The Liberal Management class and the logic of capital

Work, in the closing chapters of an industrialised country, might be cleaner for many and workers might enjoy more health and safety legislation, but it is not without its problems.

You’ve probably been to one of those meetings with a manager or line manager where you’re told about all the things the company does which, strictly speaking, they don’t have to do, but they do do because that’s the business model based on fairness they aspire to emulate.

Trade unions are a distraction, because the workplace has fairness all covered; they haven’t read Ford on his model of productivity and prosperity, Ayn Rand is relegated to the “whacky” division, and Pinochet wasn’t so up on his Pinot Noir. This capitalism is old hat.

They’ve read a few reports by The Work Foundation during the two and a half years they were at business school, and have an unspoilt copy of Zen Habits back at their pad in Holland Park, and they’ve realised that, rather than rules and regulations being the key to a good business, actually happiness increases productivity and does wonders for team spirit.

They don’t wear ties because they had a boss once who wore a tie, and he ran himself to the ground, things are easier now, so much so that his (or her) top three shirt buttons are undone, and (s)he’s leaning on the radiator while addressing your team – where you’re all key players.

They are realistic about the working day, having read somewhere, in a Zen capitalist rag, that if a team member (not worker, not staffer, not peasant) relaxes, listens to their personal music player perhaps, then more will be done in the long term, way more than a frazzled brain taking 9-5 too literally.

Want to wear shorts on a hot day? You got it! Want to drink coca cola between tasks, laughing and talking about big brother while the managing director is behind you doing the same? They’ll join you! Want to go for a beer after work, no can do, they’re off to Nobu with their buddies.

This isn’t capitalism, baby. This is capital 2.0 – but it’s virtually the same thing, and it amounts to smoke and mirrors.

Many new business managers of the ilk spelt out above, who can be found pretty much anywhere nowadays, but largely head up places where graduates make up a sizeable population, have woken up to the fact that needless bullying or workplace strictness might not have helped anybody – not the workforce who were unnecessarily unhappy, or the managers who were going the extra mile to be horrid, and not deriving any more production from the workforce that could be turned into profit.

Some production lines, whichever form that may take – shop floor, office, school, hospital – now take orders from people who are liberal minded (by no means not left wing, but certainly more tapped into compassion at the workplace) and not quite as keen to be hated any more.

They might wax hubristically about how elitism in the workplace is a thing of the past, that all employers are valued and equal, and if someone has a complaint, then the senior management will be only too happy to lend a friendly ear.

For this, I suppose, we shouldn’t be too ungrateful. If you ask generations previous about their management, and compare it to the above, they will at worst call him (or her) arrogant, but arrogance is far preferable to heartlessness or, worse, cruelty.

Sure, heartlessness and cruelty still exist, and in force, but the narrative that drives business degrees, leadership courses, and entrepreneurial start up packs, is not just to buy low and sell high, undercutting competition with ruthless aplomb, but happy teams makes a more productive teams.

Where people have bosses like this pity them, by all means, but remember that their compassion has never put the economic system that harnesses institutional inequality into jeopardy, so it is able to contain it.

What threatens the workforce today, which is thoroughly embedded into the logic of capital, is methods of labour saving.

Consider what Roy Mayall, the pseudonym for the postal worker/blogger and occasional comment is free writer, has said about his line of work, on the subject of new Royal Mail investment in multimillion-pound walk-sequencing machines “as part of their new modernisation and investment programme”:

What the new machines have done is to take away the last element of skill from our job. There’s no memory involved any more. We pull out a letter, and we stick it in a slot. We pull out the next letter and stick it into the same slot, depending on the address. Once all the letters from the first address are finished, we move on to the next address. We carry on and on like this until all the letters are sorted.

This does not necessarily speed up the process of throwing off the frame, as most postal workers know their frame so well they can sort it almost as fast without the walk-sequencing technology. Estimates are that it will save about six minutes a frame. Previously, it took about an hour and a half to throw off an entire frame, so six minutes doesn’t really make all that much difference. But what it does mean is that the Royal Mail can now use unskilled labour to do what was once a moderately skilled job.

The optimist may believe that Royal Mail is just buying into more efficient tools to save time in an ever-competitive world, particularly in their industry. But anyone can see, by what Roy Mayall describes, that this new programme has given licence to invest a lump sum into machinery that will undercut skilled work in that industry, saving money in the long term on wages and paying for unskilled workers where skilled ones were needed previously, reducing the need for employment overall.

People tend not to think of this in economic debates, but the supermarket self-service checkout; this machine allows sometimes up to 12 machines to be manned by one person. That is 11 jobs undercut in one shop alone. If a shift is on average eight hours, and the shop is open 24 hours a day, that is 33 less people needed to be employed on minimum wage for the single purchase of 12 machines.

