Saturday, 31 December 2016

FACTORY SIT-IN VICTORY: when Glacier Metal workers beat multi-national

Twenty years ago today, on Hogmanay 1996, the Glasgow Glacier Metal engineering workers were ringing the bells in elation at their victory, whilst Glacier bosses were wringing their hands in despair.

The ‘Polmadie 103’ had scored a landmark victory for class struggle trade unionism, defeating the factory’s multinational owners, Turner & Newall, after a seven week factory sit-in.

It was the first workplace occupation in ten years, and was provoked by dictatorial bosses trying to impose a 15-point change of contract, which aimed to double company profits; cut wages by £123 a week; and slash sick pay, the canteen subsidy and other benefits won over 25 years by these members of the AEEU, now part of UNITE the union.

The boss’s method of imposing this was designed to undermine the union. He picked on the youngest tradesman in the workforce, and ordered him to risk health and safety by doing two jobs at once. The lad went to his union stewards, who had prepared for this confrontation and - advising the entire workforce to ‘down tools’- went upstairs to negotiate.

As they waited outside his office, the manager sneaked down to the factory floor to declare: “Gentlemen, you are all sacked!" 
Four of those sacked were on holiday, while another was convalescing after operations for brain tumours. 

Advantages of Factory Occupation  
Critically, instead of walking out the door on strike - which years before had landed them in a prolonged lockout - the workers stayed in the factory, declaring themselves available for work.

This totally wrong-footed management, and gave the highly-skilled workers several strategic advantages.
They seized control of a factory with £1million-worth of undelivered precision engineering products, paralysing £200,000-a-day production and thereby putting pressure on the owners from customer companies. I'll never forget the irate phone call to the factory during the sit-in, when a company boss bellowed: "What's going on with my orders? I've got a f***ing nuclear power station to run!"

They psychologically brought the battle into the bosses’ domain, preventing them bussing in scabs past legally-hamstrung pickets with police assistance, as Timex had done in Dundee 1993.
And above all, they were fighting for their jobs, justice and full trade union rights inside a well-heated factory, with snow-storms outside, making it one huge campaigning nerve centre.

Building Workers' Solidarity  
If the factory occupation had remained a ‘folded arms’ affair, waiting for concessions from the employers, it would have collapsed, or at best allowed some dirty deal to be hatched above their heads between the management and top AEEU officials, who had secret contact with the company as early as five days into the occupation.
But this inspiring workers’ struggle was a model of strategy and tactics. Firm discipline was established by the union stewards and Occupation Committee, with a booze ban and daily mass meetings. Meals were cooked and the factory kept clean.

LFC hero Robbie Fowler showing solidarity with
the dockers' fight against cheap casual labour

Role of Socialists in the Sit-in 
Some of us who later founded the SSP played a major role in this historic event.

I first called to offer practical solidarity the morning after they started the occupation. We had been in the thick of building support for the 500 locked-out Liverpool dockers for the previous 15 months, and used our vast array of workplace contacts to arrange solidarity visits with Glacier workers all over Scotland – and parts of the UK, particularly those with big engineering industries.
This served several purposes, including financial survival for the workers’ families and a breach in the media shroud of silence.

On the issue of whether management could evict them, we explained the law, with the help of a couple of friendly lawyers, but emphasised that the ultimate means of defence of the sit-in from potential moves - involving police, or cowboy security firms - was to build mass support in the workplaces and surrounding community, creating a potential army of defence.

Solidarity Mass Pickets  
The employers hoped to isolate the sit-in with the help of media silence, aiming to starve the workers’ families into submission as Christmas loomed large. Workplace solidarity tours helped scupper that. It also countered the danger of boredom and demoralisation setting in amongst a workforce not previously known for involvement in the wider trade union movement.

When management told the arbitration service ACAS that they had no workforce, we smelt a rat, suspecting imminent eviction, and in discussions with the Occupation Committee suggested an early morning solidarity mass picket, built through a leaflet around workplaces and the mailing list of the Clydeside Dockers' Support Group (which I was the organiser of). That vastly boosted morale, became a weekly feature, and peaked at a turnout of 400.

Taking to the Streets 
We then suggested a pre-Xmas demo, which attracted well over 1,000 on Sunday 15 December. One report claimed 3,000.
The build-up was as important as this stirring event itself. The Occupation Committee had co-opted me as an adviser, and put me in charge of a small Demo Committee. We involved the absolute majority of the men, and a few of their partners, in street meetings, issuing hard-hitting leaflets that won support, by-passed the media blackout, and swamped workplaces and shopping centres across the west of Scotland.

An ACAS boss complained after a leaflet was left unwittingly on his windscreen, because it described Turner & Newall as ‘notorious merchants of death’, citing their appalling record on asbestosis. AEEU officials went ape-shit down the phone to the union convener, who firmly rejected their instructions and printed 29,000 of the ‘offending’ leaflet. This propaganda offensive helped bring T&N bosses to heel, as they already faced dire problems with £billions of outstanding asbestosis claims and feared their notoriety being broadcast.

Mass meeting of the locked-out Liverpool dockers

Supporting Locked-out Liverpool Dockers  
The workers were literally dancing with elation after the success of the demo. They then turned their attention to daily street collections in the run up to Xmas – for financial survival, but also to keep the campaign alive and in people’s minds.

The first big collection, on 18 December, raised £488… for the Liverpool dockers! The Occupation Committee rounded it up to £600, in an act of selfless solidarity born of their own experiences in battle. On Xmas Eve, a team hit Glasgow’s Argyle Street from 10am to 5pm and collected £2,800.

Negotiations began that day, involving both full-time union officials and the factory union convener and deputy convener. T&N’s Head of Employee Relations grizzled with rage that as they negotiated, Glacier workers were on the streets with megaphones and leaflets attacking T&N. That was precisely part of the point – to pile pressure on the company, and remind right-wing AEEU officials what was at stake.

A Christmas day breakfast was laid on in the occupied factory for families and supporters – another ingenious act of defiance and comradeship by people whose talents erupted in the heat of battle. 

Outright Victory! 
By Hogmanay, the 103 workers were celebrating a landmark victory. All were reinstated, with full union recognition, and very little conceded to the bosses on their conditions of work.
In a final fling at undermining union rights, the company tried to get a staggered return to work – which the AEEU full-time officials agreed to. The workers’ direct union representatives went ballistic, refused, said it was a ploy to potentially victimise leaders of the occupation, and won a proud, united return to work.

