Monday, 8 May 2017

THEM AND US: capitalism creates class divide

The gap between Them and Us is widening - at an appalling speed. 
The Great Class Divide is a global feature that makes the Grand Canyon look like a shallow sheugh. It's an inherent part of how capitalism functions; a gut-wrenching reminder of the sick, dysfunctional system of inequality and exploitation we need to overturn. 
The global class divide is encapsulated by one startling fact: the eight (yes, 8) richest men on the planet have combined wealth exceeding that of the poorest half of the human race, 3.5 billion people. 

UK Rich List 2017 
The annual Sunday Times Rich List has just added to the mind-boggling statistics revealing the gaping chasm between the richest 1,000 in the UK and the multi-millioned rest of us. And Scotland is no different to any other corner of the capitalist UK or capitalist world. 

The richest 1,000 in the UK last year enjoyed a massive 14% boost to their wealth - a surge of £83billion, to a new total of £658billion. 
Almost two-thirds of that pile of wealth (£419billion) is in the tight fists of Britain's 134 billionaires - 19 of whom raised their wealth by over £1billion in the past year alone! 
In keeping with the modern 'city state' of London sucking in a vast chunk of the total wealth of the UK - and contrary to the deceitful nonsense about us being 'better together' in a 'caring, sharing United Kingdom' - 86 of the billionaires are based in London, making it home to the most sterling billionaires of any city on Earth. 

Which Scotland? 
Here in Scotland, we are now blessed with 10 billionaires, compared with 5 in 2012 and one in 2009. 
The 73 Scots now placed in the UK's richest 1,000 are 'worth' just over £30billion - the same sum afforded to the other 5.3 million of us through Scotland's annual block grant from Westminster! Remember that the next time your local council, or NHS board, or employer, tells you they can't afford a pay rise, or have to slash services, or obliterate jobs.
That's an increase of £3.4billion on the pile enjoyed by the Scots on the 2016 Rich List; an increase of 12.6% for the 73 richest people in the nation, in the same year when employers and governments (at UK, Scottish and local authority levels) imposed real-term pay cuts on millions of the workers who produce the actual wealth of the nation. Class division is alive and kicking the livelihoods out of us! 

If you happen to be fond of Glenfiddich whiskey or Hendrick's gin, you're fueling the fortune of Scotland's richest family, the Grant Gordons, whose wealth rocketed by another £210million last year, reaching £2.37billion. 
And don't imagine last year was an aberration, a blip. It's true, as the Sunday Times report commented, that:
"the astonishing strength of the Rich List defies expectations that wealth creation would stall in the lead up to the 2016 EU Referendum and crash after the Brexit vote". 
It's also nauseatingly true, as they add, "wealthy individuals have benefited from the weaker pound" after the Brexit vote. 
But far from being an accident of Brexit and the plunging pound that aided those capitalists and companies with overseas investments, the trend towards ever-increasing class division is ongoing for several years (indeed decades). As the Sunday Times comments: 
"While the rise in wealth among Scotland's richest last year is stunning, the difference over the last 5 years is even more stark. The total wealth of this year's 73 Scots on the Rich List is almost DOUBLE what it was in 2012, marking an £11.49bn (or 62%) increase in the wealth of the Scots in the UK richest 1,000 over 5 years."

Food-banks in Food-rich Scotland
Just in case you've forgotten, this vast mountain of wealth, accumulated in the hands of a tiny handful (about the population of two school classrooms!), has occurred in the same Scotland where last year emergency food parcels for three days were handed out to the equivalent of the entire population of Dundee city. 
And as I said in a speech at my USDAW union national conference in Blackpool last week, this is under the same government which can afford to spend £170-200billion on renewal of Trident nuclear weapons of mass destruction - so we can feel secure in the knowledge we have Trident to protect our food banks from being stolen by any invading foreign states! 

Capitalism Creates the Great Class Divide 
The stark, shattering contrast between the capitalist rich and the rest of us, between Them and Us, is no coincidence, no accident, no act of nature. It's the inevitable product of a capitalist system of ownership and production. It's planned inequality and planned poverty. 
And don't look for the pages of the Sunday Times to find any critique of this gross, gargantuan inequality, nor any hint of how society could be different, more egalitarian. On the contrary, this capitalist mouthpiece carried an editorial headlined 'Don't beat the rich - try to join them', which ended with the clarion call to all us plebs: "We should celebrate the success of the wealthy and try to join them."

We have to assume the Sunday Times readership figures amongst those swallowing their pride as they turn to food banks - workers included - are not high... nor in general amongst those on low or average wages. Why the hell should we 'celebrate the success of the wealthy' when it's the working class produces that wealth in the first place, only to have it legally robbed off us, on a daily basis, by the profit-driven employing class and their hired governments. 

Far from suggesting you race out to buy the Sunday Times, I'd advise you instead add my book Break the Chains to your reading list! It tries to dig deeper, to explain the root causes of exploitation and inequality. It explains and justifies a joined-up package of real-life measures that would transform the lives of millions of people in Scotland, to put an end to 'Them and Us'.

Arm yourself not only with facts, but comprehensive arguments for an entirely different type of society, where capitalist exploitation is replaced by a socialist democracy; where the grotesque class divide between Them and Us is eradicated in favour of a system of cooperation and collectivism in ownership, production and distribution of the vast wealth of Scotland and beyond.

Buy the book, join the struggle, help put an end to excruciating hunger and deprivation amidst grotesque gluttony and greed on the part of the profiteers - the Rich List and their hangers-on.


Sunday, 9 April 2017


SSP proud history of fighting for Council jobs & services

Despite threadbare resources, the SSP is challenging the mainstream parties in the May council elections across Scotland. 
From Nairn to Arran, Dundee to Drumchapel, and a dozen seats in between, we are putting up a socialist case that differs drastically from what's on offer from Labour and SNP contenders for council control. Socialist measures that would transform the lives of working class communities and 250,000 council workers alike, provided a mass movement is built to achieve the changes proposed.

