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1
Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism
and the Trade Union Movement
GLI International Summer School
Northern College, UK
7 July 2014
Asbjørn Wahl
Advisor
Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees
2
Focus on four particular issues
1. Some thoughts about the connection between
capitalism, globalisation, crises and neo-liberalism
2. The ideological legacy of the social pact – or
how to understand the social partnership ideology
3. The need to politicise the trade unions – as
the political parties have let us down so awfully
4. The need to radicalise our messages and
to develop our struggle to match our adversaries
3
1Some thoughts about the connection
between capitalism, globalisation,
crises and neo-liberalism
4
Neo-liberalism and the crisis
• Neo-liberalism did not create the economic crisis
• Quite the opposite: the crisis created the need for
the neo-liberal ideology – as a response to the crisis
• It was the internal contradictions in capitalism
itself which led to the crisis – a systemic crisis
• Neo-liberalism won hegemony also due to the lack of
resistance from the trade union and labour movement
5
Considerable redistribution from wages
to profits played a decisive role
for the development of the financial crisis.
The purchasing power became too weak
to buy all the goods and services
which were/could be produced.
This was partly compensated for through
increased loaning, which together with massive
speculation resulted in
a gigantic financial bubble.
A crisis of overproduction
6
The war on workers (wage share)
7
Financial capital and GNPTrillion$
8
Capital’s need for expansion
• Surplus of capital (financial capital)
• Desperate hunt for profitable investments
• Public sector the biggest potential
• Unparalleled financial speculation
• ‘Globalisation’ is not a law of nature –
it is the result of deregulation and
capital’s strategy for expansion
9
2The ideological legacy of the social pact –
or how to understand
the social partnership ideology
10
The social partnership ideology I
• A true-born child of the class compromise
• The result of a very specific historic development
in which the balance of power shifted towards labour
• Capitalists felt their interests threatened and
gave in to workers demands to damp their radicalism
• The need for popular support in the Cold War against
Soviet Union contributed in the same direction
• The result: 20 years of unprecedented social progress
11
The social partnership ideology II
• Social progress was less and less seen as a result
of certain power relations in society
• It was the compromise itself – social peace and
social dialogue – which led to social progress
• This contributed to depoliticising, deradicalising
and demobilising the working class/trade unions
• Changed the character of social democracy – from a
class movement to a mediator between the classes
12
Regulation of capital
Fixed
exchange ratesCapital control
Regulation of
investments
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
13
The turning point
• The 1970s: crisis in the world economy
and a continued deep crisis of capitalism
• The triumph of neoliberalism and the
following restructuring of global capitalism
• Deregulation - abolishment of capital control
• Immense shift in the balance of power
(and it’s all about power, stupid)
• The breakdown of the class compromise
14
The neoliberal offensive
Fixed
exchange ratesCapital control
Regulation of
investments
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
15
The neoliberal offensive
Capital control
Regulation of
investments
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
16
The neoliberal offensive
Regulation of
investments
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
17
The neoliberal offensive
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
18
The neoliberal offensive
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
19
The neoliberal offensive
Labour legislation Reduced public sector
Private capital
20
The current situation
Attacks on labour legislation Reduced public sector
Private capital
21
What went wrong?
• The social pact was not a stable situation
• A compromise in a concrete historical situation
• Tactical compromise became the final aim
• Basic power relations remained in tact
• The ideology of the social pact deradicalised
• Taken by surprise by the neo-liberal offensive
22
This was just not enough !
Fixed
exchange ratesCapital control
Regulation of
investments
Trade protectionism
Labour legislation Huge public sector
Private capital
Ownership Democratic control
Mobilisation of social power
23
The big question
In retrospect, who gained the
most from the class compromise
and the resulting welfare state?
24
3The need to politicise the trade unions –
as the political parties
have let us down so awfully
25
Labour movement in crisis
• Deep political-ideological crisis on the left
• System criticism is more or less non-existent
• Few attempts at mobilising for a power struggle
• No efforts to curb the power of financial capital
• The labour movement is losing trust, since it
has supported the policy which led to the crisis
• Left parties in governments have been a failure
26
«Neither society nor democracy»
«In the last decade European social democracy has
ceased to be about either society or democracy.
In government it has embraced liberal economic
principles that undermined solidarity and association.
Along the way the idea of the common good has
been lost and there is no vision of a 'Good Society'.»
«The Future of European Social Democracy»
published by the social democratic Social Europe Journal
27
Is there an alternative solution?
• The crisis gives an opportunity to disarm
financial capital and regulate the markets
• The public sector should be used to damp the
effects of the crisis and stabilise the economy
• A radical redistribution of wealth is necessary
• Only the trade union movement has the
potential to push solutions in this direction
• Potential is one thing, practice something else
– a formidable mobilisation will be necessary
28
Need agency and strategies
• We need alternatives, but not without also
considering agency – who is going to carry out
the struggles – social forces, alliances
• Wishful thinking and arm-chair theories,
alternatives and models are easy to produce
• What is realistic, what is possible, how do we
prioritise – and how to we get there (strategies)?