A multinational giant was brought to its knees by the tactics, skills, and impact on production by this factory occupation. Socialists played an important, constructive part, applying collective experience to living struggles, laying foundations for a united, working class socialist party - in the form of the SSP, established two years after the Polmadie 103's victory. 

Capitalists Complain! 
Such was the impact of this victorious struggle in the Southside of Glasgow, that a dissident voice in the hierarchy of Turner & Newall management reproduced the article I wrote on its tenth anniversary, with a covering note bemoaning their losses.

"Even if they worked only 5 days per week, at “£200,000-a-day” this 7-week strike cost them £7 million, plus legal and administrative costs of fighting the strike. And they lost not only the strike but their former stronger position against the union.
Here’s an exquisite example of why [former Glacier Metal Company CEO] Wilfred Brown’s ideas about Works Councils make management stronger, not weaker. Had Turner & Newall had the guts to restore this strong institution — instead of the cowardice of underhanded union-busting — they would have been in a stronger position overall in their discussion with the union."

Interestingly, he advocated a return to earlier methods of Works Councils - the much-vaunted concept of 'social partnership' - rather than full-frontal union-busting methods... to achieve precisely the same cost-cutting, profit-boosting attacks on workers' terms and conditions!

As workplace closures and massive redundancies erupt 20 years on, workers and their union leaderships should study, adapt and apply the lessons from this outstanding model of how to defy the dictatorship of capital.

Monday, 19 December 2016


Christmas is seen by all as a time for rest, escape, family life, a bit of indulgence - regardless of which religious belief or atheist views subscribed to.
A time of comfort and warmth in the deep mid-winter, rooted in pagan rituals of light and food amidst darkness and hunger. 
But capitalism has transformed it into a debt-fueled spending spree; a binge of commercial consumer spending to feed the insatiable appetite for profits for big business. And it's workers who suffer the downside.

Christmas 2016 is no exception. Capitalist exploitation carries on regardless of the 'season of goodwill' - a quality noticeable for its absence on the part of many employers, or the media outlets that lash out with venom at workers who dare to resist being deprived of even basic rights at Christmas, or indeed all year round. 
Spare a thought for all those hundreds of thousands of workers who get barely any break over the festive season, but are then vilified as wreckers, the architects of mayhem, when they dare take action to improve their lot. 

'Happy Christmas - That's me off to Work!'
In 2014 (the latest available figures) 365,000 retail workers had to leave their families and work on Boxing Day. 
For many, that meant enormous taxi fares due to the lack of public transport. For all of them, it meant being deprived of family time, especially when so many of us have two sides of a family living hundreds of miles apart. I have first-hand knowledge of this, with some of us facing a choice of either working until 3 or 4 in the morning of Christmas Eve, or else starting at 10pm on Christmas Day, to restock the store so it can open on Boxing Day.

No Presents for Working Boxing Day
And in recent years, retail workers won't even get a premium payment for doing such anti-social hours, as big companies boast about granting miserly hourly pay increases, or of being 'living wage employers', but rob back all or part of those wage concessions through abolition of double-time and time-and-a-half. 
No wonder 140,000 people so far have signed a Petition demanding a ban on shopping in big stores on Boxing Day, to reduce the exploitation of retail workers. 

Would our worlds collapse if there was no shopping on Boxing Day?! 
The frenzied festival of shopping for those 'must have' items is totally unnecessary, based on manufactured 'needs' which turbocharge the sales volumes and profit margins of a mere handful of national and multinational companies. 
And in many cases they open primarily because their competitors are open, regardless of the level of footfall. It's another expression of the harmful lunacy of capitalist competition, at the expense of totally distorted work/life balance for a vast army of workers. 

Solidarity with Argos Drivers 
Another much maligned group of workers right now are delivery drivers with Argos, because they have been provoked into a 72-hour strike on 20 December at Argos' central distribution centre in Staffordshire. Visions of those iPhones, iPads, Xboxes or books not arriving for family and friends on time are being painted by the media to cudgel the drivers into public isolation and surrender. 
They voted by an 83% majority to take this action after trying in vain for two years to be paid the Christmas holiday pay they're owed. On average each driver is owed £700, because Argos wasn't complying with legal rulings that spell out holiday pay should include overtime pay and nightshift allowances - what's called 'holiday average'. 
Their union, UNITE, are justifiably demanding two years' backlog in holiday pay, and are making the perfectly reasonable demand that it should be paid in time for workers' Christmas. 
The company bosses' response is a mixture of bloody intransigence, attempts to play down the impact the strike will have - with talk of 'business as usual' - and vitriolic outbursts as if the action will collapse modern civilization.


Scrooges in the Sky
British Airways cabin crew – also represented by Unite – have voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Their dispute is straightforward – around 4,000 staff have joined the airline since 2010 on “Mixed Fleet” contracts. These jobs were advertised with pay between £21,000 and £25,000 but, in reality, start at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay!
A recent Unite survey found that half of Mixed Fleet staff have taken on second jobs to make ends meet, and more than two-thirds were going to work “unfit to fly” because they could not afford to be off sick.
Some even admitted they were sleeping in cars between flights, simply because they could not afford the petrol to get home. This is the reality of low-pay Britain, filled with capitalist Scrooges.

Strikes are not for Fun
What those who condemn any group of pre-Christmas strikers blithely ignore is the fact that taking such action hammers the pockets of the workers involved. Strikes are not a board game for family gatherings; they're a last resort, an attempt to right wrongs by withdrawal of workers' labour. 

Support Crown Post Office strikers 
That equally applies to the 4,000 Crown Post Office staff, members of the CWU union, who've declared five days of strikes up to Christmas Eve. 
They are sacrificing five days' pay to try and stop privatization of at least the 60 biggest of the 300 Crown Post Office branches, with the loss of 2,000 jobs; the forcible removal of the Final Salary Pension Scheme from half the 6,600 workforce, with cuts of at least 30% to their pensions on retirement; and the very existence of the Crown PO network which so many people rely on for daily services. 
These workers have tried to forced meaningful negotiations out of their employers for months, staging several previous strike days, and deserve the full solidarity of us all as they face a cold Christmas on the picket lines. 

