Direct Action (SolFed) #06 1998

Direct Action 6 cover 1998

Issue of this anarcho-syndicalist magazine from the Solidarity Federation, including elections, Chumbawamba interview, privatisation of schools, difficult bosses, globalisation etc.

Submitted by Fozzie on August 1, 2022

Complete contents in PDF at the foot of the page.. Some contents as text below.


  • You don't get owt for nowt: Beyond the state rhetoric; an investigation into the folly of apathy.
  • direct actions: Dover, Magnet, Dockers, New Deal, and World Day Info.
  • news and comment: Recordbreakers, Camelot scam-a-lot, Total control made easy, Unison witch-hunt
  • Schools for sale: Next on the depleted list of family silver - schools privatisation.
  • international news: Planetary action news selection; India, Chiapas, Mexico, Montreal, Canada, France, Belgium, Zimbabwe, Hong Kong, Finland, Global Focus: Turkey
  • Lean, mean and dangerous: Quality has become the tantra of managers everywhere.
  • Chumbas chill out: Interview with Chumbawamba - managed product or potent populist anti-state symbol?
  • An Unhealthy Profit: Under New Labour, health managers are still multiplying... and so are their profits... and so are the waiting lists.
  • letters: Food, crime & more
  • the faqs: Facts on management, control and dealing with difficult bosses
  • Dealing with Difficult Bosses: Personal view of the trials and tribulations of work, and how to make it bearable.
  • Reviews: ManagingConsent
    Doyle - Parliament or Democracy?
    Bookchin - The Spanish Anarchists
    Dostoyevsky - Crime and Punishment
    Foucault - Discipline and Punish
  • Book reviews
    Peter Taylor and Provos
    Chester Himes and Lonely Crusade
    Richard Titmuss and The Gift Relationship
    We are Everywhere - Historical Sourcebook of
    Gay and Lesbian Politics
  • film review: Small Time
  • music reviews:
    The Ex - ‘1936’ The Spanish Revolution
    Less Rock More Talk
    Terminus - News from Nowhere
  • Periodical reviews:
    Psychology, Politics, Resistance Newsletter
    Bread and Roses
    Bulletin of Kate Sharpley Library
  • Global Fiction: Globalisation is steeped in official rhetoric; a closer look at the economic realities.
  • endpiece: AntiSocial Security - New Labour, New Deal - where it came from and where it is taking us

You don't get owt for nowt

Millions of people do not vote in British General Elections.
At every General Election there is a concerted effort on the behalf of anarchists to encourage potential voters to abstain.
Why is abstention considered to be of itself a ‘good’ thing?
You don't get owt for nowt!

In the last election in May 1997, when Tony Blair was swept to power on a ‘landslide vote’, 28.4% of those registered and able didn’t vote; the highest post-war percentage and noticeably up from 1992. Is this a success? Over a quarter of the eligible population didn’t vote, and anarchists advised them not to, coz anarchists are against voting ...well, maybe not.

For a start, there is little evidence that the majority of those abstaining do so deliberately. Of those who do not vote the vast majority do not persistently abstain, most vary from election to election as to whether they turn out or not. Of those who at any one election do not vote, when asked, two thirds of them give reasons for not voting which could be classed as involuntary, e.g. sickness, unable to get time off work and, by far the single biggest category; on holiday. Of the one third of non-voters who could be said to deliberately abstain, most do so because they could not be bothered to vote, not because they chose not to vote, or made a political decision not to vote.

Non-voting is slightly more common amongst the young working class in London and metropolitan areas than elsewhere. However, while surveyed differences in attitudes between voters and non-voters are not generally big, the largest rise in non-voters at the last election was amongst those who identified with the Tories. Those that don’t vote generally express a slightly lower level of interest in politics, very rarely discuss it, and have a weaker grasp of current affairs and politics. Then again, those who vote regularly, generally also have a fairly low level of interest or knowledge. Various surveys have found that around 40% of those who always vote have no real interest in politics outside voting in elections.

