‘ We’re going all the way till the wheels fall off and burn ‘ Brownsville Girl – Bob Dylan
The Neoliberalism virus has been on life support by governments around the world ever since the Great Financial Crash in 2008. These efforts ‘ to restart the economy ‘ meaning to improve economic growth have foundered and now been rendered null and void by the Coronavirus. The question to be asked is the title of this post. Is it possible that one system of organising society is likely to be replaced by another given the enormity of the disruption the new virus has already caused ?
From even cursory observation there would be some grounds for thinking this might be the case. Where to start ? With the people perhaps. Conversations about the pleasantness of working at home and the saving in travelling costs and time spent commuting long distances to work abound. Might employers whose business can be conducted partially by home working come around to thinking that this is the way forward , saving them large sums of money in fixed overheads – principally the need for buildings big and small and all the attendant services needed to maintain those buildings. It turns out that much work can be done in less time than it takes in the conventional ‘ work environment ‘ and is less stressful. And with many workers working at home comes a greater need for collaboration and co-operation . All of this home working is facilitated by the technology of the computer and the internet without which it would be impossible.
What about those businesses whose employees have to work under one roof ? In order to continue working the work environment has had to be restructured to make it ‘ safe ‘ in regard to the Coronavirus. That restructuring may well bring improvements overall for the workers in those businesses. There are however some businesses, especially in the United States who have not thought it necessary to make positive changes and whose sole motivation is to make the greatest amount of profit regardless of the health of the workers. These companies are reminiscent of the earliest days of capitalist production that Marx describes so vividly and accurately in Volume 1 of Capital. That drive for profit at any price was central to the capitalist mode of production from the very beginning of the Industrial Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century and in many cases around the world there have been little improvement in working conditions especially those concerned with the safety of workers. The spread and lethal potential of the Coronavirus is causing those conditions to be completely unacceptable.
An early turning point in the progress of industrialisation in the course of the nineteenth century came in 1844 when a group of workers in Rochdale set up what was initially a society of consumers , but which later became a society of producers which showed that ‘ associations of workmen could manage shops, mills, and almost all forms of industry with success, and they immediately improved the condition of the men, but then they did not leave a clear place for masters .’ This observation was made by the philistine ( as Marx called it ) English periodical the Spectator on 26th May 1866. Just a few years after the Rochdale pioneers set up their society Cecil Frances Alexander published her hymn ‘ All Things Bright and Beautiful ‘ which contained the stanza
The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
thus sanctifying the inequality of wealth that came to be one of the defining characteristics of capitalist production.
Instead of ‘ I work for him ‘ being the organising principle of capitalism the worker now had the alternative ‘ I work for me ‘ as the organising principle of the co-operative movement. Instead of the unbridled greed of the capitalist master dominating the workers a system of shared ownership, risk and reward could be taken on by the workers themselves.
Might this not be the pre-dominant organisation of the future .