The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The ‘wonderful freedom’ of neo-liberalism!

We are living in truly wonderful times. Finally, we can choose freely our personal lifestyles without having to fear being excluded from general society. Gender, different ethnic backgrounds, different identities no longer matter in our neo-liberal society. Everybody has the opportunity through the quality of his/her work to achieve their full potential and creative capacity. We can be homosexual or heterosexual, this does no longer matter in the public sphere. Same sex marriages are increasingly a standard possibility, same sex couples can have children together. Life is full of choices, which schools do we send our children to, state, religious or private, whatever choice we make, it is possible. In which hospital do I want to be treated? Everything is about consumer choice. Are we not living in truly wonderful times? And yet, while the possibility of these different lifestyles is clearly a positive step forward, at closer sight more sinister dynamics come to the fore.

The intensification of exploitation in the workplace

The rights of minority groups are increasingly protected. My own employer, the University of Nottingham/UK, has just recently adopted a revised policy on Guidance on Supporting Trans Staff, protecting this particular group of people. And, of course, this is a positive step forward. Nobody should be disadvantaged at the workplace as a result of his/her particular sexual orientation, gender or ethnic background. What policies of this type, however, make us overlook is the intensification of exploitation in the workplace. While individual rights are protected, the workload of staff members is constantly increased. And this at a time, when real income has been cut by over 13 per cent in four years and the pension benefits for new staff members have been significantly reduced. In short, a closer look at neo-liberal freedom makes clear that the increasing focus on rights masks higher levels of exploitation. 

Photo by Byzantine_K

The marketisation of essential services

Photo by bobaliciouslondon
As consumers we can increasingly choose where to receive essential services, to which school to send our children, to which hospital to go for an operation, from which companies to purchase our electricity. The strengthened focus on the rights of minority groups has led to significantly improved conditions for handicapped people in society and especially at Universities. Again, especially latter developments are positive in themselves. These increased possibilities and wider range of choice, however, mask a reality, in which these opportunities are only available to those, who can actually pay for them. Yes, disabled students have better facilities to study today, but only those disabled students from a wealthy background can ultimately benefit from this improvement considering the introduction of tuition fees of up to £9000 per year. Radical austerity policies have cut especially the benefits of disabled people in the UK and undermined their possibilities of participating in wider society. With many services increasingly being privatised, it is fine to have a choice where to go to School or receive health services. In our increasingly marketised world, it is, however, only those with money, who have access to high quality services. The universal provision of services regardless of personal wealth has been increasingly compromised.

The brutal and uncompromising suppression of any form of resistance

Neo-liberal freedom is wonderful, but only as long as we do not challenge the underlying dynamics of neo-liberal economics. Any protests are often brutally put down. Anti-terrorist legislation has increased the power of police and is frequently used. The widespread ‘rioting’ in the UK of the summer 2011 was punished with over-hard sentences. Workers demanding rights at the workplace or protesting against increasing workloads are blacklisted or first on the list to be made redundant. Trade union rights are increasingly restricted, demonstrations in general heavily policed. More recent harsh suppression of dissent is occurring at British universities, where the police in co-operation with University administrations clamp down on any student opposition to the introduction of fees and downward pressure on members of staff’s working conditions (see, for example, The Guardian, 5 December 2013). 
In short, the ‘wonderful freedom’ of neo-liberalism turns out to be the sign of a rather limiting and oppressive society, characterised by high levels of inequality and injustice. 

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:
23 February 2014

1 comment:

  1. With a nod to pop-culture, as McCarthy put it in their track We Are All Bourgeois Now, once their was class war but not any longer, so "we are all free to choose". See: Critiquing this ethos has never been more important and Ross Wolfe has an important parallel critique of intersectionality at:


Comments welcome!