Tuesday, 27 March 2018

UNIVERSITY BOSSES ON THE RUN: keep chasing them!



Strikes work! Well organised collective action, with full involvement and mobilization of union members, can put to flight even the most hard-nosed employers. 
That's the core lesson from the ongoing, rapidly evolving struggle to defend pensions for university staff, involving unprecedented strike action by members of the University and College Union (UCU). 

Lecturers, teaching assistants, researchers, librarians, IT and other student support staff voted by a whopping 83% majority for strike action, smashing down the multiple barriers erected by the Tory Trade Union Act, designed precisely to prevent workers from fighting back in self-defence. The first phase of action involved 14 days of strikes, plus action short of strike action (ASOS), including sticking to their contracted 35-hour week. 
Before the wave of strikes, growing pickets and massive rallies, the UUK university bosses insisted the existing defined benefits pension scheme was dead and gone, never to be resurrected. Staff were to lose defined benefits, their pensions to switch to an entirely Stock Market-dependent defined contribution scheme, with the loss of an average £10,000-a-year on retirement. All based on their dodgy valuation of the state of the pension scheme - the USS - which perpetrated the austerity-driven narrative that the pension pot is in deficit, so they simply can't afford to sustain the deferred wages of university staff, throwing them at the mercy of the vagaries of the grotesque gambling den that is the Stock Exchange. 
For weeks, the UUK bosses refused to even talk to the UCU union. Then they made the absurdly offensive offer of talks... but not about pensions! 

Strikers' Control 
Faced with the third of a four-week strike plan, they entered ACAS-sponsored talks with the UCU, and offered some concessions, which initially the national UCU negotiators portrayed as an agreement. All hell erupted on the picket lines, with online petitions gathering thousands of objections to the 'deal' literally overnight, and just about unanimous rejection of this 'agreement' by every single UCU branch meeting the next morning. The rank and file of the union - the strikers and their branch activists - seized back control, and insisted the national negotiators throw out a shoddy package that meant (to quote a couple of the numerous examples I was given on the pickets) staff 'only' losing 42% of their pension instead of 52%, or 'only' 38% instead of the original 48%! 

Emboldened by Insulting Offer 
This episode massively emboldened the strikers, hardened their resolve to hold onto their defined benefits pensions, without cuts to what after all is earned, deferred wages. New forces joined the pickets. New recruits joined the UCU and joined the strike; union membership grew by 15-20% nationally over the duration of this phase of strike action. 
The strikers' strength was further fuelled by the solidarity shown by fellow trade unionists at the pickets, solidarity rallies, and collections for their Strike Hardship Fund. Likewise, by the widespread support from students - including the courageous actions of a determined minority in student occupations at Edinburgh, Stirling, Glasgow, Strathclyde, Aberdeen and Dundee universities.

Solidarity and Steep Learning Curves 
This workforce has not traditionally been the most militant in its trade unionism, but a month of collective action has taught more than decades of theoretical discourse. The electrified atmosphere of the pickets, roving marches round university buildings, and rallies with strikers and their allies speaking, have served to make determined fighters of people who are often on their first ever strike... or who've only just joined the union! 
The growing strike force went back to work after the first phase of 14 days with heads held high. In Stirling, for instance, they assembled at the site of picketing and marched back to work with union banners, behind a piper! 

Bosses Split 
The strike and widespread solidarity from other workers, and students, impacted on the university bosses, leading to splits and public disagreements between the various Vice-Chancellors and the UUK. Union branches pounded the former with demands to make supportive declarations, and to spread loss of earnings through strike action over 3 months, often successfully. 
They also kicked up hell about more bellicose bosses docking pay for staff working to contract, rather than the usual millions of unpaid hours worked through goodwill towards students' education. 
After the roaring success of the first four weeks of strikes, UCU members enforced a 'work to contract', and in preparation for the second national strike phase announced for the exam period from 25 April onwards, over 700 resigned their posts as External Examiners, which would make the exam-period strikes really bite. 

First Serious Offer 
Hot on the heels of this mounting pressure, Unison announced a ballot of its union members on the same pension scheme, which undoubtedly was an added factor in the sudden, apparently spectacular retreat by UUK bosses on Friday 23 March. 

Many strikers were at first astonished and euphoric at what appeared like capitulation by the bosses. But as they scraped away the layers of verbal trickery and obfuscation, it became clear that whilst this is the first serious offer from the employers, and a huge retreat by them, it needs an awful lot of clarification and tightening up to become acceptable. 

As Strathclyde UCU branch president Brian Garvey told me, "After declaring the UCU demand for the status quo on defined benefits to be impossible, they've now conceded it - at least until April 2019." 

