Monday, 17 September 2012

Danny Dorling, September 19th

Danny Dorling Rising Inequality and Rising Austerity: When is the Tipping Point?
Wednesday 19th September 2012 6 pm, Leeds Metropolitan University, Broadcasting Place, Room AG02 (ground floor), Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9EN

Like readings on a seismometer, when social stats start reaching new extremes it is time to expect earthquakes. Levels of inequality in the UK have returned to heights last experienced at the start of the Second World War, The richest one per cent of people take fifteen per cent of all income in 2012, compared to six per cent in 1979. In the early 1940s, the ‘9%’ - the rest of the best-off ten per cent less the richest one per cent - were paid an average salary of 2.4 times average incomes, the same as in 1959, 1969 and 1973. But as inequalities rose, by 1990 this ‘9%’ were paid three times average incomes and that continued until 2007. However, for the last five years their share has been dropping towards that 2.4 historic average. As each year passes, and the richest one per cent get richer still, the rest of the best-off ten per cent increasingly have a little more in common with the remaining nine-tenths of society, and less and less in common with those at the very top. By 2015 the austerity measures are forecast (by the IMF) to cut public spending as a % of GDP below any comparable nation, including the USA, for the first time. So, when will we begin to notice the ground shaking?
All welcome, no need to book
For further details email:

About Danny: Danny Dorling is a Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sheffield. With a group of colleagues he helped create the website which shows who has most and least in the world. Much of Danny’s work is available open access (see His work concerns issues of housing, health, employment, education and poverty. His recent books include, co-authored texts "The Atlas of the Real World: Mapping the way we live" and "Bankrupt Britain: an atlas of social change". Recent sole authored books include, "Injustice: why social inequalities persist” in 2010; "So you think you know about Britain" and “Fair Play”, both in 2011; and The No-nonsense guide to equality and The Visualization of Social Spatial Structure in 2012. In 2009 he joined both the World Health Organization's Scientific Resource Group on Health Equity Analysis and Research and the advisory group of the Equality Trust. He is a Patron of the charity RoadPeace, and in 2008, became Honorary President of the Society of Cartographers. Before a career in academia Danny was employed as a play-worker in children's play-schemes and in pre-school education where the underlying rationale was that playing is learning for living. He tries not to forget this by playing with data surrounding people’s lives and representing the results in new, novel and stark ways which usually reveal the inequality of the lives we each live.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Nonviolent Revolution in Yorkshire? A unique opportunity to chat with George Lakey. 18:30 on 25th July Room 546, The Rose Bowl, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds LS1 3HB. George Lakey has written seven books, which have been translated into at least six languages. Among other works, he co-authored A Manual for Direct Action, which was widely used in the South in the 1960s. Most recently, George wrote Facilitating Group Learning: Strategies for Success with Diverse Adult Learners (Wiley, 2010). George was first arrested for a civil rights sit-in in the 1960s; he was most recently arrested on a climate change action in 2010. Over the last 50 years, he has worked with trade unions and poor people’s groups as well as peace activists and environmentalists. A gay, working-class white North American, George has led 1,500 social change workshops on five continents. He was an unarmed bodyguard for human rights activists threatened with assassination in Sri Lanka, and was smuggled across the border to work with pro-democracy insurgents in the Burmese jungle. In 1971, George was a co-founder of the US ‘Movement for a New Society’, which over 18 years, developed many of the facilitation and consensus decision-making tools that have become standard in Western activist circles. For more information: Tel: 07703 120806 Twitter: @rachelcjulian Email:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

What can we learn from Respect's 'Bradford Spring'?

Meeting on June 13th: 'What can we learn from Respect's 'Bradford Spring'? 6PM, Broadcasting Place Woodhouse Lane Leeds LS2 EN Speakers: Anne Czernik & Racquiyah Collector

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Crisis as Capitalist Opportunity

In case you missed Ursula Huws excellent talk, here is an interview with her on the subject, carried by the excellent and recommended New Left Project.

Crisis as Capitalist Opportunity
by Ed Lewis, Ursula Huws
Ursula Huws is, amongst other things, the director of the social and economic research consultancy Analytica. As part of NLP’s series of pieces around this year’s Socialist Register – The Crisis and the Left – Huws spoke to NLP's Ed Lewis about her contribution to the volume, 'Crisis as capitalist opportunity: new accumulation through public service commodification'.

Could you give us an overview of the argument you give in the article?

I think the left, certainly the British left, has very much focused on seeing the financial crisis as something to do with banks and something to do with financialisation and the finance economy. All the political action that we've seen recently - including the Occupy movement, whom I support absolutely – is all focused on how the banks are the baddies, how to change the banking system, how to make it responsible etc, etc. There has been very little focus on what's been happening in what one might call the 'real economy'. That's a complicated phrase to use: people used to talk about finance capital and industrial capital, as if they were two quite distinct things, which they probably were 100 years ago, but the reality is that industrial capital behaves more and more like finance capital. We've got transnational companies with parent companies in tax havens, creating an internal global space around which they move their profits, not paying any tax whatsoever, and behaving increasingly like banks.
But nevertheless, there is such a thing as a real economy, in the sense that capitalism actually relies on producing real commodities, which are consumed by people in the real world and produced by people in the real world, to use a somewhat old fashioned phrase. Capitalism, irrespective of what the banks are up to, periodically runs into crises due to the falling rate of profit and too much accumulation. This isn't a new insight - Rosa Luxemburg wrote very eloquently about how capitalism always needs to be expanding outside itself. Her great insight is that you need new markets outside capital - because - surplus value must be extracted from the workforce - it will never be the case that all the workers can buy all the goods that are produced because the total amount of their wages will always be less than the value of these goods. So capital has to find new markets outside itself, like expanding into parts of the world which are pre-capitalist, of which there are very few left in the world. It also has to expand outside itself for other reasons. It has to find new sources of compliant labour, which will demand less; it has to constantly find new sources of raw material. It's also increasingly, in this day and age, needing to find new places to dump the detritus that results from all this production of physical stuff (which is growing exponentially despite all this rhetoric about the ‘weightless economy’), in fact, more and more physical stuff is being produced round the world than ever before in history. But capital also constantly needs new things to commodify. This is what Marxists call primitive accumulation. In the past new commodities have come from aspects of nature, from the human body – generating new commodities through, for instance, drugs or cosmetic surgery. Capital is enormously inventive in its ability to generate new commodities out of more or less thin air. But I would argue that there is another sort of commodification also taking place right now.
Now, it's very clear that around the time of the financial crisis and linked to it in complex ways, there was another crisis going on in the real economy. If you look at the statistics for the year 2006-2007, for instance, you see that there was a more rapid concentration of capital going on than ever before. In that year, the market share of multinational companies went up dramatically. They also increased their share of world employment. And mergers and acquisitions went up to record levels. But while this huge concentration of power of transnational corporationsin the global economy was going on there was actually a fall in real investment in new production – what is known as ‘green field investment’. There was all this money sloshing around, there were all these companies buying other companies, and there was a huge growth in terms of the share of global production levels held by TNCs, the share of employment in the world that was dominated by them – but they were only gobbling up existing capacity. They were cannibalising other companies, there was not enough new production going on. So there was a crisis of accumulation. Where could the new commodities come from?
Now one of the trends that had actually been going on, rather unnoticed for at least the last 15 years or so, was that one of the biggest fields of expansion for multinational companies has actually been the public sector. The commodification of public services isn't a primitive accumulation in the sense that we know it, of generating new commodities out of areas of life that were previously outside the money economy, like domestic labour or the body, it is actually a commodification of the collective assets of the working class. Because what the welfare state is, if you like, is what workers over the last century managed to claw back from capital. It's their share of surplus value that was re-appropriated by our parents and our grandparents, very heroically actually – not making short-term economistic demands, but demanding things for the whole working class. This is now what's being expropriated. And so for these TNCs, the financial crisis was kind of like Christmas - this wonderful opportunity for forcing governments to commodify huge new swathes of the public sector, to create a new field of accumulation of capital in the name of cutting public budgets to balance the books.

