Tuesday, 29 November 2016

FIGHT LOST DECADES OF PAY CUTS






The longest squeeze on pay for at least 70 years. No increase in real earnings between 2006 and 2021. Falling incomes for the poorest one-third of households for the remainder of this decade. 

These are mere sample facts in the Niagara of statistics pouring out from various think tanks, the sober Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Resolution Foundation, even the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility, since the Tory's Autumn Statement. 

"Dreadful"
The director of the IFS - a body not given to flourishes or exaggeration - noted their calculations that "by 2021, real wages will still not have recovered to pre-2008 financial crisis levels" and added:
"One cannot stress how extraordinary and dreadful that is, more than a decade without real earnings growth. We have not seen a period remotely like it in certainly the last 70 years, and quite possibly the last 100."
Another analyst went even further, claiming we face "the worst earnings growth since the 1810s"!
Incidentally, that was also a decade where vast proportions of national wealth was squandered in wars, with a global super-power ruled over by a probably clinically insane megalomaniac - Britain's King George 111, not Donald J. Trump!

Not even jam tomorrow for the JAMs! 
The Tory spin doctors try to dupe the hard of thinking with guff about Theresa May leading "a government for everyone", conjuring up new acronyms like JAMs - families 'just about managing' in the billionaires' Breadline Britain.
In their Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond tried to distract us with investment in 40,000 new 'affordable homes' - a mere Wendy House compared with the 250,000 new houses a year required to just stand still. 

He made a song and dance about the derisory 30p rise in the consciously mis-named 'National Living Wage' for workers aged over 25. Likewise with his miserly reduction in the level of cuts to in-work benefits for working families on Universal Credit - from 65p to 63p clawback of top-up benefits for every £1 pay rise above the threshold. 

Tory Spin and Stark Facts
Behind the Tory spin lurk the stark, devastating facts, and the human misery that ensues. The Autumn Statement only reverses a pathetic 7% of the £12billion benefit cuts to the incomes of the poorest half of households, as implemented by Hammond's hated predecessor, George Osborne. The latter earned £320,000 last month from making five speeches to gatherings of bankers in the USA, whilst the average working family in receipt of Universal Credit is set to be £1,200 a year worse off by 2020. A couple with two kids, the main earner on the £7.50 NLW, will be £1,780 the poorer by 2020.
And unlike the recession following the 2008 banking crisis, it's the low and middle income workers' families who will be hardest hit - with the entire bottom third of earners seeing their incomes plummet.
It's a rotten case of not even jam tomorrow for the JAMs!

War on Wages
Working class people are being punished for the crisis of the capitalist system. The Tories have sustained plans to cut Corporation Tax - already the lowest in the western world, bar Ireland and Estonia.
All this is certainly 'dreadful', as the IFS director put it. But anyone surprised at the cataclysmic collapse of real wages simply hasn't been paying attention!

For about 40 years, the ruling capitalist class and their eagerly compliant politicians have waged war on wages, in a ruthless crusade to boost the share of wealth that goes to profits. 
It's no accident of history that wages as a share of GDP - economic output - peaked in 1975, when 58% of workers were organised in unions, and 82% were covered by collective union wage bargaining. 
Nor a coincidence that wages are now at their lowest ever share of national wealth, and inequality at its worst, when only 26% are unionized and a mere 23% enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining. 

The vicious, planned assault on unions initiated by Thatcher's Tory government in the 1980s, sustained by every subsequent Westminster regime - New Labour included - helped the parasitic rich rob workers of a collective £1.3trillion in wages over 30 years.
The deliberate extension of casualised, insecure jobs - epitomized by the modern serfdom known as Zero Hours Contracts - allowed the employers to wield the weapon of fear to beat down wages and boost profits. 
Privatization of public services ushered in lower wages, worse conditions, job losses and rampant profiteering by companies slashing services to the public. 

Amidst all this class warfare by the rich minority, far too many union leaders simply capitulated, refusing to put up a concerted fight, often actively discouraging or sabotaging the efforts of rank-and-file workers to resist the onslaught. 
A vicious circle of lowered expectations, lowered incomes and lowered union membership levels ensued - to the joy of the class of exploiters and their political puppets.

Wake-up Call for Action!
The latest catalogue of catastrophe that workers face demands decisive, urgent, militant action. The call by PCS union leader, Mark Serwotka, for a coordinated plan of action by all unions against the public sector pay freeze is one vital strand of the struggle required.
Every union, and the STUC, should treat the Tory Autumn Statement as a wake-up call, and launch a serious battle plan to reverse the tide. They should take up some of the socialist alternatives that we broadcast on the SSP's national day of action to coincide with Hammond's Autumn Statement - our own Autumn Statement of Intent on the streets.

£10 Now!
Instead of caving in to the divisive, impoverishing Tory minimum wages - ranging from the pathetic £7.50 for over-25s next April, to the derisory £3.40 for apprentices - the unions should actually take action on the policy of "£10-an-hour minimum for all workers" which they unanimously agreed at the TUC conference just over two, long years ago! 
Even talk of £10 in 2020 by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is wholly inadequate, given current and looming inflation. In fact, the demand for £10 Now is already nearing it's sell-by-date!