The new offer also proposes 'an independent panel of experts' to assess the valuation of what the pension scheme (USS) can support in the future, with 50% nominees from the union, 50% from the employers. But as Brian added, "We need to test the real independence of this panel." 

One of the crunch clauses in the offer is that after April 2019, and after valuation of the USS by the 'independent panel', pension benefits would remain "broadly equivalent to current arrangements." What does 'broadly equivalent' mean? This could be a trap, a deal-breaker, whereby a besieged gang of university bosses try to obscure future cuts to pensions for current and/or future staff, including the spectre of two-tier pension schemes for current and future staff. 

Closing the Loopholes: No Detriment! 
Strikers have pored over the details, and as I write this (Monday 26 March), are holding branch meetings instructing national union negotiators to demand these grey areas are cleared up, to defend the existing defined benefits system, without detriment to staff. 
As Brian Garvey told me, "We need to close the loopholes on economic arguments about the valuation of the pension scheme. If the proposed Panel was to decide the USS is in deficit, we should demand action against mismanagement - and there's been plenty of that around! For instance, the employers' past pension contributions holidays. The bottom line needs to be no detriment to staff. 
This is a huge step forward which demonstrates the effectiveness of strike action, but in its current wording, it's not yet an acceptable offer." 

The UCU strikers have plenty of grounds to be distrustful of top UUK bosses - and their slippery use of language! 
After all - as I've hammered home in speeches at four solidarity rallies at Strathclyde and one at Stirling university, speaking as newly-elected USDAW NEC member:
"These are the same bosses who declare a black hole in the pension fund - despite last year's USS annual report showing 20% growth in assets. These are the bosses who claimed £8million in expenses over the last two years - on top of the 60 Vice-Chancellors who each earn over £300,000 a year. In the same institutions which rake in £17billion a year from students alone. Hardly a corner shop in crisis!" 

And if - contrary to all the existing evidence - the valuation process was to declare a deficit in the USS pension scheme, the employers who took several years of contributions holiday should be forced to fill any gap by increasing their contributions, rather than punish workers for the university and pension scheme bosses' past dodging of their duties. 

Sustain the Action Until Victory 
One of the obstacles to the UUK's verbal trickery, as they are beaten back by the solidarity of the strikes, is the expertise on pensions of many of the academic staff on strike! They've helped demolish the bogus claims and false valuations that were constructed to justify these drastic pension cuts. 
But the power of their expertise needs to be combined with the power of sustained industrial action, until such time as defined benefits are guaranteed not just "until at least April 2019" but for the future. As we publish this, members' branch meetings are poised to demand the planned 14 days of further strikes from late April go ahead, unless the UUK fully concede on the UCU's demands. 

Powerful, unprecedented strikes have pummeled the austerity brigade at the top of this huge sector of the economy, forcing massive retreats already. It could be a massive victory for the entire working class, provided the planned action is sustained until the university bosses accept UCU members' demands to close the loopholes in their 23 March offer. 
As one after another group of workers suffer loss of Final Salary Pension Schemes, and switch to defined contribution schemes and increased worker contributions - paying more to get less, and later - this could be a turning point in fighting back against austerity. 

Pensions Plus...
This struggle is about pensions, but also about much more; against the spreading curse of casualisation and precarious employment, and against marketisation of education, which has increasingly turned students into passive consumers for university business profits, instead of being partners in learning for the good of society as a whole. 
Unless the UUK bosses capitulate completely, we need the wider trade union movement to escalate solidarity for the UCU strikers until they win an outright victory for us all. 

#nocapitulation  #nodetriment  #victorytotheUCU 


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

VICTORY TO THE UCU STRIKERS!


UCU members striking against savage pension cuts and austerity
The breadth and depth of strike action by staff at ten Scottish universities and 61 across the UK are unprecedented. Members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted overwhelmingly to stage an escalating series of strikes in defence of their pensions, with a total of 14 days already named.

The pickets are large, the roving demos colourful and noisy, and the support for staff from students vast and visible.

Pensions Under Attack

This strike is primarily about an assault on staff pensions, with their bosses in Universities UK (UUK) wanting to slash the current defined benefits scheme - the Universities Superannuation Scheme - to a cheap and nasty defined contributions scheme, where retirement income would be dependent on the fluctuations of the stock market. 
Concretely, as the UCU union spells out, this would mean an average annual cut of £10,000 to pensions for lecturers, teachers, librarians, researchers and student support staff. 
As Dave, one of the strikers in Glasgow, told me, "I face a 50% cut! In many ways, this was always quite a conservative workforce, reluctant to take industrial action, and we often put up with the pay levels because at least there is a decent pension at the end of it. But we have to take the pain of losing pay now, through striking, or there'll be nothing left at the end of our careers."
The UUK bosses claim they have to take this slice off pensions because they face a £6billion deficit. But the same bosses have further infuriated teaching staff with their choices of expenditure. As Dave added, "They say they can't afford to sustain our pensions. But the principal is on over £300,000. And have you noticed the £1billion being spent on buildings and investments in Glasgow and Strathclyde universities?"
On the picket lines 


