Friday, 18 March 2022

Support the P&O Workers!

Dear Colleagues,

I am sure that you have been appalled by the appalling behaviour of P&O in issuing an instant redundancy notice via a video message. Everything that we know about gangster capitalism is expressed in their appalling behaviour.

So please sign and share the TUC petition to lend support for the campaign for reinstatement.

The petition is here: Save P&O Jobs - Save Britain's Ferries | Megaphone UK

Follow the news on the RMT protest action - and support this where you can - here: RMT organises emergency P&O demonstrations - rmt

In solidarity


Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival: 15-17th July 2022

 Dear Colleagues,

Although I always promote Tolpuddle in the sidebar of this blog, as I am going to attend again this year I thought I would give the event an extra special plug - and as this year's Festival is live/real - and not via Zoom.

All registration info is here:

See you in July!

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 1 March 2022

International Women's Day: Hold employers to account

Dear Colleagues,

Just a brief post to promote a new resource from the TUC to challenge employers who make a pretence on International Women's Day of a commitment to sex and gender equality. 

As was witnesses during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) resurgence following the murder of George Floyd many large corporations attempted to model themselves as active anti-racist organisations when in truth they were attempting a form of corporate 'whitewash'. 

The new resource from the TUC helps give activists the tools to challenge any employer making claims to equality with questions on issues ranging from its policy on equal pay to its family friendly practices. 

Let us hold employers to account on International Women's Day

Sign-up here:

In Solidarity


Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Why We Fight: Essays on Fascism, Resistance, and Surviving the Apocalypse

Dear Colleagues,

Whilst there is never enough time to read the vast wealth of relevant, topical material out there, I like to keep an eye for particularly valuable new books to promote.

And so, I came across Shane Burley's new book, Why we Fight, when reading reading the transcript of this podcast from Truthout:

Whilst 'the fight' for progressive social change is so important to pick apart and understand, why we fight, and particularly in the face of relentless assault, is just as important to stop and reflect upon.

And for left activists in the UK this fight is so difficult and not least in the Trump aftermath - a dominant theme of Burley's book.

You can buy the book here, and here is some promotional blurb.

These essays, many published here for the first time, cover the shifts in rhetoric and tactics of the Alt Right since their disastrous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and the explosion of antifascist, antiracist, and revolutionary organizing that has risen to fight it. Burley unpacks the moment we live in, confronting the apocalyptic feelings brought on by nationalism, climate collapse, and the crisis of capitalism, but also delivering the clear message that a new world is possible through the struggles communities are leveraging today. Burley reminds us what we're fighting for not simply what we're fighting against.

“No writer is more knowledgeable about the recent politics and culture of fascism and antifascism in the U.S. than Shane Burley. As a journalist, Burley has closely followed local and national struggles against white supremacy. As a theorist, he has helped us to situate the Alt Right and anti-fascism within broader conceptual dynamics. Finally the broad range of his work making sense out of this era of struggle has been gathered together in Why We Fight—an invaluable resource for fighting fascism and imagining a new world in the 21st century.” —Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook

“From the streets of Charlottesville to the bleachers of Major League Soccer, Burley’s Why We Fight is a clear-sighted and utterly compelling collection of stories of fascist creep and organized resistance. Beyond its chronicling of the bumbling and violent rise of white-supremacist groups during the last few years, Burley’s most important lesson is this: Fascism will come for us all if we let it, but we are neither alone nor powerless to fight it. Read this book then give it to a friend and then organize.” —Vegas Tenold, author of Everything You Love Will Burn

In Solidarity


Friday, 4 February 2022

Eric Hobsbawm Memorial Lecture: Racial Capitalism. What's in a Name?

Dear Colleagues,

One of the (few) benefits of the pandemic is the increased volume of events and activity that you can engage with online. And with this in mind I am keen to promote your attendance at this year's Eric Hobsbawn Memorial Lecture. 

I first came across Hobsbawn at Ruskin College when, as a feckless student, I read The Forward March of Labour ( halted as part of reading list introducing catalysts for the decline of organised labour. I had no grasp before then of the degree to which the movement had, to a degree at least, wrought its demise and, at that point at least, appeared incapable of conjuring its own rejuvenation. That book was a revelation and led me to read what has become my essential reading on the subject of profound change in the composition of the working class and of the institutions arising from it, Farewell to the Working Class by Andre Gorz:

Thereafter, I would often look out for Hobsbawm's other books, and was highly chuffed to find that he was a lover of jazz and had written on this subject also: And so, I was pleased to see some year's ago that his old academic institution Birkbeck hosts an annual memorial lecture.

This year's theme, of racial capitalism, is a great opportunity to step back from events that have unfolded since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement to better understand the organic relationship between capitalism, imperialism and racism.

You can register for the event here:

And here is some promotional material for the event - I hope you sign up and enjoy the session.

