Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I heard my Union's glorious leader on the radio this morning discussing the council strike today - a stike which is looking to replicate teh defeat of the PCS in which existing arrangements will be closed to new staff but kept for existing staff (an opverall loss for the working class, but perhaps not as big as loss as threatened initially).

Anyway, my gripe with el Generalissimo is that when he was being grilled by John Humphries he missed an open goal. Humphries was banging on about how workers in the private sector aren't paid much more and don't have the same pension benefit - echoing Digby Jones' efforts to try and split the workers:
"Local authority employees in unions are saying 'we're special, we're more special than you, we want to retire at 60'. "And everybody in the private sector - 14 million people in this country - are being told they've got to work until 65, 67, 68."
Prentis could just have said: "Well, theyb should join unions, and strike" - instead he kept on pleading for the special case of low paid Dinner ladies and librarians (Local authority pay is shit for librarians).

Never mind stating that socialism is the case - I can understand a trade union leader not putting that case (though they should) but to miss out on the ABC's of trade unionism. My dues go towards that theiving git's £70K+ salary.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Save me

Thanks to Stuart commenting on the peice before last.

My reply is slightly convoluted, so I'll make it here rather than in the comment box.

ISTR William Morris stating: Peter sober needs protecting from Peter drunk. That's as fine an expression of a communitarian ethic as you'll find. The obvious danger is, inm saying people need to be protected from themselves inspite of their expressed preferrence ("No, leave me, I'm fine, I can walk") is that it turns into a nasty authoritarianism.

Obviously, the first point is that in a democratic society that ethic would be carried out by the community upon themselves - organically, to use a slightly dangerous term - rather than by an alien élite.

Secondly, this is in line with marx' Aristotelianism - and the notion of a Good. Free development implies a Good that we aspire to and can live by - which in turn implies a bad that we may want to prevent.

In essence, I see socialism as being the acknowldgement that the individual only can grow through a community, and having a community committed to helping that individual grow. The community cannot be some alien state, but the lived experience of all its individual members.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

More from the manifesto


But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage labour. Let us examine both sides of this antagonism.
To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion.
Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.

I won't spend time analysing this passage here - gonne try and work it into a proper article - see if you can guess what on.

Meanwhile, I'll just say that this struck me forcefully as a little quote and I suspect often over-looked passage.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Misquoting Marx


At a recent meeting, I was picked up by someone for getting the following quote the wrongway round:
[Communism is] an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
In fact, I hadn't, but my accuser thought it was
we shall have an association, in which the free development of all is the condition for the free development of each.
Not so much of a distinction, really, since they both mean roughly the same thing - and I myself had misquoted that same phrase myself for a few years (Oh, you can read it in situ in the Communist Manifesto - it was thought provoking to go back to that, I may have to comment further at some point).

The significance of Marx's formulation is that it places the individual before the collective, the collective is about solidarity with and the development of the individual.

The other way round could be consonant with utilitarianism. A seemingly egalitarian and attractive - even communistic - philosophy in which it purpoorts to treat each as one and only one. This is a lie, since it treats those ones as sums when it does its calculus of utility - the ethics of the accounts book - and decides that it is rational that some must suffer so that the rest may prosper.

That is the philosophy which socialism strikes at the heart of. Instead it affirms, to use a military metaphor, that the cavalry charges at the speed of the slowest horse - no one is to be left behind.

Contemplate that. That is my answer to Labour Sleaze, War on terror, and leftist calculus of deaths for anti-imperialism.

Each is to count as one, and is an end in themself.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

ID cards...


Of course, I could witter on about commodity fetishism and how relations between people become relations between things and how this leads to the necessary reification of identity onto bureucratic apparati - but you've heard all that before, and besides, the wench is dead.

I've been confused by the Identity Card Bill - it's not going to be mandatory to carry it - it won't be madatory to have it (it won't be compulsory, but the secretary of state will have carte blanche, it seems to my reading, to issue regulations making it compulsory - it does have provisions for dealing with people who must compulsorilly have an ID card - vide:
(2) Regulations under this section may not allow or require the imposition of a condition on—

  1. the entitlement of an individual to receive a payment under or in accordance with any enactment, or
  2. the provision of any public service that has to be provided free of charge,
    except in cases where the individual is of a description of individuals who are subject to compulsory registration.
Until then we can get by without. They seem to want to hitch the card onto the passport system - which seems quite odd when you consider that most people would take a apassport as a breed of ID anyway, so why pass a convoluted and unpopular bill.