Let’s talk about the process of commodifying public services. How does it occur?

The commodification process you can see in a broad historical way. It's a process that takes several steps. First of all, we have to recognise that all economic activity is based on human ingenuity, skills, knowledge and creativity. They are necessary to any economic process at all. In the first stage of commodification, processes have to be standardised. If they're not standardised, you have what's in effect a sort of craft production – the skilled guy who makes a basket, say, and then he makes another basket and then he makes another – but the production costs of each basket are the same. As soon as you've got a standardisation of labour processes and the possibility to introduce a division of labour, the capitalist can invest money in the machinery that mass produces baskets and the workers are reduced to units in the production line, producing lots and lots of individual baskets. The profit on any given basket multiplies according to how many you sell, which is fundamentally different from pre-capitalist, pre-commodified craft production, where however many baskets you make, you make the same profit per basket. It's that logic of mass production which to me is the essence of commodification. And it doesn't just apply to physical goods, it could apply to something like an insurance policy, which can equally be a commodity.
Most public services actually involve a lot of tacit labour which isn't easy to standardise, and so it's quite a long and difficult procedure to standardise the processes in such a way that they can be produced on effectively a production line basis, using less and less skilled labour. So the first stage is codifying the tacit knowledge of the worker, and standardising that knowledge in such a way that instead of the worker using his or her initiative and creativity and skills, it's done in a completely standardised and replicable way, which can be done by increasingly unskilled workers.
Once it’s standardised it can also be managed by results. So you get this introduction of performance indicators or whatever, so workers, instead of being paid a salary and being trusted to do what they do in a professional and committed way (public sector workers tend to be extremely committed, if we're looking at uncommodified public services that have been delivered for their use value) is increasingly evaluated by what she or he produces, measured by these performance indicators or targets or whatever. And once the work can be managed by results, it can be outsourced. It can be done by anyone. All you have to do is count the results, and set targets for 'X number of hip replacement operations' or 'X number of visits to the care home' or whatever it is. So the kind of standardisation that goes on in a factory, let's say, can then be applied to public services, so stage one of commodifying public services is standardising, and increasingly that standardisation isn't just taking place within a national context. We're talking about companies here that have a global division of labour. So there’s standardisation that underpins that, includes international standardisation (ISOs) that set minimum quality standards or specify particular procedures and there’s a need to make sure the qualifications are recognised globally, so work can be done anywhere in the world by people with the right skills. Either you can send the work overseas, which is called offshoring, or you can bring in migrant workers to the work.
So stage one of the commodification process is standardisation; stage two, managing by results. Stage three is when you can disaggregate processes and organisations. You can carry out a task anywhere in the world, where you've people with the right skills and where you've got infrastructure to deliver it, because it can all be managed remotely. So what effectively you do is you introduce a global value chain into parts of the economy that historically didn't have them. What we've seen in the last 15 years or so – partly because of the end of the Cold War, partly because of the global introduction of information communication and technology, partly because of the defeat of the working class in most of the developed countries, at least in the private sector – we've seen effectively the creation of a global reserve army of workers.
Because of the standardisation, many of the things that are provided to the public sector, such as IT support or payroll processing, are increasingly pretty much the same as the services that are provided to the private sector. And we’ve got this new breed of multinational corporations that has grown up to supply these outsourced services, that have their own internal global division of labour, where you get some of the work done in developing countries, some done near where the customer is. They have an enormous flexibility, in terms of whether they bring migrant workers in, bringing workers to the jobs, or whether they send the jobs to the worker. Increasingly these companies also have a global space within which to operate that enables them to avoid paying tax.
These companies have, for at least the last ten years been explicitly targeting the public sector, but in a way that's rather invisible. Because services tend to be seen as peripheral functions, what happens is this – let’s say a government department decides to outsource its cleaning, the civil service union thinks ‘well, cleaners aren’t our core workforce, we think it’s a pity, we’ll do what we can, but basically who we’re worried about are the tax inspectors etc’. So increasingly, more and more groups of workers are being peeled off the public payroll and outsourced and becoming employees of the global companies, and in a lot of cases when that happens, it happens very invisibly, because it’s done through a transfer of personnel. They don’t actually sack people, they say ‘oh we’ll give this contract to Accenture or Serco or Siemens Business Services or Cap Gemini’ or one of these companies. But they still need the skills of these workers, at least in the first stage. So, for instance, suppose a company gets a contract to do outsourced IT support, you will find in that company workers who have been transferred from the civil service, from local government, from the BBC or from Barclays Bank or from a manufacturing company like Fujitsu, all sitting working alongside each other with different inherited working conditions.
Now, the union thinks it’s done its job in protecting them because of TUPE[1] regulations which protects their terms and conditions when they are transferred. And so the issue for the unions often isn’t ‘let’s fight outsourcing’, it’s ‘let’s make sure they’ve still got their pensions’or whatever, when they get outsourced to this company. But the thing is the TUPE regulations were designed for situations where there’s a sort of one-off switch of employer, they were originally designed for a merger or acquisition situation. And what’s happening with these contracts is that they’re actually renewed every five years or so, and every time they’re renewed there’s the potential for another deterioration.
This process seems central to the creation of a casualised public sector workforce.
It’s transforming public sector workers into private sector workers. But it’s not just transforming their status, it’s also turning them into employees of global companies which have a global division of labour, putting them into direct competition with workers from low-waged parts of the world with increasingly standardised working processes and thereby proletarianising them.

You said earlier that the financial crisis gave capital an opportunity to expand further into the public sector. How?

Because national governments were obliged to buy out the banks, this created a huge imperative to cut public sector budgets. This was seen by the new breed of multinationals, who see their future as lying in growing their markets into the public sector particularly, as providing them with a huge opportunity because they understood that the pressure on public budgets would be translated in policy terms into a pressure to outsource, as a way of saving money. Outsourcing is seen as a way of saving money, even though there are a lot of ways in which outsourcing doesn’t save money. There has been a rhetoric that assumes that the private sector is more efficient, it’s so embedded in people’s minds as a kind of new common sense that says ‘it will always be cheaper to outsource it’. So they saw this as a golden opportunity to make lots and lots of new contracts.
You have to remember that by 2007, public sector outsourcing in the UK was already a huge industry, it was an industry that accounted for 6% of GDP, bigger than industries such as food and drink (see figures in the article). It was already a huge sector, with very high value added, seeking to expand. If you look back at the documents that were produced before the crisis there was already a very clear consensus that getting into the public sector market was the way to expand for these business service outsourcing companies in particular, and also the labour only sub-contracting companies such as Manpower and Addeco.
Not only was this the main place to expand, but they particularly targeted health and education as their two areas with the biggest scope for expansion, and I don’t think there’s any accident that we’re seeing, quite independent of the cuts, these initiatives that are intended to force open the door for, for example, American private universities to enter the UK market, and various other forms of private health and education provision in particular, but also other sectors. There is enormous scope for continuing expansion – 6% of GDP may sound like a lot but public spending all told is around 47% of GDP so the opportunities are huge.
What’s the impact of this commodification been on workers?
Public sector workers have been the last remaining standard bearers for ‘decent’ employment opportunities. This is an oversimplification of course. But basically the workers who were smashed under Thatcher were private sector workers – you might argue that the miners were public sector workers but they were production workers. But public sector workers remained strongly unionized in most developed countries – in every EU country apart from Belgium, for instance, there’s higher union density in the public sector than in the private sector. Public sector workers have better holidays, not necessarily better pay, but better work-life balance agreements, equal opportunities agreements. They’ve got good job security, they’ve got good procedural agreements.

