Thursday, 3 January 2013

2013: Prepare for a mighty battle against deeper cuts

The coming year, like 2012, will be one of intense struggles by the working class in Britain, Europe and the world.

Five years into the most devastating capitalist economic crisis since the 1930s, the ruling classes continue to unload the burden for this onto the shoulders of the working class.

Because of inadequate and faulty leadership, working-class people have paid a terrible price: in mass unemployment numbering 18.5 million in the European Union, a slashing in living standards and the appearance of poverty that the present generation have up to now only been able to read about in books like George Orwell's 'The Road to Wigan Pier'.

'Civilised' Britain now experiences some of the conditions once confined to the neo-colonial world with the appearance of food banks, where middle-class people who have fallen on 'hard times' rub shoulders with the destitute in the lengthening queues for the bare essentials of food.

Guardian writer Zoe Williams suggests never mind, "be optimistic", down with pessimism and always look on the bright side.

She is correct in seeking to counter the government's mantra that "there is no alternative" to their cuts' programme.

She's also very good in debunking the "myths of the government" in relation to fraud in the benefit system, which accounts for 0.7% of the total bill. Cameron uses this to stigmatise all those forced onto benefits.

In a sense, Zoe Williams expresses admirable sentiments if the intention is to instil a sense of hope and resistance to the onslaught of the bosses against all past gains of the working class.

But she undermines her case by then asserting that "Britain is not Greece, our economy is stronger". The implication is that this country cannot go down a similar path to Greece.

This is a severe case of wishful thinking. Spain, Portugal and even Italy, although much stronger economically, have experienced similar problems to Greece with an economic slump together with massive and rising unemployment.

The capitalists in these countries also declared that they 'were not Greece'. Yet their economies have been plunged into crisis with debts, inherited from the 'boom', that is crippling them like Greece.

Today, the economic and political fate of each country in Europe is linked together as never before. Intensified globalisation ensures that not just Europe, but the world is now bound together with iron hoops.

If Greece was forced out of the euro, it could trigger a spiral of decline which would intensify the already catastrophic crisis and drag the whole of Europe into an economic abyss.

If Spain, Portugal and Italy were to follow, it has now been estimated that the cost of the default by 2020 would be the equivalent of 180% of eurozone annual gross domestic product (€17 trillion!).

Britain is not far behind; it is presently Greece in slow motion! Yet the collapse of the euro could speed up the process enormously.

Hence the nervousness of Cameron about the fate of the euro, despite the fact that Britain is not a member of the eurozone.

Working class strength
There is not an atom of pessimism in this. We socialists and Marxists are very confident in the ability of working-class people - especially when they have a farsighted leadership and a fighting mass party behind them - to not only resist the capitalist offensive but to provide an alternative to outworn and failing capitalism, in the form of a democratic socialist planned economy.

Proof of their combativity is to be seen in the titanic general strikes, one of the highest forms of struggle of the working class, in Greece, Portugal, Spain, India, Romania and other countries of Eastern Europe.

And here in Britain we saw the huge October demonstration of 150,000 marching in opposition to the austerity coalition Con-Dem government and with the major trade union leaders calling for a 24-hour general strike.

Yet austerity - planned poverty - will not only be continued but worsened, with 80% of the planned cuts of the government yet to be implemented.

There is therefore every likelihood - with the required militant leadership - that 2013 will see a heightened movement of the working class in Britain.

This, of course, partly depends on the national leadership of the trade unions giving the necessary lead in preparing for one-day general strike action.

But if they don't act then a movement from below can develop, as in South Africa with the marvellous movement of the miners who came out on strike in opposition not just to the bosses but their own union leaders.

New Labour local authority leaders in the North of England have warned that "civil unrest" could take place if the government continues to force through their cuts agenda.

These council leaders and others could avoid this if they refused to act as agents of the coalition by not carrying through cuts and instead lead a mass movement of opposition which could defeat the government on this issue and undoubtedly prepare its downfall.

Economic decline
Despite Zoe Williams's blandishments, British capitalism faces a bleak outlook, which means a terrible future on the basis of the capitalist system for the working class, above all for young people.

The blizzard of doom-laden facts and figures that have recently filled out the economic sections of the capitalist press amply demonstrates this.

British capitalism is reaping the rewards of a completely short-sighted policy over decades, not just years.

The refusal to invest in industry, which in turn resulted in industrial collapse, was highlighted by us in literally dozens of articles over the last three decades.

Indeed, Thatcher colluded in the deindustrialisation of Britain as a means of weakening the working class in the aftermath of the 1984-85 miners' strike.

The scale of the collapse is indicated in a recent report by the European Federation of Employers. It pointed out that capital replacement in the UK has fallen more than in any other European country since 2005: "The UK is turning into an old-style Third World country ... with low pay growth for most workers below managerial level, widening pay differentials and poor levels of capital investment".

The economy is bumping along the bottom, with growth "invisible to the naked eye outside of London" Stagnation, combined with a dose of inflation, and decline, is the best-case scenario.