Racial Capitalism. What’s in a Name? 
‘Racial capitalism’ is a term that is being increasingly used in an effort to capture the organic connections between these two interrelated but different systems that continue to dominate the modern world. This talk will argue for the need for temporal and spatial specificities in trying to untangle what constitutes the workings of ‘racial capitalism’. Taking the example of C18 Jamaica it will explore the relation between the plantation economy, the imperial framework within which it operated, constructions of whiteness and hereditary racial slavery. Where, how, and by whom was wealth created?  Who accumulated it? 

Catherine Hall is Emerita Professor of History and Chair of the Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery at University College London. Her recent work has focused on the relation between Britain and its empire: Civilising Subjects (2002), Macaulay and Son (2012) and Hall et al, Legacies of British Slave-ownership (2014). Between 2009-2015 she was the Principal Investigator on the ESRC/AHRC projects Legacies of British Slave-ownership which aimed to put slavery back into British history. Her new book will be Making Racial Capitalism: Edward Long’s History of Jamaica.  

In Solidarity


Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The Warehouse: Workers and Robots at Amazon

Dear Colleagues,

Whilst there is a vast, growing literature on political, social, economic and environmental implications of the Amazon 'business model, I was particularly keen to flag Alessandro Delfanti's new book, The Warehouse: Workers and Robots at Amazon. This is because whilst it includes the usual focus on the union-busting and worker surveillance business strategy, it reveals also the way in which Bezos and his acolytes lean heavily on the classic myth (notable particularly in the US) and akin to Trump, Musk et al of the revolutionising, hard-working entrepreneur done-good with no financial support.

This myth of redemption is deployed well to garner significant public support regardless of the significant harm achieved by these new age robber barons.

You can buy the book from Pluto Press here:

Here is an except from the book.

Besides the jobs, trucks and concrete, what Amazon brought to Piacenza and to the dozens of other suburban areas which host its warehouses is a myth: a promise of modernization, economic development, and even individual emancipation that stems from the “disruptive” nature of a company heavily based on the application of new technology to both consumption and work. It is a promise that assumes that the society in question is willing to entrust such ambitions to the gigantic multinational corporations that design, implement, and possess technology. This myth of digital capitalism is based on a number of elements, including magical origins, heroes, and stories of redemption. Some are by now familiar to everyone: A couple of teenagers tinkering away in a garage can revolutionize or create from scratch an entire industry, generating billions in the process. The garage is an important component of this myth. Here we are not talking about the garages where MXP5 workers park their cars after a ten-hour shift in the warehouse, nor about the garages where Amazon Flex couriers store piles of boxes to be delivered. The innovation garage is the site where individuals unbounded by old habits and funded by venture capital turn simple ideas into marketable digital commodities. Nowhere does this myth run deeper than in California: William Hewlett and David Packard’s Palo Alto backyard shack is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places as “the birthplace of Silicon Valley,” while the garage of Steve Jobs’ parents’ house (where he and Steve Wozniak built the first batch of Apple computers) has been recently designated as a “historical site” by the city of Los Altos. These garages have even been turned into informal museums and receive thousands of visitors a year, some even arriving with organized tour buses. For Californian historian Mario Biagioli, the garage has become an important rhetorical device in contemporary discourses, helping mythify the origins of contemporary innovation. Masculine innovation in particular, since the garage is a strictly male space. Bezos himself started Amazon in a garage, albeit not in California—or so Amazon’s origin myth goes: in 1994 he left his lucrative but dull Wall Street hedge fund job and wrote a business plan while driving cross-country from New York to Seattle, where he used his and his family’s money to start the company.

The myth of the redemption and success of the hero entrepreneur trickles down to the warehouse, insofar as Amazon presents work to its employees through the frame of emancipation. The idea of redemption through work is nothing new. On the contrary, it is a damnation common to modern society. In the early 1960s, militant sociologist Romano Alquati pointed out that the culture of mid-20th century Italian factories included the construction of a “myth” or “cult” of emancipation. In this instance, it was directed at the masses of migrant workers who, following World War II, moved from the rural south to the north of the country to find manufacturing work with the flagship companies of the Italian postwar economic boom, such as FIAT or Olivetti. Redemption from the backwardness of rural life was ensured not only by steady paychecks and the prospect of a pension at the end of the line, but also by participation in technologically advanced production processes—the assembly line of industrial capitalism. Amazon simply repeats and updates such promises. In Italy, for example, Amazon positions itself as an employee-focused company that brings stable employment back to a precarized labor market—a boon to a labor market hit by financial crises, lackluster growth, and lack of opportunities for retraining and upskilling. So Amazon continues a historical trajectory of Italian capitalism, but imports onto the local context novel characteristics borrowed from the American digital corporation model.

