Have trade unions lost their purpose?

First, let’s delve into what trade unions are and what purpose they serve. Back in the early days of the industrial revolution, industries were owned by the few truly rich and powerful. Because of this overwhelming control of the employment market by the employers, workers desperate for work were often exploited. In other words, many people wanted jobs, the rich and the powerful controlled the jobs that were available, so could afford to pay less to workers desperate for paid work. This situation can still be observed in many parts of the developing and underdeveloped world (such as India and China), where trade unions hardly exist.

Enter the trade unions. The labour market grouped together to form a collective bargaining entity. No longer can employers say “If you don’t like the low pay/poor working conditions, I’ll give the job to someone who wants it.” When pay or working conditions are unsatisfactory for even a few individuals, the entire workforce could gang together and refuse to work. This caused the employer to lose productivity and profitability. It is thus in the employers’ interests to keep the unions happy in order to maintain productivity. Individual employees were also thusly incentivised to join trade unions, for personal protections as well as for the greater benefit of the whole workforce. There is now a semblance of power balance between the employer who controls the capital and the employees who control the labour. To this end, the influence and power of trade unions is a GOOD thing.

Fast forward to modern-day Britain. If you work in public services (even if your employers is a private company, such as with train operators), you very likely will have joined a trade union. If you work in the private sector, your chances of being part of a union are very slim indeed, unless you are part of a long-established industry. The causes of this are wide and varied. This could be because employment in the public sector has gained a reputation for being steady long-term employment, whilst those desiring shorter more mobile employment opportunities favour the private sector, with this pattern of job-hopping doing away with the necessity of trade unions. In the private sector, the employment market is as much controlled by the upwardly mobile workforce as by those with the capital to employ. Additionally, the private sector is so widespread and diverse that most people employed in the private sector have no relevant union to turn to.

The result of this is that the most prominent and active of trade unions can be found in the public services sector – unions are almost all but extinct in the private sector. When these unions take strike action due to disputes with their employer, the ones they hurt are the public, NOT their employer. Their actual employers will not have their profit margins damaged in any way.

Let us remind ourselves:
1) What are the trade unions for?
Answer: Trade unions exist to protect the interests of the workers

2) Who are the trade unions protecting the workers from?
Answer: Trade unions protect workers from abuses and unfair practices by employers

3) How do trade unions protect workers?
Answer: Trade unions protect workers by collective bargaining power through facilitating industrial action which hurt the employer.

(I am assuming that the above three points are non-controversial. If they are, please let me know and give me feedback on how you would challenge them.)

What happens when RMT strikes? Large parts of public transport goes out of service, hurting the public and businesses whose workers depend on public transport. Train operators will hardly have their profits hurt in any way, since the majority of their income from regular travellers are primarily from season ticket holders, and other travels are simply just deferred to another date.
What happens when NUT strikes? School pupils miss out on being taught by their teachers. Schools and councils carry on as before, since there is no profit or productivity margin for them to worry about.
What happens when FBU strikes? The public miss out on critical professional fire brigades services, having to rely instead on provisional services provided by the army with their frequently outdated equipment. As above, although councils and governments do get a bad name, but they certainly won’t have any profit margins to concern them.
Many NHS workers don’t even dare strike because they know first and foremost that the ones who lose out immediately are the patients – lives are literally at stake in front of these workers.

These examples demonstrate that when unions take industrial action, they first and foremost lose public support. Any employers’ response is primarily to appease the public, which often amounts to not more than lip service. In the meantime, public support for union activity diminishes with every strike action they take. It is all too easy for employers to play the unions off against the public, casting them as the ‘greedy bad guys’ to the public eye. This has already happened to the RMT, especially in light of the militant industrial actions instigated by the late Bob Crow. Thankfully trade unions still maintain some semblance of public support due to the long history of public support it has in this country. However, I fear that this is unsustainable in the longer run. How long will trade unions retain public support when they continue to hit the public instead of employers?

Furthermore, what of the private sector? What happens when Amazon underpays the unskilled labour force working in their packing warehouses? What of the Costa and Starbucks baristas who work long stressful hours serving demanding and ungrateful clientele? Some of the highest paid city jobs are also the most demanding and least ethical of working environments – many of their employment contracts explicitly do not recognise industrial action. If you want people to work shorter hours and simultaneously curb the highest paid jobs – this is the industry in which trade unions should be the most active. Sadly, these highly competitive industries are also where employees are the most self-serving… but that’s another story.