For guaranteed 16-hour Minimum Working Week
Instead of Zero Hours Contracts - a curse on the lives of 120,000 Scottish workers - the SSP is pioneering the demand for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour week in every contract. The only exception to that weekly minimum - a measure to give a reasonable income and security to those who prefer to work part-time - should be if an individual worker, with their union rep at their side, requested and negotiated fewer hours. 

Secure Jobs for All!
Mass underemployment, alongside unemployment, has been used as a weapon to batter down hourly wages; job insecurity breeds fear. 
Scotland is screaming out for a massive public sector housebuilding programme, which could create tens of thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs and apprenticeships. 
Climate chaos and rampant fuel poverty in this energy-rich country shouts out for a huge green energy job-creation plan, under democratic public ownership of all forms of energy. 
Instead of the crazed competition and profiteering that blights our railways, ferries, buses and transport system, public ownership would allow for planned investment, massive job-creation, and pursuit of a free, expanded, integrated public transport service.
Join the SSP in demanding action to reverse the lost decade of pay cuts; use the wealth of the nation for people, not profit.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

DEMAND SCOTTISH PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO 1984/5 MINERS' STRIKE REPRESSION

I appeal to you to lend your support to the campaign for a Scottish Public Inquiry into the actions of the police during the 1984/5 miners' strike - and indeed into the dictatorial, repressive methods of Margaret Thatcher's Tory government.
Thatcher unleashed civil war on the miners, their families, communities and trade union. It was part of the broader crusade to shackle the unions and chain workers in poverty-stricken, insecure jobs with minimal rights - and to replace investment in manufacturing with the fast buck casino economy of the bankers and spivs.

TORIES SEEK TO KEEP THE TRUTH BURIED
Now, contrary to promises made in the wake of the Hillsborough jury's verdicts in May 2016, and indeed in September, the Westminster Tories have refused to hold a public inquiry into the Battle of Orgreave, of June 1984, when the government colluded with police chiefs to lay a trap, knock seven colours out of defenseless strikers, and then falsify what happened with the help of BBC bosses.

I've launched an online petition demanding the Scottish government initiate a full, Scottish Public Inquiry. To uncover the truth about the especially heavy-handed police repression in Scotland; to clear the names of the near-500 Scottish miners arrested, prosecuted, fined, and in many cases sacked and blacklisted.
So far the SNP Scottish government has refused to set up an Inquiry. With your help we can change their minds!

SIGN NOW - AND SPREAD THE WORD! 
So please spend 5 minutes in the cause of truth and justice.

Sign the online Petition. Here's the link:

https://www.change.org/p/scottish-first-minister-nicola-sturgeon-demand-a-scottish-public-inquiry-into-policing-of-miners-strike-1984-5?recruiter=46351436&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

And then share it with everyone else you can think of - by email, text, Facebook, Twitter - urging them to do likewise.

BACKGROUND READING
Finally, if you want to read more background on the events and issues that have led me to launch the Petition, please have a read of the article I wrote a few days ago, here:

https://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/demand-scottish-inquiry-policing-miners-strike/

Don't let governments leave the facts about state repression in pursuit of short-term profiteering remain buried in mountains of lies.
Past generations deserve truth and justice. Future generations require the knowledge and lessons to stop such class oppression endlessly repeating itself.











Thursday, 27 October 2016

ABERFAN DISASTER: power and corruption in the Valley of Death






On Friday 21st October 1966, 240 children aged 7-10 arrived at Pantglas Junior School, in Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. Picture the musical lilt of their excited chatter as they talked about the start of their half-term week's holiday a few hours later.
Imagine for yourself the innocent joy of them singing the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful at the school assembly at 9 o'clock, after which they traipsed into their classrooms. 
Then at 9.15am, Hell was unleashed. The mountainous mining tip that overshadowed the village disintegrated, slid down the mountainside and swept at incredible speed across farms, the canal, railway embankment and into the heart of the village, including the Junior school. The 1.4 million cubic feet of murderous muck gave no time for warnings or escape that morning. It buried the school building until only the roof was visible; poured into the classrooms and killed 109 of the children, and 5 teachers, through crushed skulls, multiple crush injuries, and, in particular, asphyxiation. In a matter of seconds a generation died. 

A GENERATION WIPED OUT
A total of 144 people from the village of Aberfan died these terrible deaths, 116 of them children. They were buried as completely as the victims in Pompeii, in 79 AD. But there was one huge difference: the Aberfan Disaster could and should have been prevented, but multiple warnings were ignored by those in power at various levels - a fact the same powers subsequently tried to hide from millions of people shocked and grief-stricken at what was the UK's first televised disaster. 
Aberfan wasn't the product of the Earth's natural geology erupting in the form of the Mount Vesuvius volcano; it was an entirely man-made disaster, on a devastating scale. At the subsequent public inquest, the father of one of the dead children angrily demanded that the death certificates should record "Buried alive by the National Coal Board. That is what I want to see on record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate."



'BURIED ALIVE BY THE NATIONAL COAL BOARD'
On that fateful morning, mothers chatting along the road after dropping their kids at school minutes before, dashed back to literally claw with their bare hands at the slimy, thick debris that engulfed the school, in a desperate bid to rescue their sons and daughters. Hundreds of miners from the Merthyr Vale pit were among the first on the scene, several of them openly weeping as they dug desperately in search of their own children. Miners from the neighbouring Taff Bargoed Valley were joined by about 2,000 emergency service workers and volunteers in a frantic rescue mission. But mostly in vain. Some children were rescued, but none after 11am. The efforts of volunteers and emergency service workers morphed into a search for the dead. It took a week to recover the bodies. Over 3,000 attended the mass funeral.