They’ve also got more autonomy, often – the standardisation agenda seems to be about limiting autonomy, no?

Oh absolutely.
And all of these benefits have been steadily eroded. They’re having to work to performance indicators, their procedures have been very much standardised, increasingly managed and disciplined by league tables and other numerical instruments.
So in a sense these developments affect public sector workers very directly, but they affect all otherworkers too because all workers have benefited from the benchmarks that have been set by public sector workers. Moreover, the current developments don’t just affect all workers as workers. They affect the entire working class as the working class. Because what’s been commodified is the collective assets of the working class, in the form of these welfare services that we’ve all fought for. So it’s a sort of triple whammy if you like.

How does your analysis relate to the contemporary politics of the left?

Well, right now, there’s a window of opportunity that won’t be there for very long. In the first stages, when workers are transferred to outsourcing companies they’re still needed, their skills have not yet been fully standardised. They haven’t yet put their 10 most FAQs onto a database so that whatever casual worker who replaces them can answer queries. There’s a process, even after the privatization has taken place, whereby they still have a bit of industrial strength because their knowledge has not yet been fully captured and codified. In this stage, many are still trade union members, and they’re pretty pissed off at not being public sector workers any more, because they usually joined the public sector because they actually wanted to be public sector workers. They wanted to do a job that seemed useful to society and wasn’t just making some company directors rich. And it seems to me that what the trade unions should be doing right now is they should having a monumental campaign to organize these workers, we should be taking on these companies.
There is an extraordinary irony here. The older generation on the left in Britain is mostly public sector workers – if we look at class base of the left, it’s school teachers, it’s social workers. In the '70s they were all desperately tying themselves into little knots trying to convince themselves they were members of the global proletariat. The argument then was ‘let’s take on the employers in the workplace, let’s take capital on at its heart, that’s where we’ve got industrial strength, where we can withdraw our labour and make a difference’. Now, suddenly, at last, well they really are becoming part of the global proletariat. But they seem to have forgotten this syndicalist argument. This is a historically unprecedented and rather brief window of opportunity, to actually do ‘workers of the world unite’ in a rather real way, and take on some of these companies.
Of course people on the left are being active in a variety of other ways. Including saying ‘no cuts’. But ‘no cuts’ is the wrong slogan in my opinion. Arguing that the problem is cuts is to miss the point. Because it’s not to do with the size of the budget – I mean obviously the size of the budget is an issue, I’m not saying don’t fight the cuts – but just saying ‘it’ll all be alright if there’s a bigger budget’ is completely missing the point in terms of what’s happening. In my opinion the slogan should at least be ‘no outsourcing. No cuts’.
There are actually quite big sections of capital whose interest is to have a big public sector. If you look at the publications of industry organizationsit’s absolutely clear that they’re worried about cuts insofar as it might mean smaller contracts, but they absolutely relish the cuts in the sense that it forces government departments to look critically at their budgets and look for ways of saving money and outsourcing. They love any argument that outsourcing is the main thing that’s on offerfor saving the money. And people on the left haven’t yet twigged that public services are now part of huge new field of accumulation for global capital.

So you disagree with the standard left narrative that the cuts are a class project on behalf of capital? Does the business class actually have an interest in an enlarged, but commodified, public sector?

They have an interest in an enlarged public sector, but only if that enlarged public sector has a compliant workforce, which is effectively part of a new, disenfranchised, global proletariat. Public sector workers are becoming part of this new, disenfranchised global proletariat and they should bloody well wake up to the fact and start organizing as such and stop trying to tinker with finding new ways of organizing the economy on behalf of capital. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned syndicalist but it’s almost like people have given up on doing anything as direct and obvious as taking capital on at the point of production.

Ed Lewis teaches in the humanities faculty in a comprehensive school in North London where he is a rep in the NUT. He is a political education adviser to the arts and social justice charity Platform. He is a co-editor of New Left Project.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Harnessing the Power for Change

Join Leeds Community Organising to celebrate our launch... Harnessing the Power for Change

An afternoon of conversation with Maurice Glasman (key thinker and activist behind London Citizens) and Leeds Community Organising.

4pm to 6pm, Saturday 28th April 2012
Oxford Place Centre
Oxford Place, Leeds, LS1 3AX

Leeds Community Organising is a new city-wide organisation building the power of
communities in the city through relationships with each other to act together on areas
of common interest.

Leeds Community Organising builds on the tradition of broad-based community
organising (as developed in the USA and now run in other UK cities and elsewhere in
the world). This public launch event will be an opportunity to find out more about Leeds
Community Organising; gain deeper insight into key principles of Community
Organising; and hear stories of success through Organising in other cities.

For more information visit or call
07579 965227 or email

Taking Soundings on April 18th

Troubled thoughts on contemporary feminism
Speaker: Jonathan Dean (Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Leeds; Author of ‘Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics’)

Wednesday April 18th 2012: 6 pm, Broadcasting Place, Room AG02 (ground floor)
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9EN

Gender relations have changed dramatically in recent decades, both in the UK and across the world. And yet, gender inequality persists: women remain under-represented in public life and over-represented at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Within these changing contexts, the meaning, role and status of feminism remains hotly contested. The argument that feminism is no longer relevant and necessary is often advanced in the mainstream media, whilst young women are often cast as unwilling to identify as feminist. This talk argues that both of these claims are unsatisfactory: feminism remains an absolutely integral part of progressive and radical politics in Britain and around the world, and young women have been at the forefront of a recent upsurge of feminist activism. It highlights a number of key issues and debates within contemporary feminism, offers some thoughts on representations of feminism in the media, and explores some the prospects and challenges for gender equality in a period of generalised social, economic and political uncertainty.

No need to book

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

More on Tim Jenkins

Tim has asked us to say that people can go to the
for more information and sign up to subscribe to the New Economics Foundation website at

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Occupy Everything booklaunch

The good people at The Space Project are organidsing a social book launch and meeting about the new book that explores Paul Mason's Kicking Off Everywhere on Saturday March 17th at 8PM.

The event is called "Occupy Everything - Reflections on Why Its Kicking Off Everywhere" exploring Paul Mason's 20 Reasons Why It's Kicking Off is in Leeds.

Location is the Space Project on Mabgate.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Ursula Huws on the New Gold Rush, March 21st

The New Gold Rush: Multinationals and the Commodification of the Public Sector
Speaker: Ursula Huws

Professor of Labour and Globalisation, University of Hertfordshire
Editor of Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation
Wednesday March 21st 2012

6 pm, Broadcasting Place, Room AG02 (ground floor), Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9EN

Today we are witnessing the growth of a new ‘public services industry’. Education and health and other public services are being transformed. These services are being turned into saleable commodities on the global market – lucrative sources of profit for the multinationals.

The impact on public sector workers and on all the people who use these services will be enormous. Unless challenged, it will mean the re-appropriation of the historical gains in welfare made in the twentieth century.

