Thursday, 27 March 2014

Vote YES to a £9 minimum wage

"We live in the eighth richest country on the planet."

"Do we? You could have fooled me. It doesn't feel like it to me."

That exchange, which I had with a woman in Glasgow's Govan as we campaigned for people to "vote YES for a decent living wage", sums up the obscene inequality we face. And it captures a central reason to win independence and then rebuild society in the interests of the millions rather than the millionaires.

The poverty is etched on the faces of people passing our SSP street stalls in areas like Govan and Drumchapel. Many clutch messages from the cheapest shops, desperately trying to juggle feeding their families with meeting fuel bills and clothing the kids. Much of the cheapest food is the unhealthiest, depriving people of a quality of life available to the well off.

Poverty stalks the eighth-richest country in the world, and it's rising. A "humanitarian crisis" is how anti-poverty campaigns recently described the fact nearly a million Scots are below the breadline, including one in five kids.

Poverty Kills

Poverty wrecks lives. It limits people's enjoyment and social life. It means poor diet. Those living on an expanding island of poverty in a sea of wealth are bombarded daily with the 'must have' adverts - which make people feel inadequate because they don't have the commodities way beyond their reach. It adds to life's stresses.
Poverty kills. The mortality rates from heart disease (100 per 100,000 people) is twice as high in deprived areas as Scotland's average rate. Cancer mortality rates (200 per 100,000) is 50 per cent higher in deprived districts than Scotland's average - and they haven't fallen for the past decade, even though the national average has, by one-sixth.
The sad, shocking statistic that most clearly condemns this capitalist system of built-in inequality is the fact a boy born in one of the poorest 10 per cent of areas will live 14 years less than boys born in the wealthiest districts; for girls the equivalent is 8 years less of a lifespan.

Benefit Sanctions

People are being battered by a hurricane of rising fuel prices, rocketing food costs, inflation-busting rent rises, savage benefits cuts and sustained, systematic lowering of wage rates. 

The number of people wandering round shops with barely a penny to their name because of DWP benefit sanctions is heartbreaking. I spoke to the woman who'd been docked £35 because she had missed one out of a dozen appointments, for which she had never received the letter because a neighbour had been away from home and the letter mistakenly delivered to him. But the government cuts machine showed no mercy. Another women suffered benefit sanctions because she did voluntary UNPAID work and turned up slightly late one day!

Charges for Benefits Appeals

And worse is yet to come if we remain under the dictatorship of the benefit-slashing millionaires at Westminster. A recent leak from the DWP proposed charging claimants for making appeals - even though 56 per cent of current appeals are upheld, proving that unfair decisions on an already punitive benefits system are rampant.
Reason enough to vote Yes in September and organise to build a new welfare system that is a safety net for the sick, disabled, elderly, young or unemployed - not a truncheon to bludgeon them over the heads with.

Poverty Pay

But it's a stark, scandalous fact that the absolute majority of those in poverty actually work to remain poor! Pathetic wages, the spread of part-time work, underemployment - all combine to make wages a source of poverty for nearly half a million workers in Scotland.
Wages are stagnant - and in real terms consistently falling since 2010. In the 1970s and 1980s wages rose by an average of 2.9 per cent each year. That trend slowed down in the 1990s (1.5 per cent) and 2000s (1.2 per cent), but since 2010 real wages have FALLEN by an average of 2.2 per cent every single year.

Daylight Robbery

On top of that, the number of Scottish workers in part time jobs wanting full time work has rocketed (120,000 by 2012).
At the other end of exploitation, vast numbers in work are stressed out from working long hours - including the daylight robbery of doing unpaid overtime. The TUC's latest report shows 5.42 million workers in the UK gave their employers about £640million worth of work free of charge last year!

£9 an hour minimum at 16

The struggle for a decent living minimum wage of £9 an hour for all over 16 - a modest figure, two-thirds male median earnings in this country - is pivotal to banishing poverty.
And it's another prime reason to vote Yes. There's a better chance of snowballs surviving Hell than of getting the three rival factions of capitalist exploiters at Westminster to concede £9 an hour.

Subsidizing Scrooge Bosses

Successive Tory and Labour governmnets have passed laws to keep wages low. Even when the demands and pressure of the trade union movement helped force the last Labour government to introduce what became Working Tax Credits, that was a public subsidy to low-paying employers. It costs taxpayers between £5.9bn and £6.3bn every year in Scotland. It's the working class subsidizing bosses to pay other workers a low wage!