Consider this by regional and then national figures – that’s many jobs, and a lot of money saved.

I could make examples ad nauseum, but I have designated these to show that for all the supposed change in managerial and organisational ethos, across all sectors, the main problem still remains – and always was – in the logic of capital itself, which at its heart sacrifices staff for illusory appeals to efficiency.

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A poetic look at tragedy, or the global economic landscape in brief

What happens when one watches a television programme on the political economy, and then on Aristotle, one after the other?

Hamartia, defined as the “Greek word for error or failure, used by Aristotle in his Poetics (4th century BCE) to designate the false step that leads the protagonist in a tragedy to his or her downfall.”

But how does one (tragic one) avoid the downfall? Making sure ones protagonism is obscured.

The banking system has caused a nose dive in to recession over the last 18 months, as it did in the 80s, as it did in the 30s, and like it will again. Why has the system it relies on stayed afloat, in spite of crippling consequences? No downfall, in spite of tragedy?

Because the protagonist is an illusion, an obfuscation behind a wall, in a street in every big city, where numbers are displayed, and people with phones react. An illusory system kept afloat, albeit tragically, without downfall.

How tragic it is, that circulation of credit in the financial system relies on consumer confidence, and that that is somehow a more desriable system than tourism in a global economy that will see less and less focus on industrial product. Safeguard both tourism and consumer confidence, and then ones country can prolong recession for longer, but when we’re hit, we’re really hit, no one can see it coming (not even the Queen), no one can stop it, and yet no one wishes to do so anyway.

Does tragedy continue to occur? No, it occurs first as tragedy, then as farce.

What I think of Self-Service Checkouts

Want your shopping trip to feeld empowering? Want it to take more time than it’s worth? Don’t like looking at people? Use the self-service checkouts at your local supermarket.

There’s this snazzy term banging around the scene of useless academic pursuits known as posthumanism, basically describing a possible dystopian period where everything that defines a human – free will, thinking, social animal etc – will come to an end by way of technoloigcal, pharmaceutical enhancement. To correct a common misconception, rather than describing what the world will be like post human, or after human, this part of the biosciences/philosophy actually aims to work out what life for humans will be like post humanism, or after humanism, the loss of humanist values.

Well we do still wonder exactly whether we have all of those ‘humanist’ elements anyway, for example how much of our ethical compass’ are determined not by free will but by ones environs. Perhaps posthuman society already exists, albeit post. Donna Haraway’s classic example of the cyborg, mediated by technology, that disavowals its Edenic origins, her notion is that as soon as tools replace flesh, the cyborg is coming into being. So her theory delves deeper into the philosophical appropriateness of humanism than the posthumanists such as Nick Bostrom. In other words the hardwiring of the brain (David Chalmers), the ability to download a completed version of the human body onto a computer (N. Katharine Hayles), and the transcendence of the human (Robert Pepperill) are all late, possibly non-existent stages in the end of humanism, but the cyborg denotes that even the replacement of the Rousseauian utopia with industrial villiages, corporate gardens and robotic landscapes are examples of the absence of humanism.

In enterprise, it is clear how they might utilise properties of the posthuman, hypertechnological to increase growth. Cutting out labour value by employing automata to do the legwork (trade unionism has ensured that, though unemployment is a necessary characteristic of the capitalist economy functioning perfectly, a nation’s workforce are not reduced to automata) not only secures growth, it potentially eleviates the value of labour based on labour time used.

Is this not the case with self-service checkouts? For a row of 6 of these “capitalist inconveniences” takes only 1 overlooking worker, a loss of 5 forces of labour power, thereby slashing labour costs. A large supermarket – lets say the one next to central middlesex hospital in North West London, the name of which we shall call SADA for purposes of anonymity – can have up to 12 of these, reducing labour power from 12 to just 2, a saving of £57.30 an hour, based on minimum wages of £5.73. That’s a saving of around £458 a day based on an 8-hour shift, £3,206 a week, £12,824 a month, and £153,888 a year. If the supermarket had any backbone, they’d destroy the self-service checkout and replace it with jobs, for the technology might be exciting, but full employment must not be sidelined, and since our, and other countries, have chosen this lot to secure employment, useless measures such as this, that serve little more than to make shopping slower, and reduce employment possibilities, should be scrapped, detroyed, binned, put to sleep, shelved, bye-bye.

The self-service checkout stands as a kind of microcosm of capitalist economics anyway, the brutal pursuit of profit and growth that disregards full employment, reduces the remit of trade unions (since robots are not yet unionised, and the AITUC is a distant fantasy) and is a smack in the face to the kind of economic plan Clem Attlee had for keeping employment and public services afloat in times of desparate economic misery. Furthmore, it is at once a game of techno-fascist muscle, and a concerted effort to make redundant an entire workforce, namely the McJob workers, or unskilled labourers.

