Tuesday, 27 January 2015

DEFY ALL CUTS: there IS an alternative!

The SSP held a meeting in Glasgow at which Colin Fox gave an eye witness account about the elections in Greece last week.  Watch HERE

The contrast could not be starker. As the people of Greece give a resounding NO! to austerity, the councillors of Scotland are poised to vote YES to another bout of municipal butchery.
Council budgets are about to be set across the country, for the next 1-3 years. The common thread in all 32 council areas is cuts: cuts to jobs, cuts to vital services, cuts to the conditions of the workforce.
Tens of millions of pounds are being slashed off local public spending - despite us all being told there's an economic recovery.


A litany of slash-and-burn crimes


Glasgow city council - Labour controlled - are hacking another £100m off services and jobs over 3 years, on top of their previous cut of £175m since 2010. Vulnerable people, like those supported by Glasgow Association of Mental Health, are at the sharp end, as GAMH's budget is reduced by 40 per cent.

Edinburgh city council - run by Labour and SNP - boast of "greater efficiency" and "improved customer services" as they lop £67m off spending and plan 1,200 job losses! You couldn't make it up; well, this coalition of cuts councillors have!

North Ayrshire - SNP the ruling party - threatens another £19m over 3 years, hitting education and social services hard. The Labour opposition condemn this in Press Releases, but turn up to budget meetings and vote for the cuts!

West Dunbartonshire - a Labour council - wants to add another £17m to previous cuts in one of Scotland's most deprived boroughs, with school closures and an end to funding for lifeline services through two local Women's Aid Centres amongst the victims.

Dundee - SNP-run - aims to slice £8.5m off services, with school closures thrown into the mix.

North Lanarkshire - one of Labour's last bastions - threatens 1,400 job losses, with £62m in cuts this year, about £73m in the next two years.


TINA: "there is no alternative"

The list goes on; a dreary litany of slash-and-burn by councillors of all the mainstream political parties - Tory, LibDem, Labour, even the SNP.

And they all sing the same background tune to their axe-swinging crusade: "we have a duty to balance the books", and their all-time favourite, "there is no alternative". The latter was also a favourite tune of the late, unlamented Margaret Thatcher as she put the boot into the working class in the 1980s; she even had her own acronym: TINA, 'there is no alternative'.

It seems it never occurs to these services-cutting, jobs-slashing councillors that they should adopt the stance of the Greek people, by saying NO to ALL cuts, defying the cuts handed down from the Tory dictatorship of and for the rich at Westminster, mounting a campaign to win back some of the £billions stolen off Scottish budgets and therefore Scottish councils over the years.

In the last 3 years alone, £3billion has been robbed off Scotland's budgets by the Westminster razor gang. As Unison reported last year, 39,300 council jobs have vanished since 2010, one of the human consequences of 'balancing the books'.


Colin Fox gave his eye witness account of the Greek elections to an audience at the Trades council, Glasgow.   Watch HERE


Strangling Women's Aid Centre funds

And this new round of slaughter to services will hit some of the people most in need of the social support a modern society should guarantee. For instance, 25,000 women in Scotland made their first contact with Women's Aid Centres last year, in desperate need of refuge for them and their children, as they flee domestic abuse. But in at least West Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, North Ayrshire and Fife councils - a mixture of Labour and SNP administrations - funding for these lifeline refuges are being either slashed or entirely stopped - to 'balance the books'.


Putting the CON into CONsultation

The new modern method of implementing such cowardly butchery is to hold bogus 'public consultation' exercises. Councils have spent considerable sums in this charade, this pretense of giving 'choices' to the public.

As well as online voting, they hold public forums, sometimes with hi-tech electronic voting devices, where the elected councillors hide whilst unelected council officials carry the can, putting forward a long-list of cuts, asking people which cuts to carry out.


The councillors then issue glowing Press Releases about "the biggest consultation in the council's history", and effectively pass the blame for their own spineless acceptance of Westminster-inspired cuts to the average Joe or Josephine.

