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unity Communists at the TUC

Monday 14 September 2009

MAKE THE RICH PAY Steady as she sinks or change course to win? Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths has a question for the Prime Minister

Gordon Brown’s government is heading for the rocks. But the ship’s captain has his eyes closed, hoping that the rocks will disappear. Unless New Labour change course, they will have thrown away what, in 1997, was the biggest parliamentary majority in history. What will be the legacy? There were positive measures, especially in the first term: the minimum wage, the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland peace process, improved trade union and employment rights ... then the list starts to shorten. Most of the anti-trade union laws remain in place. Privatisation has been driven into areas of the public sector untouched by Thatcher and Major. Britain is still one of the most unequal societies in the developed

world. The richest 10 per cent of the population have seen their share of wealth increase from 63 per cent in 1996 to 71 per cent. According to the Inland Revenue, the poorer half of the population – where most trade unionists are – have had their share cut from 6 per cent to 1 per cent. The Blair and Brown regimes have been the most warlike in modern British history: Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq again. No wonder millions of electors have lost faith in a government that put aside £1,350,000 million to bail out the banks and money markets – but won’t use a fraction of that to rescue productive but failing enterprises, maintain the post office network or substantially increase state pensions and benefits. Former GMB leader John Edmonds once condemned the ‘greedy bastards’ who cream off Britain’s wealth without a care for the rest of society. Yet even after those greedy bastards have wrecked their own system, had their begging bowls filled by the Bank of England and the Treasury, and carried on helping themselves to enormous bonuses and pensions, New Labour ministers sabotage attempts at the G20 financial summit to cap bankers’ bonuses. Gordon Brown needs to be told that he is drinking in the last chance saloon. If government policies do not change in favour of workers and their families, then he will be turfed out by the electorate. A Tory government will be even worse because the ground has already been prepared for it by New Labour policies of privatisation, war and grovelling to the super-rich. This week at Liverpool and then at the Labour conference in Brighton, unions have the opportunity to insist that members’ funds will only be used to campaign for a Labour victory based on different policies. New policies could transform politics: ★ Public ownership of all banks and their funds used to assist homeowners, house buyers, small businesses and productive industry. ★ Immediate substantial increases in the national minimum wage and state pension and a second state pension to be set up guaranteeing dignity in retirement for all. continued on back page


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PUBLICSERVICES UNDER ATTACK

by To ny Conway As the famous song goes “It’s the rich that gets the credit and the poor that gets the blame.” The public sector is under sustained attack from media, big business and government. There has never been a time when the public sector ethos, delivery and its workers’ pay, jobs and terms have been under such pressure. Does Britain spend too much on its public services? Are our public services are inefficient? Are employees’ terms and conditions are too generous? No, the real motive behind this attack is to ensure that big business and the banks get an increasing share of the public sector cake to shore up their profits. The impact of this on government policy – always at the service of big business – is more speculation, more debt and reductions in services to hard pressed communities. Right wing pundits and City economists tell us that Britain must cut public service expenditure. But even they have to admit that the public debt

mountain is because the bankers blagged us into a recession and the government decided bail them out. This conventional ‘wisdom’ results in a sustained attack on the jobs that public service workers do – social work posts cut but social workers blamed for the ills of society; a pretence that private hospital provision is better despite contrary evidence; market testing of prisons so that private security firms can cream from the state; Fujitsu shedding staff blaming the UK economic downturn, whilst making record profits, but in reality making the case for more public sector work; defence contractors b egging for public subsidy, when once such work was undertaken in the public sector. Tory Councils delighted to think the unthinkable – Barnet stating that it should offer a Ryanair style council services. Public sector pensions are compared with the worst in the private sector and rather than bad employers forced to meet decent standards, public pensions are dragged down. The bank and insurance industry wants to get its hands on

▲ 1979 march against public sector cuts by Callaghan’s government. If public sector unions could take united action then why not now? pension contributions to bolster their profits and cash flows. It’s the same argument as put forward by American health insurance companies. Why is the Royal Mail under attack – so that speculators can get their hands on the profitable areas, stopping cross-subsidy and leaving the state to carry more of the burden? Likewise the attack on the Civil Service Redundancy Scheme is not about saving money it’s about getting rid of jobs on the cheap. The attack on housing benefit and social security payments is about diverting responsibility

from the rich to the poor. Unison and PCS are right to express concern about contracting-out including to social enterprises. Our unions are right to recognise that it’s the low paid workers who see their jobs contracted out. We are right to argue that health and safety suffers. The POA is right to condemn private prisons. Transport unions are right to argue that a publicly owned rail and bus system would both be cheaper and more efficient – just look at Metronet, National Express and local bus services – their profits bolstered public subsidy! Water and power companies make massive profits whatever happen at the expense of working people. Poor pension provision means pensioner poverty. Next year’s election will be an opportunity to raise these issues, but with the Tories signed up to £100 billion of cuts and Labour to £80 billion action deferred will see schools and hospitals closed, workers lose their jobs, the economy suffer, and workers thrown on the dole. Wide unity to demand a programme of public works including an expansion of house building, to oppose privatisation and to bring back into public ownership utilities and transport, to improve pensions for all and increases in social security benefits is needed. The People’s Charter gives us a vehicle to channel the massive popular support for these policies and take the campaign beyond the workplaces and communities and to change the direction of politics in Britain. Tony Conway is a member of the PCS executive committee

