Tuesday, 4 September 2018

BUILD ACTION TO END POVERTY PAY & INSECURITY




The British TUC meets in Manchester for its annual congress, 150 years after its founding meeting in the Mechanics Institute of the same city. Much has changed in life since 1868; but much has remained the same, with the fundamentals of class division and capitalist exploitation.


The TUC is potentially a very powerful force for change, but only if it had a leadership determined to challenge the employers and governments in pursuit of the many progressive polices agreed by its annual congress - by mobilizing the 6.3 million workers  organised in the 48 trade unions affiliated to the TUC.  

Reforms and Betrayals 


The trade union movement has been instrumental in winning many vital reforms in living conditions for millions of workers and their families: an end to systematic child labour; improved health and safety; paid holidays; weekends off for some workers; equal pay and minimum wage legislation, etc. 

But every reform won has required mighty struggles. Struggles against the resistance of capitalist employers and their hired governments, but also within the unions, against conservative right wingers and overpaid bureaucrats who've quivered and capitulated at the thought of going into battle with the employers. 

Many momentous events in history have proved the baleful role of the right wing compromisers, and the urgent need for fighting socialist leaderships in the unions, accountable to the members, engaged in mobilising those same members in action for change. 
The TUC's betrayal of the 1926 General Strike; their desertion of the heroic miners' struggle of 1984/5; their exclusion of the RMT from talks with Southern Rail bosses last year in the midst of a ferocious RMT members' strike against Driver Only trains; their failure to lift a finger in pursuit of "a £10 minimum wage for all workers" for the four years since it was passed - unanimously - at the 2014 TUC congress... these are just some harsh reminders of the need to transform the potentially mighty trade union movement into an instrument for change, with a democratic, fighting, socialist leadership at every level. 

Great Jobs Agenda 


A major theme of the 2018 TUC congress is their 'Great Jobs Agenda'. Conference documents carry devastating evidence of the millions suffering jobs that are anything but 'great'. 

Alongside many other policy Motions for investment in skills, sustainable 'green' manufacturing, and public services, one from my own union - Usdaw - calls for a pioneering new policy to replace the rampant job insecurity of zero-hours, short-hours and fixed-term contracts. 
Usdaw's Motion is based on the brand new policy I successfully moved at the union's annual conference in April, on behalf of Glasgow no.1 branch, calling for a ban on all zero-hours contracts, to be replaced by a legally guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for every worker who wants one, in tandem with an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage. 

Poverty Pay and Under-Employment 


We're subjected to the hollow Tory and big business boasts of record levels of employment. In reality, low pay, insecure jobs and mass underemployment have side-lined mass unemployment as the biggest sources of punishing poverty for millions in this rich land. 

Wages have been crushed whilst prices rocket; by 2025 the average worker will have lost out on £18,500 in real earnings. (TUC Research). 

Ten years after the financial mayhem triggered by the bankers' greed, real wages are today worth £24-a-week less than in 2008. All the forecasts agree wages won't be restored to 2008 levels - which weren't exactly luxury living! - until after 2025; the longest period of wage decline since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago. 

The government's own DWP admit there are 300,000 more in poverty now than a year ago - and 55% of those are in working families. 


Child Poverty Rising 


The sins of the capitalist profiteers have been visited upon the children! 

Over 3.1 million kids with working parents are below the breadline, here and now in 2018, compared with 2.1 million in the year 2000. And an astonishing two-thirds of all the children living in poverty have one or two parents working. 

Public sector cuts and crucifixion of in-work benefits have been major causes of this catastrophe. But underlying it all is the merciless robbery of wages by the capitalist employers over recent decades, aided by successive Tory AND Labour governments, with anti-union laws their weapon of choice in boosting profits at the expense of wages and public services. 

Nearly one in every eight workers (11.9%) is in some form of insecure job: on zero-hours contracts, agency, casual, seasonal, bogus self-employed, and pitifully short-hours contracts. For instance, all the giant supermarkets offer a minimum weekly contract of a mere 8 hours. 

A full one million part-time workers want a full-time job but can't get one, as employers escalate use of micro-jobs to put workers at their beck and call, dragged in at short notice to do extra hours to match 'business needs', then cast back onto miserably small contract hours when the bosses want to cut their wage bill. No wonder stress is hitting the roof in workplaces; millions have no control over their daily working lives, and just as little control over their income. 





For a 16-Hour Minimum Working Week 


That's a taste of the reasons it's critically important the Usdaw policy Motion - for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all workers who want it - is passed at TUC congress. And not just agreed and then stashed away in a filing cabinet (or its digital equivalent!), but made the active property of every union member in workplaces across the country, with an action plan to fight for it immediately.

This one measure, twinned with an immediate £10 minimum wage for all workers, rising with inflation, would begin to transform the lives of millions - children included. Alongside demands for investment in skills and learning (currently, scandalously, at only half the level of the EU average!); a million 'green' jobs; vast expansion of public sector housing and transport... such a package of radical measures, seriously fought for by the trade union movement, could bring about genuinely 'great jobs'. 

As could a struggle for use of digitalization and robotics to slash the working week without a penny loss of pay - as opposed to the dystopian nightmare of new technology condemning millions of workers to unemployment and destitution. It's a question of who owns and controls the new technologies, as with the wider economy. 

How Can We Win? 


Many workers have already asked me 'How can we get the TUC to act on good policies, like a £10 minimum wage and guaranteed minimum 16-hour week?'

There was nothing pre-ordained about committing the TUC to a £10 minimum wage nor Usdaw to the new policy of a 16-hour minimum working week; they had to be organised and argued for, through union structures, from branch level upwards. That's a start. 