Marketisation of Education 

Another striker gave me her view of the UUK bosses' claim - and of the deeper causes of the strike - as she rushed in to address a 'teach-in' of supportive students:
"This is about our pensions, but also about the power structures behind it. The way the pension scheme is set up tells all: it's based on a flawed risk assessment, which favours those investing, to the detriment of workers. The assumption in the risk assessment is that all 65 universities will all go into administration; if that were true, our problems are a lot greater than the pensions scheme!
In these underlying power structures, we are told pensions are a benefit. But we work hard for them; pensions are part of our wages. And this doesn't just affect lecturers, but all staff, and it's really important workers are not divided. This is about the casualised workforce, temporary research assistants, the library staff, and all the rest too.
We want to shut down the education factory - because that's how we and the students are treated. The irony is that free education means those who pay are treated better. Free education is of less and less value on the market. That's why we have the students on our side. They live through it and know what it's like to live through the marketised universities."

Student Support 

First-year engineering student and SSP member, Max McKay, told me some of his reasons for actively supporting the strikers and attending their picket lines.
"It's vital we support the strikers. They're the ones trying to teach us and be available to us. Now they need us in their moment of struggle. All students should do what they can: join picket lines, not attend lectures, talk to other students to get their support."
I asked Max what difference the attack on pensions makes to him, as a student. 
"If the UCU don't win, and the pension cuts go ahead, some of the best lecturers will be gone, they'll just leave. Their pay is already low, and the only thing making the job OK is a reasonable pension. Some students may be considering going on to become lecturers, but these cuts may stop them, a loss of opportunity. And if the staff lose on pensions, what next? Us as students attacked next? That's why I've been on the pickets showing my support."

SSP supports the UCU strikers

Principal's Pets... and Pension Cuts! 

Pensions are the upfront source of the anger that has erupted into strike action. But that anger is also fuelled by the ongoing attacks on education, the brutally precarious nature of many of the jobs for the likes of tutors and teaching assistants, and the grotesque contrasts between pleas of poverty by the university bosses and their own opulence. 

Take the case of Peter Mathieson, the recently appointed principal of Edinburgh University. He graciously accepted the offer to move from being vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University so long as he got a basic salary of £342,000 - a mere £80,000 more than his predecessor at Edinburgh!

But while UCU members have been driven to withdraw their labour in defence of their pensions, Mathieson enjoys an additional payment of £42,000 "in lieu of pension contributions". On top of his £342,000, that is. And as a reward for the trek north, he was given use of a lavish "grace and favour" home, plus a £26,000 relocation package. Just in case that's not cause enough for outrage, the relocation bung handed over from university funds included the cost of moving his pet cat and dog.

So the university bosses plunder workers' pensions, but pay out travel costs for the principal's pets! You couldn't make it up... and you don't need to; it's a metaphor for what the university bosses think of hardworking staff. 

The School of Struggle

A new generation is being educated in the fundamentals of trade unionism in the heat of battle. For many, this is their first-ever strike. 
As Strathclyde University UCU chair, Brian Garvey, told me, "Many members are on strike for the first time. And many, many more have joined the union since we started this strike action. They may have been scared to take action at first, but once it gets going, it's like being liberated."
Another key feature of this struggle is the rapid learning about unions, strikes and solidarity that a new generation are living and learning. Whilst withdrawing their labour, lecturers are staging 'teach-ins', addressing hundreds of students on issues like privatisation, the marketisation of education, and as Brian remarked, "I'm going in to speak about what unions and strikes are because consciousness of those issues had declined amongst younger people for a time."

The UCU strikers need and deserve the solidarity of every reader, every trade unionist, every SSP member. Show support on their pickets and demos; invite them to your union branch; help win a victory for the UCU - which would be a victory for all workers, in the face of austerity cuts designed to boost the perks, privileges and profits of the rich and big business.


 
Brian Garvey puts the case for pensions justice 

FROM THE FRONTLINE: article by a strike leader for the Scottish Socialist Voice:

The staff, students and supporters of the strike know that while this strike is about pensions, it is about more than that. 
The unprecedented turnout is a clear message that we, together, have had enough of austerity, where pensions are cut while those cutting them award themselves £0.5million salaries. 
Enough of cuts in education, enough of taking more and more from workers, enough of taking an axe to our pensions and spending billions elsewhere. 
This strike is wakening academic staff up to the fact that their future is tied up with nurses, construction workers and all working people, and not the heads of UUK taking £10,000 a year from pensions. 
We call our members, staff, students and supporters to join us in our ongoing strike action that will continue until we win this fight for dignity.

