Friday, 26 August 2016

AN APPEAL TO SCOTLAND'S 'CORBYNISTAS': join with Scotland's already-existing socialist party

The SSP welcomes the massive boost to public debate around left-wing, anti-austerity, anti-war, socialist ideas that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership challenge and current re-election campaign has triggered. 
We welcome the emergence of those new activists motivated to defend Jeremy from the vitriolic attacks of the capitalists, their media and their treacherous cabal of supporters in Labour's right wing. 

Since our formation in 1998, the SSP has fearlessly defended socialism - whilst Scottish Labour has acted as barely-disguised Tories, abandoning the aims of Keir Hardie and countless other pioneers, slashing council jobs and services, threatening to jail workers who dared to strike against their municipal butchery, and spurning numerous opportunities to extend public ownership or reduce inequality.

Labour v. SSP: the Track Records
The SSP pioneered the battle to abolish NHS prescription charges - only to be voted down by Labour MSPs.

The SSP has campaigned for No Cuts budgets, in defiance of Tory cuts, and frequently led fellow-workers in strike action and communities in protests and sit-ins against Labour councils' closure of schools, community facilities and the slaughter of jobs and services.

The SSP has persistently campaigned for abolition of the Council Tax and for a replacement Scottish Service Tax based on income, which would make over 75% better off, make the rich cough up, and DOUBLE income for local jobs and services.
Scottish  Labour has defended the Council Tax, opposed its replacement - and recently proposed HIGHER taxes on ordinary workers to compensate for Westminster and Holyrood funding cuts.

                                                   Scottish Socialist Voice July 2014

In the Scottish Referendum, Scottish Labour alienated hundreds of thousands of workers and young people by their shameless collaboration with the reviled Tories in Better Together - the Tory-funded, Labour-fronted lie machine that confused enough people to make sure we now suffer years more of ruthless Tory dictatorship from Westminster.
In stark contrast, the SSP championed the aim of an independent socialist Scotland - a different vision entirely from the pro-capitalist aims of the SNP.

Alienated by Labour/Tory Collaboration 
Labour in Scotland will never be forgiven by swathes of working class people for helping the Tories to hold onto Scotland, cursing us with their blitz on benefits, war on workers' rights and slaughter of services and salaries.
That remains the case if Labour continues to deny the Scottish people the right to self-determination - or even a timely second referendum! - which unfortunately not only Kezia Dugdale and the Blairities do, but also Jeremy Corbyn and his most prominent allies in Scotland.
Failure to call for independence for Scotland - but giving it a distinctive socialist content, for an independent SOCIALIST Scotland that stands up for the millions, not the millionaires - is the Achilles heel of Scottish Labour, even if (as we hope) Jeremy is re-elected.

Unite in struggle 
The SSP offers the hand of friendship and solidarity in action to those - in the unions, Momentum, etc - who are fighting in defense of Corbyn.
We appeal to Corbyn supporters to arrange meetings with the SSP to discuss serious battle plans around our common aims and policies - such as the demand for a legally enforced £10 living minimum wage; renationalisation of our railways; a massive plan of public sector house-building; for scrapping Trident.

But we also appeal to the 'Corbynistas' to look beyond Jeremy's re-election, to the harsh choices that loom ahead for Scottish Labour. 

Not the Same Surge in Scotland
The social democratic face presented by the SNP has attracted 80,000 new members. But it's only one face of the pro-capitalist SNP, whose appalling role on CalMac ferries, ScotRail, privatization of Edinburgh hospitals and the business arm of Scottish Water, gives us glimpses of whose side they're really on. 

The SNP is not, and has never claimed to be, a socialist party.
However, for years the SNP has been to the left of Scottish Labour on most issues. That's why there's nothing like the same space, nor the same mass surge of new left activists behind Corbyn in Scotland as has occurred in England. 
For instance, whilst there's been a modest rise in Scottish Labour membership in this second wave - the #KeepCorbyn movement of recent months - the phenomenal surge to half a million members at UK level has left its Scottish branch marooned: Scottish Labour's share of the total British Labour Party membership has plummeted to its lowest ever level in history, below 4%. 