What’s the future for trade unions then? The way the majority of trade unions now function, I see no future for them. They have lost their way. No longer are they fighting abusive employment practices – they are now fighting out of self-interest only. The future I see for trade unions is to go back to their grassroots – how did they come about and why. They need to regain their original purpose, to combat abusive employment practices, to stand up for the employee who is poorly treated, and to level the power balance between those who own capital and those who own labour.

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24 things that Jeremy Corbyn believes – what I agree with, and what I don’t

The BBC published a list of 24 things that Jeremy Corbyn apparently believes in (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34209478). I have no idea on what basis this list is compiled, and how pertinent or outdated they are to Corbyn’s leadership. But here are my thoughts on them:

1. The deficit should be paid off – but not through spending cuts and not to an “arbitrary” deadline. Instead Corbyn would fund its reduction via higher taxes for the rich and a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion while tackling “corporate welfare” and tax breaks for companies.

Point of note: You cannot “pay off” a deficit. You pay off a debt. A deficit is the difference between income and expenditure where expenditure exceeds income. You can reduce the deficit by increasing income and reducing expenditure.
That aside….
a) higher taxes for the rich will only discourage the rich from residing in the UK and spending their money here. That is indisputable. So the financial benefits of increasing taxes on the rich are hugely debatable.
b) cracking down on tax avoidance can only go so far – with smaller businesses, the cost to prosecute them will be more than the amount of tax recovered.
c) tax breaks are implemented to encourage businesses and industries to set up shop, thus growing the economy. Removing these tax breaks will discourage businesses from starting up and thus damage the country’s economic growth.

2. Britain’s railways should be renationalised. He is also opposed to the HS2 rail scheme, saying it would turn northern cities into “dormitories for London businesses”.

I’m whole-heartedly in favour of this. The current system creates effective monopolies of captive markets by a small section of train operators. There is no competition as passengers are not able to choose alternative providers of train services, defeating the point of privatisation. The railways should be nationalised so that they are run as a not-for-profit public service, but competition should be maintained internally within the organisation so that efficiencies are maintained.

3. Far more allotments would be good for the UK. He has a plot near his constituency in north London and told the Commons in 2008 that councils and builders “should be doing their best to ensure that every new development includes some allotment space”.

I’m ambivalent about this. Allotments suit only a very specific section of society, namely those who like growing their own vegetables but do not have the garden space to do so. A large proportion of the UK population do not fit this description (either they have sufficient garden space or they may not like growing vegetables). A more productive approach might be to encourage a proportion of natural greenery for all new developments, which would be universally appealing.

4. Talking to militant groups is necessary to win peace in the Middle East. Corbyn faced heavy criticism for using the word “friends” to describe Hamas and Hezbollah. He has responded by saying he had used the term in a “collective way” adding that while he does not agree with either organisation, a peace process means “you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree”.

I also agree with this. You have to talk and reason with people groups you disagree with. You cannot simply dismiss them as irrelevant extremists – you have to take them seriously because they receive significant civilian support. War should always be the last resort.

5. “Quantitative easing for people” could be used to invest in housing, energy, transport and digital projects. Unlike the £375bn issued electronically by the Bank of England between 2009 and 2012 to buy bonds, gilts and other debts, this would be “QE for people instead of banks”, Corbyn says. Tax campaigner Richard Murphy argues these plans would stimulate the economy and boost employment. But Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie attacked the proposal, saying it would lead to higher inflation and interest rates, hurting the poor most.

I’ve been sceptical of QE for a long time. I believe government funds would be more efficiently utilised by being spent directly on the industries that needs it, rather than being injected into banks in the hope that they trickle down to industries. Doing it the latter way only provides opportunities for banks to siphon off a cut before the monetary benefits affect the wider economy. Inflation in and of itself is not necessarily an evil, nor does it necessarily affect the poor who live on payday to payday.

