Archive for the ‘trade unionism’ Category

Capitalism in Crisis – a socialist solution

January 17, 2017

This is a review of the pamphlet “Capitalist Crisis – ‘Alternative Strategy’ or Socialist Plan” by Andrew Glyn, which has been recently republished with a new introduction.

Many people have looked to the left for answers to the crises of capitalism, since the downfall of financial markets across the globe from 2008 and the stagnation of the economy. Austerity is not some blip that can be transcended but is here to stay – driven by the internal contradictions of the capitalist system itself.

Andrew Glyn was writing in 1979, before the doctrine of neoliberalism held sway, and at a high point of industrial struggle which had won gains for working people. At the time, 13.5 million people in Britain were members of trade unions. The Tories, under Edward Heath, had been defeated by the miners’ strike of 1974; there was still a strong manufacturing base in the UK, and while there was a right-wing Labour government under James Callaghan, the left had a strong presence in Labour and the trade unions – cause for optimism, you might think going into the 1980s.

In 1979, there were 1 1/2 million people unemployed, a figure that seems laughably low nowadays, where millions are on zero-hour contracts, work part-time, have to work two or three different jobs to make ends meet, or are unable to find work. However, Glyn points out that if a determined socialist government were to initiate full employment, this would create enough wealth to increase minimum earnings, initiate a programme of council house building, provide an increase in pensions and better fund schools and hospitals.  An unemployment rate of 10%, he estimated, involved underproduction of 20%. Nowadays, the gap between what could be attainable and the conditions people are living under, has grown. The eight richest men in the world now own as much wealth as the bottom three and a half billion. Inequality has risen inexorably since 1979, due to deliberate policies of smashing the strength of the trade unions, with the defeat of the miners’ and the printers’ unions, the down-grading and de-skilling of jobs and casualisation of employment.

So why are we in such a mess? Unemployment provides capitalism with a “reserve army” of labour, which it can use to keep wages low, keep people hungry for job opportunities and enables more profits to be made at the expense of the working class. The pamphlet discusses the fall in the rate of profits, which has led big business to demand that the Callaghan government implement what was called, quite laughably, “The Social Contract”. A contract implies that we have some say in what was going on. In reality, Labour capitulated to the demands of big business for increased profitability, in return for cuts to living standards and cuts to public services. In this, we can see the beginnings of the policy of neoliberalism, which decimated communities, tore down industries and built a ramshackle service economy in its place, which meant a few city spivs became extremely wealthy, while the vast majority of people suffered. This was a vendetta carried out by the Tories against the trade unions.

In place of austerity, the Communist Party and Tribune put forward an “alternative strategy”. This was based on the idea of import controls, price controls, bringing banks under public ownership, defence cuts and increased investment in public services. The pamphlet does not argue that these measures would not be welcomed by the working class or that they should not be fought for, rather it questions how these reforms are to be brought about without huge pressure being brought to bear by capitalism, and how such pressure is to be resisted.

Leon Trotsky put forward a different sort of programme, which sought to win reforms for workers, but kept in mind that ultimately, global socialism is necessary in order for such gains to be consolidated. We have seen since the Labour victory of 1945, that the welfare state, the NHS, the nationalisation of the railways, public transport and the utilities, have all been destroyed by the ideology of the so-called ‘free’ market. Socialism needs to be tied to concrete demands and to be linked to the aspirations of ordinary people. However, it is utopian, as Glyn argues, that reforms can be won and held through capitalist democracy.

We have seen the pressure been brought to bear on left wing governments in the past. The pamphlet mentions the military coup against Salvador Allende in Chile, which toppled a hugely popular and democratically elected leader. More recently we have seen the vitriolic attacks against Jeremy Corbyn by the right-wing press, and the capitulation of the Syriza government in Greece to the demands of the Troika. It is naive to think that any left-wing government would be handed largesse from the pockets of the bosses, to revitalise the economy.

The measures put forward in the alternative strategy amount to a Keynesian approach to economics, an attempt to kick-start capitalism back into life, increasing wages and putting money into public services. The CBI, recognising the effects of neoliberalism on the world’s poor, fears revolts, strikes and uprisings, and has encouraged governments to do just this. However, no government is in the process of implementing such a programme, as austerity has become so embedded in the economy that any such measures would reduce profits in the short-term. The only answer to this contradiction is to move to a planned, socialist economy, to take profit out of the equation completely.

