Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Log 348 April 2 2013 Someone in Europe’s trade union movement urges a policy I have believed since I was a youth, nationalizing the financial institutions

 Ever since I was a youth and attended a crowded public meeting at which a dissident member of our governing New Zealand Labour Party espoused the nationalization of the banks, that policy has been one of my desiderata in any political party.

Throw in insurance companies as well, and such a party would have my vote, for sure.

Short of that --- and we are so far short of that I have practically forgotten about it--- what are we to hope for? Our mainstream leftwing parties --- our British, New Zealand, Australian Labour parties, our Canadian NDP, our French Socialists and plenty of others --- have so far abandoned their roots, their reasons for being, that one votes for them merely as a gesture to keep what is left of our dwindling welfare state intact against the ferocious effort to destroy it, now being made by the forces of capitalism. So much has gone --- most of the union movement, for example, the very engine of our original creation of the welfare state, largely destroyed, with mainly the public sector unions hanging on  desperately, trying to deal with a nastily anti-union Canadian government ---- so much has gone that people have already begun to write as if the welfare state is a thing of the past.

In fact, as is established in a very perceptive and interesting interview published by Socialist Project, a valiant and intelligent site that keeps banging the socialist drum, the welfare state is in fact an artefact hanging over from history, from, as they say, an historic compromise reached in the more rational Western countries after the last war between capital and labour. Western powers were always aware that on the other side of Europe the option of socialism was available, and however inadequate might have been their practice of the noble ideal, our leaders didn’t want to take a chance of the noble ideal taking root on our side of he world.

So they made the compromise, according to the expert interviewed for the article, Asbjorn Wahl, a man well-known in Europe for his expertise on the welfare  state. He is author of several studies of  what he calls “the rise and fall of the welfare state”,  is currently vice-president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, a member of the coordinating committee of Forum Social Europe, an informal trade union network that works on current issues, and also at the moment an adviser to the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees.

He says that when Europe adopted the welfare state, every nation had its particular scheme: there were even notable differences between the Scandinavian countries. Norway, for example, he said had huge state income from its resources (oil, fish, hydro-electricity), and this enabled them to keep unemployment down at 3 per cent. In addition, when they discovered oil, they were already a well-developed state which was able to direct its income to social purposes, unlike those in the third world, where the local elites and foreign capitalists enriched themselves. Now, however, the successful welfare policies are being slowly modified --- that is, weakened --- and he believes its welfare state is rather fragile.

“My view,” said Wahl, “is that the era of the welfare state is over, or at least it is coming to an end now. What we see particularly in the most crisis-ridden countries of Europe, is the systematic destruction of the welfare state.

 “I see that many politicians and trade unionists, also on the left, today say that the austerity policy of the Troika (the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) as well as of most governments in Europe is mistaken, because it will not contribute to regaining economic growth and creating jobs. They therefore try to convince the Troika and EU politicians to change policy. I think that is a grave misinterpretation of the situation. The short term aim of the Troika is not economic growth and jobs, it is actually to abolish the welfare state and defeat the trade union movement. At least, that is what is going on.”

Wahl was being interviewed by Vladimir Simovic and Darko Vesic from Centre of the Politics of Emancipation, Serbia, and they put to him the current view in Serbia “that we are still on our way to genuine capitalism and that EU integration is going to resolve most of the economic and social problems of our society.” 

“This sounds like a political fairy tale to me,” replied Wahl.  “What is ‘genuine capitalism’? Is it the post World War II welfare capitalism (which is now history), or is it the much more harsh, brutal and crisis-ridden capitalism we see unfolding around us …. To believe that EU integration will create a prosperous future for Serbia, given what is now going on in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, the Baltic countries, Hungary, Bulgaria etc., really requires a big portion of unfounded optimism.”

He added that it was a mistake for the left forces to put so much emphasis “on the so-called social dialogue” when the capitalists have already withdrawn from it.

Asked for his prescription for workable working class policies, Wahl said intense organizing must be carried out. “…..(Our) main problem was that the question of ownership was not addressed in full (in the original labour/capital compromise). Social ownership of banks and other financial institutions as well as of the means of production will therefore have to be put on the agenda again… (My emphasis)…

Well, at least someone is still thinking about my favoured policies. Let’s hope he is listened to.

The above interview was published March 25 as Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 789.
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