Reading a global revolution

Mark Perryman on the latest political books, ranging from protest to privatisation

Globalisation is no longer simply the stuff of academic treatises. It has entered the popular lexicon, made headlines and, with workers finding they have little choice but to organise on an international level, it is increasingly the motor transforming trade union practice.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire sold out in its pricey hardback edition within days of being dubbed - by reviewers from across the political spectrum - as the book that unravels how globalisation is not only changing the economy, but creating huge opportunities to overturn capitalism. The new paperback edition (Harvard University Press, £12.95) will no doubt be even more widely read.

The Silent Takeover, by Noreena Hertz (Heinemann, £12.99), has been subject to all sorts of unfavourable comparisons with Naomi Klein's No Logo (Flamingo, £8.99), published last year but already a classic. In fact, Hertz more than stands her ground. She draws her material from across the globe, avoids the temptation of simplistic denunciations and shows how badly the political parties are out of touch with a changing world.

Anti-Capitalism: a guide to the movement, edited by Emma Bircham and John Charlton (Bookmarks, £10), resolutely seeks to ensure that the trade unions not only catch up with the anti-globalisation movement, but play a full and active part in it. The Italian trade unions were at the core of the recent protests in Genoa, providing tens of thousands of demonstrators, yet they were hardly noticed through the full glare of publicity attracted by the spectacle of violence.

For quick access to the ideas and issues that sparked this and other anti-globalisation protests, Verso has launched an imprint, No-Nonsense Guides, in association with the New Internationalist magazine. The first three of these easy-to-read digests cover fair trade, climate change and globalisation.

Five Days that Shook the World (Verso, £12), by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair, with photographs by Allan Sekula, provides an insider's diary of the demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, and imaginatively unpicks the give and take required if spectacular direct action is to give rise to more deep-rooted coalitions of dissent capable of achieving solid goals and influencing governments.

But will this movement have an impact on trade unions? Will the unions seek to learn from, and contribute to, the audience these issues motivate, as their own opposition to privatisation mounts? The World is Not for Sale: farmers against junk food, by Jose Bove and Francois Dufour (Verso, £16), is a vivid testament to the extraordinary potential when local communities, heroic direct actionists and employees come together in creative alliances against corporate power. If you want a really comprehensive picture of privatisation's impact on the public good, read Dexter Whitfield's Public Services or Corporate Welfare (Pluto Press, £16.99), which sets out numerous instances of how the market has intruded into everyday life.

This big picture, private v public, is now a subject of significant political and increasingly popular debate. Building Better Partnerships (Institute for Public Policy Research, £12.95), the final report of the IPPR's Commission on Public Private Partnerships, will, in one way or another, dominate government thinking on this issue for much of the second term. Another think-tank, Catalyst, provides a critical response to the IPPR commission in "Public Services and the Private Sector", a working paper expertly put together by Allyson Pollock, Jean Shaoul, David Rowland and Stewart Player (free download available from

The importance of privatisation is not only that it touches our everyday lives, but that it cannot be separated from global trends - notably, a growing neoliberal consensus on the one hand, and, on the other, an anti-capitalist resistance to it.

But these subjects are hardly the sort of thing to enliven a dull coffee break at work or to start a conversation at the water-cooler. When it comes to our working lives, we still tend to think mainly about our own career oppor-tunities, our promotion prospects and our grouses against the management.

The new imprint from Pearson, Momentum (www.yourmomentum. com) tries to relate our personal feelings about work to wider issues. Richard Reeves's Happy Mondays: putting the pleasure back into work (Momentum, £15) is a glorious reminder that working nine to five doesn't have to be something we dread. But a new approach to working life demands not just changes in us as individuals but in society, politics and culture.

If the idea of transforming what is meant by work appeals to you, then check out Carmel McConnell's Change Activist: make big things happen fast (Momentum, £15). This book outlines how such changes can be made on the level of the individual, the workforce, companies, localities, even nations.

The latest edition of Renewal (Lawrence & Wishart, £7.99, or visit, a journal of Labour politics, is an extraordinary break with what was, until now, new Labour's near-universal love affair with the idea that business knows best. Larry Elliott, Madeleine Bunting and Colin Crouch are among the contributors to this double issue of the journal, which suggests that it is time for Labour to start taking capital seriously again. Whether capital will start taking Labour seriously as a threat to its survival - well, that's another matter altogether.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The love of a robot