The Economist characterises this as "the stuck society", a semi-paralysed zombie-type economy. Growth will probably be no more than 0.1% in 2012 and will be little more this year.

And this is without the threat of 'headwinds' - code for the deepening of the worldwide economic capitalist crisis which is severely affecting Britain.

The government loudly proclaims the success of its strategy for creating jobs and new businesses. The Economist, on the contrary, talks about "businesses without employees ... business creation is flat".

Sales of homes are at half the level they were in 2006, while even right-wing think tanks warn the government that house building is in a crisis, with the number of houses built the lowest since the 1920s.

This, in turn, impacts on the young, already confronted by mass unemployment, and now compelled to live at home with their parents.

Britain has begun to mirror Japan, where half of those between 20 and 34 are 'fridge raiders' in their own parents' homes. In Britain, the proportion is one in three for men and one in six for women!

This at a time when the next governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, will receive a whopping £250,000 housing allowance, on top of his mega salary of £624,000 - more than double what the current governor, Mervyn King, received for presiding over an economic collapse.

This just adds to the growing hostility - class hatred - which working people feel for the rich.

This extends to the government, which is seen increasingly as the protector of spivs and economic racketeers.

Russian billionaires are handed residency after five years for a minimum price tag of £1 million – with the qualifying period reduced to two or three years for £10 million or £5 million respectively – and then engage on a property-buying orgy, which in turn drives up all property prices throughout London.

One consequence is that Thatcher's 'property owning democracy' lies in ruins, with only a minority in London now owning their own house and the majority at the mercy of uncontrolled moneygrubbing landlords.

These supposed 'trustees' of capitalism are in a fog about the workings of their own system, let alone possessing any remedies for solving the crisis.

They have been like a cork bobbing on the waves in an economic tsunami. The Socialist did foresee the inevitability of a crash at a certain stage, although no one could predict the timing or the severity of this crisis.

The debt-fuelled boom which preceded this - a massive injection of credit - extended the 'growth' cycle but then deepened and lengthened the crisis when it finally struck.

On her recent visit to the Bank of England, the Queen - who has been drawn into a more and more openly political role, even attending the Cabinet - received a belated 'explanation' from one of the Bank of England's top economists as to why the crisis was not foreseen.

According to him, the City "was complacent" and in any case, crises were "a bit like earthquakes and flu pandemics in being rare and difficult to predict". In other words, the crisis of capitalism is like a natural phenomenon.

Marxist analysis
Marxism rejects such 'voodoo economics'. Marx pointed out that crises are man-made; they are an inevitable product of a system based upon production for profit and not for social need.

Capitalist 'overproduction' - unknown in previous economic systems - in a world crying out for continued economic growth to satisfy the obvious needs of the poor and dispossessed, is an economic absurdity and totally avoidable. This is on condition, of course, that the capitalist system is abolished.

Before departing from the Bank of England, the Duke of Edinburgh asked: "Is there another one coming? ...

"Don't do it again". But the capitalists cannot help "doing it", presiding over crises and slumps again and again.

So too with speculation and gambling, as is shown by the examples of fraud even during this world crisis.

This is organic to capitalism itself, like inhaling and exhaling to the human body. However, with age, the organism becomes weaker.

The booms becoming less effective in solving the problems created by the previous crisis while crises and slumps appear more often and drag out.

It is possible that the current crisis is likely to be drawn out, similar to the depression in the 19th century from 1873 to 1896. But there is no "final crisis of capitalism".

Capitalism can always find a way out, through the destruction of living standards, and ultimately by curtailing and possibly destroying the democratic rights and organisations of the working class.

In this way, an unstable equilibrium can be established for a time. But as sure as night follows day, a new economic crisis will be prepared, as the history of capitalism itself has shown.

The conclusion arising from this should be that we should organise to mobilise working people for the replacement of the system by one that can use the full potential of the productive forces. This is only possible on the basis of democratic socialism.

In this period the working class is receiving brutal lessons in the character of capitalism, which puts the lust for profit by the bosses before all 'humane' considerations.

To the delight of the bosses, "a supply of people able to work for less than the cost of living gives parsimonious firms a convenient pool of temporary workers" (The Economist).

In other words, a reserve army of unemployed, as predicted by Karl Marx, has returned in Tory/Lib Dem Britain.

The plentiful supply of cheap labour obviously pleased the Bank of England's chief economist, Spencer Dale, who praised the labour market's "extraordinary flexibility ...

"The pay packets of the average worker bought 15% less than they would have done had the pre-crisis trend continued".

Unable to contain his delight at this impoverishment of the working poor, he continued: "One of the most striking - and indeed encouraging - features of the performance of our economy since the financial crisis is the falls in real wages that have been achieved without a very sharp rise in unemployment".

A low-wage economy alongside a mass and stagnant pool of unemployed, to be used as a weapon against those fortunate to have a low-paid job, is the future that is mapped out by the strategists of capitalism for the working class.

At the same time, a reduced standard of living for the great majority of the population is all that is offered.

Already, Britain has slipped down two places to sixth in the European league table of living standards.

But this is just the beginning with Cameron and King promising more of the same with their predictions that 'austerity' will last for at least another decade.

