Tuesday, 4 December 2018

STAND UP - PAY UP - DEFY TORY AUSTERITY!






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


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

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


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

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


The Lost Decade

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



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



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


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

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




Pay Revolt Erupts

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


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


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


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


Education, education, education?

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

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


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

No, Cabinet Minister! 

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

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



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


Combine - Make Them Pay Up!

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



No Cuts Budgets

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


Roll Back – or Roll Over?

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


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

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


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


Tax the rich – double the money!

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

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



Scottish Service Tax

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


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


Whose Side Are They On?

We approach 2019 with Scotland at a crossroads.


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



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



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






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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Thursday, 18 October 2018

CLASS NOT CREED, 1968...



PLEASE BUY MY NEW PAMPHLET:
Class not Creed, 1968

I've just today published a pamphlet - Class not Creed, 1968 - describing the tumultuous events in my native N Ireland 50 years ago.
It seeks to rescue the truth about the background to the 30-years-long Troubles; the lost opportunity for working class unity and socialism in Ireland, in the mass civil rights movement of 1968-9.
Much is hidden in what passes for the history of Ireland. In particular, the many and heroic episodes of Catholic/Protestant workers' unity in struggle - as opposed to the myth of two irreconcilable tribes that nice British governments are obliged to sort out!!
The events of 50 years ago need to be understood by anyone seeking to help build an alternative to the Orange and Green politicians, 50 years on. This pamphlet provides useful background reading.
Please order your copy today. It's only £2.50 in person - plus 50p towards the cost of postage & packaging.

Order online HERE





Sunday, 7 October 2018

N Ireland Explodes - 50 years ago







Fifty years ago, Northern Ireland exploded. 
On 5 October 1968, about 500 people assembled in Duke Street, in Derry, to march for civil rights, in defiance of a ban imposed by the Unionist government that had ruled the roost since the partition of Ireland in 1921. 
The ensuing brutal police violence that cracked skulls and hospitalised at least 100 protesters was televised across the world. That was the day most commentators designate the start of 'the Troubles'. 
Many myths surround this whole period of history, and many rich lessons for today need to be unearthed. 

This was a period of vast opportunities for working class unity in Ireland - which then turned into the bloody conflict for nearly 30 years, marked by deepened sectarian division and 3,700 deaths. 
But could history have been different? What were the roots of sectarianism? What did the civil rights movement signify and achieve? What role did the trade union and labour movement play 50 years ago? Was workers' unity possible? Why were British troops sent in by a Labour government in August 1969? And have the claims by Sinn Fein today, that they are the modern inheritors of the civil rights struggle of 50 years ago any basis in the historic facts?



We don't study history for the hell of it; we do so to learn from success and failure, in order to apply the lessons to the current world - including Ireland. The biggest crime of much that is written on Irish history is the way it excludes the many glorious displays of workers' unity in struggle. 

Below is the opening section of Chapter 1 of a 110-page book I wrote in 1989, entitled Socialism - not Sectarianism. This chapter deals with the main events of 1968-9. 

If you would like the full chapter (the book is now out of print), please pay a modest £3 via PayPal, to the account with the email address jim.sspfinance@gmail.com 
We will then send you the full Chapter.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………



LESSONS OF THE 1968 CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE [Chapter 1 of Socialism - Not Sectarianism]

Twenty years ago, British and Irish capitalism was rocked to its foundations by the social explosions surrounding the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland.

Mass demonstrations, significant signs of Catholic and Protestant unity, police thuggery, barricades, no-go areas and pogroms against the Catholic minority - were features dominating events from the first big Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march on 5 October 1968 to the entry of British troops on 14 August 1969.

What were the roots of these social convulsions?


British imperialism mastered the arts of exploitation, bloody suppression of revolts and the cynical use of divide and rule tactics, in its centuries of rule in Ireland. By the early 1900s, it faced its most powerful foe: the young Irish working class, united in movements threatening socialist revolution. Despite the poisons of sectarianism, Catholic and Protestant workers combined against their common enemy in the 1907 Belfast docks strike, led by Jim Larkin, during which Belfast police mutinied. The 1913 eight-month Dublin lockout involved Protestant Belfast workers giving solidarity to Catholic Dublin workers in their showdown with Catholic Dublin bosses. 



Workers unite

Under the shadow of the 1917 Russian revolution, the capitalists faced a mobilized Irish working class in 1918-21. 

In 1919, Belfast engineering workers, whose majority were Protestant, formed a united Protestant-Catholic strike committee, with a Catholic elected as chairman. They led a virtual general strike which involved mass trade union patrols. Belfast was temporarily in the workers' hands, and even the capitalist media were forced to admit 'law and order' was better than when the police were in control.