Readers meeting on Paul Mason, March 14th

Paul Mason has produced some of the most interesting and incisive commentary and analysis about the current economic crisis and various responses to it on a world-scale, both in his journalism for BBC2’s Newsnight and in his books. The latest of these is ‘Why It’s Kicking off Everywhere’ (Verso 2012).

We are trying to invite Paul to speak to us here in Leeds, but in the meantime we are keen to discuss his ideas. Our next ‘Reader’s Meeting’ will be on Wednesday, March 14th at 6PM in Broadcasting Place A010 (Ground-floor, just by the foyer, the room with internal glass windows). We will finish before 8PM.

We can look at some video material, but we also have photocopies of Ch4 from the book, entitled: ‘So, Why Did It All Kick Off? The Social Roots of the New Unrest’ to distribute to start the discussion. If you want a pdf version, email for a copy.

All are welcome if you want to take part in a conversation about Paul’s interesting and inspiring ideas.

You might want to go back to his original blog article: ‘Twenty reasons why it's kicking off everywhere’ from February 2011, available at:

Tim Jenkins: links and follow-up

Tim Jenkins of the New Economics Foundation spoke recently at the Leeds Soundings meeting on 'The Crisis as an Opportunity for a New Economy'. He talked of nef's work modelling an alternative economy which deveops work such as that done by the Canadian economist Peter Victor.
In June 2010 Peter Victor at.a national conference held in Leeds on the Steady State Economy, described an alternative economy within ecological constraints.You can see a video of that presentation at
Peter Victor, Professor in Environmental Studies, York University, Canada – Managing without Growth.
In addition there are videos of other key note presentations given by Tim Jackson, Andrew Simms and Dan O'Neill.
Andrew Simms, Policy Director, New Economics Foundation – A New Economic Paradigm
Dan O’Neill, European Director, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy - What Is a Steady State Economy?
Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey - Investment, Productivity and Ownership.

A written report of the conference, 'Enough is enough: ideas for a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources. The report of the Steady State Economy Conference, Leeds 2010, can be found at . This report also covers the critical issues addressed in ten interactive workshops. Workshop speakers included Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level), Franny Armstrong (Director of The Age of Stupid), Roger Martin (Chair of the Optimum Population Trust), Molly Scott Cato (Economics Speaker for the Green Party), David Fell (Director at Brook Lyndhurst), among others.

Ian Jack on Socialism in the North

As the recession bites, is a new kind of northern politics emerging?
Socialism in the north has a local, amiable identity – socialism at its most social – that makes it increasingly attractive today
Ian Jack, Friday 2 March 2012 21.00 GMT

'You should have told me. We could have gone." I've never been sure if I heard my father's words correctly – they seem to belong to a later, moneyed age of easier and more spontaneous travel. On the other hand, the fact that I remember where and when the words were said suggests that the surprise they held was real. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. We were walking home, up a road with a distant view of the Pennines, the folds of which looked to be configured like an old-fashioned signpost. I asked what was on the other side of those hills.
"Oh, Huddersfield, places like that.
I said I should like to go to Huddersfield.
"You should have told me. We could have gone today. I wish I'd known."
Could he possibly have meant it? Any travel longer than a few stops on the bus required careful preparation: timetable consulted, sandwiches cut, shoes polished, change counted, facecloth dampened, hair straightened. To reach Huddersfield from where we lived in Lancashire would have needed at least one change of train and perhaps a two-hour journey each way. It would have been a Day Out. My father said something about his "needing to go there anyway", but I can't remember why (a new part for the machinery he looked after in the spinning mill?) and the reason, if any, will now never be known.
Last week I went to Huddersfield for the first time. It would be wrong of me to imply that the gap between wishing to go and actually going had been spent as six decades of longing, with only the lack of a direct train connection from London standing in the way of fulfilment. Being there, however, suggested my childish desire to see it had been right. It is a pleasing and interesting place. Engels described it as "the handsomest by far" of the Yorkshire and Lancashire factory towns; Pevsner commended the neo-classical station, which Betjeman said had the most splendid façade in England after St Pancras. You step out of the station's Corinthian portico on to a wide square that slopes down towards the George Hotel, where rugby league was founded in 1895. Opposite is a statue of local boy Harold Wilson, looking livelier than he did as prime minister.
My guide, Paul Salveson, said he thought Wilson was underrated as a politician. Later he said he thought the same had been true of JB Priestley as a novelist, though now Priestley was winning respect. As regions aren't nations, Salveson could never be described as a northern nationalist, nor would he like to be. But his estimations of Wilson and Priestley give a clue to his political and social sympathies. The economic crisis has hit the north of England much harder than the south, with all kinds of measurable consequences from house prices (falling in the north, rising in the south) to unemployment figures (an 18% year-on-year increase, compared to 4.5% in the rest of the UK). Less measurable are the feelings of alienation from a southern government in London, and envy for the power of a Scottish one in Edinburgh. Both territories have what marketing speak knows as product champions – Cameron and Salmond – but where is the voice of the country that stretches from the Trent to the Tweed?
Salveson wants to find one and make it grow stronger. Last year, he and a few other northern socialists founded a thinktank-cum-campaigning-group, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, named after a suffragette and pacifist who was prominent in Manchester politics during the 1920s. The forum's aim is to develop what it calls the North's "distinctive democratic socialism … rooted in our ethical socialist traditions of mutuality, co-operation, community and internationalism"; and also to foster the case for a directly elected regional government, a new Council of the North.
At first sight, neither looks very likely. Regional assemblies in England were a John Prescott initiative that died when a referendum in 2004 rejected what could have been the first of them, in the north-east. As for socialism, when was the last time that word featured successfully in any organisation's job application? But in conversation, and in his soon-to-be-published book, Salveson makes a fluent case for the prospects of both. In 2004, the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales had still to show how far they could deviate from Westminster's policies in areas such as health, education and transport. And socialism in the north, in Salveson's view, has always been more Methodist than Marxist. Its cycling clubs, choirs, galas and night schools gave it a local, amiable identity – socialism at its most social – that Salveson believes is increasingly attractive.
We walked around the town. I was glad I hadn't been before; if I'd come at any time from 1950 to 1990, I would now be noticing that certain things – independent department stores, trolley buses, covered markets – had vanished in the interim. This particular past having no presence in me, I could simply delight in what was there. Salveson showed me the university where he has a post as a visiting professor of transport logistics, though this gives a misleading idea of a 59-year-old enthusiast for an intriguing combination of railways, Walt Whitman and the Independent Labour Party. He lives a few miles up the Colne valley in Slaithwaite, pronounced Slawit, and there runs the Slawit Review of Books and the Free University of Slawit, which meets in a pub and discusses topics such as "Were the Luddites right?" (They got a big crowd for that one.)
All this seemed very good. We looked at the town hall, where every year the Huddersfield Choral Society sings the Messiah, an event so ancient and popular that tickets must be drawn by ballot, and then climbed through several floors of a kitchenware shop to drink coffee in a cafe at the top. We saw arcades and a sign for the offices of the Huddersfield Examiner, which still comes out every weekday. In the late-afternoon sun, hills shone greenly at the end of the streets.
And then we got a train over the Pennines to Stalybridge, where the Hannah Mitchell Foundation was to meet in the station buffet to finalise the plans for the foundation's public launch at Bradford City Hall on 9 March. Stalybridge's station buffet is famous and attracts Manchester commuters on their way home, as well men who look as though they might be dale walkers or fans of Philip Larkin and traditional jazz. Did I hear someone say "Ey up, Joe"? Perhaps. The crowd drank beer and ate plates of peas, a Stalybridge speciality, under photographs of steam locomotives and posters for the Amalgamated Association of Cotton Spinners.
It may be that, out of this mixture of retrospection and yearning, a new kind of northern politics is born. Political movements have thrived on unlikelier roots – Jacobitism, say. If it happens, it will be nice to think of Huddersfield as the shining city on the hill.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Jon Bloomfield European Crisis and the Silence of Social Democracy

This is John Bloomfield's talk given to the Leeds Taking Soundings January 26th 2012 on 'The European Crisis and the Silence of Social Democracy'.

