The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part Two

The following is the second of a two-part series of posts, providing a critical assessment of some of the views expressed in the 2019 British Labour Party’s Manifesto, It’s Time For Real Change.

The section on public services is typical of the social-reformist or social-democratic left: what is needed is mainly a quantitative expansion of existing conditions rather than a qualitative change in such conditions. For example, in education it is proposed (page 38):

We will reverse cuts to Sure Start and create a new service, Sure Start Plus,
with enough centres to provide a genuinely universal service, available
in all communities, focused on the under-2s.

Labour will radically reform early years provision, with a two-term vision
to make high-quality early years education available for every child.

This is the dream of all social democrats–provision of equal opportunity (especially in education), so that all can compete on an even-level ground. Of course, such competition will lead to inequality, but such inequality, it is implied, is healthy and justified.

Nowhere does the Manifesto address the question of whether the education system itself is adequate to the task of providing quality education on a different basis than the typical academic curriculum. Indeed, in a typical reformist fashion, it proposes to merely add on to the existing curriculum arts and other programs to supplement the existing curriculum (page 39):

The narrowing curriculum is denying many children access to modern languages, arts and music, or technical and engineering skills that will be essential in a world
shaped by climate change.

The proposed educational system might then look like what the Chicago Teachers’ Union proposed–an inadequate model for the educational needs of students (see my publication “A Deweyan Review of The Chicago Teachers’ Union’s Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve, found on the Publications and Writings link on this blog).

On the issue of social justice, the Manifesto is vague and contradictory. It states (page 64):

For Labour, the true measure of fairness is not social mobility but social justice.

Implicit in the notion of social mobility is the idea that poverty and inequality
are acceptable provided some people can climb the social ladder.

Social justice, on the other hand, demands that we end poverty, reduce inequality and create a society in which the conditions for a fulfilling life are available to everyone.

It is claimed that it is possible to end poverty. What is meant by poverty remains unclear. It probably is measured by level of income, with those below a certain level of income being in a state of poverty and those above it not being in a state of poverty. Hence, if everyone had a certain level of income that was above a defined poverty line, then poverty could be eliminated–according to social democrats.

I criticized the adequacy of such a view before (see ???     ), so I refer the reader to that post.

The issue of inequality, in all likelihood, also refers to level of income rather than the source of that income. The same problem arises with such a definition of inequality as the definition of poverty.

In addition to the problems with such a definition of poverty (and inequality) as pointed out in a previous post, the following demonstrates the limitations of the Manifesto (pages 60-61):

We will give working people a voice at the Cabinet table by establishing
a Ministry for Employment Rights.

We will start to roll out sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, bringing workers and employers together to agree legal minimum standards on a wide range of issues, such as pay and working hours, that every employer in the sector must follow. Sectoral collective bargaining will increase wages and reduce inequality. This will also stop good employers being undercut by bad employers.

This distinction between “good employers” and “bad employers” is a typical social-democratic tactic of avoiding to address the power of employers as a class. I have addressed this issue, briefly, in another post (see The Contradictions of Unions: Reformist and Radical Assessments), so I will not belabor the point here.

The Manifesto’s social-democratic message also becomes clearer when it refers to the police. On page 42, we read:

The primary duty of government is to keep people safe. Our communities were
endangered when the Conservatives took 21,000 police officers off our streets.

If the primary duty of government is indeed to keep people safe, the Canadian federal government should commit suicide–in 2010, there were about 550 murders and 1000 workers who died at work (in addition to over 600,000 injuries).

On page 43, we read:

A Labour government will invest in policing to prevent crime and make
our communities safer, and we will enforce the laws protecting police
and other emergency workers from violent assault.

We will rebuild the whole police workforce, recruiting more police officers, police community support officers and police staff. We will re-establish neighbourhood policing and recruit 2,000 more frontline officers than have been planned for by the Conservatives. We will work with police forces to invest in a modern workforce to tackle the rise in violent crime and cybercrime under the Tories.

There is little recognition that police themselves are sources of oppression and violence in the context of a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers (see my post Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One) for an elaboration of this point.

It is unnecessary to further analyze the Manifesto. The purpose of the Manifesto, evidently, was designed to gain votes by jumping on the bandwagon of climate change, anti-neoliberalism (not anti-capitalism) and the fear of personal crime and the idealization of the police.

Such are some of the limitations of the social-democratic left not only in the United Kingdom but in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.

What is needed–and what has been needed for a long time–is a political party whose aim is to free workers from the power of the class of employers. What is needed is a class party that addresses directly the power of the class of employers as a whole by challenging its power in its various forms, whether at work, in schools, in hospitals, at home, in the malls and in government.

