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.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

How Labour Built Neoliberalism: assessing the role of trade unions in restructuring.

In her recent book How Labour Built Neoliberalism: Australia’s Accord, the Labour Movement and the Neoliberal Project (Brill, 2018), Elizabeth Humphrys challenges the narrative that neo-liberalism was generally imposed onto labour by right-wing governments such as the Thatcher government in the UK and the Reagan government in the US during the 1980s. Through a detailed analysis of the Australian political economy between 1983 and 1996, she demonstrates how restructuring was also carried out by a Labour Party in close co-operation with trade unions. In this blog post, I will provide a critical engagement with this important book.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Australia Book Launch of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis.

Adam D. Morton and Andreas Bieler are delighted to announce the Australia book launch of GlobalCapitalism, Global War, Global Crisis, which will be at Gleebooks on 7 December, at 6:00pm and chaired by Elizabeth Humphrys. Having launched the book in the UK at the British International Studies Association (BISA) annual conference in Bath and at the independent bookshop FiveLeaves Books in Nottingham, as well as at the European International Studies Association (EISA) conference in Prague, we are very much looking forward to this launch in Sydney.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Bilbao European Forum: The European left re-grouping towards another Europe?

Calling every European citizen! EUROPE MUST BE ON ALERT AND CALLED UP! Let’s recover over future! For a permanent collaboration and a convergent action between leftists, green and progressive forces in Europe – this was the call by left parties across the EU for their meeting in Bilbao, 9 to 11 November 2018. Over three days, representatives from across Europe met and discussed the danger of the rise of the far right, the possibilities for an ecological transition as well as a new economic order based on social justice and solidarity. In this blog post, I will critically reflect on this meeting.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Is Capitalism Associated with Different Forms of Exploitation?

In his book Theory As History (Brill Academic Publishers, 2010), Jairus Banaji makes the claim that we should not reduce a particular mode of production to one specific form of exploitation, such as the capitalist mode to wage labour. ‘Relations of production are simply not reducible to forms of exploitation, both because modes of production embrace a wider range of relationships than those in their immediate process of production and because the deployment of labour, the organisation and control of the labour-process, “correlates” with historical relations of production in complex ways’ (Banaji 2010, 41). Instead, Banaji introduces the notion of commercial or merchant capitalism from at least the 13th century onwards, based on the availability of finance and functioning institutions of long-distance trade, i.e. a ‘capitalism that invested widely in a range of economic sectors beyond commerce in its narrower definition’ (Banaji 2018). What this, however, overlooks is the centrality of wage labour in the capitalist mode of production and Marx’s insistence on exploitation taking place in the ‘hidden abode of production’ (see Modes of Production and Forms of Exploitation).

Distinguishing between a capitalist social formation and a capitalist mode of production, in this guest post Tony Burns provides a way of how we can retain the focus on the centrality of wage labour for capitalism, without overlooking the possibility of several forms of exploitation co-existing at the same time.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Capitalism in the Web of Life: Jason Moore on the exploitation of nature.

With the global economic crisis being anything but over, there are continuing struggles over how to respond to economic stagnation. While the right continues to push for austerity and neo-liberal restructuring and a new extreme right combines this with blaming migrants for economic woes, the left envisages a new role for the state in reviving economic fortunes. As different as these positions are, what they have all in common, though, is this view of nature as an external resource. In his fascinating book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (Verso, 2015), Jason Moore critically engages with this understanding and contrasts it with a dialectical position emphasising the internal relations between humans and nature. In this blog post, I will provide an overview of some of the key aspects of Moore’s argument.

Monday, 22 October 2018

The everyday life of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis

Earlier this year, Adam D. Morton and I published our jointly-authored book Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis with Cambridge University Press. The book is wide-ranging and moves from meta-theoretical, to theoretical, to fine-grained empirical analysis of the agents and structures and thus the relations of force shaping class struggle in the contemporary world. In this blog post, we argue that the conceptual focus offered in the book is also relevant for activist struggles in everyday life.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Ryanair strike against low labour standards. Made simple.

“Ryanair must change”. This simple message, emblazoned on T-shirts in the familiar shades of yellow and blue, stood out loud and clear in airport lobbies of at least seven countries on 28 September. Workers gathered as early as 5.30 a.m. around placards and coffee thermoses to denounce Ryanair’s “low fares made simple” business model. In this guest post, Sara Lafuente Hernández, Stan De Spiegelaere and Bethany Staunton from the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) report on an unprecedented transnational strike which involved thousands of employees and resulted in 250 cancelled flights across Europe.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Privatising Water as an Effective Route Towards Development?