Councils at Sharp End of Austerity 
Local government is at the sharp end of austerity, raining down from the Westminster Tories, left unsheltered by the SNP Holyrood government, who since 2010 have devolved £3billion in Tory cuts to councils, NHS boards and college authorities. 
The recent SNP/Scottish Green budget added £170m in council funding cuts to the catastrophe already visited upon local authorities in recent years - including the 40,000 job losses, the £1.4billion slashed off the wage bill, and the 9.2% cut (from £10.5bn to £9.5bn) in Scottish government funding of councils since 2010/11 (Accounts Commission Report, March 2017). 
The Fraser Allander Institute predicts a further £1billion will be hacked off council revenue funding from Holyrood by 2020. 

As we've often argued, the stark choice is between defiance and destruction; either devolved devastation, or defiance and defeat of the Tory butchers.
That choice applies equally to the Scottish government, whose mandate was won on claims to be anti-austerity, and to local councils of whatever political stripe. 

No Cuts Budgets: Win back our Stolen £Millions!
The SSP is contesting the council elections to broadcast our 100% anti-cuts, anti-austerity, anti-capitalist message... with a raft of positive, socialist alternatives that would easily shelter workers and communities from the storm of savage cuts originating in Westminster, passing through Holyrood unimpeded, blasting out from supine local councils, run by both Labour and the SNP. 
We are arguing for No Cuts Budgets, and for reversal of the cuts already agreed last month by councillors who've failed to stand up for the people they now beg votes off. But we don't see setting No Cuts budgets as an idle gesture, nor a folded arms exercise, but as the launchpad for a mighty battle by mobilized council workers and communities to "win back our stolen £millions", off Westminster and Holyrood. 

For Defiance, not Devolved Destruction

Axe The Council Tax - Make the Rich Pay
The SSP is championing a package of measures that would not only fund No Cuts budgets, standstill budgets, but would generate the resources to vastly expand jobs, local services and wage levels for council workers – including the band of super-exploited council apprentices. 

We have consistently fought for our fully-costed alternative to the regressive Council Tax; the progressive, income-based Scottish Service Tax, which would simultaneously mean about 80% of Scottish people paying less in bills, and literally double the money raised locally for jobs and services; from £2billion in Council Tax last year, to £4billion under our new tax proposal. 
Instead of adding 3% to the already-exorbitant Council Tax bills - in a taxation system that hammers low- and middle-income families far harder than the super-rich in their £million-plus mansions - we are demanding the Scottish government axe the Council Tax, and usher in a Scottish Service Tax based on ability to pay, exempting the first £11,000 income, but making the rich minority pay far greater sums, thereby doubling funds. 

Drop the Debt! Fund People's Services, not PFI Profits 
Socialist councillors would provide the backbone lacking in other parties to challenge another form of daylight robbery of local people by the profiteers. As the Accounts Commission has confirmed, Scottish local authorities have combined debts of £15.2billion, costing a colossal £1.5billion in debt repayments every single year. 
That's cash that could be invested in improved social care for children, disabled people and the elderly; housebuilding and renovation; schools; libraries; community facilities; local bus services; free school meals; sports and recreation; parks; environmental improvements; bin services; local fresh food markets in every housing district; job creation; wage rises instead of 8 years of wage cuts for council workers... 
But instead, that fortune is forked out to moneylenders, bankers and spivs who've plundered public resources for profits made out of long-ago council house building and, especially, the monumental ripoff of PFI/PPP schemes. 

PFI/PPP: The School of Daylight Robbery
Schools and hospitals built or renovated under PFI and PPP - initiated by John Major's Tories, but vastly expanded under Blair and Brown's Labour governments from 1997 - will cost Scottish taxpayers £30.2billion by the time 30-35 years of repayments ("unitary charges") have been completed. That's equivalent to the entire annual budget of the Scottish government. On average, that means for every £1 invested in schools or hospitals through PFI/PPP schemes in Scotland, we are paying back £6! 

In just 8 of Scotland's 32 councils alone, £1.8billion has already been handed over to the PFI spivs for construction or maintenance of schools, but a further £4.5billion is still owed to these big business loan sharks. For example, Edinburgh city council face charges of £64m for each of the 25 PFI schools; Glasgow £1.5billion for 30 PFI schools that initially cost £225m to construct in 2001. 
That's theft on a gargantuan scale. It's robbing not only this generation, but the next, and the one after, of resources desperately needed for useful jobs and services in the community.

44p in the £1 to Moneylenders!
The SSP is demanding that the debt is dropped; that councils discover the backbone to renegotiate and cancel historic debts, and the Scottish government aid them in this. There’s a clear precedent for dropping council debts; when the government imposed mass council housing stock transfers to the likes of Glasgow Housing Association in 2001, they wiped out debt to give that oversized quango a fresh start, lifting the burden of debts that had hung round the council’s neck, hampering their ability to build or renovate homes for rent.
Put simply, we demand an end to the crime where on average across Scotland, for every £1 paid by residents in Council Tax, 44p is handed over to the profiteering moneylenders. Imagine what could be done with all that dosh, swilling around in the bank accounts of, well, bankers, amongst others! 

Minimum £10Now! for Every Council Worker
High up amongst the unique policies being pushed by the SSP in the council elections is one that would transform the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of council staff, increase their spending power in the community, and generally boost local economies; our demand for a £10-an-hour minimum living wage for every council worker - with guaranteed equal pay for women. 

It would be easily affordable - provided a fight is put up for extra funding, for a return of the stolen £millions, to win back the £1billion stolen off councils by Holyrood on behalf of Westminster since 2010/11 alone. Or by cancelling the debts. Or through the Scottish Service Tax doubling the money locally raised. 

The Power to Guarantee £10Now!
But have councils the powers to introduce a £10 minimum? Yes! They don't have the power to legally insist on £10Now! across society; that's reserved to Westminster. But already 13 of the 32 councils bask in the kudos of being Accredited Living Wage Employers, paying the voluntary £8.45 minimum advocated by the Living Wage Foundation. 
In fact, in trying to impose a miserly 1% pay cap on council staff this year, they boast of offering an £8.51 minimum. So the SSP is demanding that councils introduce a £10 minimum - as a step towards ALL workers winning that, across all sectors - and enlist the support of the same staff in an almighty fight to fund the £10 minimum by cancelling ancient council debts, and winning back the funding stolen by governments who've chosen the path of austerity, planned poverty, to bail out the ailing, exploitative capitalist system.

