As a follow on to the last essay on the fertile ground for the new left to grow back stregnth, I write here more about how family values must be the area for democratic socialists to focus.
The new Left of the 90s were liberal govrnements who rode the back of the market liberalisation while helping stimulate the economy by creeping public spending ever upwards.
The Next New Left are confronted with a completely opposite scenario. Market liberalisation which has lead to anarchy and a loss of faith in investing in companies. Hence a western recession with potential to grow to being a global catastrophe of faith.
It may take another round of now Old Right 80s thinking and implemenation of more anarchy and more power to the wealthiest echelons before the system collapses enough that even the Davos attendees realise the time has come for stronger governance of the markets, and a Keynsian lead recovery.
What should the family unit oriented goals of the Next New Left be though ?
1) job security
2) overtime payment
3) RIght to family freindly working hours. Right to maternity / paternity leave and reduced working hours as desired
4) access to training on the job
5) flexibility in access to life long education
6) an errosion of the high cost of tertiary education for the children of average income families
7) tax breaks to make longer commuting and relocation more attractive to unemployed families
8) conversely to 7, better access to life-long-learning at two or more start semesters per year will aloow for fleibility for workers to respond themselves to local market conditions and reduce the current need for continent wide migration and localised skill gaps.
As you see from several of my points, this is both a return to workers power to decide their working hours, while also it is a marketisation of education. Both proto liberal economic points in there along with traditional values unions and labour parties had previously had success in acheiving.
The fact is I write this from some bitter experience of the "flexible, competitive labour market" . Basically I have spent about 20-30% of my post graduate adult life in unemployment or fill-in jobs due to the flexible labour market allowing employers to be non committal when it suits them best. So I know what the heck is going on for ordinany people. There is the stress of short term contracts and short notice periods. People cure this by gaining new skills or going to fairer employers who offer permanency. It is an oxymoron- employers who do not offer fair contracts become less and less attractive in retaining skills and either end up operating in a lower value segment of the market, or paying higher wages to enough managers, consultant and hired in skilled staff to try and sort out their quality and income issues, that they end up not being able to see the wood for the trees.
This is a phenonmenon not only limited to semi skilled workers or areas of the labour market with over-supply. Take two acquaintances who are city analysts who have kept their jobs the last four years somehow. They have been on fixed yearly contracts for over ten years now, and cannot get mortgaged despite having an impressive take-home. This has affected their decision on when to have family and they have let this slip so that now, in their mid to late thirties, they have fertility problems. A perfect example of the market liberalism interfering with family life.
Western companies can no longer compete with the east: can't beat em, use them as your sub supplier of OEM and own lable wares. There is no point in trying to compete in some labour intensive, semi skilled sectors unless you have a patriarchal view on business and a wad of technology in your products which make render high end consumer products. Take also defence products and services for that matter, attractive and premium and to some degree protectionist by nation or cultural branding.
The other side of the western economy is of course service. There is a fundamental fact that a chinese worker in china cannot deliver a freshly grilled big-mac to a New Yorker.
Further to this point on services: they rely to a large extnetn on geography: localistion to population areas on the one hand, and nice places to go on vacation on the other. Within reason these then do not need to compete on a global basis. They are linked into the local- dollar market or the tourist-dollar spend market. So why should workers be stressed out on temporary contracts (ingoring obvious seasonality glady taken up by under graduates and the poorly education attentive!) and delivering undermotivated services, based purely on fear of being sacked ?Why should they too not enjoy most of the conditions that their better payed customers do in their technocratic jobs ?
The answer is purely that the rich have paid for this flexible labour market to deliver low paid workers and therefore high margins. This is however at the expense of the government who are then expected to raise these people out of poverty with wage subsidies, wage related benefits, public health care and of course unemployment benefits for the periods they are laid off in.
The dogmatism and absolute hypocrisy is evident.
Apart from a basic living minimum wage, we are not talking about fixed , stiffled market conditions. We are raising the economic per week cost of workers but raising their perception of conditions. They may still get laid off, but if they get three months notice then they have time to look for work rather than be an immediate burden on the state, to the profit of the owners who have not successfully subsidised their operation through a seasonal or cyclic economic down turn or just plain bad selling!
If maternity/ paternity costs are covered by tax credits - payed by a combination of those built up from before and later in arrears to cover this familial eventuality then this is an area which has a neutral cost to the employer. If a mother chooses to resign work part time to cope with pregnancy, birth and infants then they have to cover her anyway with a temp or new employee. Far better to have an experienced employee take time out and come back ( as i mentioned in an earlier blog, I am all for reducing employer "on cost" social contributions in all lands they exist such that employment and training of employees becomes more atttractive and less costly when the top line goes down)
Other improvements in family related conditions for workers will often also have a pretty neutral effect on employers who wish to be desirable to new staff and retain staff. Who are these companies who need armies of temporary workers ready to dispose of their skills and instutional memory at the drop of a dollar from the top line ? Are these the types of companies likely to survive in the western economy? Or are we subsidising poverty by allowing companies to endlessly outsouce through agencies who take a margin which could have gone to the employee? Are we directly subsidising these conditions by allowing benefits to soak up periods of unemployment and low income? woudl be be in fact better, in a true free-market situation, that workers whold knives literally to their managers throats to keep them in employment or turn up on the company door step with their four starving kids ? No, that would be inhumane and mean that there is a high possibility that our employee we could have grabbed back when the top line went ujp a bit, voted with their feet and moved out the area.
Thatcher was right when she identified the family unit as the key to the modern, western economy. If you can win them away from the unions and labour movement by offering a better family economy and more importantly, selling the dream of a wealthier life in front of them, then you can win elections. The Next New Left must also embrace this and reward qaulity of life for families in order to regain moral and ideological ground on the exhuasted free-market 80's mind set of the now old right wing.