6. Replacing Trident would be a costly mistake. Corbyn, a long-term CND member, says plans to replace the nuclear missile system should be ditched. He believes the project’s £100bn price tag could be better spent “on our national well-being”.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is misguided. Disarming yourself does not encourage other countries to disarm themselves. It only reduces the disincentive to rogue nations to develop their own nuclear armaments. Unless the world is unequivocally peaceful and everyone gave up the desire for power or influence, Mutually Assured Destruction seems to be a necessary evil. If this destruction is not mutually assured, it is only self-assured. When multiple world nations agree to maintain a level of armament that is to be NEVER USED, it maintains a degree of deterrence to nations from going rogue and utilising their own nuclear armaments, for fear of combined retaliation.

7. A National Education Service modelled on the NHS should be established. Under Corbyn, state-funded academies and free schools would be forced to return to local authority control while university tuition fees would be scrapped and replaced with grants. Corbyn would look at ending the charitable status of public schools, although he accepts this would be complicated and might not happen immediately. He reportedly split up with one of his former wives following a disagreement over whether to send their son to a grammar school or a comprehensive. Asked recently if the break-up was over an “an issue of principle”, Corbyn told the Guardian newspaper: “I feel very strongly about comprehensive education, yes.”

Whilst the NHS is undoubtedly a boon to the British public, the organisation is a bureaucratic mess that is the height of fiscal inefficiency in the UK. We should not be modelling anything else on it. Whilst a case can be made for grants for SOME university degrees, the idea of university grants for all courses is ludicrous. It simply cannot be financed by the Treasury. The output of university graduates already outstrips the market demand for them. We shouldn’t be encouraging more university graduates when the jobs simply aren’t available. Plus, the cost of going to university often exceeds the monetary benefits. Many jobs simply don’t require academic degrees – young people shouldn’t be given the false promise that all university graduates end up in well-paying jobs.
There is no case for ending the charitable status of public schools. The entire argument rests upon envy and jealousy of the ‘rich’. Even if you don’t like the idea of a ‘privileged elite’ attending a good school because they can pay for it, the schools are there to benefit the public – a great many hard-working middle-class people stretch themselves thin in order for their children to benefit from attending a public school. Taxing these schools would end up pricing more of these families out. We end up hitting the middle class instead of the elite rich who are able to afford it anyway.

8. Labour should not support air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. Corbyn, who is national chair of the Stop the War Coalition, believes innocent Syrians would suffer and the supply of arms and funds to the Islamic State group should be cut off instead. He opposed military action against the Assad regime in 2013 and was a prominent critic of the invasion of Iraq. His website says he wants to see “illegal wars” replaced with a “foreign policy that prioritises justice and assistance”. Asked during a Sky News hustings whether there were any circumstances in which he would deploy UK military forces, Corbyn said: “I’m sure there are some but I can’t think of them at the moment.”

I think war should always be the last resort. I believe encouraging peace talks should always be the first step, to negotiate compromises that are equal on both sides. If the ceasefire is broken, the armed intervention may be necessary to suppress all factions of the conflict. However, the UK MUST NOT undertake any military action on its own. It should first have the support of the UN, so that any military action is undertaken by a neutral coalition. Thus I agree with the direction Corbyn is taking this, though not out of the same principle.

9. Rent controls should be re-introduced, linking private rents to local earnings, and more council houses should be built. He also believes that council tenants’ right to buy their homes should be extended to private sector renters.

This is a form of governmental micro-management that sounds good in principle but is practically ineffectual and unsustainable. Communist governments have deployed similar ideas but have always failed. Some form of smarter regulation might work, but this isn’t it. Various pilot programmes should be deployed before introducing such widespread controls.

10. The Chagos islanders evicted from Diego Garcia should be allowed to return. Some 2,000 people were displaced from the British Indian Ocean territory between 1967 and 1971 to make way for a US air base. Corbyn has been a long-standing supporter of their campaign to go back.

What’s done is done. The argument can be put forward for making reparations for the people if they were unfairly done by, but it is fantasy to imagine that things can be the way they were before. They have already been out of the land for almost two generations. But this point is next to irrelevant to the UK.

11. The immigration debate has been “quite unpleasant”. In an interview with Channel 4 News, Corbyn said the current discourse around the issue “fails to recognise the huge contribution migrants have made to this country”. He added: “We should let people into this country who are desperate to get somewhere safe to live”.

