Posts Tagged ‘Inverting the pyramid’

If copying the German model is as the answer, Labour doesn’t understand the question

11/11/2013, 11:09:16 AM

by David Butler

Jonathan Wilson’s masterpiece on football tactics, Inverting The Pyramid, sets out how success on the pitch regularly came through great managers innovating with formations and strategies. But this success was often fleeting; Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders” quickly reached a nadir in failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Other teams absorbed the successful strategies and modified them, sometimes completely overhauling them. This drove change in the game as teams sought new marginal advantages. Those who sought merely to directly copy and not innovate themselves were left trailing in the dust. This is the danger that deifying a single system brings, from football to economics, and why we should go beyond Germany in thinking about a new capitalism.

Germany acts as a lodestar for those in the vanguard of Milibandism. This is not a new phenomenon on the left; in a speech in 1980, Denis Healey praised the social market as a middle path between Bennism and free market right. For Will Hutton in the mid 1990s, it offered a post-Thatcherite path for Britain. Now, once again, Germany is supposed to point the way towards developing a “supply side of the left” and the transformation of Britain into a European-style social democracy.

Importing individual economic institutions is difficult enough, let alone copying large sets of institutions from a single economic model. In labour-management relations, for example, there are sizeable differences between our island home and the continent. Continental unions are traditionally less adversarial towards management and this enables more consensual institutions to flourish.

The historic conservatism of the labour movement towards their internal structures makes the prospect of Continental-style unionism a dim one. This is not a land without hope; USDAW and Community have been successful in gaining localised victories and engaging (often younger) new members.

Unite have attempted engagement through community organising and launching a credit union. Business too would have to modify its approach towards labour relations. One only needs to look at the behaviour of Ineos and Unite at Grangemouth to see that there is a long path to walk before Britain will achieve more cooperative labour-management relations.


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