Turning our attention to an active, political minority - anarchists are not against voting. Well, I am not. I am opposed to Parliamentary Democracy as we know it and I am against voting for representatives as a political and social system because it is not in most people’s interest. A negative campaign against each election based purely on the lines of ‘don’t vote, a vote every five years for a crooked liar who merely claims to "represent you", and who is more likely to rip you off’ is not really to the point. A more constructive approach would be to spend the whole of the five years working using the tools of direct action and direct democracy, fighting and organising in terms of self-management and mutual aid (solidarity) in the community and workplace. Then, when the election comes, rather than sitting around waiting for it, we can just say "oh yes that; I don’t want a system that is inherently unfair, in which I get a minor say in appointing a representative who is beyond my influence once elected, and who, even then, will probably only have a negligible role." We can point to our way of organising, point out that the parliamentary system is all about keeping the powerless where they are whilst giving it a shine of respectability. Calling for not voting is not a goal. It is not really a useful tool in itself. It is largely irrelevant whether someone votes in a general election or not.

Is it really so bad if someone votes to kick out an incumbent, as long as they recognise full well the bankruptcy of the system and how minor their representative’s role is in it? I can see the joy of putting a cross to get rid of Michael Portillo and his ilk, even if it is purely for personal satisfaction rather than political ends. I can even dream of the same thing happening to Jack Straw! But we need to see this for what it is; a negative thing.

the apathy trip

When people vote against someone, let’s not get in a tizzy about it. They are not voting for the system - although the act of voting is used as a case for legitimising it by its supporters. What we need to do is to channel people’s anger and frustration into the desire to achieve something more positive - direct democracy, with mandated recallable delegates and officers, appointed only for a limited period: Decisions taken with everyone taking an active part in the process.

Apart from the in-built bias in the capitalist democracies against anything that seeks to challenge in a meaningful way the power of the city and other elites, one of the major problems is that it actively encourages apathy. The act of voting in a general election takes little effort, even less thought, and from that little effort and little thought, the individual receives little in the way of direct influence.

making a difference

Which brings us back to the large proportion of the electorate who, when asked , express little or no interest in politics, rarely if ever discussing politics with friends or family (not even using BT). Even amongst those who state that they always vote, around 40% still claim they have no interest in politics.

We need to move away from the idea that not voting is something we do (or rather don’t do).

Anarchosyndicalists definitely do vote. We vote for mandated, accountable and recallable delegates. We vote for motions and we vote for actions - we prefer to work by consensus and a genuine consensus should always be sought. What anarchosyndicalists don’t do is vote for someone to go away and take all our decisions away from us.

Given the appalling nature of the New Labour Government, it is all too tempting to sit back and say ‘told you so’ to the despondent people around who put a lot of hope in change of government. And why not? But what needs to be addressed is how we let people see the fundamental flaws in the current system - and that there is a viable alternative or two. We need to point out that those who actively seek to ‘represent’ us, who use hierarchical institutions and who rise in them, are those that are best at manipulating hierarchical structures to gain positions of power. To expect them to actually give a toss about anything except the maintenance and development of their own position is naive. We need to point out that voting in modern western democracies is one of the lowest forms of political involvement going. It involves little conscious thought or inconvenience. It gives even less benefit. We need to point out the real alternatives.

crocodile tears

Crocodile tears of politicians over the apathy of the electorate are just that; as long as people are content to come out to vote once every five years and do nothing in between, then politicians are happy enough. It can only be an abject and rather sad need for self-justification which makes them think about forcing us to vote by law.

But apathy to us is something to really cry about. It is not possible to build a movement based on direct action and direct democracy unless that movement is based on activism. That requires active interest and involvement, in all aspects of our social and political movement.

In short, apathy and successful anarchosyndicalist organisation are not compatible. Structures on their own don’t make things democratic; activists do.

Schools for sale

New Labour’s determination to think the unthinkable goes on unchecked. Having eagerly embraced the Tory education reform they so bitterly opposed in opposition, it now seems the Government are prepared to go much further than the Tories ever dared. It is now emerging that Labour is toying with the idea of introducing the privatising of state run schools.

The Labour government plans to set up 25 "education action zones", each with about 20 schools, in areas where pupils do "badly". A committee made up of parents, teachers, councillors and businesses will control each zone. Schools in the action zones may be allowed to drop the national curriculum and teachers’ unions national agreed pay and conditions.

If these proposals were not bad enough, it was announced at this year’s North of England Education Conference in Bradford, that Labour is considering allowing private firms to take over the complete running of schools in action zones. It was later disclosed that Labour has been holding behind-the-scenes discussions with a number of private companies. Those firms expressing an interest in taking over the running of schools include Nord Anglia, a stockmarket listed education conglomerate, which owns a chain of private schools; CfBT, a firm that runs careers advice services and carries out school inspections; and Capita, a management service firm.

