The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Trade unions, free trade and the problem of transnational solidarity

Tensions between European trade unions and unions from the Global South over international free trade developed into an open confrontation during the talks over the revival of the WTO Doha round in 2008. On the one hand, the European Metal Workers Federation (EMF) joined forces with the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) in the publication of two joint press releases demanding reciprocal market access in developed, emerging and developing countries. On the other, this led to an angry response by trade unions in the Global South and here especially the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The EMF was accused of undermining workers’ solidarity, since their co-operation with European employers in demanding equal market access would imply job losses in the Global South and undermine the internal unity of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) (Bieler 2012: 9).

The WTO Doha negotiations have stalled for years. And yet, free trade agreements (FTA) continue to be pushed in bilateral negotiations by the USA and the EU with developing countries and emerging markets. Importantly, these FTAs no longer only concern trade in manufactured goods, but as part of an expanded trade agenda now also include issues of intellectual property rights, trade in services and investment. Unsurprisingly, the tensions within the international labour movement persist. In this contribution, I will discuss the obstacles but also possibilities for establishing transnational solidarity in relation to tensions over trade liberalization.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

To be in office, but not in power: Left parties in the squeeze between people’s expectations and an unfavourable balance of power.

On numerous occasions, left parties in Europe have had the opportunity to participate in government. Nevertheless, these experiences have regularly ended in disillusionment. Rather than steering a course beyond capitalism, left parties have been co-opted into neo-liberal restructuring. In this guest post, Asbjørn Wahl, analyses this phenomenon and develops several minimum conditions, which should be met before a left party joins government. 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Understanding neoliberal rescaling: the expansion of peripheral capitalist space in Mexico and Turkey

In order to ensure the continuation of the accumulation of profits, capitalist social relations of production have to be constantly expanded into new products and territories. In this guest post, Ertan Erol analyses the role of Mexico and Turkey in these processes of capitalist expansion.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Firenze 10+10 – Reflections on the Left in Europe

From 8 to 11 November 2012, I attended the Firenze 10+10 meeting of European anti – neo-liberal globalisation movements in Florence/Italy. Florence had partly also been chosen as the location for this meeting in memory of the remarkable first European Social Forum held in that city in November 2002. In this post, I will reflect on the achievements of Firenze 10+10 and analyse the situation of the European Left more generally.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Portugal – When ‘good students’ turn sour

Portugal has been struggling with austerity, imposed by the Troika of EU Commission, European Central Bank and IMF. Higher Education (HE) has been badly affected similarly to the other areas of the Portuguese public sector. In this guest post, Mark Bergfeld reports from his experience in Lisbon last week of how students and members of staff mobilised against cuts in HE as part of the November 14 general strike. He concludes that while the current crisis is challenging, it nonetheless provides opportunities for students and members of staff to strengthen their joint resistance against austerity. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Greek Left and the Rise of the Neo-Fascist Golden Dawn

The imposition of austerity on Greece by the troika of EU, European Central Bank and IMF has resulted in enormous social hardship and societal conflict. The rise of the fascist party Golden Dawn in Greece is one of the most worrying phenomena in this respect. In this guest post, the Greek social scientist Panagiotis Sotiris looks at the underlying causes of the party's increasing popularity and discusses the challenges for the Greek left in resisting and combating fascism.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Reflections on a progressive research strategy on European labour

On Tuesday, 6 November I participated in a workshop on the ‘Future of Trade Unions and Unions Research’ in Berlin, organised by the Hans Böckler Stiftung and the Wirtschafts- and Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut (WSI). The purpose of the workshop was to try to envisage the role of unions in past, present and future research on Europe’s political economy writ large. In this post, I will reflect on what key aspects of an innovative research project on the future of European trade unions could look like. In more detail, I will identify three key aspects: (1) the importance of conceptualising the implications of the changing social relations of production; (2) the potential role of trade unions beyond the workplace; and (3) the necessity to learn from the Global South.