 By Brian Garvey, Chair, UCU Strathclyde University

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

CAPITALISM ROBS WORKERS: profit plunders pay


Capitalism creates the Great Class Divide

We may as well live on two separate planets, given the grotesque and growing divide between the rich elite and the rest of us.

This week a media flurry erupted over the crash on the world's Stock Exchanges, starting with the US, then Asia and Europe.
The prime explanation given by apologists for the system we live and work under was something like this: recent US economic reports showed wage growth, which will boost spending power, so companies will feel empowered to jack up prices in the face of increased demand, thereby fueling inflation, which will pressurize the authorities to put up interest rates... so shareholders are dumping their shares.
Of course, the upper-class casino that is the stock market bears little relationship to the real world and the real economy - except that panic in the Stock Exchanges can spread panic amongst capitalist investors and thereby lead to slashing of jobs for workers in the real world.  

Two Planets 

What crazy system do we suffer, whereby working people being able to buy a bit more becomes a problem? The system based on profit for the few, through robbery of the unpaid labour of workers by employers; that's the lunacy at large. 
  

The system where, globally, the richest 1% grabbed 82% of all the new wealth created last year. The system where a year ago 68 billionaires owned as much personal wealth as half the globe's entire population - 3.6 billion humans. But this year the concentration of wealth has accelerated further: now a mere 61 gluttons of greed match the incomes of the poorest 3.6 billion people. That's beyond obscene. 


DPD courier driver Don Lane, with his wife Ruth. 

Profiteering Kills Workers 

The same week that frenzied selling of shares on the Stock Exchange hit the headlines, a terrible tragedy of exploitation at work didn't make much media coverage, even though it captures much of what is rotten and unequal about the world we live in. 

We have often spoken and written that the capitalist employers use fear as their weapon of choice when it comes to squeezing every last penny of profit out of workers' labour. Nothing confirms this more than the tragic case of Don Lane, a DPD courier driver in Dorset, who died of diabetes last week at the young age of 53.
As his devastated wife Ruth explained, Don had collapsed four times at work in the space of a year, and just prior to his untimely death had been sick and coughing blood, but still went into work. Why? In Ruth's words, "Because he feared being fined." 

Don had skipped numerous hospital appointments with kidney specialists after being previously fined £150 for missing a day's work to attend the hospital. When he wrote appealing for the fine to be rescinded, the parcel delivery firm's area manager refused, writing "I fail to understand why a full day off was required." 

Out of fear of being fined - or even fired - Don missed several subsequent medical appointments. Ruth added: "He would never get breaks and they'd get told off if they missed their time slots for parcel deliveries." 

This outrageous inhumanity is all too indicative of the cruel exploitation for profit - at terrible cost to workers' health - that fuels the system and its capitalist owners' profits.
Recent reports confirm fewer days are now taken off sick in the UK than at any time since 1990. We all witness the workers dragging themselves into work when they should be in their sick-bed (if only to keep their germs away from the rest of us!), from fear of being disciplined under sick absence policy, or simply because they can't afford the loss of wages. 


Tesco: boss on £4.1m - 40,000 jobs cut & deprive women workers of £4bn

Demand Equal Pay for Women 

The double oppression of working-class women is another source of super-profits for big business, and always has been a feature of this class-ridden system. That includes unequal pay for work of equal value.
The big supermarkets are amongst the culprits, adding to the gender pay gap. As well as collective claims in ASDA and Sainsbury's, Tesco now faces legal action on an equal pay claim that could cost them up to £4billion. Put the right way round, that's the amount they've deprived women workers in their shops of, by paying shop assistants about £8-an-hour compared with £11-an-hour to predominantly male distribution centre workers. Both contribute to the accumulation of profit - including the Tesco group sales of £49.9billion last year alone!
It's by robbing all workers - but their female staff even more so - that Tesco's Chief Executive Officer enjoyed a personal income last year of £4.1million! That's his reward - to himself! - for slashing 40,000 Tesco jobs since he took over in 2014.
The fight for equal pay is an integral part of the struggle to end capitalist exploitation. 

Bad Jobs Recovery 

A new, comprehensive report from the European Trade Union Institute, on what's called the Jobs Quality Index, confirms what experience already teaches most of us. Compared with 2005, and despite the feeble economic recovery after the 2008 financial crash, there's been a generalized decline in the quality of jobs across the EU's 28 member states, plus wage stagnation. One of the many features identified is the explosion of temporary contracts, zero hours contracts, and deep-rooted job insecurity. 

