Thursday, 21 March 2019

FOR A DECENT LIVING MINIMUM WAGE & GUARANTEED 16-HOUR WEEK







The Westminster government's legal minimum wage rates are set to rise on 1st April, with new hourly rates ranging from £8.21 for workers aged 25 and over, to a derisory £4.35 for those under 18, and £3.90 for apprentices. 


Every penny extra is naturally welcomed by millions of workers' families struggling to survive, as prices rocket, especially on daily necessities like food, transport, energy and rent. And the average increase on the various minimum wage rates of 4.5% has been hard won, by the naming and shaming of the profiteers by trade unionists and socialists; the battling by workers and socialists like the SSP in our unions and on the streets. 


But these rates remain a major cause of the grinding poverty in this rich nation, not a means of eradicating it. They are miles short of being a solution to the criminal fact workers in jobs make up 52% of the one million Scots officially living below the poverty line. 
Furthermore, employers increasingly treat the basement level minimum wage as the norm, not the minimum - something which only collective bargaining and collective action by the unions can overcome.

Rampant Job Insecurity


Pathetic hourly rates of pay, twinned with insecure and short or zero hours contracts, are the root causes of shameful numbers of working people having to swallow their dignity and turn to food banks so they can swallow some food.

The retail workers who make, sell and put food on the shelves - but can't afford to put food on the family table. 
The fast-food workers who accumulate millions in profit for tax-dodging giants that hire them on zero hours contracts, but themselves have to resort to emergency food parcels, courtesy the generosity of other workers in collections for food banks.

Wages as a share of overall wealth, GDP, are at a record low. Profits soar as people suffer. Stagnant wages are accompanied by cuts to in-work benefits. The systematic cuts to benefits since 2015 - including Working Tax Credits and child benefits - means over £1.4billion a year less to working families than if they'd kept pace with inflation.



Far from the Tory government "tackling burning injustices" as Theresa May declared on being foisted on us as PM, they are further shackling the unions, escalating job insecurity, slashing workers' benefits - all behind the deafening noise about Brexit.

There are still officially 850,000 workers on zero hours contracts. Two-thirds of them have been stuck on these modern forms of slavery for over a year. A TUC survey has shown 51% of them have had shifts cancelled with less than 24 hours notice, and a whopping 73% offered shifts with less than a day's notice. So much for planning your future! 
Nearly half the workers on zero hours contracts get no paid holidays, and on average they are £4-an-hour worse paid than workers in the same jobs that are not on ZHCs.


These are but a few statistical reminders of the need to abolish them. Reinforcement of the case for the alternative which the SSP has pioneered and has now been agreed by the entire trade union movement - as a result of our convincing my own union, Usdaw, to pioneer the demand: a legally guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all workers who want it.

Tories Rob our Language!


The Tories are past masters at using twisted language to bamboozle those they are exploiting for profit. 
They took up the perfectly honourable idea of 'a living wage' and deliberately abused it when they introduced a new, marginally-higher minimum wage for workers aged 25 and over - labelling it the 'National Living Wage'. The new figure of £8.21 is nothing of the sort. If in doubt, try living on it!

To add to the confusion, the Living Wage Foundation calculates a figure for what they call a 'Living Wage', uprated every November. This is now set at £9-an-hour. We should be clear: although six million people earn less, it is still not a real living wage. Furthermore, it only applies to those over 18, and is entirely voluntary, not legally binding.


Recent news stories merely confirmed what many of us have warned for years: employers often gain the kudos (and additional customer base) of being Accredited Living Wage employers, whilst delegating the dirty work to contractors who prolong and delay paying their staff anything like this figure.

Recent media reports rightly exposed four Scottish Further Education colleges which hire contract cleaners denied the Living Wage Foundation figure that the college bosses signed up to. 
But as I've exposed and argued for action against within Usdaw for years, this is rampant practice within the private sector too. Big companies winning public applause for being a Living Wage Employer - now paying core staff £9-an-hour - but using contractors who for instance impose a 6-day week, instead of 5, on workers only getting the paltry minimum wage (currently £7.83).

Union and Political Action


That's why we need serious trade union and political action across all sectors to achieve two things: to bring these contractors in-house, and to insist on a decent, legally-enforced, living minimum wage for all, regardless of age. 
Not the derisory current minimum, which is also riddled with age discrimination. 

Not the entirely voluntary, and still far too low Living Wage Foundation figure (£9), applied according to the whims and fancies of employers, who often contract out lower-paid jobs anyway, whilst keeping up their public image. 
Instead, we need a legally guaranteed living minimum wage for all over 16,  calculated by a formula that helps close the gender pay gap, helps eradicate poverty, and ensures the absolute minimum keeps pace with increases in average wages or inflation, whichever is the greater. 

Two-thirds Median Male Earnings


That's why the SSP has consistently fought for a national minimum wage based on two-thirds median male earnings.

In September 2014, that formula worked out at £10-an-hour. Since that same month,  the SSP has spearheaded  campaigns on the streets and in the workplaces and unions for £10now! That's also the policy unanimously agreed by the TUC all those 4.5 years ago. 

For millions of workers - including about 480,000 in Scotland - this would be a substantial hike in their wages. But frankly, even £10-an-hour is increasingly falling below what can be genuinely regarded as a decent living minimum wage. And it certainly no longer matches the formula of two-thirds median male earnings, nor allows for the galloping inflation since 2014, when the TUC first demanded this minimum wage for all workers.