Mining communities like Aberfan lived with death, but this time Death came to claim their children. Virtually every single street in Aberfan village lost some or several that day, as did nearby farmhouses. 
No wonder a study by the University of Wales a full 33 years later found that 29% of the Aberfan survivors were still suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 46% of them had suffered PTSD at some time over the intervening decades. Survivors tell of children being guilt-ridden at surviving; adults afraid to sleep, refusing to take their prescribed sedatives if it was raining; children bed-wetting and terrified of their bedroom doors being shut; alcoholism, family breakdowns and mental breakdowns being common in the aftermath, for several subsequent years.

FROM GRIEF TO ANGER 
Shortly after 21 October 1966, the collective and personal, individual sorrow turned to anger, as the causes of this terrible tragedy were discussed, and the response of the authorities emerged. And the people in power to which we refer were in particular the National Coal Board, chaired by Lord (Alfred) Robens, and the Labour government led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. 

The geological cause of the disaster was brutally plain and simple. For the 50 years prior to 1966, the waste from coal mines was piled up in tips - slag heaps - on the slopes of the Welsh valleys, layer upon layer. Seven such tips loomed over Aberfan. The murderous Tip 7 was an accumulation of loose rock, shale and mining muck piled up on porous sandstone, with underground springs beneath that. Heavy rain for several days triggered the slide, as the debris was saturated, and it slid down the slope into the village at massive speed, ten metres deep, demolishing farm cottages and houses as well as the school. 




MULTIPLE WARNINGS IGNORED - FOR YEARS BEFORE 
Tip slides were fairly common in the Welsh mining valleys for years before 1966. But still the mining waste was piled up, by the National Coal Board, using tipping gangs. 
In Aberfan, there'd been tip slides as far back as 1943, and again in 1963. But still the NCB piled the debris high up above the village.
And warnings of the potential danger to life and limb had been made, several times, in the years before October 1966 - in particular by villagers themselves. As mentioned already, a tip slide had occurred as recently as 1963 - though the NCB bosses were to subsequently deny this stark fact, visible to the naked eye, at the government's Inquiry in the wake of the 1966 Disaster! 
Even before that physical warning, villagers had raised concerns about the safety of the tip with the NCB in September 1960. The NCB replied that it posed no dangers.
In fact, after the disaster, researchers discovered letters from villagers warning explicitly of a disaster, not just in the immediate years before it happened, but back in the 1950s!
In 1964 the local councillor warned that the tip atop the mountain ridge above the village could threaten, specifically, the school. The NCB ignored the warnings. 

A PREVENTABLE DISASTER ALLOWED TO HAPPEN 
In 1965, a petition against the tip was raised by mothers in the village, and presented to Merthyr County Borough Council by the school head-teacher, Ann Jennings. A year later she and half the school's children perished beneath the mayhem unleashed from the mountainside. 
Working class people warned of the potential dangers, but the authorities ignored them, with the local Council's concerns never getting to anybody above the level of local NCB engineers. No action was taken. No inspections were even conducted. A preventable disaster was allowed to happen, wiping out a generation in this Valley of Death.

But what was the response of those in power after the event, after their failure to act had allowed 144 villagers to die?




LORD ROBENS LORDED IT OVER THE NCB 
Lord Robens ruled the National Coal Board like a personal fiefdom. He'd been a full time official for the shopworkers' trade union, Usdaw, in 1935, before graduating to being a Labour MP and then Minister of Power in Clement Attlee's 1945-51 Labour government. 
In 1960, Robens was approached by Tory Prime Minister Harold MacMillan to take the reigns as chairman of the nationalized NCB. Robens expressed fear that he might never be able to balance the books - though we have no evidence he bothered to point out the nationalized coal industry was crippled by gargantuan compensation handed out to the rapacious private mine-owners, who had left the mines in a state of ruination prior to state ownership in 1947. In reply, Macmillan told Robens "Don't worry, dear boy [the boy was 50!]. Blur the edges, blur the edges."
That gives us a glimpse of the culture prevailing in nationalized industries: saddled by debt caused by obscene over-compensation to previous capitalist owners; run by remote, bureaucratic, totally unaccountable dictators like Robens; and used as cheap suppliers to the still-dominant private sector of capitalist Britain - "blurring the edges" where necessary, including on health and safety.
Robens accepted MacMillan's offer and ruled the NCB for ten years from 1960. 

THE STENCH OF A COVER-UP 
On Friday 21st October 1966, Robens heard of the Aberfan Disaster but went nowhere near the village until late on Saturday. He chose instead to attend the ceremony and party in Guildford marking his investiture as Chancellor of the University of Surrey. NCB officials initially lied to the Secretary of State for Wales - the government - claiming Robens was at the scene of the carnage, on the Friday, personally directing the rescue operations.
When Robens did deign to arrive, he told TV reporters nothing could have been done to prevent the tip slide, and claimed "It was impossible to know there was a spring at the heart of the tip." 
Immediately, the villagers smelt the stench of a cover-up, a whitewash. Everyone knew about the springs; many villagers had played at them as children before the springs were buried beneath the NCB's waste mountains, including Tip 7. And they were clearly marked on Ordnance Survey maps of the district.
Of course Robens' calculation was that if the NCB could convincingly claim they knew nothing of the waterlogged base to the tip, and the dangers it posed, they couldn't be blamed for 144 deaths. Cold, cruel, calculated lies by those in power. 

