Posts Tagged ‘Tories’

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?”)

Why attack the vulnerable?

July 16, 2013

“One of the measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable members.”

By any standards then, the present Con-Dem government is far from ‘civilised’. A cabinet of millionaires are attacking resources for the disabled, the poor, the unemployed, benefit claimants and those on low incomes. They are privatising or have already privatised our public services, which the poor rely on most. Public transport, water, electricity have already been sold off and now they are targeting the Royal Mail, comprehensive education and the NHS.

I think the Tories’ calculation is that these people are unlikely to vote, and if they did they would not support a Conservative government in any case, so they are being used as cannon fodder for big business eager to get its hands on lucrative public sector contracts – at our expense. Labour, shamefully, did the same thing when in power, expanding the use of PFI (“Profit From Illness” as Dave Nellist memorably put it), turning schools into academies and publicly run hospitals into Foundation Trusts – both a stepping stone to full privatisation. Dave Prentis, not someone I am normally a fan of, said rightly that “Labour built the bridge over which the Tories now march” – but this is at the same time as handing over millions of pounds of union members’ subs to the Labour Party, which did nothing to restrain the worst excesses of Thatcherism, despite earlier promises.

The railways are still fragmented, private and extortionately expensive to travel on. The anti-union laws are still in place. Manufacturing industry is still in decline. Jobs are still scarce, casual affairs, where unscrupulous employers can hire and fire at will. Outside the consumerism and gloss of our city centres, estates are crumbling, with poor facilities. Even Britain’s much-vaunted Olympic legacy, freshly minted in 2012, is quickly being tarnished, with the Don Valley stadium in Sheffield, where Jessica Ennis trained, scheduled for demolition in September. The promise of investment and jobs has turned to dust.

London remains a divided city mired in poverty, sky-high rents and unemployment. Designer-suited and booted investment bankers in the City still rake in massive bonuses, and MPs vote themselves a 10% pay rise. Yet low-paid public sector workers in the civil service endure year after year of pay freezes.

This is an ideological attack on the fabric of our society, driven by the short-term desire for profit. The gap between rich and poor grows, leading to disillusionment and anger, but this is not always targeted at the culprits responsible, as the old mantra of “divide and rule” is trotted out again and again in the right-wing press. Asylum seekers, public sector workers, benefit scroungers, the unemployed are made into scapegoats – anyone except the bosses of companies which evade tax to the tune of £120 billion a year. This alone would be enough to reverse the damaging trend of under-investment in jobs and services, to revitalise our hospitals and schools, to nationalise our transport system, to build thousands of new homes, to provide the millions of jobs which our economy needs.

The problem is that profit is built into the ethos of the capitalist system we live in, so that any gains workers might win through union struggle or strike action – in this case, the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education, the eight hour day – will always be eroded. The only solution is to overthrow this rotten system completely.

What is to be done?

We need to give people the confidence that they can fight back and win real gains.

We need to persuade more workers to join trade unions, as they are the only force in society which can threaten capitalism. If we withdraw our labour, then this threatens bosses’ profits. If the leadership of trade unions has grown soft and bureaucratic, and given up the fight, then those leaders need to be forced into action by exerting mass pressure from below, or removed from office.

We need to oppose every cut in services, fight for every job and to retain what is left of our public services.

I think we need to build a new party for the vast majority of society – the 99%, not the 1%. I support TUSC – the trade unionist and socialist coalition.

Ultimately, we need to follow the example of people internationally – in the Occupy movement, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Greece – where workers have downed tools in a general strike and the masses took to the streets to try to bring down their government.

However, unlike revolutionary movements which fizzle out in elections leading to the installation of another weak, unpopular and corrupt regime, this movement cannot allow itself to be hijacked by sectarian interests – we need to build a new society, genuinely democratic, free and socialist. The same struggle needs to be spread to every country across the world.

I am part of the CWI – the Committee for a Workers’ International. We are attempting to build a socialist alternative in over forty countries across the world. The alternative is disillusionment, despair and poverty for the majority while a tiny, privileged elite continue to prosper.

Triple Dip

March 7, 2013

Something is wrong, when the future of millions
Is described as if we were fruit in a yogurt,
Or sticks of chocolate in an ice-cream pot.
“I’ll have a tub of your Triple Dip please, with billions
Of hundreds and thousands on top,
Just like the bonuses the bankers got”.
The politicians, with incredible gall
Try to make the poor pay for it all
By slashing our services and cutting our jobs
The youth go on riot, but they’re not the real yobs.
They’re in a cabinet of out-of-touch Bullingdon snobs
And Labour – hand-wringing, apologetic – sobs
That they can’t afford to pay any more.
Milliband’s not much better and Brown used to bore
On and on about abolishing boom and bust
But the working class have got them all sussed.
We don’t need a yogurt, we need a new workers’ party
To fight all the cuts and put an end to austerity.

___________________________________________________________________________

You can help support the Socialist Party by buying a short book of my poems, ‘Little Red Poetry’: Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.