Assuming the TUC, representing 6.3 million trade union members, adopts this policy, trade union activists and socialists have a massive role to play in getting action to implement such life-improving reforms. 

We will need to argue for and organise meetings of union members in branches and workplaces to discuss and popularise the arguments for £10-an-hour and a guaranteed 16-hour week as immediate minimum employment standards - to make union polices the property of thousands of workers. 

That's the best way to light bonfires beneath the backsides of the TUC and national union leaderships, demanding action and resources of them. 

Leaflets and literature arguing these policies should be demanded of the TUC and national unions, to spread the word, involve members on the streets as well as in workplaces, through days of campaign activities. 

An aware union membership is indispensable when union negotiators put these demands to employers - as they should and must, if policies are to mean anything. 

Strike, if Necessary 


Ultimately, unions need to prepare their membership for the possibility of needing to use industrial action to win such reforms. 

It's to their eternal credit that the Bakers' union (BFAWU) have already recruited, organized, balloted and led McDonald's workers out on strike 'for £10 and a union', and are now doing the same with Wetherspoons staff. These are also sectors rotten-ripe for the demand for a 16-hour minimum for all workers who want it. 

Other unions need to implement TUC policies with the same determination. 

Pound the Politicians 


We also have other pressure points that should be pounded with these demands by the unions, in particular local government and the devolved Scottish government. 

In the policy passed unanimously at Usdaw conference, those points are specified, calling for lobbying all these levels of government, demanding they introduce the £10 and 16 hour minimums for all their directly and indirectly employed staff... which amounts to a massive 500,000 workers in Scotland! 

Socialists and trade unionists need to bombard councillors and MSPs - regardless of their party label - with demands that in the forthcoming budget-making process for 2019/20, they set both a £10 minimum wage and guaranteed 16-hour week into No Cuts budgets, and then mobilize workforces and communities in struggle for the funding off Holyrood and Westminster to implement these reforms. 

Many who've joined the SNP and Scottish Labour proclaim themselves socialists. Now is the time for them to make demands on their own councillors and MSPs to stop implementing Tory austerity and start standing up for the working class with concrete, radical reforms like £10 and 16 hours minimum. 

The STUC should take the bold step of organising protest demos demanding this of MSPs and councillors. 




Socialists Fight On! 


The potential power of unified trade union action has all-too-rarely been applied. The crushing poverty and insecurity of millions of workers and their families cries out for such action. 

The SSP will continue to vigorously campaign on these policies, both within our own workplaces and unions, on the streets and in colleges. We appeal to others to join us in that crusade. The combined forces of the trade unions and socialist policies are a force that could change the lives of masses of people. Join that struggle! 





Sunday, 2 September 2018

SPEECH FOR A GUARANTEED MINIMUM 16-HOUR WEEK


As TUC Congress looms...
SPEECH ADVOCATING GUARANTEED MINIMUM 16-HOUR WEEK


The annual congress of the British TUC starts on 9th September, where my own union - Usdaw - will propose not only a £10 minimum wage, but also the pioneering demand for a legally guaranteed minimum contract of 16-hours a week for all workers who want it - instead of the curse of zero hours contracts and rampant under-employment through short hours contracts.
As background - and as information to use in your own union to lobby support for this policy at the TUC - here's (below) the text of the Policy Proposition and the union's official verbatim report of the speech I made at April's Usdaw annual conference, where I proposed this brand new policy of a minimum 16-hour week, except where a worker and his/her union rep negotiates fewer hours. 

I will post a proper article on the TUC and this key issue soon.
Meantime, please help spread the case amongst workers and their unions for a radical alternative to low-paid, insecure jobs.

TEXT OF MY SPEECH AT USDAW Annual Delegate Meeting, April 2018...











Wednesday, 29 August 2018

WE DESERVE BETTER say people in N Ireland


The Portadown #wedeservebetter Rally 

Thousands turned out to protest rallies in 16 towns and cities in N Ireland yesterday, under the banner #wedeservebetter. They crowded into town centres; lined round lough-sides; even rallied on the beaches!

People from both communities combined in anger and frustration towards the elected but absentee politicians who have continued to draw their MLAs’ salaries but failed to form a government for 589 days, and counting! The rallies were called on 28th August because that’s when N Ireland set a new world record for the length of time without a government – outstripping even Belgium!

The events were initiated by Dylan Quinn of Enniskillen, who captured the mood of a growing swathe of working class people – DUP and Sinn Fein voters alike. 
In my frequent visits to family in my native Fermanagh over recent years, I’ve witnessed the mounting rage at the MLAs from the two dominant parties – DUP and SF – who fail to reach compromises to form an Executive. People are increasingly furious at the failure of MLAs - whose combined salaries exceeded £9m in the 589 days of stalemate – to take any positive action on the horrendous NHS crisis; marriage equality; abortion rights; pay cuts for workers; or the looming upheaval of Brexit. 

NHS CRISIS - BUT £9M IN ABSENTEE MLAs SALARIES!

An illustration of the issues working class communities cry out for solutions to is the attacks on GP practices. Across the North the number of GP practices has fallen from 365 a few years ago to 336 now, which means fewer GPs per head of population than in the 1950s. But there’s much worse to come; government-initiated plans will slash this to an unbelievable 17 GP practices across the whole of N Ireland – with the monstrous consequence for access to treatment.

And no wonder Fermanagh was the birthplace of this #wedeservebetter protest: the planned ‘reforms’ in the NHS threaten to slash the number of GP practices in the county from 18 to 4 or 5 over the next two years – which is why the BMA describes this as the area of worst crisis in the whole of the UK. I know from first-hand family experience the terrible effect this has on the sick and elderly, in tandem with hospital cuts. 