In June 2010, the UN declared safe access to ‘clean drinking water and sanitation’ a human right. For many this highlighted the importance of water as the world’s most important natural resource for human life. Nevertheless, today many homes lack direct access to safe drinking water and rely on external, purified sources. This situation is all too common throughout the global south. By contrast, for the overwhelming majority in developed societies, access to safe water and sanitation is commonplace. Therefore, improving access to water is a global development issue. Accordingly, a central aim of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals was to halve ‘the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation’. In this guest post, Carlos Kassman assesses the possibilities of private water companies to assist in this respect by investigating cases of water privatisation in France, Argentina and West Africa.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Rupturing the Dialectic: Harry Cleaver on continuing class struggle against the imposition of work.

In his latest book Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money and Financialization (Chico/CA: AK Press, 2017), Harry Cleaver makes an emphatic case for the importance of a continuing focus on class struggle and here in particular the role of the working class rather than capital. Building on his seminal work Reading Capital Politically (1979), he re-asserts the key role of agency in our understanding of resistance against capitalist exploitation. In this blog post, I will assess the fundamental contributions of this volume. 

Monday, 3 September 2018

Labour and Brexit: The need for a principled approach.

With a no-deal outcome increasingly likely, the Brexit negotiations by the current government are in a shambles. It has become clear by now that Brexit will have economic costs for the country. At the same time, preferential trade agreements with other countries such as India or the USA, which might be able to compensate for the loss of a close relationship with the economies of the EU, remain unlikely. Split between neo-liberal Remainers and hard-line nationalist Brexiteers, the Conservative government is on the point of falling apart. And yet there is little to gloat for Labour Party members. Labour too is split over Brexit and only being in opposition has saved it so far from more open confrontations inside the party. In this post, I will argue for a people’s vote on the final outcome of the negotiations as a principled approach from a left perspective within the Labour Party.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Holding on – The public water company Acqua Bene Comune in Naples.

In the ongoing struggles over public water in Italy, it is the municipality of Naples and its water company Acqua Bene Comune (ABC), which has played a special role throughout the years of conflict (see Privatisation by stealth). First, an attempt of privatisation was defeated in 2006, then it was the only water company, which was re-transformed into a fully public company with special status after the successful referendum on water in 2011. In this blog post, based on a set of interviews with Italian water activists, I will explore the possibilities but also tensions involved in this particular experiment.

Friday, 27 July 2018

What is theorising the international?

Across our joint collaborations, one of the key features has not just been our co-authorship but also our joint teaching. The latter has combined delivery of undergraduate political economy courses (or modules/units) as well as International Relations theory teaching, not least in relation to the core Masters’ course at the University of Nottingham in Theories and Concepts in International Relations.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Privatisation by stealth: ongoing struggles for public water in Italy.

On 12 and 13 June 2011, the Italian Water Movements Forum secured a clear victory in the referendum against water privatisation. More than 57 per cent of the Italian electorate cast their vote and both questions related to water had been approved by a majority of more than 95 per cent (see Road to Victory). And yet, the implementation of the referendum outcome, legally binding according to the Italian Constitution, has been slow ever since (see La lotta continua). Based on a series of interviews with water activists carried out at the end of May 2018, in this post I will assess the current situation in the struggle for public water in Italy.

Friday, 22 June 2018

A Resurgence of Strikes? Workers’ Movements and Strikes in the Twenty-First Century.

Twenty-first century working class struggles have seen alliances of working people in response to issues such as climate change, immigrant rights, informalization of work and the political-economic crisis across the globe. A glance at protests over the recent years shows the increasing relevance of strike movements within social movements in general, but research and media reports on work and working conditions rarely look at this big picture. Rather, strikes are most of the time seen as “non-movements” (Asef Bayat). They are more often conceived of as spontaneous unrest in everyday life rather than as important political events. By contrast, in this guest post, Jörg Nowak, Madhumita Dutta and Peter Birke introduce their co-edited volume Workers’ Movements and Strikes in the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018), which asks how to make sense of a seemingly decentralized, even fragmented, and massive although sometimes hidden, sometimes very visible world of labour conflicts.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

A Crisis of Crisis Management Continues in Greece: “Sudden Death for the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko? We Say No!”