Let us illustrate just how modest the demand for £10 immediately, rising with inflation, really is. Since 2014, average inflation has officially risen by 14%. So £10 then would need to be £11.40 now to keep up with price rises.

Recent reports say the overall median wage for all is £632 a week. For the best-paid bracket - men aged 40-49 - the median weekly wage is £707. In contrast, an immediate £10-an-hour, assuming a 35-hour working week, would only reach £350.

Join Our Struggle!


The battle for a decent living minimum wage - regardless of age or gender, and legally binding - is more urgent than ever, as the working poor make up the absolute majority of those below the breadline. 
Alongside that, the demand for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all workers who want it is a key weapon against poverty and insecurity, plus the epidemic of mental illness which they help create.

It's no wonder 26,000 people have already signed the new online petition for these minimum employment standards, launched by Usdaw - which we need 100,000 to sign to force a debate in parliament.

It's no wonder thousands respond to the SSP street campaigning on these twin demands.

Join a union and help make sure there's collective struggle to achieve these aims. And join the SSP to challenge the entire rigged capitalist system, which robs workers to feed the profits of a tiny, rich minority. 
It's time for radical socialist change - to put people in charge of the economy, instead of profit dictating to people. 




Please take one simple step TODAY to help the campaign to win these minimum employment standards. Sign the Online petition, launched by my own union, Usdaw. Our target is 100,000 signatures - to force a debate on the demands in parliament. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

NATIONALISE TO SAVE SPRINGBURN RAILWAY DEPOT!




Workers at the historic railway depot in Springburn, Glasgow, are battling against its closure, with the loss of nearly 200 highly skilled jobs and 160 years of railway history.

The RMT and Unite unions have launched the Rally Roon the Caley campaign,  and marched to the Scottish parliament when the issue was being debated last week. Public support is widespread, but time is short to save this depot, which carries out service, maintenance, repairs, overhaul and upgrades for the entire Scotrail fleet.

The unions have rightly condemned this as an act of industrial vandalism. In a society suffering a desperate shortage of skilled jobs and apprenticeships, with a rail service that provokes public  uproar for its inefficiency, it's outrageous that the profiteers are allowed to threaten a railway depot that has been a feature of life for 160 years. It's another instalment in the horror story of rail privatisation, and the fragmentation that goes with it.


Springburn was historically the world hub of the railway industry. Up until 1995, the Caley was part of nationalised British Rail, a major part of BREL (British Rail Engineering Ltd). Last August, Knorr-Bremse Rail Services sold it to Gemini Rail Services. Five months later, on 17 January, Gemini declared a 45-day consultation period for its closure, apparently with plans to centralise their operations in the south of England.

This is a classic example of vital services and infrastructure, and people's livelihoods, being sacrificed on the altar of profit, as one gang of profiteers passes it on to another. It's also a classic case for public ownership, for the Scottish government to go beyond worthy words of condemnation and sympathy.

In response to claims by Gemini that the St Rollox depot is unsuitable and unprofitable, the unions have demanded on-site electrification and a link to the Glasgow/Edinburgh line. They have highlighted that the cost of this modernisation would be less than £1million, whilst the Scottish government has been allocated £4.8billion for railway infrastructure by Westminster. 



The Scottish government should step in, take the depot into public ownership – as they did with Prestwick airport – and integrate it with a publicly owned Scottish railway service, rather than let an array of capitalist vultures rip up a service for profit, particularly given the urgency of expanding public transport as one concrete measure against environmental pollution and climate chaos.

Time is running out. The unions should consider all options, including a workers’ and community occupation of the depot to prevent asset stripping, whilst escalating the pressure on the Scottish government to ‘stand up for Scotland’, as they pledged to do in past election campaigns.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

1919 REVOLT on the Clyde & the Lagan - new pamphlet!

A PAMPHLET IS BORN!!
I was chuffed to be asked by the editor of the Scottish Socialist Voice to write this new pamphlet, on the momentous struggles of workers in Clydeside and Belfast 100 years ago. Their mass strikes for a shorter working week, without loss of pay. Their challenge to the ruling capitalists and their state. And its relevance to workers' struggles today.
Please order a copy - or a few for your organisation. It's precisely the kind of readable summary of events that should help introduce a new generation to our own hidden working-class history. A size suitable for group reading and discussion, for instance in your union or community organisation. And, I'd like to think, suitable and accessible for the likes of modern studies, politics or history classes. All for a mere £2 face-to-face, or £3 by post.
Here's the link to click and buy, with a brief summary of its contents. Thanks.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

FIGHT TO SAVE EVERY TESCO JOB!



Retail giant unilaterally declares 9,000 job losses 


Tesco workers have reacted with a mixture of shock, anxiety and fury at the announcement of 9,000 job losses, and the manner in which this jobs slaughter was declared.

In what was undoubtedly a cynically calculated leak from the higher echelons of Tesco's bosses, the weekend press was full of speculation about 15,000 job losses. If they thought this would lead to a collective sigh of relief from thousands of distressed workers when the official announcement of ‘only’ 9,000 job losses was subsequently made, they were badly mistaken. Workers are rightly furious at Tesco bosses treating them, and their unions, with such utter, high-handed contempt.

An unprecedented number of retail workers are talking about the case for industrial action to stop these job losses. Unless talks with Tesco produce an acceptable, total retreat from these plans - protecting all jobs, wages and conditions - union activists and members in general are going to have to seize the bull by the horns and make it plain that they are indeed prepared for collective action. Otherwise, unless serious resistance is mounted, three times as many jobs as were infamously wiped out at the Lanarkshire Ravenscraig steelworks could be decimated.