THE DAVIES INQUIRY 
Conscious of the need to respond to the public shock at the scale of death, and probably personally shaken by the scenes of devastation on his visit to Aberfan on the day, Harold Wilson and his Labour government ordered an immediate Tribunal of Inquiry, appointing Welsh barrister and Privy Councillor, Lord Justice Edmund Davies, as its chair. 
The Davies Inquiry lasted 76 days, interviewing 136 people, and reported in mid-1967.

NCB officials tried to block their path to the truth throughout. They even spent several days denying the tip slide in 1963 had ever happened! And Robens himself only bothered to turn up on day 70, tried to be obstructive and deny any NCB responsibility - to such a degree that the villagers' QC, Desmond Ackner, accused him of acting as if the NCB "bore no more blameworthy connection than, say, the Gas Board."
Under relentless, skilful cross-examination by Ackner, the lying Robens eventually admitted NCB responsibility. 
But for Robens' and other NCB bosses' attempts to lie and obstruct, most of the 76 days taken up by the Inquiry - and the immeasurable suffering it added to the bereaved - could have been avoided completely.

NCB'S 'BUNGLING INEPTITUDE'
The Davies Inquiry rejected the charge of "callous indifference" levelled at the NCB bosses, but did lacerate Robens and the NCB for "a terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude", with "a total lack of direction from above". 
Highlighting that NCB mining engineers only had concern for safety down the mines themselves, and not for the waste tips the mines produced, the Inquiry Report departed from the dry-as-dust language of most government Inquires. It was poetic in its description of the safety role of NCB engineers towards the tips as being "like moles being asked about the habits of birds".  

NO TIPPING PLAN
The Inquiry Report blasted the NCB for creating the geological conditions that led to the disaster - by repeatedly ignoring previous warnings; by their "disregard and failure to act" on previous smaller tip slides, with not even any surveys being conducted; but chaotic and unplanned additional waste being added to the slag heaps. In one phrase that summarized things, they condemned the NCB for "having no tipping plan".
But in other regards the Davies Inquiry was mild and limited. It held nine NCB senior officials partly responsible, but did not recommend any demotions or sackings, let alone prosecutions. And not a single one of them, not even Robens, suffered any sanctions for their gross negligence, leading to the slaughter of innocents in Aberfan. Indeed, as we'll see shortly, Robens enjoyed promotion the even higher places later.

SICKENING DANCE OF DECEIT 
Government documents subsequently released under the 30 year rule exposed a sickening cynicism in the actions of NCB chief Robens and Wilson's Labour government - through the auspices of Labour Minister of Power, Richard Marsh - in the wake of the damning Davies Inquiry. They danced a carefully choreographed deceit of the public, and in particular the grieving Aberfan villagers. 
Wielding his power as a Privy Councillor (by the way, a position he shared with Lord Justice Davies, chair of the Inquiry!), Lord Robens demanded to see a pre-publication copy of the Davies Report. This gave Robens ten days to prepare his strategy, to avoid any consequences to his power and privileges, despite the Report being what Harold Wilson called "devastating" in its condemnation of the NCB Board and of Robens for his misleading statements.
Robens used the time to enlist support for his NCB role within the NUM, the miners' union, speaking round pits by arrangement between the NCB and NUM, making very popular denunciations of nuclear power - which, naturally, garnered him support amongst coal miners whose jobs were threatened by the growing nuclear energy option. 

ROBENS' BOGUS RESIGNATION 
A month later, in discussions with government Minister Richard Marsh, Robens helped draft the wording of a letter of reply... from Marsh to Robens! 
This was a letter noting, but declining, an offer of resignation by Robens as NCB chairman. Robens even insisted on removal of a sentence in Marsh's first draft, which blamed the entire NCB Board. Robens demanded this so that he could deflect all blame from himself and the top dogs surrounding him, instead putting the entire blame for the Aberfan slaughter on the chargehand of the local tipping gang! 
It was only after government Minister Richard Marsh meekly accepted Robens' dictated version of the wording of what was allegedly Marsh's letter - declining Robens' offer to resign as NCB chair - that Robens then submitted his letter of resignation! 
They danced this cynical duet of deceit in order to keep Robens in his mighty position as Coal Board boss, despite the growing loss of trust in both the NCB and government among the people of Aberfan and their allies. Why? 



COLLABORATION IN PIT CLOSURES 
Robens was an archetypal Old Labour power broker and operator. He was firmly on the right-wing of the Labour Party, siding with Hugh Gaitskell against left-winger Nye Bevan, for example. But he maintained points of contact on the left and in the unions in order to wield all the more power, especially as NCB chief. This was particularly so in his collaboration with the national leader of the NUM, Welshman Will Paynter, Communist Party member and veteran of the Spanish Civil War!
Paynter helped Robens wind down the coal industry without mass strikes in opposition. So much so that during Robens' 10-year tenure at the head of the NCB, the coal industry collapsed from 698 pits employing 583,000 miners to 292 pits with only 283,000 miners. 

Government documents since released under the 30 year rule confirm Wilson's Labour government kept Robens as head of the NCB, even despite Aberfan, because they believed he was the only man who could manage the decline of the coal industry without provoking mass industrial action. They started the process of dismantling one of the UK's main industries; a decimation of communities completed in the 1980s by Thatcher's Tories, after they'd wielded every arm of the state to defeat the miners' heroic opposition. 

