To the Editor of the Dockers Charter
In issue No 6 of the Dockers Charter dated May 1996 you carried the response of a number of academics at the University of Liverpool to the openly pro-market stance of Professor Patrick Minford and Peter Stoney, entitled 'The Real Issues '. The various signatories mostly from the Sociology and Social Work Departments at the University, attempted to show that Minford and Stoney did not speak for the academic community. Moreover they exposed their claim to so called 'objectivity' by showing how Stoney was directly in the pay of the MDHC - and Minford was a 'right wing' economist and supporter of Margaret Thatcher and TINA ['There Is No Alternative']. Whilst this is invaluable, the 'Academics against Minford ', as the article was called, cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of our thinking.
They went on in their article to say that the Dockers dispute raised a 'more fundamental question' - and that is 'what kind of economy do we want ?'
The question is absolutely the right one to pose but, typical of academics, they went on to answer the question FOR US.What is so vitally new about the dockers dispute is that for the first time in this country at least, a section of workers in struggle has polarised opinion in the world of academia. Whilst I have no wish to let people like Minford 'off the [dockers] hook', we must not allow academics, however well meaning, to speak for us. Geoff Pilling, who taught me what little I know about 'economics' from the workers point of view, made an attempt to restate the real issues as they affect us, in an article printed alongside that of the academics. May I be allowed through your columns to develop his argument a bit further ?
The key, Geoff said, was to understand the changes brought about in the economy by the 'new economics' of John Maynard Keynes, after the Second World War. Geoff also said quite correctly, that Keynes believed that slow inflation would be a better way of controlling the growth of wages to within what capital could afford, than the old fashioned methods of direct wage cuts. Experience of these in the 20s and 30s had shown that with the growth of the workers' movement, such wage cutting was dangerous to 'social stability' and in Italy and Germany had led to the state taking on a Fascist form so as to tame the workers' movement. Keynes was determined not to allow a similar situation occur in Britain.BUT, and this is crucial, Keynes' solution of increased state spending and manipulation of the currency [he made his fortune as a currency speculator] in order to maintain 'full employment' also meant in practice a vast and permanent increase in state spending [mostly financed through taxation of workers wages or borrowing] AND a permanent increase in the role of the state not just in the economy, but in all areas of social life. Thus we had the growth of a welfare system, NHS, education and so on.
In other words the 'free market' was no longer to be relied upon to deliver 'full employment'. Nor could it, Keynes argued, solve the problem of balancing 'social supply' and 'social demand' - what economists call 'equilibrium'. That was the extent of the 'new economics' which swept over Western Europe. These changes were accepted by Conservative and Labour parties, Christian Democrat and Social Democrat all over Europe, Republican and Democrat in the USA - to the extent that at this time they became the new orthodoxy.We can therefore describe this early post war period from the 50s to around the late middle 70s as the period of the 'planner state'.
However we all know that since that period all this has begun to come apart. The dockers themselves have discovered as a result of their visits abroad that since roughly 1989 there has been a concerted move away from the old corporatist ways of organising work. The ending of the National Dock Labour Scheme in this country - a body inspired by Keynesian principles - has its parallel all over the world.
Why is this ? What has caused the 'planner state' to become the 'crisis state' ?
One of the reasons, we would argue, is because the world itself has changed. Capitalism is a dynamic system. As such it cannot be contained within the nation state straitjacket that Keynesian economics specified for it. The twin forces of increased world competition caused in part by technological development, and the globalisation of capital, mean that the nation state is no longer able to use the old solutions. These two factors are also at the heart of the dockers dispute. An article in the same issue of the Dockers Charter explored what globalisation means for us workers. We need to be able to explore this much further to find out all its implications for us.
Coming back to 'Academics against Minford' , their response to the question they posed - 'what sort of economy do we want ? was as follows - we need they said 'an economy based on well regulated, well paid jobs which considers the rights of those at work rather than emphasising the rights of employers to make excessive profit.'
Never mind how you define 'excessive profits' - ask yourself, who is more accurately describing the real world as we experience it and who is harking back to a past that is rapidly becoming a distant memory ?
The answer has to be that the real world belongs to Minford and his like. Now we know where we are with him and his sort. We confound his 'economics', we won't allow ourselves to be dominated by his 'free market'. We can organise ourselves and express ourselves collectively. He hates working people and the more we stand up for ourselves, the more we express ourselves collectively, the more visceral his hatred becomes.
And that's fine; as Bobby Moreton said - some things are simple and should be kept that way.
But what about our friends ? At the end of his article Geoff Pilling reposed the fundamental question the academics had asked in CLASS terms, the only way we can look at it. Will our friends in the academic world help us with our project. That is, as Geoff said, how to bring about 'the control of production by the real wealth creators and . . . [its] use in the interests of all . . . .'Will the dockers international campaign and all the contacts and discussion that it is leading to help us to work out what the answer to Geoff's question is in practice ?
What new forms of organisation do we need to run an 'economy' based on need and not profit ? What will such an economy look like anyway? How will it work ?
Or would the academics prefer to hark back to the cosy world they knew and are familiar with ? A world which most of us know is fast disappearing. I note for instance that no-one from the Economics department felt able to sign the letter from the University.
How should we account for this ? Do they all agree with 'Market Mad Minford' or has casualisation and the insecurity and fear that it creates reached right into that institution as well ?
Minford's and the MDHC is the real world - the one we have to confront.
Dave Graham 28 April 1996
[I have in the past produced a number of commentaries on the Mersey docks dispute and I am at present working on the latest - the sixth. Those of you who wish to obtain copies or have anything that you want to add criticise or whatever, can obtain them from the author by writing as follows:-Dave Graham PO Box 37 Liverpool L36 9FZ].