Like much of Labour’s thinking, the idea of privatising schools was developed in the USA. The private company, Education Alternative, recently won contracts to operate 12 schools in Arizona. At the same time, an increasing number of the new "charter schools", which are publicly funded but are run independently of local school boards, have been handed over to the private sector - two of which were a firm making soap and a management services firm. Given that the Democrats’ aim is to create 3,000 charter schools, the scope for school privatisation is massive.

The growing threat of privatisation in the USA has resulted in the merger of the two biggest teaching unions, the moderate National Education Association, with 2.3m members and the more militant American Federation of Teachers, with a membership of 950,000. The result is the largest trade union by far in the USA. However, as we have found in Britain, creating bigger unions does not in itself lead to greater power. Let us hope that in this case it does, and that the new teachers’ union is able to prevent the handing over the minds of children to big business.

Lean, mean and dangerous

Quality has become the tantra of managers everywhere. Quality is the buzzword that masks relentless, increasingly rapid capitalist ‘restructuring’ on a global scale.

This is especially apparent in the vehicle making industry. The "Quality Revolution" began with the "Toyota" or "lean" system of production, and then spread like a cancer that unions have been unable to stop. And it is in the same sector that QS-9000 is now aggressively being implemented.

QS-9000 is based upon ISO-9000’s international quality standards, which date back to 1987 and have been adopted in over a hundred countries. ISO-9000 incorporated central features of the lean system. Indeed, its proponents boldly proclaim that its standards "were established to help companies improve operating efficiency and productivity and reduce the costs of inconsistent quality". Insofar as the pursuit of continuous improvement is a fundamental feature of ISO-9000, it raises the spectre of never-ending relentless restructuring and scrutiny of job productivity.
Lean, mean and dangerous

ISO-9000 is particularly ominous because it is a vehicle for standardisation. Standardisation means bosses expect workers to adhere rigorously to corporate "best practices" in carrying out their job responsibilities. This, in turn, means that workers must adhere to meticulously documented sets of procedures designed to optimise the efficiency of work processes and profits, all in the name of striving for "quality". It also means everyone is measured and monitored, and information on productivity, compliance, etc. can be maintained to allow easy decisions to be made when the next ‘restructuring’ comes. Boat-rockers are out first.

ISO-9000, like the lean system, implicitly assumes that workers and bosses have identical interests and goals and that these interests and goals are those of the corporation. This is apparent in the way that under ISO-9000 standards "Everyone is expected to be a quality control manager." Workers and bosses are accordingly expected to be focused in the same direction. Variance or deviation have no place in this monolithic framework.

QS-9000, like ISO-9000 before it, incorporates key features of the lean system. It harmonises the quality systems of the U.S. Big Three automakers with additional input from other truck manufacturers, in order to firmly entrench and further develop the direction of the quality systems throughout the industry and its suppliers. QS-9000 stipulates that "a continuous improvement philosophy shall be fully deployed throughout the supplier’s organisation". Consistent with this, QS-9000 emphasises "teamwork" and "employee involvement". It envisions workers belonging to cross-functional or multi-disciplinary teams where every worker can do the job of every other worker on the team (for ‘flexibility’ purposes).

Workers are encouraged to take part in the development of job instructions and the formulation of company procedures and policies; QS-9000 envisions workers becoming "process improvers". This means workers are expected to help our bosses discover which parts of our jobs are "non-value added".

Needless to say, quality systems generally do not seem to improve quality of work or quality of health and safety provision – or quality of worker wages. Indeed, quality systems may actually overshadow the health and safety provisions in place, replacing them with more emphasis on new quality paperchase systems.

In short, QS-9000 means that our bosses will not only expect but will require us to help find ways to standardise and intensify the work process in order to get us to do much more. QS-9000, like ISO-9000, seeks to continuously increase the rate of exploitation of our labour and continuously improve corporate profits.

Chumbas chill out

Welcome to Chumbaworld! John Prescott may not wear his Chumbawamba T-shirts any more but their 15 year overnight success means some people are. While the gutter press try to make up their minds whether they are cuddly or dangerous, DA lets Alice Nutter of the band speak for herself when we caught up with them before a recent gig.