CORPORATE MANSLAUGHTER 
The collaboration and cover-up between the NCB boss and Wilson's Labour government was made possible by two key factors: the failure by a gullible and obedient press to expose their dirty work, and the complete absence of Corporate Manslaughter legislation. 
This was the UK's first televised disaster, yet where were the exposés and investigations? The mainstream media - including the newfangled BBC TV - mostly just swallowed the spin of the authorities and did a terrible disservice to the victims and their families.
The absence of a law that holds company chief executives personally responsible for deaths due to the negligence they've presided over is a huge gap in health and safety law - which continues to let culpable bosses off the hook, even now, 50 years on from Aberfan. No such law and sanction exists against negligent capitalist bosses, despite the issue being first raised in 1965 - because corporate lobbying of governments has blocked it being introduced. This encourages a culture of neglect, of 'blurring the edges' on workplace safety, in pursuit of profit. 

ABERFAN: A WARNING ON SAFETY TODAY 
Next time you hear some Tory or other apologist of capitalist employment methods whine about the 'red tape' or 'bureaucracy' of workplace health and safety laws - something we're likely to hear a lot more about during and after Brexit negotiations - remember Aberfan. 
Remember that back then there was literally no law governing the safety of mining tips, for instance; no HSE inspectors; "no legislation dealing with the safety of tips in force in this or any country, except part of West Germany and South Africa", to quote the Davies Report on Aberfan. 
It was only 3 years after Aberfan that the government introduced the Mines and Quarries (Tips) Act 1969. 
Later still - to reverse the situation where safety legislation was largely reactive, rather than imposing any general legal duty for safety on employers - the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 was enacted. In what must be one of the sickest jokes around, this 1974 Act was the child of recommendations by a parliamentary committee set up in 1967 by Labour Minister Barbara Castle, who appointed as chairman of the committee... no, you couldn't have guessed it... Lord Alfred Robens!! 



REMOVE THE TIPS!
The cruel injustices meted out to the devastated working class people of Aberfan didn't end with Robens being kept on as the top NCB boss, despite "the terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude" the Tribunal of Inquiry branded him and his Board with. 
Alongside their demands for honest explanations of the cause of the wipe-out of a generation, of their own children, the villagers demanded outright removal of the other six tips dominating the skyline. In some part for safety reasons, but overwhelmingly to remove the constant, haunting reminder of the disaster they'd suffered; demolition of those monstrous monuments to the deaths of their children and neighbours. 
The government - under the advice of the NCB and indeed the Davies Tribunal Report - declared that the remaining six slag heaps were not unsafe, didn't need to be removed, but generously conceded an offer to landscape them! What they carefully avoided saying was that this was a vastly cheaper option than the estimated £3million cost of removal, with behind-the-scenes warnings that such a cost would lead to the closure of the Merthyr Vale pit and its jobs (although subsequent research suggests they were lying about the costs of the demolition option). 

PEOPLE POWER GETS ORGANISED 
Landscaping might have been relatively inexpensive, but it was utterly, cruelly insensitive to a whole community suffering mass bereavement and trauma. 
In an inspiring echo of all that is most courageous about working class people who organise and fight for justice - whether trade unionists fighting their employers through collective union action, or the likes of the Hillsborough families' prolonged struggle for Justice for the 96 - the Aberfan people didn't lie down and accept this treatment from the powers-that-be. They set up a Tip Removal Committee, and fought long and hard. 

The ruling powers were unaccustomed to 'ordinary' working class people displaying such extraordinary determination, or challenging them - especially in the midst of such emotional suffering. They stonewalled the demands to dismantle the tips. 
But the ruling elites also sought to block the campaigners by dirty, secret state methods - behind their public claims to be pouring out sympathy to the bereaved village. Participants described how their phones were tapped, with cars following Tip Removal Committee members everywhere they went. 

DIRT IN THE WALES OFFICE!
Eventually, after being frustrated and ignored by the government for ages, a more militant wing of the committee, led by local miner Enos Sims, decided on some direct action at the Wales Office in Cardiff. They took care not to discuss their plans on the phone. 
After being told 'No' by the government for the umpteenth time, they arranged to 'bring the mountain to the government', so to speak! They dumped bagfuls of slurry from the tips inside the Wales Office. It had an instant impact, with the Secretary of State for Wales suddenly urging the Wilson government to remove the six offending slag heaps, which the government announced mere days later. A victory for determined action by working class people who got themselves organised. 

GOVERNMENT PLUNDERS DISASTER APPEAL FUND 
Here's the vicious sting in the Labour government's tail, though. 
Wilson's government conceded to the Aberfan people's relentless demand to demolish the tips; traumatic eyesores that were a daily reminder to them of loss and human disaster - caused by ruthless negligence by those in power. They paid out a £200,000 government grant towards the removal costs. 
The other source of funding for the tip clearance is a permanent condemnation of the government, the NCB bosses, and indeed such seemingly benign forces as the heads of the Charity Commission. Let's sketch the back story.