The final part of Glyn’s pamphlet explains what a genuinely socialist plan of production would look like. The largest companies and the banking system should be taken into public ownership and controlled democratically, from below. Production could be based on people’s needs and the needs of the planet, rather than funnelled into short-term profiteering. The only people who would lose out would be the rich businessmen, who are fleecing the rest of us.

The wastage inherent in capitalism and the pointless duplication of new models to capture more of a market share, and the constant drive for endless consumption would be eliminated. Full employment would mean a shorter working week, and people would be more involved in their jobs, gradually eliminating the need for micro-management, drudgery and sanctions that are a feature of capitalism.

However, such gains cannot be won without a revolution, to change the nature of society completely and for good. Such a revolution would need to be carried out initially in one country, and be the impetus for working people across the world to rise up. As Glyn puts it, “simply winning the argument and securing a Parliamentary majority for a socialist programme” is simply not going to cut it with the rapacious system of globalised capitalism.

This is not to say that gains cannot be won under the present system, or that socialists should abstain from standing in elections. We need to engage with people, put forward a coherent programme based on their expectations and to explain that we need to take control back for ourselves as a class, in order to change society. The alternative is continued austerity, environmental destruction, economic wastage, high unemployment and a shocking waste of potential for the whole of the human race.

 

 

 

 

 

On Mark Serwotka, socialism and why we need ECMO

November 20, 2016

I read a very moving article in the Guardian on the plight of the leader of the PCS union Mark Serwotka. One of the most militant trade union leaders in the UK, he started his working life as a benefits clerk in the civil service.

Whilst taking his black labrador for a walk, the dog rolled in mud. He washed it down, only to suffer what he thought was an allergic reaction. It turned out to be a life-threatening virus. Two weeks later, it caused his heart to start beating at 220bpm, and an MRI scan found scarring on his internal organs.

After life-saving surgery at Papworth Hospital, Serwotka has been given a VAD (Ventricular Assist Device), which uses similar technology  to the ECMO (Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine, which keeps new-born babies who suffer from congenital heart problems alive. He had to keep himself plugged in to the briefcase-sized unit at all times, which did the work of his heart in pumping blood around his body. This technology was pioneered at the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, which accounts for 50% of the country’s ECMO capacity.

Last Saturday, I attended a packed rally at Socialism 2016, where PCS Deputy General Secretary and Socialist Party member Chris Baugh spoke in Mark Serwotka’s place. Chris paid tribute to Mark’s struggle, but also alluded to the struggle we have under capitalism to combat climate change, the need to fight for socialism, as well as Tory government attacks on the PCS union. This included the right to facility time for representatives, and the removal of automatically deducted union subs from payslips. All this because the PCS had dared to stand up against pension cuts, staff losses and austerity, and been one of the most effective trade unions in the country. The union had succeeded in recruiting 152,000 union members, which the government had effectively disenfranchised  and removed from the union. Their intention, starting with the PCS union, is to destroy the trade union movement as a fighting force to stand up for workers’ rights.

The reason Mark Serwotka could not attend in person, was that he had developed a blood clot. He now has to be given a constant supply of blood thinning medication, through an intravenous drip, meaning he has been confined to Papworth Hospital, while awaiting a heart transplant.

Like Mark and the PCS union, the Glenfield Children’s Heart unit which pioneered the technology which is keeping him alive, also faces a fight for its survival. Leicester Socialist Party, Green Party, Momentum, Keep Our NHS Public, the UNITE union, and parents of children who had been treated at the Glenfield Hospital, organised a 1,500 strong demonstration through the streets of Leicester, chanting “Save Our Glenfield, Save Our Kids”.

There is an online petition to Parliament, which I urge you to sign. It calls for a public review into the threatened closure of the Children’s Heart Centre at Glenfield Hospital, along with the Royal Brompton in London and Greater Manchester Children’s Heart Unit.

Let us keep the heart of trade unionism beating, let us keep children’s hearts beating and let us build a socialist society to protect a publicly-funded NHS and vital public services, without which Mark Serwotka would not be alive today.