Monday, 15 July 2013

Colin Crouch on the politics of work

This interview with Colin Crouch in Renewal is a year or two old, but it is great and is what spurred me to get his most recent book on neo-liberalism. I remember thinking at the time that it was a more nuanced take on actually existing capitalism than you usually find on Left or Right. But I had forgotten he made some really interesting comments about workplace politics:
But there is a big ‘traditional’ issue that I think is critical to reconstructing political identities, which concerns the death of the workplace as a political arena. One thing New Labour did was to kill the notion that your working life had any political elements. As a citizen and consumer of public services you were encouraged to think politically. But your workplace was just somewhere where you got paid – it wasn’t a community.
We now have the most dynamic part of the economy in private services and finance where there is practically no worker-representation. The inability, not unique to the UK, of the trade union movement to reproduce itself in the new spaces of the economy is why people don’t have work-related identities. Labour has become a weaker and weaker actor in relation to working issues. Some of the campaigns I mentioned are connected to the unions internationally – particularly on supply chain issues. But if there is one thing we need more than anything else, it is the re-politicisation of work as an issue and as a generator of political identities.
This is very close to my view of the world. I personally worry about the Blairite inability to see workplaces as much other than spaces of individual opportunity for employees liberated by better education, particularly when made apparent in barely disguised contempt for trade unions. Whatever you might think about unions, they are a reminder that work is rather more complicated than that, and that if you're interested in empowering the ordinary punter it's a bit odd to exclude the workplace from this discussion.

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