Strike Ban on the Railways? 
But if these workers have been accused of causing mayhem, the railworkers on Southern Rail have been declared Devils incarnate, the biggest threat to civilization since Satan was a boy. 
Members of ASLEF and the RMT are both striking to end the carnage of passengers' safety by the profiteering vandals of Govia, the French-owned franchise-holders on the UK's biggest, busiest rail network. 
In their hunt for profit, and their desire to carry out the bidding of the Tory government, Govia has caused meltdown on the railways as they try to impose Driver Only Operations. They refuse to negotiate, arrogant in the knowledge they have Tory government backing in their attempts to smash the unions and impose life-endangering removal of guards. 
In response to the current 3-day strike, Tory Transport Minister Chris Grayling has entered the fray with talk of 'carefully considering' a ban on the right to strike on the railways. 
He simultaneously dismisses the strike as "pointless" - in which case why bother banning it?! - and laments the fact: 
"I can't step in to stop people striking. It is, unfortunately, a lawful strike." 
He's forced to concede the latter point after Govia failed in their repeated attempts to declare the action illegal through Court action. 

Dictatorship of Capital 
But rather than examine why workers have been prepared to lose numerous days' pay for a dispute that has nothing to do with pay rates, or pensions, but public safety, the Tories wade in with threats of a ban on the right of workers to withdraw their labour. When such dictatorial laws are applied in other countries, the Tories are willing to condemn these regimes as 'communist dictatorships' or 'banana republics' - unless, of course, these dictators are their trading partners, or partners in war crimes against other peoples - as they did with Pinochet's Chile in 1974, or Saudi Arabia today. 

Defend the Right to Strike 
The right to strike - to withhold your labour - is the most elementary human, democratic right that any worker should enjoy. And whilst Britain - the self-styled mother of parliamentary democracy - has never enshrined this right to strike in the constitution, an outright ban in the rail industry would be the first step towards outright, undisguised dictatorship by capital, a modern form of slavery. 

Strife Between Classes in the Season of Goodwill 
Amazon workers sleeping in tents in the woods outside the Dunfermline plant because they can't afford the fares to get to work in this hell-hole of humiliating conditions on the wages Amazon pay them; retail workers deprived of a full Christmas break with their families; Argos drivers losing wages to win two years' holiday back pay they're entitled to; Post Office staff braving the elements in defence of jobs, pensions and the very survival of the public service they provide; railworkers being demonized and threatened with forced labour under a Tory strike ban... welcome to Christmas 2016, the season of goodwill! 

Workers' Rights are not Just for Christmas!
The public inconvenience caused by strikes on the railways, delivery vans or Post Offices - or even the demand for shop shutdowns on Boxing Day - are being exploited by the media to try and whip up enmity between different sections of the same working class. Passengers against railworkers; consumers against delivery drivers; shoppers against retail workers. 

But the real point all this should highlight is entirely different: the utter dependency of society on working class people, regardless of which occupation, skills grade, colour, national origin, gender, or sexual identity. And unity in action of those who work (or want to work) for a living is fundamental to winning a better world. 
Society only functions because of the collective efforts of the working class. 
And class is central to the nature of society, as much at Christmas as during the rest of our lives under capitalism. 
Workers' rights are not just for Christmas - but it'd be a good start!

Monday, 12 December 2016


Two figures who should know all about the workings of British capitalism have declared the utter failure of their preferred system in the space of two weeks. 

In his Autumn Statement, Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted the Tories have failed miserably in their goals of slashing government debt and state borrowing. Despite the excruciating pain of endless austerity imposed by them on workers and communities - jobs and services slaughtered, benefits blitzed, workers' rights razed to the ground - the national debt has rocketed and economic growth stalled. 

Straight from the Banker's Mouth
Two weeks after Hammond declared continued cuts - with no prospects of real pay rises since 2006 until at least 2021 - the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, added his own damning verdict on the system that produces the profits and perks of bankers and billionaires. He concluded we've suffered the first 'lost decade' of fallen wages since the 1860s; with "staggering wealth inequalities" tripling the wealth share of the richest 1% from a third in 2000 to half all wealth in 2010; and 'milennials' (those becoming adults since 2000) earning £8,000 less in their 20s than their predecessors did.
Carney reaffirms what workers already know firsthand, at terrible personal cost, and what we've written about in anger for years: the hardest hit by recessions are the poorest, and younger or part-time workers (two-thirds of whom are women).
This is about as stunning a revelation as saying Carney's salary of £874,000 makes him better off than the average bank worker in your local Bank of Scotland branch!
But coming from the BoE chief, it is a shattering judgement on capitalism - including its dominant financial wing. 

Challenge and Change the System
The point is not only to understand the system - and its appalling consequences for millions who produce society's wealth through their skills, labour and dedication - but to challenge and change it. 
Carney merely warns that "public support for open markets is under threat", with plummeting real pay, rocketing inequality, and the growth of protectionism (as threatened by Donald Trump) all hampering economic growth. He just wants a modified form of capitalism, not its replacement. A few crumbs from the capitalists' table to let the plebs spend enough to fuel a consumer-led recovery in economic output and profits.
Like Hammond, the banker-in-chief offers nothing to cure the disease. Indeed, the Tories' medicine is worse than the disease! 

Tory Cure Worse than the Disease
Hundreds of thousands are currently getting notice of cuts to their benefits, with growing queues of desperate people seeking food bank parcels and advice off welfare rights workers. Homelessness is rising as housing benefits are slashed and sanctions hammer the poorest.
The Tories have targeted Glasgow for savage closure of Job Centres, not only threatening low-paid DWP staff jobs, but especially adding another cruel layer of punishment to the unemployed - adding drastically to their journeys, making a walk to the Job Centre virtually impossible, public transport even more unaffordable, lateness for appointments far more likely, thereby battering the poorest with an escalated sanctions regime that has already driven thousands to starvation, in some cases suicide. 
The number of 'Daniel Blakes' is set to rocket.

Tent City at Amazon!
As sections of the press expose the repressive hell-hole for workers inside tax-dodging exploiters like Amazon, other reports reveal Amazon workers camping out in tents in the bitter winter weather in the woods beside their Dunfermline plant, to save the fares to work that they can't afford on Amazon wages. 
Maybe that's what Mark Carney means by "open markets"! So much for the old adage of working to keep a roof over your head!
Abstract labels like 'neo-liberalism' and 'globalization' cannot begin to convey the brutality of exploitation millions of workers and unemployed or sick workers suffer, as human sacrifices on the altar of profit.

Socialist Measures to Tackle Root Causes 
Prime causes of poverty amongst younger and part-time workers are the series of lower legal minimum wages for under-25s, and the spreading plague of casualised, insecure jobs; its ultimate expression being zero hours contracts. Both are consciously manufactured tools of planned poverty by capitalist employers and their politicians. 

