Responses to Neo-Liberalism
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Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd
Chapter 6: Britain: How Neo-liberalism Cut Unions Down to Size
6 Britain: how neo-liberalism cut unions down to size John McIlroy INTRODUCTION Neo-liberalism in Britain evolved through four broad stages. It developed after 1945 as an ideological critique of the Keynesian social-democratic consensus. Distilled in the work of Hayek, it penetrated the political class, reaching state agendas with the proto-monetarism of Callaghan’s Labour administration after 1976. Stoked by the crisis of oil and profitability this second period of practical influence developed after 1979: the Thatcher governments broke gradually, tentatively, cumulatively, decisively, with the post-war settlement (Harvey 2005). By 1990, neo-liberalism structured the policies of state and capital. The neo-liberalisation of the Labour Party facilitated by Conservative success produced a third stage: the ascendancy of neo-liberalism, reflected in a new consensus. In government from 1997, New Labour purveyed a more sophisticated, populist neo-liberalism. It maintained the core of Thatcherism, marginalised social democracy and exposed ‘Third Way’ nomenclature as cosmetic (McIlroy 2009a, 2009b). A fourth period of crisis, financial turmoil and recession commenced in 2008. It saw defeat for New Labour and a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition after the 2010 election. There was no return to Keynesianism: the platforms of all major parties remained neoliberal, cuts in state expenditure to rescue the system remained common ground. Alternatives remained weak: candidates of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) received on average 371 votes. Recomposition rather than unravelling of a damaged British neo-liberalism appears most likely (Harvey 2010). My conceptualisation of neo-liberalism is elaborated in my earlier writing. Neo-liberalism expedites tendencies to global economic...
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