Little Red Blogger

This blog looks at radical politics(with a libertarian socialist slant), music and culture. Marx to Mises, Girls Aloud to Steve Reich...

Location: Wiltshire, United Kingdom

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The New Corporatists and Schooling a Definition of Fascism in New Labour

Mussolini was reputed to have said that "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” Mussolini like many of the fascists that followed him was an ex-Marxist, merely inverting many Marxist ideas and organising principles and lined up his interests with that of the conservative small businessman and the Church (sound familiar…). Modern Britain is of course very much different from post-World War 1 Italy but similar trends can be observed when it comes to the aligning of corporate and state power. Many trends in ‘New’ Labour thinking from the encouragement of PFI/PPP to the focus on importing private sector ‘talent’ into the civil service seem hell-bent on erasing the difference between the private and public sectors with it’s neo-liberal corporatist approach.

Government agencies are to be routinely sham privatised, leaving the control and command apparatus pretty much the same if a little more exploitative and efficient at screwing the ordinary worker out of any surplus value they might create. True privatisation would of course place the agency in the hands of the workers rather then selling it to the highest paying rentier, but I digress. How does this tie into the governments plan for making schools more independent and thus more control over their own destiny?

As any political cynic will tell you: ‘follow the money’ which means when it comes to school reforms questioning: how will these schools be funded and by whom? Essentially funding is divided into three different categories that of the Academy which is partly funded by private companies or individual, the Foundation school locally funded by the LEA but controlled by the governing board of the school and the Independent ‘Specialist’ school again funded by the LEA but with central government funding for their subject specialist status. This is all to be swept away with the government’s reforms with City Academies becoming the norm every school is to be independent and self governing, yet funded centrally by the government. This would it seems grant Whitehall unprecedented power over these nominally independent schools further reinforcing the government’s centralising and micromanaging tendencies a further problem is in the way that private interests are allowed to dictate the ethos and nature of the schooling. This has been amply demonstrated by Reg Vardy’s creationist interventions in the City Academy he has part-funded in Sunderland. Part of the deal for his£2 Million’s worth of funding has been the promotion of his highly reactionary and anti-scientific Christian fundamentalist views within the classroom, parents and pupils can do nothing about this as they have no say over how the school is run or organised.  The usual rejoinder to this is that Blair’s proposals will give parents more choice and therefore the bad schools will shutdown and the good schools grow. Education is to be marketised and hence made more responsive to parent’s wants and needs. All good solid libertarian stuff I can hear you thinking, or is it?

Now any non-authoritarian Socialist or Libertarian is obviously for reduction or marginalising of state control, Blair’s proposals do nothing to enhance either the parents or child’s liberty when choosing or organising and education for themselves. The market for education is again to be highly cartelised with very high start-up costs for parents and an extremely strong regulatory framework controlled by central government essentially the merging of the corporate and governmental state that I alluded to earlier. Parents in this so-called market are to be reduced to passive consumers with corporatised schools responding by expanding and contracting according the demand of parents. Blairite ultras like the Vulgar Libertarians would argue that this will lead to a diversity of schools and hence happier parents/pupils with local councils reduced to commissioners rather than providers of Education services. This ignores how a highly cartelised market in education would distort price signals leading to the schools rather the parents or children being the main beneficiaries of these reforms. Also the very fact that these schools would be centrally funded would tempt any government to intervene, panic or blackmail schools on a whim. Now the previous LEA model of school funding and planning was not brilliant I would agree but it at least allowed more local democratic input for parents than these corporatist proposals. Also these proposals leave the whole idea of what a school is and how it works completely untouched with all the traditional reactionary authoritarian models of education being reinforced rather than challenged. Any hint of allowing children control over their education is dismissed as ‘child centred’ and ‘old’ labour, truly democratic community and parent controlled schools are definitely off the agenda. Those seeking a truly liberal, humanistic education for their child rather than a better run sausage factory will have to turn to home schooling, alternative ‘free’ schools and parent run co-operatives; New Labour has nothing to offer you.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Glorious Gober Method: How M&S Have Brought a Superior Brand of Snake Oil

