the houses they left behind during the Nakba. There's no two ways about it. That, in this non-anti-semitic chap's opinion, has to be the end game.

The inherent value of a trade union in the 21st century

I'd like to return here, however, to my original thoughts. Every now and again, those that stand with the oppressed against the oppressors, score vitally important victories. I talk of course about the UCU's recent victory in the Employment Tribunal against UCU union member and Academic Friends of Israel Director Ronnie Frazer. Frazer, a maths teacher, claimed that his union, the UCU had harassed him in breach of equality laws. It was an expensive claim. The Tribunal's findings are devastating:

178 "Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated."

179 "We are also troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression, principles which the courts and tribunals are, and must be, vigilant to protect (for a recent example, see Smith-v-Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221 (Ch)). The Claimant and his advisors would have done well to heed the observations of Mr Beloff and Mr Saini concerning the importance which the law attaches to political freedom of expression."

150 "It seems to us that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness and, even if it was, it could not be substituted for the pleaded characteristics, which are race and religion or belief..."

The self-negating contradiction

There it is and it's a bit of a stunner. Human rights barrister Adam Wagner is as scathing of the instigators of this claim as the Tribunal judge. It's official and now recognised in UK law that being an anti-Zionist and espousing anti-Zionist views does not automatically make one an anti-semite. It's rather logical really. Being a Zionist isn't part of being Jewish because lots of Jewish people are opposed to Zionism. Zionism is as much intrinsically part of being Jewish as the idea that Jewish-ness or Christian-ness (or any other religion for that imatter) is located in the DNA. Like race or religion, the Zionist project is a social construct based entirely on political motivations. It's a murderous edifice but it is when all is said and done, an artificial edifice. If Zionism were an intrinsic part of being Jewish, anti-Zionist Jews would be self-negating contradictions of their own making... they would 'cease to be' in Cleeseian terms.

Problems with the Bread and Butter hypothesis?

The Palestinians have been historically denied a voice. The Nakba of 1946 removed any remaining vestiges of rights they once had. The pro-Israel/Zionist lobby have systematically tried to deny those who support the Palestinians, the right to have their voices heard. This latest attempt to silence criticism of Israel and its allies, has failed abysmally. That my union has played a part in this important struggle demonstrates that labour movements are not only relevant today, but essential organs for fighting oppression at a global level. Labour movements and trade unions have never been simply about 'knife and fork' issues. They played an important role in helping end slavery in this country, and in raising the first democratic demands of the organised working class in the Chartist movement. They were central to the development of the International Brigades in supporting the democratically elected Spanish Republican government in their struggle against the German Nazi supported fascists of General Franco. This at a time when Neville Chamberlain and the ruling class appeasers were giving Hitler the green light to carve up democratic Czechoslovakia.

The working class, democracy and history

Months after the death of Stalin in 1953, East German workers rose up in response to wage cuts, their demands quickly transforming into democratic demands for freedom and free elections. Hungary in 1956 saw workers take on the might of the Soviet 'workers' state' forming their own democratic organs in workers' councils or 'soviets'. Again in 1968, French workers and student brought France to the brink of revolution, and throughout the 1980s Polish workers took on their own Soviet sponsored dictatorship, providing the long wave of political unrest throughout the 1980s that acted as the catalyst and underpinned the wider movement that would tear down the Berlin Wall in 1989, and see off Stalin's heirs in 1991. Within the broad sweep of history, workers have shown that unlike their capitalist rulers, they have been at the forefront of fighting for democracy.

Mouth foamers

No doubt the Zionists/Pro-Israel lobby will be foaming at the mouths because of this ruling. Given Israel's strategic importance for Western interests, it's likely that the attempts to silence criticism of Israel's policies against the Palestinians will not end here.

I agree with Judge Snelson - we have to be vigilant.

Notes and Resources

1. Inglehart R, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey 1990, Introduction pp. 4-14

*The author subscribes to the view that the pre and post war Stalinist regimes and their like (including Cuba, China et al) are state capitalist, marked by the fact that they were not in any shape or form democratic, were based on the exploitation of workers, and workers and peasants had few if any rights. As such, these regimes had no entitlement to the descriptor 'workers' states'.
** An hilarious series starring a small yellow bear and his comedic sidekick 'Sweep'. There was also a dog called Butch and a python called 'Ramsbottom' who wore a flat cap and had a 'Northern' accent. They shared a house with Matthew Corbett.

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below). The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. Email

Monday, 8 April 2013

We Robot(s)

 This morning I critically reviewed this...

This lunchtime I critically reviewed this...

And finally just before I picked my Granddaughter up from infants school, I critically reviewed this!

Oh how we laughed...

Notes and Resources

Usual disclaimer: This work is and expression of opinion on a matter of public interest and contains the opinions of the author. It is intended to report current events that are of public interest and public concern. The reproduction and use of any documents, photos and video images herein is to provide humour and accuracy in order to avoid civil litigation and claims of misquoting. In reporting current events they are used within the context of Fair Dealing or Fair Use. The author is happy to provide further acknowledgement if requested (email below). The author also suggests that before embarking upon expensive civil actions for libel, contact the author. We have reams of documentary evidence which we are happy to provide. A right of reply also operates. We are also happy to make corrections and if necessary provide an apology. Email