Some of the crowd in Enniskillen 

Those who vented their anger at the politicians yesterday rightly linked the squandering of public funds on salaries for absentee MLAs with the need for investment in public services – for instance in speeches, and with home-made placards declaring “Get Back to Work”, “No Work, No Pay”, and “Take Back the £9m and Give it to the NHS”.

But the most nauseating spectacle was some of the very same politicians uttering how much they understand the protesters’ feelings and how ready they are to listen. Here lies the root problem; over two-thirds of votes cast in the last Assembly elections went to the DUP and Sinn Fein, each of whom relied on a brutal sectarian headcount to hold onto and even increase their votes – after previous years of decline in voters prepared to turn out for them. 


These two parties have collaborated – during several years of power-sharing government -  in carrying out austerity cuts that devastate both communities; handed back powers to slash welfare benefits to the Westminster Tories; agreed on a monumental handout to big business in the form of cutting Corporation Tax to the 12% enjoyed by the capitalists in the South of Ireland; and actively practised (or at best, turned a blind eye to) the rampant corruption of the ‘Cash for Ash’ scam, the Renewable Heating Initiative... investigation into which is still ongoing.

REJECT THE ORANGE AND GREEN DINOSUARS!

The unpleasant truth facing the decent people on the #wedeservebetter rallies is that asking these sectarian-based Orange and Green politicians to ‘get back to work’ is like asking an arsonist to get his act together, gather up supplies of petrol and matches and stop slacking in his fire-raising crimes!

They can’t be trusted to defend the NHS, GP services, education, marriage equality legislation, abortion rights for women, or an end to austerity and growing inequality. They are the political architects of all that is rotten about the society both Catholic and Protestant working class communities suffer under. They need to be replaced, not cajoled into ‘power-sharing’.

The unity and anger on display on the #wedeservebetter protests needs to be built into a grassroots struggle for united working-class action on the issues and united working-class political representation. In short, for working-class unity and socialism, to harness the desire for equality, fairness and an end to tribal divisions that I’ve especially witnessed amongst younger people. 

Yesterday’s protests were heart-warming in their display of unity and desire for change; I hope it can be part of a start to dump the dinosaurs who exploit and whip up sectarian divisions to hold onto their power and salaries. 

[for more background, have a read of my March 2017 blog here]



Friday, 10 August 2018

WELCOME NEW USDAW CAMPAIGN FOR MINIMUM EMPLOYMENT GUARANTEES





In a major new breakthrough for millions of workers suffering poverty pay and insecure jobs, the country's fifth-biggest union, Usdaw, has launched a campaign for a £10 minimum wage, a guaranteed 16-hour minimum contract for all who want one, and contracts that reflect actual hours worked. 

And as agreed at Usdaw's annual conference in April, these policies are being taken to the September TUC congress, as a policy Motion, to seek the support of the entire trade union movement. 

Low pay is condemning a huge swathe of the population to stress, deprivation and dependency on food banks. 

Work is no longer a route out of poverty; 52% of the Scots officially living below the poverty line are actually in a job, working to remain poor. 

We have the grotesque spectacle of fast food workers and supermarket staff turning to food banks for emergency food supplies in 21st Century, rich, arable Scotland. 

Workers' wages have suffered the worst real stagnation and fall since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago! 

And with a national minimum wage that peaks at £7.83-an-hour for those aged over 25, and slumps to £3.70 for apprentices, decent pay is not about to be gifted to us any time soon.

It takes an organised fight to win a decent minimum wage - with the abolition of the lower youth rates too. 

Demand £10 Now! 


£10-an-hour is an extremely modest demand. It's not even two-thirds of the median wage of male workers - the policy of the SSP since our foundation, 20 years ago. 
But compared to the pathetic wages on offer today, £10 would be a mighty step forward. 

And the SSP has always argued for the full rate at 16, recognizing younger people don't enjoy discounts on food, rent or clothing! 

So the campaign launched by Usdaw - the 440,000-strong main union in retail, with members also in food production, transport and distribution - for £10 minimum for all at 18 is a very welcome step. Especially after four years of holding that policy but doing nothing about it until now. 

The same applies to the TUC as a whole; it unanimously voted for "£10 minimum wage for all workers" a full four years ago, in September 2014, but hasn't lifted a finger to fight for it since. 
The time for serious action by the unions is long overdue, so Usdaw's campaign plan is very welcome. 

Demand Guaranteed Minimum 16-Hour Contracts 


Casualised, insecure work - in its modern forms - has been around since at least the 1970s. 
Zero hours contracts, the very pinnacle of this monstrously insecure employment, have existed in the UK since the 1980s. 
But a plague of job insecurity has exploded in more recent years, masked by government boasts of 'record levels of employment'. And low pay goes hand-in-hand with insecure contracts. 

TUC research suggests a full one out of every ten workers is in an insecure job. Latest figures on zero-hours contracts range from 1.4 million to 1.8 million. And much less publicized, but at least as pernicious, are short hour contracts - typically 8, 10 or 12 hours a week. These are absolutely rampant in retail. Increasingly so, as full-time jobs become an endangered species. 

These zero and short hours contracts put millions of workers at the beck and call of their employers; dragged in for far more hours than their contract when it's busy, slashed back to contract hours when it suits the bosses' needs. 

It blights workers and their families with totally insecure incomes, with all the attendant stress and suffering. 

It blocks workers on low guaranteed hours from loans and mortgages; it's their contract hours that count, not actual hours worked. 

