CROYDON TUC CONVENES A CROYDON ASSEMBLY on 15 NOVEMBER 2014

The government has been trumpeting that economic recovery is under way: according to figures published by the Office of National Statistics, unemployment in the UK fell by 121,000 in the three months to May; the rate of unemployment fell to 6.5% from 6.6% in the three months to 31 March, l the lowest level in nearly six years; the number claiming jobseekers allowance has fallen to 1.04 million; and more than 78% of men and 68% of women are now in work.

The Tories are desperate to persuade enough of the electorate, or at least enough of the electorate who can be bothered to vote, that the economic crisis triggered by the bank collapse in 2008 is over. Nothing could be further from the truth.

After four years of austerity, government borrowing remains more or less where it was following the banking collapse. But reducing government borrowing was never what the coalition’s continuing austerity programme is about. It is an attack on the living standards of working people and it is succeeding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, after inflation, the real, hourly pay of workers under the age of 30 has collapsed by 11% since 2008; and their household incomes are down 15%. Meanwhile, rents are up and the property market for buy-to-rent is soaring.
Every capitalist state requires a large pool of unemployed workers in order to subdue the rest and keep profits rolling in. This could be achieved with an even lower unemployment rate than we are currently experiencing – provided further measures are put in place to cow workers. This is why Cameron is threatening to further restrict trade unions and workplace rights and why there will be further tightening of unemployment and other benefits. These measures ensure that workers can be pressed into employment at rates of pay that scarcely provide for their subsistence and ensure that their kids will never be in a position to enjoy even this modest level of subsistence or have families of their own.
The solutions are obvious. We need the government to promote trade unions, not attack them. We need solid financial support for our young people before they enter employment, not student loans. We need a living wage, not the derisory minimum wage. We need security of tenure for tenants and a huge council house building programme. Only with a bedrock of social housing will the private sector curtail its exploitative behaviour. We need generous social security benefits and an end to attacks on claimants. We need a media that doesn’t attack the unemployed and foreigners, not one owned by billionaires who fund the Tories and yet don’t themselves pay tax.

The Labour Party, or at least a significant element within it, once supported all these measures. These days they believe in “equality of opportunity” and seek to appeal to upwardly mobile “hard working families”. Don’t they understand that for every family on the way up, there is one on the way down, and that working class families have kids and these kids won’t be in a position to start families if nothing is done?

If enough pressure is brought to bear on the Labour Party, it could be brought round again to progressive policies. This is the idea behind Croydon TUC’s recent decision to launch a Croydon Assembly, bringing together workers, special interest groups and local activists in the area. A meeting of the Assembly has been called for Saturday, 15 November at Ruskin House, South Croydon. The Communist Party gives this initiative its full support. Whether Labour can be shifted from the secure middle ground that offers it the prospect of winning, or at least sharing, power at the general election in 2015 as the ‘least worst option’ remains to be seen. One thing is clear. This is the last opportunity to attempt this. If Labour takes power and continues with further austerity and more neo-liberal policies, or indeed, if it loses the election having stood on a platform of such policies, we will have to conclude that, as they say, the party’s over.

Advertisements

Academies and Free Schools: the cracks begin to show

The Guardian reported today (18 July) a leaked draft report commissioned by Gove before he was sacked as Education Secretary into the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists. The draft report was confirmed as apparently genuine by the BBC. It is written by a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command, Peter Clarke, and predictably finds a “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” to introduce an “intolerant Islamist ethos” into the schools. Perhaps little else could have been expected given Clarke’s expertise and perspective, but, displaying an unexpected objectivity, he calls on the Department of Education to “review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status” and comments that “in theory academies are accountable to the Secretary of State, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect”.

Whether these comments are removed from the final version remains to be seen. Presumably whoever leaked the draft feared that they might be excised by Gove or his successor. If, however, even a counter-terrorism policeman can conclude that academies are unfit for purpose, perhaps the penny will eventually drop with the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in a further serendipitous link between the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Education, we learnt this week that South Norwood police station will be gifted to a new ‘free’ school in Croydon – a form of school also responsible to the Secretary of State for Education but under even less control than are academies. Labour policy on free schools is to retain them and call them “parent-led academies”. If this is intended to reassure us, it has failed!

The key to improving education is to get Westminster politicians of both major parties to end their continuous, we-know-better-than-the- professionals meddling and sucking up to business interests keen to leech on public money. What’s needed is a statutory framework for comprehensive education and restoration of democratic, local authority control, managed by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) staffed by teachers and other appropriate professionals. Oh, and as a forthcoming report by the Communist Party will recommend, let’s end charitable status for public schools and charge VAT on school fees!

Martin Graham

The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.