Greece is the country, which suffers one of the worst neo-liberal attacks in Europe (see The Imposition of Austerity). And yet, Greek workers have not given up. They continue to challenge and resist capitalist restructuring. In this guest post, Giorgos Bithymitris from the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in Athens discusses how steel workers at Hellenic Halyvourgia have not only been able to sustain a long strike, but also succeeded in providing encouragement for Greek workers more generally.
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
Thursday, 19 July 2012
The working practices of banks have come under close scrutiny recently. After Barclays' involvement in the LIBOR-rigging scandal (BBC, 17 July 2012), news broke on 17 July that HSBC, another prominent player in the global financial markets, provided ‘a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations", according to a US Senate committee investigating money laundering claims at the bank’ (BBC News, 17 July 2012). This adds further to the general pressure on banks widely regarded as responsible for the global financial market crisis. In response, calls are issued to tighten the regulation of financial markets. In this post, I argue that scandals of this type are not the occasional result of criminal or reckless behaviour by individuals. Rather, they are a logical consequence of the systemic pressures within the capitalist mode of production, in which companies constantly have to achieve larger profits than their competitors in order to stay in business.
Monday, 9 July 2012
In 2005, a coalition government led by the Norwegian Labour Party took office. Four years later, it retained power in the 2009 elections. Welfare spending continues to be high, an expansive public sector has been maintained and trade unions continue to enjoy a strong role in economic and social policy-making. In many respects, Norway has successfully resisted the general direction of neo-liberal restructuring, public sector cuts and undermining of the welfare state. In this blog post, I will discuss how we can explain this apparent Norwegian exceptionalism.
|Photo by xitus|
It is often argued that oil wealth would explain Norwegian exceptionalism. And indeed, in contrast to other developed countries, Norway has not had to incur a budget deficit in order to stimulate the economy during the current global financial crisis. It could rely on its oil wealth fund. However, as a leading trade unionist remarked to me in an interview, the crucial institutions of the Norwegian political economy, the gains made by trade unions, were all achieved before the oil wealth appeared on the agenda in the 1970s. Hence, the key explanation needs to be looked for elsewhere.
Two main reasons can be identified for Norwegian exceptionalism. First, in contrast to other small European countries, the Norwegian production structure is comparatively little transnationalised. Capital in Norway is characterized by the predominance of small and medium-sized companies and, as a result, is comparatively weak (see Bieler 2012: 234-5). In contrast to countries such as Sweden, dominated by large transnational corporations, capital cannot dictate labour how to organize the domestic political economy (see also Globalisation and the erosion of the Nordic model).
Moreover, the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees (Fagforbundet) realised that the balance of power between capital and labour, on which the class compromise around the welfare state had been built, had changed in Norway. In response, it established the broad-based Norwegian Campaign for the Welfare State, which consisted of trade unions in the public and private sector as well as a whole range of other social movements and NGOs, including the Welfare Alliance, the Norwegian Farmers’ and Smallholders’ Union, several feminist groups and a students’ organisation. The Campaign for the Welfare State fulfilled two crucial functions. First, through educational initiatives it mobilised support for the welfare state and against neo-liberal restructuring, and here especially the idea that the introduction of competition would deliver efficiency gains in the public sector. Second, it broadened the social basis of resistance against public sector restructuring and, thus, established a balance of power with capital.
Overall, both the politically more independent position of the trade unions vis-à-vis the Labour Party and the broad-based Campaign for the Welfare State put strong pressure on the Labour Party. As a result of these campaigns, the Labour Party, as an exception in Europe, moved to the left prior to the 2005 elections and has actually delivered policies in the interests of workers and wider society. Nevertheless, employers and centre-right parties continue to put pressure on the Norwegian government towards budget cuts and public sector restructuring. The Labour Party itself may be tempted to move again towards this policy course. Successes as achieved in 2005 constantly need to be re-affirmed and trade union agency for the welfare state will remain crucial.
This blog post is based on the article
Bieler, Andreas (2012) ‘Small Nordic Countries and Globalisation: Analysing Norwegian exceptionalism’, Competition and Change, Vol.16/3: 224-42.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ldzab
9 July 2012
Thursday, 5 July 2012
Karl Marx did not only involve himself in abstract conceptual work on how to understand the capitalist social relations of production. He was also an engaged analyst of class struggles at his time. This included three separate writings on developments in France: The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850 (1850); The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852); and The Civil War in France (1871). In this post, I will discuss key aspects of Marx’s historical materialist approach in relation to The Class Struggles in France, 1848-50 and conclude with some ideas of what this method implies for efforts today to understand the global political economy as well as the possibilities for revolutionary change.
Monday, 2 July 2012
I have just published the article ‘“Workers of the world, unite?” Globalisation and the quest for transnational solidarity’ in the journal Globalizations. In this article, I discuss the structural setting of labour agency at this point in time and evaluate two broad responses by trade unions and social movements, the Decent Work, Decent Life initiative as well as the Labour and Globalisation Network.