Greater poverty
And of course the economic crisis will bear down greatest on the poorest households who have been hit by soaring food prices, even according to government figures.

These reveal that the consumption of every major nutrient has fallen in the last four years. Cash-strapped families have bought less lamb, beef, fish, fruit, vegetables, potatoes and alcoholic drinks, but more bacon, pork and cheese.

Is it therefore little wonder that rickets - the disease of poverty associated with the 1930s - has returned to Britain?

There are claims that the deficiency of vitamin D associated with this disease is due to lack of sunshine.

This may be a factor, but it is not the whole picture, as families scrimp on food. Teachers have increasingly found that they have to deal with hungry children who come to school without food or money, with the teachers themselves moved to feed them out of their own pocket.

Even the high Tories of the Daily Telegraph report: "Ordinary families will be more than £1,000 a year worse off after George Osborne's autumn statement ...

"Families in work will be hit hard by the decision to increase child benefit and working age benefits by just 1% a year".

The reason why the Telegraph is flagging up opposition, particularly to the withdrawal of child benefit, is because their readers, better off middle-class families, will have child benefit withdrawn next year.

More than half of those responding to a survey believe "that we are not in this together", as George Osborne has ceaselessly asserted.

He was given his answer by the booing which greeted his appearance at the Paralympics: "Why did 80,000 people boo George Osborne? Because that's the maximum capacity of the Olympic Stadium." (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer).

When Thatcher was in power, we argued that the economic wasteland she helped to create would lead to her being compared to a latter-day Genghis Khan.

This has now been confirmed from an unexpected source. Michael Heseltine, for many years Thatcher's partner in crimes against the working class - the man who presided over the complete destruction of the mining industry in Britain - now concludes: "government appears like villains descending like Mongol hordes on the most vulnerable, leaving community welfare like bleeding stumps".

But this government is continuing Thatcher's work, even going further than she dared. Recently released papers from her government in the 1980s show that even she rejected the complete dismantling of the 'welfare state' when it was suggested by her Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe. But Cameron and Clegg now intend to implement Howe's programme to the letter.

This is a moment in history similar to the early 1920s when the capitalists, through the Geddes report, proposed savage cuts in the living standards of the working class, which led to the 1926 general strike.

A seemingly irresistible force in the form of a government determined to face down the working class at all costs met an immovable object, a working-class ready to resist.

The only reason why the government of the time came out of this conflict victorious was because the trade union leaders refused to carry the strike - which was growing relentlessly each day - through to a conclusive victory.

This government will not retreat, unless it is confronted by the most determined and broad mobilisation of the working class ready to use the full power of the labour movement.

New Year of more cuts
It is clear that British and world capitalism offer no way forward for the working class. Therefore, in 2013 the Con-Dem government will serve up the same toxic dish of further cuts in living standards, deeper cuts in national and local government budgets and attacks on the organisations of working people.

Over one million jobs will have been cut from the public sector if just some of the scheduled cuts are carried out.

Nor can salvation be expected from the private sector: "An extra 200,000 people in Britain may be without a job by this time next year, according to the think tank IPPR, and youth unemployment may again rise above one million" (Guardian).

Education Minister Michael Gove is riding roughshod over the objections of parents and teachers in the relentless drive to establish academies.

We don't have to speculate what the result will be; we have the evidence provided by our sister organisation in Sweden - Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna - where the Swedish equivalent of academies have been operating for some time.

They show just where Gove's plans will lead. They point out that Sweden and Chile are the only countries where profit-making schools are financed with taxpayers' money.

In Sweden this has led to a catastrophic drop in the quality of education. A handful of companies in Sweden - some of them hedge funds - have raked off record profits of over $20 million from running private schools funded by the state.

Within a few years this will also be the picture here, and not just in education, but also in health, conditions of work, etc.

This will be accompanied with a vicious attempt to nullify the effectiveness of the trade unions. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, together with Eric Pickles, the local government minister, is already attacking 'facility time' for trade union representatives.

Yet within the last few days it has been revealed in the Independent that "the government is paying staff from powerful firms including energy giants and a leading bank to work at the heart of Whitehall".

This 'facility time' will undoubtedly be used to enhance the agenda of the energy giants and the banks to squeeze even further those who are suffering from 'fuel poverty'.

The long-term consequences of Maude's attacks could rebound on the bosses and their government by producing more hardened, militant and younger fighters in the workplace and the unions.

But if these measures are not fiercely resisted now and defeated, in the short-term this could undermine resistance to the government's plans.

Trade union 'brake'
For too long, some of the trade union 'generals', like Brendan Barber at the head of the TUC, have been a massive brake on the working class.

At its annual congress in September the TUC decided on a one-day general strike. Yet Barber, together with some right-wing union leaders like Dave Prentis of Unison, has clearly been trying to frustrate any attempt to implement this decision.

His brand of 'responsible' trade unionism was clearly summed up in his departing message on his retirement from the TUC when he described the TUC as an 'institution', a pillar of the capitalist state.

