Monday, 3 August 2015

The European Project; Is it 'Game Over'?

The ideal governance structure is said to be separate but co-dependent institutions of legislature, executive (civil service) and judiciary. To prevent one or the other becoming too dominant and taking over the state or organisation in their own sectarian interest..

Two major institutions have all three functions inside themselves. The Chinese Communist Party and the European Commission. We know the CCP is above and outside the law but so, it appears, is the EC.

Despite decades long struggles, the European Parliament has been unable to wrest significant legislative authority from the executive of the EC. 

Legal disputes can take 15+ years to wind their way through the European Court of Justice. A challenge (on the grounds of illegal state aid) by private business representatives to a government coop support programme in Italy in the early 1990s was not resolved until 15 years later. In the meantime local and national governments took the position that favouring cooperative specific development support was probably illegal. 

While everyone was ignoring the tax billions being paid as 'in work benefits' to low paid employees of corporations because their wages were too low to exist on. Thus inflating those corporations profits. This is clearly illegal state aid to those corporations. In short the European Union legal system doesn't work. 

The powers of commissioners are quite extraordinary. They are 'little gods' acting outside any democratic control whatsoever. Handing down their decisions to us mortals. A Greek playwright should write a satire comparing them to the squabbling deities atop Mt. Olympus.

Records show that the commission has been largely captured by corporate capital lobbyists. They outnumber other lobbyists many times over in terms of numbers and contacts. So we get the probably illegal 'in secret' negotiations on the TTIP for example. Largely in the interest of corporate capital. Other interests, i.e. 'us', cannot win this battle. Corporate capital will have its way, one way or another. Because they have the resources to fight for as long as is necessary, and we do not. We may derail TTIP only to find the commission has agreed similar rules by another route.

Originally the European project was not meant to be like this. It was designed as a three legged stool with three social partners. Organised Business (as Employers), Organised Labour and Elected Governments. The original architects hoped that like the ideal governance structure ( They were European governance scholars) , these three social partners would be sufficiently independent but co-dependent to keep the stool upright. Of course this all depended on each partner playing the social democratic game i.e. not playing to win ( the UK/USA ideal) but playing to keep the game going for all (the European ideal).

Organised Business got its act together quickly and set up industrial scale lobbying, especially the members representing corporate interests ( small businesses and public sector employers got left behind).

ETUC the European Trades Union Confederation seems to have given up the fight. They act as if the social democratic model were still the bedrock of Europe. After the 1980s and 90s when basic employee rights were harmonised across the community, ETUC has not progressed. They have no more answer to the predation of corporate financial capital across Europe than Arthur Scargill had to the death of the British coal industry. Glorious flag waving defeat or dereliction of duty in the face of the enemy?

And elected government representatives across Europe have been taken over by (neo liberal) corporate interest lobbying. Or bullied into submission to those interests like Syriza.

So one leg has withered and the other two have effectively become one. How is this stool still upright?

The power of the Commission, made up of government ( neo liberals mainly) representatives is growing not declining. They no longer feel the need to abide by agreed treaties, whether negotiating trade treaties in secret (TTIP) or negotiating with member states.

Yanis Varoufakis says he questioned the legality of the Eurogroup which was officially negotiating with Greece but in reality was dictating terms at the whim of the chairman. Officials agreed with him. It was an informal gathering of various European bureaucrats and government representatives, with no legal basis nor any formal authority to dictate terms to a member state. Because it had no constitutional status, no minutes are taken, there are no rights to know what is discussed or who is present.  

They can act in defiance of European treaties or national constitutions, as they did in relation to Greece. And because most EU states (except perhaps Germany) are as, or even more indebted, than Greece (the total UK debt - private, business, government and financial is a greater % of GDP than Greece's equivalent), they can do it to any of the eurozone states at will.

As Varoufakis says, this Eurogroup holds the power to make life hell for millions of European citizens who have no comeback whatsoever, except to escape to an alternative economic space. Which is what many Greeks are busy doing.

Now that the neo-liberal and corporate capital capture of the EU has become so clear, the question is should we still support it? Have we lost the game? Should we, like the Greeks, be building escape routes from this fiscal and legal prison being prepared for us.

(4 Jan 2018 - how things have changed! Maybe the above explains Corbyn's reticence to defend the EU)

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Debt; The New Universal Weapon

Went to a very interesting talk by Spyros Marchetos a Greek professor today at Bradford's 1 in 12 club (30 years of anarchism and going strong, a brilliant institution).

The amount of debt in the world vastly exceeds the amount of real value ( as produced by the global GDP) by a huge factor.  This debt which exists as electronic information in between banks and other financial institutions can be used as a weapon against any country that steps out of line.   Because elected governments are now allowed to convert private debt ( especially losses made by banks) into public debt (which we the public have to repay).  How was this slight of hand allowed to become 'normal' practice?

Because every country is 'in debt' this can happen at any time anywhere.  The total UK debt if you total private domestic, business, financial services and government debt is far higher than Greece's debt. It could be 'called in' at any time eg when Jeremy Corbyn is elected as Prime Minister (I started watching A Very British Coup (1988) which hypothesises a Left Wing labour government winning an election in the 1990s, recently and couldn't continue, too raw to take.)

In Greece the constitution is clear that the loans imposed by the IMF are illegal and should not be repaid.  Much like Wonga were forced to write off their more irresponsible lending.  The UK has no constitution, there wouldn't even be a constitutional objection here.