Monday, 5 November 2012

European Citizens’ Initiative on Water and the alternative to Austerity Europe

In this guest post, written on request, Jan Willem Goudriaan, Deputy General Secretary of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), explains how the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) on the Human Right to Water is part of a broader struggle for change and alternatives to the current policies of the European Commission and most governments.

Friday, 26 October 2012

October 20 – British trade unions and the struggle against austerity

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), more than 150000 people participated in the march against austerity and For a Future that Works in London on Saturday, 20 October 2012. Affiliated unions up and down the country had mobilised, members from Unison, the national teachers union NASUWT, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU), the University and College Union (UCU) and others were clearly visible. The march was colourful, the mood buoyant, the chanting intensive. Protesters were furious about the cuts to education, privatisation of the NHS and large-scale restructuring in the public sector. They signalled their willingness to resist. There was a feeling of empowerment, of a possibility to go beyond the current ConDem government. And yet, is such an optimistic assessment warranted?

In this post, I will shed a critical light on British trade unions’ strategy against the austerity budgets of the current ConDem government.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Dance of the Undead - Not only at Marikana, Not only in South Africa ...

Starting from the recent massacre of striking South African workers at the Marikana mine (The Guardian, 7 September 2012), in this guest post Peter Waterman looks more closely at current trade union policy-making in view of the global crisis of capitalist civilisation. The massacre does not only indicate that the hopes for post-apartheid South Africa have not materialised. It also highlights the intensity of the capitalist crisis. What are the key requirements for an emancipatory movement towards another South Africa, towards another world?   

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Can Chinese Workers Eat Apple?

On 24 September, the iPhone 5 was launched in the first nine countries/areas, America, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong. It was then launched in 22 more countries in the week beginning 1 October. The first weekend’s sales were very impressive, reaching 5 million. This number already broke Apple’s previous record for first-weekend sales of all previous models of iPhone. In this guest post, Chun-Yi Lee wonders whether any of those Apple fans, who were camping outside to be ‘the first customer’ or at least ‘first group of customers’ to buy the iPhone 5, had thought about the making of this most advanced, light, cool gadget? This paper links the hot-selling phenomenon of the iPhone 5 to Chinese workers, for the very reason that most of Apple’s iProducts are manufactured in China.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Labour Struggle in a Peripheral Context: Debating Labour and Alternatives to Globalisation in Turkey.

The peripheral context in the world capitalist system has been a constant centre of attention in debating alternatives. It is even more so under globalisation that has shifted labour-intensive production to the periphery often under conditions of precarity (Cox, 1987: 319). Moreover, dissent is on the rise in tandem with social cuts and austerity measures. The economic crisis provides opportunities to reflect upon new strategies for labour and the Left. In this guest post, Elif Uzgören debates the labour situation in a peripheral context - Turkey – against the background of globalisation and the transnationalisation of production.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A socialist alternative through the Labour Party? Reflections on transformative politics.

On Tuesday, 25 September 2012, I attended a local Labour Party meeting in Beeston, Nottingham/UK. Invited guest speakers were the left-wing Labour MP and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) John McDonnell and the General Secretary of the Commercial Workers’ Union (CWU) Billy Hayes. There was a clear agreement on the need to replace the current ConDem government. There was less agreement on how to ensure that a renewed Labour government would actually stand up for working people this time round.

In this post, I will critically assess both speakers’ suggestions by drawing on the work of Karl Marx and Nicos Poulantzas.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Crisis in the Eurozone, Part II – progressive ways out of the crisis!

Costas Lapavitsas and his colleagues show in their book Crisis in the Eurozone (Verso, 2012) that it is not German people, who have to pay for Greek excesses as a result of the sovereign debt crisis. Rather, it is workers in Germany and Greece alike, who are squeezed in order to continue the transfer of profits from workers to employers across the European Union (EU) (see Crisis in the Eurozone, Part I). In this second part of my review of the book, I will engage with the authors’ suggestion for a progressive way out of the crisis; a way, which empowers labour at the expense of capital.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Crisis in the Eurozone, Part I – the fundamental unevenness between core and periphery!

