The birth pangs of neoliberalism in the advanced capitalist world were sparked by a series of spectacular confrontations with the bastions of the trade union movement. In 1981, Ronald Reagan successfully took on the powerful Professional Air Traffic Controllers Union (PATCO), firing those of its members who refused to return to work from a strike aimed at improving terms and conditions. This resulted in more than 11,000 workers losing their jobs and the eventual decertification of the union. Similarly, in 1984-1985, the Conservative government in Britain crushed the miners’ strike, in the process crippling the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). These cases were symbolic of the wider attack on organised labour that characterised the beginnings of neoliberalism. In A Brief History of Neoliberalism, David Harvey – following Duménil and Lévy (2004) – sees this attack as part of the ‘political project to re-establish the conditions for capital accumulation and to restore the power of economic elites’ which for him defines neoliberalism (Harvey 2005, 19). In Harvey’s telling, neoliberalism emerged in the wake of the failure of the class-compromise of ‘embedded liberalism’ to deliver high rates of growth and profit. In response to this, a fraction of the ruling class sought to remove impediments to profit-making at home, and enable capitalists in the advanced capitalist countries to draw on surpluses extracted from the rest of the world (Harvey 2005, 33). This required the destruction of embedded liberalism and the opening up of new areas to the logic of

capital accumulation. By extension, it also required the dismantling of organised labour, which had – in various guises – been at the heart of the project of embedded liberalism. Trade unions were frequently the defenders of nationalised industries, were able to secure higher wages and had imposed limits on the ability of capitalists to flexibly exploit their labour forces. In focusing on prosaic, class-based concerns, Harvey is keen to stress that neoliberalism should not be seen as a ‘utopian project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism’. For him, whenever ‘neoliberal principles clash with the need to restore or sustain elite power, then the principles are either abandoned or become so twisted as to be unrecognizable’ (Harvey 2005, 19). There is a lot of sense to this position. It seems difficult to speak of some ideal type ‘neoliberalism’, especially given its uneven geographical and political implementation throughout the world. Equally, the anti-statist and ‘free market’ rhetoric of the original theorists of neoliberalism is vastly at odds with the expansion and reconfiguration of state-power that was needed to birth and secure it. However, there is a sense in which Harvey’s position misses something important. Even if one cannot ascribe some overall ‘pure’ economic content to neoliberalism, the neoliberal period has nonetheless seen fundamental transformations at every level of social organisation. As Dardot and Laval point out, neoliberalism ‘is not merely destructive of rules, institutions and rights’ but is also ‘productive of certain kinds of social relations, certain ways of living, certain subjectivities’ (Dardot and Laval 2014, 3). Drawing on Foucault, they argue that neoliberalism is a rationality which ‘tends to structure and organize not only the action of rulers, but also the conduct of the ruled’ (Dardot and Laval 2014, 4). The main feature of this neoliberal rationality ‘is the generalization of competition as a behavioural norm and of the enterprise as a model of subjectivation’, with neoliberalism ultimately creating ‘a new mode of government of human beings in accordance with the universal principle of competition’ (Dardot and Laval 2014, 4). In other words, neoliberalism produces neoliberal subjects. One need not agree with the whole of this analysis to acknowledge that it raises some important points. Vitally, Dardot and Laval draw attention to the fact that neoliberalism simply could not function ‘economically’ without also creating individual subjects conditioned to implement and perpetuate it. Even with Harvey’s more prosaic understanding of neoliberalism as a ‘restoration of class power’, it is necessary to explain the phenomenal success and stability of this restoration. Harvey himself foregrounds ‘the cultivation of a middle class that relished the joys of home ownership, private property, individualism, and the liberation of entrepreneurial opportunities’ and the spread of these values to the working class as an important component of neoliberalism (Harvey 2005, 61-62).