Monday 28 November 2011

Survival of the insecure

I can't deny that I've got time on my hands. Too much fucking time - there's only so many hours you can spend online job hunting and researching. 

Whilst surfing through the nauseatingly smug cliches of the ever growing 'how to cope with redundancy' industry I came across an academic paper from Cranfield University - a study of redundant executives. A category I reluctantly have to accept I fell into.

There's a lot of pseduo-socio-psychological padding to it but the gist of it is that redundant executives in their survey group show the following personality characteristics in comparison with  their peers who weren't made redundant (or in bollock-speak 'out-placed').

More calm
More socially bold, uninhibited 
Much more imaginative and unconventional 
Less shrewd, more natural, forthright 
Less self critical
Less tense, overwrought

I think I tick all of those boxes - although some who know  me may laugh at the idea of 'calm' - in a work context I was perfectly stoic it's only motorcycle electrics that drive me psychotic.

In fact I could add a couple of more categories of my own:

Less likely to play golf with the boss
Less able to network / generally brown-nose
More inclined to take the piss out of corporate bullshit 

Or in other words, businesses like their managers to be properly socialised - and a bit jumpy. No shit Sherlock.  

I don't know if any of this makes me feel much better - I never felt that I sense of inferiority that I'd got the bullet when others didn't - but now I realise that I'm deficient in those attributes that will get me back in the game ....

Friday 25 November 2011

My trade union CV

In the past few months I have written out my CV  dozens of times - so many times in fact  that I'm even starting to bore myself.  So just  for a change - I thought I'd set it out in terms of the chronology of my trade union membership. 

I  have to say it's not an inspiring story:

• TGWU - in between school and uni I worked as a lathe operator in a factory making photocopiers. It was an old-fashioned shitty  assembly line and played no small part in getting me politicised. The factory was run on the lines of a caste system; the T&G was the union for the 'un-skilled and semi-skilled' - we wore grey overalls; there were engineers (AUEW) who wore blue lab-coats; and technicians (ASTMS) who wore white lab-coats. Paranoia about demarcation and a kind of apartheid system prevailed.  I wasn't there long enough to form a proper view of it all but it did seem like  something out of disutopian sci-fi movie.

• NUS (students not seamen that is) - I couldn't really take this seriously as a proper trade union. Certainly at that time (the 1980s) and place (Oxbridge) it was a drinking club with overtones of political correctness. The high-point of this was an occupation against the proposal of fees (sounds familiar) - but being a respectable bunch the union actually  booked the venue they were occupying in advance.

• SOGAT - joined by mistake whilst I was a student at the London College of Printing. We used to go down to Wapping on a Friday night - which is where I was first  at the receiving end of  police thuggery . Once I started work - in the pre press sector - I found that I was in the wrong union. It then took about six months of arguing and pleading before I was allowed to transfer to the right one.

• NGA - I came in at a time which might considered the swan song of ascendant craft unionism. The chapel had a degree of control over recruitment and working practices which seems almost impossible in these post-Thatcher days. I thought it was great and in retrospect was a bit seduced by it all. It was corrupt and riddled with nepotism, racism and sexism.  And whilst new technology was about to bury us - the union was burying its head in the past. In my section many of the members identified more with the pre-merger( even more arcane) craft unions- like SLADE and the ASLP. The  leadership was more concerned with defining who could and couldn't join - certainly not the new generation of mac heads who did 'desk top publishing'.  The trouble was this was the next generation who were poised to replace many of our jobs.

• GPMU - at last a single union for the print. Trouble was the stable door was bolted  after the horse had run away. The union at my place - and many other smaller companies - had already been de-recognised and members were largely an aging minority.

• AMICUS and  then UNITE - successive swallowing-ups and the union became increasingly remote and irrelevant. Out of 80 odd people in our place there were three members and one of them was me - supposedly a senior manager. 

Which brings me to the latest installment: When I phoned the union offices a few week ago - the first time I had spoken to anyone there for years - to tell them that I had been made redundant, they could tell me only  that as I'd been in for 25 years  I was eligible for a free 'retired members' level of membership. They didn't even ask me if I was happy that I'd received my statutory rights or offer me any support or advice.  I was seriously tempted to tell them to poke my union card - although I have kept it as an 'unemployed member' out of some sort of misplaced sentimentality.

Here's hoping that wherever I end up next has something resembling a healthy union ...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Let's work together

Divide and rule is an ugly game as old as the hills - and  the latest flavour of this seems to be pitting  private against public sector workers. Now just to be clear, I've never worked in the public sector - although it looks like I might be about to reverse the much touted trend of public sector jobs flowing to the private sector. 