Kick the door open

An independent Scotland wouldn't automatically guarantee a solution, but it would open the door to one. It would give working class people, including their trade unions and socialists, the chance to organise and demand a living wage of £9 minimum rather than prop up the exploiters through public subsidies. 

The likes of the multinational retailers - who now make up by far the biggest employers - could well afford such a wage out of their multi-billioned profits.
Taxation of the rich - including the wealthiest 100 Scots who have a bigger combined income than the Holyrood government's annual budget! - could easily fund such a decent income in the public sector. 

And those micro-businesses who genuinely don't have the profit levels to pay £9 an hour to the couple of workers they employ for useful work could be subsidized.

Most to gain from Independence

Yes, we are in the eighth-richest country on earth, but also the fourth most unequal. One decisive measure to dismantle that obscene contradiction is a decent minimum wage.
Those on poverty pay and breadline benefits have the most to gain from escaping the rule of the bankers, billionaires and bosses who dictate policy at Westminster. 

Voting Yes is not a vote for Alex Salmond. It's a vote to shape our own future and boost the prospects of winning decent wages, living benefits, and a future socialist Scotland where little kids will ask "What was poverty?".

Friday, 14 March 2014

My week of #indyref activity

I spoke at a number of meetings and debates this week.

This is Newsnet Scotland coverage of a Yes/No debate I won the other night HERE

The video is here:

YES Campaign public meeting in Kilwinning the other night.  The video was taken by a citizen journalist.


RIP Tony Benn

Tony Benn has died.  The passing of a former age for Labour.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

vote YES in #indyref... FOR A DECENT LIVING WAGE

"A human catastrophe" is how its authors described the findings of a new study of poverty in Scotland by a clutch of anti-poverty projects. A devastating 870,000 Scottish people officially live below the breadline. 
They simply can't afford a decent life. For many they can't meet the mounting food bills, or the rocketing cost of heating, let alone eat AND heat their homes without worrying.

As Jim Sillars said at the recent SSP public meeting in Ayr, "I grew up during the second world war. There was rationing, but nobody starved. Now people are destitute. Some who oppose independence claim to be proud Scots, I am not. How can anyone be proud when kids are in poverty?"
The fact that not far short of a million Scots live in such dire straits in the world's eighth-richest country is a searing condemnation of successive governments and the system of capitalism they subscribe to.
Skinflint benefits and the ruthless cuts to them by Westminster are one major source of poverty. Pitiful pensions - one of the lowest in Europe - is another. 

The working poor
But whilst it's old news for many of us, the most appalling indictment of the current system is the fact 436,000 of those in poverty are actually in jobs. The working poor now make up the biggest single group - 52 per cent of all those in poverty - whose standard of living don't match even the most miserly standards set by the government.
A new report shows 80,000 children in Scotland living in poverty despite at least one of their parents working. An absolute majority of the kids below the breadline - 52 per cent of them - have one or more parent working, and in two parent families that proportion rises to 72 per cent. Work is no longer a route out of poverty, as previous generations have been told it is.
A lethal cocktail of rock bottom hourly pay, widespread underemployment and part time jobs, not to mention zero hours contracts, add up to an ocean of poverty in Scotland's workplaces.
Workers' children are being robbed of their potential so the capitalist employers and bankers can engorge themselves. Bailouts for rich bankers, food banks for the poorest. Booming profits for the few, poverty pay for the many. Who said class was dead?

Praying for payday!
When I was a child my mother and father would occasionally advise 'don't wish your life away, son', as I yearned for some future date, like reaching my teens or 18. Now, more than a few moons later, I share the fate of far too many in work: praying for pay day for at least two weeks, 'wishing your life away'. What kind of society is that?!

SSP pioneers
Back in the mid-1990s the forerunner to the SSP - the Scottish Socialist Alliance - organised the one and only demo in Scotland demanding a national minimum wage. Fifteen years ago a Labour government introduced it. But from the outset it was shot through with more loopholes than the worst dodgy insurance policies of the oiliest salesman - and the hourly level set was pathetic from day one. On top of that, young workers were doubly exploited with lower minimum wages - age wage discrimination.
In recent times it's mostly got even worse. Because the national minimum wage - even the 'adult' rate that is - has failed to even keep up with official (totally understated) inflation, every worker on it has lost a total of £675 in the past five years. 