Over a period of eight years and three programmes of financial assistance Greece has never been far from the news. Recent reporting has become more positive in outlook, dominated by discussion about whether the Syriza-led coalition government will be able to make a clean exit from its third ‘Economic Adjustment Programme’. A clean exit would mean the Greek government being able to finance spending commitments and its enormous public debt through bond markets, without any further loans from European partners or even a pre-cautionary line of credit from the IMF. Greece’s ability to go it alone after 20th August (although with regular ‘post-programme surveillance’ as the likes of Ireland and Portugal have experienced) relies on perceptions from its creditors and financial markets about the government’s ongoing commitment to the types of austerity and so-called ‘structural reforms’ that have dominated all three programmes. In this guest post, Jamie Jordan assesses the implications of Greece going it alone with a particular focus on the future of the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

The Labour governments 1974–1979: social democracy abandoned?

Drawing on his article 'The Labour governments 1974–1979: social democracy abandoned?’, recently published in the academic journal British Politics, in this guest post Max Crook questions the view that the Labour government in office from 1974 to 1979 started the transition to neo-liberalism in the UK. He, thus, challenges structural approaches to social democratic decline. In his focus on electoral politics, he makes two key claims: Firstly, Labour did not abandon the social democratic postwar consensus. Any fundamental challenge to it remained politically unthinkable. Secondly, the eventual collapse of the consensus was not the product of structural changes in the global economy, but was the highly contingent outcome of an electorally motivated gamble.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Global Capitalism. Global War. Global Crisis: new research monograph published.

Global Capitalism. Global War. Global Crisis. How can these conditions be understood in terms of their internal relationship so as to capture capital’s connection to the states-system of uneven and combined development, social reproduction, and the contradictions facing humanity within world-ecology? These are the puzzles Adam David Morton and I are investigating in our recently published book with Cambridge University Press.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Greece under the Troika: colonialism and resistance in the 21st century - the struggle for public water.

When in May 2014 98 per cent of Thessaloniki’s citizens voted against the privatisation of their municipal water company EYATH and the Greek constitutional court, the Council of State, ruled out the privatisation of Athens’ water company EYDAP as unconstitutional shortly afterwards, the public ownership of these two companies seemed to have been secured (see Resisting water privatisation in Greece and Portugal). And yet, when the Syriza government signed the third bailout agreement of Greece in July 2015, the privatisation of water was back on the agenda. In this blog post, I will report on the struggle over public water since July 2015, based on a set of semi-structured interviews with water activists in Thessaloniki and Athens in April 2018. 

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Serving the interests of capital: the role of economics as an academic discipline.

Photo by 401 (K) 2012
Two months ago, I sat in the coffee bar of the Quinn Business School, University College Dublin in the Republic of Ireland. While responding to some emails, I happened to overhear the conversation of some excited students at the neighbouring table. They had just learned about how private equity (PE) firms can come in, buy up ailing companies and still make high profits when they get rid of these companies again, even if these companies should ultimately fail. There was no concern about the implications for the workers of these companies, who would be made unemployed in the process. There was no concern for the wider community around this company, suffering from high unemployment in the area as a result of the PE firm’s involvement. In this blog post, I am reflecting on the role of economics as an academic discipline resulting in an education of this type. In particular, I will argue that instead of being an academic discipline focusing on the critical enquiry of societal developments, economics has deteriorated into an ideology in the service of capital.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The historical origins of Colombia’s FARC: class struggle towards ‘La Violencia’.

In this guest post, Oliver Dodd analyses changes to Colombia’s political economy in the period preceding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) founding to reveal the organisation’s historical roots. He argues that processes of political economic development in Colombia did not take place in an orderly and steady manner, but rather involved conflict and antagonism between various social-class forces engaged in a struggle for hegemony. Ultimately, Colombia’s economic development encouraged the spread of political terror, which was sponsored politically largely by Conservatives to combat the threat of a growing independent labour movement. In turn, this trajectory of violence permitted the Communist Party to establish ‘safe communities’ eventually resulting in FARC’s founding.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

‘We shall strike, we shall fight, water is a human right!’ Defending public water in Ireland.

When the Irish government decided in 2013 first to establish the company Irish Water and then introduce water charges for users in order to comply with obligations of the Memorandum of Understanding with the EU over its bailout agreement, resistance erupted across the Republic. While resistance against austerity had been isolated and sporadic in Ireland until then, a large, national level movement emerged in 2014. Water had been the straw, which broke the camel’s neck. In this blog post, based on interviews conducted during field research in Ireland between 25 February and 2 March 2018, I will analyse the broad alliance underpinning this movement as well as the specific strategies employed.

Friday, 16 March 2018

UCU’s ‘Syriza moment’: Putting university managements on notice!