£500 FOR A CHILD'S LIFE 
After the Davies Report had savaged the NCB for its "terrifying tale of bungling ineptitude" as the root cause of the 144 deaths, the NCB offered compensation to bereaved families. At first they offered an insulting £50 per fatality! 
Under the outcry this triggered, they then paid out £500 per fatality - still little more than they paid in compensation for each dead animal! What price the life of a child?
In this context, the Aberfan Disaster Fund was established, relying on the solidarity and generosity of ordinary people - children included - from far and wide. A total of 90,000 people donated, with an astonishing £1.75million collected; about £30million in 2016 money. 

WHERE DOES CHARITY BEGIN? 
Several times, the ladies and gentlemen of the Charity Commission intervened to dictate how these funds were used - despite clearly being donated to help the devastated families and community in the small Aberfan village. 
They blocked payments - which had been agreed by the Disaster Fund trustees - to parents unless their children were physically injured that terrible day; no thought for the life-long psychological damage. 
They stepped in another time to demand that no payments could be issued to bereaved parents until each case was investigated to see whether the parents were close to their children, and thus likely to be suffering mentally! 
You couldn't invent such cold cruelty - by those in charge of 'charity'.

LABOUR GOVERNMENT ROBBED FUNDS FOR THE DEAD
Another decisive intervention they made was when the government hounded the Disaster Fund trustees into paying nearly 10% of the total Fund - £150,000 - towards the  cost of removing the other six tips. Tips which had been put there and left there by the NCB, supported by successive governments, despite repeated residents' warnings of the safety risks, spanning several years. The Charity Commission declared this larceny of funds, donated in good faith, to be entirely lawful under charity laws (it wasn't) and helped the Wilson government plunder the Disaster Fund. 

As a footnote, the Labour government of 1997 - 30 years later - returned the £150,000 to the Aberfan Disaster Fund, now mostly used to sustain the cemetery and memorials to the dead. Outwardly generous and just, this act by Tony Blair's New Labour was another cruel deceit. It gained kudos for seemingly righting a wrong by Labour 30 years before. But taking inflation and loss of interest over the previous three decades into account, instead of returning £150,000 they should have been coughing up £1.5million to the people of Aberfan in 1997.



A TRAGEDY RICH IN WARNINGS AND LESSONS FOR TODAY 
This unimaginable tragedy is full of stark warnings and rich lessons, even 50 years after Aberfan's man-made disaster occurred. Much has changed since 1966, but far too much has remained the same. 
Most coal mines have been shut down - as have the livelihoods of whole communities. The destruction of the coal industry, accelerated by Thatcher in the 1980s, has left industrial deserts with multiple social ills in its wake. The mining tips have therefore disappeared with the mines. They no longer hang like the shadow of death over the Welsh valleys.
But a whole succession of man-made disasters have devastated lives and families since Aberfan: the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster at Zeebrugge; rail disasters at Clapham and Paddington; the Hillsborough 96... to name but a few. 

CUTS COST LIVES
Cost-cutting and profiteering, with negligence on safety standards by those in power, have been common causes of all these and other human tragedies. 
They've been entirely avoidable - and in most cases the employers, government or police chiefs had been warned of potential disasters long before they happened. Those in power put profit before people, cost-cutting before crowd safety, ignored the warnings - and then lied through their teeth after the death tolls, to hide their culpability. 

CAMPAIGNS FOR TRUTH, JUSTICE & SAFETY
In this shameful exercise they've been overwhelmingly aided and abetted by the mainstream media - or at least big sections of it. Usually it's taken sustained, courageous campaigns by devastated families, communities and workers' unions to expose the truth and win justice for the victims. 
In an age where the Tories and profit-addicted employers are desperate to unwind the limited advances on workplace health and safety, we should use Aberfan as a warning of what could happen if they're not resisted and defeated. 
Corporate manslaughter legislation should be extended to make company chief executives open to prosecution, as a deterrent to them cutting corners on safety for the sake of profit or public sector cuts. 



DEMOCRACY AND WORKING CLASS CONTROL 
And rather than leave safety measures to unelected, aloof bosses who've been proven to risk life and limb for the company profit-and-loss accounts, we should pursue the demand for workplace safety to be under the control of committees of elected trade union health and safety reps.
The appalling role of Lord Robens and the NCB bosses at Aberfan is a powerful lesson in what public ownership should - and should not - consist of. 
A socialist government should never repeat the costly outrage of obscene overcompensation of private owners. They've had more than enough loot already, so why reward them at the expense of saddling nationalized industries or services with a mountain of debt, as happened with the coal industry in 1947? 

ELECTED BOARDS, NOT FUTURE LORD ROBENS 
Furthermore, never again should any industry or service that's taken into public ownership be run by unelected, unaccountable, disgustingly overpaid bureaucratic boards of management. Anyone who imagines that such a set-up amounts to socialism should remember two words: Aberfan, and Robens. 
The terrible tale of arrogant neglect, indifference to warnings from working class communities, and subsequent lies and corruption to hide the truth, are more than a compelling case for democratic accountability at every level in any public service or industry. 
Elected boards of management; day-to-day workers' control; elected community representatives alongside workers' elected representatives; boards of management on nothing above skilled workers' wages and subject to immediate recall and replacement - those are some of the core features required for democratic public ownership; to ensure the interests and safety of workers and communities are protected. 