End Age Wage Discrimination 
The SSP has persistently fought for abolition of the lower youth rates of minimum wage; for the same guaranteed minimum for all from 16 upwards - a rate that reflects the real cost of living, without workers being chained to dependency on in-work, top-up benefits - £10-an-hour now! 
This would counter a growing trend towards employing younger staff in preference to 'older' workers who legally have to be paid a bit more. Take a trip round any High Street or retail park and you'll spot the age profiles lowering in recent years, to allow profiteers to lower their wage bills.

Zero Hours, Zero Rights 
There is increasing fury at zero hours contracts, where workers in hospitality, social care, retail, education, fast food outlets, etc - 120,000 of them in Scotland alone - sit by their mobile or email in desperate hope of a shift, and frequently fork out transport costs to work only to be told they're not needed after all.
Zero hours and nominal hours contracts - 4, 6, 8, 12-hours-a-week being commonplace - have been systematically used to crush wage rates, using the fear arising from job insecurity to terrorize workers into accepting their lowly position. As an example, one of my family is working for rotten pay in the leisure industry, hired six months at a time, but only after he signed a contract that explicitly bans him from joining a union!
That's why - to help end the atrocities of poverty and inequality, as described by Hammond and Carney - the SSP is battling to abolish zero hours contracts entirely. And not just so governments and employers can gain a cheap propaganda advantage by ending zero hours and instead offering one hour a week, as advocated by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership opponent, Owen Smith. 

For Guaranteed 16-Hour Minimum & 35-Hour Maximum Week 
We are pioneering the demand for a guaranteed minimum contract of 16-hours-a-week for all jobs - only allowing exceptions where a worker, accompanied by their recognized union rep, requests lesser hours to suit their circumstances.
Alongside that, the SSP's crusade for a maximum 35-hour working week, with no loss of earnings - rapidly moving to a 4-day week and 6-hour day - would spearhead radical wealth redistribution, away from private profit to pay. 

Taking the dominant sectors of the economy into democratic public ownership - removing the poisonous pursuit of private profit - would allow society to harness the benefits of robotics, algorithms and the explosion of new technology for working people -  with drastically reduced hours of work, rather than robbery of 15 million UK jobs, as the aforementioned Carney warned of in his same speech.

Socialist Resolution 
Capitalism doesn't work - except for the richest 1%. Capitalism enforces poverty and insecurity for millions, grotesque opulence for the millionaires, and the obscenity of millions suffering mental ill-health through long hours of overwork, whilst millions others suffer the same stresses and strains from not being able to get the hours of work they require to financially survive.

Make a New Year resolution to arm yourself with the facts, arguments and policies to help persuade others to shake off the chains of capitalist exploitation. Resolve to make 2017 a year of advance for the rational, humane, egalitarian alternative of socialist democracy, where hunger, reliance on food banks, and stunted growth of human potential through poverty and inequality, are cast into the past as nightmare memories.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016


The longest squeeze on pay for at least 70 years. No increase in real earnings between 2006 and 2021. Falling incomes for the poorest one-third of households for the remainder of this decade. 

These are mere sample facts in the Niagara of statistics pouring out from various think tanks, the sober Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, even the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility, since the Tory's Autumn Statement. 

The director of the IFS - a body not given to flourishes or exaggeration - noted their calculations that "by 2021, real wages will still not have recovered to pre-2008 financial crisis levels" and added:
"One cannot stress how extraordinary and dreadful that is, more than a decade without real earnings growth. We have not seen a period remotely like it in certainly the last 70 years, and quite possibly the last 100."
Another analyst went even further, claiming we face "the worst earnings growth since the 1810s"!
Incidentally, that was also a decade where vast proportions of national wealth was squandered in wars, with a global super-power ruled over by a probably clinically insane megalomaniac - Britain's King George 111, not Donald J. Trump!

Not even jam tomorrow for the JAMs! 
The Tory spin doctors try to dupe the hard of thinking with guff about Theresa May leading "a government for everyone", conjuring up new acronyms like JAMs - families 'just about managing' in the billionaires' Breadline Britain.
In their Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond tried to distract us with investment in 40,000 new 'affordable homes' - a mere Wendy House compared with the 250,000 new houses a year required to just stand still. 

He made a song and dance about the derisory 30p rise in the consciously mis-named 'National Living Wage' for workers aged over 25. Likewise with his miserly reduction in the level of cuts to in-work benefits for working families on Universal Credit - from 65p to 63p clawback of top-up benefits for every £1 pay rise above the threshold. 

Tory Spin and Stark Facts
Behind the Tory spin lurk the stark, devastating facts, and the human misery that ensues. The Autumn Statement only reverses a pathetic 7% of the £12billion benefit cuts to the incomes of the poorest half of households, as implemented by Hammond's hated predecessor, George Osborne. The latter earned £320,000 last month from making five speeches to gatherings of bankers in the USA, whilst the average working family in receipt of Universal Credit is set to be £1,200 a year worse off by 2020. A couple with two kids, the main earner on the £7.50 NLW, will be £1,780 the poorer by 2020.
And unlike the recession following the 2008 banking crisis, it's the low and middle income workers' families who will be hardest hit - with the entire bottom third of earners seeing their incomes plummet.
It's a rotten case of not even jam tomorrow for the JAMs!

War on Wages
Working class people are being punished for the crisis of the capitalist system. The Tories have sustained plans to cut Corporation Tax - already the lowest in the western world, bar Ireland and Estonia.
All this is certainly 'dreadful', as the IFS director put it. But anyone surprised at the cataclysmic collapse of real wages simply hasn't been paying attention!

For about 40 years, the ruling capitalist class and their eagerly compliant politicians have waged war on wages, in a ruthless crusade to boost the share of wealth that goes to profits. 
It's no accident of history that wages as a share of GDP - economic output - peaked in 1975, when 58% of workers were organised in unions, and 82% were covered by collective union wage bargaining. 
Nor a coincidence that wages are now at their lowest ever share of national wealth, and inequality at its worst, when only 26% are unionized and a mere 23% enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining. 

The vicious, planned assault on unions initiated by Thatcher's Tory government in the 1980s, sustained by every subsequent Westminster regime - New Labour included - helped the parasitic rich rob workers of a collective £1.3trillion in wages over 30 years.
The deliberate extension of casualised, insecure jobs - epitomized by the modern serfdom known as Zero Hours Contracts - allowed the employers to wield the weapon of fear to beat down wages and boost profits. 
Privatization of public services ushered in lower wages, worse conditions, job losses and rampant profiteering by companies slashing services to the public. 

Amidst all this class warfare by the rich minority, far too many union leaders simply capitulated, refusing to put up a concerted fight, often actively discouraging or sabotaging the efforts of rank-and-file workers to resist the onslaught. 
A vicious circle of lowered expectations, lowered incomes and lowered union membership levels ensued - to the joy of the class of exploiters and their political puppets.

