deeper into essex: how you are allowed to be in your cities

Sharon Borthwick reviews Annan Minton ‘Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city’

“Town-scapes are changing. The open-plan city belongs in the past — no more ramblas, no more pedestrian precincts, no more left banks and Latin quarters. We’re moving into the age of security grilles and defensible space. As for living, our surveillance cameras can do that for us. People are locking their doors and switching off their nervous systems.”

A protest against Dow Chemical, a sponsor of the Olympics

This is a J G Ballard character in Cocaine Nights talking, yet it couldn’t be a more fitting quote to go accompany Anna Minton’s, ‘Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city’, first published in 2009 and reissued this year with a new chapter on the legacy of the Olympics. I kept expecting Minton to quote Ballard at some point in the book, but she is more concerned to give voice to actual people than to characters of dystopian novels. We travel with her on her research, getting off the tube at Canary Wharf, meeting young people and youth workers in Manchester, people in Salford, Edinburgh and London, Town Planners, experts in planning law… Lets take her encounters in, Manchester, our ASBO capital apparently, where the young people have been served an especially raw deal, not allowed into pubs before the age of 25 they are wandering the streets to meet, no clubs or anywhere they can afford to hang out. But here’s the rub, if they are seen congregating together on street corners they are told to go home. The police stop and search the boys for no reason. Dispersal orders are even preventing young children from playing out in the street, one mother saying her daughter was ordered home out of the kebab shop by a cop. AM asks a simple question, what if the money was spent on facilities for them instead of enforcement? Continue reading “deeper into essex: how you are allowed to be in your cities”

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Owen Jones and Chavs : Nostalgia for Old Labour

Barry Biddulph reviews,  Owen Jones, Chavs:  The Demonization of the Working Class, (Verso 14.99) 

Owen Jones describes how class hatred of  working people finds expression in  the gross  distortions of working class experience in the media. His book is also about why the working class is ridiculed. For Matt Lucas and David Walliams in Little Britain: the working class is foulmouthed,  feckless, and benefit dependent.  Owen explains how the mockery of the working class demonstrates their social inferiority. It’s a culture which blames the victims rather than social injustice. It’s the way the working class ‘underclass’ lives that’s seen as the problem. Owen blames class war:  the move away from true parliamentarianism and class harmony -the spirit of 1945. In Owens old Labour view “at the heart root of the demonization of working class people is the legacy of a very British class war. Margaret Thatcher’s assumption of power in 1979.” [1]

Owen has a very uninformed view of how workers were portrayed on TV prior to Thatcher and Neoliberalism. The comedy, The Rag trade , was not a sympathetic look at the life of sweated labour in the clothing industry. It ridiculed  mindless militancy and the supposed ignorant overconfidence of workers. Everybody out :  What a hoot! And what about the hatred of factory workers and shop stewards in the film, I’m all right Jack. The shop steward is a bigot who leads card playing lazy workers who have been put to shame by a new middle class employee who does not see the point in trade unions. Again Coronation street in the 1960’s was not a realistic portrayal of working class life. All the stereotypes were there. Elsie Tanner the single mother with dubious sexual morals and her son Dennis with a bad attitude to work and everything else.

For Owen “the dog eat dog individualism unleashed by Thatcher has also undermined the collective spirit at the heart of trade unionism.” [2] But the spirit of trade union officialdom is sectionalism and support for parliament and the state. It’s the spirit of defeat:  calling off  the General Strike in 1926, and the failure to show political solidarity for striking miners in the Great Strike of 1984-5. Even Thatcher was surprised at the lack of the fighting solidarity from the trade union leaders. They allowed Thatcher to put on the legal shackles that restrain the rank and file to this day. Thatcher’s destruction of industry in the 1980’s did leave the economy dangerously reliant on the financial institutions of the city of London. However, deindustrialisation has always been an essential part of  the way capitalism works. The idea that the interests of the wealthiest are essential for the well-being of society as a whole did not begin with Thatcherism and Neoliberalism, it has always been the dominant view at the top of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions.