As I said in the recent live Radio Inverclyde debate with the Labour council leader Stephen McCabe, that's like offering somebody the choice of being executed by a firing squad or the hangman - but with no offer of staying alive!

These Labour (and SNP) councils have truly put the con into CONsultation!

People's BudgetsInstead of offering false 'choices' between cutting local schools or community facilities, teachers' jobs or street cleaning, larger school classes or cuts to women's refuges, elected councillors should be initiating genuine forums where People's Budgets could be debated, based on local needs and priorities, but underpinned by an expansion of funding from central government, rather than annual cuts.

Even at this eleventh hour in setting budgets, if Labour and SNP councillors discovered a collective spine they could as a minimum set No Cuts budgets, Defiance budgets which refuse to pass on the cuts issued by Westminster and meekly passed down by the Scottish government. Budgets with not a penny reduction in services, not a single job lost.


No Cuts Defiance Budgets

"But the money would run out if we did that" was the cry of Labour's Inverclyde council leader when we debated this option. Only if the councillors sat on their hands and did nothing!

If they were genuine about standing up for the people they got elected by, Labour and SNP councillors should link up with the council workforces - which constitutes a massive 246,000 workers in Scotland - through their trade unions, alongside user groups, tenants' groups and political parties dedicated to fighting the cuts, and mount a massive campaign to win back the £millions required to 'balance the books' without a single penny in cuts.

If the SNP Holyrood government was serious about standing up for Scotland, they would go beyond ritual condemnation of Westminster's cuts and mount a campaign of mass defiance, refusing to pass on a single penny of the Tory-LibDem Coalition's austerity, appealing to a population awoken by the recent Referendum to take to the streets demanding "Give us back our stolen £billions - bail out jobs and services, not bankers and the rich".

Scrap the Council Tax: tax the rich

And meantime, as a matter of urgency, the trade unions, community organisations, councillors and political parties should thrash out a progressive alternative means of funding councils.

Funds from the Scottish government account for about 80 per cent of all council budgets. The rest mostly comes from the Council Tax. But this is a brutally regressive tax system, where those on lower incomes pay disproportionately far more for local services than the richest do.

The SNP government has insisted on a freeze on Council Tax bills for several years. Families struggling to cope with household bills welcome this - although the richest gain most from the freeze. Labour's response is to demand an end to the Council Tax freeze - apparently so out of touch with working class lives that they're oblivious to the pain of increased bills their option would mean.

Another false choice: added financial pressure to cut jobs and services through the SNP freeze, or an Ice Age of further cuts to disposable incomes through Labour's increased Council Tax bills.

Scottish Service Tax

The SSP has pioneered and campaigned for the outright abolition of the regressive, unfair Council Tax since our founding aims were written in September 1998. We want it replaced by a progressive Scottish Service Tax, based on income, on the ability to pay. An income-based tax with rising bands and rates, making the rich pay their fair share.

The last time we costed this alternative - four years ago - it would have meant 80 per cent of people paying less, the rich minority paying a damned sight more, and the income for local jobs and services almost exactly doubling: £3.5billion a year from the Scottish Service Tax, compared to £1.8billion that year from the Council Tax.


Defy all cuts: imitate the courage of the Greeks

Contrary to the 'TINA' brigade of councillors, there clearly IS an alternative. But it takes a bit of courage, a spirit of defiance, a readiness to give a lead to people in opposition to ongoing assaults originating in Westminster.

It would be foolish to compare the crucifying savagery of the austerity imposed by the Greek equivalents of Tory and Labour - New Democracy and PASOK - with the cuts hammering the Scottish working class. But that does not excuse the cuts here, and in fact makes it all the more shameful that Labour and SNP councillors have yet to display an ounce of the spirit and courage of the Greek people, who have risen off their knees and said "enough is enough, no more cuts".