Merseyside mass movements led by socialists beat Thatcher in 1980s

Socialist Councillors' Proud Tradition
The SSP stands in a long, proud socialist tradition of courageous men and women who've used their positions as councillors not to manage the machine, but to challenge the deprivation and class divisions imposed by the bigger, broader capitalist system. 

The socialist councillors of 1920s Poplar, London, who went to jail rather than attack the working class, coining the slogan "Better to Break the Law than Break the Poor" - and whose mobilization of local people won vast improvements in housing, wages and services. 
The 1970s Clay Cross, Derbyshire, socialist councillors who refused to implement Tory rent rises, built council houses, vastly increased council workers' wages, and faced down the threat of jail to stand up for working class people. 
And especially the 1980s Liverpool socialist council, which led a mass movement of the Merseyside working class, beat back the notoriously hard-faced Maggie Thatcher government, and won £60million in government grants off Westminster to sustain an inspiring programme of radical reforms. Life-changing reforms, including 5,000 new council houses; an 8-year rent freeze; 12,000 new construction workers' jobs; new nurseries, leisure centres and parks; vastly improved schools and FE colleges; expanded services; and a £100-a-week minimum wage for a 35 hour week for its 31,000 staff. 

It can be done; it needs to be done; the alternative is devastation. 

Choose SSP #1 on May 4th
The choice on May 4th is fundamentally between a variety of mainstream parties, indulging in tribal warfare and largely manufactured differences on policy, but all wedded to obedience of the cuts handed down by the Westminster Tories - or socialist candidates prepared to help lead a movement to defy and defeat the Tory vandals. 

Every first (or even second) preference vote for the SSP is a statement of intent. A declaration of defiance of the endless round of cuts to jobs, facilities and services. An endorsement of policies that put the interests and livelihoods of working class communities and council workers before the profiteering and privileges of the PFI moneylenders, the bankers, and the 1% who wallow in obscene wealth through tax cuts at the expense of our daily living conditions. 

Choose a better life; choose socialism; vote SSP. Elect fighting, principled socialists.

Monday, 20 March 2017

WIN INDEPENDENCE FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS: don't rely on EU bosses bearing gifts!

The SNP government's declaration of a second Referendum, including its timing - and the brutal, dictatorial response of unelected Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May - has framed the whole debate about independence around EU membership and Brexit. 

As the Scottish Greens, rightly, help the SNP vote for Indy Ref2 in the Scottish parliament, they both - wrongly - make Brexit and membership of the EU and its Single Market the centrepiece of the case for Scottish independence.

Socialists unequivocally support Scottish independence - but not as a means of making life more comfortable, more obscenely profitable for the capitalist elite, whether home-grown or multinational.
We want to win independence as a means to end Tory dictatorship from Westminster, on behalf of the bankers and billionaires, wielding the butchers' knife to public services, pay, job security, rights at work, and our civil rights. 

The SSP's call for an independent socialist Scotland is an inspiring goal that would transform the lives of the working class majority of the population, from the cradle to the grave. Independence would empower a Scottish government – provided it was a government with the principles, policies and political will to confront the capitalist powers at home and abroad – to redistribute wealth and power from top to bottom.

That also makes the case for a socialist Scotland an indispensable weapon of persuasion in the battle for self-rule. Without that message being heard loud and clear, working class people won't be inspired to vote for change, and could be thereby imprisoned in at least another decade of Tory savagery, especially given the enfeebled, war-torn state of Labour. 

Separate Fight for Indy from the EU 

Socialists and trade unionists need to wrestle the case for independence away from being about membership of capitalist Brexit Britain or the capitalist EU. 

It's true enough indeed that the 62% Remain vote in Scotland being ignored by the Blue Brexiteers adds to the case for the Scottish people being empowered to make their own decisions, through independence. But that alone will never win independence; for starters, calling on the 400,000 pro-Indy voters who chose Leave to now vote for independence so Scotland can Remain in the EU is utterly divisive and counterproductive.

I strongly believe we need to demand two key things alongside describing the transformational vision of what could be achieved in an independent socialist Scotland, to decouple the case for Indy from the divisive, confusing issue of the EU. 

Firstly, call for a separate decision on an independent Scotland's relationship to the EU to be fully debated in democratic forums AFTER winning independence, including a post-independence Referendum on the options then available. 

And secondly, here and now broadcast that we want an independent socialist Scotland to help forge cooperation between equals, on the basis of an alliance of socialist democracies across Europe - instead of either the Blue Brexiteers' capitalist, isolationist hell-house, or the EU of brutal big business interests. 

Tell the Truth - about Brexit

In fighting to convince a majority of working class people to vote Yes, we need to tell the truth - including on what needs to be done to defend and vastly enhance workers' rights, at work and in their communities. 

Those who imagined a Brexit vote would turbocharge a wave of united workers' struggle against the Tories and capitalist bosses are indulging in a dystopian version of La La Land. Whilst for many the Leave vote was a raging against years of neglect by the capitalist machine, the Brexit outcome has sown even more confusion and division, including the scapegoating of migrant workers, and handed the Tories an unexpected golden opportunity to bludgeon to death the flimsy rights workers cling onto. If we let them away with it!

Tell the Truth - about the EU 

But when the SNP and Scottish Greens advocate the gushing glories of Scotland keeping its place in the EU, they are at bottom advocating a continuation of the capitalist Age of Austerity, and the interlinked attacks on workers' rights. 

Whilst most ordinary people who voted to Remain in the EU did so for honourable, internationalist ideals – and in rejection of the axe-wielding, service-slashing, pay-cutting Tories, plus the ugly racism of Farage, Boris Johnston and their Leave leadership - many also shared the SSP's view that it was the lesser of two evil choices in the binary EU Referendum. 