TESCO RIP UP PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT


What does this grotty episode say for Tesco’s attitude to the oft-trumpeted partnership agreement with Usdaw?

They've arrogantly ripped this agreement to shreds, not even consulting the union, let alone negotiating their plans. Instead, unilaterally declaring their savagery via the media, proving in action that they believe in the dictatorship of big business over workers and their elected representatives.

Even the pathetically weak employment laws in this business-dominated state prescribe consultation – and meaningful consultation at that – at the formative stage of any planned changes to a business. This plan of butchery is in flagrant contradiction to that procedure, let alone the alleged partnership agreement Tesco’s signed up to with Usdaw.

As I've often written before, social partnership is the partnership of the rider and the horse, with big business in the saddle.


Tesco bosses plan to slash 9,000 jobs, closing fresh food counters in 90 of their 790 large stores. They also want to only open the meat, fish and deli counters part-time in the other 700 stores, plus cut back on staffing levels in the replenishment and layout design operations. To add insult to injury, they aim to replace staff canteens with glorified vending machines. That in itself means loss of jobs for canteen staff. And when worries about the future of their bakeries are raised, they trot out those well-worn, weasel words, “we have no plans to shut the bakeries”; aye, no plans now, but what about the next phase of cuts, if they get away with this round?



HOW IS ENDING FRESH FOOD COUNTERS ‘SUSTAINABLE’?


What does this plan do for the growing, modern demand for fresh, locally-sourced food? How does that match their soothing words about merely wanting “a simpler, more sustainable business”? In truth, it’s just the latest link in the chain of strangulation of small businesses, small farmers and food producers which the big supermarkets wield every time they move into a town or area. For instance, they wipe out local butchers’ shops and fishmongers, and now plan to get rid of fresh fish and meat counters in their own super-stores.

Of course, the immediate task of the union is to challenge Tesco’s bogus claims, and demand that there is not a single job loss, nor a penny lost in any worker’s pay, in any changes to roles in the stores that might be (belatedly!) negotiated with the unions – where Usdaw itself represents over 160,000 Tesco workers. And every store should have a proper staff canteen – not to mention protection and expansion of fresh food counters, sourced locally.



TESCO’S SKYROCKETING PROFITS


What possible justification can there be for this jobs brutality? 
Workers’ efforts have achieved 12 consecutive quarters of growth for the business, plus a successful Christmas trading period.

And this is no struggling family corner shop!

Tesco’s profits have skyrocketed in recent years, after top bosses incurred a loss of £2billion in share values by, putting it plainly, fiddling the books. Profits rose from £145m the previous year to £1.3billion in 2017, a gargantuan 800% increase. And this bounty rocketed by a further 28% last year, to £1.64billion.

In the UK and Ireland alone, the efforts of Tesco workers produced over £1.1billion in profits last year - another 31% rise on the year before.

Where have all the profits gone? That's one of the central questions workers and the union need to pursue and expose, in fighting to rip apart Tesco’s so-called business case for this butchery of jobs and conditions. They should be forced to open up their company plans and balance sheets to public inspection by the unions and financial experts. What have they got to hide, if they are merely wanting to meet changing customer expectations and “building a simpler, more sustainable business”, as they claim?

DEMAND A LEGAL MAXIMUM INCOME 


We already have a partial answer to the question of where the profits sweated from workers have gone: the bank accounts of top Tesco bosses. Chief Executive,  ‘Drastic’ Dave Lewis, enjoyed an increase of 17.5% on his income last year, to a staggering £4.9million. 
Leaving aside the combined incomes of the other directors, Lewis’s obscene greed alone justifies the policy which I successfully proposed at the 2018 Usdaw national conference (ADM) - for a Legal Maximum Income initially set at ten times the legal minimum wage. 
If that was applied to the Tesco CEO, imagine the impact of ploughing over £4.7m back into workers’ wages and job security, instead of it going into the coffers of one fat-cat.





LOW PAY AND INSECURE CONTRACTS THREATEN JOBS


Retail in general is in crisis, with multiple causes. Last year, 70,000 jobs were shed, and the British Retail Consortium forecasts a further 90,000 job losses this year. 
One of the root causes of the terrible insecurity and loss of conditions facing the 3 million workers in retail is the chronic low pay and insecure contracts imposed by the profiteers on this vital sector of the economy - which contributes at least 11% of GDP.

Low wages and low hours – zero-hours and, more commonly, short-hours contracts – strangle workers’ spending power, and thereby threaten jobs. And it's not just poverty pay in retail that causes this problem; it's a plague across all sectors.

That's why Usdaw’s centre-piece Time For Better Pay campaign is so critically important.  The demands for an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage for all workers, and a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for every worker who wants it, would help fuel the economy, boost workers’ spending power and their sense of security. And it would substantially redistribute wealth from profits to pay.

Likewise, Usdaw’s campaign for a Retail Industrial Strategy is critical in resisting this jobs slaughter, highlighted by the Tesco announcement, but common to all the Big 4 supermarkets and the rest of the sector.  This calls for measures including changes to taxation to end the unfair advantages enjoyed by online traders over ‘bricks and mortar’ stores; reform of local commercial rents, business rates, public transport and car-parking, to help save our High Streets; investment in upskilling retail workers to meet the challenges of new technology; and improved productivity through decent pay and contracts.