With their book Crisis in the Eurozone (Verso, 2012) Costas Lapavitsas and his colleagues have accomplished an impressive assessment of the underlying dynamics of the Eurozone crisis as well as provided an insightful analysis of potential ways forward. In this post, the first part of a two-part review of the book, I will focus on their discussions of the underlying dynamics.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Karl Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat!

The notion of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is widely vilified. Often linked to Stalin’s authoritarian rule in the Soviet Union, there is little positive said about it. Moreover, the negative evaluation is also regularly linked back to Lenin and his idea of a vanguard party taking over state power in order to change society for the better. As John Holloway argued, ‘you cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost’ (Holloway 2002: 17). And yet, these reflections overlook Marx’s own discussion of what the dictatorship of the proletariat may entail in practice. Most importantly they neglect his analysis of the Paris Commune in The Civil War in France (1871). For as Engels pointed out in 1891, ‘well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.

In this post, I will look more closely at Marx’s discussion of the Paris Commune and his ideas about how to organise popular government.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Samir Amin, Global Capitalism and the impossibility of developmental catch-up – Part II.

Is developmental catch-up within the global capitalist system possible? ‘The current success of emerging countries in terms of accelerated growth within globalized capitalism and with capitalist means reinforces the illusion that catching-up is possible’ (Amin 2011: 12). In this post, I will critically engage with (neo-) liberal promises of catch-up by looking more closely at Samir Amin’s book The Law of Worldwide Value (2010).

Friday, 17 August 2012

The precariat – a new class agent for transformation?

In this blog post, I provide a critical engagement with Guy Standing’s powerful book The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (Bloomsbury Academic, 2011). While it provides important insights into the conditions of the increasingly large informal sector of the economy, I will argue that several conceptual as well as empirical problems ultimately undermine the analytical significance of the book.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Samir Amin, free trade in agriculture and the impossibility of developmental catch-up.

Free trade in agriculture has increasingly become a focus for discussions about a potential path of development for countries in the Global South as well as a solution to the problem of how to feed the ever expanding global population. Drawing on the contribution by Samir Amin to the workshop ‘Trade unions, free trade and the problem of transnational solidarity’, held at Nottingham University on 2 and 3 December 2011, I will critically engage with this argument.  

Friday, 3 August 2012

The global economic crisis and the challenges for trade unions in the UK!

The financial market crisis has led to global economic recession. While many banks were bailed out by governments at high costs, it is now working people and society more generally, who are made to pay for the crisis. In this post, I will assess the challenges for British trade unions in their attempts to resist welfare state cuts and austerity.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Contentious strategies and union revitalization: the Hellenic Halyvourgia Strike

Greece is the country, which suffers one of the worst neo-liberal attacks in Europe (see The Imposition of Austerity). And yet, Greek workers have not given up. They continue to challenge and resist capitalist restructuring. In this guest post, Giorgos Bithymitris from the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens discusses how steel workers at Hellenic Halyvourgia have not only been able to sustain a long strike, but also succeeded in providing encouragement for Greek workers more generally.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Corruption in the banking industry – the problem of a few ‘bad apples’?

The working practices of banks have come under close scrutiny recently. After Barclays' involvement in the LIBOR-rigging scandal (BBC, 17 July 2012), news broke on 17 July that HSBC, another prominent player in the global financial markets, provided ‘a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations", according to a US Senate committee investigating money laundering claims at the bank’ (BBC News, 17 July 2012). This adds further to the general pressure on banks widely regarded as responsible for the global financial market crisis. In response, calls are issued to tighten the regulation of financial markets. In this post, I argue that scandals of this type are not the occasional result of criminal or reckless behaviour by individuals. Rather, they are a logical consequence of the systemic pressures within the capitalist mode of production, in which companies constantly have to achieve larger profits than their competitors in order to stay in business.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Norwegian exceptionalism?