One of the key tasks of socialists, including in our workplaces and unions, is to unmask the debilitating, demobilizing nonsense peddled not only by the SNP and Greens, but especially (and more importantly) by most trade union leaders, that membership of the EU is the road to salvation for workers' rights. 

Struggle is the only Guarantee 

Our fundamental message needs to be that united, collective struggles by workers is what's won the all-too-limited rights we have; not some benign handouts from the EU and its ruling, unelected executive, the European Commission (the selected heads of 28 Member states). 

And whether in or out of the EU, it will require massive resistance and action by workers and their organizations to halt and reverse the tide of assaults on our rights and conditions. Just as we need to hoist high the case for a Scotland run by its working class majority, a socialist Scottish republic, so too we need to enhance people's understanding that class-based struggle is the only guarantee of decent wages, workplace conditions, equality, humane public services, environmental protection...

Evolution of the capitalist EU 

Like any institution, the EU has changed over time, reflecting wider trends throughout the capitalist societies it was founded to uphold and develop in the first place. And those changes are reflected in the EU Directives, Regulations and policies - issued by the European Commission, or sometimes ruled on by the EU's Court of Justice (ECJ). Some have been helpful to those struggling for better rights andconditions for working class people in the various member states; others have been downright dangerous, obstructive and regressive. 

Space prevents a full description, but suffice to say in an earlier period of the EU, particularly from the late-1980s - some progressive regulations were issued, encapsulated in the term 'Social Chapter'. But the EU never pretended to be a socialist institution; it preferred the term 'Social Market' - the model of post-War Germany, with some limited state regulations over the excesses of the capitalist market.

Social Chapter - a Passing Phase

Compared to the red-in-tooth-and-claw savagery of Maggie Thatcher’s monetarists of the 1980s, EU President of the time, Jacques Delors, won rapturous applause at the 1988 TUC conference, for his promises of what became the Social Chapter at the following year’s Strasbourg Summit. What Delors carefully concealed, of course, to the assembled TUC delegates, was his role – as its Finance Minister - in helping the ‘Socialist’ Mitterand government of France abandon all the promised reforms that had enthused millions in the previous elections.

In the face of subsequent defeats at the hands of Thatcher’s civil war against workers’ rights and livelihoods, culminating in the defeat of the 1984/5 miners’ strike, a big majority of union leaders sheltered behind the mildly progressive rules and Directives issuing from the EU Commission in that period. It was a substitute for giving leadership in struggle. It ran in tandem with their constant refrain during the 13 wasted years of Tory rule: “Wait for a Labour government”. It was one feature of the defeatist, class-collaborationist philosophy of far too many union leaders at the time – which aided and abetted the biggest wealth transfusion to the rich from the rest of us over 30 years of them discouraging a more combative course by workers.

As the crisis of capitalism intensified, the EU’s phase described as the Social Chapter died; morphed from being a sweetener to bitter pills, to being the poison of austerity and deregulation of the market itself; from being a partial shield from Thatcherism in Britain to being a vehicle for the spread of ‘Thatcherism’ across the EU.

The EU's lifelong adherence to the interests of monopoly capitalism has increasingly meant the Commission, European Central Bank, and European Court Justice have helped national governments enforce vicious austerity, particularly since the 2008 bankers' crisis. 

European Decency Threshold Downgraded 

A few examples illustrate the general trends, and the central lesson that we need to rely on working class struggle, not the EU, to resist the savagery of the capitalist class and their pliant politicians. 

In the past, the European Decency Threshold, which called for the national minimum wage in each EU country to match 68% of the national average wage, was a very useful weapon in the hands of those of us fighting against the growing theft of wages for profit. But it was only ever an aspiration, not legally enforceable on each state's government. And as social democratic parties and governments converged with the traditional conservatives in unabashed defence of capitalism - as in New Labour - the EU reflected this and drastically downgraded the Decency Threshold, rendering it almost useless in the fight for a decent living wage here or abroad.

Workers Won Reforms, not EU bosses 

Many of the positive rights attributed to the EU by its zealous advocates are either the product of class struggles by workers in one or more EU state, or actually have nothing whatsoever to do with the EU! 

When the TUC General Secretary, Frances O'Grady, last year wrote that "It's the EU that guarantees workers paid holidays, parental leave and equal treatment of part timers" - a claim repeated almost verbatim by Jeremy Corbyn, who added "equal pay" to the list - they were at best misleading workers.
Dangerously misleading, in a fashion almost designed to make workers rely on the benign EU Commissioners rather than defend our rights and conditions through the organised trade unions and their allies. 

Nothing to do with the EU!

Entitlements to paid holidays vastly predate the very existence of the EU, or even its EEC predecessor. French workers won guaranteed annual paid leave of 12 days back in 1936, when they forced the elected Left Front government to take action by occupying the factories and striking! 

Trade union struggles in the UK won the Holidays Pay Act in 1938. 

And even today, organised union pressure has meant UK workers are guaranteed 5.6 weeks paid holidays, well better than the 4 weeks the EU demands.

Equal Pay 

Equal pay - still disgracefully denied to millions of women in practice - was legislated for in the UK in 1970, well before Britain even joined the Common Market/EEC, in 1973. And the Equal Pay Act was forced upon the British government by the ground-breaking strike action of women workers in Fords Dagenham plant in 1968. Furthermore, the same women had to launch a more prolonged strike years after the Act was passed, to actually get the equal pay it promised! 

So whilst anti-discrimination Directives from the EU are welcome, they merely reaffirmed what was won on the picket lines and workers' demonstrations. 

The EU Directives guarantee 14 weeks paid maternity leave; decades of campaigning has won the concession of 37 weeks here. 

Health and Safety laws in Scotland are based on the 1974 Act that was conceded on the wave of industrial struggles that overthrew Ted Heath's Tory government in February 1974; it was not a generous handout from either British capitalists nor their EU co-thinkers. 