Wake-up Call for Action!
The latest catalogue of catastrophe that workers face demands decisive, urgent, militant action. The call by PCS union leader, Mark Serwotka, for a coordinated plan of action by all unions against the public sector pay freeze is one vital strand of the struggle required.
Every union, and the STUC, should treat the Tory Autumn Statement as a wake-up call, and launch a serious battle plan to reverse the tide. They should take up some of the socialist alternatives that we broadcast on the SSP's national day of action to coincide with Hammond's Autumn Statement - our own Autumn Statement of Intent on the streets.

£10 Now!
Instead of caving in to the divisive, impoverishing Tory minimum wages - ranging from the pathetic £7.50 for over-25s next April, to the derisory £3.40 for apprentices - the unions should actually take action on the policy of "£10-an-hour minimum for all workers" which they unanimously agreed at the TUC conference just over two, long years ago! 
Even talk of £10 in 2020 by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is wholly inadequate, given current and looming inflation. In fact, the demand for £10 Now is already nearing it's sell-by-date!

For guaranteed 16-hour Minimum Working Week
Instead of Zero Hours Contracts - a curse on the lives of 120,000 Scottish workers - the SSP is pioneering the demand for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week in every contract. The only exception to that weekly minimum - a measure to give a reasonable income and security to those who prefer to work part-time - should be if an individual worker, with their union rep at their side, requested and negotiated fewer hours. 

Secure Jobs for All!
Mass underemployment, alongside unemployment, has been used as a weapon to batter down hourly wages; job insecurity breeds fear. 
Scotland is screaming out for a massive public sector housebuilding programme, which could create tens of thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships. 
Climate chaos and rampant fuel poverty in this energy-rich country shouts out for a huge green energy job-creation plan, under democratic public ownership of all forms of energy. 
Instead of the crazed competition and profiteering that blights our railways, ferries, buses and transport system, public ownership would allow for planned investment, massive job-creation, and pursuit of a free, expanded, integrated public transport service.
Join the SSP in demanding action to reverse the lost decade of pay cuts; use the wealth of the nation for people, not profit.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


I appeal to you to lend your support to the campaign for a Scottish Public Inquiry into the actions of the police during the 1984/5 miners' strike - and indeed into the dictatorial, repressive methods of Margaret Thatcher's Tory government.
Thatcher unleashed civil war on the miners, their families, communities and trade union. It was part of the broader crusade to shackle the unions and chain workers in poverty-stricken, insecure jobs with minimal rights - and to replace investment in manufacturing with the fast buck casino economy of the bankers and spivs.

Now, contrary to promises made in the wake of the Hillsborough jury's verdicts in May 2016, and indeed in September, the Westminster Tories have refused to hold a public inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave, of June 1984, when the government colluded with police chiefs to lay a trap, knock seven colours out of defenseless strikers, and then falsify what happened with the help of BBC bosses.

I've launched an online petition demanding the Scottish government initiate a full, Scottish Public Inquiry. To uncover the truth about the especially heavy-handed police repression in Scotland; to clear the names of the near-500 Scottish miners arrested, prosecuted, fined, and in many cases sacked and blacklisted.
So far the SNP Scottish government has refused to set up an Inquiry. With your help we can change their minds!

So please spend 5 minutes in the cause of truth and justice.

Sign the online Petition. Here's the link:

And then share it with everyone else you can think of - by email, text, Facebook, Twitter - urging them to do likewise.

Finally, if you want to read more background on the events and issues that have led me to launch the Petition, please have a read of the article I wrote a few days ago, here:

Don't let governments leave the facts about state repression in pursuit of short-term profiteering remain buried in mountains of lies.
Past generations deserve truth and justice. Future generations require the knowledge and lessons to stop such class oppression endlessly repeating itself.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

ABERFAN DISASTER: power and corruption in the Valley of Death

On Friday 21st October 1966, 240 children aged 7-10 arrived at Pantglas Junior School, in Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Picture the musical lilt of their excited chatter as they talked about the start of their half-term week's holiday a few hours later.
Imagine for yourself the innocent joy of them singing the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful at the school assembly at 9 o'clock, after which they traipsed into their classrooms. 
Then at 9.15am, Hell was unleashed. The mountainous mining tip that overshadowed the village disintegrated, slid down the mountainside and swept at incredible speed across farms, the canal, railway embankment and into the heart of the village, including the Junior school. The 1.4 million cubic feet of murderous muck gave no time for warnings or escape that morning. It buried the school building until only the roof was visible; poured into the classrooms and killed 109 of the children, and 5 teachers, through crushed skulls, multiple crush injuries, and, in particular, asphyxiation. In a matter of seconds a generation died. 

A total of 144 people from the village of Aberfan died these terrible deaths, 116 of them children. They were buried as completely as the victims in Pompeii, in 79 AD. But there was one huge difference: the Aberfan Disaster could and should have been prevented, but multiple warnings were ignored by those in power at various levels - a fact the same powers subsequently tried to hide from millions of people shocked and grief-stricken at what was the UK's first televised disaster. 
Aberfan wasn't the product of the Earth's natural geology erupting in the form of the Mount Vesuvius volcano; it was an entirely man-made disaster, on a devastating scale. At the subsequent public inquest, the father of one of the dead children angrily demanded that the death certificates should record "Buried alive by the National Coal Board. That is what I want to see on record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate."

On that fateful morning, mothers chatting along the road after dropping their kids at school minutes before, dashed back to literally claw with their bare hands at the slimy, thick debris that engulfed the school, in a desperate bid to rescue their sons and daughters. Hundreds of miners from the Merthyr Vale pit were among the first on the scene, several of them openly weeping as they dug desperately in search of their own children. Miners from the neighbouring Taff Bargoed Valley were joined by about 2,000 emergency service workers and volunteers in a frantic rescue mission. But mostly in vain. Some children were rescued, but none after 11am. The efforts of volunteers and emergency service workers morphed into a search for the dead. It took a week to recover the bodies. Over 3,000 attended the mass funeral.

Mining communities like Aberfan lived with death, but this time Death came to claim their children. Virtually every single street in Aberfan village lost some or several that day, as did nearby farmhouses. 
No wonder a study by the University of Wales a full 33 years later found that 29% of the Aberfan survivors were still suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 46% of them had suffered PTSD at some time over the intervening decades. Survivors tell of children being guilt-ridden at surviving; adults afraid to sleep, refusing to take their prescribed sedatives if it was raining; children bed-wetting and terrified of their bedroom doors being shut; alcoholism, family breakdowns and mental breakdowns being common in the aftermath, for several subsequent years.

