Degree Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Politics

Advisor(s)

Chris Howell

Committee Member(s)

Marc Blecher

Keywords

Labour Party, Neoliberalism, Trade unions, Britain, Fordist, Politics

Abstract

The crisis of the Fordist-Keynesian mode of production in the 1970s throughout the advanced capitalist world precipitated an acute political contestation over the mode of production itself. The dramatic ascendency of the neoliberal mode of regulation was a paradigm shift of rare occurrence whose significance in the history of capitalism cannot be overstated. This thesis seeks to contribute to the understanding of neoliberalism's rise and the failure of alternative possibilities, focusing upon the British case where the stagflationary crisis was particularly acute in the '70s and the change in the mode of production was particularly drastic.

This thesis focuses upon the actions of the Labour Party and the trade unions that constitute the primary and most influential oppositional forces against the capital's power. In Britain, while the Labour Party was in government for the pivotal years of 1974-79 and the trade unions gained an unprecedented level of strength in the 1970s, they failed to develop a system alternative to neoliberalism. Instead, the Labour Government started to take a reluctant, small yet unmistakable step towards neoliberalism, and neither the unions' cooperation with the incomes policy nor their refusal to continue compliance (most spectacularly manifested in the Winter of Discontents) led to the successful articulation (let alone implementation) of a non-neoliberal post-Fordist regime. The failure of the historic champions of the workers and the welfare state on the centre-left was a crucial factor in enabling the neoliberal retrenchment.

This thesis locates a significant reason for labour's failure in the ideas held by them. Integrating the ideational analysis with historical institutionalism in the dialectic of ideas and interests, it is argued that the actions of the Labour Party and the unions were shaped by the ideational path dependence "their continued adherence to the Fordist ideas prevented the possibility to envision alternative conceptions of political economy based on emancipation of the workers. The Fordist ideas include productivism and masculinism" the notions that privilege the higher levels of material production and the male breadwinner model. As such, they were unable to conceptualize their interests as anything except for the increase in their levels of private consumption. Productivism, masculinism and (neoliberal) capitalism reinforce each other. Productivism is a cultural condition of capitalism that affirms and legitimizes its fundamental law of motion that never ceases to exhort "accumulate, accumulate!" by prioritizing what capitalism deems as productive; capitalism structurally functions to realize productivist goals. Masculinism aids capitalism and productivism by providing an ideology that glorifies the system of reproduction of labour power and socially-necessary care labour that incurs the cheapest cost and least threat to capital (women's unpaid labour in families), and capitalism buttresses masculinism by preventing the rise of de-familiarizing welfare state. Productivism is connected to masculinism, not only in a discursive, cultural sense; productivism serves to lengthen women's working hours and disregards the politics of working time, and masculinism devalues the economic activities considered unproductive by productivists.

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