Some EU Regulations, like the Working Time Directives, acted as a dented, limited shield in the face of savage attacks by Thatcher's, and subsequently Blair's governments. In terms of capping compulsory hours of work at 48 and insisting on guaranteed minimum break times during and between shifts, they are welcome reforms. 

But all along the British government insisted on opt-out clauses, and can do so entirely legally, within the framework of EU regulations and rulings. For instance, the Tories' railroading laws to remove doctors and nurses from the 48-hour limit underlay the Junior Doctors' strike last year. And all workers in Scotland can 'choose' - often under 'subtle' duress from employers - to waive that right anyway, fuelling the life-threatening long hours culture we are cursed by.

Capitalists Pick and Choose 

The positive EU measures are often ferociously resisted and bypassed by the Westminster club of capitalist politicians, but the equally numerous anti-working class EU Directives and regulations are eagerly seized upon to back up their drive to privatize, slash public expenditure and make workers pay for a capitalist crisis caused by bankers and the profit system. 

And in the case of Scotland, these EU Directives have been frequently used as an excuse for inaction, or regressive measures, by the SNP government. We shouldn't forget that as an added reason to decouple the case for Scottish independence from the SNP's advocacy of the EU as a land of milk and honey.

Strangling Public Spending 

For decades, and increasingly in recent years, the EU has framed laws to aid the privateers and the help enforce the capitalists' chosen path of austerity. 

The EU Stability and Growth Pact prohibits government budget deficits above 3% of GDP, thereby banning state expenditure to provide jobs, houses and services, reinforcing the downward spiral of cuts. 

A 2008 Directive called for postal services to be "fully open to competition by December 2012", adding to the Tory (and Labour) armoury in shedding the 400-year-old, public sector Royal Mail. 

From the EU's First Rail Directive in 1991, to its more recent Fourth, the EU Commissioners seek to break up and privatize the entire rail networks of all EU states. 

Successive British Tory and Labour governments needed no encouragement from the EU to privatise all and sundry, or apply a scorched earth policy to public services. But they certainly got encouragement, as increasingly anti-working class governments in the member states huddled together in the one and only EU institution with the powers to initiate rules and Directives - the unelected European Commission.  

SNP Hide Behind EU Directives 

That's an example of where the SNP government chooses to comply rather than defy all that's reactionary and regressive about the EU. 

On both the issues of railway renationalisation and Scotland's ferries, they chose to obey the laws of the capitalist market, including its EU bureaucracy, and hide behind them instead of proceeding to implement the oft-expressed wishes of the overwhelming majority of Scottish people by taking the entire transport system into public, democratic ownership. 

It was only after strike action and legal challenges by the RMT union that the SNP government conceded on keeping some of the ferries in the public sector, and retreated on implementing their contract clause for ScotRail that insists on driver only trains - in itself the product of their refusal to nationalise the railways, regardless of EU rules.

Undermining Wages 

Another major weapon used by employers and national governments in their war on wages is the EU Posted Workers Directive (PWD). This, and associated ECJ rulings, allows profiteers to set up shop abroad, or post workers from one EU country to another branch of their operations, to undermine wage rates. 

In its actual wording, the EU PWD states: "Member states shall guarantee workers posted to their territory the terms and conditions of employment...which in the member state where the work is carried out...are laid down by law, regulation or administrative provision." 

On the surface, harmless sounding? On the contrary, it means bosses paying only the national minimum wage to migrant workers, not the rate for the job negotiated and fought for through the unions in the host nation.
For instance, last year construction workers' unions in Rotherham, Yorkshire, waged a battle against a Croatian subcontractor company hiring Croatian workers to build a power station on £7 an hour, undercutting the national industry collective agreement rate of £16.64 an hour. The unions rightly fought to organise the migrant workers and win equality, the rate for the job, rather than fall prey to the racist division this Posted Workers Directive inevitably triggers. 

Tory Brexiteers Wage Class War 

The Tories are hell-bent on inciting division during the Brexit process, to ease the path to further crush workers' rights, public services and wages as a share of national wealth.
It's no accident their recently-implemented Trade Union Act has taken full effect in March 2017, with barely a whisper of protest, as the white noise around Brexit lets rip. 

But to counter this reactionary plan by the Tories and employing class, it's worse than useless, indeed downright dangerous, to counter-pose it with claims of the EU being some Nirvana of workers' rights and protection of all that's civilized. 

We need to advocate Scottish independence as the best, quickest escape route from Tory dictatorship.

An opening to demand and enforce a Charter of Workers’ Rights, alongside other key measures like a £10 minimum wage for all at 16 (in 2017 figures); a maximum wage no more than 10 times the minimum to help close the chasm of inequality; the union-negotiated rate and rights for the job for migrant workers; guaranteed minimum 16-hour contracts instead of zero hours serfdom; public ownership of all services, energy, banks and landed estates.

Greek Tragedy 

But that's got nothing to do with false claims that EU membership would gift the Scottish people a secure, pleasant future. 

On the contrary: not only will that claim drastically undermine the case for independence, but it is selling a lie to the working class. And underneath it all is the pernicious message that we don't need to organise in an almighty class struggle for transformational change, but that we should just rely on benign politicians to hand out workers and communities rights and services like sweeties issued by kindly grandparents. 

Try telling that tale of 'EU bosses bearing gifts' to the Greek people, who voted massively against austerity, and then were told by the EU to slash spending even further, despite starvation on the streets and hospitals running out of painkillers, and to tax the poorest as part of a grossly misnamed 'rescue package'. 

For an Independent Socialist Scotland - In a socialist Europe

We need to decouple the issues of independence and the EU.

For an independent Scotland that can then proceed to debate and decide its place in Europe and the wider world after gaining self government.

For an independent socialist Scotland that could help pioneer collaboration between equals in a future alliance of socialist democracies across Europe.

Most important of all perhaps, we need to unmask the demobilizing myth that Scottish people should rely on the EU and its benign regulations to protect us from capitalist exploitation.

Anything protective, however limited and feeble, that the EU calls for is the result of struggle by workers' organizations, and in any case hedged with umpteen opt-out clauses.