Part-time work also imposes lower average hourly rates of pay than those for full-time jobs.

And it even denies access to wage top-ups for many; a couple seeking Working Tax Credit, for instance, must have one person on at least 16 hours.




Break the Chains 


Those are precisely some of the reasons I first came up with the idea of a minimum working week - a guaranteed 16-hour minimum contract - for all workers who want it, in Break the Chains, published in December 2015. 

In turn, this policy was agreed at the 2016 SSP conference. 

And in a major, pioneering breakthrough for the mass organizations of the working class, the April 2018 Usdaw national conference voted for this new policy, unanimously, after I'd proposed it on behalf of my Glasgow G111 Usdaw branch. 

After being recently elected to Usdaw's Executive Council, I've combined with others to insist on a plan of campaigning action on this agreed, pioneering policy - which is now being implemented. 

Join the Struggle! 


Workers and trade unions throughout Scotland and the UK should welcome and support these demands for a minimum £10-an-hour and guaranteed 16-hour minimum contract for all who want it - with the only exception being where a worker, accompanied by their union rep, asks for less than a 16-hour contract. 

Usdaw is committed to a public launch at the September TUC, plus putting these demands into all negotiations with employers, and lobbying all levels of government and political parties.

The SSP stands enthusiastically alongside Usdaw and all other trade unions prepared to fight for these life-changing demands. We appeal to other workers to join in campaign activities, to bludgeon the employers, the Scottish government and local authorities into conceding these minimum standards of employment. 


The demands for £10now and a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all workers who want it are both modest and also a revolutionary change compared to the low-paid, casualised wage slavery that curses society today. 
Join the struggle! 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

BUILD WORKERS' UNIONS: demand £10 now and 16-plus hours




"Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated", quipped American novelist and humourist Mark Twain, when a New York reporter conveyed the fact his obituary had been published back in the US while he was on a speaking tour in London. 

A similar reply should have been issued by the leadership of the trade union movement this month, as Doomsday reports on the state of the unions and workers' struggles were published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the formation of the British TUC, at the Manchester Mechanics Institute in 1868. 

Capitalist media outlets - including the allegedly liberal Guardian - gleefully reported government statistics of 2017 witnessing the lowest number of strikes since records began In 1891; a mere 79, involving just 33,000 workers in a total of 276,000 days of strike action.

Parallel government figures reported 6.2 million union members in the UK, which - due to the overall rise in numbers at work - means a marginal dip in the percentage of workers unionized, down to 23.2%.

Wake Up Call

Certainly, these cold statistics should act as a loud, screeching alarm-call to union leaders and activists. Especially so the startling fact that the average union member grows older, as less than 5% of workers aged 16-24 are union members.
But such data only give us a superficial glimpse of workplace realities. 

The low strike figures heavily disguise the mounting anger, bitterness and discontent of workers at employers' exploitation. 
The reign of fear, often terror, imposed by senior managers on behalf of the owners might cow many workers for a period but is also storing up the combustible materials for future outbreaks of struggle, on pay, conditions, loss of hours and jobs, against repressive, petty measures at work. 

The back-breaking and mind-breaking workload, as bosses across every sector demand more output from fewer workers, has led to an epidemic of stress at work, camouflaged by reductions in sick absences as the same workers fear for their jobs and face cruel disciplinary sanctions for being off work. 

Fury is gathering on 'the shop floor' at the gaping chasm between the pay and perks of top management and Chief Executives compared to the Ice Age pay freeze for workers, both in the public and private sectors, with the deepest and longest real wage cuts since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago. 

Anyone in any workplace will testify to these growing resentments. Anyone campaigning on the streets for an end to poverty pay, zero hours contracts and job insecurity will confirm the growing desire by people to vent their anger at the ruthless profiteering, even if initially only by signing a petition.


Workers Always Need Unions 

Workers - who constitute a growing, overwhelming majority of the Scottish and UK populations - need the collective defence of unions now more than even their parents or grandparents did. 
That will always be the case, for as long as the rapacious system of capitalism exists - the system which systematically robs workers of their unpaid labour as the source of private profit for a tiny handful. 
The right to collectively withdraw our labour - to strike - is one of the core weapons workers ultimately possess, to stop cuts to jobs, wages, conditions and human dignity at work.
And indeed, even in a future socialist society, we will need independent workers' unions to help democratically plan and organise production for society's real needs, and to help check and prevent the development of government excesses and state bureaucracy.

Given the grotesque gap between the rich and the rest of us is growing - with a million Scots below the poverty line, including over half a million workers, whilst 'our' eleven billionaires have combined wealth of over £16,200million - the urgent need for organised workers' unions cries out more loudly than ever.


Living Example

So why are the unions not growing? And what do we need to do about it? 

On a microcosmic level, union membership in my own 400-plus workplace has grown from 15% in 2010 to 75% now, because we've stood up for members on day-to-day issues; won some reforms, such as minimum 4-hour shifts and 16-hour contracts; resisted detrimental changes, even when we've not always won; and broadcast our aim of policies such as an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage. 
Significantly, not only does that contrast with the average union density of 13.5% across the private sector, but the membership embraces all age-groups from 16 to 70, and workers from at least 17 different countries of origin. 

More telling by far, those unions which have fought back against the onslaught by successive governments and employers - in a period of general setback and retreat since the brutal defeat of the heroic miners' strike in 1985 - have retained and increased their membership. Unions prepared to put up a fight, to defend members, including by strike action, may frighten a few overpaid, remote union (including TUC) bureaucrats, but they attract and embolden workers into joining.
This experience applies to a wide range of employment sectors. 