DEMOCRATIC PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF RETAIL GIANTS

But in my personal opinion, the outrageous butchery declared by the unelected, totally unaccountable profiteers also highlights the need for a radical overhaul of who owns and controls retail. 
Why should multi-millionaire owners and Chief Executives have the power to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of workers, and create havoc for entire families and communities?

Why should they be entitled to cream off £billions in profit and then ‘reward’ those workers who created this mountain of wealth for them with a P45?  
At the 2017 Usdaw national conference it was agreed to call for public ownership in such situations. That would lay the foundations for a democratic plan of action - embracing retail workers’ union representatives, local authorities and governments - to invest in town centres and other retail outlets in a fashion that maximises jobs, retail services to communities, and indeed the interests of family farmers and small businesses. 
A retail sector based on public needs and agreed priorities, rather than dictatorship by the retail giants; an end to the rule of private profit for the few over the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.  

Saturday, 5 January 2019

FAT CAT FRIDAY - Demand Legal Maximum Income!


Fat Cats earn a year's average wage by Friday lunchtime

Imagine you only had to work 3 days to get the average wage of a typical full-time worker in the country. To have all that free time for other pursuits, personal development and participation in the running of workplaces, the economy and society - and still earn the current median full-time annual income of £29,574. 
But here's the critical clarification: we are not talking about a 3-day week on this annual income; that's a whole other article for another time. We mean 3 days in the entire year of 2019!

Fat Cat Friday
Last year it was dubbed Fat Cat Thursday, because the average Chief Executive of the FTSE 100 top companies could match the entire income of the average worker in the first three days of 2018. This year it was Fat Cat Friday, 4th January - not because it took these corporate fat-cats any longer to pile up a year's average worker's wage, but purely because New Years Day moved by a day. 

The latest report by the High Pay Centre has mind-blowing statistics on the nauseating inequality at the heart of capitalism. The top bosses in the biggest 100 companies in Britain - the FTSE 100 - awarded themselves an average pay package of £3.9million last year. That's £1,020 an hour! It's 133 times as much as the average full-time worker earns. 

As an earlier report (August 2018) from the same source showed, it's an annual income that workers aged 25 and more, on the government's deliberately misnamed National Living Wage, would have to work for 386 years to earn! Not a particularly realistic option, the last time I checked life expectancy figures! 


Galloping Gap in Incomes 
And contrary to the deceitful rhetoric of the Tories and their ilk, there is no trend towards greater fairness in pay, nor any tackling of the obscenity of boardroom greed by an outbreak of shareholders' democracy. Quite the opposite; the average FTSE 100 CEO had an 11% pay increase compared to the previous year - at a time when average workers' pay rises hovered around 1.7%. An annual pay package of £3.9m compared with £3.45m. 

And the gap is galloping ahead between bosses' and workers' pay. In 1998, the average FTSE 100 chief executive earned 47 times as much as the average full-time worker. In the past 12 months, it has risen from a differential of 120:1 up to 133:1. Overall, the gap has tripled in the last 20 years, with no sign of slowing up or narrowing. After all, it's the Remuneration Committees of these top companies - made up of chief executives and directors of other companies! - which decide the pay packages.

Talk about nepotism and corruption! It's built into the very DNA of capitalism. 
That's why these overlords of capitalist exploitation could've clocked off at 1pm on Friday 4th January and still go home with the £29,574 it will take the average full-time worker the whole of the year to earn - if the latter still has a job! 




Morally Repugnant - Economically Destructive 
Not only is this pay inequality obscene, but there is no justification for it whatsoever, and it doesn't even make economic sense. 

Capitalist apologists often trot out claims that such salaries are a just reward for 'the risk takers' at the top of corporations. What risks? 
They hire and fire workers educated by the state, kept well by the NHS, and trained with the aid of lavish state handouts to companies. The same companies grab massive state aid for research and development. They rely on state-funded transport and communications networks to do their daily business, to amass their private profits with the aid of public subsidies. And then, in pursuit of even higher profit margins, these capitalist giants operate in the full knowledge that their pitiful pay rates for the workers who actually produce their company wealth will be topped up by the likes of Working Tax Credits - state subsidies to low-paying capitalists, funded by workers' taxes. 

Nor does it make the economy healthier. When a worker gains a modest pay rise, just about every penny extra is spent - on daily necessities, and in local shops, cafes, pubs, etc. This helps create or secure other workers' jobs. 
In contrast, the bloated rich gamble on the stock markets to make even more money, or invest in useless luxuries like yachts, private jets, and works of art that are often salted away in bank vaults for 'safety', never to be seen nor appreciated by their owners, let alone wider society. 

Capitalist Hoarders 
Their habits of hoarding - further illustrated by record low levels of industrial investment from profits - actually adds to job insecurity. The jobs holocaust in retail recently - with forecasts of 160,000 further job losses in 2019 - is in substantial part the result of low pay for millions, who therefore struggle to spend... a system of low pay designed to fund the profits and privileges of capitalist owners and their disgustingly over-paid chief executives and directors. 


Demand Action for Legal Maximum Income 
It's not sufficient to expose and condemn this stinking income inequality. We need action based on concrete alternatives. 
It's not sufficient for the TUC to criticize chief executives for "taking out more than they put in", to quote Frances O'Grady. It's necessary for the trade union and socialist movement to tackle this head on with the demand for a legally-enforced Maximum Income, tied to a legally-enforced national minimum wage. 