The secret lies in the database:
In this Act “registrable fact”, in relation to an individual, means—

  1. his identity;
  2. the address of his principal place of residence in the United Kingdom;
  3. the address of every other place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere where he has a place of residence;
  4. where in the United Kingdom and elsewhere he has previously been
  5. the times at which he was resident at different places in the United
    Kingdom or elsewhere;

  6. his current residential status;
  7. residential statuses previously held by him;
  8. information about numbers allocated to him for identification purposes
    and about the documents to which they relate;
  9. information about occasions on which information recorded about him
    in the Register has been provided to any person; and
  10. information recorded in the Register at his request.
Note the sections I have highlighted - a tracking list of addresses. This is pure control, pure power on the go here. Further, a list of every access will incldue lists by security forces, every police check, every bursh with authority kept on a permenant record along with all your biometrics.

If you're names not down, you're not coming in, it seems. Anyway, V for Vendetta is out this week, if you know what I mean. The graphic novel was set in a fascist britain in 1997...

Thursday, March 09, 2006

One Big Union


Seems to be a week for Union news:

It seems Darren will be able to drink at Starbucks in New York without guilt - because they've been Wobblified!:
The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is a grassroots organization of Starbucks employees united to improve life on and off the job. The campaign to organize Starbucks is based on the solidarity unionism model, unionism in its purest form: a group of workers directly pressuring a corporation without getting entangled in the cumbersome government certification process or the alienating business-union approach. Since its founding in May 2004, the Starbucks Workers Union has chalked up three wage increases, more secure work hours, and some modest safety improvements in the area of repetitive strain injuries. Union members also work together to remedy individual grievances such as fixing errors in pay and eliminating exhausting scheduling demands.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dagger to the heart

: : :

Well, last night I watched the film It Happened Here an interesting film about what could have happened had the Germans conquered Britain in World War II.

An interestiong feature of the film, and one that would be recognisable to your average Leninist, is the relatively apolitical centralk character who goes with the flow, collaborating with the occupiers and then with the partisans as circumstance dictates and allows (although she seems to have conscientiously objected to taking part in a euthanasia programme and been arrested for it - that isn't too clear). My point is that it shows the idea of poles of attraction and compulsion - the sort of soft support Leninists usually are looking for.

Now, apropo discussion yesterday - we could look at a similar soft support for Unions. There are a good number of free riders in unions and workplaces who with a small shove could be helped to participate. One of the main barriers is the law. Much is made for the ban on solidarity strikes, but that is just an emotive (and relatively easilly overcome) aspect of the legislation.

The real dagger at the heart of unionism is this beauty,
The Right not to be unjustifiable disciplined - applying where :
2) This section applies to conduct which consists in—
(a) failing to participate in or support a strike or other industrial action (whether by members of the union or by others), or indicating opposition to or a lack of support for such action;
(b) failing to contravene, for a purpose connected with such a strike or other industrial action, a requirement imposed on him by or under a contract of employment;...
Backed up by this part of the Human Rights Act.:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.
I actually thought those two were going to be in conflict, seeing as how giving members carte blanche to ignore the rules of the club seems to me to be a breech of freedom of association - we can't dissassociate ourselves from scabs and blacklegs it seems.

Anyway, it is this law that really knackers Unions and turns them into service providers - there is no corresponding duty to the right (as New Labour would have it). If members were aware that their membership was conditional they would be more inclined to join in - if only to vote against strike action they don't agree with. Use it or lose it is the order of the day.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why I am striking


As you may know, today university lecturers are on strike - I am not one of them, but I have stayed away from my workplace. I am not even in their union, but I have stayed away from my workplace.

In my office ysterday there was heartening concern over what to do about crossing picket lines - I decided I could not do so. Mercifully, my employer operates a policy of counting any member of staff - whether union or no - who refuses to cross the picket line as on strike. In effect, we have what teh french have, an individual right to strike.

Union membership is - formally - low in France, yet because of such rights they can pull of some terrific strikes when the need takes. I consider it important to express my solidarity with colleagues, and to illustrate that the divisions between unions is not a division between workers.