20,000 Join UCU During Strikes

University staff in the UCU union, of vastly different job grades and age ranges, took determined strike action this Spring, initially on pensions, but also raising the growing curse of insecure contracts. 
A remarkable 20,000 new members joined the UCU, in many cases literally on the picket lines, because they saw action on issues they relate to; issues rooted in their material self-interest. Action forced upon a reluctant, lacklustre, compromising union leadership by the demands of branch activists, it has to be added. 
Thousands of them have been transformed by learning the fundamentals of solidarity, and into an awareness that regardless of job title they are education workers, selling their labour power to employers battling to boost profits by a race to the bottom on wages, deferred wages, and conditions. 

RMT Grows By Fighting Back

Another union which has strengthened its numbers in recent years, despite vitriolic attacks by the privatised employers, successive Tory and Labour governments, and the media, is the RMT.
It's no accident that transport and storage accounted for 68% of all strike days in 2017. They've fought to improve wages; defied the propaganda onslaught when they've used their pivotal position in the London economy, in particular; courageously battled for public safety in strikes against Driver Only trains (winning in Scotland's case); and led the campaign for public ownership of the railways and ferry services, including here in Scotland. 
A union that takes its own rule-book clause about "replacing the capitalist system with a socialistic order of society" has emboldened workers to stand up for themselves... and grown in strength. 

PCS Strike Ballot 

The civil service workers' PCS union, which has a left-wing leadership (including members of the SSP) was specifically targeted in an attempted demolition job by the Tories - and in previous decades by Labour under Blair and Brown, when they declared a target of 100,000 job cuts.
Last year's attempt to crudely wreck the PCS by the abolition of the check-off system of collecting union members' subs directly from their wages, made PCS activists more determined; they defended membership levels in a systematic campaign of signing members up to payment by direct debit. 
If anything, the whip of Tory counter-revolution may have reminded many workers why they need the union. And they are now balloting for strike action in pursuit of a 5% pay rise, to partially compensate for a decade of pay cuts.

The Cruel Trap of Social Partnership

These examples (and there are others) demonstrate a simple truth that needs to be applied across the board: unions prepared to fight for workers on bread-and-butter issues, informed by an understanding that workers have interests in direct conflict with the interests of the employers, with a willingness to mobilize members in decisive action, are best equipped to grow. 

And the corollary is also true: unions which fall for the monumental con-trick of 'social partnership' with the employers, discouraging members from daring to take action in case it upsets their 'social partners' in the boardrooms, are prone to seem irrelevant and unattractive. Especially to a younger generation who have little or no living examples of successful, mass, national struggles by unions. 
Yet these are the very people most in need of powerful, active, determined unions, prepared to combine for collective defence and improvements. 

Super-Exploitation

There are literally millions of younger (and older) workers in low-paid, precarious sectors like fast foods, hospitality, retail (the second-biggest jobs sector, after the NHS) and social care. 

The ten million across the UK in 'precarious jobs' including those on zero hours and short hours contracts, agency staff, temporary jobs, the gig economy, and bogus self-employment.

The one million in part-time jobs only because they can't get the full-time jobs they want.

The hordes of retail staff on 7-hour, 10-hour or 12-hour contracts, but at the beck and call of 'business needs' - the phrase heartily hated by workers expected to chop and change their sleep patterns and family life to do additional hours in busy spells, only to be cast aside onto their lowly contract hours without overtime at the whims of management.

And that's not to mention the 21st Century version of 'the dark satanic mills' run by the likes of Amazon. 
A new report by the GMB union exposes the outrageous scandal that ambulances have been called out to Amazon plants 600 times over the past 3 years, with workers taken to hospital in over half of these 600 call-outs. They describe "pregnant women being forced to stand for 10 hours, to pick, stow, stretch and bend, pull heavy carts and walk miles - even miscarriages at work." 




Winning Young Workers Through Courageous Action 

Workers in these super-exploited sectors especially need to be organised to fight back. But in order to win over new and younger workers to the union cause, leaders of the TUC, STUC and specific unions need to revive the fighting methods and spirit of the early pioneers of the most downtrodden sections of the working class - such as those who heroically battled during the waves of struggle by the unskilled and semiskilled workers in what was known as 'New Unionism', from the 1880s to early 1900s. 

It's all very well the TUC's Frances O'Grady marking its 150th birthday by declaring "the unions have to change or die", followed by vague talk of a digital reach, and dodgy mutterings about helping workers BEFORE they decide to join a union. That dodges the key questions: what do the union leaders plan to fight around, what issues, what alternatives that relate to workers' material conditions and needs? 

And when will they dump the fatal trap of relying on their 'social partnership' with the employers, which in turn hampers their ability or inclination to confront these 'partners' with collective action to win workers' demands? 
To quote but one example, when will O'Grady and the TUC pledge to never again repeat last year's dirty deed of excluding the Southern Rail strikers' RMT representatives as they huddled in a meeting with the privateers to do a deal behind the striking guards' backs? 

Nothing New About 'Social Partnership' 

These misnamed 'Social Partnership' deals are neither original, nor good for workers' health, nor for union growth. 
They were called 'Mondism' (after the big chief of chemicals giant multinational, ICI) after the defeat of the 1926 general strike. 
Under the Labour government of 1974-9, it was called the 'Social Contract', which meant union leaders enforcing government wage restraint; workers' wages being slashed by an average 10% whilst prices let rip at about 30% inflation, leading to workers' bitterness, confusion - and the ultimate election, by default, of the obnoxious Tory Prime Minister, Maggie Thatcher. 