For years, the Scottish Socialist Party has advocated a maximum income based on ten times the minimum wage. Since its Annual Delegate Meeting last April, that's the policy of my own union, Usdaw, with its 430,000 members. 

As I said at the Usdaw conference, in successfully proposing this policy of a Legal Maximum Income initially set at 10 times the national minimum wage:

"Of course, there will be screams of hell and damnation from on high.  Let them scream blue murder as long as they want. When did that ever stop the trade union movement from fighting for what is right? 
"I think this is an extremely moderate and modest demand. I could put the case for 4:1 or 5:1 but I am going to be moderate, let's start with 10:1 as a measure to cut the inequality...
"If we assume a 35-hour week, a policy I strongly and passionately advocate, a 10:1 differential on the policy of the union for a £10 minimum wage will be £100-an-hour. That's £3,500 a week. It is £182,000 a year. Who in hell could object to being limited to that as an income? Who could argue that it is a disincentive to do a job, however skilled it may be, if you only get £182,000? By the way, it doesn't even affect a full 1% of the population. The infamous 1% are those on roughly £150,000 or more. This is setting the ceiling on £182,000 a year. 
"We cannot sit back and wait for social justice off the Tories. We cannot sit back and wait for a social conscience to erupt in the boardrooms of big business. We need to argue the case as a union, amongst our own members, inside the TUC, inside the Labour Party, (we are already convinced in the Scottish Socialist Party!), convince people of this policy, to then go forward and get it adopted and implemented." 
[quoted from Usdaw verbatim Report of ADM 2018]


HES workers left reliant on Salvation Army and food-banks


Two Planets on Earth 
Fat Cat Friday coincided with yet more inflation-busting train fare increases; 160 workers at Health Environmental Services in Shotts being forced to turn to Salvation Army charity and food banks for survival after being made redundant, but without any redundancy payments, and still owed their December wages; child poverty levels rocketing at their fastest rate in 30 years; and one in every 200 people being identified as either homeless or in totally inadequate housing. 
Two planets here on Earth! If these contrasting fortunes of the capitalist exploiters and the working class don't make your blood boil in anger, I'd recommend medical attention.

We need to use this obscene start to the New Year to redouble our resolve in battling against poverty and inequality. To popularise the demand for a Legal Maximum Income initially set at 10 times the national minimum wage, as the inseparable companion to the campaign for an immediate £10-an-hour national minimum wage for all over 16, without exception. 

Organise
As I said in the same speech at Usdaw conference last April:
"I do not claim that our proposition solves everything. Speaking as a socialist trade unionist, I believe democratic public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and the biggest businesses is part of the solution. I do not just want to see a limitation on the slice of the cake that the tops of industry get. I want us collectively to own the whole bloody bakery! 
However, this proposition goes one hell of a way towards tackling the inequality. It is a radical departure from the morally repugnant and economically destructive inequality that is increasing at the minute." 

Take up the fight for a minimum of £10-an-hour now, immediately, and a maximum income of £100-an-hour - in your unions, on the streets. Help make advances in 2019 towards equality and socialism in our lifetimes. Demand not only a fairer share of the cake, but collective ownership of the bakery! 



Tuesday, 18 December 2018

TORIES ADMIT GUILT - BUT CONTINUE INSECURE WORK CRIMES


When is a radical new package of workers’ rights nothing of the kind? When it’s announced by a besieged Tory government, increasingly bombarded by public anger at the horrendous insecurity of jobs and workplace rights in Britain.

Theresa May is today trumpeting a package of measures that her spin doctors describe as “the most radical upgrade of rights at work in a generation”. Let’s look behind the manufactured headlines.

They plan legislation that insists employers issue a “statement of rights” from the first day of a worker’s employment – including what paid leave they are entitled to for illness, maternity and paternity.

Anything that improves transparency in worker’s rights is welcome. But this is a planet apart from what many have fought for: the demand of full employment rights from day one in a job, as opposed to having to wait full two years before having legal rights on things like unfair dismissal – the same Tory government doubled the qualifying period.

The Tories promise to “close a loophole that allows agency workers to be paid less than permanent staff.” A welcome small step, if it refers to hourly rates of pay, but it still does nothing to combat the short-term, crushingly insecure nature of agency work.

Oliver Twist, Tory-style


The new legislation will give workers “the right to request more predicable hours”.

To ‘request’!? This pre-Christmas promise is about as useful as Charles Dickens’ starving child, Oliver Twist, having the right to utter “Please, Sir, I want more”, only to be walloped over the head with the gruel-serving ladle by his over-fed master!

Already, workers have ‘the right to request’ changes in their working shift patterns – but employers have the right to reject that request, and habitually do so, using the catch-all ‘business needs’ excuse.

Crimes Admitted – Without Solutions


This new legislation is an implicit admission that workers’ lives are wracked by the rampant insecurity caused by zero hours contracts, short hours contracts, agency work and the gig economy. But it falls far short of actually tackling these issues.

For instance, the Tories have reiterated the viewpoint of former Tony Blair aide, Matthew Taylor – whose Review on modern working practices they commissioned – that an outright ban on zero hours contracts “would negatively impact more people than it helped.”

This is all part of their deliberate and malicious conflation and confusion of two entirely different things; flexibility and insecurity.