COMMIT TO A SAFE AND SECURE FUTURE 
It took the tragedy of Aberfan - and more to the point, the indescribable resilience and spirit of the villagers in their battle for truth and justice - to force governments into improvements on health and safety laws in subsequent years. 
Unfortunately, for as long as our economy is owned by a faceless few whose entire motivation is profit maximization, so too we will have to emulate the spirit of the working class people of Aberfan in defence of the safety, livelihoods and lives of workers and their communities. 
A commitment to winning such a safe and secure future - run by and for people, not profit - is the best monument we can all build to the innocents slaughtered in Aberfan 50 years ago. 



Sunday, 16 October 2016

STRUGGLE OR STARVE! - pay, prices, profit



There's no evidence of low paid workers and apprentices doing the Conga in the closes, celebrating in the shopping centres, or throwing street parties in the housing schemes. 
The Westminster government's increasing variety of national minimum wage levels have risen this month, but not so you'd notice. 
Workers aged 21-24 are now guaranteed £6.95-an-hour; those aged 18-20 £5.55 - in both cases a paltry 25p rise. And it gets stingier still: workers aged 16-18 have 'enjoyed' a 13p rise to the giddy heights of £4-an-hour. Worse still, apprentices have been granted an insulting 10p increase to a £3.40 minimum wage. 

Discounted Young Workers
How the hell are people meant to live on such basement level wages? Young workers or apprentices don't encounter sales banners in retail outlets or supermarkets declaring vast, special youth discounts. But that's precisely what the bosses - many of them billionaires - enjoy under the pernicious regime of age wage discrimination in this fabulously rich country. 
And don't go thinking workers over 25 have it cushy. Try living on the Tories' maliciously, deliberately misnamed 'National Living Wage' of £7.20-an-hour. Or indeed the Living Wage Foundation figure - currently £8.25, about to be increased - which builds in several self-imposed caps on what is actually required for a basic but reasonable standard of living. For instance, the Foundation itself admitted that a full three years ago, in 2013, it should actually have been set at £9.08 in Scotland to match living costs. And it's entirely voluntary, left to the whims and fancies of employers, with no power to legally enforce it. 

Profits Plunder Pay
Profits for big business are at record highs. Company chief executives award each other salaries that defy human imagination. On average they earn 183 times as much as their average worker. To keep all the figures bandied about for a real and genuine living wage in perspective, if the government's national minimum wage had kept pace with the rocketing pay levels of these company bosses since it was introduced in 1999, it wouldn't be £7.20, nor the Living Wage Foundation figure of £8.25, nor even the immediate £10 which the Scottish Socialist Party is demanding, but at least £18.99-an-hour, here and now in 2016! 

Wage Stagnation 
Workers' wages are stagnating, and have for over 30 years. Real wages have plunged by 10% since the 2008 financial crisis, brought about by bankers, billionaires and the political choices of their capitalist system. Wages have been consciously slashed to boost profits, with the aid of the legal chains forged to stop unions fighting back for a better share in wages and public services. 
And it's set to get worse for millions of workers' families over the next couple of years, as inflation re-enters the political economy after a period of very low official inflation figures. 



Food banks for Food workers
Even before the Brexit vote, workers' wages were slaughtered by the cost of basics like housing, transport and food. 
An astonishing six million UK families - five million of them with one or more people in jobs - are what the Tories have christened "just managing families". In poverty, working to remain poor, in more honest English. 
As the Resolution Foundation think tank has measured, these families now spend 25% of their incomes on housing - equivalent to a hidden income tax rise of 14p in the £1 compared to their situation in 1995. Transport costs are the highest in Europe. And contrary to the press propaganda, most of us haven't noticed the alleged fall in the price of food the last couple of years! On the contrary, as I recounted in my book Break the Chains, there are cases aplenty of fast food and supermarket staff serving food but having to rely on food banks to stave off hunger on their starvation wages. And as the Food Foundation recently commented, 
"Higher prices force families who are struggling to go for the cheapest calories. Children in the most deprived areas already experience twice the levels of obesity than children in the least deprived."

Before and after Brexit vote 
Now the Brexit vote has triggered a nosedive in the value of sterling, which spells disaster for the cost of living for low and middle-income families.
A lot of economically illiterate dross has been pumped out by some capitalist commentators about the fall in value of sterling against the Euro and US dollar meaning a heyday for British exports. What exports? For decades the dominant finance wing of the capitalists, and their hired politicians, have decimated industry in the likes of Scotland. Instead, they've concentrated on making big bucks through financial speculation and slaughtered wages. 
With wages so low, they shored up demand and sales through a glut of credit for a period, which then crashed in 2008, with workers made to pay twice over: through the £1.3trillion bailout of the banks from public funds, and eight years of austerity cuts since to recover that debt. 

Plunging Pound and Inflation 
The central fact is that the uncertainty post-Brexit Referendum has added to panic on the money markets and amongst manufacturers, with an 18% fall in the value of the £pound since May. Already car manufacturers like Fords, Vauxhalls and Peugeot have passed on price increases in the UK to compensate their profits for the weakened pound. The price of raw materials and goods needed by UK factories have in August grown faster than at any time since 2011. 
The very public spat between suppliers Unilever and retailers Tescos over the price of Marmite, PG Tips and Pot Noodle highlights the looming price rises for food. Prices at the petrol pumps are set to rise this month. Foodstuffs and other daily items are already being priced beyond the reach of the lowest paid, including a million people below the breadline in Scotland. For instance, butter prices have rocketed 75% since May; items like shampoo by 17%. 