Did you anticipate accusations of selling out by writing the song "The Good Ship Lifestyle" (on the recent album Tubthumping). Have you got that sort of reaction now you’re famous?

Alice: No, well the whole album (Tubthumping) was written before we signed to EMI anyway. Have you seen that pamphlet "The circled A and its parasites" ? We wrote it about that, and about some people’s puritanical take on the world. We wanted to say it isn’t OK to be like that, that we’ve got to live and fight in the real world.

So you aren’t getting loads of hassle for going "mainstream"?

Alice: On the whole, people have been into it, because I think they know that if we weren’t on Top of The Pops, then they wouldn’t hear us at all. This time last year we didn’t have a record deal at all.

Even before we’d signed to EMI and any of that stuff, I was going to political meetings and some people are funny because you’re in a band. But if you recognise that you’re part of a community - except that you have access to the media for two minutes of your life - that’s how we see it. We know the people who do all the hard work get no fucking glory at all.

The mainstream press seem to enjoy casting you as a "controversial" band but seem to pick up on things like references to drinking in lyrics rather than the political content of your music.

Alice: Did you hear that stuff last week about Virgin taking our records off the shelves? I did this crap TV debate in America which went out live across the country. I was the loony in the corner arguing against capitalism, and shoplifting came up. I said we wouldn’t mind if people shoplifted our records from major chainstores. Their argument against it was that no-one needs to shoplift a record, it’s not food, but why should just the rich have access to culture?

Will Virgin put your records back on the shelves?

Alice: To be honest, I don’t really care. People are throwing money at us, or are trying to. Nike offered between £1 and £3 million to do them a song for the world cup and we told them to tuck off. We don’t need it. Not that we’ve got millions, but we’ll do stuff if there’s a point. We did an advert for Renault in Italy and gave the money to Italian anarchist radio stations. If there’s a point to taking the money and getting into the mainstream, then we’ll do it. But we’re not going to take Nike’s money. Even if you give £3 million away, you’re still financing the sweatshops and that’s a dilemma that you can’t live with. So we got in touch with the anti-Nike group and said, "do you want a song for free?"

How far do you think it’s possible to use the press for yourselves, and how far do they think they’re using you?

Alice: You can’t control it, we’re not on the same side. The Sun and the Mirror have got us in all the time but I wouldn’t wipe my arse on them. I read the Mirror sometimes but I don’t like it. We don’t even try and control it because, depending on what they write, one minute it’s about this band who say they like it when cops get killed, next minute we’re cuddly anarchists.

So it doesn’t matter what you say?

Alice: No, but I do think that even if they cast you as a cartoon figure, there’s loads of people out there that go "yeah I think that". They’re using us, and to some extent we’re using them.

Now, whether it works or not, I don’t know, but we’ve tried not using them and that definitely doesn’t work.

Is there any way of getting them to report less sensational stuff, like organising and longer term issues, any way of taking it further?

Alice: For a start even if we’re talking about Chumbawamba, we point out that the reason we’ve existed all these years is because we’ve organised as an anarchist unit. We work as a democracy, everybody gets equal money, everybody gets a say in what goes on. There isn’t a leader....

And then you move it off and start talking about other forms of anarchist organising and how important community and grassroots politics are, and occasionally that goes in. And when it’s live on TV, then it has to go in.

So what do you think the media think anarchism is, and how far is it possible to influence this?

Alice: It’s interesting because they always start off from the basis that anarchism is chaos. So part of our role at the moment, which has appeared in magazines like Q, is to say that anarchism is actually to be extremely organised in a responsible way. It’s a social order where everybody starts off on an equal footing, without the blandness of state communism; without a leader at any point. To be an anarchist you have to be organised because you have to take on responsibility.

So I do think it is possible to use the media to change people’s perceptions of anarchism.

The whole idea of doing this, and having EMI as your boss etc... is quite ironic...

Alice: It’s like the dockers thing. We did a benefit and we expected EMI to be lukewarm about it but they said "Brilliant! Publicity!" If you’re suiting capitalism’s ends, then they’ll let you. But there’ll come a point when we stop selling records and the relationship will change drastically and we’re fully aware of that. What we’re actually doing with all the money is to pay ourselves a living wage now, so that when we’re not selling records we can still make artistic choices and carry on in some form and have money to do that.

Are there other things you’d like do with Chumbawamba, like tour with a big band?