Workers need flexibility, on the likes of starting and finishing times, to cope with the increasingly complex demands of family life, or juggling a job with a college course, for instance. But that’s not provided by the insecure, low-paid jobs that are increasingly the only employment on offer – part-time, short-term, agency, zero hours or short hours contracts.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts


Deliveroo delivery workers at a solidarity protest. [Photo: Craig Maclean]
Zero hours contracts give all the flexibility to the employers, who have workers at their beck and call, sending them home “unwanted” and unpaid on a regular basis, and denying workers shifts for weeks as a punishment if they have the audacity to turn down one shift. And all the insecurity of income, working patterns, denial of access to credit and mortgages, etc, is the lot of workers on this modern epitome of casual labour.

As a major recent survey of 10,500 retail workers by my own union, Usdaw, confirmed, this insecurity of income and lifestyle is the root cause of a galloping epidemic of mental ill health.

Real Protection – With Real Flexibility


Instead of token gestures about “the right to request more predictable hours” we need real, radical legislation to guarantee every worker the right to a minimum working week of 16 hours, if they want it, as pioneered by my own party, the SSP, and now my own union, Usdaw – and as agreed unanimously as policy at the recent TUC congress.


That would mean outright abolition of zero hours contracts. It would help eradicate the criminal situation where a full one million workers are only in part-time jobs because they can’t get the full-time job they actually want. It would erase the startling fact that – by the Tory government’s own admission – 400,000 workers regularly work 6 hours a week or less. And it would confront the atrocity that sums up the modern curse of underemployment, governments can boast of record levels of employment: but the Office of National Statistics counts anyone working a minimum of one hour a week as being employed!

Unionise and Organise for Guaranteed 16-hour Minimum Week


And legislation guaranteeing a minimum week of 16 hours to all workers who want it would also offer genuine flexibility; as the policy Motion I put forward at the 2018 Usdaw national conference put it, the 16-hour minimum would apply “except where a worker, accompanied by their union representative, requests less hours”. That’s also the wording of the Motion we successfully submitted from Usdaw at the British TUC.

Workers in the burgeoning sector of insecure work, in its various forms, would be wise not to rely on the Tories’ false claims of providing protection. Instead, they need the collective protection of being in a union, and in turn the unions need to get stuck into fighting for implementation of the policies adopted at union and TUC conferences.

This latest Tory announcement amounts to an admission of guilt, but without any real plans to end their crimes against workers.

As ‘the Good Book’ might put it, the sinner hath sinned, but repenteth not!

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

STAND UP - PAY UP - DEFY TORY AUSTERITY!






Christmas is supposed to be the season of goodwill towards all. Not so when it's the season of budget-setting at Scottish and local government levels. With the knives being sharpened and wielded, far from being a source of good cheer, it threatens ill-will towards public service workers, and wilful damage to public services - including life-and-death services for children and elderly people. 


Most of us are already long-since convinced that the obnoxious Tories are the chief axe-swingers, with a callous record of killing people through health and safety cutbacks, benefits sanctions and decimation of lifeline services. 
Their claims that austerity is ended fools nobody living on below-breadline benefits, the derisory minimum wage, or stressed into a state of mental illness from insecurity in their job. Nor do the Tory soothsayers convince elderly frail people subjected to mere flying 15-minute visits from overstretched care workers; or teachers and students crammed into overcrowded classes; or people absolutely desperate for a home, who confront the slaughter of decent social sector housing.

Words and Deeds
Things are supposed to be different in Scotland. Millions voted for candidates declaring their undying opposition to Tory austerity, particularly in the 2017 general election. That was the central feature of Jeremy Corbyn's improved performance for Labour; his pledge to ditch austerity. That was pivotal to the SNP's appeal to voters, with their 2017 Manifesto declaring "we will roll back the impact of Tory austerity". 


But words are cheap, and they don't put food on the table. Governments and parties will be judged - harshly - by what they do when they are handed the reins of office by voters, as opposed to any ringing declamations in glossy election manifestos. 

And growing tens of thousands of Scottish workers are judging those holding office in Holyrood and the town halls as Ebenezer Scrooges on pay and conditions, rather than being seen as bountiful Santa Clauses. That's why a vast - and potentially very powerful - army of workers are marching, meeting, lobbying, protesting and voting for strike action, particularly on pay.


The Lost Decade

Millions of workers have suffered over a decade of pay cuts, in both the public and private sectors. It's been officially declared the longest period of real pay cuts since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago. Plunging wages have choked off spending power and added to the horrendous epidemic of job insecurity, with workplace stress and mental ill health spreading like a modern plague. 



In the recent survey of 10,500 members of my own union, Usdaw, we discovered 63% feel worse off compared to five years ago, with a shocking 76% of them relying on pay day loans, credit cards and overdrafts to pay everyday, essential bills. As well as two-thirds of these workers - employed in the second-largest sector of the entire economy - saying financial worries are damaging their mental health, a full 10% of retail workers who put food on the shelves are unable to put food on their family's table, resorting to food banks over the past year!



Unison Scotland surveyed 2,000 Scottish union members last June. The picture that emerged is a bleak condemnation of the politicians who promised to end or roll back Tory austerity. A full 74% of these public service workers have witnessed job cuts in their department, leading to 52% feeling their workload is unmanageable, and 57% of them regularly working unpaid overtime to try and catch up in the provision of services to often vulnerable people. 
Their horror stories of overcrowded, mouldy housing; increased rat infestation; and vulnerable children and adults not getting the services they desperately need, led to 78% of council workers having no confidence in the future of local services. And exactly half of them are thinking of leaving their council job for something less stressful elsewhere; good luck to them in finding that, we have to add. 