Arguing against immigration is not the same as arguing against immigrants. The logical outworking of Corbyn’s principle should be to open up the borders to the world and let in just anyone from ANY country. The lands of North and South Americas and the African continent have plenty of experience of letting that happen. Ask them if they’ll ever do that again. Should USA open its borders to Mexico? Should South Korea open its borders to North Korea?

12. The dispute between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands could be resolved with “some degree of joint administration”. In an interview with the BBC in 2013 he said other territorial disputes had been settled in this way, and under such an arrangement the islanders’ British nationality could be maintained. He added that during the 1982 Falklands conflict it had been in Margaret Thatcher’s interests to “divert attention from her catastrophic economic issues”. During the leadership campaign, a Corbyn spokesman said he supported “a long-term negotiated settlement” that took the islanders’ views into account.

Let the Falklanders decide. They are the ones who live there now, regardless of their descent. Don’t allow international politics to ruin people’s lives.

13. High property prices are leading to the closure of London pubs. In 2013, hesaid in the Commons that pub companies “make a great deal of money out of selling them” to developers.

This is far more complex than Corbyn would understand it. Personally, I believe residences, coffee shops, and restaurants are far more desirable establishments than drinking holes.

14. An arms embargo should be imposed on Israel. Corbyn, who is a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said in August that Palestinian refugees should be given a “right of return”. He supported a boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements and of Israeli universities that engage in arms research.

Some of the best weapons technologies in the world come out of Israel. An international embargo is illegal. A UK boycott is ineffectual. Palestinians shouldn’t be displaced for sure, but the issue is again, more complex. The blame does not rest on Israel alone.

15. Corbyn is a committed republican, but he would not seek to end the monarchy. He told the New Statesman: “It’s not the fight I’m going to fight – it’s not the fight I’m interested in.”

I agree with this.

16. Remaining in the European Union but with changes. Corbyn says he is not content with the EU as it stands, but wants to stay to fight for a “better Europe”. He had previously refused to rule out campaigning to leave. He also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal.

Nice principle, but profoundly ignorant of how far-reaching the EU bureaucracy has become. The EU is no longer republican, but instead produces far more poorly thought-out legislation and governmental red tape than individual countries themselves do.

17. Corbyn backs cycling. He does not own a car and declined to share one with the BBC’s Chris Mason for an interview, saying: “I cycle all the time. Actually I’ve got a confession to make, a rather naughty secret – I’ve got two bikes.” He is also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling.

It’s good to encourage cycling, especially in cities. The obvious step he should be taking would be campaigning to make cycling cheaper and safer within city roads.

18. Energy companies should be under public ownership. He says he would be “much happier” with a “regulated, publicly run service delivering energy supplies”. He is “totally opposed” to fracking. However, he says deep-mine coal pits in the north of England could be reopened.

Whilst I agree with the nationalisation of energy companies, his position on fracking and coal mines is clearly a populist double standard. Fracking produces much cleaner fuel (oil and gas), than coal. Fracking is far less environmentally intrusive than coal mines, requiring only a small well head, rather than a huge pit. And fracking is far safer than coal-mining, without the need for miners to go deep underground into unpleasant and unsafe environments.

19. Ireland should be united. Corbyn has long supported British withdrawal from Northern Ireland and invited Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams to the House of Commons as far back as 1984. He was criticised for observing a minute’s silence for eight IRA members killed by the SAS in 1987 and once employed Irish Republican Ronan Bennett as a member of staff at Westminster.

LEAVE IT TO THE IRISH PEOPLE TO DECIDE. IRA are terrorists, why the hell are you observing a silence for the government suppression of terrorism?

20. A national maximum wage should be introduced to cap the salaries of high earners. He would also introduce a windfall tax on former state assets such as the Royal Bank of Scotland, which he says were privatised too cheaply.

This is the form of communism which discourages wealth creation through industry. Higher-rate taxes already discourage people from working harder to earn more. A cap on the wages would discourage the hardest workers in society altogether. And people will still find a way around these legislative restrictions, so the only people they will really hit are the honest hard-workers. Certainly RBOS was sold off too cheaply, but the solution isn’t to tax the heck out of people. Just like you can’t unsell the gold Gordon Brown sold, the damage is already done – there’s no going back, only moving forward.