Tuesday 12.45pm Room 3b, BT Convention Centre

Trade unions fighting back Speakers: Brian Caton POA; Bob Crow RMT; Anita Halpin NUJ; Len Bayliss and Len McLusky of Unite. Chair: John Haylett Morning Star political editor


TUC Communist Party daily unity

OPINION Too weak on Equality Bill

that unions have been warned off rocking the Labour Party boat. After all there is much that the trade unions can and should criticise in the bill. It says nothing about pay, it fails to give us the right to conduct equality by Mary Dav i s audits and above all it is silent on the issue of statutory rights It is nothing short of for equality reps. There is much amazing that in the very else besides which is lacking in year that 30 years of the proposed legislation. But equality legislation is likely these deficiencies can only be to be replaced by the new understood when one considers Equality Act, too little that the bill is not really attention is given to the issue underpinned by an equality at this year’s Congress nor philosophy. What underlies it is are the weaknesses the more business friendly addressed by much other concept of diversity – a concept than UCU’s call for statutory which individualises workers equality reps and mandatory and destroys any notion of self pay audits. organisation and common The Equal Rights agenda struggle. section contains five motions The 2009 TUC will be viewed four of which concern as one of weakest on record on themselves with the far right and equality issues this century. It the BNP. The fifth (motion 14) should have highlighted the is on disability discrimination. It challenges facing the movement seems strange that the anti-BNP especially if a Tory government motions are places in the is returned – one which has no Equality section: fascism is the commitment even to the weak antithesis of equality. Perhaps offering presented by the current the worry was that if they didn’t government. Why is our appear here there would only be movement so somnolent when it one motion in this section. should have presented a radical Three motions from the alternative? equality conferences (Women, Mary Davis is the Communist Black Workers and Disability) are Party’s women’s organiser and a all paced in the Economic and member of the TUC women’s Industrial Affairs section. This is committee probably correct since all three look at the ways in which the recession will affect these groups of workers. But we still have to solve the mystery of why so little attention is given to the equality bill. There are two possible (not mutually exclusive) explanations. One is the time honoured disinterest of trade unions in equality issues, especially when they only have two motions to put to Congress. Why give up one to a ‘sectional interest’, especially when general secretaries usually like to stride colossus – like on the Revised and updated £2.50 big political stage? (of course www.communist-party.org.uk or this is not an argument against CPB Ruskin House, politics, only bad politics.) The 23 Coombe Road, second possible explanation is Croydon CRO2 1BD

Groucho in Liverpool Welcome to Liverpool, the one place in Britain where the natives think they are funnier than me. There was this fella up from London, driving around lost. He pulls up alongside a van and asks the driver the way to Speke. Easy he says, you just move your lips like this. Seriously though, if you really want a bad joke pop along to the Unions 21 event – the enticingly entitled Ideas for Retaining Our Members Through the Recession. You would have thought that retirement on a stash of Moscow cash would give the class cuddle comrades time to think up a more exciting way to join their social partnership scheme than this. Cross purposes Just for a moment I thought that the spirit of J Edgar Hoover stalked the corridors of Congress House. Not that Brendan Barber shares any characteristics with the infamous scourge of bolsheviks. Perish the thought.

No it is more the fetish for high heels. J Edgar has emerged as a secret cross dresser with a taste for exotic ladies lingerie and reports have him attending orgies in high heels. Different strokes for different folks and all that. But when I saw that a motion on high heels appeared higher up the agenda than the People’s Charter I though his malign influence has stretched out from the grave. But no, it is the very worthy motion from the Chiropodists and Podiatrists. Give it every support. (ouch!).

Events RMT Respect the Irish Vote – Reject the Lisbon Treaty Bob Crow RMT; Frank Keoghan People’s Movement; Joe Higgins Irish MEP; Jimmy Kelly, Unite Chair: Steve Todd RMT 12:45pm The Liverpool Pub, James Street, five minutes from BT Convention Centre opposite Albert Dock Refreshments provided Cuba Solidarity Campaign Havana Club Rum Reception with special guests from Cuba Salvador Mesa and Raymundo Navarra, from the CTC plus Brendan Barber TUC; Christine Blower NUT; Bob Crow RMT; Dave Prentis UNISON; Tony Woodley Unite; 5:30pm Room 3b, BT Convention Centre and rum cocktails. Institute of Employment Rights Politics Has Failed – So How Should Unions Respond? Brian Caton POA; Bob Crow RMT, United Campaign; Keith Ewing IER; Billy Hayes CWU; John Hendy QC, IER; Len McCluskey Unite; John McDonnell,MP; Mark Serwotka PCS; Sarah Veale TUC; Matt Wrack FBU. Chair: Carolyn Jones IER 5:30pm Meeting Room 11b, BT Conference Centre, Refreshments sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors


