Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Conning the public

August 9, 2017

DSCN1003

 

Iain Conn is the Chief Executive of Centrica, the parent company of British Gas. Before joining the company, he was the Chief Executive of British Petroleum. In 2017, his salary increased by 40% to just over £4m a year. He also received a £1.4m recruitment award when he was head-hunted from BP in 2015. British Gas recently announced they are putting electricity prices up by 12.5%.

The £4m Conn receives each year matches the number of households in Britain who are deemed to be in fuel poverty (where more than 10% of income is spent on fuel costs). Recently the government changed the official definition of fuel poverty, to include only families who have fuel costs that are above average, and whose fuel consumption would take them below the poverty line. However, in the real world, over 4m households (15% of the country) cannot afford to heat their homes. Whatever statistical method used, it is safe to assume that Iain Conn is not in fuel poverty.

The glaringly obvious message from all of this (well, to this blogger at least) is that the energy companies need to be taken back into public ownership. We have an illusion of choice – the idea that we can simply switch energy providers, when there is a cartel operating against our interests which hike up prices in response to each other. Better to have democratic control over energy, and for everyone to afford to heat their homes.

Nationalisation need not cost us anything. Why should fat cats like Iain Conn get any compensation – they have already robbed the British public of millions of pounds? Compensation should only be on the basis of need, not greed.

Nationalising energy companies would also allow the government to plan based on long-term needs, and to help save our environment. New Scientist recently estimated that the growth in renewables has, unfortunately stalled, as the ending of government subsidies is “strangling investment”. We may struggle to even meet 10% of energy consumption with renewables, under the so-called “free market”.

Capitalism is only interested in the bottom line, short-term profits at the expense of our futures. In order to prevent climate change going over 2°C, which could potentially be catastrophic, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, stop fracking and invest all our energy and resources in making renewable energy work. To do this, the energy companies would need to forget about profits for shareholders. Under this grossly unfair and unequal economic system, that isn’t realistic. We need socialism.

I am a member of the Socialist Party in Britain, which is part of a growing, worldwide movement for socialist ideas, the Committee for a Workers’ International. If you agree, please join us. Together we can change the world.

 

How to make yourself cross this Thursday

June 7, 2017

Cross at cuts to the NHS;
cross at duplicitous career politicians;
cross at millionaire MPs freezing our wages;
cross at working till 67;
cross at we’re all in this together;
cross at zero hour contracts;
cross at “strong and stable” government;
cross at Blairite betrayals;
cross at tragic foreign interventions;
cross at terrorism;
cross at delayed trains and extortionate fares;
cross at 20,000 fewer police officers;
cross at election expenses scandal;
cross at tuition fees;
cross at austerity.

Cross the road to the polling station.

Cross for Corbyn;
cross for socialism;
cross for change;
cross for solidarity;
cross for leadership;
cross for the 99.9%;
cross for hope;
cross for equality.

Cross the box.

Cross your fingers.

mayends2

 

We want nationalisation, we want workers’ control. We want union freedom, and the Tories on the dole.

May 21, 2017

For a “weak”, “unelectable” leader, Jermy Corbyn seems to be packing crowds in wherever he speaks. Labour are rapidly closing ground on the Tories in the opinion polls. Could it be that their policies – of a living minimum wage, to end zero hour contracts and to renationalise the utilities and railway network, might just be proving popular?

Labour have promised to bring back the railways under public control, but only as the franchises expire. They have promised “cradle to grave” free education, with the abolition of tuition fees. They are opposing austerity – though this has yet to be put into practice by Labour councils.

Opinion polls show overwhelming public support for socialist policies – 52% support public ownership of the railways, 65% support higher taxes for those earning more than £80,000/yr, 54% of people support more council house building, 71% of people support the scrapping of zero hour contracts. The Labour manifesto promises a Britain “for the many, not the few”. How much more inspiring than vague right-wing promises, which have failed to deliver. No surprise then that millions of, mostly young voters, are registering to vote.

The Labour manifesto can be criticised for its climbdown on Trident and for nationalised energy, for example, to be run alongside private utility companies. Surely it would be better to acknowledge that Trident is a white elephant and that the only way to plan and invest in renewable energy would be to renationalise the whole industry at one stroke, and to have democratic control of industry.

However, it is a huge step forward compared to the Blairite mantra of the Third Way, of public-private partnerships and PFI, which have continued Tory plans to get rid of our control over the public sector. The NHS has rapidly been privatised, so this election is in effect a referendum on whether we still want a national health service – not that the Tories want us to know that!

However, their manifesto also misses a target in failing to renationalise the banks. Lack of public control over the banking sector has been shown in the failure to prosecute RBS over that bank’s failings.

The right wing press complain about the expense of nationalisation – but it needn’t cost us a penny – rather big shareholders should receive no compensation whatsoever; they have held the public to ransom for far too long.