21. Every child should have the chance to learn a musical instrument or act on stage. Corbyn’s arts policy also includes directing a greater proportion of funding to local projects, widening access and protecting the BBC.

Agreed. Cultural developments should be encouraged, not discouraged or even eliminated like the communist regimes attempted.

22. Private Finance Initiative deals with the NHS should be ended by using government funds to buy them out. Writing in the Guardian, Corbyn said they were a “mess” that were costing the health service billions.

Agreed. The PFIs were a stupid waste of money. It would have been better for the government to fund the project themselves.

23. A “serious debate about the powers of Nato” is needed, but Corbyn has saidthere is not “an appetite as a whole for people to leave”. Corbyn has previously supported withdrawal and believes it should have been wound up in 1990 at the same time as the Warsaw Pact. He also said open eastward expansion of Nato would lead the Russian military to conclude that it had “to expand to counteract Nato”.

I’m not against the principle of having a debate, but the direction this is heading is misguided. Russia is not going to stop expanding if NATO is disbanded. It will just revel in the new power they have achieved. Instead, Russia should be invited to join the NATO as it has been for the UN.

24. The arms trade should be restricted. Corbyn would like to see the “brilliance and skill of those in the arms industry be converted for peaceful purposes”.

The arms trade is an integral part of the arms race. And the arms race should be led by peaceful countries, in order to maintain the edge over less peaceful countries. But the arms trade should be regulated so that it is not being open to regimes or factions which are openly hostile and desires the arms for aggression rather than for deterrence and enforcement.

Conclusion…
Agree: 2, 4, 5, 15, 17, 21, 22 – 7 points
Disagree: 1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 23, 24  – 14 points
Maybe: 3, 8, 18 – 3 points

Please note that these points are not my way of weighing up Corbyn’s person or his policies. They are just a my way of quickly (but inaccurately) summing up my thoughts on the article. I do not know how accurately this article represents Corbyn’s actual views on these subjects, nor do I know how much emphasis or importance he puts on each of these 24 points. These are my current subjective opinions based on my present knowledge and the content of the article. I am entitled to change or retract these thoughts in light of further evidence, new knowledge, or deeper understanding.

If there’s anything you disagree with or would like to add, please feel free to contribute below. I welcome discussion and exchange of ideas.

The Syrian refugee crisis, and the difficult solution

Almost everyone has heard of the plight of the Syrian refugees. It is a humanitarian crisis that spans the borders of three continents. Much has already been said and written regarding the scale of this problem – I need not add anymore.

What I do want to write about, is the responses to this problem. To make sure we maintain an objective perspective, let’s first approach this abstractly. Every problem manifests itself in symptoms. But usually, we encounter the symptom before we realise there’s a problem. For example, a car with a failed battery will not be able to start its engine. Yes, we have to deal with the symptom, but you also have to deal with the underlying problem. Jump starting the engine will allow you to drive off this time, but if the battery is not even able to hold a charge, you’re going to encounter the same problem again. You have to address the root cause of the problem.

Going back to the problem of the Syrian refugee crisis. Yes, the millions of refugees need humanitarian help. We should be sending aid in terms of food, medical provisions, shelter and any other form of help a normal society requires. But, that’s just the symptom of a much deeper problem. Let’s not stop there, let’s not neglect the root cause. So far, the public attention is on how refugees need our help. Most of the media articles you read are of the poor refugees, how we should embrace them and welcome them into our countries. Hardly anyone talks about the solution to the underlying problem.

Here is the underlying problem: Syrian people are being massacred or displaced as refugees because there is civil war in Syria. We need to address this issue if we want to prevent more civilians becoming refugees.

Sure, there is plenty of blame being thrown around. Fingers are pointing at ISIS, on Assad, or even on the West for trying to oust Assad. But there is a big difference between blame and solutions. Western countries have had it so good for so long, the ability to formulate pragmatic but tough solutions seems to have disappeared.

We don’t need to just welcome them into other countries – I guarantee you genuine refugees would rather be at home, in their own countries, and live a peaceful life with their families and in their communities. That’s what it means to be a refugee – you’re taking refuge from a horrible situation, you’re not migrating permanently.

What do I think can be done then? Well, the international community should be forcing peace negotiations. That’s first and foremost what the UN is there for. The whole point of forming a global community of participating countries is to be able to encourage peace, foster communication, and finally the collective power to be able to hold individual countries responsible and accountable.