The trade unions in their foundation and their aims are nothing of the kind. They are or should be implacably opposed to the bosses - and particularly today when the working class confronts capitalist forces, red in tooth and claw - in the struggle for a living wage, against unemployment, etc.

It is for this reason that the organising of a one-day general strike assumes paramount importance, linking together the struggle against the cuts, with pay, pensions and conditions of work. The anti-trade union legislation is an obstacle but not an insurmountable one.

It is true that the anti-union laws in this country are among some of the most repressive in Europe. But that does not mean to say that workers in other European countries do not have laws and restrictions limiting and in some cases prohibiting strike action.

Even in Greece, Spain and Portugal anti-union laws are in place - although not as restrictive or with the potential for financially damaging unions as in Britain.

But this has not prevented Greek workers from engaging in 18 one-day strikes and four 48-hour strikes against their government.

For a one-day general strike
Firstly, a common date should be agreed - with the majority of trade unions committed to this - while the ballots for such action can be on different issues.

For instance, pay is now a burning issue for the great majority of workers with inflation exceeding the level of wage increases.

There is also the question of conditions at work - for instance the horrific workload of teachers, the question of low pay, etc. In the final analysis, where there is a will there is a way.

We cannot allow the onslaught of the Con-Dem government and the capitalists to go unanswered. Forward in 2013 to a mighty one-day general strike, which properly organised will shake this government to its foundations!

Also Ed Miliband in his Christmas message once again shows just why New Labour does not represent working class people.

By calling for the unemployed to accept any job, no matter how low paid, that is offered to them he is doing the Tories' job for them.

This is to signify an acceptance of a slave's charter, that a further impoverishment of the poor and the working class is inevitable and cannot be resisted.

The struggle of the cleaners on London Underground and the Tyne and Wear Metro gives the lie to this with a demand for a living wage.

This 'Labour leader' dares not agree with this for fear of alienating 'moderate' public opinion. The reality is that the mass of British people, not just trade unionists, would enthusiastically endorse this campaign.

Only a new mass party of the working class can adequately voice the growing mass opposition towards the government.

This opposition is increasing and is helping to provoke splits and divisions in the coalition. With their standing in the polls reduced to an all-time low, the Liberal Democrats could be forced by the social effects of further cuts to cut adrift from the coalition. 2013 could see the defeat of this government and a new general election, particularly if the trade union movement organises decisive action.

Despite his lack of programme, Miliband could be pushed into power. But New Labour has no answers to the burning problems that confront the working people of Britain.

Even right-wing Labour MPs have voiced doubts about the long-term consequences for such a government.

The failure of New Labour could pave the way for an even more right wing Tory government at a later stage.

Therefore it is urgent that in 2013 no time must be lost in preparing for a mighty battle on the industrial front and in creating a new party, which will provide real leadership to the working class in the big struggles that will take place.



Thursday, 9 February 2012

Exploiting the unemployed to line the pockets of big business

The following is take from the socialist issue 704


The introduction of the government's flagship welfare service the Work Programme has been criticised recently in a National Audit Office (NAO) report.

The programme was rushed through in just 12 months starting in June 2011. Disgracefully the government paid £63 million in compensation to private companies to end New Labour's Flexible New Deal contracts early. Ten of these same companies also got the lucrative new contracts with the Work Programme. Providing support to those on benefit is big business and there are many multinationals trying to get their hands on the £5 billion budget.

The government propaganda concentrates on scapegoating individuals for not getting a job. Yet unemployment is at 2.65 million and the government's slashing of jobs and services in the public sector only makes it harder to find work.

The scramble for profits skews the way the private companies provide services. The NAO report acknowledges that providers cherry-pick the easier-to-place people into work and "park" individuals who face more barriers getting back into work.

This was highlighted by PCS-commissioned research in 2006 on third sector involvement in welfare provision. This government puts the emphasis and payment on results. It is not concerned with how providers achieve the targets, as long as they get people off benefit. Also, using the current economic crisis as an excuse, it is likely that the private sector providers will demand a relaxation of the targets they signed up to.

It is often difficult for the public to raise concerns with the quality of these companies' services. Many of them also have a bad track record in the treatment of their own employees, (see article below).

The NAO report recommends that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) monitors the contracts more robustly. And it highlights some of the problems caused by privatisation. PCS members working in the DWP have a proven track record in providing the best support to help claimants back into work. So the work should be brought back in-house by staffing up jobcentres to provide good quality, individualised support for those on benefit, rather than pouring public money into the coffers of big business.

PCS will continue to campaign for our alternative to the government's attacks on the welfare state, as well as opposing all cuts.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Hard Times - but not for the 1%

The following is taken from the socialist issue 702


Defend pensions, fight the cuts in jobs and pay

As the clouds of recession grow darker, practically every section of society feels the grim effects. Apart from one group - there are few signs of recession for the super-rich!

Worldwide, they are still prospering and trying to solve the economy's problems by attacking their workers. Bosses at the industrial giant Unilever are trying to savagely cut the pensions of their workforce in Britain. But workers are fighting back with strikes.