This supposedly inevitable  drift to private enterprise  is heralded as somehow emancipating. Because it's an ideologically driven impulse from Thatcher's heirs in the form of Lord Snooty and his chums. But it's not emancipating - and I speak from personal experience here - it sucks - statutory redundancy after 25 years and fuck-all pension to go with it. I don't feel liberated by the market I feel shafted.

But I'm not jealous of the public sector.  Well actually I am  - but not in the way that the Tories want me to be. I'm jealous that even the most 'lowly' of public sector workers goes home at night knowing that they have done something - however menial - that makes their community a better place.  Like many others in private business, when the sun goes down on another working day I can only reflect that I have helped someone else get a bit richer than they were this morning.  

And there's the simple truth - only a tiny number of capitalists (the 1% ?) truly depend on the private sector - for the rest of us it tends to be the public sector that delivers those things that make life bearable. 

So when the mini general strike on November 30th comes around those like me who have never worked in the public sector should get their arses down to the picket lines to let the strikers know that there is no such thing as 'the general public' to be pitted against them - only a different kind of worker. And we're all in it together. Literally.

Friday 18 November 2011

A bit inspired. A lot frustrated.

I've just finished a week spent in a secondary school as preparation for applying to teacher training. It's been a strange week - after all I haven't even really been in a school since I was at school - maybe thirty years ago. I suppose the good news is that the experience hasn't put me off - in fact I want to get some more time under my belt -  but it has made me much more frustrated about how I can now change direction.

Contrary to all those ads - and the articles about bankers seeing the error of their ways and turning to something more worthwhile -  nobody  is  falling over themselves to lure people  into teaching with incentives to change careers.

Certainly not if - like me - you're thinking about teaching something as 'un-useful' as History. Maybe I might stand more chance if I'd elected for Business Studies - god knows I've had more than enough experience in that area, but I've also had enough of that shit and I just don't think it belongs in schools. 

It gets worse: Forget about any golden handshakes - even those 'earn while you learn on the job' GTP schemes just don't seem to  be available for 'non-shortage' subjects either.  If I  get a place on a PGCE course for the next academic year  I will have to face the prospect of living on not much more than fresh air for a year whilst at college. And only then after several years of working my way up to get something like an average wage. But first of course I've got to find something to keep me going for before I can start in Autumn 2012 -  and whilst I'm fully resigned to never again earning as much as I did in my previous over-paid existence -  I'm still wrestling with the implications of inflicting that on my family.

And that's all assuming I can even get on a course  -  the laws of supply and demand mean that applications for teacher training are up 40%  this year - as a result of redundancies and mid-life crisis - or in my case both simultaneously. There's  a catch-22 too of having to demonstrate in your application that you have spent time  in schools (inevitably unpaid) - which is a hard thing to do when you've also trying to find a paying job to keep you going and puts the 'mature' career-changer with responsibilities at a big disadvantage against the recent graduate in their 20's who can afford to take a gap year volunteering. 

Perhaps I should make a case for age discrimination.

Thursday 17 November 2011

A true revolutionary role model

I'm running a bit short of blogging inspiration this week - so I'm  just going to repost a link to an anniversary  piece for Victor Serge that I wrote a year ago. 

Amongst the 'dead Russians' he's maybe not the greatest of revolutionary theoreticians but these days he's probably my favourite. 

'Early on, I learnt … that the only meaning of life lies in conscious participation in the making of history … one must range oneself actively against everything that diminishes man, and involve oneself in all struggles which tend to liberate and enlarge him. This categorical imperative is in no way lessened by the fact that such an involvement is inevitably soiled by error: it is a worse error to live for oneself.'

Friday 11 November 2011

The radical face of Remembrance ?

Looking back at past posts I notice that at this time of year I always seem to say something about remembrance. Why is this ? For starters for anyone not entirely happy with the world as it is, then there is no better illustration of the fucked-up way our societies are run than war in allits poignancy. And when this poignancy connects with family history and personal experience it is a powerful way of making the big ideas human and digestible.

And that's why it pisses me off so much that remembrance is claimed by the political Establishment. All the pomposity of the cenotaph ceremony  - and the poppy one-up manship of public figures (by the way what is it with those special VIP super-size poppies that seem to get more prevalent each year?).

Remembrance is about ordinary people and it certainly isn't about armies and governments.

I've spoken before about how despite the remoteness of 1918 the whole remembrance thing is still very firmly rooted in the image of the  Armistice of the Western Front: 

There used to be a myth propagated that the armistice of 1918 came about  because eventually right prevailed over the horrible Huns. Now this seems to have been replaced with a idea that the powers that be of the war-weary protagonists had some sort of brief moment of clarity and so agreed to stop the slaughter.

Bollocks. The end of the Great War came about because the German ruling class decided that they would rather make peace with their counterparts amongst the allies than fight on and probably lose a revolution against their own people. They had the salutary lesson of the Russian revolution only a year earlier. And in fact at that time things might have gone very differently  when the French army mutinied en masse and their ruling class also had a wobble - saved only by the US turning up to save the day.