Which Response to Mayhem?
Such dire conditions of insecurity, falling incomes and unprecedented stress and anxiety can fuel one of two types of response. Utter despair and resignation (and for some, openness to right-wing demagogues who blame immigrants). Or an angry, well-directed collective revolt through trade union and political struggles, to put the blame squarely where it belongs, the profiteers and their political representatives, with a rational alternative based on putting people before profit. 

The potential for the positive, latter course of action is to be seen in a rash of recent outpourings against pay cuts, unequal pay for women workers, and demands for proper funding of local services. 




Pay Revolt Erupts

Over 8,000 low-paid Glasgow city council workers, about 90% of them women, recently staged the biggest equal pay strike in the country's history. They are in revolt against a pay system which means they are £3-an-hour worse off than they should be under equal pay legislation - a criminal system in place since at least 2012, mostly under a Labour-run council, now under the SNP-run administration. This was an eruption of working-class anger and mass, collective power - not calls for equal places on company boardrooms by a handful of extremely privileged women.


The power and vitality of the strike - driven from below by carers, caterers, cleaners and classroom assistants - has raised the sights and confidence of thousands of other workers, and put the SNP council on the run. So much so that a vocal section of ultra-loyal nationalists have insulted the intelligence of these workers by claiming they are mere puppets in a cunning Labour Party plot to discredit the SNP council and SNP Scottish government. They should try telling that to one of the mass meetings of women, who are seething at being treated as second-class citizens for years, furious that far too many of them have died before getting the equal pay and back-pay compensation that was rightfully theirs. 


Labour's Stench of Hypocrisy
Of course the hypocrisy of Labour on this issue stinks to the high heavens. Up until 2017, it was a Labour council which resisted union demands for equal pay - including during 10 different strikes against the council - and squandered over £2.5million of Council Taxpayers' money on court cases to overturn rulings in favour of equal pay. And they suppressed the findings of the Equality & Human Rights Commission in 2010, which found the Labour council guilty of discrimination.


Equal pay will cost the council at least £500m, plus the ongoing increase in the wages bill when the necessary new pay structure is hammered out in talks with the unions, to banish pay inequality for the years and generations of workers ahead. But as union activists have rightly insisted, this must not be at the cost of pay cuts to other workers, nor even further cuts to services; it should be a case of equalizing upwards, with demands for adequate funding off the Scottish government. 


Education, education, education?

The 2016 SNP Manifesto declared: "The defining mission of this government will be education." 

Music to the ears of parents and teachers alike, after decades of cuts, rising class sizes, class-based inequality in attainment, and mind-breaking workloads for staff. But such melodious promises are turning into an ugly echo of Tony Blair's infamous mantra that his Labour government would prioritize 'Education, education, education', only to then slash the service. 


The same noisy handful who have accused Glasgow's equal pay strikers of being puppets worked by Labour Party plotters have likewise claimed the eruption of school teachers' demonstrations and ballots for their 10% pay claim is all a ploy to discredit the SNP government. I doubt if even the most big-headed Labour MSPs or spin doctors could dream of having the power to pour out 30,000 teachers on their recent mass demo, with its combination of family carnival atmosphere and determination to turn the tide on pay cuts, work overload and recruitment crisis in many schools! 

No, Cabinet Minister! 

It was an outpouring of years of teachers' frustration and angry rejection of the divisive 3% offer from COSLA and the SNP government. And far from being mere stooges of some Labour plot, it's a fair guess that a majority of the teachers on this 3-mile-long demo will have voted SNP in a recent election! No wonder they were dismayed at the letter jointly issued by COSLA bosses and SNP Cabinet Secretary John Swinney, designed to bypass the teachers' union representatives, in the vain hope of atomizing and browbeating individuals into surrender. 

On the heels of the demo, EIS teachers voted by a landslide 98% majority, in a whopping 74% turnout, to reject the 3% offer, and look set to ballot for strike action in the New Year. 



Parallel to these high profile pay battles, local authority workers in the three unions - Unison, Unite and GMB - have rejected COSLA's 3% pay offer, and have started to vote for strike action. 
Simultaneously, lecturers in Scotland's further education colleges are voting for strike action in pursuit of a cost-of-living pay rise. These members of EIS-FELA union are furious at college management only offering a 2.5% pay rise over three years - a pay cut, given inflation levels - with the added atrocity that the employers want to tie this offer to the pay increases won through strike action for pay equality across all the FE colleges two years ago, robbing back up to £1,000 from the rises won then. 


Combine - Make Them Pay Up!

These combined workforces make up nearly 200,000 workers. The coming together of these separate strands of the same struggle - for decent pay that compensates a bit for inflation and years of pay cuts - should be an opportunity for coordinated campaign rallies and industrial action. 
The 'Pay Up' lobby of the Scottish parliament on Budget Day, 12th December, and similar localized events targeting council meetings, should be used by union leaderships to spell out a clear, bold alternative to the litany of annual cuts to pay, jobs and services. 



No Cuts Budgets

Given the slaughter of services, jobs and wages over the last decade and more, we actually need a crusade to reverse austerity cuts. But as an absolute bare minimum, unions should demand that the Scottish government and all 32 local councils set No Cuts budgets for 2019/20, incorporating the immediate pay claims and equal pay claims of the workers already taking action. And also including the minimum employment standards in their budgets of a £10-an-hour minimum wage and guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all their staff and contract workers who want it - as unanimously demanded at our recent Scottish Usdaw conference, representing 45,000 members. 


Roll Back – or Roll Over?