Shortly after 21 October 1966, the collective and personal, individual sorrow turned to anger, as the causes of this terrible tragedy were discussed, and the response of the authorities emerged. And the people in power to which we refer were in particular the National Coal Board, chaired by Lord (Alfred) Robens, and the Labour government led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. 

The geological cause of the disaster was brutally plain and simple. For the 50 years prior to 1966, the waste from coal mines was piled up in tips - slag heaps - on the slopes of the Welsh valleys, layer upon layer. Seven such tips loomed over Aberfan. The murderous Tip 7 was an accumulation of loose rock, shale and mining muck piled up on porous sandstone, with underground springs beneath that. Heavy rain for several days triggered the slide, as the debris was saturated, and it slid down the slope into the village at massive speed, ten metres deep, demolishing farm cottages and houses as well as the school. 

Tip slides were fairly common in the Welsh mining valleys for years before 1966. But still the mining waste was piled up, by the National Coal Board, using tipping gangs. 
In Aberfan, there'd been tip slides as far back as 1943, and again in 1963. But still the NCB piled the debris high up above the village.
And warnings of the potential danger to life and limb had been made, several times, in the years before October 1966 - in particular by villagers themselves. As mentioned already, a tip slide had occurred as recently as 1963 - though the NCB bosses were to subsequently deny this stark fact, visible to the naked eye, at the government's Inquiry in the wake of the 1966 Disaster! 
Even before that physical warning, villagers had raised concerns about the safety of the tip with the NCB in September 1960. The NCB replied that it posed no dangers.
In fact, after the disaster, researchers discovered letters from villagers warning explicitly of a disaster, not just in the immediate years before it happened, but back in the 1950s!
In 1964 the local councillor warned that the tip atop the mountain ridge above the village could threaten, specifically, the school. The NCB ignored the warnings. 

In 1965, a petition against the tip was raised by mothers in the village, and presented to Merthyr County Borough Council by the school head-teacher, Ann Jennings. A year later she and half the school's children perished beneath the mayhem unleashed from the mountainside. 
Working class people warned of the potential dangers, but the authorities ignored them, with the local Council's concerns never getting to anybody above the level of local NCB engineers. No action was taken. No inspections were even conducted. A preventable disaster was allowed to happen, wiping out a generation in this Valley of Death.

But what was the response of those in power after the event, after their failure to act had allowed 144 villagers to die?

Lord Robens ruled the National Coal Board like a personal fiefdom. He'd been a full time official for the shopworkers' trade union, Usdaw, in 1935, before graduating to being a Labour MP and then Minister of Power in Clement Attlee's 1945-51 Labour government. 
In 1960, Robens was approached by Tory Prime Minister Harold MacMillan to take the reigns as chairman of the nationalized NCB. Robens expressed fear that he might never be able to balance the books - though we have no evidence he bothered to point out the nationalized coal industry was crippled by gargantuan compensation handed out to the rapacious private mine-owners, who had left the mines in a state of ruination prior to state ownership in 1947. In reply, Macmillan told Robens "Don't worry, dear boy [the boy was 50!]. Blur the edges, blur the edges."
That gives us a glimpse of the culture prevailing in nationalized industries: saddled by debt caused by obscene over-compensation to previous capitalist owners; run by remote, bureaucratic, totally unaccountable dictators like Robens; and used as cheap suppliers to the still-dominant private sector of capitalist Britain - "blurring the edges" where necessary, including on health and safety.
Robens accepted MacMillan's offer and ruled the NCB for ten years from 1960. 

On Friday 21st October 1966, Robens heard of the Aberfan Disaster but went nowhere near the village until late on Saturday. He chose instead to attend the ceremony and party in Guildford marking his investiture as Chancellor of the University of Surrey. NCB officials initially lied to the Secretary of State for Wales - the government - claiming Robens was at the scene of the carnage, on the Friday, personally directing the rescue operations.
When Robens did deign to arrive, he told TV reporters nothing could have been done to prevent the tip slide, and claimed "It was impossible to know there was a spring at the heart of the tip." 
Immediately, the villagers smelt the stench of a cover-up, a whitewash. Everyone knew about the springs; many villagers had played at them as children before the springs were buried beneath the NCB's waste mountains, including Tip 7. And they were clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps of the district.
Of course Robens' calculation was that if the NCB could convincingly claim they knew nothing of the waterlogged base to the tip, and the dangers it posed, they couldn't be blamed for 144 deaths. Cold, cruel, calculated lies by those in power. 

Conscious of the need to respond to the public shock at the scale of death, and probably personally shaken by the scenes of devastation on his visit to Aberfan on the day, Harold Wilson and his Labour government ordered an immediate Tribunal of Inquiry, appointing Welsh barrister and Privy Councillor, Lord Justice Edmund Davies, as its chair. 
The Davies Inquiry lasted 76 days, interviewing 136 people, and reported in mid-1967.

NCB officials tried to block their path to the truth throughout. They even spent several days denying the tip slide in 1963 had ever happened! And Robens himself only bothered to turn up on day 70, tried to be obstructive and deny any NCB responsibility - to such a degree that the villagers' QC, Desmond Ackner, accused him of acting as if the NCB "bore no more blameworthy connection than, say, the Gas Board."
Under relentless, skilful cross-examination by Ackner, the lying Robens eventually admitted NCB responsibility. 
But for Robens' and other NCB bosses' attempts to lie and obstruct, most of the 76 days taken up by the Inquiry - and the immeasurable suffering it added to the bereaved - could have been avoided completely.

The Davies Inquiry rejected the charge of "callous indifference" levelled at the NCB bosses, but did lacerate Robens and the NCB for "a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude", with "a total lack of direction from above". 
Highlighting that NCB mining engineers only had concern for safety down the mines themselves, and not for the waste tips the mines produced, the Inquiry Report departed from the dry-as-dust language of most government Inquires. It was poetic in its description of the safety role of NCB engineers towards the tips as being "like moles being asked about the habits of birds".  

The Inquiry Report blasted the NCB for creating the geological conditions that led to the disaster - by repeatedly ignoring previous warnings; by their "disregard and failure to act" on previous smaller tip slides, with not even any surveys being conducted; but chaotic and unplanned additional waste being added to the slag heaps. In one phrase that summarized things, they condemned the NCB for "having no tipping plan".
But in other regards the Davies Inquiry was mild and limited. It held nine NCB senior officials partly responsible, but did not recommend any demotions or sackings, let alone prosecutions. And not a single one of them, not even Robens, suffered any sanctions for their gross negligence, leading to the slaughter of innocents in Aberfan. Indeed, as we'll see shortly, Robens enjoyed promotion the even higher places later.