For the last eighteen months Europe has been the epi-centre of economic attention. The world’s largest single market has proved unable to tackle an initial little local difficulty in Greece, one of its smallest economies. The institutions of the EU and its senior politicians have dithered as the crisis has snowballed. As the people of Greece have resisted and protests have spread to Spain and elsewhere, the political response has always been slow, confused and mired in monetarist orthodoxy. Within all the drama one voice has been noticeably absent: that of the mainstream European Left. Social democracy has been silent. Tonight I try to answer the question, why? And then to suggest what can be done about it and why it is important.


In the UK, Labour’s leadership came to terms with membership of the EEC after the 1975 referendum. But it was only when, in 1988, the French Christian-socialist president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors, persuaded the TUC of the potential of a European ‘social dialogue’ – against a backdrop of the Thatcherite offensive against the labour movement in the UK – that the party’s trade union base came around.

However, this pro-European trend weakened enormously during the Blair–Brown era. Blair’s ‘third way’ was neither a variant of orthodox social democracy nor a new right-wing version of it – it was a complete break. That is why solidly right-wing social democrats like the former deputy Labour leader Roy Hattersley and leading French figures such as Pascal Lamy were so opposed to it. In his autobiography, the late Robin Cook reports on an exchange at a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in October 2002 between Lamy, formerly French finance minister and currently head of the World Trade Organization, and Peter Mandelson, the architect of New Labour and then European commissioner for trade. Lamy was explaining the key dilemma that he saw facing social democracy. ‘Historically, the success of social democracy in the past century was to promote a compromise between labour and capital, between the state and the market and between commercial competition and social solidarity. Globalisation has unhinged the balance by taking away all the domestic levers by which we maintained the compromise,’ he said. Mandelson responded: ‘Globalisation offers all the best the world can offer. We must not sound as if we believe there is a tension between labour and capital, or competition and solidarity.’ To which Lamy in turn replied: ‘Yes, but that is what I believe.’[i]
There in a nutshell is the gap between social democracy and ‘New’ Labour’s Panglossian alternative. It explains ‘New’ Labour’s opposition to intervention in any form.

The Blairites had considerable success in promoting this thinking within other social democratic European parties. At the end of the 1990s thirteen of the then fifteen members of the EU had governments of the Left. Many of these bought wholesale into the Clinton Third Way. They were deceived by the easy, early fruits of globalisation arising from the computer revolution and the sudden opening of the ex-socialist economies of China, Russia and Eastern Europe to world markets.

Some, such as the Spanish and Portuguese socialists, the Italian Left as well as the German SPD, also accepted the neo-classical orthodoxies of the Maastricht Treaty and the European Central Bank (ECB) as they embarked on the single currency project. The treaty of 1992 entrenched neo-liberalism. Framing the completed market in capital, labour, goods and services, monetary union was established on the German model, with an independent bank committed only to low inflation – not, as with the US Federal Reserve, a responsibility for high employment. Euro members were (theoretically, as it turned out) to be restricted to budget deficits of 3 per cent of GDP and debt–GDP ratios of 60 per cent. Yet the EU’s budgets – known in the jargon as their ‘own resources’ - were to remain negligible, thus providing no significant fiscal capacity to deal with the risk of asymmetric shocks to individual economies. It was, quite simply, pre-Keynesian.

Most of the Left, traumatised by the defeats of 1980s and the impact of the ICT revolution, offered no critique. An already weak grasp of economics, spread wider; the vast majority of the Left did not understand what was going on with the creation of the Single European Market; the financialisation of capital following on from the Big Bang and credit default swaps;, with booming house prices and asset bubbles. Generally speaking, each national Left focused on a range of other issues, ignoring the overall big economic picture. They fell for the post-modernist myth that ‘grand’ narratives belonged to the past. Well, as we now see, there is a big story here – and the Left missed it.

The financial crisis of 2008 blew this ‘third way’ apart. It revealed the limitations of this approach.
Firstly, this model of financial, de-regulated globalisation was unstable – I use a gentle, polite word. It did not end ‘boom and bust.’ In fact, it needed the massive intervention of the state, “big government” – to save it from the disasters of its own making.
Secondly, it promoted ever larger inequalities. This was something that again most of the Left across Europe ignored, above all New Labour. Working class and middle incomes in the USA have not risen over the past 40 years. In the UK they have been increasingly squeezed with living standards being maintained by the increased participation of women in the labour market and home-owners using the equity of their homes. As Jeffrey Sachs, former monetary hawk; architect of post-Soviet economic reforms; and adviser to George Osborne prior to 2010 general election.
acknowledged in a Newsnight interview last summer.
“Globalisation has meant a massive rise in income inequalities. The rich have walked off with the prize. We need to get more serious about the crisis facing our society. The rich have become fantastically rich and need to be taxed more.” When did you last here a top-flight Centre-Left political leader say something similar?

Thirdly, the world did not follow the neo-conservative dream of American hegemony but instead was becoming increasingly multi-polar. Indeed, I would argue that the invasion of Iraq designed to confirm and exalt American power in fact revealed its limitation and accelerated its decline. And the economic crisis has confirmed and accelerated these trends. The G7 has become the G20 and the North Atlantic domination of the world economy has gone forever.

Fourthly, to exert any control on this turbo-capitalism, it has become increasingly clear that you have to be big. The EU’s Single Market which with enlargement from Central and Eastern Europe had grown to 500 million people has the potential to be a player in this globalised economy, in a way that European countries acting on their own cannot. Labour just does not get this: – the Conservatives even more so. Listen to them, it is as if all the major issues faced by UK citizens can be addressed entirely in a domestic context. It is not true to say that globalisation has entirely removed the role of the ‘nation state’. The well-run Nordic universal welfare states, which supposedly imposed far too costly a tax ‘burden’ to survive in an era of globalisation, have come out of the crisis in very good fiscal order – quite unlike those Anglo-American states whose poor ‘fiscal effort’ has left their exchequers sinking in red ink after the property busts.
Yet globalisation, and now the many-faceted global crisis which has issued from it, has meant that the agenda of twenty-first-century progressive politics in developed countries cannot be dealt with by medium-sized countries acting on their own. Both transnational corporations and global financial markets have become more powerful than individual states. The macro-economic levers national governments previously applied – fiscal and monetary policy – have become less effective,[ii] as was all too evident when François Mitterand essayed a go-it-alone reflation in France in the early 1980s.

To recover, social democrats need to remember that their role is to manage and regulate the market, not to glorify it. Labour and its ‘third way’ European followers got the economics of modern capitalism wrong. Yet in the discussion that has followed the 2010 election defeat, leading Blairites are blithely ignoring this gaping hole at the heart of their project.[iii]

Similarly, the European political and financial establishment has shown a complete inability to address the crisis. Instead it has blithely continued with its previous monetarist orthodoxies. As the asymmetric impact struck Greece, Ireland and Portugal in turn, European leaders, far from agreeing the required transformations for the eurozone as a whole, pursued a series of ad hoc bail-outs, which failed to punish the bankers who had created the crisis, socialised their risks to the taxpayer and enforced a deflationary dynamic which could only make the austerity policies self-defeating.

