Friday, May 28, 2010


I first read this in private eye, but google led me to The Independent:
Yesterday, Li Hai, a 19-year-old employee of the [Foxconn factory in the southern Chinese boom town of Shenzhen], jumped from the top of the building in Shenzhen to his death. It brought the number of suspected suicides at the factory this year to 10. There have been another two attempted suicides.
This factory has (and the number seems to change) hundreds of thousands of employees on its vast estate.

This vast enterprise makes our consumer electronics - apparently the iPad is made there, among many other gadgets. This is the pinnacle of alienation, the workers complain of feeling like machines, their entire lives are subsumed into the factory.

Yet, another way of looking at it is that out of the 6 billion of us on Earth, a tiny fraction are producing immense quantities of shiny goods, the productive power of the technology of this plant, if it was conquered, de-alienated, could be used to liberate us and stop us feeling like machines.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An old breed of life

Now, Boulton and Watt nearly crippled advances in steam technology by applying for a patent on the separate condenser. The problem was their design saved 75% of the fuel costs, but they tried to charge the full value of the saving for the price of their patent (virtually nullifying the value of the development to industrialists). They also blocked research and development through their patent (indeed, Watt apparently engaged in patent blocking).

Relevance? Well, according to one scientist the same could happen with genetic research:
A top UK scientist who helped sequence the human genome has said efforts to patent the first synthetic life form would give its creator a monopoly on a range of genetic engineering.
"I've read through some of these patents and the claims are very, very broad indeed," Professor Sulston told BBC News.

"I hope very much these patents won't be accepted because they would bring genetic engineering under the control of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). They would have a monopoly on a whole range of techniques."
The trick being the range and broadness of the patent (by the way, it's absurd to deny that patent breeds monopoly, that's what a patent is, it is a legal monopoly of an idea based on origination).

As with steam engines, technological development might be held back by the attempt to establish such monopolies. The market is a poor driver of research. If we are to benefit from being able to create whatever biological pattern we care to choose to create, it needs to be a creative commons. The simple chase to be first to introduce a new technique should be sufficient incentive.

The drive to monopolise knowledge is part of a possible route to capitalist decadence.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In my judgement

A lot of confusion appears to have grown up around the BA/Unite injunction. A few things need to be made clear.

First, as to spoilt papers, section 231 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 says
"As soon as is reasonably practicable after the holding of the ballot, the trade union shall take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that all persons entitled to vote in the ballot are informed of the number of (a) votes cast in the ballot; (b) individuals answering yes to the question, or as the case may be, to each question; (c) individuals answering no to the question or as the case may be, to each question; and (d) spoiled voting papers."
So, the law is the Union *must* provide a result including the numbers of spoilt ballots. Unite, though, maintain they did take the reasonable necessary steps to give the statutory results. What was argued in court, as can be seen from the Judgement, was whether the steps taken were in fact those "reasonably necessary" or whether they were insufficient.

Indeed, what we are up against, then, is not necessarily a failure to comply with the act, but the British common law system, wherein the courts get to interpret the meaning of such bits of law as 'reasonably' - many laws operate on a basis of trying your level best to comply, and hoping not to reach a court case which will confirm one way or another the legal practice (a lot of copyright work is like that).

Anyway, this is the most important point. The judge wasn't even making a ruling on whether the union's actions were legal, merely whether there was likely to be a case to answer
In the end I consider the arguments as to whether the statute has been complied with give rise to properly arguable issues for trial. The matter is not so clear as Mr Hendy would in my view have it. I certainly cannot hold that the union's likelihood of success is overwhelming. I have regard to my assessment of the likelihood of success at trial, and at present I am inclined to think that the union may well have failed to put in place an adequately analysed system calculated to ensure that all reasonable steps were taken to communicate with relevant members as soon as reasonably practicable the relevant items of statutory information. The point to my mind is an arguable one.
That's it, it's not a ruling, it's just an injunction based on the likelihood that BA *might* win the court case and so be subject to severe unjust detriment were the injunction not to be granted.

So, the law puts the test of reasonableness into the hands of the judges. But look at it this way - imagine if a journalist had to notify anyone likely to be identifiable in their copy at least a week in advance of publication, and had to show them that article in final draft and in full. Imagine if they could get an injunction based on the likelihood that there was any inaccuracy (including placing of commas or semi-colons) or if they felt that that they had not been properly informed of the process. We'd say clearly that was an inhibition on freedom of speech, and so this is on the freedom to strike.

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