Importantly, the report highlights how, in general, higher density of trade union membership and collective worker representation correlates to better wages, improved skills training and career development, and better overall working conditions. And this research also buries the lie that we have to choose between more jobs and more in our wages. Nations with better pay (after adjustments for prices through Purchasing Power Parity) also generally have a better record of creating jobs. 

But the galloping growth of insecure work and underemployment has not abated, even in nations where the economy has grown in economic output (GDP). Is it any wonder the report is entitled "Bad Jobs Recovery"

Zero Hours Wage Robbery

In this country, at least a million workers suffer the horrendous stress and insecurity of being hired on zero hours contracts. It's no accident that a report last year showed young people on these super-exploitative schemes were 50% more likely to suffer mental health problems than their counterparts in more secure work. Nor should it be forgotten that, as research in 2017 proved, those on zero hours contracts suffer an average £1,000 less in wages than workers in permanent jobs with similar backgrounds, skills and job roles. 

Alongside short hour contracts, the 7-year public sector pay cap, and the use of the blunt instrument of fear of the sack, zero hours contracts are one of the means by which wages have been systematically slashed as a share of overall national wealth. Methods by which wages for workers in this country have stagnated and fallen at the worst rate since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago! 

Mass Underemployment 

Mass unemployment was the curse of the working class in the 1980s and 1990s - consciously inflicted by Maggie Thatcher and the parasitic financial wing of the capitalist class. Mass underemployment is its modern equivalent, with at least 3.3 million workers crying out for more contract hours - including the wish to move from part-time to full-time - but unable to get them, as employers rely instead on a pool of workers they can have at their beck and call... according to fluctuating 'business needs'. 


And this week's Westminster legislation on the issue of 'good work' offers absolutely no protection to workers, and a lot of loopholes that protect employers' ruthless profiteering. Following the advice of Lord Taylor's Report, they are keeping zero hours contracts, with the hackneyed excuse that people need flexible working. And instead of wiping out bogus self-employment scams in the 'gig economy', the Tories are providing get-out clauses to the exploiters through a new category of 'dependent contractors' - which still prevents those who in real life are employed workers from being entitled to at least the legal minimum wage, paid holidays and sick pay. 


My USDAW NEC election poster

For Guaranteed Minimum 16-hour Contracts 

That's why the pioneering policy of a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all who want it is so timely. In the past month, I've been waging a campaign for election to the National Executive Council of my union, Usdaw. Visiting scores of workplaces, and broadcasting campaign videos, I highlighted, in particular, my determination to help lead the battles for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all over 16 - rising with inflation, with equal pay for women - and replacement of zero hours and pitifully short hours contracts with a guaranteed 16 hours. 

Concretely, that employers should be legally obliged to offer at least 16-hour contracts, with the only exception being where a worker - accompanied by their union rep, to prevent any skulduggery - requests lesser hours. And alongside that, I've fought for the legal right of all workers to be offered higher contract hours after working more than their contract for 13 weeks. Those two measures would wipe out the galloping disease of casualisation, but give workers the power to be flexible. 

Workers' eyes lit up at the mention of these points. Numerous retail workers in every conceivable firm said they'd vote for me on that basis alone. Regardless of whether I get elected to the Usdaw NEC to represent our 45,000 Scottish members, the issues have been broadcast; the awareness of these simple, hard-hitting, far-reaching alternatives broadened. 

Lessons from Germany 

We need every union to take up the cudgels around these fighting demands. Such measures would begin to reverse the vicious spiral of insecure contracts, accompanying poverty pay, which lowers spending power, adding to job scarcity and insecurity. 

And if the union leaderships showed the bottle to organise and inspire workers to take action for these immediate reforms in the way we work - and the way wealth is distributed - it would infinitely strengthen the unions' collective strength, helping to seriously challenge the rotten, unequal, profit-crazed system of inbuilt exploitation that is capitalism. 


Further proof of this vision can be currently spotted in Germany. The economy has grown - but of course, as in other countries, that's no guarantee of improvement for workers' living standards. It takes determined, collective action to win a share of the increased wealth for the one productive class in society - the working class. Germany's biggest union, IG Metall, has just won massive concessions for nearly a million members in the metal and engineering sector, after staging a series of 24-hour strikes. They fought for a pay rise and won 4.3%. They also demanded a 28-hour week, and originally demanded this should be with little or no cut to the earnings from the current 35-hour week. Unfortunately, the deal reached accepts the employers' demand that reduction to a 28-hour week also involves an equivalent cut to pay. But for workers who want a shorter working week, this is a significant breakthrough, achieved through the power of union strike action.