Alice: We got offered the Rolling Stones... We talked about it but decided that it would only be worth doing if we could do something that would get us dragged off stage. It wasn’t really relevant, but we’d love to do U2!

People put in years of political activity against massive odds.... why do you think we do it?

Alice: Because it enhances our lives. It’s not really a conscious choice, it’s something you are. The best thing about touring isn’t owt to do with all the media stuff. It’s getting to meet strikers, and being in touch with the dockers and the anti-fascist people here tonight.

I think politics should be an accepted part of everyday life, not a boring thing for a meeting in a pub once a week. I think there’s a move to reform a workable anarchist movement that’s not elitist or based solely on youth culture. It’s got to reflect the world as it is.

I’d say that’s going on with the formation of the Solidarity Federation and the more recent stuff about Class War.

Alice: It’s really difficult to think "this isn’t working" and it’s a really big move to say "right, we’ve got to knock it all down, take what’s good about what we’ve done but try to work in different ways". It’s hard to do because people are resistant to change, even anarchists...

An Unhealthy Profit

Half a century has now gone by since the creation of the National Health Service. Its establishment is looked back on fondly by all manner of leftists as a triumph of state-intervention. The benefits of advancing medical science have been extended to everyone. Isn’t this redistribution of medical resources an example of socialism in action?

Today’s NHS is a far cry from rose-tinted, cradle-to-grave nostalgia. It is now a byword for crisis management. Likewise, the declining health of the British working class is now described by British Medical Journal as "the most serious health problem facing the nation". While it is no doubt popular to blame years of Tory mis-management and under-funding for the NHS’s predicament, this is far from the whole story. A fuller picture requires a look at the whole emphasis of health policy, at factors like diet, pollution, poverty and inequality, not to mention the nature of work. In short, we have to confront the exploitative and murderous system that is capitalism.

The outward signs of this crisis management, those that grab the headlines, are the waiting lists, staff shortages, bed shortages and, of course, the shortage of funds to even attempt to remedy the situation.

From time to time, the government will bow to "public pressure" and throw money around until the immediate problem fades into the background. But the real problem facing the NHS is that the costs of drugs and treatments has now spiralled out of control, outstripping what funds governments are prepared to allocate. Consequently it takes more and more money just to deliver the same level of service. However, there could have been a totally different story, had successive governments not totally mis-managed health policy. It is the short-sighted strategy of emphasising the symptoms of ill health, rather than addressing the real causes, that has led us to the dire straits we are now in. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ does not exist in the present health service management phrasebook.

By the beginning of the 1990s, the Tory government had decided that the solution for the NHS lay within their free-market ideology. Thus the internal market was spawned. The introduction of competition through a system of buyers (GP fundholders and local health authorities, not to mention private health insurance companies) and sellers (NHS hospital trusts and clinics) was supposed to bring about a cheaper and more efficient service. What has resulted instead is a ballooning bureaucracy with decisions made on the basis of what can be afforded by accountants, rather than by medical professionals on the basis of what is required.

cutting staff wages

Alongside this approach has been that of reducing the NHS wage bill, achieved initially through the hiving off of some services, like catering and laundry, to the private sector. It is nurses, however, who continue to face the brunt of this cost-cutting and who continue to leave the NHS in droves due to low pay and low morale. These declining staff levels have in turn led to an increased use of temporary and agency nurses leaving an increasingly de-skilled, fractured and insecure workforce. This is a far cry from the early days of the Tories’ "reforms", when there seemed to be a genuine chance of a fightback among nurses and other health workers. However, that fightback was never to materialise due to a reluctance to take action which might harm patients. The Tories exploited this reluctance to the full, aided and abetted by the nursing union leaders and the Labour Party, who were desperate to present a squeaky clean image to the media.

rhetoric & reality

Now the Tories have gone and still the crisis persists. New Labour’s election campaign was full of promises to abolish the internal market and slash bureaucracy, as well as to cut waiting lists. The reality is that they have no real plan as to how to go about it. In fact, they are doing the exact opposite. The health secretary, Frank Dobson, claims in his white paper that Labour will abolish "the wasteful and bureaucratic competitive internal market". All it amounts to, though, is mucking about at the edges of the buyer/seller system and introducing even more bureaucracy, including league tables, a Commission for Health Improvement (a sort of Ofsted for the Health Service), and a National Institute of Clinical Effectiveness - NICE - (to produce guidelines on the cost-effective use of treatments).

