Wednesday, 21 June 2017

DUP: WHO THEY ARE AND HOW TO FIGHT THEM




Far from being strong and stable, as the robotic Theresa May repeated ad nauseum during the general election, the new Westminster government is a toxic Tory coalition of chaos.
May's reliance on the misnamed Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in her desperate bid to cling onto power - and prevent a left-leaning minority Corbyn government - has built explosive instability into the very foundations of her regime. 

But who are the DUP? What are their roots? How did they manage to become the biggest party in Northern Ireland? And how can socialists and trade unionists dislodge this reactionary Tory party from its dominant position?

The DUP's particularly reactionary brand of conservatism has smacked those previously unaware of their politics like a stinking wet fish in the face. 
This is the party that blocked equal marriage by wielding their power of veto in the Northern Ireland Assembly, after a majority had voted in favour of bringing the North into line with every other part of the UK. The DUP regard LGBT people as "an abomination", with one of their MPs declaring they could only be "saved by the power of prayer". In fact, in 1977 they launched and were at the heart of the charmingly named campaign, Save Ulster From Sodomy. 
They are creationists, denying science. Climate change deniers - although as we will mention later, ruthless, corrupt opportunists when they can make a fast buck out of allegedly 'green' environmental measures, as implemented by their power-sharing government with Sinn Fein!

Old Testament DUP 
Their attitude to women is equally prehistoric. They deny women the right to control over their own bodies through the right to abortion - even in cases of rape. 
As Theresa May discovered after declaring her intention of negotiating a 'confidence and supply' deal with "our friends in the DUP" - a loose version of coalition government - the DUP are strict Sabbatarians. They refused to negotiate on a Sunday, and kept the hapless May waiting until the Monday. 
It's hardly surprising that comedian Frankie Boyle described them as "the political wing of the Old Testament", or that another wag dubbed the DUP "the Old Testament with fortnightly bin collections."

Pork Barrel Politics
But when Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson rushed to the nearest TV cameras to declare she had been on the phone to Theresa May asking for reassurances that a deal with the DUP would not mean a reversal of legislation on LGBT rights here, she was guilty of one of three things. Profound ignorance of the politics and roots of the DUP; cynical opportunism to win kudos amongst voters for her 'oh-so-liberal' social policies; or a bit of both. 

The DUP are backward-looking reactionaries, but they are also masters at duping their own electorate by having other policies attuned to win votes from mostly working-class Protestants. In fact, surveys have shown that 73% of DUP voters favour advances on abortion rights, and a majority favour equal marriage. So pushing their bigotry on these social issues doesn't win them a majority amongst Protestants at the ballot box, and won't be their preoccupation in carving out power and influence for themselves at Westminster.

Instability 
Rather than push their reactionary social policy agenda, the DUP are far more interested in exploiting their unexpected power as kingmakers to wring funds out of May for some vote-catching projects, or as the BBC N Ireland correspondent rightly put it, "to have slightly less severe austerity than they'd otherwise impose, for they certainly won't get enough funds to avoid austerity measures altogether". 

As opportunist vote-hunters with an ear for working class concerns, the DUP are opposed to Tory plans on pension cuts, and call for UK-wide abolition of the bedroom tax.
And whatever concessions this pork barrel politics forces on May, it will add to the severity of cuts for working class people elsewhere in the UK; another strand of government instability. 

Brexit Chaos 
One of the DUP's other policy planks could spell disaster for their Tory friends: they are pro-Brexit, but oppose a 'hard border' between the North and South of Ireland. Some close observers believe they preached the virtues of a Leave vote in the EU Referendum in order to curry favour with voters concerned to hold onto their British identity, in the belief that a majority in the UK would reject their advice and vote to Remain - thereby handing the DUP a win-win situation. 
Their voters in the working class and rural poor would be potentially crucified by the impact of border tariffs and trade barriers, so the DUP try to square the circle, advocating an open border between the EU member state in the South and the Brexit North - but try to avoid arguing for special status for Northern Ireland within a Brexit deal, in case that encourages the SNP in their pursuit of the same for Scotland, thereby undermining the cohesion of the 'United' Kingdom. 
At the very least, their presence in the Westminster government weakens the full-blown, Little Englander 'hard Brexit' advocated by the Blue Brexiteers of the Tory right, now advocated by May. Even on that one issue, a 'coalition of chaos'. 

Sectarian History 
Those who rightly condemn the DUP for their mind-blowing reactionary social policies - but leave it at that - are in serious danger of implying all Protestants who made them the dominant Unionist party in several recent elections are a homogenous block of Bible-thumping, anti-women, homophobic, anti-Catholic bigots. 
Not so! Many of the DUP's party activists undoubtedly fit that description, but their broad base have voted the way they did for entirely different and varied reasons, rooted in the history of Ireland, the consciously divisive role of the British landowning and capitalist class in Ireland historically, and indeed the role of other political forces in Ireland to this very day. 