The SSP held a meeting in Glasgow at which Colin Fox gave an eye witness account about the elections in Greece last week.  Watch HERE


Public need, not private greed

The SSP proudly stands on the side of working class communities and council workers against this butchery, ready to join them in a campaign of defiance of all cuts, and with a fully-costed, progressive alternative means of funding an expansion of council jobs and services. If Syriza and the people of Greece dare to defy the IMF, EU bureaucrats and European Central Bank, surely we can defy and defeat the tin-pot Tory dictatorship of capital around Cameron, win back funding for jobs and services, and start to build a Scotland based on public need, not private greed?


Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Monday, 19 January 2015

FAT CAT TUESDAY: who says £10 an hour is unrealistic?




Next time somebody says that the SSP's campaign for a £10 an hour national minimum wage is unrealistic, or would damage the economy, spare a thought for the bosses who dictate the poverty pay that workers struggle to survive on.

Last year we had 'Fat Cat Wednesday'. This year it came a day earlier; Fat Cat Tuesday, 6th January 2015, was the day by which the average chief executive of the FTSE 100 companies raked in as much as the average worker will earn over the entire year!
By late afternoon on their second day back at work, the average chief executive of each of the FTSE 100 firms had already piled up £27,200 in earnings, which was the average annual wage of a worker in the UK in 2014. 

£1200 an hour!
Even if we make the naively generous assumptions that these bloated bosses work a 12-hour day, only take 10 days' annual leave, and work 3 out of 4 weekends (none of which assumptions we have any evidence for!), that still means they are on £1,200 an hour! Their annual average income for 2014 was £4.72million - each!
Whereas the average worker's wage 'rose' from £27,000 in 2013 to £27,200 last year, the FTSE 100 chiefs awarded themselves an increase of £500,000 each!

354 years' work to match Primark boss
Let's break down this obscenity of inequality a bit, to master the mind-boggling figures involved. 
If you did some of your shopping in Primark before Xmas, you helped boost the profits of its parent company, Associated British Foods. That outfit's top dog, George Weston, was awarded a £5m Xmas bonus for meeting targets, on top of his £1m salary and £900,000 annual bonus. Yet Primark refuses to pay its workers the Living Wage. 
Those cold figures mean that if you are earning the average national wage of £27,200, it will take you 195 years to earn the same as Primark's George Weston. And more to the point, given the wages this outfit grudgingly pays its workers, if you are a full-time worker on the £6.50 national minimum wage, it would take you 354 years to match his income!

Easyjet - easy money
To use just one other example, if you were lucky enough to use Easyjet at Xmas, you will have helped boost the income of its chief executive, Carolyn McCall. If you are fortunate enough to get the average worker's wage it will take you a modest 283 years to match her annual income. But if you are on the 'economy class' legal minimum wage, you'd need to stretch it out to 592 years of work!
These gaping chasms of income are perverse. And don't be fooled into thinking they are the exception, restricted to just the top 100 Fat Cats.
Whilst workers' wages have plummeted by £50 a week on average since 2010, the pay of ALL company directors rocketed by 21 per cent in 2014 alone.
Just 2,600 senior bankers in London grabbed an average of £1.3m each last year. That means just 2,600 wreckers of the economy had a combined income substantially greater than the entire block grant from Westminster to the Scottish government - which of course was cut, because "we have to balance the books", and "we are all in it together"!

TUC: fight for £10 now!
It's time to challenge this rotten system, stinking with corruption, rooted in the ripping off of the working class who produce the wealth in order to fill the boots of the obnoxiously rich. 
It's time the trade union movement rose up on its hind legs, mobilised workers, organised in communities, and fought to implement the policy agreed unanimously at the recent Trades Union Congress, "for a £10 per hour minimum wage for all workers".

It isn't asking the earth, in this fabulously rich country. It wouldn't mean workers on £10 an hour could wallpaper their living rooms with £50 notes! But it would transform the lives of millions, including the million people who relied on foodbanks for handouts last year - many of them in jobs.
The SSP is dedicated to fighting poverty pay. We are out to abolish the accompanying obscenity of Zero Hours Contracts. We are constantly told that the economy is recovering from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. Workers haven't seen a share of any such recovery. But since profits are booming, and the Fat Cats are bursting with gluttony, we are in all the stronger a position to demand a bit back from the wealth created by workers in the first place.

