9 September 2008

What is a Brumaire anyway?

At the risk of sounding like a Marxist I can't help noticing that the struggle between capital and labour over the value in the economy is becoming more pronounced every day.

While the economy was growing, politicians could conceal the fact that, since the heady days of the 1970s, they have responded more and more to the concerns of 'business' and less and less to those of 'ordinary people'. The pie grew larger, the environment was more stressed, but even those who had the smallest slice tended to get a slightly larger slice each year. Inequality was ruled irrelevant, in spite of evidence showing that it is intrinsically very bad for a nation's health. The fact that the labels 'capital' and 'labour' have been replaced by those of 'business' and 'hard-working families' has not changed the essential power dynamic in the economy.

But with the recession, the fighting over the spoils is beginning to intensify. Unusually, although unsurprisingly, it is the leaders of the trade unions who are speaking up (finally) on behalf of their members and asking very reasonable questions. Such as why should energy companies like British Gas see their profits rise by 500% while bills soar and a significant minority of poorer people will struggle to keep themselves warm.

I'm enjoying what the unions are up to just now. Campaigning for a windfall tax on energy profits to be given out as winter fuel payments is a good start. So is there persistent campaigning to close the scandalous loopholes around the tax treatment of private equity companies. Longer term the attempts to build international unions is the only serious political resonse to the globalisation of production and the way this has reduced the power of organised labour in the West.

Once, while I was giving a talk, a woman got terribly excited and clapped her hands together squeaking 'Oh, this is just like the Sixties!' I'm feeling rather that way about the return to the 1970s. Actually they were a grim decade with Glam rock and playing scrabble by candlelight, but at least there was some honesty about the struggle over economic value.

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