Government documents subsequently released under the 30 year rule exposed a sickening cynicism in the actions of NCB chief Robens and Wilson's Labour government - through the auspices of Labour Minister of Power, Richard Marsh - in the wake of the damning Davies Inquiry. They danced a carefully choreographed deceit of the public, and in particular the grieving Aberfan villagers. 
Wielding his power as a Privy Councillor (by the way, a position he shared with Lord Justice Davies, chair of the Inquiry!), Lord Robens demanded to see a pre-publication copy of the Davies Report. This gave Robens ten days to prepare his strategy, to avoid any consequences to his power and privileges, despite the Report being what Harold Wilson called "devastating" in its condemnation of the NCB Board and of Robens for his misleading statements.
Robens used the time to enlist support for his NCB role within the NUM, the miners' union, speaking round pits by arrangement between the NCB and NUM, making very popular denunciations of nuclear power - which, naturally, garnered him support amongst coal miners whose jobs were threatened by the growing nuclear energy option. 

A month later, in discussions with government Minister Richard Marsh, Robens helped draft the wording of a letter of reply... from Marsh to Robens! 
This was a letter noting, but declining, an offer of resignation by Robens as NCB chairman. Robens even insisted on removal of a sentence in Marsh's first draft, which blamed the entire NCB Board. Robens demanded this so that he could deflect all blame from himself and the top dogs surrounding him, instead putting the entire blame for the Aberfan slaughter on the chargehand of the local tipping gang! 
It was only after government Minister Richard Marsh meekly accepted Robens' dictated version of the wording of what was allegedly Marsh's letter - declining Robens' offer to resign as NCB chair - that Robens then submitted his letter of resignation! 
They danced this cynical duet of deceit in order to keep Robens in his mighty position as Coal Board boss, despite the growing loss of trust in both the NCB and government among the people of Aberfan and their allies. Why? 

Robens was an archetypal Old Labour power broker and operator. He was firmly on the right-wing of the Labour Party, siding with Hugh Gaitskell against left-winger Nye Bevan, for example. But he maintained points of contact on the left and in the unions in order to wield all the more power, especially as NCB chief. This was particularly so in his collaboration with the national leader of the NUM, Welshman Will Paynter, Communist Party member and veteran of the Spanish Civil War!
Paynter helped Robens wind down the coal industry without mass strikes in opposition. So much so that during Robens' 10-year tenure at the head of the NCB, the coal industry collapsed from 698 pits employing 583,000 miners to 292 pits with only 283,000 miners. 

Government documents since released under the 30 year rule confirm Wilson's Labour government kept Robens as head of the NCB, even despite Aberfan, because they believed he was the only man who could manage the decline of the coal industry without provoking mass industrial action. They started the process of dismantling one of the UK's main industries; a decimation of communities completed in the 1980s by Thatcher's Tories, after they'd wielded every arm of the state to defeat the miners' heroic opposition. 

The collaboration and cover-up between the NCB boss and Wilson's Labour government was made possible by two key factors: the failure by a gullible and obedient press to expose their dirty work, and the complete absence of Corporate Manslaughter legislation. 
This was the UK's first televised disaster, yet where were the exposés and investigations? The mainstream media - including the newfangled BBC TV - mostly just swallowed the spin of the authorities and did a terrible disservice to the victims and their families.
The absence of a law that holds company chief executives personally responsible for deaths due to the negligence they've presided over is a huge gap in health and safety law - which continues to let culpable bosses off the hook, even now, 50 years on from Aberfan. No such law and sanction exists against negligent capitalist bosses, despite the issue being first raised in 1965 - because corporate lobbying of governments has blocked it being introduced. This encourages a culture of neglect, of 'blurring the edges' on workplace safety, in pursuit of profit. 

Next time you hear some Tory or other apologist of capitalist employment methods whine about the 'red tape' or 'bureaucracy' of workplace health and safety laws - something we're likely to hear a lot more about during and after Brexit negotiations - remember Aberfan. 
Remember that back then there was literally no law governing the safety of mining tips, for instance; no HSE inspectors; "no legislation dealing with the safety of tips in force in this or any country, except part of West Germany and South Africa", to quote the Davies Report on Aberfan. 
It was only 3 years after Aberfan that the government introduced the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969. 
Later still - to reverse the situation where safety legislation was largely reactive, rather than imposing any general legal duty for safety on employers - the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was enacted. In what must be one of the sickest jokes around, this 1974 Act was the child of recommendations by a parliamentary committee set up in 1967 by Labour Minister Barbara Castle, who appointed as chairman of the committee... no, you couldn't have guessed it... Lord Alfred Robens!! 

The cruel injustices meted out to the devastated working class people of Aberfan didn't end with Robens being kept on as the top NCB boss, despite "the terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude" the Tribunal of Inquiry branded him and his Board with. 
Alongside their demands for honest explanations of the cause of the wipe-out of a generation, of their own children, the villagers demanded outright removal of the other six tips dominating the skyline. In some part for safety reasons, but overwhelmingly to remove the constant, haunting reminder of the disaster they'd suffered; demolition of those monstrous monuments to the deaths of their children and neighbours. 
The government - under the advice of the NCB and indeed the Davies Tribunal Report - declared that the remaining six slag heaps were not unsafe, didn't need to be removed, but generously conceded an offer to landscape them! What they carefully avoided saying was that this was a vastly cheaper option than the estimated £3million cost of removal, with behind-the-scenes warnings that such a cost would lead to the closure of the Merthyr Vale pit and its jobs (although subsequent research suggests they were lying about the costs of the demolition option). 

Landscaping might have been relatively inexpensive, but it was utterly, cruelly insensitive to a whole community suffering mass bereavement and trauma. 
In an inspiring echo of all that is most courageous about working class people who organise and fight for justice - whether trade unionists fighting their employers through collective union action, or the likes of the Hillsborough families' prolonged struggle for Justice for the 96 - the Aberfan people didn't lie down and accept this treatment from the powers-that-be. They set up a Tip Removal Committee, and fought long and hard. 

The ruling powers were unaccustomed to 'ordinary' working class people displaying such extraordinary determination, or challenging them - especially in the midst of such emotional suffering. They stonewalled the demands to dismantle the tips. 
But the ruling elites also sought to block the campaigners by dirty, secret state methods - behind their public claims to be pouring out sympathy to the bereaved village. Participants described how their phones were tapped, with cars following Tip Removal Committee members everywhere they went. 