And as the populist right and hard-faced capitalism holds more and more sway across Europe, the EU act as thuggish enforcers for the Age of Austerity. 

Working class people need to rely on their own organised strength, demanding all that's best in Europe for the people of Scotland, and likewise defying all that's worst in the EU capitalist club. 

We need independent workers' struggle, an independent socialist Scotland, and an alliance of European socialist democracies to confront and eradicate the crimes of profit against people. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

NORTHERN IRELAND: for working class unity and socialism

The March 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections have thrown up all manner of questions and crises.
Will the Assembly institutions collapse? Will there be another immediate election? Will Westminster have to impose Direct Rule and risk an almighty backlash from both Catholic and Protestant communities? How did the DUP cling on - just, by one seat - as the biggest party in the midst of the stink of corruption enveloping their leader, Arlene Foster? What does the 3.9% rise in Sinn Fein's vote share signify? Will they push for an Irish border poll? And above all, what should socialists - or even active trade unionists - think of all this?

The elections arose from the Cash for Ash scandal, which eventually led to Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigning, thereby collapsing the power-sharing Executive between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein (SF), triggering another Assembly election just 10 months after the previous one.

What is Cash for Ash? Rotten, stinking corruption of the highest order, costing £490million in overspend in subsidies to businesses and landowners, which will have to mean £490m additional cuts to other public services. This in a society where savage austerity is already being implemented by the outgoing DUP/Sinn Fein Executive - with, for instance, 75% of the GP surgeries in my native County Fermanagh facing closure!

The Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) was introduced in 2012 by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster - MLA for Fermanagh & South Tyrone, and subsequently Northern Ireland First Minister. The RHI is a scheme first introduced in Britain, with subsidies for non-domestic heating systems that are supposedly environmentally friendly. 

But one profound amendment to the UK scheme was made by Foster and her DUP political advisers; a quite conscious, blatantly corrupt amendment. The cap on the subsidy available was removed. This means that for every £1 spent on biomass wooden pellets to heat up barns and outhouses the likes of big farmers enjoy a subsidy of £1.60! Hence the phrase Cash for Ash; the more they burn, the more money they get off the public purse - from working- and middle-class taxpayers. 
Empty factories and barns have been heated to harvest vast sums of money for businesses and landowners. The Audit Commission for N Ireland has warned it could eventually cost the public an astonishing £1billion in handouts to these corrupt, profiteering chancers.

When some of the DUP advisers raised concerns about the scheme as far back as 2013, Arlene Foster dismissed them. Not only that, but friends and families of the DUP hierarchy proceeded to speed up their applications for RHI subsidies, with a spike in applicants in the months and years following the concerns being raised and ignored by Foster and her cohort. 
To give one more example from my home county: Viscount Brookeborough - part of the Unionist family dynasty that included the longest-serving Prime Minister in the old, post-Partition, sectarian Stormont - owns a vast landed estate of 1,000 acres in Fermanagh. He has grabbed £1.6million for heating buildings on his estate, through this monumental scam.

But until very recently the DUP/SF power-sharing Executive did nothing to combat this crass corruption. The projected £490m overspend was known to all the parties in Stormont since early 2016, but nothing was done by any of the major parties, Sinn Fein included. As recently as December 2016, a motion for Foster's resignation was put to the Assembly; Sinn Fein abstained in the vote, rather than topple the corrupt First Minister and Executive. Only the eruption of growing disgust amongst the population, aired in the local media, led to SF's Martin McGuinness eventually taking a hardline stance, resigning as Deputy First Minister on 8th January, forcing out Foster and triggering the new elections.

During the elections, SF made much of the RHI corruption scandal, with posters declaring RHI - Respect, Honesty, Integrity. Their calls for respect and equality particularly resonated with Catholic voters. 
Revulsion at Foster was by no means restricted to the Catholic community that SF are exclusively based in. Many Protestants were appalled, sickened into not turning out to vote, or in a minority of cases voting for 'others'. 
And at time of writing, rumblings within the inner sanctums of the DUP itself are growing louder, with reportedly a third of the DUP MLAs wanting Foster to resign as leader. 
This rumbling rebellion in the DUP reflects the disgust amongst their electoral base - as well as their desire to remove this human roadblock to them getting on with enjoying their over-paid positions, rather than run the risk of yet another election after the 3-week deadline for forming a Unionist-Nationalist power-sharing government.

One of the remarkable facts of the election is that the DUP managed to cling onto its absolute vote, although its share fell compared to May 2016 - for the third election in a row. How?
Fundamentally because Foster endlessly recited warnings that Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams and 'the IRA' would become the biggest party unless Protestants turned out and voted DUP. Many will have cast their vote on this negative basis, whilst holding their noses at the stench of corruption surrounding Foster's DUP. Others didn't; hence their net loss of 10 MLAs, and slightly reduced share of the popular vote, in a greatly increased turnout compared to 2016. 

Underlying the success of that communal appeal rests the entire system of government established by the Peace Process in 1998. 
And it's also that governmental structure - the power-sharing arrangements between Unionists and Nationalists - that helped fuel the further advance of Sinn Fein as the biggest party in the Catholic community. In fact, SF were a minuscule 1,168 votes behind the DUP's First Preferences, winning 27.9% of all first preferences against the DUP's 28.1% - as they far more successfully mobilized than the DUP, as reflected in the increased overall turnout of voters - up 10 points from May 2016 to 64%.

The Peace Process, through both the 1998 Belfast Agreement and the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement, established a system of power-sharing that is purely between a political elite; it certainly doesn't open the door to working class people of either or both communities sharing power. 
And it's a system with a history in other nations also bedeviled by communal conflicts; divisions implanted by imperialist powers in the first place. 
It's an institutionalized arrangement between parties rooted in segregated communities that was infamously applied in the Lebanon, between parties based in the Christian, Sunni and Shia populations. A divisive political arrangement which only reinforced the communal divisions and eventually fell apart, leading to a savage civil war that decimated that country over 15 years of bloody conflict, from 1975 onwards.

