Books

The shop stewards who represent the future

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Martin Thomas reviews a new book by Paul Hampton – Workers and Trade Unions for Climate Solidarity: Tackling climate change in a neoliberal world.

Under the carapace of often sluggish official union responses, a network of “thousands of union [workplace] reps [is] making a substantial contribution towards curbing carbon emissions across the UK”.

A review of Workers and Trade Unions for Climate Solidarity by Paul Hampton.

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Race, class and the English worker

Author: 

Michael Johnson

A review of Satnam Virdee's Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider.

Virdee covers two-hundred years of working-class history, but not as we know it. This is history, he says, “through the prism of race”, a contribution towards “unsettling the academic consensus which equates the history and making of the working class in England with the white male worker.”

A review of Satnam Virdee's Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider.

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The four lives of Laurent Schwartz

Author: 

Martin Thomas

I recently came across Laurent Schwartz’s autobiography, published in French in 1997, and in English in 2001. Maybe for reasons which I’ll indicate, it has not become a well-known book; but there is much to be extracted from it.

Schwartz was a Trotskyist from when he was shocked by the Moscow Trials, in 1936, at the age of 21, until 1947; and an energetic left activist all his life, often cooperating with Trotskyists.

Laurent Schwartz was a Trotskyist from when he was shocked by the Moscow Trials, in 1936, at the age of 21, until 1947; and an energetic left activist all his life, often cooperating with Trotskyists.

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Around the world: 

Another automation is possible

A review of The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us by Nicholas Carr.

Automation is everywhere. From robots on production lines to the cockpits of planes; from automated market trading to highly skilled medical diagnosis via a whole range of blue and white collar occupations, few jobs seem to be immune to the replacement of human, living labour by computerised systems.

One report has recently predicted that as much as 47% of US employment is at risk. This is not just futuristic hype: the US has just gone through a “jobless recovery” from the 2008 crisis.

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A brave new world?

Author: 

John Cunningham

According to the authors we are entering a “second machine age”.

The first came with the invention and development of the steam engine by James Watt and others in 1775 and now “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments — what the steam engine did for muscle power. They’re allowing us to blow past previous limitations and taking us into new territory.”

A review of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

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“Back to the 70s” will not reverse inequality

Author: 

Matt Cooper

The 970 pages of Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century have been summarised in the three characters: r > g.

Expanded, this means, in recent years, the rate of return on the capital of the wealthy (r) has been greater than the rate of growth of the economy (g); the proportion of wealth owned by the richest becomes greater and inequality grows.

A review of Inequality: What can be done? by Anthony B Atkinson (Harvard University Press, 2015).

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Britain's New Corruption

Author: 

Pat Yarker

“Old Corruption has passed away, but a new, and entirely different, predatory complex occupies the State... with its interpenetration of private industry and the State... its control over major media of communication, its blackmail by the City, its reduction of the public sector to subordinate roles, and its capacity to dictate the conditions within which a Labour Government must operate...”

E P Thompson, “The Peculiarities of the English”, 1965.

A review of How Corrupt Is Britain? Edited by David Whyte (Pluto Press: 2015).

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Fighting union busting

Author: 

Jim Denham

Trade unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment.

The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.

A review of Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (New Internationalist).

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The hinterland of the contemporary left

Author: 

Pat Yarker

This book presents six occasional essays in which the American novelist Benjamin Kunkel gives an account of recent work by contemporary thinkers of the left.

A review of Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis by Benjamin Kunkel. (Verso 2014).

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The hegemony of neoliberalism

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Philip Mirowski addresses the left, very broadly defined — “people who have taken it as a fundamental premise that current market structures can and should be subordinate to political projects for human improvement” — but with “a simple message: Know Your Enemy before you start daydreaming of a better world”.

He dismisses most already-circulating “better world” schemes as helpless against the dominance of neoliberalism.

A review of Never let a serious crisis go to waste: how neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown by Philip Mirowski (Verso, 2013).

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