Marchetos said the EU is now totally in the grip of the bankers and German bankers specifically who wield the debt weapon without any democratic control whatever.

Almost none of the 'loans' made to Greece by the IMF or Eurozone actually went to Greece. Most effectively never left Germany but Greeks are being told to pay them back.

I asked if the rise of alternative currencies and economies in Greece will be an effective defence against this debt/money weapon and he said they weren't significant. They might enable people to keep themselves alive but will not present an effective national alternative. On this I disagree because internet enabled economies are embryonic but showing great potential.

We cannot play in this capital debt game. The cards, the odds, the field is stacked against us. We have to play a different guerilla game where the B52s of the IMF and ECB cannot find us to bomb us back into submission.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Future of HR: Human Relations not Human Resources

Those who know me know I have been saying for years that we have to get away from systems models of businesses and cooperatives and instead stress relationship building between the people that make up the cooperative.

In hierarchical society, systems make complete sense. businesses are machines (or biological or ICT equivalents) into which human resources are slotted and controlled by an elite of executives.  Who justify their privilege by the use of management practices that treat people like cogs or organs or algorithms.

Open any management textbook from Ansoff to Senge and you can see this model, sometimes naked as in Michael Porter's 'work' (Value Chain Analysis). Sometimes covered up by metaphysical  such as Pete Senge and his learning organisation ideas.  In all, the telling sign is that the organisation comes first and the people are slotted into preconceived roles. The boss is in total control (in theory).

Even the modern fad of 'engaged employees' assumes they should be engaged with their employer and not with each other. (as one cynical employee was quoted as saying "In the old days they only tried to control my body. Now they want my heart and soul as well!")

None of this works in a worker cooperative run as a flat hierarchy, equal status collective. Such as my coop Suma, Superbly successful as a business and pretty good as a democratic cooperative too. Without the authority of the hierarchy none of these systems based methods are suitable.

Having struggled to use them and gone looking for something else I discovered the alternative model of the firm. That organisations are merely the sum of all the communication relationships going on in them. This thinking goes by the cumbersome name of Complex Responsive Processes of Relating.

I sometimes simplify this to say that an organisation is merely a big conversation. A complex ever changing web of communications by speech, gesture, email, data, exchange, working arrangements etc.  It's a big intentional family in other words.

This model fits worker coops to a 'T'.  Because it says the better we communicate (relate) with each other the better our businesses will perform. Immediately all manner of improvements spring to mind, how to remove blocks to communication and how to improve our ability to communicate and relate to each other. One of the most powerful blocks is the ability of the powerful to block communication by the less powerful, of course.  An ability that is crumbling day by day as personal social media devices become more powerful and more discrete.

Blocking, restricting and controlling communication is exactly how the Coop Group executive elite operated.

So what does this Relationship model mean for HR? Simple - we replace the Resource with Relations. HRM becomes Human Relations Management. Because groups of people do need to be coordinated and facilitated to communicate otherwise a free for all ensues.  But this is not management leadership. It is facilitation of the wishes of the people who make up the group.

Interestingly some of the senior gurus of HR seem to be waking up to this revolution even if they don't necessarily understand the political significance of it.

Prof. Dave Ulrich has long been considered the foremost global HR theorist. He invented many of the concepts of modern HRM, all systems thinking. How to tinker to make the machine operate better. Recently he has been talking about Relations Management and referring to concepts from personal relationship studies particularly the work of John Gottman

1 Share a common purpose 
Partners in a relationship have different roles to play, but they succeed when they realise that they are stronger together than apart because they have binding goals such as raising children. In a business the challenge is to find a unifying purpose that brings together these different parts into a greater whole.
2 Respect differences
In couples therapy, each partner is encouraged to identify and appreciate the strengths of their partner. Couples succeed when they communicate more positively than negatively. Gottman found a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments in successful couples.  Couples succeed when they know and respond to what matters to their partner. 
3 Govern, accept, connect
A large part of relationship success comes from managing expectations. Researchers have found that 65-70 per cent of relationship problems are never “solved” but “managed”.  Most of the early problems in a relationship are worked around (for example, spending habits, raising children, doing household chores). It is important to solve the solvable problems and not obsess about those that seem to persist. 
Care for the other
In relationship therapy, the most important questions that solidify a relationship are: Can I rely on you? Are you safe? Will you be there for me when I need you? Without positive answers to these questions, relationships will crumble under pressure. With positive answers, partners build trust and celebrate others’ success. 
5 Share experiences together
In any relationship, things go wrong. Personal or professional disappointments or stresses that pull them apart. To build stronger personal relationships, partners are encouraged to turn to each other in times of difficulty, to yield to the influence of their partner, and to be emotionally vulnerable to share deeper feelings with each other. Spending time together and investing emotionally in each other strengthens relationships.
6 Grow together
Anyone in a successful relationship over five or 10 years can look back to see progress.   Relationships morph and each partner learns and grows. Some of this growth comes from constantly learning, from focusing on the future and what can be, from letting go of grievances, recognising vicious cycles and breaking them. Couples with positive relationships recognise growth and change.
1 Share a common purpose
2 Respect differences
3 Govern, accept, connect
4 Care for the other
5 Share experiences together
6 Grow together
These sound like pretty good guidelines for Human Relations Management to me!