China's growth/Unite the union
The great fall of China?
Mike Haynes' article on the contradictions in China's economy (Features, September Socialist Review) was a useful corrective to much written on the subject. For all the staggering growth of recent years, it's easy to forget that parts of China remain desperately poor, and that even the most prosperous areas rely on armies of underpaid migrant workers making the "economic miracle" possible.
The two riots by Foxconn workers last month showed the volatility of this new working class. The exact causes of the riots remain obscure, but what is clear is that migrants now have the confidence to take on the police in a way they didn't twenty years ago.
Mike is also right to point to the crucial role of the state in directing and guiding economic growth. It's too often assumed that private capital is at the heart of China's economic boom. In fact, much of the economy remains under the control of various levels of the state, either directly or through all manner of alliances with private and foreign capital.
But there are limits to their ability to control matters. Crucially, the world economy which until recently was favourable to China's growth, is now a more hostile environment. As early as 2006, China's leaders recognised that they were over-dependent on the US, and sought to hedge their bets by expanding exports to the eurozone.
The meltdown of the euro is fast closing that avenue, without any new ones opening up. For China's rulers, continued economic growth is essential to stave off the threat of revolt from below, yet they remain dependent on the health of a world economic system which they don't control. There are now numerous signs of China's prodigious growth slowing down, and the Communist Party congress meeting late this month faces some very hard decisions with no obvious way forward.
The workers Unite-d
Eddie Cimorelli's feature in last month's issue (Feature, Socialist Review, September 2012) was timely. I read it before attending a Unite area activists meeting in Renfrew, near Glasgow. I'm glad I did, because it was as if Eddie had written the screenplay for it.
Len McCluskey and Jim Sheridan, one of Labour's few former manual worker MPs, addressed what turned out to be a packed, upbeat gathering of around 200 Unite activists.
I'd anticipated the platform would sound the battle cry for 20 October combined with an appeal to get behind the leadership's campaign to reclaim the Labour Party.
Actually the meeting was like a Labour Party recruitment rally. Both speakers' approach was to launch a devastating critique of an out of touch party leadersip and bemoan the failure of the union to influence Labour policy, despite being its biggest funder. For both speakers the remedy was more MPs, MSPs and councillors like Jim Sheridan and more Unite involvement in Labour's constituency meetings. The 20 October demo did feature at the Renfrew meeting, and it's clear that Len wants a huge mass protest, but it was only introduced at the end of his speech and very much subordinate to his orientation on changing Labour.
It's quite clear that Labour is far from dead - certainly in Unite. Here in Scotland the union's Labour Party activists are responding to the shock that in the last Scottish Parliament election 40 percent of Unite members voted SNP. Union activists are being urged to join Labour; some of them are doing so and others are considering it. Every branch secretary has been urged to promote this campaign. This process is happening across the union.
The extent to which Labour is recruiting union activists should not be exaggerated and the Labour left is weak; nonetheless this modest growth in membership is a reflection of the mounting anger to the Tories.
More significantly, as Eddie's article makes clear, "Len McCluskey is gambling on shifting Labour to the left. The danger is that, instead, the union will tie itself to a Labour Party that won't deliver". This fear was also reflected at the Renfrew meeting. Many non-Labour Party members were there and there were angry contributions from the floor (some of them from Labour Party members) about Labour's record over anti-union laws, Miliband's opposition to strikes and about Glasgow Labour Council's crude attempt to prevent the STUC rally from assembling in the City's George Square on 20 October - an affront to the tradition of Red Clydeside.
For socialists in Unite, political clarity about the nature of the Labour Party and the role of left wing trade union leaders is a must.