In 2005, a coalition government led by the Norwegian Labour Party took office. Four years later, it retained power in the 2009 elections. Welfare spending continues to be high, an expansive public sector has been maintained and trade unions continue to enjoy a strong role in economic and social policy-making. In many respects, Norway has successfully resisted the general direction of neo-liberal restructuring, public sector cuts and undermining of the welfare state. In this blog post, I will discuss how we can explain this apparent Norwegian exceptionalism.

Photo by xitus
It is often argued that oil wealth would explain Norwegian exceptionalism. And indeed, in contrast to other developed countries, Norway has not had to incur a budget deficit in order to stimulate the economy during the current global financial crisis. It could rely on its oil wealth fund. However, as a leading trade unionist remarked to me in an interview, the crucial institutions of the Norwegian political economy, the gains made by trade unions, were all achieved before the oil wealth appeared on the agenda in the 1970s. Hence, the key explanation needs to be looked for elsewhere.

Two main reasons can be identified for Norwegian exceptionalism. First, in contrast to other small European countries, the Norwegian production structure is comparatively little transnationalised. Capital in Norway is characterized by the predominance of small and medium-sized companies and, as a result, is comparatively weak (see Bieler 2012: 234-5). In contrast to countries such as Sweden, dominated by large transnational corporations, capital cannot dictate labour how to organize the domestic political economy (see also Globalisation and the erosion of the Nordic model).

Second, the agency of trade unions has been decisive. Prior to the 2005 elections, trade unions adopted a more independent position from the Labour Party. LO, the main Norwegian trade union confederation, carried out the project ‘You decide – LO on your side’. Members were asked to send in proposals, from which 54 demands were selected and submitted to all political parties for their comments. In turn, LO then recommended its members to vote for those three parties, the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party, which had endorsed most of the demands. LO itself mobilised during the electoral campaign for a majority coalition of these three parties. Importantly, LO did not decide to abandon the Labour Party as a result of its dissatisfaction with the party’s neo-liberal policies in 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, it made clear that it was no longer willing to support the Labour Party unquestioningly. Support for the other parties of the electoral alliance and the request to endorse the demands, developed through a consultation with trade union members, indicated clearly to the party that it had to take seriously the unions’ opposition to restructuring (see also The Power of Norwegian trade unions).  

Moreover, the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (Fagforbundet) realised that the balance of power between capital and labour, on which the class compromise around the welfare state had been built, had changed in Norway. In response, it established the broad-based Norwegian Campaign for the Welfare State, which consisted of trade unions in the public and private sector as well as a whole range of other social movements and NGOs, including the Welfare Alliance, the Norwegian Farmers’ and Smallholders’ Union, several feminist groups and a students’ organisation. The Campaign for the Welfare State fulfilled two crucial functions. First, through educational initiatives it mobilised support for the welfare state and against neo-liberal restructuring, and here especially the idea that the introduction of competition would deliver efficiency gains in the public sector. Second, it broadened the social basis of resistance against public sector restructuring and, thus, established a balance of power with capital.

Overall, both the politically more independent position of the trade unions vis-à-vis the Labour Party and the broad-based Campaign for the Welfare State put strong pressure on the Labour Party. As a result of these campaigns, the Labour Party, as an exception in Europe, moved to the left prior to the 2005 elections and has actually delivered policies in the interests of workers and wider society. Nevertheless, employers and centre-right parties continue to put pressure on the Norwegian government towards budget cuts and public sector restructuring. The Labour Party itself may be tempted to move again towards this policy course. Successes as achieved in 2005 constantly need to be re-affirmed and trade union agency for the welfare state will remain crucial.

This blog post is based on the article

Bieler, Andreas (2012) ‘Small Nordic Countries and Globalisation: Analysing Norwegian exceptionalism’, Competition and Change, Vol.16/3: 224-42.

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

9 July 2012

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Karl Marx, Class Struggles in France and historical materialist methodology!

Karl Marx did not only involve himself in abstract conceptual work on how to understand the capitalist social relations of production. He was also an engaged analyst of class struggles at his time. This included three separate writings on developments in France: The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 (1850); The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852); and The Civil War in France (1871). In this post, I will discuss key aspects of Marx’s historical materialist approach in relation to The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50 and conclude with some ideas of what this method implies for efforts today to understand the global political economy as well as the possibilities for revolutionary change.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Workers of the World Unite?

