|What Is Left of The Johnnie Walker Whisky Plant|
It has always been assumed that a strong capitalist base will 'naturally' lead to a stronger more robust democratic process. Capitalism, it is also claimed, is the best way of organising and operating the global financial system and the best way of redistributing wealth.
Of course, it is much more complex than that, and there are many socio-politico-economic debates around such crass taken-for-granted assumptions.
To begin with, there is a tendency to assume that there is only one, singular model of capitalism, and, as we all know, there are many different versions. The burgeoning success of China's state category is testimony to that (though I am not advocating that we tear up our democratic processes and construct a new model of state capitalism).
So where does this leave democracy? Once again, we tend to think about democracy as simply an act of voting every four or five years but, of course, it is much, much more than that.
"Democracy is not just about the ballot box," Egyptian activist Sherief Gaber observed in a BBC TV interview on July 2, against a backdrop of street protests demanding the removal of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. "It's about participation and social justice" (BBC News July 2, 2013) - also quoted in the Blog 'We Are All Rabbits'.
Robert Reich called modern trends in capitalism and democracy ‘Supercapitalism’ in his book of the same name.
What Reich perceived was the development of a triumphant free market capitalism which, in its success, enfeebled democracy and rendered elected officials impotent and powerless at the feet of, and in the service of, corporate giants.
It is worth noting that one of the avowed aims of the Occupy movement was to demand that elected politicians represent the interests of those who had voted for them, rather than merely focusing on the narrow agendas of global neo-liberal capitalism.
I witnessed the Robert Reich thesis first hand, when I stood with thousands and listened to the impassioned speeches of a whole array of politicians and trade unionists on a bright sunny day in July 2010. We stood shoulder to shoulder, thousands of us listening to these political wingmen and women and their confident - yet hollow - rhetoric. That day they had vowed to save the Johnnie Walker whisky plant in Kilmarnock, Scotland.
It was hot air on a hot day, Diageo, the giant corporate parent of Johnnie Walker had their mind made up and no matter what was offered or promised to make them stay was ever going to be enough. Democracy failed in the park, regardless of what the people or their representatives wanted the elected were rejected and Diageo had their way.
The Johnnie Walker brand had been a part of Kilmarnoock since 1820 but Diageo had decided to close the plant in the town, give notice to 634 workers and take the business elsewhere.
Before us, that beautiful, sunny day in the park, speaker after speaker cried battle, Diageo would have a fight on their hands. But they all stood embarrassingly impotent in the face of the corporate giant's decision to move the operation out of the west of Scotland town and the plant passed into history with barely a whimper. It closed its doors in March 2012 and the huge factory was erased from the landscape. All that is left, where the great whisky plant once stood, is a huge plot of derelict land scattered with rubble.
It was, therefore, interesting to hear Ed Miliband, the first politician in a long time take a stance against the rampant margin hunting of the multinationals, at this year's Labour party conference. Millions heard Miliband tell the UK electorate that if his party was elected to govern they would freeze energy prices for 20 months. This was in keeping with his avowed aim to reverse the trend of the UK's cost of living crisis.
Of course, the energy companies - the so-called big six - not happy with multi-billion pound margins, almost immediately threatened the people of the UK that if Ed Miliband and the Labour party were elected then the lights might go out all over Britain. ( Is that akin to blackmail?)
Miliband was taking on giant corporate forces who, in the four years up to August 2013, had increased their margins by 74% (a phenomenal return for any company) and well above the 13 per cent inflation recorded over the same period. Here was a political leader putting his career on the line to face down the might of the energy companies.
But think about this. At the same as Miliband was squaring up to these tremendously powerful corporate giants, George Osborne, the coalition's chancellor was scampering off to Brussels to try and prevent bankers having their bonuses capped. In addition, Osborne was more than willing to use taxpayers cash to fund his defence of multi-millionaire bankers by hiring 'top dollar' lawyers and paying as much as £800 per hour for their services.
So, I found myself thinking, that's what austerity means! Cut the welfare of the sick and needy, scythe the budgets of the health service, freeze the wages of ordinary workers and spend as much as you want of public revenues defending the bonuses of the extremely rich?
Now I get it...I think.... ( puzzled frown)