Labour's Capitalist Wing Won't Relent 
Scottish Labour faces an existential crisis that spells prolonged strife, civil war, and subsequent diminished electoral prospects.
The Scottish leadership around Kezia Dugdale and its sole remaining MP have set their face against Corbyn.
Labour's right wing, in Scotland as well as the Parliamentary Labour Party, will not cease to wage civil war against Corbyn and the left ideals he represents. 
They will be backed and boosted in their treacherous sabotage by a capitalist class and media which is terrified at the thought of a left-leaning Prime Minister and the expectations and demands for radical change which that would unleash amongst workers and young people.
These forces of capitalist backwardness have no intention of reversing the transformation of Labour into the reliable agency for the billionaires and bankers - the bastion against socialism - which it was moulded into under Blair and Brown.

Brutal Choices 
So Corbyn supporters face brutal choices, including:
- purge Labour of its capitalist wing (including through deselection of MPs, MSPs and councillors) to begin to construct the embryo of a socialist party, OR
- continue the road of retreat after retreat in a vain attempt to appease the right - as unfortunately Jeremy has tried over the last year.

Welcome Pledges - Unwelcome Retreats
The SSP welcomes the many relatively radical pledges in the #KeepCorbyn campaign, including building 500,000 new council houses over 5 years; rent controls; an end to NHS privatization; universal public childcare; an end to exploitative Zero Hours Contracts; collective bargaining for unions in workplaces over 250, with full rights from day one; "shrinking the gap between incomes"; re-nationalisation of railways. 
Less welcome is the retreat on Jeremy's manifesto of a year ago. For example, dropping immediate free education, abolition of tuition fees, with a living grant in favour of the vague "progressive restoration of free education";  and abandonment of public ownership of the energy giants. That's a worrying retreat in the face of right-wing vitriol.  

Challenging Capitalism 
Historic experiences prove that a strong, determined socialist party, rooted in the working class and undiluted socialist principles, is necessary to challenge and remove the dictatorship of capital - whose fangs have been bared at even the modest policies of Jeremy Corbyn. 
The past year's Niagara of bullying abuse and vilification is nothing compared to what a Corbyn-led Labour government would face - with strikes of investment amongst the capitalists' weapons of choice, as Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s experienced. 

So dilution of policy pledges - in a vain attempt to appease the Blairites and their media chorus-line - is an ominous warning that unless a more resolute, unbending socialist leadership is forged, working people's hopes would be once more dashed on the rocks of retreat under enemy fire. 

For an Independent Socialist Scotland 
The most critical choice of all confronting the 'Corbynistas' is:
- continue to alienate huge swathes of the Scottish people by refusing to support a timely second referendum, let alone call for Scottish self-government (as Jeremy and his leading backers still insist on opposing), OR
- join with the SSP in a massive campaign for an independent socialist Scotland, as part of an alliance of socialist democracies across Europe. Thereby not only uphold democratic and socialist principles, but also win over radicalized workers and youth to the socialist banner, instead of them being fooled by the fake radicalism of the SNP leadership.

Scottish Labour a Million Miles from being Socialist 
At the heart of the problem facing those mobilized by the laudable, left-wing ideas expounded by Jeremy is this: Scottish Labour as it exists is a million miles removed from being a socialist party.
To begin to transform it into one would require naked civil war in the party, thereby reducing its chances of election, prolonging the Tory agony.

Why devote time and talent to what may well be a fruitless attempt to oust Labour's pro-capitalist right wing, or spend years trying to fashion genuine socialist policies in a Labour party which in any case, historically, has never used its positions in government to pursue comprehensive socialist measures?
Labour's history is littered with unfulfilled promises, anti-working class measures - and expulsions of socialists for being socialists, including many of us now in the leadership of the SSP!

