Posted by: amicusgselection | Monday, December 15th, 2008

Is Crisis an Opportunity?

Branch Portsmouth & District 0750

paul-gifMembership No – 31561281

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The challenge with both writing and publishing an article in December 2008 is to keep it up to date and relevant. At the time of writing this article in such changing times the world is facing an economic crisis in a form that many people, especially the younger generation, have never seen before.

The high risks and in many cases, obscene bonuses that some in the banking and the casino style financial markets have taken, are having a negative impact upon the economy where the most vulnerable people within society will feel the greatest impact.

The 30 plus year “Free Market” experiment dreamt up in Chicago and first applied in Chile has run its course and the end was apparently fairly sudden. (I’m not convinced that those that have, mobilise, and use power, did not realise this some months before it happened). As we attempt to deal with the impact that this is having on us, our families and our organised companies, I thought that it would be appropriate to remind ourselves and new readers on how we got to this stage.

The Past.

In 1982 Milton Friedman, an economist from the Chicago School of Economics and the leading figure behind the philosophy of “Free Market Capitalism”, wrote “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”.  Since then, there have been many “crises” around the world. South America, Poland, South Africa, Russia and the UK have for one reason or another faced their own “crisis” all of which have created the opportunity to bring about fundamental change through the introduction of a free market economy. For information, in the UK that crisis was the Falklands War.

War casualties in the 1982 conflict totalled 655 Argentine soldiers, and 236 British soldiers.

astiz-surrender(Left Alfredo Astiz signing the surrender document on HMS Plymouth). At that time I was working in Portsmouth Naval Base. Half of the 4,000 strong workforce were working around the clock with redundancy notices in their pockets and I can remember that the nation embarked on an eleven-week battle where many lives were sadly lost by both sides.

When the war was over, the Conservative Government rewarded our members by making 1,000 of the PNB workforce redundant and then turned the screws by attacking our and other trade unionists, collective agreements.

Historically, in both military and strategic terms, the Falklands war changed very little. However, it did change a great deal of domestic public opinion and helped to facilitate the extension of an experiment called “The Free Market Economy.”

The general public had swapped their “Ditch the B**ch” (anti poll tax) T-shirts and poll tax riots Riotsand started to wear “Up Your Junta” ones (anti Argentina).  Many people purchased their council houses (quickly changing the front doors to ones that blocked out all natural light but signalled to the world that they were now property owners) and bought and sold shares in gas and Building Societies (quickly turning a small profit). Ironically, we ended up with more individuals owning shares and at the same time the value of shares owned by individuals declined.

 Individualism was encouraged and collectivism was discouraged.

The Conservative Party, which many thought would lose the then up and coming, and if by coincidence, general election, was re-elected and set about privatising great swathes of the public sector and public utilities including Telecommunications, Airports, Airways, Ports, Steel, Water, Rail, Nuclear Energy, Electricity generation and distribution and picked a fight with the miners and print workers. They classified working people as the enemy within, brought in anti-trade union legislation and told unemployed people to get on their bikes to find work.


The Present.

The Free Market Economy experiment that started 30 plus years ago in Pinchot’s Chile is now in crisis and governments around the world have had to bail out the banks and financial institutions and it seems that we are returning to a form of Keynesianism (counting newly nationalised bank workers into account, there are more public sector workers now that ever before).

(For younger readers – Keynes was also an economist and Friedman did not share his views. The battle for the last 30 plus years has not been between Capital and Labour; it’s been between Friedmanism and Keynesianism).

The shock of this “crisis” is in our newspapers and on our television and computer screens on a daily basis with our expectations being guided towards recession, growing unemployment and uncertainty.

At the time of writing this, our members within the steel industry can see the effects of this “crisis” every time they go to work with production being cut back and steel not going out of the door and into our manufacturing industries, which in turn supports the rest of our economy.

One thing is for sure; the “crisis” will affect all working people and will run for a considerable time to come. Potentially, we are going to face some very testing times. The cost of the “crisis” at the time of writing this article was estimated to be in the region $2,800,000,000,000.

The Future

We cannot roll the clock back to the 1980’s and re-nationalise all that was once within the public sector. It would be neither practicable nor possible. However, we can demand and expect a greater degree of corporate responsibility within all areas of the economy and in particular, in banking and finance. Given that it is our future taxes and the taxes of the children of today and tomorrow that will eventually pay for the effects of the “crisis”, then we can and should demand a move from the madness of Friedmanism towards a more balanced economy.

To quote Freidman again, “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”.

The current crisis is real and will affect us all. It is up to all of us collectively, to play an active part within our trade unions, communities, and life, to build a fair society based upon equality of opportunity and not the greed of a few.  It is through involvement, both industrially and politically, that we will create change. The opportunity for real and lasting social and economic change is there and we should grasp it with both hands.

Finally, returning to the question, is crisis an opportunity? Well economists certainly think so, so should trade unionists think the same?

Feel free to play your part and make a comment on this article on “your” page at  have your debate, and remember, it is “not me, it is us that will make a difference…”

To download this document click here Is Crisis an Opportunity?


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