Past generations of socialists and trade unionists had a less polite, more accurate name for 'social partnership': class collaboration!



Pockets of Resistance 

Pockets of resistance by workers are already erupting, giving a glimpse of the potential for a wider, bigger struggle to stem the tide of insecurity, poverty pay and exploitation that curses the modern working class. 

Small groups of McDonald's workers - victims of poverty pay, zero hours contracts and harassment at work - have been on strike for £10 and union rights. McDonald's tried, in vain, to buy them off with the biggest pay rise in about 10 years. 

TGI Friday's workers are striking every Friday against the theft of their tips and wages by Friday's profiteering bosses. The last straw - after earlier loss of premium pay for bank holidays, Christmas and New Year, and denial of even the miserly government minimum wage through charges for black shoes as part of their uniform - was the two-day notice of robbing front-of-house staff of 40% of tips from customers (up to £250 a month) to top up the plummeting pay of kitchen staff. These Unite union members show young (and older) workers will fight, provided unions take a lead. 

Tesco Dagenham Strike 

Retail - including the giant Tesco's - is a prime example of partnership agreements that are designed to facilitate union recruitment, but hamstring the ability of the unions to resist attacks or organise action for improved pay, hours and conditions. Bitter disappointment from workers at their unions ("the union did nothing when our pay/bonuses/premium pay was slashed", being an all-too-common complaint) is beginning to shed members. 
In contrast, at the stand-alone Tesco distribution centre in Dagenham, Usdaw members have recently staged strike action for pay parity with workers in identical jobs in neighbouring depots. Only ten out of about 500 crossed the picket lines, and even more workers have joined the union, as they see it taking a determined stance, forcing Tesco bosses into talks on the very first day of strike action, after them ignoring the union for over a year.

The central message that should be shouted from the rooftops of every union headquarters is that they need to break from the grisly embrace of so-called Social Partnership with the employers; and organise every union official, shop steward and union activist to launch a concerted campaign around key issues that will make the unions immediately relevant in the eyes of the 75% of workers who haven't yet been convinced to join. 




£10 Now & 16-hour Minimum Week 

Aside from battling on issues specific to particular workplaces, the trade union movement could gain a vast new lease of life if they seriously prepare action plans around two immediate issues: a national minimum wage of £10 here and now, rising with inflation, for all over 16; and a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week for all who want it, to replace the curse of casual, insecure jobs. 

The entire trade union movement committed to "a £10 minimum for all workers" back in September 2014 - nearly 4 years ago, at the TUC conference - unanimously! It's criminal that, with honourable exceptions, they've barely lifted a finger in pursuit of this since. We need socialists and other dedicated trade unionists to bludgeon the more reluctant union leaders into action on this... before the £10 demand becomes entirely obsolete through inflation! 

The other central demand here suggested - a legally enforced guarantee that all employers are obliged to offer a minimum 16-hour contract to all workers who want it - is a new, pioneering policy that could tackle the complex balance between workers needing flexibility and the same workers needing stable incomes and stable lives. 

No employer should be allowed to opt out. But workers who wish to opt out in favour of fewer hours could do so, with representation by their union to protect them from any bullying by bosses. 
This would transform the lives of millions of workers who simply can't survive on zero hours or short hours contracts. The latter is especially rampant in the likes of retail. 

The fighting demand for a guaranteed 16-hour minimum was first raised in my book, Break the Chains, subsequently adopted as a policy by the Scottish Socialist Party, and I'm proud to have convinced my Usdaw union national conference, in April, to agree to it as union policy - unanimously! 

Reach Out to Young People 
As well as drawing up urgent plans to campaign around workplaces on these twin demands, the unions could reach out to young people by asking for meetings in secondary schools and at colleges, especially aiming at the 'student-workers' who now frequently staff retail, hospitality, food and drinks to earn a living in the absence of a student grant. 

The National Rate For the Job 
In all this, unions can also combat the vicious exploitation and racist division surrounding migrant workers, by seeking to recruit and organise them around the demand for 'the national rate and rights for the job' - countering divide-and-conquer tactics by employers and governments. 

Just as socialists played a pivotal role in the pioneering days of trade unionism, especially around the demand for an 8-hour day to reduce the grinding drudgery of the times, so too socialists in the unions and workplaces - and indeed in schools and colleges - can do so around fighting policies like £10 now and 16-plus hours. 

The Pioneering Spirit  
There is no need to write the obituaries of the trade union movement. But there is every need to break from the compromising, self-defeating trap of 'social partnership' with workers' own worst exploiters and enemies. 
The unions, and STUC, should reach out to genuine political allies including the SSP, construct plans to vigorously fight for these policies, and show the same brash readiness to battle for them that was the hallmark of the best of the early pioneers. 

Resist the Fear! 
Workers have been forced to live in fear for far too long, without the confidence that most of the union leaderships are prepared to confront and defeat the capitalist employers. 
The 150th birthday of the TUC shouldn't be marked by mourning and moaning, but by organising around such class demands that will inspire workers to struggle for a better future, melting away their fears in the process.

To give the last word to the aforementioned Mark Twain: "Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear." 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

PUTTING VAMPIRE CAPITALISTS IN CHARGE OF SCOTLAND'S FUTURE??



Contrary to all their warm words about 'valuing trade unions' and 'supporting social partnership', the SNP government appointed a corporate lobbyist (Andrew Wilson) and 23 business representatives to produce the Growth Commission on Scotland's future - but totally excluded the STUC and unions which organise and represent over 630,000 workers.
So it's no wonder the Commission's Report advocates a neo-liberal nightmare of ten more years of low Corporation Tax, low wages, insecure jobs, capped public spending, 'fiscal responsibility' - another decade of savage austerity cuts, in plain English.
This is an offer any self-respecting worker will refuse, in anger and disgust. 