Pickets at Unilever's Purfleet factory told Socialist Party members why they're angry at their bosses. "Unilever is the 18th richest company in the world. Chief executive Paul Polman is on £54 million in pay and share options. He has a chauffeur and claimed £75,000 in travel expenses last year."

But, as the pickets concluded: "It's us that makes them their money!" - though it's us who suffer. The government attacks public sector workers' jobs and aims to slash benefits for the sick and disabled. Pension rights are under siege. Real wages fell 4.2% over the last year.

Now, the Resolution Foundation 'thinktank' predicts that the recession's effects will be long lasting. Looking at ten million families with incomes between £12,000 to £29,000 a year, it predicts, on the basis of sluggish growth rates, that such families' earnings might not return to pre-recession levels until at least 2020. But in this land of permanent pay freeze, again the super-rich will dodge the permafrost.

Most working class, middle class and young people are not prepared to accept this gloomy future offered by capitalism in decline. The rich, the owners of industry, finance and commerce, have declared war on us. As Unilever workers and many public sector trade unionists have already done, the unions need to fight.

The capitalist system of booms and slumps looks like being mainly slump for the next decade - unless you're part of the richest 1%. If you reject this bosses' future, join the Socialist Party, help build a working class-based opposition and help lay the basis for a socialist society.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Struggle for International Socialism

                RCT Socialist Update no. 43


Worldwide, the capitalist system is dealing misery to ordinary working-class people.

But, also on a worldwide scale, the masses are beginning to fight back against the privileged elites whose system has brought poverty, economic disaster, war and oppression. Greek work
ers have many times brought society to a standstill and revolutionaries in the Middle East and North Africa have toppled dictator after dictator. Latin American is awash with movements seeking to break out of the capitalist system that means misery for the money while a few prosper.

But how can these movements succeed in replacing today's system of exploitation with a more just form of society? How can the masses defeat all those reactionaries who line up on the side of privilege and oppose the movement? Come to the meeting and hear about the Committee for a Workers' International, the international organisation to which the socialist party is affiliated which is seeking to organise and coordinate the international  movements and lead the working class to victory.in the meantime you can take a look at the website http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php

Come along to the meeting
Thursday 2nd February 7pm
Cardiff Bus Club (5 mins from Cardiff Central Station)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Pensions: the fight continues

The following is taken from the February issue of Socialism Today.


Following the strike of two million public-sector workers in November, the fight to safeguard pensions hangs in the balance. Pitted against savage Con-Dem austerity is an angry and determined working class. Yet the leaders of some key unions and the TUC are doing all they can to sell-out the struggle. The role of left-wing unions, and rank-and-file bodies such as the National Shop Stewards Network, could not be more important. HANNAH SELL reports on this crucial stage of the battle.

IN 2011 THE British working class joined the ranks of world revolt against austerity. The year was peppered with historic events: the largest specifically working-class demonstration in British history on 26 March, 750,000 public-sector workers striking over pensions on 30 June (J30), and the magnificent two-million-strong 30 November strike (N30). Public backing for these events was overwhelming. On N30, a series of polls showed majority support for the strike: the BBC showed 61%, the Guardian 79%, the right-wing Daily Mail an incredible 90%. N30 also profoundly shook the government, with prime minister, David Cameron, having to retreat within 24 hours from calling it a "damp squib" to admitting it was "a big strike". 

However, if 2011 showed the strengths of the workers’ movement in Britain it also graphically demonstrated its weaknesses. Following N30, the struggle against the attacks on pensions hangs in the balance, with the leadership of Unison, the biggest public-sector union, breaking the united front and accepting the government’s rotten proposals. Virtually everything – for local government and health workers – had been on offer before N30, when it was rejected by Unison. 

Yet it is now being hailed as a breakthrough by the union’s general secretary, Dave Prentis, backed to the hilt by Brendan Barber and the leadership of the TUC. In fact, no central talks with government on pensions have even taken place since 2 November. The negotiations which led to this supposed breakthrough have been scheme-specific, discussing small details, not the broad parameters of public-sector workers’ pensions.

Despite this, given cover by the TUC leadership, before Christmas the government triumphantly announced that every union, apart from PCS civil servants, had signed up to its ‘heads of agreement’ on pensions. Since then, the leadership of the TUC has moved might and main to try to turn the government’s words into reality. At the same time, thousands of trade union activists have been working to keep their unions in the fight. 

Finely poised

 

THE FINAL OUTCOME of this battle has not yet been decided, but the attempt to strangle the pensions dispute in the dark, without trade union members realising what was happening, has already been decisively defeated. The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) has played an important role in this, not least by initiating a lobby of the TUC meeting which discussed the deal on 19 December. Even before Christmas, the reality was very different from that put forward by the government. Alongside PCS’s rejection of the proposals, the leaders of the education unions, NUT, NASUWT and UCU, had not accepted it, along with the prison officers’ union (POA), other civil service unions (FDA, Prospect), and the Northern Irish Public Sector Alliance. 

