The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Proposals for Alternatives to Neo-liberalism: SIGTUR's Futures Commission.

The Southern Initiative on Globalisation and Trade Union Rights (SIGTUR) launched its Futures Commission in Johannesburg, South Africa, in June 2013 with the assistance of the Chris Hani Institute and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s regional office for Southern Africa. This Commission, a group of left-wing intellectuals and trade union representatives, was entrusted with the task of undertaking first steps towards developing concrete alternatives to neo-liberal globalisation. 

As a first step, the Futures Commission has now published the booklet Challenging Corporate Capital: Creating an Alternative to Neo-liberalism. It includes proposals for labour and tax justice, a fair trade regime, a democracy-driven, public sector transformation as well as a response to the climate crisis. In this blog post, I will provide brief overviews of the contributions as well as links to the larger versions of the papers, freely available on the website of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Johannesburg/South Africa.

Labour and Tax Justice by Nick Bernards, Robert O’Brien and Falin Zhang

The failure of wealthy corporations and individuals to pay their share of tax shifts the burden to less-well-off citizens, or results in programmes and services being terminated or underfunded. This chapter is designed to facilitate discussion about the issues surrounding corporate and elite tax abuse. It begins with some preliminary definitions and makes a suggestion that using a term such as “tax abuse” helps to focus on the implications of tax manipulation, whether it is legal or illegal. Part One looks at the general issue of corporate and individual tax abuse. Corporate activity primarily takes the form of profit shifting, where companies organise their activity to show profit in low-tax jurisdictions. Individual abuse takes the form of asset transferring, where wealth and income is transferred to or hidden in low-tax areas. Part Two focuses upon the issue in developing countries. Drawing examples primarily from Africa, the operation of tax havens, investment routing and transfer pricing are highlighted. Reform measures enacted to deal with these problems are considered, as are the lessons from these experiments. The concluding section raises some points for general discussion.

There have been divisions within the global labour movement over free trade agreements (FTAs), part of an expanded free trade agenda covering not only trade in goods, but also services, trade-related investment measures, intellectual property rights and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms. European, export-oriented trade unions have tended to support new FTAs, as they perceived them to be beneficial for “their” companies, thereby securing their members’ jobs. By contrast, labour movements in the Global South have objected as free trade has often signified deindustrialisation and loss of jobs in their countries. In this chapter a number of key demands are developed, which can potentially be supported by labour movements from all over the world in the collective struggle for a “fair trade” regime. One set of potential demands is suggested around the re-assertion of national sovereignty. Another set of potential demands is directed against the increasing structural power of transnational capital.

This chapter analyses the dynamics underlying the push for privatising public services and explores the possibilities for an alternative transformation of the public sector through the active participation of the employees and users of these services. Creating new commons based on co-operation through social mechanisms other than price signals or managerial direction is put forward as a potential way forward. Here, cognitive labour and knowledge are the common element that makes possible the social structure of a commons as an activity and resource for everyone to participate in and to enjoy.

This chapter argues that confronting the deepening ecological crisis in a just transition could contain the embryo of a democratic eco-socialist future. The core of eco-socialism is to link the principles of ecological sustainability and social justice. This implies that the socialist emphasis on collective ownership and democratic control of production needs to be connected to a number of other alternative concepts such as food sovereignty and energy democracy. New social forms are emerging from the margins of South African society around these concepts, involving grass-root networks marked by relations of reciprocity, cooperation and solidarity. They embody fragments of a vision of an alternative post-capitalist future.

These papers propose some initial ideas for alternatives to neo-liberalism. Ultimately, however, real alternatives can only emerge from concrete struggles. It is, therefore, the Future Commission’s hope that these four papers will be discussed widely by the membership of trade unions affiliated to SIGTUR.

Andreas Bieler

Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website:

13 October 2016

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