Some will plead that councillors or MSPs simply cannot take such a defiant stance, given the budget cuts handed down to them by Westminster. If that's the case, why make false election promises to "roll back the impact of Tory austerity"? Why not honestly declare "we will roll over in the face of Tory austerity"?! 


It's true that after all the huffing and puffing and claims to have ended austerity in their recent Budget, the Theresa May Tory government has only increased the block grant to Scotland by a minuscule 1.8%, to £30.5billion. 

But where's there's a political will there's a way! May's Tory government is in an unprecedented crisis. Surely the political leadership of Scotland, in collaboration with the leadership of about 200,000 trade unionists already poised for action - and those of over 600,000 organised trade unionists in Scotland as a whole - can turn the Tories' difficulties into our opportunity? 


By setting No Cuts budgets, and mobilising mass demonstrations and supporting any strike actions voted for in union ballots, the Scottish government and council leaderships could cudgel the besieged Tories with demands for extra funding to avoid all cuts and meet workers' demands. They could popularise the demand "Give us back some of our stolen £billions!" That's what a socialist council or government would do. 


Tax the rich – double the money!

Furthermore, the SSP has for 20 years persistently advocated an immediate, straightforward, fully-researched alternative form of council funding which could shield Scotland from the atrocities of austerity. 

It's true that the majority (54%) of all council funding comes directly in a grant from the Scottish government. But 18% of all funding (last year) came from the Council Tax, and amounted to £2.24billion across Scotland. But the Council Tax is an unfair, regressive tax, that hammers the poorest and middle income families, and merely tickles the wallets of the rich with a feather. 



Scottish Service Tax

The SSP has fully costed our alternative, a Scottish Service Tax, based on income, on ability to pay, with rising tax bands. And the beauty of this progressive tax proposal is that about 80% of people would pay less, but by taxing the rich minority the funds raised would be double that coming from the regressive Council Tax; over £4billion a year instead of £2.24billion. 


So instead of hammering workers with higher Council Tax bills, or pay cuts, or job losses, or the slaughter of services... and in reality a cocktail of all these multiple attacks... the Scottish government has the full powers under devolution to stop all austerity, pass legislation to implement such a Scottish Service Tax, and shelter Scotland from the Westminster storm. And the additional £2billion raised would almost reverse the cuts of the past five years in one year alone! 


Whose Side Are They On?

We approach 2019 with Scotland at a crossroads.


We can sit down in surrender as the Tories at Westminster issue austerity, which the Holyrood government meekly devolves to local councils, health boards and college managements to implement, which in turn they do without a whimper. 
We can blithely pass by while SNP MSPs line up alongside Tory MSPs to block an end to the profiteering debacle of Dutch-owned Abellio ripping the profit out of ScotRail workers and ScotRail passengers - so that the same profiteers can two weeks later announce abolition of free travel for children. 
We can accept poverty pay, cheap casualised labour and a mental health epidemic with the plea "there's nothing we can do about until independence". 



Or we can seek to weld the several strands of struggle on pay and public services into a coordinated resistance movement, armed with a vision. 
The vision of an alternative system that taxes the rich; that demands well-paid, secure jobs, including a minimum wage of at least two-thirds average male earnings, and a guaranteed 16-hour minimum working week; that provides cradle-to-grave public services fit for the 21st century; that constructs a free, publicly-owned transport system that helps tackle poverty, pollution and provides decent jobs and apprenticeships at one fell swoop; a clean, green socialist Scotland that builds green energy technology instead of warships. 



The Scottish Socialist Party is determined and willing to stand up on our hind legs in resistance; to play our part in pursuit of these aims, in the workplaces, unions, colleges and streets. 
We appeal to fellow-workers to demand the same of their unions, and those who regard themselves as socialists in Labour or the SNP to demand nothing less of their own party leaderships. It's time to decide whose side they are on! 






I spoke to a teacher about her reasons for preparing to strike for 10%...



Q: What has created such strength of feeling – the 98% vote to reject the 3%?

A: Teachers have reached the end of their tether like all workers in the public sector, working increasing hours through more changes in education, and in mitigating some of the worst poverty-related issues we have seen since the Thatcher and Major years with their time and money. The huge cuts in provision, our salaries, and the increased pressure of increased classroom sizes, really have pushed teachers to emotional limits.

Q: What did you think of letter from COSLA and John Swinney?

A: I think John Swinney and COSLA made huge errors in treating teachers as scabs. Swinney and the SNP won the elections after betrayals of workers by New Labour. Swinney should carefully reconsider his disregard of workers’ representatives and proper negotiation.

Q: Why is 10% justified - when most workers get 2%?

A: All workers should have confidence in fighting for what we are due. Tory austerity is completely ideological. It is a cover for the robbery of all workers. The millionaires and billionaires are becoming richer beyond most people's imaginations while workers are paying their gambling debts.

Q: How will employers pay for it? Cut other services or jobs??

A: Simple. Raise taxes of the highest earners, and replace the dreadful council tax with a fair, Scotland wide, service tax.

Q: What should the union do now to win the 10%?
A: Industrial action, in my opinion, is the only way forward. A simple work to rule would be a start. Teachers in my school are working 50-60 hour weeks. Working 35 hours a week will expose the huge hole in funding we are plugging with our extremely stretched good will. Teachers really don't want to impact on already stretched working class families. But the increasing pressure on delivering a curriculum with less resources, fewer adults in schools and with ever decreasing free time, is pushing teachers towards industrial action that will see schools closed.