All this has led economists at several leading banks to forecast inflation will leap to 3% or 4% in the next year, eating away at the value of workers' wages as they fork out for food, everyday essentials, housing and transport. That's also the view expressed forcibly by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney - not noted for his trade unionist or socialist tendencies! 

Pay Cuts - With Worse to Come 
Meanwhile, wages are stagnant, and capitalist employers, governments and local governments are poised to make things even worse by protecting profit margins and implementing austerity cuts through de facto wage cuts. For instance, Deloitte did a recent survey of the chief financial officers of major UK companies, and found 94% of them view cutting costs as the key priority for the next year; in other words, cuts to wages and/or jobs. 
Numerous retail giants - with profits measured in £billions rather than £millions - have won kudos for increasing hourly pay rates, in a very few cases volunteering the Living Wage Foundation rate of £8.25. The same ruthless profiteers have tried to bury the bad news that they've robbed back some or all of that wage concession by slashing premium payments for anti-social hours on Bank Holidays, Sundays, nightshifts or overtime. In several instances, workers are literally worse off each week - but their bosses win extra customers through appearing like 'ethical employers'. 

What Alternatives to the Tories' Atrocities?
Most people won't be fooled by the stomach-churning guff from Theresa May (or Ruth Davidson) about the Tories being "the party of the working class", concerned about "the just managing families". This is the party driving people into starvation, even suicide, with their benefits sanctions regime, and whose anti-Trade Union Bill makes Britain the most repressive anti-worker state in the entire western world.

But what alternatives are on offer from other, anti-Tory parties?



Since our foundation in 1998, the SSP has persistently fought for a living national minimum wage - for all over 16, apprentices included, with equal pay for women - based on a formula that would challenge poverty head on, and automatically upgrade pay with rises in average pay or prices: a minimum calculated as two-thirds male median wages. Since 2014 that has meant we've demanded £10-an-hour, here and now, not in some distant future. 
In September 2014, the TUC - representing nearly seven million organised trade union members - unanimously voted for "a £10 minimum wage for all workers". 
In the last month or so, Labour's socialist Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (and less volubly Jeremy Corbyn), have echoed that demand of the TUC.

TUC and Labour
But here's the problem. The TUC leadership - and most of the individual affiliated unions - haven't lifted a finger to pursue that aim, two years on, despite the demands of SSP members and other socialists in the unions. It's been left hanging as 'an aspiration', with no timescale fixed for achieving it, no plans laid to agitate and organise a battle for it, with union negotiators lodging pay claims that include a £10 minimum. 

In the case of Corbyn's and McDonnell's Labour, whilst an extremely welcome addition to the clamour for a real living wage, they only ask for £10 by 2020! Provided the Labour leadership advocate that for workers of all ages, it would obviously be better than the Tories' 'promise' of £9 by 2020 - but only for those over 25.
It would also be substantially better than the £8.70-an-hour by 2020 which the SNP committed to in an independent Scotland since the 2014 Referendum campaign. 
But £10 in 2020 would be nothing like the £10 now, today, in 2016, which the SSP and an honorable minority of unions - especially the Bakers' Union - are demanding. It would be drastically devalued four years hence, given the forecasts on inflation already explained. 

Waiting for Westminster?!
We can't just sit back and wait for generous handouts from the Westminster government - increasingly likely to be Tory for at least another parliamentary term, given the shameful civil war against Corbyn by Labour MPs and the Scottish Labour leadership around Kezia Dugdale. 
Workers and socialists need to agitate and organise for £10 now in their unions and on the streets, and bombard local councillors, MSPs and the Scottish government to implement a Scottish living minimum wage of £10 for all without further delay. 
The SSP campaigns for devolution of power to Holyrood over setting the statutory minimum wage. But whilst fighting for that, we should also demand that all Scottish councils and the Scottish government not only gain the kudos of volunteering as Accredited Living Wage Employers, but also insist on them implementing it through contracts and procurement... and set the (voluntary) Living Wage for Scotland at £10 here and now. 



SNP Shortcomings 
The SNP government claims to be 'Stronger for Scotland'. At the recent SNP conference, they made the wholly welcome call for an end to the lower youth rates for the so-called Living Wage. The original Motion, from the SNP Trade Union Group and Chris Stephens MP, only asked for the feeble £7.20 for all ages. A Paisley branch amendment improved that substantially to the Living Wage Foundation's £8.25. But the Motion agreed merely asks the Westminster government to implement this, rather than any concrete proposals on how to archive this within Scotland - even within the confines of devolution - and furthermore puts no timescale on when Westminster should implement it!

Slave Wages at Sea
At the same SNP conference, a lobby of seafarers in the RMT union demanded an end to the scandal in the Northern Isles where a shipping company (Clipper), registered in the notorious Bahamas tax haven, is paying foreign workers a criminal £3.66-an-hour for working the contract they won off the Scottish government. That's the brutal realities behind the headlines, which must be outlawed immediately. 

Join the SSP's Struggles 
The SSP won't relent on our campaign for £10 now, for pay before profit, for a radical redistribution of the wealth produced by the working class in the first place. Join us in battling for a genuine living wage, with no age or gender discrimination, and put the employers, councillors and Scottish government under relentless pressure to outlaw the crucifying poverty pay suffered by about half a million workers in Scotland. 
It's increasingly, literally, a case of the old 1930s socialist slogan: Struggle or Starve!