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Working people’s pensions are again under threat by Bill Greenshields We again have to organise to defend pensions. The fundamental battle over wages and pensions – properly described as “d e f e r red wages” – never goes away – it is as much part of the capitalist system as corrupt politicians, greedy bankers and economic crises. They are not aberrations that can be “reformed away” – they will be with us for as long as we tolerate this dog-eat-dog society, run by the rich with the assistance of their State. Just four years ago a determined and broad alliance of public service unions stood up to a full-on government attack on our pensions. We lobbied together, campaigned together and balloted for strike action together… and we won. Alan Johnson, then secretary of state for work and pensions – and now jockeying for position to replace Brown – insisted that they would not even discuss the issue. Faced with such united opposition the government backed down and put “everything back on the table”. And the outcome was a resounding victory for the workers who took them on There were those within our movement who didn’t recognise the scale of the victory at the time. Attempting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, they suggested that we continue the strike action, as “new entrants” to the pensions schemes would be subject to a

raising of the pension age. What they failed to recognise was that the pensions “agreement” would never last to the time – 30 or 40 years ahead for most – when those new entrants would reach retirement age. Every generation of workers needs to be prepared to fight for themselves – there are no “lasting settlements” under capitalism – only continuing class struggle. The attacks never stop. This truth is now clear to all. Just four years after the victory, we have to do it all again – as recognised in the original motions form the NUT, the FDA and the AEP. Can we do it again? Of course we can! Will the outcome of the coming struggle protect workers into the indefinite future? Of course it will not! But that doesn’t make the struggle less necessary – in fact it simply underlines the fact that workers, in both private and public sectors, need to be constantly vigilant and increasingly well organised and united to fight off the attacks that will come again and again – until we finally seek a fundamental political reconstitution of society that puts working people in control, rather than accepting “constant defence”. The current capitalist crisis leaves any government administering that system with “no alternative” but to attack workers – no alternative as they are clearly not willing or able to make those responsible for the crisis pay for it. As “the General Election debate” is focusing on what types of destructive public sector cuts we can expect from New Labour or from the Tories, so we can be assured that, whoever wins the election, we will be in for attacks on pay and pensions. And we can be pretty sure that, unless something really dramatic happens in the Labour Party, the Tories will win as workers will refuse to vote for a New Labour Party if they

continue to attack us. Only if the Labour Party grabs the lifeline of such programmes as the People’s Charter and adopts it as the basis of the Manifesto do they stand a chance of winning – and the likelihood of that would seem just a little remote! One of the six points of the Charter contains the following simple proposal. “Link state pensions and benefits to average earnings. Protect pension schemes and restore the lost value of private pensions.” Why is this seen by some to be such a “threat” to the Labour Party – the historic mass party of the working class? The fight for pensions four years ago took place in the run up to a General Election, which gave us a real opportunity. We are here again – the same attacks, the same dangers, the same opportunities… the same old struggle. As we prepare for the pensions fight again, we have to ask ourselves, “How long will we put up with this corrupt and vicious system that exists to make the rich even richer at the expense of ordinary working people?” Bill Greenshields is past president of the NUT and a member of the Communist Party executive committee

£2.50 from www.communist-party.org.uk or CPB Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CRO2 1BD

continued from page one ★ A windfall tax on monopoly profits in the energy, private banking, pharmaceutical and supermarket industries. ★ Higher taxes on the very wealthy. ★ Restoration of gas and electricity prices to January 2008 levels. ★ Public ownership of the railways. ★ Cancellation of Trident and military withdrawal from Afghanistan. ★ A massive programme of public sector housebuilding. Many of these policies also feature in the People’s Charter. Whether Brown changes course or not, whether or not the Tories form the next government, the Charter provides a powerful basis on which the labour movement can unite, inspire and mobilise people for the battles ahead. With electoral defeat staring us in the face, the trade unions have to fight as never before to defend workers and their families and to project an alternative. But this year must also mark the beginning of a determined struggle to reclaim the Labour Party or, if that proves unrealistic, to reestablish the mass party of labour. The CWU motion for a conference to discuss the strategic way forward is a necessary proposal that can no longer be ducked. Front page illustration is a detail from the 1928 fresco ‘Night of the Rich’ by the Mexican communist painter Diego Rivera It is at the North wall, Courtyard of the Fiestas, Ministry of Education, Mexico City

People’s Charter Flags £7 from www.communistparty.org.uk or CPB Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CRO2 1B

Unity! TUC 2009 Monday  

Unity bulletin published by the Communist Party for the Monday of the 2009 TUC Conference

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