Current minimum wage legalizes poverty pay
Today, over one in five workers earn below the officially recognized 'living wage'. The current £6.31 an hour for workers aged 21 and upwards is set to pole-vault to an Olympian £6.50 in October!
The press hype about this "inflation-busting 3 per cent rise" doesn't impress the hundreds of thousands marooned in a sea of poverty. Even less cause for celebration is the 2 per cent 'rise' for younger workers, and the current £2.68 slave labour rate for Modern Apprentices being inched up to a jaw-dropping £2.73!
A decent living wage for all at 16, scrapping the lower youth rates, and with equal pay for women, must be a central plank of any anti-poverty strategy.
It is morally justified. It is easily affordable in one of the richest nations on the globe. It is even more eminently affordable if we scrapped Trident and fighter jets - putting wages before war.
And it makes perfect economic sense, because amongst other reasons, working people spend their extra earnings and thereby boost the economy and boost job creation for other workers - unlike the one per cent of obscenely rich on incomes over £150,000, who can afford to hoard their wealth, or squander it on luxury items that do nothing to boost employment.

£9 an hour at 16
And what would a decent level of guaranteed minimum be? Certainly not the insulting £6.50 graciously promised by the Westminster Coalition of millionaires for October. Not even the recently-uprated £7.65 Living Wage. 
Welcome though that would be as an immediate step, it is still far below what workers need to live, and more to the point it is entirely voluntary, dependent on the whims and fancies of the employers. If, for instance, its updating from £7.45 to £7.65 displeases any of the employers who have voluntarily signed up as accredited Living Wage employers, they are at full liberty to withdraw, with absolutely no legal consequences.

Two-thirds male median earnings
A good start for a decent living wage would be the demand popular in most trade unions 30 years ago; two-thirds male median earnings as the statutory national minimum. In today's figures that would mean over £9 an hour for every worker and trainee over 16. Not a princely sum, but a decent wage. It's not even asking for two-thirds the AVERAGE male wage, which would be much higher, given the obscene growth of astronomical levels of income for a small minority at the top. Maybe it should!
The fact it is calculated on the median male wage in this country - the middle wage of all the wages paid - not only makes it very modest, but also helps to close the gender gap, and guarantees its automatic uprating, to reduce the growing scissors opening up between the lowest and highest incomes in society. 

A real live chance to win a living wage
That's what the Scottish Socialist Party has argued for since our 1998 founding conference. But 15 years later, not only is it even more urgent that we wage a war on poverty pay, but we also have a unique historic opportunity to stride in that direction. A vote for self-government, a Yes vote in September, would vastly speed up the chances of getting such a decent income guaranteed.
Let us be clear, it will still take a fight to achieve it, even with independence. But it is far more a realistic prospect than if we remain imprisoned by Westminster capitalist rule, where three factions of Thatcherism compete over who is most devoted to boosting the profits of big business at the expense of workers' wages, and where Miliband's Labour is busy dismantling the influence of the trade unions in their party - hardly a harbinger of socialist measures from any potential Labour government at Westminster!

Beyond the SNP White Paper
The SNP White Paper is what it says - the vision of one party, the SNP. Other visions of Scotland's future are being fought for, including that of the SSP. But the White Paper does pledge a Fair Pay Commission, with trade union involvement. The SNP promise the minimum wage will rise "at least by the level of inflation". A modest step forward, but far too modest, and certainly not a route out of poverty - if the starting rate is the current minimum wage.
However, by establishing a forum on pay, this rams open the door to the unions and socialists to organise and vigorously demand a decent living statutory minimum wage for all at 16 - £9 an hour in today's figures, uprated accordingly whenever an independent Scotland tackles this issue. 

Vote YES to decent pay
That's why the SSP is campaigning to convince people to 'vote YES for a decent living wage for all at 16'. 
Kick the door open to this path by voting YES, but also by organising before and beyond the referendum to shape the future, to demand eradication of the criminal poverty blighting workers, their families, their children. 
With 630,000 members, the Scottish trade union movement has the potential power to achieve this goal, by championing a decent living wage and linking it with support for Scottish self-government, getting shut of the purveyors of poverty pay, decades of successive Westminster governments.
Seize the time! Banish the human catastrophe of poverty pay!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Kilwinning meeting tomorrow

I will be speaking at a Yes Scotland meeting tomorrow (Thursday) in Kilwinning... #indyref

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

BOB CROW OBITUARY: the tragic departure of a class fighter

Bob Crow; Class Fighter.

by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser 

 It was with terrible shock and sadness that I heard of the death of RMT general secretary Bob Crow this morning. This is a devastating blow first and foremost to his wife, children, family and friends, but also to the entire working class. And it's a tragically premature loss too, with Bob dying of a heart attack aged only 52.