Join the fight for an immediate 35-hour maximum working week

Cuts Hours of Work - With No Loss of Pay 

Learning from this, unions in Scotland should not only step up to the plate and wage a serious fight for an immediate minimum of at least £10-an-hour, and a guaranteed 16-hour week, but also for a shorter working week - to share out the work and slash the drudgery and overwork that many suffer. Millions of workers are suffering back-breaking, mind-breaking long hours of work - simply to survive, as hourly wage rates fall or stagnate compared with rising inflation on the daily necessities of life for working-class families. 

But crucially, a shorter working week shouldn't be on the basis of equivalent pay cuts. We should demand an across-the-board maximum working week of 35 hours now - rapidly moving to a 4-day week and 6-hour day - without a penny in loss of earnings. 

Maximum Working Week
As well as sharing out the work, and improving work/life balance, this would free up time for workers to actively participate in the democratic functioning of their communities and workplaces - for the first time in history! And a shorter working week without loss of earnings would also radically redistribute the wealth - created by workers' combined efforts in the first place - from profits to pay.
The unions have a duty to make the clarion call for action, demanding "Cut hours and profits - not pay or jobs!" 




Wednesday, 22 November 2017

DEMAND £10 NOW AND NOT A PENNY OFF JOBS OR SERVICES!


Part of SSP National Day of Action 18 November  

As the Scottish government and 32 local councils prepare their Budgets for 2018/19, the Scottish Socialist Party has launched a new campaigning drive for an immediate minimum £10 Living Wage to be written into 'No Cuts' Budgets. 

This is an urgent, realistic demand, well within the powers of Holyrood and the local authorities - who between them employ 500,000 workers - and a potentially powerful breakthrough in the battle for a £10 minimum wage, here and now, for all workers over 16, with equal pay for women. 

"I'm for Austerity - Get me out of here!"


If SNP, Labour, or any other MSPs and councillors reject this demand - alongside reversing seven years of the income-slashing pay cap, plus protection of every single service - they should be rejected and evicted by voters. 

To amend the slogan currently made 'popular' by Kezia Dugdale, such axe-wielding politicians should admit: "I'm for austerity, get me out of here!"

There's absolutely no excuse for one, single person suffering the indignity, deprivation and inhumanity of being impoverished in such a rich country. Scotland has ten billionaires, piles of profit, enormous resources and skilled workers. It's a question of radically redistributing the wealth. 

Paradise for the Parasites

This battle is set in the midst of paradise for the profiteers, and hell on earth for millions struggling to survive in a sea of poverty. 


The recently leaked 'Paradise Papers' confirmed the grotesque, legalized robbery of the rest of us by the rich, with conservative estimates of big business and obscenely rich individuals hiding over £30trillion in offshore tax havens. 

Corporations like Apple and Nike are in the company of tax thieves like Bono and the Queen; dodging taxes, robbing society of £billions, stealing wages, pensions, benefits and public services off the working class. 

A full 80% of all offshore wealth is in the hands of a minuscule 0.1% of the population (that's one in 1,000). 

Multinational businesses shifted $600billion to these (overwhelmingly British) offshore tax havens last year alone. 

The PCS civil service union's research has already shown £120billion every year is dodged in taxes by the rich and big business - the equivalent of four years of Scotland's block grant budget from Westminster. 


Tales of Poverty Amidst Plenty


This legalized, systematic theft helps create a living hell of plummeting pay, life-threatening benefit cuts, and decimation of vital public services. 

Socialist exaggeration? Absolutely not! Anyone in touch with the conditions of the working class majority will testify to the mounting desperation amongst the poorest; the inability of even middle-income workers to match the rising cost of living; and the ticking time-bomb of mental ill-health created by impossible workloads and stress from poverty and debt.

Let's sample just a few examples. 

The one million people in Scotland officially below the poverty line, 52% of them in jobs, working to stay poor. 

The 'hunger-watch' scheme initiated by the EIS teachers' union two years ago, to help spot children unable to concentrate because of literal hunger. 

The equivalent of Dundee city's population who swallowed their pride and turned to food banks in Scotland last year to avert starvation. 

The welfare rights workers who are on the brink of physical and mental collapse with overwork and the harrowing daily experience of desperation amongst clients: the man working 60 hours a week as a taxi just to pay the mortgage and feed his child after his marriage ended; the blind man removed from sickness benefits, relying on his son's income from one or two shifts a week on a zero hours contract, while he waits since June for his benefits appeal, which drove him to attempted suicide. 

The fact teachers' real pay has fallen by 16%, and the EIS union describes teachers' massive workload - working 50-60 hours a week - as having "desperate effects on their health and well-being." 

Heart-breaking human stories are accompanied by chilling statistics. A new LSE Report calculates that since the June 2016 EU referendum and subsequent plunge in the value of Sterling - pushing up prices of items with a high import content, such as food - the average Scottish worker has lost £404 a year in wages. On top of the 10.8% fall in real wages since the banking crisis of 2008. 


