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Cable, class and capitalism

Bully for Vince Cable today turning a harsh light into the murky world of corporate and City practices.   Pity that New Labour in 13 years never thought of doing this – they were too busy sucking up to City bosses.   But there’s one large glaring gap in the Cable plans.     He’s concerned about exorbitant bonuses, short-termist investors looking for a speculative killing, directors seduced by fat fees, and disregard for the interests of wider shareholders.   All quite right.   But the one group that is currently disadvantaged, even victimised, more than any other by capitalism are the employees.   So, Vince, what about the workers?

If there’s one key point of difference between real Labour and the LibDem free marketeers, even the more enlightened ones like Cable, it’s this class issue.     Workers are not a commodity to be utilised as efficiently as possible by the forces of the market.   It’s not just the shareholders, the suppliers, the investors, the consumers – it’s above all the employees who have a right to a full and proper stake in the enterprise since they – along with the providers of capital – actually create the product or the service.   In a fair and just system they should therefore have equal rights with the capital providers.

This is the fundamental point, not a mere re-jigging of market regulation.   The foundations of the current system are inequitable, and that must be recognised and addressed.   This is of course to challenge the underlying power structure of contemporary capitalism, and if this is to be a serious exercise – and not merely spitting into the wind – it demands a very careful analysis of how that transition can be brought about – where the points of leverage are, how the necessary alliances can be created,and how the obvious obstacles can be overcome or circumvented.

This is not impossible.   After the master-servant relationships of the Edwardian years and the harsh brutalities of unrestrained capitalism in the 1920s and the wasteland years of the 1930s, the post-war Labour Government transformed the landscape and in particular the balance of power towards the working class.   But the natural dynamics of capitalism are towards inequality of power and wealth, and the pendulum gradually swung back till the Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberalism of the 1980s fully re-established the dominance of capital.   However, as also regularly happens when capitalism is unleashed in its crudest forms, power and wealth are grossly abused which finally crashes the system.    If the current Great Recession deepens into a double-dip and lengthens into a decade of stagnation, the social forces for transformative change will be created.

The role for Labour under new leadership is to mobilise these forces as the paramount channel for political change and the restoration of justice in society.   It has been done before.   But the context of each reversal of the cycle is different, and those different conditions have to be matched to the forces that can transform them.

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