If there is a lesson to take from the Armistice it is not just that war is horrific - it is that just occasionally  ordinary people can take their fate in their own hands.

Monday 7 November 2011

We're all anti-capitalists now.

I'm too young to be an old hippy - but Buffalo Springfield's lyrics keep ringing in my head at the moment:
There's something happening here  
What it is ain't exactly clear  
I think it's time we stop children what's that sound 
Everybody look what's going down
I had a job interview on Friday and - as I was in the area - found myself in the bizarre position of calling in at the St Paul's occupation if not exactly 'suited and booted' then certainly not in my usual scruffy state.

I didn't stay very long - but I was struck by a diverse bunch of committed people stoically enduring the miserable autumn drizzle and at great  pains to explain what they were all about to anyone who would listen. Quite eccentric and very English.

But these days I apply a kind of acid test to any movement - would it connect to the people I live with in Tottenham - the diverse inner city dispossessed ? or the people I used to work with - the white working class ? or to my daughter's friends - the next generation of activists ? If something doesn't hit at least one of these criteria then however well-intentioned it's probably barking up the wrong tree. And I'd have  confess that I came away from St Paul's still a bit ambiguous. But then a couple of surprising things happened at the weekend:

I went to the SP's weekend school 'Socailism 2011' and attended the session on the anti-capitalist occupations. I was prepared for some hack-interventions making predictable criticisms of the occupiers for not having a rounded-out socialist programme or connecting to the labour movement. But there was none of that. In fact there were several young comrades who had been on the occupations themselves - here, in the US and in Europe. They looked and spoke just like the people at St Paul's only they had pushed the anti-capitalist thing that vital last few yards into something like socialism.

Then I rode down  to Kent on Sunday for lunch with my dad. He's 82 and although he's been a Labour man all his life you could forgive him for carrying a certain conservatism at his age. In fact though - like Tony Benn - he seems to have got more radical as he's got older. He wanted to know about St Paul's what was going on -  what it was about - what did I think? As he said - and I quote: 'after all - we're all anti-capitalists now'.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Kiel Mutiny 1918

Another guest piece over at the wonderful 'On This Deity' - the anniversary today of the Kiel Mutiny and the start of the German Revolution of 1918.

History. Honesty. Tribalism. And PhD's.

Amongst the various wild geese that I have been chasing in my current  unemployed state, one possibility I considered was doing a PhD. Not because I seriously considered a new career as an academic but because it's something that I've always figured on doing at some point as a bit of self indulgence.

Having looked into some of  the practicalities, and got some very helpful advice from friendly academics I've decided not to pursue it. Quite simply there's a world of difference between having a pet subject you research a bit when you've got nothing else to do and a consuming passion that will keep you (and your family)  going for three to five years of poverty without much prospect of employment at the end.

My particular hobby horse (one of many I pick up and put out down regularly from time to time) was British Trotskyism and the Second World War - with a particular look at its disconnect with how Trotskyism in recent anti-fascist campaigns has appropriated the mythology of the 'People's War'. 

That may well sound like a typically academic 'angels dancing on pin heads' subject - but it also highlights a much more important and practical point - the invention of tradition and the honesty of organisations about their own history. I'll admit that a lot of this was aimed at the IS/SWP and the ANL /UAR tradition - but it also applies to some extent my own organisation and its predecessors.

There's not exactly a body of scholarship on this subject - which can be interpreted as hole in the market - and what there is falls pretty much into the category of 'party family histories'. These seem to consist of tortuous and labyrinthine attempts to demonstrate a continuity between an organisation's antecedents and its current position - and it goes without saying - the correctness of these positions on every occasion. This strikes me as basically ahistorical - but worse than that - fundamentally dishonest.

It reminds me of when I first got involved with Trotskyism having come from a very brief flirtation with  the YCL / CPGB as a teenager. I was given a book by Alan Woods called 'Lenin and Trotsky - What They Really Stood For'. It was a pretty good rebuttal of the Stalinist misrepresentation of Leninsm. But it also perpetuated the idea that Marx, Lenin and Trotsky were some kind of holy trinity - a single indivisible being of one mind in three incarnations. Even at the time I was uneasy about this - nowadays I'm still more so.

On a purely facile level I quite surprised myself when I took one of those daft online 'what kind of Marxist are you ?' quizzes - and  I came out as a 'Luxemburg-ist'. Thinking about it, these post-everything days I'd rather define myself (if I really have to) as a 'Libertian Marxist from the Trotskyist tradition'. I don't think it undermines  my continuing membership of the party I've been in for the past twenty-something years - but it's certainly more honest.