This is merely another reflection of Labour’s unerring ability to accept old Tory policies and re-package them in a cloud of guff about caring, sharing New Labour. It’s just the same story as school performance league tables, compulsory competitive tendering for local authorities, privatisation of parts of the civil service, workfare, cutting benefits to single parent families, and so on, and so on...

Meanwhile, the government has also failed to cut hospital waiting lists, which continue to grow and grow. The result? What we now have is a two-tier health service. We have an efficient service based on health insurance and private medicine for the rich and a poorly-funded, inadequate service for the rest of us. This is reflected in the latest trends and figures which show the health of the rich steadily improving, but the health of the poorest is declining for the first time since the Victorian era. Life expectancy for "unskilled" and "semi-skilled men" fell between 1987 and 1991, while for "professional men" it rose by nearly a year. Men of working age in the "lowest" social class are three times more likely to die prematurely than those in the "highest" class. A baby born into the top two social classes can expect to live over five years more than one born to parents of the lowest classes. 30 years ago the gap was less than four years. Death rates in poor areas of Britain are rising for the first time this century.

Research points to relative poverty, not absolute poverty, as the cause of this deterioration in health. Countries with more equal income distribution have less health inequalities and healthier populations overall. In Britain, the widening gap between the highest and lowest earners is now well documented. This gap is reflected in a widening of lifestyle differences, which also contribute to health inequalities. Medical Research Council studies have highlighted the importance of eating habits, and show that babies who are small at birth (due to poor nutrition in the womb), have an increased risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

The government has responded to this trend by setting up a review to examine health inequalities and make recommendations on reducing them. They have also announced the establishment of "health action zones" to improve health care in very poor areas.

These may bring minor improvements but the most obvious solution, a fundamental redistribution of wealth, has been ruled out. This makes for a depressing future, with a large section of society increasingly condemned to poverty, along with the poor health and the poor quality of life that goes with it.

Nor does the political will exist to radically alter the targeting of medical and other resources towards tackling the causes of disease and ill health - towards prevention. This means dealing with not only huge income and lifestyle inequalities. It also means dealing with widespread pollution, the food industry, the stress levels and long hours associated with the nature of work. In short, it means threatening profits and challenging the existence of capitalism itself, and we can hardly expect this or any other government to be responsible enough to do this in any meaningful way.

Anarchosyndicalism, which advocates the establishment of a society where production is for need not profit, has much more to offer. Gone will be the mentality of seeing the development of ever more sophisticated drugs and techniques as the only answer. Of course, drugs and surgery have to have their place but we see a greater emphasis on removing and reducing the causes of ill health.

This means food which doesn’t poison us slowly; it means green industry and transport; it means stopping wringing the most work possible from the fewest workers possible for the least money possible. It means creating methods of work that won’t grind us down for an early grave.

What about the more immediate future though? Self-education on health matters can be provided right now. Information and skills by and for people are a major part of Solidarity Federation’s strategy of promoting and establishing local "solidarity centres". These are intended to become educational centres, dealing with a whole range of issues, including health, and to become the focus for many and varied campaigns and actions.

Locating and dealing with the causes of ill health - poverty, work, pollution, etc., is part of the all-encompassing strategy to build a new society within the shell of the old one. It is only through people getting together in this way that we can begin to confront and take control of the problems affecting our own daily lives and our health.

These stepping stones of solidarity and self-education are critical. Through them, we can begin to challenge health crisis-management and gain the experience and knowledge to go on to take over and manage our own health in the interests of all of us rather than the profits of the few.

Dealing with Difficult Bosses

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if society was organised along different lines?

As a postal worker, my job can sometimes be routine, so to relieve the boredom, I sometimes daydream about such things, particularly what the job would be like ‘come the revolution’. Of course people would still want letters delivered, but does that mean the job wouldn’t change?

It would - though the fine details would be up to all of us to work out when we are in a position to do so. Some things are assumed, although if management stopped running the post office, we would make sure everyone got their letters. The sole purpose would not be profit at all cost. That would mean shorter hours and no more 6 day weeks, no more overtime to make ends meet, no more macho management bullies. And that’s just for starters. And don’t forget you – ‘the customer’ – no more junk mail, no more bills, no more tax demands, eviction notices or the like.

Too good to be true? Surely, we would be lost without management to tell us what to do? The answers to these questions are no, and no.