Eventually, after being frustrated and ignored by the government for ages, a more militant wing of the committee, led by local miner Enos Sims, decided on some direct action at the Wales Office in Cardiff. They took care not to discuss their plans on the phone. 
After being told 'No' by the government for the umpteenth time, they arranged to 'bring the mountain to the government', so to speak! They dumped bagfuls of slurry from the tips inside the Wales Office. It had an instant impact, with the Secretary of State for Wales suddenly urging the Wilson government to remove the six offending slag heaps, which the government announced mere days later. A victory for determined action by working class people who got themselves organised. 

Here's the vicious sting in the Labour government's tail, though. 
Wilson's government conceded to the Aberfan people's relentless demand to demolish the tips; traumatic eyesores that were a daily reminder to them of loss and human disaster - caused by ruthless negligence by those in power. They paid out a £200,000 government grant towards the removal costs. 
The other source of funding for the tip clearance is a permanent condemnation of the government, the NCB bosses, and indeed such seemingly benign forces as the heads of the Charity Commission. Let's sketch the back story.

After the Davies Report had savaged the NCB for its "terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude" as the root cause of the 144 deaths, the NCB offered compensation to bereaved families. At first they offered an insulting £50 per fatality! 
Under the outcry this triggered, they then paid out £500 per fatality - still little more than they paid in compensation for each dead animal! What price the life of a child?
In this context, the Aberfan Disaster Fund was established, relying on the solidarity and generosity of ordinary people - children included - from far and wide. A total of 90,000 people donated, with an astonishing £1.75million collected; about £30million in 2016 money. 

Several times, the ladies and gentlemen of the Charity Commission intervened to dictate how these funds were used - despite clearly being donated to help the devastated families and community in the small Aberfan village. 
They blocked payments - which had been agreed by the Disaster Fund trustees - to parents unless their children were physically injured that terrible day; no thought for the life-long psychological damage. 
They stepped in another time to demand that no payments could be issued to bereaved parents until each case was investigated to see whether the parents were close to their children, and thus likely to be suffering mentally! 
You couldn't invent such cold cruelty - by those in charge of 'charity'.

Another decisive intervention they made was when the government hounded the Disaster Fund trustees into paying nearly 10% of the total Fund - £150,000 - towards the  cost of removing the other six tips. Tips which had been put there and left there by the NCB, supported by successive governments, despite repeated residents' warnings of the safety risks, spanning several years. The Charity Commission declared this larceny of funds, donated in good faith, to be entirely lawful under charity laws (it wasn't) and helped the Wilson government plunder the Disaster Fund. 

As a footnote, the Labour government of 1997 - 30 years later - returned the £150,000 to the Aberfan Disaster Fund, now mostly used to sustain the cemetery and memorials to the dead. Outwardly generous and just, this act by Tony Blair's New Labour was another cruel deceit. It gained kudos for seemingly righting a wrong by Labour 30 years before. But taking inflation and loss of interest over the previous three decades into account, instead of returning £150,000 they should have been coughing up £1.5million to the people of Aberfan in 1997.

This unimaginable tragedy is full of stark warnings and rich lessons, even 50 years after Aberfan's man-made disaster occurred. Much has changed since 1966, but far too much has remained the same. 
Most coal mines have been shut down - as have the livelihoods of whole communities. The destruction of the coal industry, accelerated by Thatcher in the 1980s, has left industrial deserts with multiple social ills in its wake. The mining tips have therefore disappeared with the mines. They no longer hang like the shadow of death over the Welsh valleys.
But a whole succession of man-made disasters have devastated lives and families since Aberfan: the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster at Zeebrugge; rail disasters at Clapham and Paddington; the Hillsborough 96... to name but a few. 

Cost-cutting and profiteering, with negligence on safety standards by those in power, have been common causes of all these and other human tragedies. 
They've been entirely avoidable - and in most cases the employers, government or police chiefs had been warned of potential disasters long before they happened. Those in power put profit before people, cost-cutting before crowd safety, ignored the warnings - and then lied through their teeth after the death tolls, to hide their culpability. 

In this shameful exercise they've been overwhelmingly aided and abetted by the mainstream media - or at least big sections of it. Usually it's taken sustained, courageous campaigns by devastated families, communities and workers' unions to expose the truth and win justice for the victims. 
In an age where the Tories and profit-addicted employers are desperate to unwind the limited advances on workplace health and safety, we should use Aberfan as a warning of what could happen if they're not resisted and defeated. 
Corporate manslaughter legislation should be extended to make company chief executives open to prosecution, as a deterrent to them cutting corners on safety for the sake of profit or public sector cuts. 

And rather than leave safety measures to unelected, aloof bosses who've been proven to risk life and limb for the company profit-and-loss accounts, we should pursue the demand for workplace safety to be under the control of committees of elected trade union health and safety reps.
The appalling role of Lord Robens and the NCB bosses at Aberfan is a powerful lesson in what public ownership should - and should not - consist of. 
A socialist government should never repeat the costly outrage of obscene overcompensation of private owners. They've had more than enough loot already, so why reward them at the expense of saddling nationalized industries or services with a mountain of debt, as happened with the coal industry in 1947? 

Furthermore, never again should any industry or service that's taken into public ownership be run by unelected, unaccountable, disgustingly overpaid bureaucratic boards of management. Anyone who imagines that such a set-up amounts to socialism should remember two words: Aberfan, and Robens. 
The terrible tale of arrogant neglect, indifference to warnings from working class communities, and subsequent lies and corruption to hide the truth, are more than a compelling case for democratic accountability at every level in any public service or industry. 
Elected boards of management; day-to-day workers' control; elected community representatives alongside workers' elected representatives; boards of management on nothing above skilled workers' wages and subject to immediate recall and replacement - those are some of the core features required for democratic public ownership; to ensure the interests and safety of workers and communities are protected. 

It took the tragedy of Aberfan - and more to the point, the indescribable resilience and spirit of the villagers in their battle for truth and justice - to force governments into improvements on health and safety laws in subsequent years. 
Unfortunately, for as long as our economy is owned by a faceless few whose entire motivation is profit maximization, so too we will have to emulate the spirit of the working class people of Aberfan in defence of the safety, livelihoods and lives of workers and their communities. 
A commitment to winning such a safe and secure future - run by and for people, not profit - is the best monument we can all build to the innocents slaughtered in Aberfan 50 years ago.