I have just published the article ‘“Workers of the world, unite?” Globalisation and the quest for transnational solidarity’ in the journal Globalizations. In this article, I discuss the structural setting of labour agency at this point in time and evaluate two broad responses by trade unions and social movements, the Decent Work, Decent Life initiative as well as the Labour and Globalisation Network.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Struggle for a Public University

In February, the Annual Dearing Higher Education Conference 2012 was held at the University of Nottingham entitled The Business and Growth Benefits of Higher Education. At the meeting, the Director-General of the CBI, John Cridland, demanded that business does not only co-operate with universities in the setting-up of spin-off companies but that it should also be more closely involved in the actual shaping of university curricula. But should the training of future workers for industry, the city, and the knowledge economy in Britain really be the main preoccupation of higher education? The workshop ‘For a Public University’, recently organised by the local UCU association and supported by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ), the Centre for Research in Higher, Adult & Vocational Education (HAVE), and the International Political Economy Group (IPEG) was a crucial counterweight to the interests of business on our university campuses. Significantly, it too was held at the University of Nottingham, on June 15, and raised some pressing issues as to whether universities should be generating profits for business or prophets for society.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Trouble in the international labour movement: is the ITUC ready for the challenges ahead?

The establishment of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in November 2006, resulting from a merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL), was greeted with enthusiasm by labour movements from around the world. A united, stronger international trade union promised greater input on global politics towards more equality. Since then, many trade unions especially in the Global South have become disillusioned with the ITUC. In this post, I will assess to what extent the ITUC is prepared for the key challenges of the global economy in the 21st century. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Defending not Defunding the Public University

Further and higher education in the UK is under attack. Neoliberal restructuring has reached colleges and universities across the country. University tuition fees have been increased by up to £9,000 per year and education has increasingly become a commodity to be purchased on the market. Not everyone has, however, accepted this outcome. On June 15, 2012 lecturers from across the various disciplines and from locations throughout the UK met at the University of Nottingham in the workshop For a Public University, organised by the local UCU association and supported by the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ), the Centre for Research in Higher, Adult & Vocational Education (HAVE) and the International Political Economy Group (IPEG), to discuss how best to organise resistance and to debate alternatives. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The EU and processes of uneven and combined development.

I have just published the article 'The EU, Global Europe, and processes of uneven and combined development: the problem of transnational labour solidarity' in the Review of International Studies. In this article, I critically engage with the positions of European trade unions and labour movements of the Global South on the current EU free trade strategy. I explore the reasons for the underlying tensions between these labour movements as well as assess the possibilities for transnational solidarity.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Eurozone crisis and potential future scenarios

Neo-liberal restructuring in Europe has come up against its internal contradictions. It has reached its limits. Germany’s export strategy, based on cuts in wages and working conditions, cannot be replicated by everybody else. If one country has such a drastic surplus in trade, others must absorb these products. Even more severely, the Eurozone crisis has highlighted the unevenness of the European political economy. Super-profits reaped in core countries such as Germany were re-invested in state bonds of peripheral countries only in order to purchase yet more goods from the core. This circle could not go on forever and there is no potential solution from within neo-liberalism able to cope with this crisis (see Europe and the limits of neo-liberalism).

In this post, I will assess several potential future developments including an extended period of muddling through based on increasingly authoritarian rule in the periphery, a right-wing xenophobic backlash as well as progressive responses moving us beyond neo-liberal restructuring.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Europe and the limits of neo-liberalism

From the mid-1980s onwards, the European Union (EU) pursued a path of neo-liberal restructuring internally around the Internal Market programme and Economic and Monetary Union as well as externally in several enlargement rounds and its Global Europe free trade strategy (Bieler 2012). The Eurozone crisis, however, has shown the internal contradictions of this strategy. Neo-liberal restructuring in Europe has reached its limits.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Samir Amin, Global History and the critique of Eurocentrism