Despite strong support from the Greek people, in July 2015 the Greek government by Alexis Tsipras gave in and accepted major further austerity measures in exchange for a third bailout agreement with the Troika, consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF (The Guardian, 13 July 2015). Against the background of a bitter dispute over cuts employers in British Higher Education (HE) want to impose on the USS pension scheme in pre-1992 universities (see Britain: Universities on Strike), here too, UCU negotiators felt they had no other option but to accept an agreement, which involved major cuts (see UCU ‘agreement’, 12 March 2018). Nevertheless, pushed by its members, UCU ultimately did not buckle and rejected the ‘agreement’. In this blog post, I will analyse the underlying reasons for this different outcome.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Asserting power: The political economy of USS pension fund valuations.

The University and College Union (UCU) and the employers’ organisation of pre-1992 Higher Education institutions UUK are currently involved in an industrial conflict over plans by the employers to impose draconian cuts to the USS pension scheme. At the heart of the conflict is the valuation of the fund in 2017 by USS, apparently revealing a large deficit of about £6 billion, which needs to be addressed. In this post, I do not want to engage in economics arguments over how big the deficit actually is. Rather, I will focus on a political economy analysis of the actual struggle over who is in charge determining the criteria for the valuation in the first place. The valuation of the health of the fund is not an objective, economic task. It is ultimately a political decision on how to estimate the risk and especially on how to spread the risk across staff and employers

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Striking for USS: four ways university managements have misjudged the situation.

The University and College Union (UCU) and the employers’ association for pre-1992 institutions UUK are currently locked into a bitter battle over pensions in the UK Higher Education sector. Overall 14 days of strike action have been scheduled for February and March (see Lecturers on strike). To the surprise of the employers, support for lecturers on strike has been strong resulting in a fragmentation of UUK. The University of Oxford is only the latest in a line of universities changing their position (The Guardian, 7 March 2018). In this blog post, I will identify four ways in which the employers have seriously misjudged the situation.  

Monday, 26 February 2018

Lecturers on strike

On Thursday 22 February, lecturers at most universities in the UK went on strike. They also stayed on strike on Friday 23 February. They will continue to do so for three days this week, four days the week afterwards, and five days the week after that. In total, unless the dispute is settled in the meantime, 14 working days will be lost to industrial action in an industry that seldom sees action of any kind. In this guest post, Steven Parfitt reflects on the underlying reasons and wider implications for Higher Education in the UK.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

How to ensure the Human Right to Water in the EU: A new study by EPSU.

The European Commission published its proposals for a Recast of the Drinking Water Directive, 1 February 2018. They include amendments to guarantee vulnerable groups access to safe and affordable water. The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) has welcomed these suggestions as a step towards realizing the Human Right to Water in the EU regretting that the Commission stopped short of recognizing the UN right in EU legislation. This guest post summarises the findings of a new study commissioned by EPSU, which goes into more detail on what the European Commission can do to build the frame in which the Human Right2Water can be realized (see PSIRU 2018). The main recommendation is that the Commission should cease all actions that endanger this right.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Turkish labour under deteriorating socio-economic conditions: why is there no united front?

Turkey, a peripheral country with poor working conditions, has been subjected to an anti-labour regime and severe capitalist exploitation under the consecutive Justice and Development Party (AKP) Governments since 2002. In this guest post, drawing on her article Countering globalization and regionalization: is there a united front within Turkish labour and disadvantaged groups?, recently published in the journal Globalizations, Elif Uzgoren discusses the possibilities of the Turkish Left to mobilise for an alternative to neoliberal restructuring.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Trump, the rise of China and labour: What future for ‘Free’ Trade Agreements?

What are the implications of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? How does the rise of China affect global free trade? And perhaps even more importantly, what should labour’s position on free trade look like? In this blog post, I publish the interview, which I gave to Bruno Dobrusin from the Argentine Workers' Central Union (Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina, CTA) addressing these and related questions about the future of ‘free’ trade agreements.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Food Poverty in the UK and the possibilities of food sovereignty policies

The Food and Agriculture Organization (2003: 29), states that ‘food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs’. The British government currently utilises food security in departmental policy papers, emphasising the aim of improving trade relationships, in which food is considered a market good as part of neo-liberal frameworks such as the World Trade Organisation (McMichael 2003: 171-2). While popular assumptions relate lack of access to food to developing countries, food poverty is becoming more well-known in the UK due to the growth of food banks. Recent estimates state that 8.4 million of the UK population are undernourished (Taylor and Loopstra 2016: 1), forming the basis for many of the arguments concerning the necessity of change in UK policy (Taylor and Loopstra 2016: 1). In this guest post, Yasemin Craggs Mersinoglu assesses the UK’s food system by looking at the central concepts of food security versus food sovereignty.