Supermarkets don’t create jobs, they reduce jobs, they replace technology with the workforce, they hold automata in higher regard than a loyal human workforce, and they view growth as labour-saving, and unlike Thatcher, who also tried to reduce the industrial workforce without ever giving them any other employment options (though arguably this was the genesis of the McJob, that took from a share of the newly unemployed skilled worker, and the unskilled worker fit for the McJob) these most unphilanthropic of managers remain faceless, invisable, unaccountable.

Other anarchist and leftist blogs request a boycott of the self-service checkout. I say go further, steal one, organise twenty of your mates, and mates’ mates, and go in to an SADA and steal one, take it to a nearby marshland, douse it in petrol and set fire to it.

The BNP is far-right!: My two cents

(I shall start controversially – ) Modern day Francoist Daniel Hannan said today in his blog regarding the pro-Euro bias of the Financial Times and his reaction to their assumption that the BNP takes votes from the Tories;

“How often do we have to go through this? Even the New Statesman admits that the BNP is to the Left of Labour.”

How to define the politics of the BNP is talk of the day, and in the blog world has Tim Montgomerie (amongst others, Hannan included) saying the BNP are “if not a Far-Left political organisation, then one that should not be identified as belonging to the Far-Right.” Montgomerie had planned to write a letter to the BBC asking for it to properly define the BNP. On the other side, Sunny Hundal – blogger of the year – has said he too will draft a letter explaining why the BNP is far-right (although nothing has been written as yet).

I, writing on the comment section of Liberal Conspiracy, offered this to the debate;

“It would not be controversial to say that socialism is an economy under which the state fully owns the means of production (with rough appeals to protectionism in some cases), which means it can be appropriated with ideas that stem from either left or right. The sense of the word socialism that I would use to describe myself includes the economic theory above, along with social policies on gender equality, democracy, human rights etc etc. This places me to the left.

The reason the BNP can adopt a similar looking economical outlook to a leftist, and be far-right, is because it appropriates this with social policies such as foreign person repatriation, gender inequality (they haven’t mentioned it too much – to my knowledge – but the FN in France – close allies – will pay women to stay at home and not be employed), homophobia, antisemitism and/or holocaust denial.

Any attempt to define the BNP as far left, is to suddenly forget that the party is not the sum of its economic policies, which just happens to have parallels with some leftist measures.”

I also commented on an entry made by Bob Piper, who said “Fascists are fascists to me. If you put lipstick on a pig…”

My comment was this;

“I’ve heard the word(s) ethno-nationalist being used to describe them, but what it was that positioned these groups to the right – despite of their economics – is their fetishisation of nation politics, and traditional outlooks on certain institutions. Despite what some political writers like John Gray and others say, the terms left and right DO still mean something in our day. WE just all need to remind ourselves what they mean to go any further with this argument”.

The word “ethno-nationalist” was considered by two leftwing writers in a piece explaining what the leadership of Nick Griffin would do to the political spectrum of the BNP.

I still cannot find the name of these writers but they had written a piece in the New Left Review (I think!?!?). Their point was where to position themselves when attending marches or protests, or even meetings about how to strategically deal with the BNP from a leftist perspective. They had become concerned about how engaged leftist criticism was towards the BNP since the bulk of it was to write the BNP off lock, stock and barrel as crypto-Nazi’s.

The writers could not help think that, though the case may be made for the BNP being secretly Nazi, critics should at the very least engage with the change Nick Griffin has brought to the party, from overt, fascist saluting, Hitler fancying John Tyndall, to a relatively more moderate party in suits concerned about economic migration and dwindling Christian values.

What is interesting about their piece, was that their radical conclusion at the time was that the BNP, like them or loathe them, were not a Nazi party, or an extreme-right party, but a far-right party, which shared sentiments with other European far-right parties (such as Le Pen’s FN) without actually and/or overtly praising Hitler. The BNP acted upon, not an established international political ideology such as Conservatism or Nazism, but how they perceived the best way to express their patriotism in the 21st century (which has been met with correct repudiation by such tag lines as: BNP is not British).

The terms left and right in political theory are said to date back to the French Revolution, and indeed terms such as far-right were designed to imply ultra-royalists, conservatives and counter-enlightenment thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre and Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald who felt that Good could conquer Evil, the monarchy were the pillar of Good in France, and Conservatism could counter the more pluralistic charges of enlightenment philosophy. These thinkers have been held as “good conservatives” over the years, by some less-than-palatable conservative thinkers. Which does prove difficult when trying to bracket the BNP in this corner. If the BNP are far-right, do they have to qualify as “good conservatives”? Certainly those modern-day Tory thinkers don’t think so, who refuse to accept the BNP are in any way right wing for the sole reason as “I am right wing, and I don’t recognise anything the BNP are doing to be for ourselves”.