In the Northern Ireland Assembly, every elected MLA has to be designated as either a Unionist, Nationalist, or Other. Additionally, what's called the Petition of Concern gives a full-blown veto to any 30 MLAs - either Unionist or Nationalist - against anything the Assembly majority might vote for. In that built-in mechanism, the duly elected MLAs who refuse to define themselves as either Unionist or Nationalist, but are classified as Others, literally disappear from the voting process. So much for democracy! 

A recent case, before last Christmas, that illustrates this monstrously sectarian set-up was when a majority of Assembly members voted for a motion demanding the resignation of Arlene Foster over her handling of Cash for Ash, which 30 Unionist MLAs vetoed, turning the Assembly majority into its opposite. The same device was used by the DUP to block lifting the ban on same sex marriage. 

For socialists, class is primary. It's the key definition of the nature of capitalist society. It explains the roots of poverty and inequality. Working class people in Ireland (as in Scotland and worldwide) are exploited by capitalists, bankers and landowners regardless of which religious tag (or none) is attached to them. 

British imperialism has a particularly long, bloody, filthy history of exploitation in Ireland, through ruthless repression and naked incitement of sectarian divisions; the age-old trick of divide-and-rule, rehearsed in its first colony, then practiced across the globe as they conquered lands and labour for the enrichment of the British ruling class. 
Those who view the Assembly elections purely as an unavoidable contest between two irreconcilable tribes, resulting in the dog-fight between the DUP and SF, miss this critical factor entirely.

Irish history is strewn with the tragic results of imperialism's divide-and-rule. But Ireland's hidden history - all too often unknown even to trade unionists and socialists in Scotland or beyond - also contains whole chapters of heroic working class unity in struggle. 
That's what Edinburgh-born James Connolly and Liverpool-born Jim Larkin strove to build in Ireland - with many glorious successes - over a century ago. 
That's what produced wave after wave of united strikes in N Ireland throughout the 30 years of 'the Troubles'. Not one single industrial action was broken by sectarian division throughout that terrible period. 
In fact, if it hadn't been for the fundamental unity in most workplaces, and several strikes against sectarian threats and killings from either sets of paramilitaries - with Catholic and Protestant trade unionists braving the dangers, striking, picketing and marching together - civil war would have engulfed the North in the 1970s or 1980s. 

And what most commentators - including many self-defined socialists - utterly ignore, is that the Peace Process itself was at bottom the product of growing opposition to sectarian killings and continued armed struggle by the mass of the working class, both Catholic and Protestant. 
Working class communities became war-weary and sick of failed republican 'urban guerillaism' tarnished by sectarianism, and of the vicious killings of Catholics by the Loyalist paramilitaries. 
People marched in protest, made the armed volunteers aware of their feelings in their respective communities, and the British ruling class seized this opening - and the exhaustion of the armed volunteers - to isolate the paramilitaries and gradually broker a settlement that led to ceasefires and the power-sharing Assembly.

In the absence of a mass, united socialist movement that could bring that instinctive unity and desire for peace to a socialist conclusion, the Peace Process and all its institutions were formed, ensnaring the Republican movement in the ballot box rather than the bullet. 

But the fatal flaw of that settlement is that it leaves two interlinked features of Ireland entirely intact: sectarian division, and the capitalist system of exploitation that spawned sectarianism in the first place.
The NI Assembly and all its structures assume the working class will never be united, that they'll be forever politically divided, segregated. 
Hence the Unionist/Nationalist/Others categorization of elected MLAs, and the governing Executive being always made up of Unionists and Nationalists, the biggest of them nominating First Minister, the other choosing his/her Deputy. 

It institutionalizes sectarian division, rather than remove it. It segregates political parties, giving them a vested interest in keeping communities apart so they can retain their electoral base, scaring the living daylights out of voters about the risks of victory for 'the other side'. It consciously cuts across the emergence of class-based politics for the working class. 

A whole generation has grown up since the ceasefires of nearly 20 years ago. They're overwhelmingly sick of the dinosaurs who dominate political life - but still suffer the complications of the segregated political system. They're mostly in favour of equality on issues like same sex marriage and abortion rights - both blocked by the socially reactionary DUP in particular.

When elections occur, it's almost like two parallel elections happening simultaneously; one for the biggest Unionist party, the other for the biggest Nationalist party. 
For a good 20 years, both of the smaller Unionist and Nationalist parties - the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP - have been discarded by a majority of voters in the respective communities as being useless, untrustworthy, or ineffective - although they both still hold onto seats in certain areas.

But the modest glimpse of the potential for an entirely different future, free of communal politics, sectarian camps, are to be seen in two distinct forms in recent years. 
One is the growing number who refuse to go out and vote, despite all the pressure to do so in communities that often feel under siege, or on the brink of winning what they want - because they are 'sick of the lot of them'. 
Last May a full 46% of registered voters stayed at home. Disaffection expressed in falling turnouts featured in five elections in a row since 2000. The latest election bucked that trend, as Catholics in particular turned out to avenge the corruption and disrespect they felt from Foster's DUP. 
The other, more positive feature is the modest but important vote for parties and formations that refuse to be pigeon-holed as nationalist or unionist, the 'Others'.

The Alliance Party is non-sectarian, but screamingly middle class. It's vote comes especially from more liberal-minded, well-off layers of the population.
The Green Party is also non-sectarian, and critical of austerity - unlike its sister party in the South who entered an axe-wielding coalition government with FIne Gael and suffered the retribution of voters they so richly deserved! It held onto its two MLAs. 

More significant still, though only at an embryonic stage of development, are the votes for two avowedly anti-sectarian, anti-austerity, left-wing, pro-socialist formations: the People Before Profit Alliance and the Cross Community Labour Alternative.

The PBPA openly declares itself 'neither Orange or Green', has been active in anti-cuts campaigns, and in 2016 won two MLAs - veteran socialist and well-known journalist Eamonn McCann in Derry, and young West Belfast city councillor Gerry Carroll. 
In the recent elections, McCann lost his seat in the final count,  and although he retained his place in the Assembly, Carroll's vote was squeezed from over 8,000 First Preferences last year to over 4,000. 

