Great Film on Economic Democracy

This is a wonderful new film on economic democracy, by Patrik Witkowsky.

If you ever hoped that there was a better way, watch this film. There is, and this film depicts it.

In a measured, balanced way, Patrik allows people to speak for themselves, from a multitude of viewpoints. Some of what the practitioners say may bring tears (of joy) to your eyes; and, at the other end of the scale, the Appointed Representative of the Traditional Employers digs himself into a pit of cynicism and biting hostility – but, since this is Sweden, expressed in a relatively civilised way.

As well as practice, and ideology, the film delves into theory, explanations of why the current system is in such deep trouble, and why economic democracy makes such a difference.


Tullis Russell, the Papermakers

Tullis_RussellMonday 27 April 2015.

To the great regret of everyone involved, Tullis Russell’s papermaking operation at Markinch in Fife, Scotland, is today going into receivership. This mill was the company’s original home, where it made paper continually for over 200 years, from 1809. The crisis was precipitated by the recent bankruptcy of its largest customer, whose orders underpinned the mill’s profitability.

Tullis Russell is employee owned, and has been since 1994. It is worth making four points about that.
1. Employee ownership is not the cause of this closure. When a conventionally structured company fails, economists regard that as evidence of the vigour of the capitalist system; by contrast, when an employee-owned company fails, doubts tend to be raised about employee ownership as a system. All the empirical academic evidence points to extra productivity, innovation and longevity being characteristic of employee owned companies. This has certainly been true in the papermakers at Markinch, and is true of the continuing Tullis Russell operations, in Bollington, England and Ansan, Korea.
2. International pressures have caused the closure of pretty well the whole UK printing-paper manufacturing industry. No ownership system can save a business that is undermined by global competition from better placed competitors. For decades Tullis Russell was, like all UK and European manufacturers of printing paper, under considerable pressure from companies in more favourable global locations. The ability of large international competitors to build $ billion mills in the middle of cloned eucalyptus forests in Brazil, for example, gave them really significant cost advantages. European production of printing paper shrank between 2005 and 2015 from 40 million to 29 million tonnes – there have been large numbers of mill closures all over Europe. In the UK, tissue and packaging mills remain viable but printing-paper mills have closed.
3. In employee ownership the performance of Tullis Russell papermakers has been stellar. All other UK printing paper mills but two have closed. One, Stoneywood in Aberdeen, is sustained only by its global corporate owners transferring into it products from mills they have closed elsewhere; the other, James Cropper in the Lake District, has been kept going by the technical specialties it produces. Only Tullis Russell, because of the productivity and committed cooperation of its employee-owners, stayed viable on its own feet as a paper mill focused on printing grades.
4. Tullis Russell will continue. The Tullis Russell Group has over the years developed operations in specialist coating of paper and other substrates. Its other two sites will continue in operation, both of them consistently profitable and successful in employee ownership, with a turnover of some £30 million. These operations will actually be stronger without the papermaking, which has in recent years sometimes been a financial drain.
Everyone is deeply saddened that after over two centuries pressures outside anyone’s control have ended an operation employing some 480 people, whose committed cooperation and hard work as joint owners kept this business more successful for longer than any comparable mill.

We have to control our leaders

Nicola SturgeonWe punters must be vigilant: we have to control our leaders, not the other way round.
There is a serious danger in any human being having a great deal of power. People with power are told the information that pleases them, rather than the truth that will sting them; they are told that their own ideas are the best ideas; that their own character is beyond compare; that their own actions are just the ticket. If you are in that position, it goes to your head – ask any corporate chief executive. When you have power you tend to see all who question or disagree with you as idiots.
Alex Salmond was at his best when he was running a minority government. He was not in a position to ignore unpalatable facts (except that until we get full fiscal autonomy the Scottish government does not have to face the responsibility for ensuring we create wealth as well as spend it). As the leader of a minority government he had to listen to people who disagreed. After he was given an (unlikely) overall majority things got rougher.
Nicola Sturgeon convinced me to vote Yes, on the grounds that we would have the possibility of getting the responsive government we wanted; but she now faces a problem that most people have failed to deal with successfully – think Stalin, Mao, Mugabe, Hitler, and, even in a less violent, democratic system, Thatcher and Blair. She will, if the polls are right, have a lot of power and standing in Scotland, and few dissenting voices, which will be easy to ignore.
We have to hope that the fact that the SNP will be at best a minority partner in a loose coalition in Westminster will keep her feet – and Alex Salmond’s – on the ground.
We punters must be vigilant: we have to control our leaders, not the other way round.