Tyneside Labour Party Young Socialists came up with a song in the 1970’s which sums up the situation (to the tune of the Blaydon Races) –

“Aye lads, we all want nationalisation
But not the kind they’ve got in the mines
Or in the railway stations.
We want workers’ control and not participation,
And then we’ll be on were way – to the socialist transformation!”

The reference “not the kind they’ve got in the mines or in the railway stations” is due to the post-war Labour settlement which ended up with the same coal owners still in charge in the National Coal Board, and which still shut workers out of control.  However, even this top-down, limited nationalisation would still be preferable to the present situation!

In contrast, there is a classic example, from the 1970s, of Lucas shop stewards being asked what they could do with the skills in the British Aerospace industry – they came up with long-life batteries, and dialysis machines rather than making weapons for the defence industry. Similarly the GLC, in 1981, before its abolition by Thatcher,  Mike Cooley, sacked from Lucas for his activism, was appointed Technology Director of the GLC’s new Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB). A series of Technology Networks were created. Anticipating FabLabs today, these community-based workshops shared machine tools, access to technical advice, and prototyping services, and were open for anyone to develop socially useful prototypes.

Technology Networks aimed to combine the ‘untapped skill, creativity and sheer enthusiasm’ in local communities with the ‘reservoir of scientific and innovation knowledge’ in London’s polytechnics. Hundreds of designs and prototypes were developed, including electric bicycles, small-scale wind turbines, energy conservation services, disability devices, re-manufactured products, children’s play equipment, community computer networks, and a women’s IT co-operative. Designs were registered in an open access product bank. GLEB helped co-operatives and social enterprises develop these prototypes into businesses.

However, it is wrong to say that Corbyn’s manifesto is simply a return to the 1970’s. Then, 13 million people were members of trade unions, there was an element of democratic control in some workplaces with “closed shops”, where the union would be able to decide who was hired and fired. There was more equality, cheaper housing, more council housing, better job security, an 80% top rate of income tax – and key industries were nationalised (albeit on a top-down, Stalinist model, inherited from the gains of the 1945 Labour post-war government).

Fast forward 40 years – we have zero hour contracts, the race to the bottom with our terms and conditions being eroded, wage freezes for public sector workers and insecure jobs.

A programme of nationalisation could begin to reverse decades of underfunding and Thatcherite economics. With advances in technology and robotics, we could have a shorter working week without loss of pay (at the moment automation is being used as a tool to drive up profits at our expense).

One drawback is that Corbyn, welcome though his reforms are, is trying to improve workers’ rights and transform society, without actually taking power out of the hands of big business. There will undoubtedly be a retaliation. There are questions over how he will force his programme through. 100 Blairite MPs have already signalled their intention to form a breakaway party, should Corbyn lose the general election, but remain in charge.

The answer to this is to have mandatory reselection of MPs and re-democratise the Labour Party, with more influence for the 500,000 members who have joined as a result of Corbyn’s shift to the left. This has happened in Aberdeen, where 9 Labour councillors were recently suspended for going into a local coalition with the Tories!

Brexit, would allow Corbyn the freedom to break with EU treaties which enforce competition and the internal market. Dave Nellist has dubbed this “Thatcherism on a continental scale”. It would allow trade unions the freedom to campaign for better wages for migrant workers, levelling wages up, rather than the practice of “social dumping”, where EU regulations have meant the ripping up of negotiated agreements and allow companies to employ workers on less than the UK minimum wage, a practice analogous with the use of “flags of convenience” on board ships. Corbyn needs to campaign for a socialist Brexit. Theresa May, on the other hand, would use Brexit to rip up what little protection Europe offers the UK, in terms of the working hours’ directive, for example.

In summary, the general election is a golden opportunity, the first time in my lifetime that I will be able to support a Labour government offering an alternative to cuts. It lifts our aspirations and will encourage millions, whereas all the Tories have to offer is a continuation of drab, grey austerity Britain, where millions rely on food-banks, where people are terrified of putting their head above the parapet for fear of losing their jobs, where the disabled and homeless are victimised, rather than supported. We need a return to the fighting spirit of the 1970s, rather than a return to Victorian conditions and the 1870s.

(This is a speech I gave to Leicester Socialist Party meeting, May 2017 – on the topic – “Nationalisation – is Corbyn taking us back to the 1970s?”)

30 days to save the NHS

May 11, 2017

I was watching Pointless the other day, when a question about the NHS came up – 12 out of 100 people did not know what NHS stood for, and the founders of the NHS (Aneurin Bevin and Clement Attlee’s landslide 1945 Labour government) which ushered in the welfare state only managed a score in the 20s. On Twitter, the BBC quipped, “there were originally seven questions in this round, but they have had their funding cut”.