Other socialists and trade unionists have established Cross Community Labour Alternative in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership election. They won 644 votes in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, standing a well-known trade union activist who has been involved in numerous local campaigns against cuts and fracking - and lesser votes in three other seats, straddling both communities in East, West and South Belfast.

The juggernauts of Unionism and Nationalism, based on a sectarian Orange versus Green headcount, mostly crushed the challenge of these smaller forces - in part because the fear remains that voting for them would 'let the other side in'. 
Until such time as more sweeping, generalized struggles of workers and communities erupt on social, economic, class questions, the tendency for polarized voting between two communal camps will prevail; in large measure because that's how the Peace Process institutions are designed. Deliberately!

Nobody on 'the left' in Scotland or beyond needs any time spent convincing them the DUP is a bigoted, conservative, anti-equality, reactionary party of neo-liberalism - steeped in corruption to boot - that exploits the allegiance of rural and working class Protestants to fill their own pockets, and those of rich landowners and capitalists.
But some of those who see themselves as 'lefts', even 'socialists', would do well to pause and ponder their uncritical excitement at the 3.9% rise in Sinn Fein's share of the vote compared with 2016. 

Sinn Fein is not a socialist party and never has been - though some of its members see themselves as such. At most, SF do what the SNP also do in a very different political context; they face both ways at once, depending on their audience. The SNP tries to appeal to left-leaning former Old Labour voters in Scotland's urban Central Belt, with radical-sounding phrases. But they also woo and soothe the tartan Tory voters of the well-heeled, rural north of Scotland, refusing to tax the rich, diluting even their calls for Scottish independence. 

Sinn Fein has a long history of sounding semi-socialist, certainly anti-Tory, in their working class heartlands, especially West Belfast. But they punt more nakedly sectarian appeals to 'Catholic voters' and 'the nationalist people' in areas such as rural Fermanagh.

More fundamentally, SF are happy to power-share with the monstrous Orange Tory DUP.
SF are currently playing hardball in demanding the corrupt, corroded Arlene Foster must go as DUP leader and therefore First Minister. But it seems absolutely certain that if Nigel Dodds or some other DUP figure replaces Foster, Sinn Fein will readily embrace the DUP in a new power-sharing Executive, again.

SF did nothing noticeable to expose the Cash for Ash scandal for years, including the years of sharing government responsibility with the DUP, and moreover abstained in the December vote demanding Foster's resignation over this poisonous corruption. 

And beyond the immediate Cash for Ash outrage, SF has jointly implemented savage cuts to welfare benefits that will slash the incomes of 100,000 people by up to £2,000. That's on top of previous years of austerity cuts, and privatisation of services, whether in their role in the NI Executive or in local councils. And it's as well as Sinn Fein's support for cuts to Corporation Tax which they share with the Orange Tories - Arlene Foster included - which will actually rob the public purse of at least as much every year as the Cash for Ash scam does! 

SF has conquered deep roots in working class Catholic districts as their perceived defenders from decades of state repression, and in the absence of determined, militant resistance being organised by the leadership of the trade union and labour movement over those same decades. 
In particular, labour and trade union movement leaders' failure to build a united political voice of the working class, based on the unions and communities, taking up all the issues of repression, poverty, austerity, sectarianism and the complex issue of Irish partition on a firm class basis. 
But that is still no excuse for pretending Sinn Fein is a socialist party, or of hiding from their baleful track record in government alongside - in coalition with - the DUP.

The working class of Northern Ireland deserves better than two political tribes going to war for votes, so they can then go to war on the living conditions of the working class. 

A united, anti-sectarian socialist party is easier wished for than created and made into a mass force. But that makes it none the less necessary and urgent. Working class unity and socialism go hand-in-hand, and are the only route to solutions to poverty, inequality, austerity, corruption, equal rights for women and minorities, or indeed the vestiges of the national question. 

Even if frustration at the current deadlock in the institutions of post-Troubles N Ireland erupts, there is no appetite for a return to the past, to the days of armed struggle and sectarian killings. The mass of the working class were instrumental in enforcing the ceasefires of the past 20 years and are not about to give support to any resumption of those methods. 
But the peace has always been fragile, flawed, prone to flare-ups on unresolved issues such as flags and emblems, parades, the Irish language and the century-old issue of the border created by British imperialist partition.

Loose talk by some on 'the left' in Scotland about the case for a border poll in Ireland  - as mooted by Sinn Fein in the context of both Brexit and the first ever majority vote for nationalist parties in Northern Ireland's Assembly - is dangerous and divisive. 

It was brutally wrong that Ireland was partitioned by imperialism in the 1920s; it ushered in the 'carnival of reaction' predicted by James Connolly over a century ago. It was entirely unacceptable that the Catholic minority in the North were imprisoned in a statelet that meant systematic discrimination, repression and abject poverty for them. 

But it would be equally wrong to try to force the Protestants into a united capitalist Ireland, just because Catholics may outnumber them in the North in the years ahead. And in any case a big minority of northern Catholics (including Sinn Fein voters) are also opposed to joining the capitalist South, as it today exists, according to various opinion polls. 

The vision of a socialist Ireland - a world apart from the type of societies that currently exist, North and South - is what's required to unite working class people, by convincing  them not only of the social and economic advantages, but that guarantees for all minorities would be embedded in such a socialist democracy. 
Consent, through patient explanation and above all years of united struggle by working class people on common, class questions is the route to a socialist Ireland - not the ultimatum of a border poll, let alone armed force. 

Working class unity and socialism may not be the prevailing state of affairs in Ireland in 2017. But it's the watchword for progress, the cause worth fighting for, the route map to a future free of exploitation, repression and division in Britain's first colony. 

And instead of reinforcing illusions in forces like Sinn Fein - just because they're electorally powerful - Irish working class unity and socialism is the aim that trade unionists and socialists in Scotland should bend their efforts towards helping fellow workers and socialists in Ireland achieve.