Even compared with the milk-and-water SNP government White Paper - 'Scotland's Future' - published in the run-up to the 2014 Referendum, the Growth Commission Report is a monumental, catastrophic retreat. 
Far from painting a picture of the future that would recommend Scottish self-government to the huge swathes of working class people yet to be persuaded, the multiple threats to the material well-being of the working class at the core of this document couldn't be better designed to dissuade them if it had been written by hardcore Blairite Unionists.
But unless the independence movement wins the hearts and minds of the working class majority, no amount of cosying up to big business and the multinationals will convert the 45% into a majority for Scottish self-government.
When people rightly object to the total exclusion of the trade union movement - Scotland's biggest civic organisation, by far - from constructing a vision for an independent Scotland, we have the bizarre spectacle of Glasgow SNP councillor, Russell Roberston, who defected from Labour in 2016, tweeting that inviting the unions into the Growth Commission would be like "letting Dracula control a blood-bank".
This is a contemptuous insult to workers and their families - which, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be denounced by the SNP leadership.

Vampires in Charge of Blood Donors' Future!

In fact, it would be more appropriate to point out that asking a neo-liberal corporate lobbyist and his cohort of business interests to frame the future of the working class majority is like letting Dracula shape the fate of the blood donors - given that it's workers who produce the wealth of the economy, only to see it sucked dry for the profits of a tiny handful.
The STUC and affiliated unions should now combine with genuinely pro-trade union parties to devise an entirely different vision of Scotland's future, in stark contrast to the Blairite dystopia from the SNP's Growth Commission. 
One based on secure, well-paid jobs; a minimum wage based on two-thirds male median earnings; a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week instead of casualised labour; progressive taxation to fund jobs, house-building for rent, and other services; democratic public ownership of all public services, transport, energy, banks and big businesses.
That's what we argued back in 2012-14, with many workers persuaded to vote YES by the SSP and Trade Unionists for Independence, because of the vision we presented of a radical socialist change to the society we live in - not a Mini-Me UK capitalism.

That's the kind of Scotland workers need - not a haven for the tax-dodging rich and corporations.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

FOR A MAXIMUM INCOME - initially 10 times the Minimum Wage


UK's richest capitalist, union-busting, fracking Jim Ratcliffe

We may as well live on two entirely different planets here on Earth, given the grotesque and growing gap in wealth and power between the rich and the rest of us.

Just 61 billionaires now own more wealth than the poorest half of the world's population - 3.8 billion people.
The richest 0.1% of the human species - about seven million people - grabbed as much combined wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion since 1980. And the infamous '1%' robbed 27% of the world's newly created wealth over the same period of 1980-2016.

Stinking Rich List 
Closer to home, the Sunday Times' 30th annual Rich List is enough to make you vomit at the nauseating greed on parade by the 1,000 richest people in Britain. You need to be 'worth' a minimum of £115million to gain entrance to this exclusive club. 

Between them, the richest 1,000 now sit atop a Himalayan pile of wealth totalling £724billion. Yes, that's an average of £724million each! 

And amidst this gathering of the stinking rich, Britain's 145 billionaires are greedily clinging onto £480billion - exactly two-thirds of the total. 

Publication of this latest parade of obscene wealth was trumpeted by cries of joy, in the Sunday Times and other capitalist media, that inherited wealth has been replaced by 'self-made entrepreneurs'. Far from being 'self-made', these are people who've crawled to the top by exploiting workers - robbing the unpaid labour of the working class they employ - or speculating on the upper-class casinos known as Stock Markets, hedge funds and banking. 

Jim RATcliffe - 'Worth' £21billion? 
The media odes of joy were especially triggered by the man who climbed to the top of the money mountain, Jim Ratcliffe, 60% owner of petrochemical giant INEOS, the biggest private company in the UK. He's now officially 'worth' £21.05billion... and figures from INEOS insiders suggest he could even possess as much as £27billion.
This creature should be all too familiar to workers in Scotland - especially those at Grangemouth petrochemical plant and oil refinery.

Back in 2010, Ratcliffe moved INEOS headquarters to Switzerland to dodge taxes in Britain. The Grangemouth petrochemical plant made operating profits of £31m in 2011 and £49m in 2012 - as part of global profits exceeding £2bn. Not content with these gargantuan profits, Ratcliffe consciously planned a showdown with the Grangemouth workforce and their powerfully organised trade unions in 2013. 

He demanded cuts to pay, pensions, shift allowances and bonuses that robbed workers of £10-15,000 each. He set out to smash the unions, victimizing the Unite union convener - aided and abetted by the witch-hunt against him by the Blairite UK Labour Party leadership. And he perversely exploited the fact Grangemouth accounts for 85% of Scotland's fuel supplies and 30% of England's to hold a bazooka to the heads of both Westminster and Holyrood, demanding £150m in subsidies for INEOS' profits. 
Grangemouth workers, 2013

Capitalist Dictator 
In an insult to language - 'INEOS' is Greek for 'bright new dawn' - Ratcliffe plunged the Grangemouth workforce and the whole of Scotland into darkness and despair by shutting down the petrochemical plant, putting it into liquidation, when the workers fought to resist his wholesale butchery of their conditions in pursuit of even greater profits. This poisonous cocktail of blackmail and bullying forced the unions to accept devastating cuts to conditions, a 3-year pay freeze, removal of union facilities and a 3-year no-strike agreement. And it wrung £9m in grants off the SNP Scottish government plus £125m loan guarantees from Westminster - to pursue a course of profiteering based largely on the use of the environmentally destructive fracking process.
This whole episode blows to smithereens the alleged fairy tale of the 'self-made man'; the 'rags to riches' tale we're peddled - not only to justify Ratcliffe's obscene personal wealth, but also to dupe us into thinking that, with a bit of graft, anyone can become a millionaire or billionaire. 