Since Christmas, the NUT and NASUWT have gone further and rejected the proposals, as have the local government and health executives of the Unite general union. Trade unions representing around a million workers have so far refused to accept it. The Unison leadership agreed the offer against widespread opposition. But the Scottish Unison health committee has formally rejected it and, at the North West Unison local government meeting, only one of the 100 people present spoke in support of the leadership’s position. 

However, the leadership of Unison, leaning on a lay bureaucracy at local level, is muddying the waters, desperately trying to disguise the fact that no significant concessions have been won. Meanwhile, the government has, as the Lib-Dem chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander, put it, achieved all its "savings goals". 

To try and conceal their capitulation, Prentis and co keep asserting that strikes on pensions could be held later on during these negotiations if needs be. This is true, but not on any of the key issues. Signing the heads of agreement means agreeing to the appalling terms of the current proposals on retirement age, career average schemes, accrual rates, the switch from calculations based on the retail price index to the consumer price index, and other issues. In addition, breaking the united front with other public-sector unions would make it more difficult for future Unison strike action on pensions to win.

The consequences of defeat… or victory

 

IF PRENTIS, BARBER and co succeed in derailing the pensions struggle it will be a bitter defeat for the workers’ movement. Comparisons are already been drawn with Black Friday in April 1921, when the leaders of the railway and transport unions broke the triple alliance and left the miners isolated. Indeed, a defeat of the pensions struggle would be another black day with serious consequences, not only for public-sector workers’ pensions but also for the working class as a whole. It would embolden the capitalist class and its representatives in government to escalate its austerity onslaught against the working class. 

It would also encourage the government to seriously consider taking further measures against the rights of workers to organise in trade unions, targeting the most militant unions, notably PCS. This has already been mooted. During the parliamentary debate following Alexander’s December announcement on pensions, three Tory MPs and a Scottish National Party MP demanded to know what action would be taken against the PCS by the government and called for cuts to trade union facility time and the imposition of minimum turnouts in strike ballots. Alexander responded favourably to them all. 

Another consequence could be that some of those who have looked to the unions and the working class to defeat the cuts could, temporarily and in frustration, turn to other roads. If more riots take place in 2012, following what would be perceived as a defeat for ‘union power’, the two would not be unconnected. 

Nonetheless, a defeat on pensions would mean losing the first battle, not the war. Even after Black Friday, the working class regrouped. Five years later we saw the greatest strike in Britain’s history, the magnificent 1926 general strike. The profound nature of the capitalist crisis, and the resulting savagery of the government’s austerity measures, mean that general strikes of a similar character can be posed in the not-too-distant future regardless of the outcome of the current battle. In the short term, explosive struggles will take place, not least against the second round of local authority cuts in the coming months. 

On the other hand, a victory on pensions would have an enormous effect by increasing the confidence of the working class. And a retreat on pensions would immeasurably damage the government, and could even lead to its fall. This is not because such a retreat would cost the government significant amounts of money. On the contrary, the sums are relatively small. The largest savings to be made – from the NHS pension scheme – are only £530 million in the first year. This is about the same amount as the government lost from its u-turn over privatising forests. 

However, in 2011, pensions were the frontline between the organised working class and the government. If the Con-Dems retreat on this it will be a body blow to them. It is vital, therefore, that trade unionists do all they can to force their leaders to maintain the united front and to set the date for the next 24-hour co-ordinated strike, involving all the public-sector unions that have rejected the proposals. This task is urgent as the government is planning to impose a pensions deal from the start of April. 

Pressure from below

 

TRADE UNIONISTS WILL be drawing conclusions about the role being played by Prentis, Barber and the rightwing of the movement. Britain has entered an era of bitter class battles, as the capitalist class attempts to solve the crisis in its system via a savage assault on workers’ living conditions. Under the impact of events, the different trends in the labour movement are beginning to be laid bare. In the frontline are the militant trade unions led by socialists, including PCS – in which the Socialist Party plays an important role – and also the rail and transport workers’ union, RMT. 

At the other pole are the right-wing unions, epitomised by the leadership of Unison. These trade union leaders have no confidence in the possibility of fighting to defend their members’ interests. They were dragged, kicking and screaming, into supporting co-ordinated strike action. They opposed the J30 strike on pensions. 

The day after, an anonymous trade union leader told the Guardian that the strike had been "a tactical error", adding: "PCS was warned that this was the wrong time and could backfire. A lot of other unions will feel frustrated with the PCS. Most unions will say today hasn’t helped". At the Unison service group meetings after the strike, Prentis argued against taking part in any co-ordinated action with the PCS. However, it was the very success of J30, and the resulting campaign by Unison members to take part in the next strike, which brought N30 about.

Right-wing union leaders were forced to support N30 because they were squeezed between the pressure from their members for action and the intransigence of the government. It is true that the government showered Prentis with praise. On 13 November, Tory cabinet minister, Francis Maude, called him a "very formidable, skilled, experienced negotiator who is going to drive a hard bargain and rightly. We appreciate that". The Financial Times correctly concluded: "Mr Maude plainly believes that Mr Prentis is a man with whom he can do business [but] has nothing but contempt for Mark Serwotka". However, while the government was happy to stroke Prentis’s ego, they were not prepared to give Unison members any concessions that would allow Prentis to avoid taking strike action over pensions. 

