The world of work – global precarity and inequality
It’s the shock doctrine in action.
The major focus of neo-liberalism has been to destroy workers’ rights and drive down wages by creating self-employed precarious workers – or oppressed workers with no rights. This is global! The tendency is for workers to be involved in precarious and piece work, replacing time payment.
Precarious work is the ultimate commodification of labour – each worker is his own entrepreneur, responsible for her or his health and safety, taxes, accounts etc. Growth of poverty employment. Local authorities gutted said UN report and outsourcing has been a disaster for services and workers
The root of this in New Labour’s market state – a product of neoliberalism – massive focus on self-employment and precarious zero-hours contracts – all subsidised at that time by tax credits from booming economy. The economy crashes, tax credits disappear, austerity bites – poverty wages, fake self-employment, precarity remain and increasingly become the norm.
Does technology only work for the 1% – can it work for the 99%?
The new capitalist firm – does Uber own the means of production? Or does it simply manage the relationship between buyer and seller? This can be said of all the big new tech firms. How stable are these structures? Recent collapses in share values show that it is also the firms that are precarious.
Young people are being brought up educated from an early age to know that the main drive of their life must be to sell their commodity of labour, somehow, in this transformed market. With precarity, robotisation etc. they cannot see how they can fit into this “brave new world”.
It poses once again the issue of how to organise workers and what to organise them for. Trade unions’ role is to improve workers rights within the existing system, and that is crucial. The couriers’ network shows a new networked approach to organisation which those who want to build a movement for change can build on.
But beyond that, we need to argue the opposite – not “everyone must sell their commodity of labour” but “what work needs to be done in society and how can we ensure it is done for the good of all”.
Technology is bringing about new ways of working and living – but for capitalism it is money for nothing – lazy capitalism – we need to take it over and adapt it for our not-for-profit liberated society. The answer must be to transform the workforce into a workers co-operative and socialise the apps under workers’ control.
Can AI and robotisation benefit the 99%? Not within capitalism where it just generates bullshit jobs, and precarity. Growing recognition of this is grounds for resistance – how can we use technology and AI to build the resistance and humanise technology for the first time since capitalism.
Real Democracy approach should:
★ Use language that reveals the awfulness of austerity and the capitalist system
★ fight against global slavery – not support it with our consumption – realise that cheap goods and cheap services have a cost
★ Support precarious workers organising around their identity as “workers”, while also trying to realise the revolutionary potential of work freed of the need to produce profit – i.e. beyond capitalism
★ co-operate until we achieve worker ownership – making coherent demands. Extend it to all the violence women face, including austerity which hits women hardest
★ Look at collective ownership and use of AI platforms for the benefit of all
★ Socialise apps under workers control.
Neo-liberalism vs. Il-liberalism
Representative democracy has had its day – a shallow form of democracy that mainly serves to legitimise the capitalist state. The spirit of revolt always remerges in communities but it is quelled by the ineffectiveness of single issue protest, which the state can ignore, and if needs be by state force – the law is on the side of the system.
How do we reconstruct the state to establish power locally, nationally and globally to delegitimise, make unlawful, the criteria of capitalism (profit, low wages, exploitation, ecological destruction)?
Where does power lie?
★ Power lies with the people – potentially
★ Examples of union activity having some impact on working conditions
★ If people saw through the “materiality” mindset – what would be the outcome? (i.e. challenged consumption paradigm – buy nothing day every day – what do we NEED for a happy life)
★ Co-option of democracy by the corporations, elites and now, the far right
★ Far right success is due in part to the state turning on the people
★ Large % of votes against the status quo – Indy ref/Brexit – people power expressed in a contradictory way
★ Solve the contradiction through alternative structures established to challenge the status quo – people’s assemblies, city states
★ Rise of the right is a last-ditch strategy to keep the capitalist show on the road
★ Hegemony – challenging power – what is the most effective strategy?
★ History shows that the “state” will intervene to protect itself
★ How do we build a mass movement to challenge the status quo of finance capital and the corporations ? What role if any could a Labour government play?
★ How do we prevent the state from intervening?
★ Corbyn winning response across the UK – but what is ‘he’ doing with it? Who are Momentum – what is their purpose outside Labour votes and elections?