What is not needed is just more of the same–the skirting of the power of employers as a class, the domination of that power in the associated economic, social and political structures, and the creation of solutions that never question the basic power of employers to dictate to workers what to do, how to do what they do, how much to produce and whether what they do is satisfactory or not.

 

Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance

In the pamphlet published on the Socialist Project website, Basic Income in the Neoliberal Age (Toronto, 2017), the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) implies that only a social-reformist vision–maintaining the welfare-state–is a viable option; it implicitly assumes that going beyond it is not viable. Its argument combines both a realistic assessment of the impossibility of an adequate universal basic income for all as long as the power of the class of employers exists, and an implied conservative call for maintaining the existing welfare state rather than going  beyond it.

It–correctly–argues that we should be very skeptical of proposals for basic income originating from liberals and conservatives (and, it should be added, the social-reformist left). Those who believe in an economic system characterized by a class of employers are hardly going to break the link between having to work for an employer and receiving an income. Indeed, as OCAP argues, the current benefits that the government does offer would probably be substantially reduced or eliminated and replaced by a basic income that was even more inadequate than current welfare and other social assistance rates.

However, the skepticism about implementing a basic income scheme that is acceptable to the class of employers is illegitimately extended to skepticism about its viability for a movement that seeks to go beyond a society dominated by the power of the class of employers. They write,

page 6:

These kinds of left advocates are easily able to show how providing a
universal adequate payment, while maintaining other elements of social
provision, would weaken or even eliminate the basis for exploitation of the
working class under capitalism. However, where they uniformly fail is in
the not unimportant area of showing how this is all possible. Capitalism
needs economic coercion for its job market to function and decades of
neoliberal austerity have intensified that coercion considerably. With
trade unions weakened and powerful social movements conspicuous by
their absence, it is doubtful that a major social reform, such as the
proponents of progressive and transformative BI advance, is likely.

At least this paragraph realistically argues that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function.” Let us stop at this sentence. If capitalism indeed requires economic coercion if the job market is to function, then should not OCAP be advocating for the abolition of such coercion?  That such a process requires a movement with substantial organizational power goes without saying, and that will take time, energy and much organizing and debating. Of course, this requires a desire to orient social movements towards abolishing the power to coerce, but OCAP is silent about what to do about this coercion that many experience on a daily basis at work (which, of course, spills into situations outside the workplace). Should not OCAP address what it itself admits is characteristic of a society dominated by a class of employers?

OCAP excludes any discussion at all in the document about what is to be done about economic coercion (aka economic blackmail). Its critique of basic income presumes that economic coercion is the order of the day–that there is no alternative–except to maintain the current welfare system, flawed though it may be.

OCAP uses the fact of the weakness of trade unions as a reason for opposing the principle of basic income. Surely one of the reasons why trade unions have become weaker is because they have failed to question the coercive power of employers as a class. For example, John Cartwright, president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, in his open letter of January 30, 2018 ( An open letter to our movement) , wrote the following: “We need to fight for labour law reform including broader based bargaining so that precarious workers can have a vehicle in which to achieve dignity and economic justice.”

If, however, economic coercion or economic blackmail is required in the kind of society in which we live, how is it possible to “achieve dignity and economic justice”? If such rhetoric has contributed to the current situation, then should not its criticism form part of the solution? Does OCAP take a stand by taking seriously its own assertion that economic coercion is a necessary feature of the power of employers as a class by criticizing union representatives who talk of economic justice under such dictatorial circumstances?

Throughout the whole document, there is nothing that links this requirement of capitalism–needing “economic coercion for its job market to function”–to the need for a movement that goes beyond such economic coercion.

Ultimately, as noted above, this document is a social-reformist document–a document that has no better solution to “economic coercion” than implicitly proposing that we return to the so-called golden age of capitalism, where employers had accepted, within limits, the need for a mor generous welfare state. OCAP does not explicitly state this, but it implies it.

Would it not be possible to propose a basic income that cannot be satisfied within a structure defined by economic coercion or economic blackmail? The document does not even refer to such a possibility.

Logically, if OCAP takes seriously the view that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function,” should it not redefine the nature of poverty? Should not the definition of poverty include taking into account this economic coercion? Does OCAP do so?

In another post, I will refer to an author who does indeed take seriously OCAP’s view that “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” and proposes a redefinition of poverty. In that post or another post I will also refer to a proposal for a radical basic income as part of a movement for a different kind of economic, social and political life–a life not characterized by economic, social and political coercion.