The severe dangers of the orthodoxy of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the German political leadership are becoming increasingly apparent. The bail-out conditions imposed on Greek, Irish and Portuguese citizens show how brutal these measures are, as do the austerity measures demanded of the Spanish and Italian governments. But to date the main alternatives presented have been nationalistic ones, notably withdrawal from the euro. Yet there is a powerful case for a progressive alternative, which is now beginning to surface.[iv] This requires an active macro-economic policy that breaks from the orthodoxy and the mantra of ‘structural reform’.

European social democracy has not yet grasped these realities, which mean that markets must be controlled and their regulation can only be done at a European level. Throughout the 20th century social democrats across Europe had won concessions at national level for workers and citizens. It was here that they forced compromises on business and secured social gains on pensions, wages, health and welfare provisions. It was a settlement that mainstream Christian Democracy accepted after World War Two. Globalisation has broken that hinge economically, while Thatcherism and neo-liberalism more generally have led the political assault. Currently, across Europe, they have turned a crisis caused by reckless financial globalisation into a crisis of government revenues and demanded a policy of austerity. The European Left has stood open-mouthed and paralysed in response.

What are the options?

1. The first which has been basically followed by the Spanish, Portuguese and Greek Left in government is to accept the neo-liberal story and pursue an austerity course. The consequences are dramatic: social democratic governments confront both the weakest sections of the population and their own supporters with predictable electoral consequences. Here and elsewhere the acquiescence of the Left to monetarist orthodoxy opens up political space for the xenophobic right.

2. The second option is to argue that the game is up for Europe and to accept in the words of Guardian commentator Martin Kettle that “the nationalist right and the global bond markets have won. The internationalist social and Christian democrats have lost.” (Guardian 23 June 2011). That defeatism is pervasive in Labour’s ranks – Blue Labour as well as New Labour.
New Labour and now In the Black Labour basically reverts to the first option. They want an orthodox, monetarist policy, a pale blue version of Osborne and Cameron. Blue Labour dangerously flirts with the nationalist option, a socially conservative, inward-looking Left focussed on England. Left-wing MP Jon Cruddas talks of “a conservative socialism”, “an English socialism that believes in family life.” It is completely unspecified but on reading these articles you get the strong sense that Melanie Philipps will know what he means! Soundings editor Jonathan Rutherford puts it like this. “Labour’s historic task is to organise to conserve the good in society…to defend it when it is threatened by the market and the state and to nurture it back into existence….Labour’s future will be conservative because the decade ahead requires a reparative politics of the local…” [1]
I’ll just say briefly, appealing to the most reactionary and backward elements in the population is no place for the Left. Neither is believing that in today’s world you can insulate ‘the local’ from the wider economy. And that is before Maurice Glasman incendiary remarks on immigration. Let’s be clear:you can’t have a UKIP of the Left.

An Alternative of Green growth and employment

3. Neither option makes sense for social democracy. Instead it should do what it has traditionally attempted: adapt to new terrain and come up with realistic programmes for social advance. On both the economy and the environment that means thinking and organising at the European level. The core story is fairly clear.
Firstly, the Left should state clearly that the priority for Europe is economic growth, more particularly green growth, not austerity. (Even the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s is now arguing for this, as when it downgraded France, Austria and 7 other EU countries on Friday 13th January) That means rejecting the orthodoxies of Maastricht, the ECB and the Bundesbank. Instead there should be an immediate cut in ECB interest rates and active intervention to weaken the euro against other currencies.

Interestingly, over the last few months, both developments have begun to happen. The new head of the ECB Mario Draghi has twice reduced ECB interest rates by a quarter of a per cent; while the on-going policy weakness of the Euro has led to its weakening in the exchange markets. The ‘strong’ euro policy of the ECB penalises all the weaker economies of southern Europe making their exports much more expensive and meeting the conditions of EU and IMF loans all the harder. Up till now, the European Central Bank was the only central bank in the world that refused to limit the appreciation of its currency. Purchasing power parities mean that one euro should trade at around 1.18 to the dollar and 4.67 to the yuan. In summer 2011, it traded at over 1.45 to the dollar and 9.20 to the yuan. The euro has weakened significantly since then. A move to all –round competitive devaluations would be dangerous for the world economy but some rebalancing between the major economies is in order. More important is to boost aggregate domestic demand.

Secondly, it should support a range of measures which Europeanise the debt problem. Former Prime Ministers Amato and Verhofstadt have proposed a transfer of Maastricht-compliant debt of up to 60 per cent of national gross domestic product to a Union debit account that is not traded. Its interest rates thereby would be decided on a low and long-term basis by Eurozone finance ministers rather than rating agencies. This would strengthen governments and curb the speculators.

Thirdly, the ECB should issue Eurobonds, drawing on the basic economic strength of the European currency. This would attract funds from the central banks of the emerging economies and sovereign wealth funds and should be used for an extensive programme of green investments.

Fourthly, the Left should strongly back the Commission’s proposal for a financial transactions -’Tobin’-tax both to rein in financial speculation and to raise significant revenues for new European-wide initiatives. The European Commission estimates that this would raise €55 billion per year – roughly half the EU’s annual budget. This could be allocated to a range of green growth programmes across the EU and beyond, for example major solar energy investment programmes across North Africa.

None of this is rocket science. Neither does it require any change to EU treaties. This is absolutely the last thing that anyone should contemplate now. Remember the last Treaty changes. Eight years of contemplation and the main result was the creation of a new leader for Europe, the President of the Council of Ministers. How many here can name him? What difference has he made?
What is urgently required is a coherent challenge to the monetarist mantras of the German financial establishment and the ECB. So far it has been left to economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Stuart Holland to suggest alternatives. If social democracy wants to offer Europe-wide solutions, it urgently needs to get its act together. Francois Hollande is well positioned to challenge Sarkozy in France. The SPD-Green alliance is regularly winning regional elections in Germany. Ed Miliband has signalled his break from Blair and predatory capitalism. When are they going to meet up and thrash out a common programme to meet Europe’s crisis?

These measures will however require a dramatic political and cultural change, within but also way beyond the forces of the left. It means that the German, Italian and Spanish left will have to break from the orthodoxies that they have accepted in the past – just as Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have to make much clearer where today’s Labour differs from ‘New’ Labour, especially on the banks. A common European economic perspective on the steps required should be a priority. But alone this will not be enough. It will require deft political footwork across the normal political divides to get this shift. But without it the European economy will continue to drift and there will be increasing nationalist resentment at the imposition of austerity by EU institutions, which can only spell danger for progressives across Europe.

Don’t kid yourself that the UK will somehow be immune from the fall-out or that the disastrous economic consequences won’t have profound knock-on social effects. The rise of fascist parties in Holland, Austria and Hungary and of xenophobic and racist parties in Italy, Denmark, and above all France should serve as a warning as to what is at stake. Nasty nationalism is on the rise across Europe. We got a flavour of it with the populist response to Cameron’s so-called use of the veto at the last EU summit. Furthermore, we now see the stirrings of a new German nationalism. Volker Ruhe, the number two in the CDU arousing German nationalism at his party congress was a warning. For decades the mantra has been that we want to develop a European Germany as the alternative to a German Europe. Ruhe’s rabble-rousing speech was a signal that this could easily change. If everywhere plays to their own narrowly-conceived national interest and plays the national card, then Germany will too. As the country is now re-united, and is Europe’s most populated and economically strongest power, they will win.