Marks and Spencers have recently invested a large amount of their employees money(according to shop workers union USDAW around £10 million)  into a motivational scheme designed to raise sales and address the flagging fortunes of the huge retail group. This scheme is designed and pedalled by the almost stereotypically American Mary Gober with the inevitably trade marked ‘Gober Method’ with its three pronged approach to improving service. This consists of changing the ‘psychology of service’, the ‘language of service’ and the ‘management framework’. In short convert, indoctrinate and wave the big stick…

Lets look at exactly what Mary Gober means when she talks about a ‘psychology of service’ in essence the ordinary worker is to be optimistic and to use that horrible word ‘pro-active’ when speaking to customers, worker self worth and self respect is another aspect of this along with responsive to complaints. So far, so obvious and it seems Gober is cadging the ‘typical New Age decadent neo-hippy tropes’ of ‘self-realisation’, typical touchy feely stuff fed to the poor sap who has to implement this method. Indeed the M&S workers are being sent to huge motivational seminars that resemble Billy Graham’s revival meetings with the gospel of Gober being pounded out at the management pulpit to the expectant and cowed workforce. USDAW to its credit has called the events a gigantic waste of money and I would argue that they’re right for reasons that we’ll look at later. The second part of the ‘Gober Method’ is where the ‘language of service’ is looked at. The workers vocabulary is to be reconstructed according to the ominously named ‘Telephone Compulsory Standards’ and the mind bogglingly named ‘Service Excel Mind-Set’. All this seems to boil down to is ensuring that all Customer Service reps say the same thing at the same time according to what the management perceive the customer actually wants. The third part of Gober’s method is I think the most important and interesting. Her ‘management framework’ this is where her method devolves down to the usual technocratic buzzwords such as ‘change management’ the dreaded ‘team building’ and the blandly named but insidious ‘service delivery process improvement’.

Now it has been remarkably difficult to track down examples of what these buzzwords actually mean, if you look at her website there are testimonials, information about the seminars and the usual self-promotional guff that you would expect you’ll also notice that all the above buzzwords are trademarked. Gober is very protective about her methods it seems which does seem make me think that what she’s selling to these companies is the merely technocratic Taylorism soft-soaped by pseudo-religious new age psychology and motivational tools. What does seem slightly different about this method is the emphasis on indoctrinating employees into its way of thinking with motivational coaches being trained within the organisation to ensure that the ideology is reproduced and strengthened among the staff. Gober has obviously aware of organisation entropy and these coaches have been designed to counter it. It would be interesting to revisit some of these organisations in about five years time to see how closely they’re adhering to the strictures and disciplines of the Method!

As has been observed within capitalist corporations all management techniques can be reduced to Taylorism and the refining of command and control over the frontline worker. The Gober Method is then unsurprisingly old wine in new bottles dedicated to streamlining and making more ‘efficient’ the customer service ends of large corporate organisations. Like most of these methods it does not address the structural problems of these corporations that produce de-motivated staff. The Gober Method sees this is something that can be adjusted by merely changing the mindset of the staff within an organisation, what it deliberately fails to recognise is that workers are quite capable of seeing that they have no control over their own workplace, how their company is run, the stupidity of management and the general pointlessness of their own jobs. The Gober Method seeks to falsely align the interests of the worker with that of senior management all under the excuse of serving the customer better. Interestingly the Gober Method makes no mention of the workers needs and wants and completely ignores any role for unions or other means of representation. This is not surprising due to the top-down technocratic command and control mechanisms that the Gober Method uses to implement its changes. A long-term fix to these problems would of course be the dismantling of these over-large corporate structures and democratic worker self-organisation of whatever remained. Without these changes corporations orientated around customer service and call-centres will keeping buying the same snake oil with a fancy new set of buzzwords slapped on the front each year, pathological structural weaknesses in corporate capitalism makes this predictable as the sun setting. The Gober Method constructs a slightly more comfortable and shiny cage for the average worker and does nothing to address the real problems. Marks and Spencer’s staff have my sympathy.