Monday, 27 May 2013

My Generation: Joining the Intergenerational Dots

Life has been fairly frantic recently and whilst I've been keen to follow-up on the focus on Amazon et al and the thread that tax status and the omnipetence of multinationals there's been little time to sit down and get my thoughts together.
In the interim though just a brief note on a wholly worthwhile morning spent making the connection between differing parts of the UK's labour movement. On behalf of The Age & Employment Network (TAEN) which is now part of the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) I was asked to chair a panel session (entitled My Generation) during the residential event for new National Union of Students (NUS) further education (FE) sabbatical officers.
TAEN is just ending a year-long European project seeking to generate good practice in the intergenerational engagement in civic and political life. To round off this project TAEN ( was able to make a link with the NUS on the basis of exploring how differeing age groups, within the context of education and/or employment, could benefit from greater engagement with civil society institutions like the NUS and workplace trade unions.
I was particularly pleased to discover that the panel was to include the newly elected NUS President Toni Pearce (second from left above) who makes history as the first President to come from an FE background and who doesn't hold a degree. On a personal note, having sprung from Ruskin College in the early 90's as someone else without a first degree, and spent a significant period of my teaching career in this sector with adult learners, Toni's election is a welcome break from the usual suspects who tread a well worn path via the NUS into political life or that of the quancocracy or similar.
Also joining the panel was the indomitable Dot Gibson of the National Pensions Convention ( (middle of picture above) and it was a genuine honour to share a platform with someone who has spent a significant part of their life fighting so hard for the rights of others. Unbeknown to Dot she now has a starring role in Ken Loach's new film, the Spirit of '45 - and you are thoroughly recommended to see it:
Also joining us was Keith Frost (last on right above) who has worked for TAEN and was joining Dot in providing for the panel discussion an historical perspective on the changing nature of work and of the differing contributions that older workers and learners can bring to bodies like the NUS.
The debate itself was thought provoking and on a personal note I have to say how rewarding it is to be able to hear from speakers representing age groups quite distinct from those of the mainstream TU officers and activists that my day-to-day work involves. The views expressed represented a genuine commitment to bring together student groups from diverse backgrounds in the different FE institutions the students were drawn from. All of those who spoke understood that the challenge of being an FE student can be just as difficult for those who are 'mature', part-time and carers.
The contributions of Dot and Keith helped underline the need for these sabbatical officers to tap into an additional, experienced body of support for the work of the NUS from older, and non-traditional leaners. In concluding the session Toni reinforced a message that was distinct in her election campaign, which was to re-energise the work in the NUS in FE and help bring the distinct voice of this often marginalised group of learners to the forefront of the union's work. I have no doubt that she will work hard at doing this, and I wish her, and the new NUS sabbatical officers in FE all the very best in meeting this goal.
In Solidarity

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Who Rules When There are no Rules?

Colleague, the allies at the Tax Justice Network (TJN) have beat me to an analysis of a great piece in the FT on April 30 about Amazon’s US political machinery which appeared as part of the paper’s tax competition and regimes series.

My particular interest in the piece however wasn’t the sheer arrogance of Amazon in rebuking countries for their effrontery in requesting that the firm comply with domestic and business taxation duties, but moreso how the article helped to articulate a corporate strategy of naked ambivalence towards any form of civil or moral responsibility to the nation states in which they operate.
There are indeed many on the right of political life who would argue that Amazon’s brutalist approach to managing its affairs are what comes within the domain at operating beyond the fringes of mainstream land-based, tax paying business – a kind of cowboy utopia. When, however, the US Congress now attempts to force online retailers to gather tax what we can see is the full force of a complex corporate assault upon federal and state’s rights to assert a dominant, restraining influence on business behaviour.

As we have seen with Amazon’s response to the UK Treasury select committee when challenged over its tax avoidance behaviour it threatens the relocation of jobs and divestment and much the same has happened in the US, backed by legions of lobbyists, and supported by a rabid army of anti-tax Republicans and libertarians.
This is all very much redolent of what I have written of in this blog before; an inherently mercenary business approach which expects to be able to cleave any advantage from its largescale business operations, whilst at the same time avoiding any responsibility that accrues from operating at that size and scale. 

I have previously written about this in the context of corporate personhood – the demand of the corporation to be treated as citizen in order to dominate civil society – but here with Amazon and their ilk we see something even more sinister – if that were even possible.  It is of an economic and political predominance so overweening that it can set the parameters and limits of how the state, government and civil society may ‘interfere’ in its activity.

This analysis is best summed up in the final paragraph of the original FT piece that kicked off this blog post.
Essentially, Amazon has become so dominant that it no longer cares to fight. It has played out the clock longer than it dared hope and would now like to be able to build warehouses everywhere without doing state-by-state battle over its “physical presence”. In other words, this is not a case of Congress finally choosing to act. It is a case of the owners finally giving it permission to do so.

In Solidarity