The Shadow of Iraq, and Roll On Chilcot


Sajida al-Rishawi was the suicide bomber executed in Jordan when ISIS made a false prisoner-exchange proposal. She had survived because her vest did not explode, due to a faulty detonator.

Why did she decide, in her 30s, to become a suicide bomber?

In 2003, soon after US troops invaded her country, Iraq, they killed her husband. A few months later they killed her beloved older brother, and then in quick succession two more of her brothers.

She then offered herself to al Quaeda as a bomber.

When the NAZI-directed German army invaded France in 1940, the people who resisted were hailed, and still are, as heroes. They killed civilians. But their target was to defeat the hated enemy. Some were undoubtedly driven to rebel, and to sacrifice their lives, by the killing of a spouse or relative.

Before the invasion of Iraq, Richard Dearlove, head of MI6, had warned in a memo that if there were a ‘US installed regime in Iraq’ then ‘”Fudamentalism” would be increased.’ He also emphasised the fact that there were legal problems with invading Iraq.

A month before the invasion the Joint Intelligence Committee warned Tony Blair that ‘al-Qaeda and associated groups continued to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to western interests, and that threat would be heightened by military action against Iraq.’

Subsequently the Defence Academy has concluded that ‘The war in Iraq . . . has acted as a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world . . . Iraq has served to radicalise an already disillusioned youth.’ Similar conclusions have been reached by Eliza Manningham-Buller, Stella Rimmington, the JIC, the NIC, the CIA, the IISS, Chatham House and several other authoritative individuals. For more detail see

Tony Blair, supported by his cronies, has argued against that view, doubtless on the grounds that like Osama bin Laden he thought that he was doing the right thing, and therefore criticisms can’t be right. Roll on Chilcot.

What Price Democracy?

Illegal to sell vote
Democracy’s success –  evident again in the 2015 Greek election – is that the politicians are accountable to the voters, and reflect together the broad spread of their views.

American democracy is different. There, the very rich dominate, thanks to a crazy decision by the Supreme Court to allow no restriction on the size of political donations.

Now the multi-billionaire Koch brothers and their grotesquely wealthy friends, avoiding vast quantities of tax in the process, are going to spend some $900 million to shape the outcome of the 2016 elections. To whom will the elected politicians then be accountable? The many people who voted for them after reasoned debate over the issues? Or the small number of billionaires who paid for the voters to hear nothing but one-sided ideological views?

One of the major problems is the system of company ownership. The wealth creators are the people who do the work in a business, not the ones who ‘own’ it. Shareholders do not create wealth – they suck it away. The wealth created should be shared – less what is needed to fund reinvestment in the business – among those who have created it. But we have been fooled into thinking that people who ‘own’ a company should be able to extract all the wealth created. The Koch brothers suck away for themselves the wealth created by the hundreds of thousands of responsible cooperating people who make their businesses work. And then they turn it to the project of buying democracy, of imposing their views, of making politicians accountable to them rather than to voters.

Through the bland factual reporting of the New York Times (which itself has a very mixed record on ensuring that information is made available) you can see the end of anything like genuine democracy in the US.

How to make 400 ordinary people into millionaires

Corporate videos generally should be taken with a pinch of salt, but this one carries the ring of truth. WinCo is a supermarket chain that is owned by its 15,000 employees, many of whom have become millionaires. See the article at, which says “according to Forbes, WinCo has more than 400 front-line employees — cashiers, shelf-stockers, clerks, and others — who are already millionaires.” Employee ownership is one of the very few avenues to address the accelerating growth in inequality. And at the same time it transforms the working lives of ordinary people, and the experience of their customers.

Ideologies of Murder, Fantasies of God

It takes a lot to drive us, and to give us permission, to kill our fellow humans. Testosterone helps: murderers are overwhelmingly male. Feelings of anger will help us get there if they are particularly strong, as in outrage against a perceived slight. But most of all before we can kill we need the ideas that make it right to kill, and all right to kill. We need an ideology that permits and justifies it.