Demand Action from the Anti-Tory Parties  


Hell will freeze over before the Tories start looking after the wellbeing of the millions, as opposed to the profits and privileges of the millionaires. So it's right - and urgent - that we demand action from those politicians closest to the ground in Scotland, who also like to define themselves as anti-austerity. 

The SNP helped win its historic landslide by denouncing austerity. That was the key platform of Jeremy Corbyn in his defeat of New Labour leadership candidates, with their record of implementing austerity. Latterly, Richard Leonard tried to echo his opposition to cuts.


We want words made into deeds by Scotland's anti-Tory parties.

That's why the SSP - who since September 2014 have campaigned in the streets and trade unions for an immediate, statutory £10 minimum for all over 16, with equal pay for women - is stepping up pressure on the SNP Holyrood government and Labour and SNP councillors. 

That's why the SSP held a National Day of Action on the Baltic Saturday 18 November,  demanding a guarantee that from April 2018, nobody these governments directly or indirectly employs would be trying to survive on anything less than £10 an hour.

SSP members braved the bitter cold to hold street stalls and street meetings in Glasgow's Partick and Govan; Nairn; Edinburgh; East Kilbride; Paisley; Cumbernauld; Coatbridge and Irvine. 

We met the man who simply stated: "I looked at an old wage slip from 15 years ago, and there's very little difference in my earnings now."

The Richmond Fellowship care worker who was furious at being on £7.50 an hour, unable to afford a holiday, when she has dedicated herself for years to a job she loves, caring for the most vulnerable.

People scrimping and saving simply to pay the rent and buy food. 


Braving the Baltic conditions in Nairn on SSP Day of Action


Demand 'No Cuts' Defiance Budgets


Local authority workers expressed their anxiety at yet more cuts looming in the forthcoming council budgets. Which is why our campaigning demand for councillors to defy austerity, set No Cuts Budgets, with the £10 minimum included, and then fight for the funds to do this, is so timely and important. 

No councillors - whether Labour or SNP - should be prepared to trade wages for jobs, or workers' conditions for public services. Yet that's what they've done for years. And unless the unions, STUC and community campaigns unite in decisive action with socialists, and demand the cash off Westminster and Holyrood, a repeat of the Ice Age of cuts to pay, public services and jobs looms large.

COSLA Cuts Warnings


The council umbrella body, COSLA, has just produced a frightening picture of the choices we face, ahead of the SNP government's draft Budget in December, which in turn sets the spending settlements for Council Budgets.

COSLA reiterates that there's been £1.4billion cuts by councils since 2012, with 30,000 people losing their jobs, and communities priced out of facilities and services by the 13% hike in charges - often the hidden form of austerity. 

The same COSLA document warns that to just stand still - not improve people's lives, but merely hold onto the brutally inadequate provision by councils we have now - the Scottish government needs to allocate an extra £545million to councils for 2018/19 - a 5.7% increase in funding. 

The response of the SNP government so far? "We will continue to treat local government fairly." Continue? Last year's SNP/Scottish Greens Budget slashed another £170m off council funding, adding to successive years of butchery. 



Wield Power of Unions  


We can't rely on the powers of pleading - or resort to prayer - to win the funds which protect jobs, conditions, public services... and also guarantee a £10 minimum as part of a pay compensation package for the 7 years of pay cuts suffered by 500,000 public sector workers. It requires a serious, united fight, wielding the potential power of workers, their unions and their communities.
The Battle for BiFab in Fife and Lewis wasn't won (at least until April) by humble pleas to the employers or government. It was won by brave, united and swift action by the workforce - refusing to leave their jobs; defending the fabrication yards from asset-strippers by union control of the gates; stockpiling resources in preparation for outright occupations - and by telling the authorities they weren't budging. 


Workers' Action Against Austerity 


That's the spirit and method needed to stop the slaughter of services, jobs and pay that has crucified workers and communities alike, as we pay for the bailout of the bankers and billionaires' profits. 

We won't win the modest, increasingly inadequate demand for £10 now - nor replacement of the abomination of zero hours contracts with a guaranteed 16-hour minimum contract for all who want it - without a mighty battle involving street protests, demos and coordinated strike action, putting the politicians and employers on the spot. 


The SSP's street action on 18 November is just the prelude to an orchestrated campaign of explanation and pressure on the Scottish government and councils to put their money where their mouths are. 

The SSP will step up this demand for an immediate £10 in our unions as well as on the streets. 





Sign and Share the Online Petition 


The Online Petition I recently launched on behalf of the SSP is targeting demands for action on Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and the heads of COSLA, but also Richard Leonard, who we correctly anticipated would become the new Scottish Labour leader. 

