Can we reindustrialize?

Last month Toyota surpassed General Motors as the world’s biggest automaker. It’s only the latest sign that U.S. manufacturing industry is in trouble. So is British manufacturing, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Committee of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) titled “Halting the Decline of Britain’s Manufacturing Industry.”

Both the United States and Britain are major imperialist states. They share something more: neoliberalism — or “the Wall Street agenda,” as some Americans might say to avoid misunderstandings about the word “liberalism.”

Neoliberalism has dominated economic policy at least since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 and Ronald Reagan’s in 1981. A disastrous result of the neoliberal agenda is the steep decline in manufacturing.

In proposing an alternative economic strategy for Britain, “Halting the Decline” comes up with plenty of remedies applicable to the U.S.

The full left-wing program proposed by the CPB — “Halting the Decline” is merely its economic component — aims to undo all the damage left by Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair. The left-wing program is not meant to be consistently anti-monopoly. Large British manufacturing firms, for example, might benefit from it in some ways.

Still less is the left-wing program a strategy for a transition to socialism. It is meant to stimulate a debate among all opponents of neoliberalism in the Labor Party, in the trade unions, in other left-wing parties and among some not-so-left-wing groups seeking a balanced, prosperous, sustainable and more equitable British economy.

These are bold but realistic policy ideas for a left Labor government that could be elected in the not-too-distant future.

“Halting the Decline” makes a convincing case that the chief cause of the steep decline of British manufacturing is three decades of neoliberal economic policy: the dominance of the financial sector and its consequences; the export of capital; the export of jobs; the footloose nature of foreign investment in Britain; the overvaluation of the pound sterling; the negative consequences of high interest rates; a weak system of industrial skills training and underinvestment in education; and the effects of Britain’s anti-labor laws.

Its main proposals include repealing the Tory anti-union laws; launching a campaign to abolish offshore tax havens; compelling multinational corporations operating in Britain to have their books audited by a national government agency; creating a much-enhanced union capacity to coordinate joint struggles with unions overseas; helping unions effect takeovers of insolvent firms; and bringing armament makers under public ownership to facilitate conversion to civilian production.

Longer-term goals include restoration of capital controls; a Workers’ Bill of Rights; a new policy on international trade that balances the job needs of British workers with the interests of developing countries; expansion of public ownership; and the abolition of the European Union (EU) and its replacement by a European Association for Cooperation and Development.

The pamphlet’s views on the EU are important. The EU is misunderstood even by much of the U.S. left, which too often does not move beyond a simplistic comparison of the EU to NAFTA.

The EU is a far more ambitious project of European monopoly capital. By throttling national independence, the EU blocks the road to radical, let alone revolutionary change in Europe. If an unelected elite in Brussels is making 80 percent of the decisions about the continent’s future, what’s left for working people to decide? They are left quarreling over the scraps.

“Halting the Decline” challenges the parasitism of British finance capital. By contrast, one seldom hears in the U.S. a call for abolition of offshore tax havens. The pamphlet also defends the legitimacy of developing countries’ demands for a bigger share of the advanced countries’ markets. It makes clear that a continuation of neoliberal policies, which allow multinational capital to use low-wage labor worldwide at the expense of workers in the U.K. (and the U.S.), makes a global depression all but certain.

It is refreshing to read a reindustrialization plan that is bolder, more internationalist, and more centered on struggle than most comparable U.S. union proposals. Of course, political and economic differences remain between Britain and the United States (scale, position in the world economic pecking order and degree of militarization, to name only three). Nevertheless, much is the same, and this pamphlet can be an important part of the discussion on both sides of the Atlantic.

economics @cpusa.org