When I first started at the Post Office 10 years ago, one of the first things I heard hurled at a manager by an old timer was ‘this job will run without the bosses but not without us’. Startlingly simple, but an assertion which is borne out with experience. We do the work. We know the job inside out. We know how to save time and money. We know how to do everything most efficiently and in the least hours. Management are constantly trying to get that information out of us so they can make cuts and increase profits.

We wouldn’t tell them what we know. In fact, we do everything we can to sabotage management’s efficiency drives. But it’s our knowledge and experience which, one day in the future, will be used to transform our working lives for the benefit of all.

In the meantime, we have an ongoing guerrilla campaign on our hands. One thing that has kept me at the post office so long is my fellow workers disrespect for petty authority. And that includes union bureaucrats along with the bosses.

An understanding amongst us is that anything management want us to do is bad news. Time and again their proposals are kicked out following a brief debate. Sure, we are not always as solid as we would all like, but the basic uncooperative attitude is always there. The management start a get-smart campaign, and we start a get-scruffy campaign, you know the type of thing. The bosses statements are met with our resolve. Their appeals for the guilty to step forward are met with cries of ‘I am Spartacus’. Team briefings are an excuse to piss around, and if you can piss-take the manager by carrying out orders literally, all to the good.

All this schvejkian messing about might seem rather empty and pointless. After all, it isn’t going to kick anything off towards a ‘revolution’, is it? Still, I say it is something worth celebrating. This stubborn bloody-mindedness is behind the still-common unofficial walk-outs. It led to the vote for strike action last year. It is behind the ongoing battle to defend what little we have and to fight for better.

And we have another understanding – whatever the union recommends must be a crap deal. The union bureaucrats have themselves to look out for, not us. It is all part of a great tradition of workplace resistance, done with inventiveness and humour. It’s something to be proud of. It’s a way of showing we are not devoid of imagination, and this will sometime be turned into something more positive.

As you may have gathered, I’m not a cynic, and neither are most of my colleagues. Where there is disobedience, there is hope. It is the difference between existing and living.

Global Fiction

The communications revolution is stripping away the cultural, economic and political barriers that defined the nation state. Or is it?
The idea that we live in a global market is now accepted as reality. In this new global village the concept of national government is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In future it will no longer be state power that shapes our lives but the power of market forces. The history of the nation state is at an end.
Not so fast.

If the free market vision of a global market is a reality, then we live in revolutionary times. The establishment of a true global market will require a massive shift of wealth from the rich north to the undeveloped nations of the Southern Hemisphere. For, if the global capital markets operate in line with market theory, production and investment should be abandoning the high waged rich economies in search of higher rates of returns on offer in the low waged underdeveloped nations. And here lies the problem, for much of the global market hype is based on abstract market theory, rather than economic reality.

It is certainly true that the high taxing, high spending, national governments are still with us. On average, the nation states of the rich north consume some 47% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It seems that national governments still have a few pounds to play with. So much for the power of markets to impose economic discipline.

Is this continuing massive state spending spree, causing investment to flood into the poorer nations of the world? Well, not quite. Average direct foreign investment (FDI), the amount companies invest abroad in property, machinery, etc., is only the equivalent of 6% of total company domestic investment. Of this relatively small amount, only 9% was invested in the developing nations. Between 1970-89 the world’s rich economies managed to swallow up 90% of total world FDI - the country taking the lions share being the USA. These figures reflect the fact that in the 1990s only 10% of domestic investment in the emerging economies was financed from abroad.

Even the demon of the "left" and exploiter of low wage economies, the multi-national corporations (MNCs), remains firmly rooted in home territory. On average, MNCs satisfy over two thirds of their production and locate two thirds of their employees in their home country. Modern manufacturing requires highly sophisticated support networks, for example specialised suppliers, research and development facilities, access to highly trained labour, with much of this support supplied free by the state. Add to this the fact that, due to the increasing use of technology, labour costs now only make up around 10% of total productive cost, and it is not hard to see why MNCs remain rooted in the rich northern economies.


Despite the perception to the contrary, companies generally still operate within national boundaries. There is still a strong correlation between domestic saving and domestic investment. Companies still tend to raise funds, invest, and produce for the domestic economy. 80% of Britain’s GDP is still produced for consumption on the domestic markets. The figures for Japan and the USA are even higher, around 90%. Also, GDP does not measure human activity not exchanged on the markets, most notably unpaid work like bringing up children. If this was to be included, the picture emerges of national economies still very much geared to meeting human "needs" within national borders.

