BUILDING A FUTURE THAT WORKS
ROUND OF INTRODUCTIONS
“Name, occupation, affiliation”. As much as people want to say.
WHAT'S GOIN' ON?
The march for A Future That Works has come after two years of austerity cuts, the March for the Alternative in London on March 26 last year, two co-ordinated one-day strikes by public sector workers in unions affiliated to the TUC on June 30 and November 30.
As well as being a reactive protest at austerity, the march proposed an alternative the establishment of public investment banks to shift the UK to a low-carbon economy, this would be a just transition which would create jobs for the unemployed, mitigate against the effects of climate change, and ensure that the renewable energy generation gradually replaces high-carbon fossil fuels as the source of power.
Instead of austerity cuts which fail to reduce either the public debt or deficit but actually contract the private sector, there could be a publicly owned and regulated banking system to promote the growth in economic activity that meets people's needs. Instead of mass unemployment, there could be jobs for all who are able to work through public works programmes – the state could act as “employer of last resort” and bail out the unemployed just as it has bailed out the banking sector.
The decision to hold a march and rally in London came before the TUC met in Brighton and agreed to look at the potential for a day of action across the whole labour movement. This could would mean workers in public, private and voluntary sectors, being balloted on whether to strike in protest at austerity and for a future that works. This would be a general strike akin to those taken by workers in other states in which austerity is being imposed – Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and so on – but unlike the “all out, stay out” indefinite general strike of 1926. It may be legal under European law to carry out a co-ordinated day of action by unions across the economy, though you can be sure the Tories will try to stop it through the courts if there was a vote for action.
It feels like we're being pushed backwards by the rising cost of living – food, fuel, housing, credit, transport – and by the government's threat to employment protections and other policies, but we have tools to our advantage. It's cheaper for us to organise and communicate – we can easily set up online forums which can draw new people in, build their confidence in their capacity for collective action.
How did you experience the march and rally? If you couldn't make it on the day, what was it like to hear reports of it taking place? If you were there, what did you think of the mood of people from across the country – is there a sense of growing confidence or are people just going through the motions?
A ROUND OF ANSWERS
Some time for detailed points people want to make and discussion which flows from that.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
My concern is that we consider what “a future that works” actually means – who would it work for? How would it work? How do we organise to build this future? How to we communicate amongst ourselves and the general public?
My view is that for the future to work it must do so for working people and their families, what the occupy movement that sprang up across the world last year called the 99% – the great majority who depend upon paid labour of some sort. The 1% depend on their wealth and power working for them – through owning resources or commanding individuals within organisations, they can take more than the value they contribute. This is a very simple view, but it is a realistic one when you think about the abuses of power we've learnt about – from MPs expenses to bankers' bonuses.
The working class movement has traditionally organised in response to the power of the 1% through democratic processes, one person, one vote: organised in trades unions, friendly societies, co-operatives and community groups. As a result of this class struggle, the capacity for greater freedom of expression opened up, rights and liberties were fought for and enshrined in law. People whose voices had been ignored came to be heard through self-organisation – women, gay people, the disabled, ethnic and religious minorities, and so on. We are a multitude of individuals – our futures are interdependent.
The struggles for basic democratic rights in the Arab Spring which began last year in the Middle East and North Africa, were a means to an end – that of an improved quality of life. It was for the same reason that trades unions were formed here and elsewhere – collective action allows individuals to leverage the power of solidarity with others against the power of established rulers and entrenched elites.
The positive vision and demand that we can put forward is more democracy – let's have greater democratic control (one person, one vote) both in corporate governance and in workplaces. Democratic control from the shop floor to the boardroom.
We can prefigure these changes – consider the potential of the trades union movement making use of “liquid democracy” software like Adhocracy or LiquidFeedback which allows users to delegate decision-making or take decisions directly. Political parties in Germany have started using this software to formulate policy. With smart-phones, the potential exists for the upcoming generation of trades union and community activists to be linked together through applications which would allow transparent yet encrypted decision-making to take place. It already happening to some degree through Facebook & Twitter.
George Osborne might want workers to swap their rights for shares, but this stupid proposal is one that speaks to a desire for greater autonomy, for collective ownership and control by workers within enterprises. It should be natural for the trades union movement to take the opportunity to put worker control and ownership on the agenda – in North America, the United Steelworkers' have entered into a partnership with the Mondragon Co-operatives of Spain to create new “union co-ops” out of existing capitalist firms in the US and Canada which the Mondragon Corporation has bought but not converted to worker co-operatives. The USW will organise the workers and bargain with management on contracts, and the Mondragon Co-operatives will provide help and support to allow these new union co-ops to develop and spread. There's no reason why the support won't be effective in helping people learn how to work democratically – Mondragon has its own university, after all.
A factory in Darlington with a full order book closed last year because it wasn't sufficiently profitable for its parent company, which took the decision to liquidate it. Some of the workers bought the machinery and started up a business of their own. Imagine if, as part of the insolvency process, workers had been offered the opportunity to make a go of a failing capitalist enterprise? In Spain and Italy during the 1980s and early 1990s there were programmes which did just this – offered financial help and technical support to new worker co-ops formed out of capitalist enterprises that would otherwise be broken up. The programmes didn't end because they failed – most of the businesses succeeded in repaying the soft loans and the failure rate was very low – but rather because of EU legislation on state aid.
What do you think about the future? What are the issues facing people where you live and work, people in your situation? What can we do to build a future that works for us?
ANOTHER ROUND OF ANSWERS
And the detailed points and discussions on areas of agreement / disagreement.
COLLECTION FOR THE COST OF THE ROOM... And any announcements people have.