The first step is to get representatives from each faction, from Assad’s regime, from the Arab Spring rebels, and from the ISIS. Get them all together and properly chair peace a negotiation and peace talks. None of this “we do not negotiate with terrorists” nonsense – all these factions already have considerable influence in the region. We cannot just ignore them. Get them together and talk fairly. Don’t let them get away with unreasonable nonsense. The UN is the place where global nations can unite and force these negotiations. Force a peace treaty where everyone compromises fairly and equally.

Well, what if they refuse? What if they insist on violence instead of abiding by treaties? Again, I point you back to the UN. The UN is comprised of 193 member states. This includes the world’s most powerful countries, including the USA, China, Russia, and most of the EU. Whatever disagreements these countries have, I believe they all agree that the crisis in Syria must be dealt with. The collective military might of these member states should be able to enforce peace in the region.

No, I am not in favour of armed intervention. Normally, I hold that countries should sort out their own political problems without needing foreign help. However, the difference is that these factions in Syria are already all armed and causing massive numbers of both armed and civilian casualties. They are causing great harm to humanity, the environment, and to the international community.

The UN needs to act as a temporary world police, under the proviso that member states take no sides in the conflict. The first and foremost objective should be peace, nothing else. The powerful members of the UN will keep each other in check to ensure that no single nation exercises undue influence on the region. Once there is peace, the factions will have no choice but to negotiate.

It might sound like a tautology, but to stop violence, you must first have peace. Violence is like fire. It only begets more violence. The converse is also true, when you enforce a peace, violence is less likely to erupt. It doesn’t completely prevent or even discourage violence, but what it does do, is cut off the chain of violent retaliation on violent retaliation.

I do not draw this conclusion lightly. I fully concede that this project will be very costly indeed. It will be long and drawn out. There will be great economic expenditure from all the nations involved. But what is the price of humanity? Look at how we condemn the nations who readily surrendered to the Axis during WWII. Look at how we celebrate the efforts of those who fought for freedom and for humanity, even three quarters of a century later.

I understand this is far easier said than done. Soldiers need to be humane, to combatants, to civilians, to prisoners of war. If you have to shoot, aim to maim rather than to kill – families would rather have an injured son than a dead one. Have mercy and love for those who are fighting you. Once combatants have been defeated, treat them as humanely, feed them clothe them and show them hospitality so that they might be won over. Give combatants on both sides respite. Try to avoid letting battles be a drawn out into a war of attrition. It will be a hard job, so we need to support those who are making the tough decisions in a difficult environment.

But if we are going to intervene let’s not do it half-heartedly. We’re all in this together. Don’t let two countries go in on their own and let them fail. Let’s learn from our experience of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Don’t let Vietnam happen again. The only ‘successful’ war was one where the world joined together. And remember, that came at very great cost indeed.

What do you think? Are the UN fulfilling their responsibilities, or are they failing to do their job?

The insidious hidden narrative

My friends, this stupidity is what Western culture has been reduced to…

In a panel discussion I recently watched, when one panelist suggested that women should be the ones who raise children because they are better at being mothers, everyone, including the audience and panelists, went silent in shock and disapproval. Yet earlier in the same discussion, when another panelist declared that hook-up apps are popular with gay men because men are pigs, the audience laughed.

I wonder if you noticed the double standard? If you suggest that women are better at something, that’s a bad thing. But if you suggest that men are lousy at another thing, that’s approved and celebrated.

The first panellist didn’t say that men cannot be good at being parents. Nor did he say that women should not do any other job but be mothers. But people will generally read into things what they want to read, rather than what is actually there. There’s an insidious narrative running through society, and those who buy into this narrative don’t realise how they are voluntarily participating in spreading hate toward those who don’t buy the narrative.

This is the hidden narrative:
1) Being a mother is seen as a negative thing and undesirable for modern, progressive women. Women who become full-time mothers are perceived to be wasting their life potential, for they are not investing their capabilities into monetary gain.
2) The idea that gay couples are just as equal and capable as heterosexual couples. In other words, they are exactly the same in capacity, and no suggestion that they are in any way inferior should be tolerated.
3) All men are inclined to be promiscuous – that’s just a fact of life that we have to accept.