A recent Labour Party PPB highlighted its role in creating the NHS and how it can be transformed once again – http://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/01/19/labour-hits-back-tories-nhs-lines-first-party-political-broadcast-2017

Aneurin Bevan’s national vision for free healthcare was inspired by a working-class community in Wales. It is important that we educate ourselves about the origins of the NHS, as it is facing oblivion under the Tories.  24 A&E services are facing the axe and another nine are being down-graded. The NHS is facing £22bn of cuts over the next four years. A major reason for this mess are PFI deals and privatisation, brought in by John Major’s Tory government, expanded on by Blair and Brown and continued under Cameron and May. Essential services are run by companies such as Capita, Virgin Healthcare, and Serco. Perhaps not so surprising when you consider that 71 Lib Dem / Tory MPs, who voted for the sell-off of the NHS, with the 2014 Health and Social Care Act, have links to private healthcare companies.

But there is an alternative. If elected, Corbyn’s Labour government will reverse decades of underfunding and privatisation to public services, by bringing the NHS back into public ownership. This is a policy which the Socialist Party has long fought for. Labour pledges to abolish hospital parking charges and to kick out the privateers from our healthcare system. This is so important, because for any private company, its priority is to its shareholders and the bottom line, rather than the provision of a public service.

However, this will only happen if enough of us vote for an alternative to cuts and privatisation in the upcoming general election. You can register to vote here. There has never been more at stake. For the first time, I will be voting Labour, having been put off previously by its failed, feeble, centre-right Blairism. But the Labour party is changing radically for the better. Hopefully millions of other people will be convinced to do the same on June 8th.

Strong and stable

April 30, 2017

Listen here:

http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Andrew_Walton/Deliveroo_Rider_EP/Strong_And_Stable_Dalek

http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Andrew_Walton/Deliveroo_Rider_EP/Strong_And_Stable

‘Midst general election expenses scandal
A snap election; risky gamble.
If I wanted something strong and stable,
I’d buy a flipping coffee table.
Theresa May is weak and feeble,
Corbyn stands up for the people.
We have had enough of austerity;
Enough duplicitous treachery.
The Tories always attack the poor
Take us for granted, but no more.
We’ll show May the stable door.
Shove her on the compost heap
Of history, where she will keep
Thatcher company.

 

 

Ballad of James McLean

March 28, 2017

Listen here –http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Andrew_Walton/Deliveroo_Rider_EP/Ballad_Of_James_McLean

This tale is all too sadly true –
James McLean, he walked the talk.
To London streets, where homeless folk
warm hands on steaming cups of brew.

In Leicester, likewise, courageous stand;
he pitched his tents on Jubilee Square.
Mayor Soulsby, angry at protest there,
Served him notice to quit the land.

But public ground belongs to all;
The Diggers, once fought for such a right.
We have no choice, except to fight,
No longer to be held in thrall.

Moved on, James struck on pastures new,
Nearby the Old Town Hall.
Providing shelter, comradeship too.
Sir Soulsby, he still had the gall

to impose an unjust fine on him:
good James did nothing wrong.
Leicester in Bloom’s all proper and prim
But I’d rather see the homeless throng

provided with places for their needs;
hostel funding should not be cut.
New Labour councillors claim to heed
calls for more resources . . . but

Blairites cry tears of Tory blue,
their words don’t match their deeds.
False claims of  building houses new,
while poor are thrown on the streets.

A Mayor’s vast salary will console;
Soulsby’s never suffered on the dole.
‘Gainst cruel hypocrisy, ruthless cant,
we must, like James, protest and rant.

Homeless services, they must stay,
the fat-cats must be booted out.
Capital’s greed has had its day,
let people protest, hear us shout.

As cuts hit home, we realise
We must all strike and organise,
like James McLean, who made his stand,
and occupied our council land.

mclean

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Priorities

November 23, 2016

Three hundred and sixty million? Cough, splutter.
For a fraction of that, I’d fix the gutter.
How many council houses could we buy?
Buckingham Palace, a modern Versailles.

Let Queenie herself pay for the job:
The Cullinan, that should fetch a few bob,
Empress of India, and all that palaver.
Empire long gone; old, stuffy cadaver.

In austerity Britain, we’re under the cosh.
While Royals claim yet more of our dosh,
Food bank queues only grow longer,
Working-class anger only grows stronger.

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.

On the destruction of the ‘Jungle’, Calais

October 29, 2016

bulldozers

cannot erase memories
obliterate hardship
pulverise poverty
demolish bigotry
bury hatred

fire

cannot consume wounds
burn away torture
scorch suffering
ignite crushed spirits
blaze uncertainty

politicians

sitting in comfort
start conflict
invade countries
bomb civilians
divide and rule

people

create society
comfort losses
heal scars
renew hope
start anew