Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Ed watched Dallas but to win our next leader must be a Trekkie

In Star Trek, the Kobayashi Maru is a simulation to train wannabe captains at the Starfleet Academy. The goal of the exercise is to rescue the Kobayashi Maru, a disabled civilian vessel, which is under attack from the Klingons. The Kobayashi Maru is a no-win scenario. If the wannabe captain attempts a rescue, the Klingons will destroy his ship and the Kobayashi Maru. If he doesn’t attempt a rescue, the Klingons will destroy the Kobayashi Maru. The simulation is purely designed to test the character of cadets, but as every Trekkie knows, Captain Kirk does not believe in no-win scenarios. Kirk is the only person to have won the scenario and rescued the Kobayashi Maru because he cheated – he reprogrammed the simulator.

Globalisation has undermined the traditional means of achieving social justice. Trade unions have borders, capital does not. Governments have borders, capital does not. If employers think taxes are too high or labour rights too restrictive, they can, and increasingly do, move. This means capital defines the limits of taxation and regulation according to their self-interest rather than government defining them according to the common good. In our globalised world, how can the left achieve social justice?

Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and their imitators recognised the limits globalization placed on the state and they adapted to them. They encouraged wealth creators, kept the labour market flexible and taxation low, then redistributed some of the proceeds of growth to achieve social justice.

The problem was that this focus on post-pay check redistribution meant that fundamental injustices were not tackled. The social contract between employers and workers has been broken. Higher labour productivity no longer leads to higher wages. Clinton, Blair and Schroder all presided over the deterioration of this tacit understanding.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO), a specialized agency of the UN, have shown that this social contract has collapsed throughout the developed world. Their Global Wage Report of 2014/15 revealed that in developed economies real wage growth lagged behind the growth in labour productivity between 1999 and 2013. Workers became more productive but employers failed to reward them in their monthly pay packets.

What had been seen as an implicit if not explicit contract has been broken by capital; the ILO discovered that the bosses are increasingly taking a larger share of the rewards. In the UK in 1970, employees received 59 per cent of GDP. In 2010 that figure had fallen to 54 per cent. Over the same period, the amount of GDP that went to shareholders grew from 22 per cent to 27 per cent.

To restore the living standards of working people, employers need to restore the link between productivity and pay.

Ed Miliband argued that underlying problems like this can only be tackled if the state directly intervenes in the labour market. For Miliband, the state needed to make employers pay their workers more before the state redistributes wealth. Before redistribution, the state needed to undertake ‘predistribution’ – an idea first championed in the United Kingdom by Tristram Hunt in The Purple Book. But can the state be more interventionist without causing a flight of foreign investment? Hollande’s France shows there is little room for manoeuvre for the left.

Miliband spent a part of his childhood in Boston where he became a lover of American TV, particularly Dallas. But he might have won in 2015 if he had spent less time in Texas and boarded the Starship Enterprise because Captain Kirk teaches us that we should not believe in no-win scenarios.

This dilemma has emerged because the left is playing by capital’s rules. We are trying to achieve social justice by solely using means that were not designed for a globalised economy, while capital has utilized globalisation to outpace us. To solve the dilemma and achieve social justice the left needs to follow Kirk’s example. Just as Kirk refused to follow the rules set by Starfleet academy, so the left should refuse to follow the rules set by capital. To keep capital in check, the left needs to harness globalization, it has to use means created by globalisation- social media.

The Arab Spring has shown that Facebook and Twitter can be used to transfer power from elites to the masses, so social media could be used to transfer power from capital to labour. Employees can now achieve this through Fair Office.

Fair Office is an app
forum to offer criticisms and ideas. Employers and workers now have a platform to discuss ideas and resolve issues.

Fair Office will empower workers to solve their own problems. If a significant number of workers use the potential to call for a pay rise to relink wages with productivity, employers would have to engage with them. Fair Office will open up the inner workings of businesses to the world. Anyone with a smartphone could view any vote or comment about any business. Potential clients, future employees and business partners will be able to view everything.

If an employer refuses to listen to her employees and users from around the world on the merits of relinking wages to labour productivity, the workforce can use Fair Office to anonymously come together.

Employers need Fair Office because it gives them real-time information about what their workers honestly think, so they can quickly neutralise issues and apply their ideas. If workers know that management is listening to them, if they know that they really can help shape their workplace, they will feel a greater sense of ownership toward the company they work for. And because we care for what is ours, employees using Fair Office will be engaged. The logic flows that workers on Fair Office will be far more productive.

Globalisation is as much an opportunity for labour as it is for capital. The left can achieve social justice, we only have to organize in ways that use globalisation to our advantage. Workers need to utilise social media. Capital can outpace trade unions and states but it cannot run from social media. Through Fair Office workers can restore their social contract with employers. Through initiatives like Fair Office, workers can create a world where supplying your labour will save you from poverty, a world where pay is not determined by gender or race and a world where increased productivity leads to increased wages.

#BeTheChange and install Fair Office here


Gareth Horrocks is the founder and CEO of Fair Office


Photo: Phil Whitehouse

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Gareth Horrocks

is the founder and CEO of Fair Office

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