If you embrace this narrative as modern western society tends to, then I’m not surprised if you react the way the audience reacted in that panel discussion. But, instead of condemning and vilifying those who don’t agree with you, why don’t we challenge this narrative?

Is investing your capabilities in motherhood, the role of raising the next generation, less productive than investing in monetary gain? Do gay couples, in raising children, not encounter differences from heterosexual parents? Are these differences harder or easier for them? Do we have to just accept that men are more driven by sex to be promiscuous and unfaithful, or can we demand a different standard from them?

Is it possible to question the assumptions laid out above?

If you’re interested in the debate, the two aforementioned panellists are Peter Hitchens and Dan Savage: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3868791.htm

Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBv50ogV1KU
And in case the previous link stops working: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQY4BuYWD4s

Politicians vs ‘working people’

It’s funny how in the UK, Labour party politicians like to portray themselves as champions of the “working people”. And then they set themselves up against businesses. Are business owners not working people? Are rich people not also working people? Isn’t it just allegorical language to refer to “poor people”? “Working class” is no longer an adequate description in a nation with strong welfare system like the UK. It’s time to move on from such outdated language. In this country, the poorest of the poor rely on the welfare state. They have to, because many of them are unable to work for some reason or another. In comparison, the richest work their socks off to gain their wealth and hang on to it. Rich people ARE working people. The class of people known as the “landed gentry” are all but extinct in this century. If they want to hang on to wealth, they have to work for it! What do politicians know about being poor anyway? How many Labour MPs have had to scrape a living on minimum wage?

The Labour party is largely funded by trade unions, many of whom are so powerful that their members have no worry over their jobs, such that many (if not most) cannot claim to be truly ‘poor’. So what sector of society are the Labour politicians really supporting? Or have they bamboozled everyone, including themselves, that they are actually champions of the ordinary people? Meanwhile, they refer to their political opponents as “Tories”, the “nasty party”, with much scorn dripping from their voices. As if the Conservative party do not have the same goals as the Labour party.

This does not mean I support the Conservative party. I am not a Tory. I detest what the Conservative party are doing, privatising willy-nilly, without recognising the role of the public sector, and without thought for the consequences. And the lip service they pay to the nation is patronising at best. Most people already know that Conservative party politicians have no idea what ordinary people in the private sector think or experience. But people still ended up voting Conservative anyway, because David Cameron has managed to scare the nation into thinking that they are the only party who can be trusted with the nations finances. The actual truth though, is that under Cameron, the deficit has grown, public spending has increased, and none of this even remotely relates to economic growth. After every crash, the economy naturally rightens itself and brings itself back to growth. It’s the nature of the human survival instinct. It’s got nothing to do with Tory policies of privatising the public sector. It’s detestable that they claim the credit for recovering the economy. And it’s even more disgusting that the public actually believe them.

Listening to politicians debate about work and the economy, much talk of “skills”, “training”, and “qualifications” are bandied about as if they are the solution to all our economic woes. It just demonstrates how little politicians know about the working world! Yes, it’s true that the country is short of skilled employees, particularly in the technology market. But these skills cannot be gained by “training” and “qualifications”. Industrial expertise cannot be gained by throwing people into training programmes dreamed up by “non-profit” think tanks. No amount of paper certification matches up with real world experience. Real expertise can only be gained naturally, through exposure, experience through trial and error. Scientists do not become experts in their field by undertaking training courses. They do so by being involved in industry, and their expertise grows as the industry grows. If you want a skilled workforce, you have to encourage the industry as a whole. You don’t invest in a generation of overqualified and inexperienced individuals, as both Labour and Conservatives are wont to do. Throwing money at training and apprenticeships is just opening yet more avenues for training providers to take advantage of and extract money from the government.

For example, the financial services sector is booming because it is deregulated. Yet nobody talks about training, qualifications and apprenticeships in the finance sector. Why? Because a successful business takes care of itself. If a business is to succeed and thrive, they have to make sure that their workforce is adequately prepared for the work they do. They don’t rely on the government to fund their training. They don’t bemoan the lack of skilled people for the job. If they desperately need someone with a certain skillset, they will pay good money to employ a person with that kind of skillset. When prospective employees see how well certain skillsets pay, they work hard to invest in those skills for themselves. That’s how the job market works.