The fact that national borders are still very much with us should come as no surprise, for society does not function according to the dictates of free market theory. People, workplaces, goods and services cannot simply be transported around the globe in search of higher profit, they tend to be fixed by locality. For instance, according to market theory, the sole factor in deciding where to live, is levels of income. Human beings are slightly more complex, they are fixed to locality by a common culture, family ties and a sense of belonging. They do not continually move around the world in search of ever-higher standards of living. National borders cannot be simply wished away by simplistic market theory.

To argue that national economies are still very much with us is not to say that there has not been an increase in cross border trade. But statistics can always be deceptive, and the growth in cross border trade does not demonstrate that we are moving in the direction of a global market. What is beginning to emerge is the existence of regional trading blocks, centred around Europe, the Americas and Asia. Trade within these regional blocks is growing at the expense of trade between the regions. Exports within America, Europe and Asia rose from 31% percent of total world exports in 1980, to 43% in 1992. Well over 50% of Britain’s exports now go to EEC countries.


It should be stressed that for reasons already outlined, these regional trading blocks have a long way to go before they become "super state" regional economies. The regions are dominated by the US, Japanese and German economies. Even in the European block, which is attempting to introduce monetary union, it is likely that economic inequalities will remain, with the German economy remaining the dominant force.

The other notable thing about the emergence of these regional trading blocks, is the way they were formed. They did not result from some natural free market process, spurred on by the introduction of new technology. They were planned by supposedly enfeebled nation states often against the will of the citizens and in opposition from sectors of the market. For example, the overwhelming majority of European citizens are against European monetary union. Did the Mexican people embrace the latest NAFTA free trade agreement? Not exactly – the Mexican State is still killing those who have tried to make a stand against it.

Even international currency markets have little to gain from free trade and monetary stability; they rely on monetary instability for their quick profits.

Nor is the theory of a global market flawed simply because it confuses market theory with economic reality. Central to the global market idea is that of invincible high-tech global finance slaying the demon of state power. The world’s lurch towards free market doctrine and the abandonment by governments of Kenynesian economic management had nothing to do with technology. Change was brought about as a result of the inflation and recession that hit the world’s economies in the 1970s. It was from this instability that the power of the financial markets grew.

the seeds of superprofits

The long post war boom was built on the dominance of the US economy. It was this that allowed monetary stability to be established. The world’s governments agreed upon a fixed rate exchange system. Currencies were fixed to the dollar, which in turn was backed by massive gold reserves. Known as the Brettons Wood system, the fixed rate exchange system prevented the sort of currency speculation that we see today.

Unfortunately, as is always the case with capitalism; out of stability, so instability grew. To finance the war against communism, America resorted to printing money. This led not only to inflation within the domestic economy, but as the dollar acted as the world reserve currency, inflation was injected into the world’s economies. Further, as the American economic dominance began to be challenged by German and Japanese based capitalism, pressure grew to deflate the value of the dollar.

Amid rising inflation and mounting economic crisis, the dollar was finally devalued in the 1970s, leading to the collapse of the fixed exchange rate system, and its replacement with the present currency markets. New technology did not create the currency markets, it only speeded up the whole chaotic process.

The key to ending deflationary economic policies is to re-establish economic stability, which would in turn lead to monetary stability and the curtailment of currency speculation, high-tech or otherwise. If this could be achieved, rising employment and increased funds would allow the nation state to spend less of GDP on unemployment benefit and more on welfare provision. How this could be achieved though, given the unstable nature of capitalism, is hard to conceive.

beyond boom & bust

From the perspective of those seeking an alternative to the current mess, there are a number of things to be born in mind. The current economic woes cannot be blamed on faceless international financial speculators, as national governments and the left increasingly tend to do. They are caused by economic slump, which in turn stems from the nature of capitalism. Further, it should be remembered that national economies are still very much with us. There is still much to be gained from organising within national boundaries as well as internationally.

Finally, we should ignore all the hype concerning the global market. World trade deals, aimed at bringing down economic barriers, have little to do with globalism. The aim of such deals is yet further exploitation of weaker economies by the richer economies of the north. The establishment of a truly world economy will require democratic control and democratic planning, words not to be found in the free market dictionary.