Samir Amin is regularly put together with three other progressive, left academic intellectuals, Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi. And indeed, he collaborated closely with them especially during the 1970s, when they were known within academia as the ‘Gang of Four’. Nevertheless, his book Global History: A View from the South (Pambazuka Press, 2011) makes clear that Samir Amin has adopted independent positions on a number of key issues, which differentiate him from the others and provide the basis for an important criticism of Eurocentrism.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Globalisation, labour and the manufacturing of insecurity

The book ‘Grounding Globalization: Labour in the Age of Insecurity’ by Eddie Webster, Rob Lambert and Andries Bezuidenhout is an excellent engagement with labour’s current role in the global economy. It not only outlines well the challenges faced by trade unions in view of neo-liberal globalisation, it also explores new ways of resistance.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The historical challenge of the Greek Left!

‘The Greek Left is facing an enormous historic challenge’, writes Panagiotis Sotiris. ‘Two years of intense struggle and bitter austerity measures have led many people to ask for a radical alternative. This cannot be simply a “progressive government” that will attempt to avoid austerity while remaining within the embedded neoliberalism of the Eurozone and the systemic violence of debt. It must be an attempt towards forming a new “historical bloc”, a broad social and political alliance around an anti-capitalist program of radical social change’ (The Press Project).

Monday, 30 April 2012

Resisting Financial Dictatorship - Reclaiming Democracy and Social Rights!

'The European Commission and the Council use the shock of the "sovereign debt crisis" to redraw the European economy, following a radical monetarist and neo-liberal vision, promoted by the ECB', declared around 30 organisations at the Second Joint Social Conference in Brussels on 29 and 30 March 2012.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Success of the Left in Greek elections?

'At this moment the opinion polls show the combined vote to the left of Pasok approaching 40 percent' states Panos Garganas, editor of the Greek newspaper Workers Solidarity in an interview with the journal International Socialism.

In this wide-ranging interview on the forthcoming Greek elections on 6 May, Garganas describes the people's sufferings as a result of imposed austerity programmes and the increasing resistance to these programmes, he deals with the dangers of a shift to right-wing extremist parties, as well as assesses the chances of the progressive left. Solidarity strike action in other countries as well as the debate of an anti-capitalist programme are the key challenges in his eyes.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

‘For a Public University’ – the need for conceptual alternatives.

The current onslaught on Higher Education in the UK is unprecedented. The cut of state funding, the increase in tuition fees of up to £9000 per year, the attack on the pension systems of staff members, all these factors contribute to the danger of an increasing marketization of Higher Education. In order to resist restructuring, it is not enough to fight individual aspects of the programme. Comprehensive alternative visions of how Higher Education could be run differently also need to be developed. Together with others, the Local University and College Union (UCU) Association will hold the workshop ‘For a Public University’ at the University of Nottingham on 15 June 2012 in order to contribute to the development of such visions.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

German workers and the Eurozone crisis!

Germany is widely considered to be the dominant economic power in Europe. It is Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, who determines which measures should be adopted in response to the sovereign debt crisis of the Eurozone. On the back of a booming German export industry, German workers are often deemed to be part of the winners in the current financial and economic crisis. As the recent report Explodierender Reichtum, wachsende Armut (Exploding Wealth, Increasing Poverty) by the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), however, makes clear, such a conclusion overlooks these workers’ concrete position within the German economy, their falling share in wealth as well as the general increase in inequality in German society.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Uneven and combined development and the issue of resistance in the UK!

The nation-wide public sector strike by 30 trade unions was a high point in the resistance against budget cuts and general restructuring in the UK (see November 30 – what next?). Since then, the enthusiasm and dynamic of the movement against public sector restructuring has evaporated. No new dates for joint strike action have been announced, there is very little mobilisation on the ground. In order to understand better the reasons behind this development, I suggest to focus on Trotsky’s work on uneven and combined development as well as permanent revolution.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Trade unions, free trade and the problem of transnational solidarity - workshop report

As a result of uneven and combined development, different national trade unions are in different positions within the global capitalist social relations of production. Unsurprisingly, transnational solidarity between national labour movements in relation to free trade policies is anything but automatic. Labour academics, trade union researchers and social movement activists came together at the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ) at Nottingham University on 2 and 3 December 2011 to assess the obstacles to and possibilities for transnational labour solidarity. The various contributions to the workshop can be accessed here.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Greek hospital now under workers' control!

