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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Days of Hope

I've been watching Ken Loach's Days of Hope which forms part of a  boxed set  containing the  films he made for the BBC in the 60s and 70s. It's a superb piece of work and it's almost unimaginable that it would be broadcast on mainstream TV  today. Unimaginable not only because of its artistic and moral seriousness but also because of its politics. Of course we don't need to see it on TV because we've now got our own live version.

In the second episode at around 32:10 there is a marvelous bit of dialogue. Four striking miners have been rounded up by the police and taken, against their will, to meet the mine owner. He treats them to beer and sandwiches at his mansion:

Miner 1: "Well there's none of us want to see the country on its knees Mr Pritchard, but at the same time I don't see why everything should be put all right at our expense."

Mine Owner: "But we've all got to make sacrifices. We're in this together, we've got to help one another."

Miner 2. " Well the way I see it the boot's always been on the other foot, like whatever we've had's been taken off wor. We've got nowt left now have  we?"

Remember this was broadcast in the same year that MI5 were orchestrating a dirty-tricks campaign against  a Labour Prime Minister and at least one Tory MP was, allegedly, talking with senior military figures about destabilizing a democratically elected government, here, in the UK, not in Chile.
The working class, deserted by its political party, may now  lack an instinct for class politics, but the ruling class have never lost theirs (instinct or party). Whenever there is even the slimmest  inkling of popular discontent they just get the old script out of the closet and  dust it down. Substitute public sector worker for miner and Cameron for Pritchard and we're bang up to date.

My good friend and former colleague DL drew my attention to this piece by David Simon creator of The Wire. His point is very simple: just as you really do not want to live in a one party socialist state, you also do not want to live in a world where Capital wins all the time and can, essentially do whatever it wants, whenever it wants (let's face it, if you can crash the financial system, say sorry, get a handout and 12 months later be awarding yourself the same old obscene bonuses, then you really can do whatever you want).

Here's the crux of Simon's argument:

Labour doesn't get to win all its arguments, capital doesn't get to. But it's in the tension, it's in the actual fight between the two, that capitalism actually becomes functional, that it becomes something that every stratum in society has a stake in, that they all share.

The unions actually mattered. The unions were part of the equation. It didn't matter that they won all the time, it didn't matter that they lost all the time, it just mattered that they had to win some of the time and they had to put up a fight and they had to argue for the demand and the equation and for the idea that workers were not worth less, they were worth more.

Who  in Britain is putting it as well as this? Certainly not the Labour Party.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Shock, horror, Abba costumes tax avoidance scam

Marginal Revolution is linking to a story from the Guardian about the flamboyant costumes that Abba  in their pomp wore [there's something terribly Germanic about that sentence (ed.)]. Apparently they were tax deductible and er, that's it... 

I suppose the right response is  Money, Money, Money... but it's much more enjoyable to listen to Super Trouper, which is surely a contender for the title of most perfect pop song ever. Anyone who can get away with the lines:

I was sick and tired of everything
When I called you last night from Glasgow
All I do is eat and sleep and sing
Wishing every show was the last show

is a genius and demonstrates complete mastery of the medium. This live version is also rather charming, though the full range of harmonies is missing.

On Irrelevance in British Sociology

I noticed last week a certain amount of disgruntled tweeting about the British Sociological Association, mainly to do with the cost of attending the annual conference and the rather rigid  membership fee structure. Several anguished souls also opined that the BSA was becoming irrelevant. Personally I've always believed that to be the case. I've never been a member nor felt the need to become one and I couldn't name a colleague that is a member - though  they might just be hiding a guilty secret.

On the  topic of relevance I'm prompted to wonder how long it will be before the BSA's journals become largely  irrelevant? This thought was occasioned by someone mentioning to me that my original blog about the Great British Class Survey is already featuring on undergraduate reading lists - a quick Google search confirmed that this was true - and in teaching materials intended for A level students.

I suppose this is some sort of vindication of academic blogging. But it also raises  the question of  why, even with the widespread adoption of online first publication, it takes so long for traditional journal articles to see the light of day? 

A case in point is the comment  on the GBCS I have forthcoming at one of the BSA journals. Almost 6 weeks ago I received the page proofs with a request to turn them around in five days.  I did it in  three and a half hours and yet more than a month later there is still no sign of it and no indication of when it will appear. It will, of course, be years before it enters the print version of the journal, but why the delay in publishing  online first? Perhaps it's being saved up for a bit of first anniversary GBCS puffing. Cui bono?