★ How do ‘people’ become aware of the potential power they have?
★ Do trade unions have a role beyond building solidarity amongst low-paid insecure workers?
★ Could a Labour government quickly spark change because they would be building on shared values people understand and identify with?
★ Are we too late to build a mass movement?
★ The power of the media and mainstreaming of far-right messages and views
★ Are there example of how to build from trade union organising?
★ Need to prove to people that actions can have an impact – helps to attract people and build trust
★ Union action on issues – bullying, sexual harassment / H&S – before recruiting McDonald workers to the union. Build trust, encourage young leaders – then the pay strike after that
★ “Uncovering secrets and finding hope” – the co-operative movement already exists Local movements are strong in some areas – people aren’t told the positive stories
★ Encourage people to see unions and co-operative working/ownership as the norm – not the capitalist “norm” of profit and growth
★ Solidarity is the natural human state
★ Do people share the same desires? We need to study the psychology of genocide and counter/target “bystanders”
★ A big change is underway – we need to be ready to protect many people
★ A Corbyn government “against the state” – and a movement to transcend the current state.
Real Democracy approach should
★ Create a better model for the new state. Offer training for participatory, direct forms of democracy – popular assemblies, municipal socialism, citizen oversight of key issues such as climate change and demand resources for this work
★ Fighting the far right – being more appealing than they are, not taking their statements simplistically, but revealing what lies behind them and why they are appealing to some people
★ Capture dissatisfaction and take back narrative from the far right. Connect with movements that are the basis for building a mass movement
★ resources to get people involved in the sortition process
★ Re-appropriate ideas of democracy. Chartists had a plan for alternative parliament
★ We have to protect existing democracy from the “deep state” – that is the state that exists that is greater than simply the government of the day
★ Developing our understanding of the crisis in representative parliamentary democracy revealed by Brexit. Ensuring political rights we have are defended while simultaneously fighting for alternatives
★ Show that violence against women is a result of the misogynist nature of the state and that austerity is violent against women especially
★ Challenge the hegemony that we are in a natural state. Show rather that community and solidarity are our natural state and that neoliberal individuality is toxic and dehumanising
★ To achieve this we need community-owned media
★ Technology assisting more direct democracy
★ Establish that conservation and ecological awareness is the new normal and consumption is not a criteria in itself.
Art, culture and identity
The Left needs to have a bigger space to be heard.
Lots of creativity/art forms that could be part of the cause.
Creating a positive creative revolution.
Ideology plays a huge part by helping keep people in check.
We need to challenge the narrow definition of what it is to be human.
There is such a thing as an objective world, which exists independently of the parameters capitalism sets for life.
We are presented and forced to keep to an agenda laid out to keep us divided.
But remember “We are many, they are few”.
We need to bring in culture that includes to the whole of nature, commons as an idea etc..
The hegemonic monoculture we get is all we are force fed.
Capitalism is not a “conspiracy” – it is an entire social and political and economic system.
Groups in society are demonised so we need to work on a liberating ideology that frees all groups/individuals in society.
We, the left, cannot be absolutist in our solutions but create a diverse, inclusive, ideology across society including all groups and age groups.
Link to mental health and the labelling of children at an early age as failures. We need to promote to parents how current education system is aimed at producing zombified, compliant workers, because that’s what capitalism needs.
We need to use the talent and skills of authors to write the stories of the working class of today, and get a new generation to produce them.
Rather than leaving it to existing agencies, who we may in the past have trusted to bring about change for us, we must ourselves become change agents.
Real Democracy should
★ Develop forms of culture that challenge neoliberal hegemony and welcome grassroots counter-cultures
★ Define and share Utopian visions of different kind of world
★ Seek out talented people to help define post-neoliberal identities
★ Create a diverse, inclusive, ideology across society including all groups and age groups
★ Highlight the unique power of workers as those whose energy produces value
★ Celebrate the power of the individual as part of nature and a social collective as opposed to the consumerist model
★ Pull the rug from under right-wing populism’s co-option of the UK’s historic struggle for democracy and defence of democratic rights by becoming a beacon for it.
We are experiencing an eco-emergency as current scientific reports make clear.
Extinction of species is at an all-time high while warming has accelerated beyond the worst-case predictions.