Looking at the growth of the DUP - from a fledgling party launched in 1971 by Ian Paisley, to the winners of 36% of all votes cast in N Ireland recently - actually only serves to emphasise their anti-working class role, as perpetrators of division within working class communities. 
In turn, it shows that socialists and trade unionists in Scotland who wish to help break the grisly embrace of the DUP over many working class Protestants need to assist those brave forces fighting for working class unity, equal rights and socialism in Ireland - not reinforce the sectarian divisions by being cheerleaders for the nationalist Sinn Fein. 

Divide-and-Rule 
Ireland was conquered as Britain's first colony. The methods used included bloody military conquest, land robbery, mass death through entirely avoidable famines, and a long history of 'divide-and-rule' tactics, pitting Catholic and Protestant peasants and workers against each other. 
But throughout the centuries, waves of united struggles confronted the same ruling classes of Britain, with peasants and - in the 20th century - workers periodically overcoming the sectarian divisions injected into them by the landlords, capitalists and military chiefs, who sought to exploit them. 
The pinnacle of division was reached after the 1920s Partition of Ireland - and the religious and class-based discrimination that particularly hammered the Catholic minority in the North, but also working class Protestants. For instance, businesses had up to 30 votes in council elections - the bodies allocating jobs and housing - but poor Catholics and Protestants without property (tenants) had no vote at all, right up to the late 1960s!


Workers' Unity
In the 1960s, the trend was towards integration of working class communities, through mixed housing estates, radical struggles and united strikes by workers, and then the mass upsurge for Civil Rights in 1968, involving masses of young Catholics, but also big sections of Protestant youth and trade unionists. 
The entirely justified demand for an end to discrimation against Catholics on jobs, housing allocation - and even voting rights - initially won widespread support across both communities. 
But the leaders of both the Civil Rights and trade union movements failed to clearly link the demand for civil rights with a struggle for well-paid jobs and decent housing for all. 

This opened the door to reactionary bigots like founder of the Christian fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, Rev. Ian Paisley, to whip up support for his anti-Catholic vitriol amongst the most reactionary minority of rural, middle class and despairing sections of Protestants. 
He was able to whip up the justified fears of many that in a society of mass unemployment, low wages and appalling housing conditions (amongst the worst in Europe at the time), more opportunities for Catholics meant fewer for Protestants. 


Paisleyite Thuggery 
Paisley wasn't averse to mobilizing thugs with guns and truncheons to attack Civil Rights marchers - or two years later to arson-attack Catholics in their homes, leading to the biggest population displacement since the Second World War. 

By the 1960s the British ruling class had no interest in holding onto Northern Ireland. British monopoly firms by then were making twice as much profit from investments in the South as in the North. 
For them, some arrangement of a unified capitalist Ireland, willing to provide copious profits for British and multinational companies, was far preferable to subsidizing an unstable statelet they'd created half a century earlier. But they'd created the monster of sectarianism, which wouldn't lie down and accept the plans of the modern British capitalist class and their governments. 

Failed Opportunities
History is made by the struggle between living forces. The 1960s in Ireland - in the context of world-wide movements against inequality, capitalism and wars - was a golden opportunity for the organised trade unions and labour movement to advance working class unity and struggle towards a socialist Ireland. 
Instead, the leadership of that movement failed to advocate and lead such a unifying struggle, and the forces of Paisleyism went from a tiny but violent fringe - held in contempt by most Protestant workers - to a much bigger, and brutally divisive force.

The failures of the same labour movement leadership to resist state repression - after the Paisleyite pogroms against Catholics, and the introduction of British troops in August 1969 - led to the emergence of the Provisional IRA. Regardless of the intentions of the young volunteers, the methods of the Provos deeply alienated Protestants, driving them further into the arms of the likes of Paisley - their own worst enemies. 

DUP Launch
Paisley and his cohort launched the DUP in that context, in 1971, appealing to the fears of many Protestants that the upper-class Unionist Party leadership - landowners and factory owners, dubbed by many 'the fur coat brigade' - were selling them out. 
The Unionist Party tried belatedly to arrange power-sharing with middle-class nationalist politicians, hoping to stabilize Ireland for better profit margins for the rich. 
At first only a minority - mostly in rural villages and small towns - responded to the DUP's sectarian rants. But over the years they made inroads, based on growing suspicions towards the 'fur coat' Unionist politicians; fear of being driven into an unattractive united Ireland by the armed struggle and sometimes nakedly sectarian actions of the IRA; and the (false) impression that the demagogic Ian Paisley was standing up for 'the Protestant people'. 