• This is too little discussed on the left today
29
Right wing populism/extremism
• The capitalist crisis creates a real basis for
alienation, exclusion, discontent and polarisation
• Workers feel betrayed by their ‘own’ politicians
• The extreme Right supports all discontent
and channels it in perverted political directions
• The only alternative: A policy of the left
which politicises the discontent and channels
it into real fights for collective solutions
30
A strategy for the unions
• Alternative analyses – a system-critical view
• Building of new, broad social alliances
• Development of concrete alternatives
• Due to the party political misery, trade unions
must take a broader political responsibility
• Develop solidarity across all borders
• Create democratic and action-oriented unions
prepared for the confrontations which will come
31
4The need to radicalise our messages
and to develop our struggle
to match our adversaries
32
Emancipation is our goal!
• The (positive) effects of a class compromise can
never be more than a temporary achievement
• Emancipatory social policies presuppose
a huge shift in the balance of power in society
• Today, we demand too little and accept too much
• As authoritarian rule and oppression increase, our
response has to be bolder and more radical
• If the right to strike is restricted or banned, trade
unions have to win back the right in practise
33
A minimum programme
• Fight austerity – defend our public services!
• Redistribute our wealth – Let the rich pay!
• Cancel public debt created by the financial crisis!
• Socialise banks and financial institutions!
• Defend democracy – break with trade & fiscal pacts!
• Unify the environmental with the social struggle
• Organise, mobilise and meet the confrontations!
34
Madrid, 22 March 2014
35
The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State
In an age of government
imposed austerity, and after 30
years of neo-liberal restructuring,
the future of the welfare state
looks increasingly uncertain.
Asbjørn Wahl offers an
accessible analysis of the
situation across Europe,
identifies the most important
challenges and presents
practical proposals for combating
the assaults on welfare.
£ 15,-

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Asbjørn Wahl presentation to #ISS14

  • 1. 1 Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism and the Trade Union Movement GLI International Summer School Northern College, UK 7 July 2014 Asbjørn Wahl Advisor Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees
  • 2. 2 Focus on four particular issues 1. Some thoughts about the connection between capitalism, globalisation, crises and neo-liberalism 2. The ideological legacy of the social pact – or how to understand the social partnership ideology 3. The need to politicise the trade unions – as the political parties have let us down so awfully 4. The need to radicalise our messages and to develop our struggle to match our adversaries
  • 3. 3 1Some thoughts about the connection between capitalism, globalisation, crises and neo-liberalism
  • 4. 4 Neo-liberalism and the crisis • Neo-liberalism did not create the economic crisis • Quite the opposite: the crisis created the need for the neo-liberal ideology – as a response to the crisis • It was the internal contradictions in capitalism itself which led to the crisis – a systemic crisis • Neo-liberalism won hegemony also due to the lack of resistance from the trade union and labour movement
  • 5. 5 Considerable redistribution from wages to profits played a decisive role for the development of the financial crisis. The purchasing power became too weak to buy all the goods and services which were/could be produced. This was partly compensated for through increased loaning, which together with massive speculation resulted in a gigantic financial bubble. A crisis of overproduction
  • 6. 6 The war on workers (wage share)
  • 7. 7 Financial capital and GNPTrillion$
  • 8. 8 Capital’s need for expansion • Surplus of capital (financial capital) • Desperate hunt for profitable investments • Public sector the biggest potential • Unparalleled financial speculation • ‘Globalisation’ is not a law of nature – it is the result of deregulation and capital’s strategy for expansion
  • 9. 9 2The ideological legacy of the social pact – or how to understand the social partnership ideology
  • 10. 10 The social partnership ideology I • A true-born child of the class compromise • The result of a very specific historic development in which the balance of power shifted towards labour • Capitalists felt their interests threatened and gave in to workers demands to damp their radicalism • The need for popular support in the Cold War against Soviet Union contributed in the same direction • The result: 20 years of unprecedented social progress
  • 11. 11 The social partnership ideology II • Social progress was less and less seen as a result of certain power relations in society • It was the compromise itself – social peace and social dialogue – which led to social progress • This contributed to depoliticising, deradicalising and demobilising the working class/trade unions • Changed the character of social democracy – from a class movement to a mediator between the classes
  • 12. 12 Regulation of capital Fixed exchange ratesCapital control Regulation of investments Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 13. 13 The turning point • The 1970s: crisis in the world economy and a continued deep crisis of capitalism • The triumph of neoliberalism and the following restructuring of global capitalism • Deregulation - abolishment of capital control • Immense shift in the balance of power (and it’s all about power, stupid) • The breakdown of the class compromise
  • 14. 14 The neoliberal offensive Fixed exchange ratesCapital control Regulation of investments Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 15. 15 The neoliberal offensive Capital control Regulation of investments Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 16. 16 The neoliberal offensive Regulation of investments Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 17. 17 The neoliberal offensive Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 18. 18 The neoliberal offensive Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital
  • 19. 19 The neoliberal offensive Labour legislation Reduced public sector Private capital
  • 20. 20 The current situation Attacks on labour legislation Reduced public sector Private capital
  • 21. 21 What went wrong? • The social pact was not a stable situation • A compromise in a concrete historical situation • Tactical compromise became the final aim • Basic power relations remained in tact • The ideology of the social pact deradicalised • Taken by surprise by the neo-liberal offensive
  • 22. 22 This was just not enough ! Fixed exchange ratesCapital control Regulation of investments Trade protectionism Labour legislation Huge public sector Private capital Ownership Democratic control Mobilisation of social power
  • 23. 23 The big question In retrospect, who gained the most from the class compromise and the resulting welfare state?