Unlike the leadership of New Labour, even the most right-wing union leaders are susceptible to pressure from their members, whose dues ultimately pay their salaries. Particularly in the run up to Unison conference, Prentis made speeches which made him sound like a militant trade unionist, declaring that the struggle against pensions "won’t be the miners’ strike. We are going to win". He added that "one day of industrial action won’t change anyone’s mind in government", and that rolling strikes would be needed "over an indefinite period". In the face of an unyielding government, the leadership of Unison had no choice but to strike – and to strike in co-ordination with the other unions, including PCS. 

Con-Dem onslaught intensifies

 

N30 WAS ONE of those days in history which have a profound effect on all those who participated. A new generation of workers took strike action for the first time. Many hundreds of thousands marched in some of the biggest demonstrations their local town, or even village, had ever seen. In Bristol, over 20,000 marched, more than 30,000 in Manchester. In smaller towns there were large demonstrations: 2,000 in Bournemouth, 4,000 in Torquay, 1,200 in Birkenhead, 1,000 in Hastings, 1,200 in Warrington. The list goes on. Public-sector workers tasted their own power. 

The government was shaken by the power of the strike, but it did not retreat. It relied on one crucial weakness of the movement to try and defeat it – the cowardice of many of its leaders, who were also terrified by the movement they had called forth. The autumn spending review, announced by the chancellor George Osborne on 29 November, was greeted with banner headlines in the press: ‘Osborne Strikes First’. It was a deliberate attempt to cow trade unionists, above all their leaders. The message was that the capitalist crisis means there is no alternative to unending misery for the working class, that it is useless to fight back because you cannot win. 

The spending review announced a series of further attacks. The number of public-sector jobs to be cut was raised by 300,000 to 710,000, and a two-year 1% cap on public-sector pay increases was announced. The already eye-watering £81 billion-worth of cuts to the public sector was to be increased by £30 billion. This was combined with a serious threat to the rights of the working class to organise in defence of its rights, along with the breakup of national pay bargaining and ending TUPE (rules which guarantee the pay and conditions of workers whose jobs are privatised). Cameron then stepped up the threat to trade unionists’ facility time.

Right-wing trade union leaders capitulated before this onslaught. The real reasons for their attitude to the pensions deal is that they believe that the government will force an even worse deal on them if they do not give in now. This was crudely summed up by the statement on 19 December of Christine McAnea, Unison’s head of health, that "this was always a damage limitation exercise". Hence the Unison leadership’s repeated pleading with trade unionists that this is the government’s ‘final offer’ – as if any employer ever puts forward an offer by declaring, ‘this isn’t our final offer; if you keep fighting we might give more’! 

There is a comparison between the government’s approach today and that of David Lloyd George, prime minister in 1919, when he said to the union leaders threatening to strike: "If you carry out your threat and strike you will defeat us. But if you do so, have you weighed up the consequences?" He added that, if they beat the government, they would have to be prepared to take power and run society. The reaction of right-wing miners’ leader, Robert Smillie, was: "From that moment on we were beaten and we knew we were". 

Rejecting the logic of the market

 

TODAY, THE IDEA of the working class taking power is not yet in the consciousness of broad sections of the working class, and is inconceivable to right-wing union leaders. Their lack of any political and economic alternative to the government’s policies is an important aspect of their cowardice. New Labour, the party that the biggest public-sector trade unions continue to fund, and whose capitalist leadership Barber, Prentis and co back to the hilt, would quake at the idea of coming to power as a result of a mass movement of the working class. 

New Labour is wedded to the market, and has repeatedly made clear it would also carry out massive cuts, including in public-sector workers’ pensions, if it was in government. Such is the scale of the attacks that the working class will be forced to struggle against the Con-Dems cuts even without a clear alternative. Nonetheless, one of the most urgent tasks for the workers’ movement is for it to develop its own mass political voice, which stands against all cuts and puts a socialist alternative. 

It is no coincidence that, in the main, it is socialist trade union leaders who have refused to accept the rotten pensions proposals. In the last 30 years, the majority of trade union leaders have moved far to the right, bowing more than ever before to the ‘logic of the market’. However, today and for the foreseeable future, that means taking away all the hard-won gains made by working-class people. 

The capitalists and their political representatives can be forced to retreat on pensions, but only if they meet a determined mass movement which does not accept the logic of their system and puts forward an alternative to endless austerity. It is far from excluded that N30 alone would have been enough to force the government to retreat on pensions, provided that the leaders had been clear that this was only a beginning and that, if the government did not retreat, they would quickly call another 24-hour public-sector strike followed, if necessary, by 48-hour action including the involvement of private-sector workers. 

Building fighting democratic unions

 

BREAKING THE UNITED front on pensions will lead, inevitably, not only to anger but to confusion and some demoralisation among a layer of Unison activists and other workers. These feelings will be intensified because the leadership of Unison has not fought a battle on any of the other attacks faced by their members, including massive job losses and wide-scale privatisation. 