Join With the SSP - Join the SSP 
Our appeal to those defending Jeremy's reelection is two-fold:
- combine with Scotland's existing socialist party, the SSP, in joint campaigns on immediate priority issues such as a £10 minimum now; democratic public ownership of rail and transport; opposition to all cuts at council or national level; and for an independent socialist Scotland, AND
- join Scotland's already existing socialist party, the SSP, with already existing socialist policies (which you can also influence and shape at our annual conferences), and an annually elected socialist leadership.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

CLOSE THE OBSCENE GAP: for a £10 minimum and a maximum wage

The gaping chasm between the incomes of millions of workers and handfuls of millionaire company chief executives is opening up ever wider, like the blades of a giant pair of scissors.

The case I expounded in my book, Break the Chains, for an immediate national minimum wage of £10-an-hour for all workers - regardless of age - and a maximum wage initially based on an overly generous 10:1 differential with the minimum (i.e. £100-an-hour maximum) screams out from every page of every recent report on workers' wages and bosses' incomes. 

The top dogs of the FTSE 100 biggest companies have just had yet another 10% pay rise - and that's before they rake in untold bonuses, shares portfolios, and bottomless pension pots. Since the 2010 recession, these capitalist overlords have had their salaries increase by a third! They now wallow like pigs in the proverbial, on average incomes of £5.5million!

Back on Planet Earth!
Meantime in the same country, but on a different planet, UK workers' wages have plunged by 10.4% in the same five years since the 2010 recession. As the Bank of England expressed it, most families have suffered "a lost decade of income". Mass unemployment has been replaced by mass poverty pay.

Again, as I spelt out in Break the Chains:
"Poverty pay impoverishes not only its direct victims - the growing horde of workers denied access to society on a par with their neighbours and contemporaries - but also impoverishes the whole of society. The lack of spending power that low wages curses affected families with, in turn depresses the wider economy."

That's one of the reasons even the Tories - those privileged mouthpieces for the moneyed class of parasites - felt obliged to superficially increase wages in April, through their obscenely mis-named £7.20 National Living Wage. 
Of course they also sought to divide workers, by excluding the under-25s, who are increasingly hired in preference to 'older', more expensive workers in the likes of retail and hospitality. 
And the other factor that drove the obnoxious George Osborne to do this was the fear of his class at a pay revolt, as workers become increasingly infuriated at the obscene contrast between their grinding poverty and capitalist chiefs' shameless opulence. 

Capitalism has no Solutions 
Poverty pay wrecks lives. It wrecks the economy. It shreds social solidarity. And its accompanying inequality demotivates millions of workers who observe company bosses on 183 times as much as 'their' workers' average wage. 
But that's where the lunacy of capitalism prevents a solution that would keep the rich in the wealth they're accustomed to, whilst paying the wealth-creating working class decent wages that boosts spending power. 
It's alright for Theresa May - or Cameron before her - to spout platitudes about "the irrational, unhealthy and growing gap", but what will they do about it? They promised to 'aim' at the National Living Wage (only for those past their 25th) reaching £9 by 2020. That's pathetic, totally inadequate here and now, let alone four years hence. But it's also provoked uproar amongst business sections, who scream blue murder about "having to make difficult choices". 
Employers in hospitality, the care sector and nurseries recently joined with the Federation of Small Businesses, Association of Convenience Stores and National Farmers Union in a letter to the new Tory Business Minister demanding he abandon such giddy extravagance as £9-an-hour for the over-25s in 2020.

Profit versus Pay
So here's the rub: it's to the advantage of the capitalist class as a whole to have reasonably paid workers who can therefore spend more and thereby boost overall profits for the ruling capitalist class. But in the jungle warfare of capitalism as a system, with each profiteering outfit vying with its competitors, every penny pay increase is a penny lost to their individual company profits. 