Existing state systems are incapable of halting global heating despite climate summits over past decades.
They are locked into the “growth” mantra of corporate capitalism.
Governments such as that of Bolsonaro and Trump are promoting fossil fuels and destroying rainforests, national parks and indigenous lands.
Communities in food-producing states cannot even eat their own agricultural products.
Real democracy should
★ Promote the transition from fossil fuels, overseen by citizens’ assemblies
★ Reject the “growth” imperative which underlies the policies of Conservative and Labour politicians
★ Encourage urban gardening and the planting of city beds, for example as in Wigan council
★ Introduce young children to ancient woodlands and nature reserves on a regular basis
★ Overcome people’s insecurities about connecting up with nature
★ Buy local food seasonably
★ Support young people internationally who are taking action against climate change, including Extinction Rebellion
★ Build on pioneering work by indigenous peoples in Columbia, Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere in legislating protection of nature and eco-diversity
★ Invest in low- carbon strategies for food forests and rapid reforestation, including in urban and semi-urban gardens.
Since 2008 people have begun to deeply question the system. The growth of poverty and inequality has shattered faith in the ruling parties, but as yet this has not extended to the state as a whole – a more revolutionary moment. We need to consider how to appeal to people in ways we have not been able to do so far – hence the rise of the right populists.
It is important not to see everything in absolutes and binaries – we need to consider how we can bring more people into this discussion in a nurturing and understanding way.
We need to do all our activities and movement building with love and compassion and accept our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as our strengths.
This is a very complex moment – the far right co-opts ideas such as challenging globalisation, in order to destroy the opposition to them.
We need to bring out the connection between identity and the culture in which we live.
We need to transcend parliamentary democracy, not constantly reference the status quo or the current state as the limit on what we can do or a boundary that can’t be transcended. New utopias that counter right-wing ideas of nation and race, and the dystopian and violent futures that dominate popular culture are possible.
We need a counter outlook to the authorised outlook. How do we approach this world, which we have collectively created as human beings? An ideas factory for this unauthorised outlook is needed, and an approach to the issue of leadership that is non-hierarchical and creative – if we are serious about building a movement.
We need to connect with real life struggles that are taking place now, including trade union and community struggles where people are trying to improve their conditions within the system. These don’t have to be just political groups, but groups concerned with climate issues, local issues and things like food and ecology.
Rethinking the purpose of education and getting young people involved in popular education initiatives, so they can take a lead in developing the “unauthorised version” of the future.
We need to work with other groups and aim for a global solidarity campaign against neoliberalism – the conditions are ripe for that to happen.
We need to counter the growth paradigm, including in the Labour Party’s policy where the idea of growth continues to dominate even in the Corbyn/McDonnell economic policy. Economic alternatives are present – co-operatives, worker-owned firms, environmental initiatives in energy and good growing – we need to show that these can become the norm for all production.
★ Participate in Extinction Rebellion and Global School Strike where there is the beginnings of a vision of an alternative, in order to enrich our understanding of them and also to bring in to these movements the “unauthorised version”. Support the proposition in the Extinction Rebellion letter proposing that citizens conventions should oversee changes from fossil-fuel economy.
★ Everyone to join the RDM web site and contribute comments and short blogs, reports.
★ Link up with unions and others to revisit and refresh the understanding of our history and values – Peterloo anniversary next year – contact Mike Leigh – remind workers that THIS is their history – not the nationalist ideas of the right wing populists. Workers need this alternative and the hope that these values are not finished – that they can be revitalised and relevant for today.
★ Contact the 3 Momentum Groups in the North East (and elsewhere) to arrange workshops around the issues raised in What If. (Paul to contact BFAWU President and also John to try for a discussion at North West Region)
★ Get Sunderland University to host a discussion around Times Up for Neoliberalism. Where else can we do that? Mark and Penny to contact EIS as they prepare for strike action in Scotland.
★ Bring all the material and ideas from Wigan together in a manifesto-like document, which can be the basis for our next meeting in Wigan in March. Everyone present agreed to support this work and get involved in planning for it. Send Corinna links to any organisations or groups that could be involved.
★ Hold an online meeting with Ukraine Social Political Coalition for Democracy.