Indeed, digital capitalism updates industrial capitalism’s promise of economic and social emancipation with some novel elements of its own. Rather than simply swapping out the assembly line with the robot or the algorithm, the culture of digital capitalism mixes libertarian ideology with entrepreneurial elements. At the core of this myth lies a form of individualism. The combination of new information technologies with free-market dynamics enables emancipatory potential for the entrepreneur. Furthermore, digital capitalist companies state that they exist to change the world, to make people happy, to create value for everyone and not just for investors—technological optimism at its apex. After all, how could you deliver a bad outcome when your first principle is don’t be evil, as Google’s old slogan famously put it.

Amazon extends this old myth to all its workers. Indeed, in corporate documents, the company goes so far as to state that everyone is an “owner” at Amazon. While this is quite literal in the case of engineers and executives who receive shares of the company, it can only be understood at the level of mythology for warehouse workers. A figurative or spiritual commitment to the company’s destiny. Managerial techniques used in the warehouse contribute to building this myth, as associates are asked to have fun at work and help Amazon make history, as one of its corporate slogans goes. The myth brings with it the idea that there is no alternative to digital capitalism. Only co-option, or failure for those who can’t keep up or won’t adapt or submit.

Myths are not just old stories or false beliefs. They are ideas that help us make sense of the world. The myth of digital capitalism itself is not simply fictitious, but instead has very concrete effects. For Big Tech corporations, this myth projects a positive contribution to the world, helping to attract workers and investment, and boost corporate value on financial markets. But it has other concrete effects as well. In different areas of the world, and in different communities, the myth of redemption stemming from participation in high-tech production has impacted economies and cultures. Feminist media studies scholar Lisa Nakamura recounted how, in the 1970s, electronics manufacturers operating on Navajo land in New Mexico justified the employment of Indigenous women. Labor in microchip production was presented as empowering for the crafty and docile Navajo women—assumptions derived from racist stereotyping. Italy is completely different from the Navajo Nation, and yet the idea that an imported version of American digital capitalism can be a force for collective modernization and individual emancipation is alive and well there too. Belief in this myth is evidenced in many different and even contrasting ways. Some bring resources, like the $1.5 billion state-owned venture capital fund launched in 2020 by the Italian government to support start-up companies in the hope they will foster economic growth. Others sell resources off, like when mayors of small towns with high unemployment compete to attract the next Amazon FC, offering the company both farmland newly opened up for development and a local workforce ready to staff the warehouse. Over the years, the mayors of Castel San Giovanni have described the presence of MXP5 as a force of “development” and a source of “pride” for the town. This is not unique to Italy. American mayors are routinely quoted praising the arrival of a new Amazon facility as a “wonderful” or “monumental” thing for their town.

Amazon’s corporate slogans also hedge up its myth. Central is the valorization of disruption—the idea of a hero entrepreneur defeating the gods of the past. Some of the slogans (the so-called Leadership Principles) are repeated time and again and painted everywhere in the warehouse. While, the company’s corporate website, describes them as “more than inspirational wall hangings,” that is exactly what they sound like. Customer obsession is perhaps the most famous one, a slogan that captures the strategic goal of focusing on customers’ needs: the rest (profits, power) will follow. It also signals that workers are by design an afterthought. Other slogans are even more predictable, like Leaders are right a lot or Think big. Amazon’s myth trickles down to fulfillment centers like MXP5 in many ways. Amazon routinely conducts marketing operations aimed at finding new workers, not new customers. Billboards sporting smiling warehouse workers, recruitment events, and glowing articles commissioned by staffing agencies in the local newspaper are common sights in Piacenza, as in the areas surrounding other FCs. Social media multiplies the message. Amazon encourages employees to join its army of “ambassadors”—workers who plaster social media with positive stories about their job or videos in which they happily dance inside the warehouse. Like the FC’s walls, all these practices are soaked with the Leadership Principles: at a recruitment event near Toronto, slogans, such as Fulfilling the customer promise, were projected as part of a slideshow filled with smiling arrow logos, accompanying a presentation of more mundane details like job descriptions or benefits. “Every Amazonian who wants to be a leader,” we were told, should focus on “customer obsession” and “never settle,” and let’s not forget that Amazonians “are right a lot.” The event wrapped up with free pizza.

Please post your reflections on the excerpt.

In solidarity


Thursday, 6 January 2022

Ten Predictions For the Year Ahead in Labor

Dear Colleagues,

Happy new year!

Whilst browsing a wide range of literature over the Christmas break I read a thoughtful article in the excellent US political magazine In These Times. Their take on the US political landscape, and the specific focus on labor issues, is a consistently helpful guide to what's happening there, but also conjurs up ideas for what may occur in labour movements in the UK and globally.

I particularly welcomed the insight on the ten key predictions for 2022.

Please take a moment to have a read, and post any feedback you have:

In Solidarity