Owen’s alternative to Neoliberalism is a return to the presence of  old Labour working class parliamentarians. He regrets the lack of opportunities for working people to rise through parliament from the pit, dock and factory. Once upon a time Herbert Morrison, Ernest Bevin and Nye Bevan who were responsible for state capitalist administration, reactionary wars in support of American Imperialism, and keeping most of the economy in private hands in the post war Atlee government are supposed to have been a voice for workers outside parliament. In Owens view, old Labour remained committed to the idea of raising the conditions of the working class until the 1980’s. But outside Owen’s old Labour view, the real history of  old Labour  is rather different. For instance, Old Labour did not organise the unemployed in the 1930’s, the Communist party did that. And Harold Wilson’s Labour Government’s tried to prevent the militant rank and file workers and shop stewards, in the factories of the 1960’s, raising living standards by winning wage demands.

For Owen, we can build up old Labour again, because unless working class people can be properly represented in parliament Britain faces the prospect of an angry right-wing populism. This is a grim perspective of a choice between a right-wing popular reactionary movement or workers entering parliament. Owen Jones  is fearful and pessimist about class struggle outside parliament. Owen shares his values of class harmony through parliament with the Liberal origins of the Labour Party. It was the liberal politics of Keir Hardie which were decisive in the fledgling Labour Party. He argued that the Labour Party should stand for the nation not class war. The result was working men in parliament with conservative and liberal views  led by parliamentary reactionaries. Many of Labour’s politicians such as Phillip Snowden, were profoundly conformist. Snowden was an economic liberal who kept to the Gold Standard which destroyed working class living standards, communities, and jobs, long before Thatcherism. There is historical continuity, since Dennis Healy and James Callaghan returned to economic liberalism in 1976, prior to Thatcher.

His history of working class communities is old Labour mythology. Owen stresses geographical community as the bonds of working class solidarity, which he associates with manual workers mainly in the old pit communities. He stresses contentment and pride in  factory work. On the other hand he gives an isolated example of his friend Liam who hated every second of his boring work in a print factory:  alienation in the work place has never been a strong point in the Labour tradition. Historically, the working class has been recomposed many times in terms of local community and workplace. Owen offers his experience of Stockport, as a typical of a rooted community. In Stockport,  like Owen, but speaking from more experience, there was deindustrialisation or factory closures long before Thatcherism. The Cotton mills closed in the late fifties and early sixties. Engineering factories were shut down in the late sixties and early seventies.  His talk of roots going back to grandfathers is also largely a myth. There was a movement of workers in and out of Stockport and other industrial areas as jobs and community changed complexion.

The old parliamentary Labour party also closed coal mines and refused to support miners striking in defence of their communities.Ramsay MacDonald, from the interwar years, and Neil Kinnock from the 1980s, both  left the miners to fight alone and go down to defeat.  Old Labour shares a big responsibility for the decline of the value of solidarity. Owen’s nostalgia for old Labour is also very selective. Owen’s working class heroes of the post-war Labour government all supported working class austerity and used British troops on a mass scale to break strikes. All three were committed to administrating and modernising capitalism at the expense of working class living standards.  They opposed any challenge to capitalism such as encouraging more power to the workers in their workplace. Nationalisation was a form of bureaucratic state capitalism applied to those public utilities and industries which were deemed to be inefficient. Despite Nye Bevan’s parliamentary rhetoric, he was in favour of leaving 80% of industry in the hands of private capitalists.

Trade union bosses and Labour party leaders still believe the interests of the wealthy are essential for the well-being of society. This explains the facts of inequality Owen presents.  It also explains why Ed Miliband can support a pay freeze for public sector workers, and refuse to oppose the cuts or promise to reverse them. Union bosses such as Brian Strutton of the GMB and Dave Prentis of Unison  sided with the state in the pension dispute or are leaders the government can do business with. Business interests come first, way above the interests of workers in the public or private sector. It is not enough to describe the demonization of the working class, if like Owen, you support a parliamentary tradition, which has put the working class  down and kept them away from any real power or influence.