Essentially, that makes striking a matter of personal conscience - an individual decision - and so it means that the success or failure of any strike depends entirely on the consciousness and detmination of the workers themselves. No Potemkin unions, no bureaucracies to blame for selling out.

I'm not calling for such a right, merely observing that the necessary thing begins with the individual decision to join the struggle. There may be power in a union, but the fuel is workers hearts and minds.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Name calling


Further to my previous post -

I've just spent some of my hard earned cash on this book:
Ancient Americans :rewriting the history of the New World /Charles C. Mann.London :Granta Books,2005.9781862076174 (hbk)
- you can find a review of it here.

I'll just quote from that review:
A second reason is that one justification used by Europeans to take over the Americas was the legal doctrine of res nullius, the concept that anyone can take unused, unoccupied land. If the native population of the United States in 1491 was 900,000, as scholars until recently believed, it seemed pretty clear that Britons and Spaniards and Frenchmen could snap up some land without doing anyone wrong. If, by contrast, the country was home to millions of people, this justification no longer becomes tenable.
because I'm lazy and it explains why the book caught my attention.

Now, in an Appendix, he discusses the difficulty in choosing how to term pre-colombian Americans (he doesn't actually discuss that term, but I suppose it is loaded in its own way).

He notes that Eskimo is now discouraged in Canada because although a name of indiginous derivation it is apparently the abusive name another tribe used for those people. The preferred term Inuit is problematic since it actually referrs to a sub group within the, er, Inuit peoples. (He also notes how tribe is itself an historically loaded word).

It's enough to make you throw your hands up in despair, until you stop and think. The problem arises not out of the prickliness of people nor their simple bewildering complexity, but out of the attempt to label and classify from an external viewpoint rather than from one arising from dialogue and participation.

We're stuck with unsatisfactory terms like native Americans etc. due to our continued existence in a contingent history derived from a profound racist experience.

True to my Bakhtinian leanings, I should have said, yesterday, that we cannot expect to change the sedimented meanings of discourse without changing the social relations within which they exist.

Genuine human emancipation will more effectively render racist language obsolete than any agonising over choosing words.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Work matters


I found a fascinating post over at Log of a Librarian about making changes to UDC - This is it concerning possible ideological language problems entailed in the previous system (some readers may also enjoy this post on radicalism - to which I may return sometime.

To keep the story short, these are good changes to the tables - racist terms and derogatory terms should be excised. My question is over the role of bibliographers in this process.

This article (PDF) also expands on the points raised.

I note, incidentally, that the UDC homepage lists Table 1f as "Ethnic grouping and nationality" which leaves out the scientifically dubious term of race itself.

Now, to problematise the story. Bibliographers are intermediaries in discourse, we should, in theory, have no influence or control over the discourse - the author and reader of a text should have their meaning and understanding undistorted by the ministrations of the bibliographer. Their jobs is simply to record who said what about what, to join up the two halves of signification.

Now, to do this requires on the one hand an act of intepretation - the decision of what someone has said something about - and of communication - relaying that in abstracted form (abstract, index, classification number, etc.) Two points of transformation of information at which the story may be distorted.

To return to the main point - imagine a book called, The Essential Guide to Mullattos - so far as I know no such book exists and if it did it would be, I'm sure you'd agree, a disgusting racist tome. Now, the subject of that book is Mullattos that's the organising concept. It's not much use filing that with a book about race relations, population genetics or sociology, I'd suggest.

My point is, I suppose, if a concept is used in discourse then bibliographers have an obligation to provide a way of describing that concept - no matter how erroneous or objectionable it is. To take a less loaded example, should Intelligent Design must have a classification place. Cf. Dewey blog's discussion on creationist works.

Thesuari and indexes can certainly help in this - but we still have to choose preferred terms among synonyms. Put another way, we have to translate the objective classification language of numbers/abstract codes into language that users can comprehend. For that we require standards - rationales for our decisions.

Referring to academic consensus is vital, I suggest, especially in social sciences where correlating and identifying concepts is much more fuzzy than in natural sciences.

The aim of an enyclopeadic, a universal classification is a noble goal, and the scientific enumeration and identification of concepts should never been seen as endorsement or promotion.

It's not the librarian's job to say whether ideas are true or not, merely to say that there are ideas.