  • 24. 24 3The need to politicise the trade unions – as the political parties have let us down so awfully
  • 25. 25 Labour movement in crisis • Deep political-ideological crisis on the left • System criticism is more or less non-existent • Few attempts at mobilising for a power struggle • No efforts to curb the power of financial capital • The labour movement is losing trust, since it has supported the policy which led to the crisis • Left parties in governments have been a failure
  • 26. 26 «Neither society nor democracy» «In the last decade European social democracy has ceased to be about either society or democracy. In government it has embraced liberal economic principles that undermined solidarity and association. Along the way the idea of the common good has been lost and there is no vision of a 'Good Society'.» «The Future of European Social Democracy» published by the social democratic Social Europe Journal
  • 27. 27 Is there an alternative solution? • The crisis gives an opportunity to disarm financial capital and regulate the markets • The public sector should be used to damp the effects of the crisis and stabilise the economy • A radical redistribution of wealth is necessary • Only the trade union movement has the potential to push solutions in this direction • Potential is one thing, practice something else – a formidable mobilisation will be necessary
  • 28. 28 Need agency and strategies • We need alternatives, but not without also considering agency – who is going to carry out the struggles – social forces, alliances • Wishful thinking and arm-chair theories, alternatives and models are easy to produce • What is realistic, what is possible, how do we prioritise – and how to we get there (strategies)? • This is too little discussed on the left today
  • 29. 29 Right wing populism/extremism • The capitalist crisis creates a real basis for alienation, exclusion, discontent and polarisation • Workers feel betrayed by their ‘own’ politicians • The extreme Right supports all discontent and channels it in perverted political directions • The only alternative: A policy of the left which politicises the discontent and channels it into real fights for collective solutions
  • 30. 30 A strategy for the unions • Alternative analyses – a system-critical view • Building of new, broad social alliances • Development of concrete alternatives • Due to the party political misery, trade unions must take a broader political responsibility • Develop solidarity across all borders • Create democratic and action-oriented unions prepared for the confrontations which will come
  • 31. 31 4The need to radicalise our messages and to develop our struggle to match our adversaries
  • 32. 32 Emancipation is our goal! • The (positive) effects of a class compromise can never be more than a temporary achievement • Emancipatory social policies presuppose a huge shift in the balance of power in society • Today, we demand too little and accept too much • As authoritarian rule and oppression increase, our response has to be bolder and more radical • If the right to strike is restricted or banned, trade unions have to win back the right in practise
  • 33. 33 A minimum programme • Fight austerity – defend our public services! • Redistribute our wealth – Let the rich pay! • Cancel public debt created by the financial crisis! • Socialise banks and financial institutions! • Defend democracy – break with trade & fiscal pacts! • Unify the environmental with the social struggle • Organise, mobilise and meet the confrontations!
  • 35. 35 The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State In an age of government imposed austerity, and after 30 years of neo-liberal restructuring, the future of the welfare state looks increasingly uncertain. Asbjørn Wahl offers an accessible analysis of the situation across Europe, identifies the most important challenges and presents practical proposals for combating the assaults on welfare. £ 15,-

Editor's Notes

  1. Offentlige institusjoner har vært blant verstingene i å fremme det brutaliserte arbeidsliv (Posten). Late som om man er et privat selskap. Hvorfor i all verden skal Posten gå med milliardoverskudd?
  2. New Public Management bygger på dette verdigrunnlaget.
  3. Offentlige institusjoner har vært blant verstingene i å fremme det brutaliserte arbeidsliv (Posten). Late som om man er et privat selskap. Hvorfor i all verden skal Posten gå med milliardoverskudd?