Of course, this argument proves fatal (and rest assured, looking at other comments replying to Tim Montgomerie’s or Sunny Hundal’s entries, these arguments are circulating).

Take a look at Sam Swerling. He was once a member of the Conservative Party, and formerly a Councillor on Westminster City Council. He was also an original member of the Conservative Democratic Alliance. Of late, he had been an activist for the BNP.

Take a look at Edgar Griffin. He was once a freemason, and after that a Tory councillor, and then vice-president in Wales for Iain Duncan Smith’s party leadership campaign. He was sacked after it was revealed he was assisting with the campaigns of the BNP, of whom his son, Nick Griffin, is the leader.

Take a look at Matthew Single. He was the man who was charged with leaking the names and addresses of the BNP activists. He started his political life in Ukip, a party that has comparable policies to the right-wing of the Tory party (lets see, erm, Norman Tebbit!!).

There are many more examples of conservative elements becoming expressed within the BNP, and not conflicting with their core principles. But so far this only proves there is an appeal to the BNP by very right wing conservativism. It does not suggest they are indefinitely on par with one another.

After all, a hot topic for the BNP is immigration, and recently the Dutch Socialist party created a policy opposing high amounts of economic migration for its opposition to free movement of labour, adding that such an initiative is the logic of capitalism.

So there are certain agenda’s of the BNP that do not have an obvious left/right homebase (and here I am reminded of a National Front tag I once saw whilst in a phone box in Southend: We are not right as opposed to left, we are right as opposed to wrong). And these agenda’s could be as high a priority for the BNP as immigration.

But the Dutch Socialist Party do not oppose immigration on the grounds of xenophobia, or even how the Northern League in Italy conduct their dislike of foreigners, an appeal to historical tradition, suggesting that;

“We,” hints [party founder Umberto]Bossi, “are the heirs of small local authorities [The party’s symbol, il Carroccio, represents a cart drawn by oxen, around which foot soldiers would gather to fight in medieval city-states. The warrior depicted on its logo is Alberto da Giussano, who defeated the emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1176] who have always fought against foreigners.” (see rest of article, here)

This is not the reason why the Dutch Socialist Party oppose economic migration, but it is the BNP’s reason – its an (Celtic-esque) appeal to history of defending ethnicity from the foreign invader. The reason why the BNP are far-right is because they juggle xenophobia, nationalism and race pride in order to serve an outmoded historical justification for fighting the foreign enemy. And for those of us who travel to or from London to Essex via Barking, are reminded of the link the BNP has with this mode of thinking, with graffiti showing the celtic cross under a huge white painted slogan: BNP (although obscured now, I think, by scaffolding, perhaps put up by American labourers).

At the heart of the BNP’s main aims, is reactionary conservatism, and with a closer look at where these terms come from, we realise that this expression would have been originally defined as far-right. And so it remains.

So why are people getting their knickers in a twist over whether the BNP are right wing or not? Its obvious; some, if not most of the BNP’s latest publicity has been about the downturn of capitalist economies, from their attempts to hi-jack the Ford/Visteon workers feuds, to expenses (pigs in the trough etc etc). And these are notions normally taken up by the left (though no confusion of political positions were entertained when Sarkozy told the world that capitalism was failing, or when Merkel told her infamous anti-capitalist joke: “What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism? Communists nationalised companies first before running them.”)

A report by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis points out that a feature of the far-right is to exploit economic downturn. The report adds;

“These “accusatory” tactics are employed to draw new recruits into rightwing extremist groups and further radicalize those already subscribing to extremist beliefs.”

Its no secret that the BNP targeted areas with dwindling Labour support (like my own. In fact the BNP had a campaign called “Target Basildon”) and they are aware that overtly fascist policies will turn away most voters (they didn’t do quite as well as they wished in Basildon, because of a concerted effort by the other parties to remind voters of what the BNP really stood for), so they not only moderated their message to make it seem more palatable and family friendly, but they intertwined it with messages that would appeal to workers locked in economic downturn.

My final word on the matter, the BNP more or less fit neatly into the category of far-right with their reactionary, and ethnocentric view of history. Their policies on immigration and the economy (which have moderated relatively since their early days and from their National Front split) seem to be more strategic, and more to do with the image change to appeal to more voters.

The occasional reference to Le Pen’s National Front Party will help; to secure electoral appeal they modify their policies on ridding the foreign enemy, be it the Jews, the Turkish, or Muslims in general. It’s strategic, and it gains votes (from voters who often may find solice in the simplest answers, i.e. immigrants are the reason the economy is failing, etc etc). Their ethnocentric and reactionary reasons for doing such a thing are what makes a political party far-right.