Religions, based as they are in baseless fantasy, and so endlessly twistable to serve any purpose, have been great at providing the necessary backing for mass murder. If we take the Charlie Hebdo cover from left to right: the Jewish religion, with its fantasy of a god who tells Jews to kill Palestinians and occupy their land, has provided ideological backing for decades of terrorist- and then state-organised murder and theft on a grand scale. Not content with killing thousands, the Jewish god gives his backing to the daily humiliation and hostile subjugation of the ones left alive. Christianity will claim to have done less of it in recent years, but in the past provided the necessary backing for crusading armies to invade the Middle East and kill the locals, and in living memory supported both sides in two world wars. Some loving god there. Also in the relatively recent past the Christian god instructed different sects to burn each other alive. Just 300 years ago the authorities in Scotland hanged a student for, among other things, questioning the reality of the supposed virgin birth. (I have news for Christians: Mary was inseminated in the usual way. Let us hope that it was enjoyable for her. Perhaps it was John the Baptist that did it – a charismatic preacher and an impressionable young girl, an oft-repeated story). And more recently, Islam has given the requisite ideas for 9/11 in New York, 7/7 in London and now the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, as well as many other murderous attacks across the Middle East.

Of course it is not just religions that do it. Revenge can be cloaked in the ideas of western films, as with George Bush invading Iraq, ideas with wide appeal in American culture and therefore useful for masking more sinister motives (intense greed for oil and for dominance) and whipping up public support. And joining in murder can be justified by the most ghastly self-serving hypocrisy, as with Tony Blair, with his crawling subservience to power. Of course the Christian god was a willing recruit in backing the invasion of Iraq; all it took was Bush and Blair to pray together.

Without irony one of the justifications offered for the invasion of Iraq was that democratic countries do not invade other countries, so we democratic countries are invading Iraq to make it democratic, so that it will no longer be a risk to its neighbours. Perhaps Bush and Blair were tacitly recognising that they were rendering their own countries non-democratic in their rush to war. Invading someone else’s country shatters the potential for a fertile middle ground — shatters the potential for democracy. Imposing democracy through invasion is not a sound project.

For Stalin it was the dictatorship of the proletariat necessitating the murder of critics and many other groups. For Mao the benefit of being led by the party under his chairmanship made the murder of critics and millions worthwhile. For Hitler purity of race justified the murder of critics and people not of that particular race. For Johnson defending freedom necessitated killing Vietnamese in large numbers, though living in a democracy he could not kill American critics. For Boko Haram and Isis various words of a man who fought wars many centuries ago justify murder today on a vast scale.

The Vietnamese were lucky in one respect: the ideology available to them was not a religious ideology but an ideology of political resistance, which is usually less toxic than a religious ideology and pollutes minds with less persistence. Stalinism and Maoism killed on a truly vast scale but they have been transcended. Only the religions persist, ready to justify murder again.

So it echoes on through history as we make it. If Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, had not been invaded, would 7/7 and Charlie Hebdo have happened?

Murderers are criminals and should be treated as criminals, not soldiers or political leaders or representatives of a race or religious group. Dangerous criminals need to be locked up and helped to understand the error of their ways. If you believe in a fantasy of god yourself, you are not in a good position to help someone get free of their own fantasy of god.

A common theme through the religious ideologies especially is that women should be kept in their subservient place. Who knows, if we shared airtime and leadership with them, they might not let us kill so readily. So we’d better not let them show their faces or become bishops or eat sacrificial meat and so on and so on and so on. God forbid that they should be free to express their sexuality: they might not choose us.

We need to speak out against the idiotic and baseless religious (and political and racist) ideas that can justify murder. Religions do not deserve respect: they need to be challenged, shown up, dismissed. Their hypotheses are rubbish. There is no god; the idea of god is a very very bad hypothesis. Reality is much more complex and wonderful than that. And murder is not justified. And we need to keep our leaders under control, whatever their fantasy gods tell them.

Amazon Kindle goes from bad to worse

Peasants' RevoltI am starting to read ‘England Arise’ by Juliet Barker, her much praised exploration of the Peasants’ Revolt. My own work is focused on our deep instinct to counteract dominance, and the great rebellion is a lovely example.
To make notes that I can use in writing my own book, I need to copy short extracts to quote, so I bought the Kindle version. But the Kindle app will no longer let me copy and paste anything from a Kindle book. They have disabled the ability to make notes that are useable elsewhere.
Too late I have now read the howls of anguish on the web from other people protesting against the same thing, mainly students prevented from studying efficiently.
I will never ever buy another Kindle book, and I recommend that no one ever uses Kindle again. Like all big corporate brutes they are using their power to extract maximum cash from everyone involved in writing and publishing, but to get that last cent for themselves they ride roughshod over the needs of their readers.
And they don’t pay tax, using every possible trick to avoid giving a fair amount towards the sustaining of our society. It is time to do a Starbucks and go elsewhere.