Right now, workers on the pathetic 'adult' minimum wage of £6.50 would have to toil for 363 years to earn as much as the average FTSE 100 Fat Cat gobbles up in a year. Not a very realistic option! 
Join the SSP and fight for £10 an hour now - for all over 16, scrapping age wage discrimination, and with equal pay for women. £10 an hour is not just modest, but entirely realistic, provided we organise and fight for it. 

Monday, 12 January 2015

TORY CLASS WAR ON WORKERS' RIGHTS



Anyone who doubts we are in the midst of a class war hasn't been awake recently!
The Tory party election manifesto for May's Westminster general election includes an open declaration of continued class war by the rich on the rest of us. That applies to most of their aims, but specifically new anti-trade union measures, a de facto ban on the right to strike for millions of workers, especially in the public sector.It comes as no surprise to trade unionists or socialists, but it highlights the need to struggle or face starvation.

The Tories want to legislate a 40 per cent threshold of all potential voters - NOT just those who ACTUALLY vote - in any union ballot for industrial action, before workers can take lawful action in self-defence from the government's escalating assault on their jobs, wages and conditions.


RIPPING UP OUR RIGHTS

The Tories have already ripped apart the few remaining rights we have at work.
Prior to the 2010 elections, the UK already boasted the most vicious, reactionary, anti-worker employment laws in the whole of Europe - after not just the 1980s Thatcher Dark Ages, but also the subsequent 13 years of Labour governments. Tony Blair shamelessly boasted of "the most restrictive employment laws in Europe", as his government unleashed a profit-crazed, totally deregulated banking and business regime on the population.

Then the present Westminster Coalition was foisted upon us in the rigged 2010 election outcome - rigged, because nobody was ever asked to vote for a Tory-LibDem coalition, and many were stupid enough to imagine voting LibDem was an anti-Tory vote!

Cameron and Clegg's Westminster boot-boys have trampled on the rights of workers in a systematic crusade to rob our wages, pensions, public services and jobs, so the rich can get obscenely richer.

PRICED OUT OF JUSTICE

Fees for taking cases of workplace mistreatment to Employment Tribunals have priced workers out of any pretense of justice. The Citizens Advice Bureaux report a fall in the number of new cases submitted since fees were introduced (in 2013) from an average 48,000 a quarter to 13,612 in the third quarter of 2014.
Cash is the chief barrier - and those workers not in a trade union are totally defenceless, as they'd have to fork out up to £1,200 just to get a Tribunal case heard.

In the CAB survey, 4 out of 10 workers with an issue they'd like taken to a Tribunal only had £46 a week left after paying their essential bills, meaning they'd have to save up for 6 months just to pay the fees for an Employment Tribunal - with no guarantee of success either, of course.

BLOCKING THE RIGHT TO STRIKE

Recently the Tories and LibDems introduced a rule that industrial action ballots require a turnout of over 50 per cent. That in the context of clamping down on the ability of unions to meet or function in workplaces. Most notoriously, the same government has abolished the facility for union membership fees to be collected from civil service workers' wages - in an attempt to smash the socialist-led PCS union - accompanied by removal of facilities for elected PCS reps to represent their members at work.

Now the Tories want to add the clause that unless over 40 per cent of all potential voters in such a ballot actually vote for it, any industrial action is illegal, and union funds could be seized.

They want this to apply to workers in the NHS, transport and fire services. Their excuse is that these services are 'essential' - something the same axe-wielding capitalist politicians deny in action as they slash jobs and public service provision in all these sectors.

LEGAL WEAPONS IN WAR ON WORKERS

Their aims are nakedly obvious. As the Tories gear up to force through the remaining £55billion in public sector cuts of the £90billion total that they've previously declared, they want to crush the resistance of workers in the frontline.

For instance, the Coalition has already shut down 39 fire stations since 2010, and shed 5,000 firefighters' jobs - so they want to neuter the ability of the Fire Brigades Union to fight back, as they are currently doing through strike action in several regions.