As I put it in the book
"David Cameron telling a room of capitalist bosses that 'Britain needs a pay rise' is like Dracula appealing to a conference of vampires for volunteers to donate blood. These bloodsuckers have moved mountains for the past 30-40 years to slash the real wages of workers, boosting their profits by driving down the share of wealth that goes to wages."

Organise For £10 Now and a Maximum Wage 
We clearly can't rely on the benevolence - nor even the naked self-interest - of either the capitalist employers or their political representatives to tackle poverty pay nor the opening scissors of inequality. That requires an entirely different approach: workers becoming conscious of how they're exploited by this system, confident of their own power to challenge that set-up when organised.
And a struggle for the likes of a guaranteed minimum wage of £10 now, in 2016 - alongside a legally enforced £100-an-hour maximum income - as the first, modest steps towards the eradication of poverty, inequality and all the social ills they create.  

Monday, 1 August 2016


After 13 days of rock-solid strike action, Scotrail guards/conductors continue to display tremendous courage and self-sacrifice in defence of public safety. These RMT union members are increasingly winning public support for their stance, as they suffer the loss of wages in opposition to the profit-driven Abellio bosses' reckless gamble with passenger safety, trying to impose Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains across the Central Belt and beyond. But behind a smokescreen of lies from the Abellio Scotrail spin machine - plus a lashing out with legal threats to the RMT - there are sure signs that these arrogant bosses are beginning to retreat, with a new proposal emerging from talks with both the RMT and drivers' union Aslef, literally as we post this article. Details of Abellio's offer are still hazy, but both unions would be wise to adopt the motto 'keep chasing them, they're on the run'. 

This Strike is About Safety 
The Scotrail guards' strike is about safety, not salaries. It's about keeping the safety-critical guards on the train, instead of dumping added responsibilities on the drivers. It's about retaining the highly-trained guards instead of - at best - replacing them with lesser-trained Ticket Examiners, whose overwhelming role is revenue collection, not safety; in reality, with no other staff on many trains except the driver. 

Scotrail has pumped out a stream of lies, claiming they have no intention of making trains Driver Only Operated (DOO) during Abellio's franchise. But that's precisely the aim that's embedded in the franchise issued to them by the SNP government in October 2014. DOO is what they proposed in a letter to all staff in March. Even more explicitly, that's the aim spelt out in the accidentally leaked documents from Abellio bosses last month, which they only then apologized for - with utterly unbelievable excuses that they were 'purely discussion documents' - after Aslef threatened to ballot Scotrail drivers for action, thereby opening up a second front.

It's Not About Buttons! 
Abellio bosses want to extend DOO trains on the backs of the new fleet of Hitachi electrified trains (EMUs) as a way of cutting costs and boosting their profits even further. They say it's to speed up train dispatches from stations by 15 seconds - but at what cost to safety? That's where their lie machine seeks to smother the safety-critical role of guards from public view, and insult these skilled workers with one-liners about the RMT "indulging in unnecessary strikes over who presses a button". Who in their right minds would sacrifice three weeks' pay (so far) over who presses a button?! 

The Safety-Critical Role of Guards 
The guards are intensively and regularly trained in at least 35 different skills that can make the difference between life and death, and certainly guarantees a level of safety and security otherwise missing for the rising number of passengers. Their skills include track safety; risks with electrified lines; dealing with fires, suspicious packages, and on-train incidents; dealing with train accidents and evacuations; signaling systems and regulations; station duties; safe train dispatches - as well as a host of customer services for disabled passengers, elderly people, on-train illnesses, and those most vulnerable to harassment and even assault by the anti-social minority, especially later at night. 
The guards' role includes ensuring the train is correctly positioned at the platform, avoiding passengers spilling out onto the track if it pulls up short (as happens). They get off the train to ensure safety at the 'Platform Train Interface' - looking out for passengers falling, getting trapped in doors, getting stuck between the train and platform, alert to late runners especially - as well as helping disabled or frail passengers on and off. They only close the doors and signal the driver to drive off after all these safety checks. 

