Rebuild the local economy: prioritise labour-intensive sectors, difficult to automate, impossible to relocate abroad

Colin Hines, co-founder of LWM and convenor of the UK Green New Deal Group, comments on the Guardian’s recent editorial on productivity and robots which ‘repeated the cliché that automation does cost jobs, but more are created’.

He says that the problem with this is that the new jobs are frequently in different places from where they are lost and require very different skills, hence exacerbating the problems for the “left behind”.

Also unmentioned was that just as automation is starting to really bite, the world faces a strong possibility of another serious credit-induced economic downturn, from China to the UK and a perfect storm of domestic unemployment soaring and export markets falling, as happened after the 2008 economic slump.

The answer to these problems has to be a shift of emphasis to rebuilding the local economy by prioritising labour-intensive sectors that are difficult to automate and impossible to relocate abroad.

Two sectors are key:

  • face-to-face caring from medicine, education and elderly care
  • carbon-reducing national infrastructural renewal.

This should range from making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient, constructing new low-carbon dwellings and rebuilding local public transport links.

Funding could come from fairer taxes, local authority bonds in which all could invest, green ISAs and a massive new green infrastructure QE programme.

This approach should become central to all political parties, set out in their next election manifestos because “jobs in absolutely every constituency” is the crucial vote-winning mantra.

 

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A localising message from former MP Andrew George and journalist George Monbiot

andrew georgeFormer MP Andrew George sent an email message today; though no longer in Parliament, he wants to work with colleagues of all parties to create a progressive alliance to challenge and oppose government action detrimental to those who need help, our communities, our public services, the NHS and the environment.

He added that the Conservatives – with less than 25% of the electorate having voted for them – are now entitled to govern this country . . . They may have a parliamentary mandate, but they don’t have a moral justification to rule as they please”.

The next message in the inbox was from George Monbiot who took up the narrative and described the process:

George Monbiot 3He asserts that “No progressive party can survive the corporate press, corrupt party funding systems and conservative fear machines by fighting these forces on their own terms”. His prescription:

“The left can build only from the ground up; reshaping itself through the revitalisation of communities, working with local people to help fill the gaps in social provision left by an uncaring elite. Successful progressive movements must now be citizen’s advice bureau, housing association, scout troop, trade union, credit union, bingo hall, food bank, careworker, football club and evangelical church, rolled into one. Focus groups and spin doctors no longer deliver . . .

“In Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, such movements transformed political life. They have evicted governments opposed to their interests and held to account those who claim to represent them. Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain have been inspired, directly or indirectly, by the Latin American experience”.

Monbiot referred to Ed Miliband’s Movement for Change (read more here), which has “lobbied job centres to stop treating applicants like criminals; pressed local businesses to advertise their jobs openly; urged the police to change the way they engage with victims of domestic abuse; chivvied councils to clear up discarded needles; struggled against revenge evictions; asked local media to stop running advertisements for loan sharks and sought to provide alternative finance; and appealed to the owners of derelict buildings to rehabilitate them, all with a degree of success”.

He warns that rebuilding community has to start almost from scratch and might take decades because in Britain community life is weaker than almost anywhere else.

The timeline:

  • destruction of rural populations through enclosure and agricultural change, rapid and chaotic urbanisation based around industries that later collapsed,
  • the implosion of organised labour,
  • extreme atomisation and hyper-consumerism

But until it happens, there’s little hope for lasting progressive change in this country.

Monbiot ends: “Revitalising communities is not just an election strategy. It is a programme for change in its own right; even without a sympathetic government. If it takes root, it will outlast the vicissitudes of politics. But it will also make success more likely. If Labour wants to reconnect, it must be the change it wants to see”.