Notes

1 p.10

2 p.153

the commune’s pamphlets: reprints now available

More copies of our pamphlet series, many of which had sold out, are now available. The text of each of  the seven pamphlets is online (see the list of subjects below), but you can also order paper copies – £1 +50p postage per copy.

communestall

Write to uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to place your order. We take payment by cheque (addressed to ‘The Commune’, at The Commune, 2nd Floor, 145-157 St. John Street, London EC1V 4PY) or by transfer to Co-op account S/C 089299, A/C 65317440. Continue reading “the commune’s pamphlets: reprints now available”

the commune issue 2 published

issue2cover

february 2009 – £1 + postage and packing, email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to order

click here for pdf or see individual articles below

barack obama is lipstick on a pig – by Ernie Haberkern

civil service pay dispute: defeat or victory? – by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

class struggle on the london underground – interview with Vaughan Thomas, RMT London region chair (LUL)

occupations: the way to win? – guest editorial by Gregor Gall

the people’s charter: a charter for change? – by Chris Kane (online only)

militancy and mobilisation in the anti-war movement

the mindset of israelis in the gaza conflict – by Solomon Anker

anti-semitism and the war – by Aled Thomas

unemployment: a view from the front line – by Christine Hulme, PCS DWP

welfare ‘reform’, the brown premiership and the recession – by Chris Grover, Lancaster University

what does ‘socialism or barbarism’ mean today? – by François Chesnais

call centres: the workers’ enquiry – review by Jack Staunton

ukraine’s ‘new left’ and the russian ‘gas war’ – by Milan Lelich

the socialist movement in iran – by Sam Parsa

political platform of the commune


the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism

Jack Staunton reviews Hotlines: Call centre – Inquiry – Communism

When we pick up a left wing paper or magazine and scan its contents we can be fairly sure that its editors will not have failed to offer a piece on shifts in the world’s stock markets, analysis of the businesses felled by the recession, and a take on the latest wheeling and dealing by the world’s statesmen. Whether dry, rational and down-to-earth commentary, or grandiose predictions of the final crisis of capitalism and vast forces of chaos sweeping across the globe, we can be sure enough that developments in the activities of the ruling class will be recounted in some detail.

But ours is not a movement which limits itself to attacking the dominant system: it is a movement for the self-emancipation of the working class. To put that in the language of the current crisis: no-one simply wants capitalism to ‘collapse’ chaotically in a heap of bankruptcies and mass redundancies. Quite obviously, the unravelling of the irrationalities of capitalism will not in itself create a better society. Rather, we have a better, alternative vision for humanity: we want the working class to organise to displace those who control the levers of political and economic power and re-organise society from below on an egalitarian, collectivist and democratic basis.

So surely it should follow that the left ought to privilege understanding the state of the working class – the people and the movement who are actually going to revolutionise society.  This is all the more the case since although no-one would deny the existence of capitalism, for the last two decades it has been a commonplace assertion of much of academia and the media that the working class no longer exists.  For such ‘commentators’, the term ‘working class’ is itself merely a label for a narrow cultural stereotype: for example, in March 2008 the BBC’s White  season featured a documentary ‘Last Orders’, detailing the lives of white working-class pensioners in northern working men’s clubs, proclaiming that a few of this “endangered species”, the working class, do in fact still exist. Continue reading “the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism”

power and powerless in the shocking epoch

A review of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. By Oksana Dutchak.

             …the more powerful the vision of some increasingly total system or logic […] the more powerless the reader comes to feel…

Fredric Jameson

Naomi Klein is a famous contemporary socio-historical journalist, master of scandal journalist investigations, one of the most outstanding popular critics of the important tendencies in modern society. Klein became popular after publishing her first bestseller No Logo which had attracted a lot of attention in academic, political and broader circles. I find The Shock Doctrine just a logical continuation of her critical interpretation of the modern neo-liberal capitalism, presented in the first bestseller. Continue reading “power and powerless in the shocking epoch”

review of ‘resistance to nazism’

by David Broder

Recently I have engaged in a fair degree of research into working-class resistance during the Second World War, and so at yesterday’s Anarchist Bookfair I was interested to pick up a copy of the Anarchist Federation’s pamphlet ‘Resistance to Nazism’ (subtitle ‘Shattered Armies: How the Working Class Fought Nazism and Fascism 1933-45’), reprinted this May.

The stated aim of the pamphlet is to present an alternative ‘history from below’ discussing the struggles and experiences of working-class people rather than looking at the world through the prism of competing governments and military figures. This is a worthy aim indeed. Continue reading “review of ‘resistance to nazism’”