The Left needs to remind itself of the lessons of the 1930s. We need to offer an alternative to austerity and unemployment and unite all progressives around those limited goals or else we shall lose out badly to the hard Right and the far Right. There are broad alliances to be won on these questions. But we need to present clear and straightforward policy alternatives. And, we need to recognise that if we want to control and regulate the forces that are shaping our economic future, then we have to operate at a European scale. Socialism in one country is long gone; Keynesianism in one country died with the Mitterand government in the early 1980s. A growth strategy across Europe is the only progressive game in town. And it is about time progressives from across the broadest spectrum began to argue for it.

Jon Bloomfield is co-author with Robin Wilson of ‘Building The Good Society: A New Form of Progressive Politics. (Compass)

[1] Ibid. Rutherford pp.58 and 63.
[i] Quoted in Robin Cook, Point of Departure: Diaries from the Front Bench (London: Pocket Books, 2004), 226
[ii] Panić, 162
[iii] See David Miliband, ‘Why is the European left losing elections?, speech at the London School of Economics, 8 March 2011 (
[iv] Paul Krugman, ‘Can Europe be saved?’, New York Times, 12 January 2011 (; ‘Zone euro: le remède va-t-il tuer le malade?’, Le Monde Dossier Economie, 5 April 2011 (; John Grahl, ‘Crisis in the eurozone’, Soundings 47 (spring 2011), 143–58

Monday, 16 January 2012

Meetings on Jan 26th and Feb 22nd

6.00 pm on Thursday, 26 January, 2012
The Eurozone Crisis and the Silence of Social Democracy
Speaker: Jon Bloomfield
Jon is Honorary Research Fellow on European Studies, Birmingham University,
and co-author of Building the Good Society (info on his latest book at )
Venue: Room 101 Broadcasting Place, Humanities Building,
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds Metropolitan University, LS2 3ED

At 6.00 pm on Wednesday 22 February
The Crisis: Alternative Economics
Speaker: Tim Jenkins
Tim is the manager of the Great Transformations Initiatives for the New Economics Foundation
and former policy director Friends of the Earth
Venue: Room 101 Broadcasting Place, Humanities Building,
Woodhouse Lane, Leeds Metropolitan University, LS2 3ED

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Barry Winter talks to Ed Carlisle about Leeds Summat

Summat’s going on in Leeds Jan 11th, 2012 By Barry Winter

Ed Carlisle is a project manager with Leeds-based charity Together for Peace and one of the organisers of the Leeds Summat Gathering which took place in November last year – strapline ‘Get Connected, Be Inspired, Join in Action for Change’. BARRY WINTER interviewed him for the ILP and Leeds Taking Soundings.

Barry: The Leeds Summat Gathering on 26th November attracted over 1,300 participants and included a myriad of activities. I thought it was a great success and would like to congratulate you. What were the highlights for you as the one of the key organisers?

Ed: I think the process of organising what was a fairly complex and challenging event was, in many ways, full of highlights.
We set out to make the gathering as participatory and contributory as possible, to involve diverse people in its development and delivery. That meant our core partners and others co-delivering it with us. Seeing how those efforts and resources flowed together was really positive. It meant the event really did embody, with some integrity, what we were seeking.
Within that, we also managed to organise it on a reasonably low budget primarily by blagging and borrowing equipment and resources. We delivered the first Summat for £12,000 or £13,000, and this one we did for £7,500. So we really were learning from our earlier experience which itself is positive. At no point did I feel that we were pushing against closed doors.
Two things about the event itself. First, it met our expectations in terms of our overarching themes, and probably met our best expectations. We wanted it to be a day that was serious and meaty but also fun and socially warm.
Secondly, we aimed to attract up to 1,300 people which we managed. What was interesting in looking through the list of the 800 or so people who pre-registered online, as well as the 500 who came on the day, was that I knew fewer than 10 per cent of them. It was not only the ‘paid-up activists’ who came, who we already know, people I see every week. It was not just my mates who rocked up. It drew in a whole bunch of new people and it’s partly a mystery just who they all were. So it will be interesting to use the feedback to find out more about them.
From the written evaluations and from people telling us about their experiences, people met and encountered other people. They also felt energised. These are summed up in two of the strap lines for the Gathering: ‘Get Connected’ and ‘Be Inspired’.
The third strap line is the interesting one: ‘Join in Action for Change’. We are going to try tracking and evaluating whether this is taking place. Will what was a fun and successful event lead to enduring change? It’s too early to say.

BW: What were the original ideas behind the Summat initiative? How did it come about and in what ways have these ideas developed?

EC: The story of the Summat goes back to the formation of Together For Peace (T4P) in 2003. T4P was created to arrange a 10-day festival of events across Leeds. Initially it was to encourage people to engage in peace and justice issues but this broadened out to looking at the big issues of our time. And it was very much about using creative means also used in later Summats – film, theatre, food, music and drama.
Because T4P has always been a low budget affair, we did not have the capacity to deliver the festival ourselves. So we sought collaboration with about 30 organisations. People enjoyed the festival, although some of it was a bit shambolic behind the schemes. We also held festivals in 2005 and 2007.
The reason we stopped was that people told us, very legitimately, that, while they liked what we were doing, they did not have the time to attend every day. Instead they looked for parts of the programme that already interested them. This meant we weren’t really enabling a general fusion of different people and ideas.
Some fusions did follow: for example, individual refugees began to volunteer for Oxfam which itself began working with the Catholic diocese. The most meaty and meaningful actions were being undertaken through such collaborations and we wanted to find ways to develop this further.
At the same time, from 2006 onwards, we were particularly inspired by the work of north American writer, John Paul Lederach. He has written some great books, including The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Social Peace. In it he calls for “web weaving”, enabling diverse people to connect and collaborate in their social spaces, be it a community, a city or a nation. This means making those spaces more resilient, more able to deal creatively with difficult things.
So we stopped doing festivals and condensed them into one-day events. These could then be more about enabling people to connect and collaborate and about integration and action.

BW: Is if fair to say that Together for Peace and the events you organised come from faith-based initiatives, and I don’t mean that pejoratively?

EC: Yes and no. The three original founders of T4P, who were amazing activists, were Christians. But as they handed over the organising, it became increasingly apparent that it was not appropriate to make it overly faith-based because it does not resonate with lots of people. We feel slightly misconstrued as an organisation in this respect but it happens less and less.
That does not mean that we don’t do such work. One member of the team who is Christian has been active for many years in facilitating a Jewish-Muslim dialogue and this is now gathering momentum.

BW: What is it that you are hoping people take with them when they leave, given that the day’s activities begin with breakfast at 9am and continue into the evening with social events?

EC: Our strap line ‘Get Connected, Be Inspired & Join in Action for Change’ encapsulates it. We hope people will take away with them a sense of the need for a better connected yet diverse Leeds, a better connected Yorkshire and a better connected north of England. This amounts to having a healthier place where ideas can flow between different interest groups, across different generations, ethnicities and movements.
For the more engaged activists, we wanted them to feel re-energised by participating, because many go through phases of being tired and fed up, feeling that nobody else seems to be bothering. To be in a space with a whole bunch of other people getting involved really helps.
And finally, while there is nothing wrong with talking shops, projects like Summat do need to hold a mirror up to ourselves. Are we just putting on interesting events or can our activities lead to different forms of action? Sometimes these might be short term, like joining an organisation such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace. But others will hopefully encourage medium or long term change engendered by a stronger community spirit.
As someone else put it, we hope to try to raise the temperature around issues of social change, perhaps even by half a degree, so that progressive social movements become possible.

