Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Too Late in London

The scandalous behaviour of New Labour ministers and backbenchers dominating the news in London must be unhelpful to the clumsy choreographers of the New Brown New Britain relaunch. But, more importantly for the underlining of London's unreality, in France the news is dominated by the economic crisis as it moves into open confrontation between the working people and multinational corporations' profit-seeking attempts to cut living standards. Local managers are facing direct action when wage cuts, short hours and mass lay offs are imposed. They are taken hostage and held at plants and factories until different terms and conditions have been negotiated and agreed with representatives of the workforce. Staff as well as shopfloor workers are acting together and official trade union representatives are acting beside more ad hoc negotiaters.

Yesterday it was Caterpillar's turn. The US multinational's plant at Grenoble had thought to lay off more than 750 with worse conditions for the rest. Senior management was pictured being harangued and exhorted by angry workers as they were prevented from leaving company offices. There is no longer acceptance that some financial catclysm threatens the whole world, more of an understanding that once again remote corporate owners are threatening whole sectors of society's life styles and livings.

The narrative that presents profit seeking behaviour as inevitable fallout from financial disjunction is rejected and local representatives of global corporate planning are receiving personal lessons as sharp as the unemployment and wage cuts being experienced by the people they tried to push around. Sony managers have been held too, and yesterday in Paris another senior manager was caught and held in his car for hours after 1700 job cuts had been announced, while police tried to negotiate his release. Avoiding violence is the official line on the reluctance by police and riot forces to intervene, but the strong impression from the news pictures is of some degree of police force comprehension of the workers' position.

Every confrontation has gained concessions from management. And with every success the 'global' solutions to impersonal 'global' problems propaganda becomes more threadbare.

The cavorting in London is being shown up in the real economy in all its wasteful, dishonest irrelevance.


Anonymous said...

That sort of behaviour will work wonders for the chances of future foreign investment in France, I have no doubt.

I suppose they plan to bully the other EU nations into subsidising their lifestyle - it's worked well so far, but there may in fact be limits.

hatfield girl said...

The assertion by French people that they will make a decisive contribution to determining their pay and conditions of work, in their own country, regardless of 'global' agendas and 'global governance- speak' obfuscation, and 'global' problems seems wholly understandable.

More power to them. Pity people in our country are having the area of discussion and, of course, action deliberately minimised by the New Labour Executive.

Anonymous said...

The worse thing about the British is that they not only leave the Labour government alone to do what it wants, they actually help them out. That is pure cowardice. You do not have to resort to violence to just stop cooperating with them; don't make them the coffee, stop bringing them their reports. Gum up the system until it can't function. Make them have to work all night long to get stuff done. Do it the Ghandi way.

Sackerson said...

Anon - I'm no longer convinced foreign investment is the answer to economic problems.

HG: the shadow of Madame Guillotine makes French tycoons and enarques more responsive than ours, doesn't it?

hatfield girl said...

Capitalism cannot be classed as moral or less moral can it, S? it is a way of determining variables by markets. The moral choices come in determining how to ameliorate market effects. Intervene at all and there is no longer capitalism but some order of authority- controlled economy.

French people seem to understand this much better than we do. They are insisting on entering and determining as much as they can the relationships of power - between state, extra-territorial agencies, capital providers, and conflicting images of the desirable society. They're not machine breakers (I have thought often that the impetus attributed to machine breakers was patronising, deviationist codswallop) but people who value themselves and their claims differently from multinational corporate policies and goals. And the nearest thing they can see, that is refusing to countenance the validity of their viewpoint, is the local multicorpi front.

Opel tradesmen and staff can hardly go to Washington and grab back their patents from the US executive; they are fortunate in having a champion in their Chancellor who will only provide their tax money to consolidate their world, not the world of General Motors directors and shareholders.

Caronte said...

Highly paid managers of failing companies deserve all the rough treatment they are getting, and worse.

There is a myth that their salaries and bonuses are determined "by the market", so that any ceiling imposed on the money they get is inefficient.

Not so. Managers' salaries are determined by other managers, each with a vested interest in inflating managerial incomes to excess, regardless of performance. It is not a market system but a pre-market, medieval, corporative system. It is not only inefficient but profoundly injust.

Imagine a world in which a carpenter's income is determined by carpenters, a teacher's income is determined by teachers, a miner's by miners. They would all cause inflation and their pay would accordingly be cut to size. But as long as managers are the only category to fix their own income they can get away with it at our expense.

Down with the undeserving rich.

dearieme said...

How does workers' power solve the problem of there being no customers for your product?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, dearieme, that was pretty much the point I was making.

As for the foreign investment, S, if you want Caterpillar to employ you or your fellow-countrymen, I would have thought committing physical violence against their senior people - those, after all, who actually make such decisions - might not be the best way of going about it.

But then the French have the EU to keep them in the manner to which they've become accustomed; maybe they don't need to please employers or customers.