Ulster Resistance: DUP paramilitary wing
The fortunes of Paisley and the DUP were boosted by the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, arranged over the heads of the population by the governments of London, Dublin and the Ulster Unionists in Belfast. This earlier variant of a power-sharing agreement met a torrent of vitriol from Paisley at a series of mass 'Ulster Says No' rallies, which whipped up the fear of rule by Dublin amongst sections of increasingly beleaguered Protestants. 

But when the Tories tried to block Jeremy Corbyn's advance amongst the working class and youth in the recent General Election by dredging up his links with Sinn Fein and the IRA in the days of the Troubles, they display their customary, rank hypocrisy by now holding hands with the DUP. 
That's the party whose founders and past leaders - including Ian Paisley, Peter Robinson and Ivan Foster - all attended the secretive, invitation-only rally in Belfast in November 1986, to launch the paramilitary Ulster Resistance. Paisley was secretly filmed donning the red beret of this militaristic outfit, then saluting its assembled 'soldiers'. 

From the Bullet to the Ballot Box
Ulster Resistance collaborated with the murderous loyalist paramilitaries of the UVF, Red Hand Commandos and UDA to smuggle guns, rocket launchers and copious caches of ammunition from the likes of Lebanon and South Africa.
One of those arrested for these gun-running operations - more than once - was Noel Little, whose daughter Emma Little Pengelly has just been elected as DUP MP for South Belfast. 
So Ulster Resistance was effectively the paramilitary wing of the DUP in the few years of its active existence, at the height of Paisleyite mobilizations against the power-sharing 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement. 

But in a parallel evolution to that of Sinn Fein/IRA, the very same DUP luminaries turned towards the ballot box rather than the bullet in subsequent years, grabbing power (and privileged incomes!) for themselves - through the new version of power-sharing... with the politicians they'd for years denounced as the Devil incarnate, mobilizing and misleading hundreds of thousands through a sectarian quagmire for their own ends. 

Demand for Peace 
After 30 years of 'the Troubles', with over 3,600 dead and countless maimed and scarred for life, working class communities were war-weary, sick of the killings, and made their desire for an end to the bitter conflict known to the loyalist killing gangs and IRA, through a series of vast demonstrations, peace rallies and united workers' strikes against killings and death threats. 
Those movements of trade unionists, and women in the communities - combined with the growing exhaustion of the paramilitaries, as they came to recognize the failures of their armed methods, and felt increasingly isolated from the mood of 'their own' communities - led to the peace talks, and the ceasefires of 1998. 

Paisley - who for decades had demagogically denounced any suggestion of 'power-sharing' as a concession to 'Popery' - was instrumental in establishing the power-sharing government, becoming First Minister, with his Deputy in the person of ex-IRA leader Martin McGuinness. The two became popularly known as 'The Chuckle Brothers', such was their level of friendly collaboration... including in horrendous austerity cuts, privatisation, welfare benefit attacks, and a drive to reduce Corporation Tax! 



Power-sharing Agreement - for the Political Elite  
The Peace Process, through both the 1998 Belfast Agreement and the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement, established a system of power-sharing that is purely between a political elite; it certainly doesn't open the door to working class people of either or both communities sharing power. 
It's a system with a history in other nations (such as Lebanon) also bedeviled by communal conflicts; divisions implanted by imperialist powers in the first place. 
It's an institutionalized arrangement between parties rooted in segregated communities.
Whilst the accompanying ceasefires were and are welcome - and the overwhelming majority of both Catholic and Protestant people are totally and utterly opposed to going back to the bleak, bloody days of the Troubles - the power-sharing agreement tends to reinforce the sectarian segregation between communities. 

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

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

DUP/Sinn Fein Austerity 
Theresa May is being propped up in office courtesy this voting system in Northern Ireland, which institutionalizes and reinforces a sectarian headcount, as was the case to an unprecedented degree in the June general election.
For a decade, the DUP and Sinn Fein caught up with and then eclipsed their more 'moderate' rivals in the respective communities: the Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP. 

For a decade the DUP and Sinn Fein were content to collaborate in savage cuts; privatisation of services either through the Assembly or councils they controlled; a shared ambition to reduce the public sector; reduction of corporation tax; and benefit cuts averaging £2,000 to over 100,000 people. 

The DUP is reactionary to the core on women's issues; Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have both described Sinn Fein as 'an anti-abortion party'. In the South's parliament, the Dail, Sinn Fein TDs abstained in a vote on a Bill calling for the right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities in 2013, only adopting that one narrow concession to abortion rights at their subsequent party conference. 