Health workers in Kilkis, Greece, have occupied their local hospital and have issued a statement saying it is now fully under workers control.

It is in times of drastic crises, when capitalist social relations of production come under stress most, that workers regularly demonstrate their ability to run factories, hospitals, schools, etc. by themselves. Is this occupied hospital a sign of things to come in Greece similar to the events in Argentina in 2001, when many factories were taken over by workers?

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website:
24 February 2012

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Austerity Policies in Europe: There Is No Alternative?

Why are neo-liberal economists still in charge to solve the global financial crisis, although it has been their policies, which caused the crisis in the first place? In a new article, Asbjørn Wahl (2012) emphasizes the importance of the power structure in society. Real resistance against further neo-liberal restructuring will only be possible, if left forces manage to change the balance of power in their favour.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The imposition of austerity and the move to authoritarian government – Part II

The pressure on Greece to cut back its budget in order to receive another bailout package continues. The country is asked to implement 325m euros of further spending cuts before payment is made. But Greek people can take no more. With unemployment figures above 20 per cent and shortages in all areas of the public sector, people reach breaking point. Unsurprisingly, in order to enforce the draconian cuts there has been a shift from democratic government to authoritarian rule. Initially, this was done through establishing a technocratic, unelected government in November 2011. Now, the EU demands direct oversight over Greek budget spending in order to ensure that promised cuts are actually implemented (BBC News, 16 February 2012).

When analysing the dynamics of capitalist outward expansion in the early 20th century, Rosa Luxemburg had already identified this gradual shift to ever more direct intervention into a country’s economic affairs to secure the transfer of profits.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Going it alone? The University and College Union and its struggle for pension justice.

On 31 January 2012, the pre-1992 Higher Education section of the University and College Union (UCU) held a special conference in London to decide on the way forward in the dispute over the imposition of changes to the USS pension scheme. After heated discussions a majority of roughly 60 to 40 votes decided in favour of the recommendation by the national leadership to suspend industrial action in exchange for the right to an unreduced pension on redundancy for colleagues of 55 years or older to be extended until October 2014 and a joint review with the employers of the new scheme imposed last October. What are the chances of a successful conclusion to the pensions campaign on the basis of this strategy?

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

New Labour's moral capitalism!

In a speech on 19 January 2012, the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband demanded a moral capitalism with a special emphasis on the protection of consumers. What he overlooks, however, is that the real causes of inequality and exploitation are rooted in the social relations of production. Interventions at the level of consumption will not rectify this.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State - new book by Asbjørn Wahl!

In the highly important book The Rise and Fall of the Welfare State (Pluto Press, 2011) Asbjørn Wahl reveals the underlying structural dynamics of the welfare state. It was the structural power of trade unions, gained through intensive social struggles, which had forced employers into the class compromise of the welfare state, not consensus politics and tripartite co-operation. Hence, today too when defending the welfare state against the neo-liberal onslaught, the emphasis has to be on labour’s power in society.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Samir Amin at Nottingham University: video interview!

Samir Amin, the internationally renown political economist and one of the leading thinkers of the past half century, spent time at Nottingham University/UK from 29 November to 3 December 2011. This included the presentation of the Annual Lecture of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice on 1 December 2011 as well as participation in the workshop on ,'Free Trade, Trade Unions and the Problem of Transnational Solidarity’, 2 and 3 December 2011.

In an exclusive, wide-ranging video interview Samir Amin speaks to Ceasefire’s Sara Motta about the Arab uprisings, the ‘liberal virus’ and the autumn of capitalism.

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website:
10 January 2012