Bob was born in north east London, the son of a London docker. In his youth he joined the railways, and as a young lad took up a grievance at work through his trade union (then the NUR) and rapidly gained notice as a capable speaker and organiser. 

He went on to eventually be elected the general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport workers union (RMT) in 2002.

Bob was above all a passionate, tireless champion of working class people, their rights and conditions. I often witnessed - on picket lines and meetings I shared with him - the devotion he instilled from the ranks of the RMT. It was like a massive family.

He was demonized by the mainstream media - regardless of any begrudging hymns of praise they might now publish on his tragically premature departure from the class struggle that he dedicated his life to. 
But he won tremendous loyalty from RMT members, and indeed massive admiration from workers across the trade union movement. Many were wont to say "If only our union had someone like him leading us we'd be a damn sight better off."

Under his watch, the RMT membership rocketed from 53,000 to 81,000 in 12 years. For every vitriolic editorial in the London Evening Standard, Daily Mail or even the BBC, Bob's no-nonsense style of tackling the employers to enhance the wages, job security, safety and conditions of his union members inspired confidence in workers and built the strength of the union.

Enemies of trade unionism and socialism tried to denigrate Bob as "a dinosaur". But this big, burly, blunt-talking Londoner was no fool, and a man of great warmth and wit. When Jeremy Paxman issued the 'dinosaur' insult on Newsnight recently, Bob immediately quipped back "Well, they were around for quite a long time!"

Bob was a Young Communist, but whilst he was no longer in any political party for many recent years of his life, he vigorously denounced the betrayal of working class people by Tony Blair and New Labour, and called on other trade unions to stop propping up Labour and to establish a genuine working class party instead.

He successfully led the argument within the union for the RMT to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party, for which his union was expelled by Labour. I am proud to have worked alongside this giant of the trade union movement, and to have presented him with his SSP honorary membership card when he spoke at an SSP trade union conference I organised about ten years ago.

You didn't have to agree with every single aspect of Bob's vision of socialism to warmly like and admire him. He was in some ways 'a rough diamond', but give me that any day compared to the smooth-talking fakes that infest too many of the top echelons of the trade union movement. 
Bob's continued working class roots - in stark contrast to many union leaders who rise to the top and abandon the class they allegedly represent - were perfectly captured in his football loyalties. Not for him the glory-hunting of becoming, say, a Chelsea fan. He remained a fanatical fan of the entirely unglamorous Millwall FC - whose unofficial motto is allegedly 'nobody likes us and we don't care'. The difference, of course, being that hundreds of thousands of workers in struggle liked Bob Crow. 

Bob was passionate and sincere in his beliefs. He was like a blunt instrument wielded in defence of the working class. He had a healthy antagonism towards big employers, the establishment, and politicians who defend the continuation of the class-ridden capitalist system. He never shed his class struggle socialist outlook on life - and RMT members are the better off for having such a leader in their midst.

Two of his very recent actions sum up the man's principles. He fought in defence of the safety and security of London Underground workers in the teeth of vitriolic attacks by London Tory Mayor Boris Johnson and whole swathes of the media. And he won rapturous applause from RMT members at branch meetings in Ayr, Aberdeen and elsewhere in his passionate appeal for members to vote for Scottish independence. In fact he was due to speak at a public meeting in Motherwell soon on the issue.

He will be sorely missed as the battles against poverty, inequality, injustice - and the capitalist system he detested - rage on. 

Rest in peace, Bob; we will miss your dedication to the working class, but rest assured the struggle continues.

My 11 minutes on why you should vote YES to #indyref

This was videoed in front of a packed hall in Ayr.


Jim Sillars, Colin Fox and Liz Swan speaking in Ayr

More videos of the night HERE

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

SSP Yes meeting packs them in in Ayr...

This is a text I sent to comrades last night after a superb public meeting in Ayr...

"Incredible SSP public meeting in Ayr. Big town hall packed tight. I made it 215-220 after 3 headcounts. All ages. Solidly working class.

Tremendous level of discussion from audience: currency, oil, banks, Trident, childcare, benefits system, war, ...and above all socialism hotly debated after tremendous speeches by Liz Swan, Colin Fox, Jim Sillars.

What would Johann Lamont make of it since Scottish working class are not genetically programmed for political decisions?!?

As one woman said "we've heard great arguments for Indy tonight that we never hear in the media." Which is why large numbers responded to my appeal to join the SSP and shape our futures.

The SSP is on the march!"

Richie Venton