Some workers will leave Unison in disgust to join another union, or drop out of union membership. One of the reasons Prentis may get away with this in the short term is because, at this stage, most of the fresh layers who have participated in the strikes are not active in the union structures, which are not infrequently little more than shells. In some cases, therefore, union members’ initial reaction may be to walk away and look for other means of fighting back. 

Nonetheless, Prentis will be punished by Unison members for his role. It is already clear that significant numbers of workers will set out to try and reverse the decision on pensions and to change their union leaderships. The campaign within Unison to demand special sectoral conferences to discuss the deal, and for a ballot to take place immediately, can gain real momentum in the coming weeks. It will be enormously fuelled if further co-ordinated action takes place by a significant number of unions still participating in the fight.

The importance of, and the potential to succeed in, building rank-and-file organisations within the trade unions, campaigning for fighting, democratic unions, is at its highest level in decades. The conference on 7 January, hosted by PCS Left Unity and bringing together over 500 trade union militants from across the public sector, demonstrated that potential, and also the importance of co-ordinating such bodies across the union movement. The pressure created by that conference contributed to Unite local government standing firm on pensions. The committee set up at the conference can now play a crucial role in co-ordinating the action of the unions that do hold the line.

Three years after the 1921 defeat, the Communist Party began to build the Minority Movement, a powerful rank-and-file trade union organisation. At its height, it represented almost one million of the most militant workers in Britain. Today, the NSSN has begun to group the most militant workplace representatives around it. Over the last 18 months, the NSSN has been able to act as an effective lever to help bring about the 26 March demonstration and the N30 strike, and has played a vital role in lobbying the TUC to demand the pensions struggle continues. 

Whatever the outcome of the current stage of that struggle, there will be many tens of thousands of public-sector workers who can be won to the NSSN, as well as to the left organisations in the different unions, and to conduct a serious battle for fighting, democratic trade unions. This is essential preparation for the gigantic battles that will be take place over the coming years.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Stand up to Tory bullies

The following is taken from the socialist issue 701


United action can stop Con-Dem attacks

Cameron's Con-Dem coalition wants workers to pay for the bosses' economic crisis. This millionaires' government wants to cut workers' jobs, pay and conditions such as pensions. In the public sector it also aims to slash many of the services that these workers provide.

But Cameron has a problem. People value most jobs done by public servants far more than they respect his 'posh boys' cabinet. So the government resorts to an old Tory trick, trying to belittle or demonise public servants.

Firstly, Cameron tried to bash the understaffed, underpaid job of nursing. He recently lectured nurses, telling them to "talk to patients at least once an hour" and insulted them by saying that "few nurses know that caring is their main job".

A London mental health nurse comments: "Cameron spoke about us improving care but how can this happen when he and his government are cutting the NHS budget, nurses are being sacked and our workload is massively increasing?

"Cameron's patronising tone made many nurses want to assign him to emptying bedpans permanently. His suggestion of introducing hourly rounds would increase paperwork and decrease our time for our patients.

"Nurses in trade unions will most certainly talk with our patients - as we already do. But we'll also unite with them and defeat Cameron's attacks on our NHS!"

Just days later, Tory education secretary Michael Gove announced plans to make it easier for so-called 'underperforming' teachers to be sacked. He was later backed up by the government's pet teaching inspection organisation Ofsted (see Ofsted: "requires improvement").

Martin Powell-Davies of the National Union of Teachers' national executive says that Gove's 'Bullies Charter' has nothing to do with improving education.

"Further teacher stress, even greater workload and further demoralisation will only make things worse. These plans are about bullying and intimidating teachers so we are too frightened to stand up for ourselves - and for education.

"The Con-Dem pensions attacks mean that many teachers will have to work on until 68 or even older, trying to keep up with the unrelenting pressure in our underfunded and over-monitored schools. Now Gove's making clear that, if you can't take the pace, you'll be sacked long before you reach your pension age."

"Teachers have to fight these plans - but we must also keep up the struggle on pensions. We must keep urgently talking with other unions about plans for further strike action against attacks on our pensions."

These crude Tory attacks are attempts to soften up the opposition to Con-Dem cutbacks. The best way for public sector workers to beat these cuts would start by repeating the united trade union fight of the brilliantly successful 30 November strike.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Annual General Meeting

                    RCT Socialist Update no. 42


This week RCT Socialist Party will be hosting our Annual General Meeting (AGM) The purpose of which is to co-ordinate our campaigning work over the next 12 months. The current period is a busy one for socialists, with so much happening around us, from the battle against pensions, to the occupy movement and right through to campaigining against cuts to the NHS in this area. The only way we can be prepared to organise a much needed socialist alternative to all these problems is to prepare our campaigning work. We will be discussing such things as where to focus our resources, the upcoming local elections and many other issues.

Come along to the meeting all members and supporters are welcome to attend and participate in the discussion, or simply come along if there are some questions you would like to discuss. In the meantime you can read this short article entitled 'World Capitalism in Crisis'
http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/5540

Come along to the meeting

Wednesday 25th January, 7.15pm
Otley Arms, Treforest