Divisions, scandals in the ruling class… But they can still unite against the workers

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jk1921
Divisions, scandals in the ruling class… But they can still unite against the workers
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Divisions, scandals in the ruling class… But they can still unite against the workers. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
One of the better articles

One of the better articles analyzing the life of the UK bourgeoisie. However, the article does not really get into a discussion of why Keynesianism failed in the 1970s and why neo-liberalism is failing now. Are these two tactics that the bourgeoisie can deploy at any given moment or are they historically conditioned and path dependent moments in the overall evolution of the capitalist crisis? The fact that the bourgeoisie doesn't seem to know what to do exactly today seems powerful evidence of the overall crisis of captialist society, but is this indicative of an underlying economic problem or is the impasse more political?

The article mentions that Thatcherism (neoliberalism) involved "legislation to control the unions"? Why did the UK bourgeoisie feel it necessary to control the unions? Aren't the unions part of the state? How did the unions end up in opposition to the dominant policies of the bourgeoisie? What are the implications of this? Was this approcah of the UK bourgeoisie rational or was it a mistake?

KT
and good questions too

 

Yes, it’s a serious article, and fundamentally correct, IMO. ‘Despite all its real difficulties, the most experienced bourgeoisie in the world has managed to keep a fairly firm lid on the class struggle’. Is that a fair/crude summary of it? Certainly today’s Guardian has a headline saying “This cruel welfare system is steadily crushing lives – where’s all the anger gone?”

Just one question from me at this stage: the Barclays Bank furore over LIBOR rate-setting is the latest opportunity to carry on the hydra-headed game of distracting us all from the fundamentals of capitalism’s ills, disciplining elements of the bourgeoisie and mounting a clean-up campaign. It’s in continuity with the Parliamentary expenses scandal and the Leveson Inquiry in this respect. However, the two new inquiries launched into the Barclays scandal will not be led by an ‘independent’ judge (unlike Leveson) and there have been many mutterings across the bourgeois political spectrum about how we ‘don’t want another of those’, attempting to suggest that Leveson has dragged on too long and dug a little too deep: in short that it’s escaped the boundaries that the bourgeoisie wanted of it; is an expression of the political crisis of the British bourgeoisie.  Now I don’t necessarily swallow that but IMO it’s what’s being intimated in some bourgeois quarters. What do others think?

In any case, this is linked to important points raised by JK (above). I don’t have the answers to them (surprise!) but a few elements for the discussion...

JK asks (rhetorically?) if the two ‘tactics’ (‘Keynesianism’ and ‘neo-liberalism’) can be deployed at any old time or if they are “historically dependent moments in the overall evolution of the capitalist crisis”?  I’d plumb for the latter, wouldn’t you, JK? In all events, it’s possibly better to frame the whole discussion in terms of ‘state capitalism’ rather than the above ‘two tactics’. As the article says, on the economic level the bourgeoisie (in GB at any rate and wider too I believe) is presently responding to the crisis by utilising elements of both ‘tactics’ as it is obliged to do.

As to JK’s question about ‘what lies beneath’ the “overall crisis” of capitalist society and the difficulties of the (British) bourgeoisie, well without being reductionist about it, the main driver must be the crisis whose effects can be mitigated but not eradicated. We know that in the US, the political crisis of the bourgeoisie is in itself becoming as major factor in the evolution of the national and, therefore, the international situation. But in GB, the ruling class can go on ruling as before – for the present, at least.

JK’s questions on the unions indicate, I believe, an imprecision in the article: the bourgeoisie in GB did not bring in laws to control the trade unions (though this is indeed how it presented them) but to control the working class, in particular the tendency seen throughout the 1970s towards massive, simultaneous strikes in which the extension of the struggle was vigorously pursued via the use of ‘flying pickets’ (although the self-organisation of the struggle was to a much greater degree left in the hands of the lower echelons of the unions). Looked at in this light, we can say the ruling class acted very intelligently, fostering an even greater identification between the class and the unions while curbing the struggle by appearing to hamstring and harass the latter. How this worked out in practice is for another time.

baboon
unions

I support the article and agree with the criticism of KT on the union question. I think  that the trade unions in Britain and their function against the working class was enormously strengthened by the so-called anti-union legislation. The defeat of the miners virtually handed the bourgeoisie a free hand in this respect and, as KT says, they handled it intelligently. The legislation came to the aid of the union structures in controlling any possible elements of wildcat action with the possibilities of the latter reduced in the wake of the miners' defeat. It also swelled the trade union's legal departments and increased their importance in controlling and dividing any possible working class actions and where the latter did take place, at Lindsey for example, the legal questions could be safely ignored in order not to further inflame militancy. The legal shenanigins over the postal strikes and BA and the airport workers generally show concretely how the "anti-union legislation" strengthened the repressive and divisive role of the unions.

The unions weren't weakened but strengthened within the state apparatus. The real blows were aimed against working class struggle directly and hammering home the distorted "lessons" of the miners' strike.

jk1921
So, the anti-union

So, the anti-union legislation wasn't really anti-union? It was enacted in order to help the unions control the working class by distracting them in all kinds of legal campaigns, etc? Or were these side effects of the legislation?

Alf
shoring up the unions

I agree with he criticisms of the formulation in the article. The unions in the 60s and 70s were not exerting enough control over wildcat strikes, mass picketing etc. Too many strikes were decided in mass meetings. The legislation gives the unions the role of policing the class struggle from start to finish, replacing mass meetings and walk-outs with ballots, cooling off periods, etc etc. At the same time the unions can say to their members: 'sorry lads, it's that horrible Tory anti-union legislation. our hands are tied'. The British ruling class is certainly the most sophisticated in the world.  

baboon
union repression

Agree with the above. After the miners' strike defeat and the resulting jolt to the whole class in GB, there wasn't the need for the bourgeoisie to "catch up"  and radicalise the unions because the workers were in retreat.

The strengthening of the unions as repressive organs over the working class is seen clearly in the BA strikes. When, despite an overall majority to strike, the ballot was declared illegal, the union dumped all the workers' demands and concerns and simply went back with a claim for the restoration of travel benefits - which itself was only partially granted by the management.

It also emerged from the BA injunction that there had been many strikes across Britain in the past few years, many voted for with two-thirds or overwhelming majorities, that had been prevented by legal injunctions with the company and union legal departments - the latter strengthened by the legislation - working hand in hand against the working class. Apart from the legal manoeuvres there is also the ideological weight that Alf mentions with the unions saying "we can do nothing, it's the law".