In the case of accidents, where the driver is incapacitated or even killed, the guards are trained to take over communication with signal staff and carry out a range of procedures to prevent a multiple pile-up of trains, as well as safe evacuation procedures. 
In contrast, Ticket Examiners primarily sell and check tickets, with only very limited customer services duties. And they are substantially lower paid than conductors/guards - which is why dilution or downright abolition of the guards' role is attractive to money-grabbing Abellio bosses - and indeed the Westminster Tory government, who commissioned the 2011 McNulty Report, which pushed for imposition of DOO trains across the UK.

Literally Driver Only! 
Abellio Scotrail bosses have fired off a double-barreled lie with their protestations that they will 'always schedule a second member of staff on all trains'. What they don't mention is that they mean Ticket Examiners, instead of guards. What they desperately try to hide is the fact that on already-existing DOO trains, at least 20% run without even a Ticket Examiner on board; literally driver only! For instance, a driver I know has had an average of two trains a day with no TE in the past fortnight. At least 300 DOO trains per fortnight in recent months have run with only the driver on board. That's especially the pattern at night - precisely when anti-social behaviour and the dangers at unstaffed stations are most prevalent. 
Understaffing means Ticket Examiners are frequently asked to change from a back shift to morning, when the highest ticket revenue is available, leaving drivers to be the sole staff member on later trains. An added pressure towards that trend is that safety monitoring through 'SQUIRES' is effectively only a 9 to 5 operation, leaving later trains to carry on regardless of safety risks. 

Rising Risks - Demand Guards on ALL trains
Two other devastating factors underline the critical importance of keeping the guards on our trains - and indeed of not only defending the jobs and roles of the existing 600 guards, but of demanding the SNP government stand up for safety by re-introducing guards on ALL Scotrail trains. 
Even the Rail Standards and Safety Board - funded by the train companies! - has newly reported a rise in assaults on platforms and trains, and a devastating 48% rise in accidents at the Platform Train Interface - the likes of 'grab and drag', falls onto the track, etc. 
And the Scottish government Transport Secretary Humza Yousaf recently admitted an astonishing 70% of Scotland's stations - 214 out of 346 - are entirely unstaffed! 

It's Time to go Dutch! 
Abellio bosses are trying to impose DOO trains despite the proven risks to safety because their prime aim is profit maximization. And their attempts to hoodwink the public morph into obnoxious hypocrisy when we consider who owns Abellio, and what their parent company practices regarding train conductors.
Abellio was awarded the franchise by the SNP government in October 2014 - in itself a disgraceful decision, when they could have taken Scotrail into public ownership, as favored by a sweeping majority of the Scottish people. So the Scottish government spurned the opportunity for Scottish state ownership in favour of Dutch state ownership; Abellio is part of the Dutch state-owned railway company, Nederlandse Spoorwegen. The latter reported "revenue from passenger transport increased by £644.8million (in 2015) primarily due to the start of the Scotrail franchise". 
And the profits siphoned off Scotrail workers and passengers have then contributed to their policy of having not just one, but TWO guards on most Dutch trains!! 

Abellio Bosses' Methods Stink 
Abellio's methods, in pursuit of profit, stink. For months they've planned to impose DOO across the Central Belt, bypassing the unions by use of Yammer, social media and letters to workers' home addresses. Never have they consulted with the recognized unions on their proposals. They conscripted an army of strikebreaking scabs, mostly managers, to try and break the back of the RMT. They sought to enlist a new batch from Merseyrail. They tried to divide and conquer workers by offering 'guarantees' to a minority of the guards on High Speed Trains and diesels - whilst refusing to even discuss their DOO plans with the RMT or Aslef. They rarely even agreed to talks, including ones brokered by ACAS, and consistently failed to make any meaningful proposals when they did turn up. 