Fairy Tale from Hell 
This fairy tale has a monster at its core, a one-man capitalist dictatorship, who not only threatened to wreck 1,350 Grangemouth workers' livelihoods, and those of 2,000 contract workers, but held the elected government to ransom. Successfully! Now he is suing the Scottish government for banning fracking, and issuing legal threats to anti-fracking protestors in England. This truly is the dictatorship of capital, in the form of one multi-billionaire, robbing workers' families, trashing our environment, trampling democracy underfoot, but lauded by the sycophantic capitalist media as a success story.
Even if there were no other 'Jim Ratcliffes' on earth, this one story should be enough to motivate and mobilise for decisive action against the grotesque gap between the rich and the rest of us. But he's not alone. For starters, the other two shareholders in INEOS have joined him in the top 20 in the 2018 Rich List, at joint 16th.

Scotland's Eleven Billionaires 
Among the filthy rich with some residential link to Scotland itself, we now 'enjoy' the company of 11 billionaires - whose combined personal wealth totals £16.2billion. That's over half the entire annual budget of the Scottish government for the entire Scottish population in the hands of 11 billionaires.
And just looking at the top 3 alone, we see their personal wealth INCREASED last year by £920million!
Glenn Gordon and family guzzled a net increase of £202m from their whisky and gin empire.
John and Kiran Shaw made the Gordons look like paupers, with a wealth increase last year of £606m from their pharmaceutical company, making a sickening profit from the treatment of cancer, diabetes and autoimmune diseases.
Sir Ian Wood and family may have observed crises in both the oil and fishing industries in recent times, but managed to scrape together a mere £112m EXTRA in the past twelve months.




Grotesque Wealth Divide 
In the land of a million living below the poverty line, 52% of them working to stay poor, these figures are obscene.
In the state whose workers are enduring wages worth £24-a-week less than in 2008, a full 10% rise in the incomes of the richest 1,000 is an infuriating insult.
In the nation where the equivalent of the entire population of Dundee last year relied on emergency food parcels from food banks to avert hunger; where people on benefits can't exist and are driven to the edge; and where energy-rich Scotland condemns at least a million families to fuel poverty, these displays of wealth are grotesque.

Why does all this matter? When we're told there's not enough money in society to pay an immediate £10-an-hour minimum wage to all workers over 16 (rising to match inflation since that figure was unanimously agreed by the unions 43 long months ago!), it matters. When workers march and strike for equal pay for women, it matters. As we struggle to guarantee a living pension after a lifetime's contribution to society; for investment in free public transport, a modern NHS, top-class education or other services... when the rich government of and for the rich tell us it's unaffordable, don't forget the Rich List!

Maximum Income 
Alongside battling for an immediate £10 minimum wage, and some job and income stability through a legally guaranteed 16-hour minimum working week, we need to popularize the demand for a maximum income, to start to close the yawning gap between the billionaires and the billions, the plundering rich and the rest of us. 

Let's illustrate the advantages of an initial 10:1 ratio between the maximum allowable income and the national minimum wage; the policy which the SSP stands for, and which I proposed and won 58% support for at Usdaw union national conference last month.
If we use the current (miserly) £7.83 minimum wage for those aged over 25, that would make the maximum income £78.30 an hour - hardly penury! Assuming a maximum 35-hour week, it would allow the richest to earn up to £142,502 a year; not exactly making them scream in agony! 

Let the Rich Scream Blue Murder! 
Even looking at the tiny list of the UK's 1,000 richest, the overly-generous 10:1 formula for a maximum income would still permit them to roll around in combined incomes of £142million. How in hell could anyone object to that ceiling on their wealth? What on earth would anyone find to spend £142,000 a year on? And if (or when) the monstrously rich scream blue murder about a maximum income killing off incentive, we should laugh in their faces. Remind them that they have always argued and practised the policy that the best incentive to make the rest of us work is low pay; the whip of poverty to drive people to work. 

This policy of a maximum income initially set at ten times the national minimum wage is a powerful weapon in a necessary war on both poverty and inequality. Allowing the current crop of Rich List residents to possess £142m between them, as we've calculated above, would hand back well over £723billion to the rest of society this year alone. Imagine what that could mean for wages, NHS spending, education, public transport, job creation. 

A Modest Demand 
Of course, socialists don't just want to limit the size of the slice of cake grabbed by the rich minority; we want collective, public ownership of the entire bakery! That way society could democratically plan to meet social and environmental needs, rather than allow capitalist profit-hunting wreak havoc on both people and planet. 

But a 10:1 maximum compared to a legal minimum wage would be a great start. A very modest demand. But compared to the 183:1 gap between top company chief executives and their average workers - not the lowest paid employees, but average! - it's also a revolutionary change. One pioneered by the SSP, but now also adopted by the mass, 430,000-strong Usdaw union after a full debate at our recent national conference. 

Join the Battle! 
Join us in battling for a Charter of Workers' Rights that together could transform the lives of millions, including an immediate £10 minimum wage for all over 16, rising with inflation; a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all workers who want it; and an initial maximum income set at 10 times the minimum wage, to combat inequality and win back some of the stolen wealth which workers create in the first place.