As they impose even more pay cuts on public sector workers who've had pay cuts for 6 or 7 years, the political arm of capitalism want to make collective action to win better pay legally impossible.

LEGALISED SCABBING

Alongside the 40 per cent threshold, the Tories plan to end the current restrictions on the use of agency workers as scabs during industrial action - so they can dragoon desperate people into undermining the conditions of fellow-workers, knowing full well that agency workers feel helpless and without rights in many cases.

And they want to 'review' minimum service levels during strikes, so as to prevent total shutdowns. Over the years I've often encountered situations in the likes of local government and the NHS where strikers' unions have had to agree levels of cover for emergencies during the strike that actually meant MORE staff on duty than on the average day before the strike, such are the appalling levels of under-staffing! Now the Tories want to turn the screw even tighter, as part of a package to effectively outlaw the right to strike for millions of workers.

MPs AND MORALITY!

The MPs who want to further shackle workers have absolutely no moral basis for their 50 per cent and 40 per cent thresholds on union votes. These chancers enjoy full rights and resources to put their case in the media and at meetings in a fashion workers' union representatives can't even dream of being allowed to do in their workplaces.

They spend £millions on election propaganda - on top of their free access to compliant, sycophantic media, owned by the same billionaires who use the mainstream media to smear and demonise trade unionists.

NO GOVERNMENT GOT 40%

But despite all these advantages, those MPs who have hamstrung workers' unions with their anti-union laws can't even get the kind of share of the vote they want to impose on the unions.

Since 1945, not a single one of the successive Westminster governments got over 50 per cent of the votes cast, let alone a majority of the entire electorate.

In fact, not one UK government since 1945 has gained the votes of over 40 per cent of the electorate - the threshold the Tories plan to impose on union ballots.

In the 2010 Westminster general election, 433 out of 650 MPs gained their bloated salaries despite getting less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Cameron's Tories only gained 36 per cent of the votes cast in 2010, in a 65 per cent turnout of voters - meaning these capitalist dictators only got 23.5 per cent of the electorate to vote for them! And that's across the UK, not Scotland, where they were overwhelmingly rejected.

Even if you distort reality by adding on the LibDems' share (a distortion, because not a single MP was elected as a Tory-LibDem candidate), the Coalition still only managed 38 per cent of the electorate.

SCOTLAND 1979

The 40 per cent con-trick is especially bitter-tasting in Scotland. In 1979, a clear majority of voters favoured a Scottish parliament, but were denied their wishes by the '40 per cent of the electorate' threshold that had been imposed on that year's referendum. Scots were denied a parliament for another 20 years.

NO TRUST IN LABOUR

Trade unionists and socialists must resist these escalated attacks on workplace rights by every available means. But relying on a Labour government is not one of those means.

It was Labour in government from 1997 to 2010 which retained Thatcher's brutal package of anti-union laws. It is today's Labour party that refuses to pledge repeal of these laws.

It is today's Labour party that pledges to cut public spending every single year they are in office until they have cleared the public deficit - making workers and communities pay for the debts created by Labour's £1.3trillion bailout of the bankers that the same Labour government had given free rein to 'get rich quick'.
In fighting these draconian additions to the worst anti-union laws in Europe, trade union leaders should give workers some confidence by declaring that where the issues demand it, the unions will simply defy the anti-union laws and take decisive action to defend workers. These are laws imposed by governments elected by minorities, ruling in the class interests of the 1% who own the bulk of the wealth created by the working class in the first place.

WORKERS' RIGHTS AND SOCIALISM

Working class people need to shape their own future, demanding full democratic rights at work, through their trade unions, community organisations, and by building a mass socialist party.

The SSP has consistently fought for workplace democracy, including the rights of free trade unions to function, and the right to take action by a majority vote after full debate.

As long as we are dominated by an economic system that seeks maximum profit for the few, workers will face attempts to castrate their unions and ban their rights to resistance. We need to combine the struggle for workplace rights with the broader battle for democratic ownership and control of the economy - for socialism.