Abellio in Retreat 
They hoped they could browbeat workers into submission. But they reckoned without the courage and tenacity of RMT strikers, and the growing opposition of drivers in Aslef to DOO. 
So now Abellio has switched to a combination of repression and concession to try and break the opposition they encounter. They've just announced legal action against the RMT for 'inducing an overtime ban'. This accusation is utter rubbish; it treats workers as cattle with no minds of their own. But it's meant to scare the unions into submission. 

And now they have floated a new proposal that allegedly guarantees a guard on every one of the new trains (EMUs), but would give drivers control over the train doors. That's a very significant retreat compared to their stance over recent months. 
But it still begs several questions, still unanswered at least as we post this blog: Will the guard still deal with platform and train dispatches safety? If so, why not also control of the doors? What if guards go onto the platform but the driver doesn't see them and moves off? Why add to the burdens of responsibility already faced by drivers? What guarantee is there for the full duration of the Abellio franchise, and indeed after it finishes? What's to stop Abellio or their successors from phasing out guards in favour of cheaper labour - Ticket Examiners - if the roles they play are blurred, with dilution of the safety roles of the guards? 

How Concessions Won
The reality is this concession has been wrung out of Abellio by the courageous, solid strike action of RMT members, the growing demand from Aslef branches for a strike ballot against DOO, and events which continued strikes will hugely impact on. Glasgow's Queen Street station is opening earlier than planned after a major overhaul, and additional services for the Edinburgh Fringe are planned, tapping into the holiday season, including the school holidays in England.
It's the first offer Abellio has made to the unions! Which, depending on details, doesn't necessarily mean the unions should accept, as it shows bosses in retreat.

SSP Acts in Solidarity 
SSP members and supporters have played an important part in stepping up the pressure on Abellio - and not just through building public support for the strikers, important as that is. They were the first to demand and organise emergency branch meetings of Aslef members, which have been attended by about a third of the members - a tremendous turnout considering the number of drivers on shift at the time of meetings - where Motions demanding a strike ballot have been unanimously passed, as well as donations to the RMT strike fund. 
It's no accident that subsequent to these meetings, and public announcement of their decisions, Abellio immediately agreed to talks with Aslef on DOO - after months of refusing to - and then met with the RMT and floated their new proposal. They're frightened of united action by the two unions - which is precisely why the SSP has persistently argued for Aslef to join with the RMT in action for the policy they jointly declared as recently as 27 November 2015:

"We are completely opposed to Driver Only Operation and its forms, including Driver Controlled Operation (DCO) and Driver Door Operation (DDO), throughout the network. We firmly believe this method of operation is less safe for passengers and the workforce and our unions will not agree to the extension of DOO or DCO/DDO under any circumstances. 
The responsibility of the driver of the train is to drive, which requires100% focus. It is less safe for both the driver and passengers if the driver is distracted by additional duties such as protecting the platform train interface. The guard/conductor should retain responsibility for door operation."

You Can Help Win
Anyone reading this can add their weight to the strikers' courageous battle for public safety. Organise workplace collections and union donations to the RMT strike fund. Visit your nearest picket line. Write letters in support to local media. Send solidarity messages to 
Bombard your local MSPs and the Scottish government with demands to 'Keep the Guards'. 
The stance of the SNP government on this issue shows up their leadership as pro-big business, not friends of the unions as they'd like us believe. They awarded Abellio a franchise that aims to extend DOO. They've failed to condemn Abellio's union-bashing, safety-slashing mission. Nicola Sturgeon last month trotted out the company line that this was all about 'who presses a button'. 

SNP Transport Secretary Humza Yousaf tweeted, on 23 July, "Strikes should be suspended and passengers put first while dialogue ongoing". What dialogue?! Abellio had at that stage refused any meaningful negotiations. Far from suspending strikes, it was only after sustained RMT strikes and Aslef branch votes for action that they've even started talking to the unions about DOO. 
The SNP government should be pounded with demands to fine Abellio for provoking disruption to services, strip them of the franchise, and to take Scotrail into public ownership - with a guard on every train.

It's time to take sides! The SSP stands squarely with the Scotrail strikers for safety - join us.