The 1919 Limerick Soviet involved price controls by the workers' committees and production of their own currency - 'Labour Notes' - distinct from the national currency. 
Arigna miners occupied their pits and forced compensation from the bosses at the end of their action for the improved productivity during the period of workers' control of the mine. 

Creamery workers seized their workplaces, hoisted red flags, and declared on banners "We make cream, not profits". 

Land labourers, road workers and numerous other layers were involved in a wave of strikes, sit-ins and embryonic soviets throughout every corner of Ireland.



This workers' movement was met by military savagery and pogroms against Catholic and Protestant socialists in Belfast. The latter were orchestrated by big business, executed by the UVF thugs, and encouraged by the British Tories. In the period June 1920 to June 1922, a total of 428 died and 1,766 were injured in these pogroms. And 25% of the 9,000 driven from their jobs, in four days in August 1920, were Protestants: trade unionists and socialists, including those involved in the 1919 general strike. 



Partition 

In 1921, British imperialism was guilty of the crime of partition - the culmination of their divide and rule tactics in the face of a workers' movement threatening their power and privileges. Two unviable, poverty-stricken, undemocratic, capitalist statelets were thus born. 

Partition met the naked cash calculations of the capitalist class. It allowed them to maintain the most industrialized region around Belfast, and vital naval bases to help 'Britannia rule the waves'. Above all, it threw back the workers' movement for decades.


However, the capitalists in the South were incapable of developing a healthy, independent economy. Neither tariffs nor free trade could end the miserable conditions that blighted the population. For instance, by 1946, 46% of the population still depended on agriculture for an income! As writer Tim Pat Coogan put it: "Had it not been for the safety valve of emigration (400,000 in round figures 1950-60), the frustration and desperation of these years must have led to mass riots."

Now read on... order the full chapter by paying £3 via PayPal, account jim.sspfinance@gmail.com 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Labour Conference Adopts a Policy Pioneered by the SSP



Labour Party Conference has adopted a policy pioneered by the SSP!

Hot on the heels of the TUC congress unanimously adopting the pioneering new policy of a guaranteed minimum 16-hour working week - instead of the abomination of zero and short-hours contracts - so too has the Labour Party conference, in a composite Motion on In-Work Poverty, moved by my union Usdaw, seconded by the GMB.
If acted upon, this could be a lifeline to millions of workers subjected to insecure, low-paid jobs, dependency on foodbanks, and mounting mental ill-health.

So it's immensely welcome that the Corbyn-led Labour conference has overwhelmingly agreed a policy pioneered and spearheaded by socialists OUTSIDE Labour - specifically, the SSP!!

To avoid any confusion, here's the timeline:
- in my book, Break the Chains, published in December 2015, I first proposed this new idea of a guaranteed minimum week for all workers who want it; 16 hours, to match criteria for Working Tax Credit, Statutory Sick Pay, and employers' NIC contributions.
- in 2016, this was unanimously agreed as SSP policy, and then fought for on the streets and in our unions.
- in April 2018, I proposed this policy on behalf of Glasgow no 1 Usdaw branch at Usdaw national conference (ADM), winning unanimous support from nearly 1,000 delegates. 
- as a newly elected Usdaw Executive Council member, I combined with others to argue for rapid implementation of the 16-hour policy, in tandem with the 4-year-old policy of a £10 minimum wage (NOT seriously acted upon up until now!).
That included pushing for it to be advanced by Usdaw as policy at the TUC, Labour conferences... and likewise in other parties. 

The result? Usdaw has now launched the major 'Time For Better Pay' campaign, with these demands at its core, winning support at both the TUC and Labour conferences.




HISTORIC VINDICATION!

I can't resist a wry smile at this brilliant news, especially as it comes from Labour's Liverpool-held conference.

Back in 1986, I and eight other socialist leaders in Liverpool were expelled from the Labour party by the insufferable windbag, Neil Kinnock - for the crime of being far too successful at mobilising the Merseyside working class, defeating Maggie Thatcher's Tory government, winning massive concessions in government funding to build council houses and create thousands of jobs. And winning record votes for socialists in Liverpool elections, whilst Kinnock displayed an unrivalled ability to lose elections and leave the Tories in office to assault the working class.

I remember saying at the time that they might succeed in expelling socialists from the Labour party, but they couldn't expel us from the wider labour movement or the working class. It's taken a while, but it's quite gratifying to see that prediction proven.
And it's a perfect 20th birthday present for the SSP; courageous, principled socialists organised OUTSIDE Labour have been instrumental in committing Labour to a policy that could transform many workers' lives - in a fashion Scottish Labour's 'left' never managed to do. 
We now look forward to uniting in action with fellow-trade unionists, both inside and outwith Labour, to force through the implementation of this far-reaching policy, to give workers a bit of security and control over their working lives.

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]