Cash for Ash Scandal 
Before his death, McGuinness toppled the DUP/Sinn Fein government led by Arlene Foster in January 2017, by resigning as Deputy First Minister. The issue was the Cash for Ash scandal. 
This was a scheme introduced in Britain, then adopted by Foster when she was Enterprise Minister in 2012 - with one critical alteration that opened the door to outrageous corruption. 
The cap on state subsidies for use of allegedly environmentally friendly biomass wooden pellets was scrapped, so that for every £1 spent by businesses, big farmers and individuals burning this fuel, they were awarded £1.60 from the public purse. 
When her advisers alerted Foster of the dangers of abuse, back in 2013, she dismissed them, and several of the DUP hierarchy, advisers and friends accelerated their investments in the scheme. 
Empty factories and farm outhouses literally burnt these pellets endlessly. They burnt taxpayers' money, to the extent an estimated £490million overspend in subsidies mounted up, with warnings from the Audit Commission that the eventual handout to these corrupt chancers will reach £1billion. 

Turning a Blind Eye to Corruption 
These corrupt practices were known to all the major politicians since at least early 2016, but not one of the parties - including Sinn Fein - lifted a finger to expose or end it. 
As recently as December 2016, Sinn Fein abstained on a vote in the Assembly demanding Arlene Foster's resignation as First Minister pending a public inquiry. They only brought the issue to a head, through Martin McGuinness triggering the March 2017 Assembly elections, after public protests erupted, with Sinn Fein at risk of losing their popular base for turning a blind eye to their DUP partners' corruption. 

Sectarian Headcount 
In the March Assembly elections and subsequent June 2017 general election, Sinn Fein whipped up righteous anger at the DUP's methods. In the words of their recently elected Fermanagh MP, Michelle Gildernew, they called on Catholic voters "to put manners on them".   
They conducted a belligerent campaign to make Sinn Fein the biggest party in the North, which wiped out all remaining SDLP MPs, but also played right into the hands of the DUP. 
The DUP focused on dire warnings to the Protestants that SF, Gerry Adams and 'the IRA' would become the biggest party unless they all voted DUP. 

In the most blatant sectarian headcount since the height of the Troubles in 1970, with appeals to "keep out the other side", the DUP rose to 36% of all votes cast by both communities, and Sinn Fein to 29%. 
The inbuilt sectarian division that the power-sharing system assumes allowed both major parties to escape scrutiny on their appalling track record on austerity; on social, economic, class questions that impact on the lives and livelihoods of working class people, regardless of what religious tag is attached to them; which side of the 'peace lines' they live on. 


United Working Class 
The DUP are blatant reactionaries, who only get away with their anti-working class agenda by whipping up the fears of working class Protestants of losing their identity and rights by being coerced into a capitalist united Ireland. 
Sinn Fein is nothing like a socialist party - even though many who vote for them are - and are incapable of appealing to Protestant workers - in part because of their historic links with the IRA's campaign of individual terrorism. 

In the recent elections, they've turned up the volume on their calls for a border poll - referenda North and South on reunification of Ireland, as permitted under the Good Friday Agreement - something now also echoed by the Green Tory Fianna Fáil party in the South. 
Sinn Fein have become increasingly triumphalist and belligerent on this demand, with references to demographic changes possibly making the Catholics a majority in the North a few years ahead. The sum total impact of that approach was to dragoon even more Protestants into voting DUP, whose vote rose nearly 10%, out of fear and uncertainty. Further sectarian polarization on the electoral front. 

There is a growing, desperate need for a working class socialist party that actively reaches across the community divide, uniting workers on class issues, but also guaranteeing the democratic rights of all communities in a socialist Ireland. 

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





Monday, 8 May 2017

THEM AND US: capitalism creates class divide



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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

BUY it HERE.



Sunday, 9 April 2017

SCOTTISH SOCIALISTS CHALLENGE THE COUNCIL MACHINE: for defiance, not destruction


SSP proud history of fighting for Council jobs & services


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

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

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

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

For Defiance, not Devolved Destruction


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

Merseyside mass movements led by socialists beat Thatcher in 1980s


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 20 March 2017

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






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

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

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

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

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


Separate Fight for Indy from the EU 

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

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

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

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

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


Tell the Truth - about Brexit

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

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




Tell the Truth - about the EU 

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

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

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

Struggle is the only Guarantee 

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

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

Evolution of the capitalist EU 

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

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



Social Chapter - a Passing Phase

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

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


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

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





European Decency Threshold Downgraded 

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

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


Workers Won Reforms, not EU bosses 

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

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

Nothing to do with the EU!


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

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

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





Equal Pay 

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

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

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

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

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

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


Capitalists Pick and Choose 

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

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


Strangling Public Spending 

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

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

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

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

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



SNP Hide Behind EU Directives 

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

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

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




Undermining Wages 

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

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

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


Tory Brexiteers Wage Class War 

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

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


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

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


Greek Tragedy 

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

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

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






For an Independent Socialist Scotland - In a socialist Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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