So, when politicians talk about investing in “skills”, “training” and “qualifications” for the “working people”… I despair. Politicians are the least skilled when it comes to policy-making.

They are, however, excellent at spin and smear. This is what the political industry has become. And the dumb public who buys their crap is to blame for this.

Politics: in polite company, in personal attitude.

Recently, I was at a small social gathering. At one point, the name “Margaret Thatcher” was mentioned, and immediately looks of disapproval spread across some of the faces in the room. This was quickly followed by comments subtly denigrating the late politician.

Being a foreigner who was not in the country during Thatcher’s years, I didn’t have much knowledge of her, her policies, their impact on the country, or how well/badly the public received all of the above. But given the how plainly obvious that at least half of the room thought negatively of the former prime minister, my curiousity made me venture the question: “Why is Margaret Thatcher such a divisive figure in this country?” However, my company politely declined to comment, maybe because there was too much to go into.

Now, it seems to be an established truism in many parts of western society that you do not discuss politics in polite society. (I shan’t delve into the reasons why for now) But even though my friendly company obviously tried to stick to this, it occurred to me that this is somewhat impossible. People simply cannot contain their political ideologies and allegiances. It comes out one way or another: Your worldview fundamentally colours your perspective and your thought processes, and obviously this will manifest itself in the way you speak, the way you behave, the way you even react.

Because of the conflict of these two realities, we end up with this: Because of the deep ideological commitments and divisions that span this country, the aggression towards certain people/ideologies are always and obviously there, bubbling under the surface. But polite decorum dictates that this emotion never be actively manifested, so this aggression manifests itself passively. What we end up with is behaviour that is literally and definitely passive aggressive.

Could we fundamentally disagree on issues without feeling personally hurt/insulted/attacked? Can we have principles without being emotionally invested?

I strongly feel that mature society shouldn’t be suppressing political and ideological disagreements. Let’s not be afraid to confront disagreements. We should be able to discuss contentious issues civilly, find out where we agree and disagree, and maybe even debate the issues on their individual merits and shortcomings. Maybe instead of dismissing the other for being so obviously wrong/blind/stupid… if we can try hard to understand each other, charitably interpret other people’s decisions, we might be able live in a more harmonious society.

Can Britain achieve this?

Peace and tolerance doesn’t mean hiding behind a mask of politeness and the wilful suppression of personal opinions. Disagreement does not necessarily lead societal division. But when discussion of contentious issues are avoided by moderates, extremists take advantage of this vacuum, and they take ownership of these issues. This mechanism becomes self-feeding, as moderates, in the attempt to avoid being put in the same camp as extremists, distance themselves from these topics even further. The problem amplifies itself, as anyone who dares to talk about these issues is typecast as an extremist or at the very least leaning in that direction. This is seems to me to be a very unhealthy society. I’m afraid this is the description of Britain as we know it.

(Incidentally, I tried to do some brief research, and found this relatively neutral summary of how Thatcher became so divisive in British culture: http://josharcher.uk/blog/why-margaret-thatcher-is-hated/)

Dear Britain: Please quit with your self-righteous attitude.

Dear Britain:

Please quit with your self-righteous attitude. You have accomplished some great things in the past, and one of the greatest things you accomplished was the push to abolish chattel slavery. However, you do not now hold a monopoly on morality and everything righteous, nor have you ever done so. We are all fallible human beings trying to do the best we can.

The trigger for this post?

Last night, I witnessed this snippet from a House of Lords debate (in paraphrase):
“Capital punishment is barbaric, and we need to urge countries like the USA to abolish capital punishment. ”
“For example, there was a person on death row for 39 years. This is inhumane.”

They disagree with capital punishment but they want the convicts to be killed off quickly? Such short-sighted self-righteousness is very typical of the British. The biggest objection to capital punishment is that an innocent’s life may be taken in the event of a wrong conviction. The reason people sit on death row for a very long time is so that there is ample opportunity for the conviction to be overturned in light of new evidence. (And in case you think I support capital punishment: I don’t. I believe only God has the responsibility to give or take life.)

My takeaway point is:

If you disagree with someone, please don’t immediately assume that you are right and they are wrong. Ask questions. Try to understand the other side’s perspective and the reason they take their position, before condemning them. They just might have some insight that you don’t.