Richard's victory speech referred to offering 'hope' to the Scottish people. Here's his chance: we are calling on him to instruct his Labour Party councillors to break the habits of several decades and refuse to vote for a single penny in cuts, and instead inspire public sector AND private sector workers by implementing a £10 Living Wage immediately - not in 2020, as Labour has so far pledged, which will be severely devalued by inflation by then. 


Photo by Craig Maclean

Volunteer to Help Win £10 Now! 


We have no intention of making this campaign a one-day wonder. 

We need more street campaigning; more propositions for this policy and for action in the public sector unions; more volunteers to do all this... and we need thousands of signatures on our Online Petition. 

Please get in touch to play your part in this battle to set the pace in the public sector, transform the lives of tens of thousands of workers - and vastly boost the battle for an immediate, legally-enforced £10 minimum, rising with inflation, for all workers across the land. 

SIGN PETITION HERE

Friday, 10 November 2017

EQUAL PAY DAY - MIND THE GAP!

Women work for nothing from 10 November to 31 December this year!!


Today is Equal Pay Day.

In my book Break the Chains, I wrote:

"The Fawcett Society's August 2014 research claimed that by 2013 shortfall [the gender pay gap -RV] had risen again for the first time in five years, to a staggering 19.1%. That's the equivalent of a workplace where full-time male workers are paid all year round, but female workers work for free from about 22 October!"

Since that was published, the Fawcett Society calculates the annual date equivalent to when women cease to be paid for the rest of the calendar year, due to the gender gap in pay.
This year it is today, 10th November - which has remained unchanged since 2015. It's due to their calculation that for every £1 men earn, women get just 86p.

So alongside fighting for an immediate, legally enforced £10-an-hour minimum wage for all from the age of 16, I and the SSP are proud to persistently demand equal pay for women. And to unite with the women battling for equality, as for example described in this blog I wrote recently - Women Workers Demand Equality.



Wednesday, 8 November 2017

1917 RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN




This week is the centenary of the October 1917 Russian Revolution.

The 100th anniversary of the event I and many others regard as the greatest act of human liberation so far witnessed. When the 1,000 years of Tsarist dictatorship was overthrown - a semi-feudal regime that left over 70% of the Russian people illiterate; over 80% scraping out a miserable existence on tiny strips of land; soldiers starving and slaughtered to uphold the interests and imperialist ambitions of the monarchy, landowners and western capitalists; women queuing endlessly in the freezing cold for bread rations slashed to famine levels; and national minorities mercilessly persecuted.

The 100th anniversary of this momentous, multi-millioned human drama has been mostly ignored by the West's media - or distorted.
I watched that vile reactionary, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, spew out on TV the well-worn lie that the October Revolution was a putsch, a coup, orchestrated by German militarism. Carried out by German agents like Lenin; by a violent, isolated, unrepresentative Bolshevik conspiracy that led to disaster.

And of course for many decades, the same capitalist politicians, professors and press poured out the scaremongering lie that the subsequent Stalinist tyranny in Russia was the fate awaiting all of us if there was ever a socialist society established here, or anywhere else.

The gangster capitalist, Vladimir Putin - head of the capitalist system that was restored in Russia 25 years ago - is equally keen to bury the truth about what the 1917 Bolshevik-led socialist revolution actually involved.
He especially wants nobody knowing anything about the dramatic gains ushered in, during the first years of the new socialist government, for the millions of workers and peasants who took power in 1917. People comparing those advances would be all the more likely to challenge the tyranny and chaos that capitalism has now imposed on the land of Red October 1917.

1917: Walls Come Tumbling Down

So what did happen in 1917? What's the truth about the Russian revolution? Was the Bolshevik government an example we can learn from in the struggle against the police tyrannies, obscene inequality and exploitation that capitalism means in the 21st century - as underlined by the Paradise Papers revelations? How did Stalinism come about, and how does it differ from the socialist democracy many of us have spent a lifetime fighting for?

I've just written a 72-page book addressing these and other key questions. It tries to introduce today's generations to issues, theories, events and struggles largely - and quite deliberately - hidden from our eyes.
It's hopefully a good introduction to the Russian Revolution, its relevance today, and the subsequent rise of Stalinism. It aspires to be a source of discussion, debate and clarification for workers and socialists.
Anyone seeking a socialist future cannot dodge these issues, and we can learn an awful lot from the one fully successful socialist revolution so far in history.

I'd encourage you to order a copy of my book(let), 1917:Walls Come Tumbling Down. 

Get your own copy; consider getting a copy for an interested friend; maybe ask your union branch to order a few to encourage discussion around the issues it raises; likewise in colleges or school Modern Studies classes.
The size of the book, and the price - £4.99, or £5.99 if posted out - should both help to make it accessible. You can order it by clicking on the link here - or by contacting me through Messenger on my Facebook page.