BW: When you talk about seeking change, what is the change you envisage?

EC: As Lederach argues, you can’t force change, you can only develop the potential for change.
There is very much a resonance, or oneness, between personal change and macro-change or structural change. We want to enable people to make micro changes in their lives all the way to engaging in more significant activities and issues.
If they begin to wrestle with the idea that environmental, social, political and economic issues are inter-connected then that’s progress. We want people to almost intuitively start to grasp that sense of what a huge job is needed; to begin to be able to re-imagine our world. It’s fairly big stuff.

BW: When I hear you speak, I hear echoes of what I would call ethical socialism, and what you do at one level helps to prefigure how you achieve your wider ambitions.

EC: But how would you respond to the kind of criticism that says all this touchy-feely stuff is fine but what about fighting the system, opposing the cuts, tackling the hard issues, and not just sitting round feeling good about ourselves?
That question has to be asked. It’s far too easy for us to construct cosy spaces for ourselves, which we all do to a certain extent.
First, the Summat creates space for groups who want to tackle the big issues. We provide platforms for people to run their own workshops or stalls. This gives them the opportunity to engage with a whole bunch of new people. While Summat is designed to be mainstream and to have a broad appeal, we also want to create space for those wider ideas to be heard.
However, that cannot be the whole response. If that’s all we focus on we are hugely disempowering ourselves. We would be accepting the terms of the struggle defined by pre-established centres of power, by the economic and political system as it is.
Valerie Fournier, who talks a lot about social movements, argues that really crucial steps for developing social change are cultivating outrage. We need to be shining a torch on the centres of power and injustice but this has to be accompanied by creative alternatives.
That’s why the BBC reporter, Justin Rowlett, gave a deliberately provocative talk on the green movement, which he says should be a success but is failing. This, he says, is partly because it is too concerned with being negative (“anti-nuclear, anti-GM, anti-capitalist”) instead of offering creative alternatives. Cultural creativity has to be at the heart of social movements.

BW: What plans do you have for the future?

EC: Over the next few months, I want to research the participants’ responses to the Summat. In particular, it will be interesting to see whether we have encouraged any changes, whether individually or organisationally. If not, it will be useful to consider what the barriers to change are.
In this respect, we were particularly heartened by the comments of two of our leading participants, Maurice Glasman and Peter Tatchell, who were both very positive about the day.
We also have to weigh things up, look at whether the outcomes justify the all-consuming effort of putting on such an event. It will probably take us another six months to decide when and whether to hold it again.
If we go for it, then it will probably be during the summer so more of it can be outdoors. I’m intrigued by the idea of a 36-hour Summat, possibly over a summer bank holiday. We tried a little tester in May with a couple of hundred people, and it was good little event. We are also keen to have even stronger partnerships so we can take our messages to wider audiences.

More information from the Summat website: www.summat.orgYou can also download the programme:
More about Together for Peace here.
Information about Paul Lederach’s book, The Moral Imagination, is here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Max Farrar in the news: remember the flames of police racism (1975)

Remember, remember the flames of police racism
Friday 04 November 2011
by Ann Czernik

Professor Max Farrar says that he rarely speaks of the bonfire night riot in 1975.
But it was then he narrowly missed a lengthy jail term when he was tried and acquitted for incitement to riot, affray and assaulting a police officer while the Leeds Chapeltown district descended into disorder.
"They said I led a mob of black youth into an attack on the police," he says. "It was 100 per cent fabrication."
The situation with the Leeds police reflected what was going on nationally, Farrar claims, where anyone perceived as a threat was attacked.
A white, middle-class college lecturer who worked with Chapeltown News, which continually criticised poilice racism and unjust behaviour, he was "a thorn in their flesh and they found this opportunity to teach me a lesson."
Farrar was taking a photo of the bonfire night celebrations when "a kid beside me suddenly stoned this passing car. I had no idea what he was doing. He said: 'It's a copper.' I remember thinking: 'I understand why you're stoning the car'."
Police piled into Chapeltown to make arrests and as a policeman ran past he bashed Farrar in the face.
"Being a completely naive middle-class uppity fool, I went to the next policeman and said: 'I want to make a complaint. I've been assaulted by an officer.' He grabbed me round the neck, banged my head against his panda car doors and took me up to the police station and arrested me for threatening behaviour. Some time later, when they realised who I was - part of the Chapeltown News Group - they said to themselves: 'We'll show this guy who's boss.'"
The prosecution "case" was to read Chapeltown News to Farrar, including everything it said which was "pretty radical and hostile towards the police" and Farrar had to say what he thought about each of these statements.
He stood by the paper's political line on race, class and police oppression. When the jury was asked why he'd been acquitted, the response was: "We thought you were the kind of person who could incite a riot but we didn't believe you did on this occasion."
Chapeltown News reported the experiences of the migrant working-class black communities that had settled in Chapetown, a run-down area of Leeds during the 1960s and 1970s. The paper was produced by a group of academics who wanted to challenge and engage with racism.
Farrar moved into Chapeltown in 1970. "I thought it was very exotic," he explains. "I thought that sociologists were supposed to identify with outsiders."
But he was told he was "just another missionary" and should "fuck off" as soon as possible. "I don't think people realise how deep this enmity or division goes," he says.
Farrar says during the 1970s the "orthodox" left thought that what he and others were doing in Chapeltown was "kind of barmy." But real black politics was not so much black youth being arrested, although that was part of it. It was a response to "the endemic racism in everyday life and every institution."
Farrar remembers when black parents in Chapeltown took their children out on strike because the education their kids was receiving was so inferior. They'd been arguing with the authorities for more than six months about how poor it was. They refused to listen and the parents set up a supplementary school with their own self-organised, self-educative work.
Within a week the authority had agreed to a new head and new programme of work, "so black direct action had more effect on the Leeds education system than anything on the left had ever done," Farrar asserts.
He emphasises the role that representation has in reducing violent urban protest. "Democratic participation for me is the key. It's the fundamental for creating a better, socially just society," he says.
He cites the politically astute and experienced trade unionist George Mudie as the turning point for representation. His union background meant he was genuinely committed to the view that there needs to be a consultation in which the aggrieved get their voices heard.
"I think he began to realise that there was a long history of political organising but the riots were a symptom of the failure of those legitimate modes of protest to be properly listened to," Farrar says.
Mudie set up the Harehill and Chapeltown Liaison Committee and dragged all the relevant council officers to monthly meetings where they would line up in front of anyone who wanted to say their piece.
These were "interesting experiments in democratic responsibility," Farrer says, because it was the first time they had been forced to come, the meetings were minuted and there was a "certain level of accountability."
But Farrar is at pains to point out that social inequality, which affects young people and particularly black youth disproportionately, is still a burning issue today. Unemployment among black 16 to 24-year-olds is 50 per cent, more than double the rate of their white counterparts. Poverty and poor housing is the default condition of black communities.
He considers that it takes years for violent urban protest to gain momentum and says that research into the cause of the riots support this assertion.
In a recent, moving newspaper interview following this year's nationwide riots, an unknown black youth says: "Why were people confronting the police if it was all about thievery? It wasn't all about thievery but there was thievery going on. It was about giving the police a taste of their own medicine."
Today young black men "have no communities, we don't have many businesses, we got nothing in this country. It's not that we're not part of society. It's that we're not part of the same culture that most people are living."
Black people are "big business" in Britain and "we need to build something for ourselves so that we don't need to keep our hands out swinging. We've been working in the UK for a long time driving the buses and stuff like that. We should have something by now."
Why is that so difficult to understand?

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