Stand up for Education

The NUT is to be congratulated on its Manifesto Stand Up for Education, published in an attempt to make education an election issue in the forthcoming General Election and to persuade candidates who are elected to pursue better education policies in the new parliament. You can download a copy at  www.teachers.org.uk/files/manifesto-16pp-a5–9623-_0.pdf

The Manifesto is a comprehensive document that, among other progressive measures, includes calls for an end to child poverty by 2020, abolition of the Bedroom Tax, more funding for early years education and restoration of financial support for post-16 students. At its heart, however, is a call for a broad, balanced curriculum and the abolition of league tables and the government’s hated inspection service, to be replaced with self-evaluation by schools and local authority oversight.

The undermining of Local Education Authorities and the politicisation of Ofsted were two of the most disastrous policies initiated by the Blair government under the mantra Education, Education, Education.  As the Manifesto argues, our schools need more time for teaching, not more tests. Politicians need to listen to parents and teachers, not press ahead with more top down policies and strategies whose purpose appears to be more to do with securing favourable headlines in the Daily Mail.

The Manifesto points out that between May 2010 and December 2013 the Department for Education paid out £76.7 million to 14 private companies to provide support services to academies and free schools. The Government has even been floating the idea that such schools could go even further and be run for profit. The Manifesto calls for this to be completely ruled out and for a halt to the outsourcing of schools and education services.

There are some places where the NUT’s Manifesto doesn’t go. This is fair enough for a teachers’ trade union, but the Communist Party has no such inhibitions. Two essential reforms over and above an end to Tory and Labour meddling in education and the provision of adequate funding are:

a. an end to student loans and a return to proper funding and support for students; and

b. abolition of the public schools.

For those who say we can no longer afford student grants, we say that this has to be a social priority and the cost, anyway, will not be so great – many current loans simply won’t be recoverable. To those who say that private education cannot be abolished in a ‘free’ society, we say there is nothing ‘free’ about a system that entrenches a form of social apartheid and promotes a ruling class drawn from a segregated elite. Private schools, a National Centre for Social Research report concluded in 2011, “produced Conservative partisans” with a “sense of superiority” and less concern for social inequality than their state-educated counterparts. As for the practicability of abolishing private schools, capitalist Finland has done so and regularly tops the various international education league tables.

As a compromise and interim measure, perhaps we could keep student loans for public school educated students and give grants for subsistence and fees for state educated students. Just imagine the squeals from the Daily Mail if the next parliament were to implement this modest and reasonable proposal!

If you would like to debate these ideas, or if you think that education is simply too important to be left to Westminster politicians, come along to the Croydon Assembly on Saturday, 15 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. The Assembly runs from 10am to 4.30 pm and the opening speakers include Philipa Harvey, Senior Vice-President of the NUT. There will be an Education Workshop in the morning to discuss these ideas and many others.

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Democracy

Under capitalism, or as they call it in the USA, ‘freedom’, democracy means an entitlement to vote every few years to select from a few parties offering more of less the same choices. At the forthcoming general election, that means more cuts and privatisations. Essential to this apparent exercise of ‘choice’ is a mass media owned by the capitalists and heavy constraints on any alternative media such as the Morning Star – still being blanked by the BBC and other mass media despite a well supported Early Day Motion in parliament calling for this boycott to end. This conspiracy against voters is, however, beginning to fray as voters are beginning in ever larger numbers not to vote. As the Scottish Referendum demonstrated, if people are given a genuine opportunity to discuss debate and deliberate, and if their vote means something, they will turn out in large numbers and will care passionately about the result. Does anyone think this will happen at the forthcoming election? Labour will be standing on the basis that they are not as bad as the Tories. This is undeniably true and will induce a number of working class voters to vote for them in those few swing constituencies where their votes will make a difference. We sincerely hope this will happen: the Tories are beyond contempt and we cannot afford another five years of them.

In a few constituencies left wing parties will be standing – in recent years the Communist Party has, for example, stood in Croydon North – but the left does not have the resources to stand everywhere. The big four parties (Tory, Labour, LibDem and UKiP) can afford expensive campaigns, with the Tories in particular flooding the mass media with their message. Even the Greens now have modest resources to call on. The Left, however, lacks even these. The odds are stacked against us, but, just to make sure, we have to put up deposits in every parliamentary constituency for which we stand of £500 and these deposits are lost if we fail to gather 5% of the vote – as invariably happens if a candidate’s party does not benefit from the support of, or at least recognition by, the mass media. Just to make doubly sure small parties are handicapped, the law requiring public property to be made available without charge for election meetings during the election period is routinely and universally flouted. This is a matter that the Communist Party in Croydon has taken up with Croydon Town Hall and with the Electoral Commission to no avail.

For communists, democracy means much more than casting a vote every few years even if real choice were on offer to voters. Discussion, debate and deliberation are essential, together with unbiased information on the critical issues. Furthermore, this process should not be confined to parliamentary and local government elections. Extending it to meaningless votes for Police Commissioners and, following the US practice, dog catchers is not the way forward either. The workplace is where we are currently crying out for more democracy. The TUC has accordingly asked the government’s business departments to bring forward plans for electronic voting in union ballots. This would, of course, run counter to the government’s strategy of seeking to isolate workers with the postal ballot mechanism. Workers with an electronic vote that could be exercised at work would tend to talk to each other before voting.

The government probably has in mind moving in the opposite direction. Not only will they wish to keep postal voting for industrial ballots, they have been threatening to change the law to require an absolute majority of those voting before industrial action can be taken. Meanwhile, they seem content for our MPs to be elected on derisory shares of those entitled to vote. We do not expect an incoming Labour government to do anything about the latter, but we are entitled to expect them to abolish anti-trade union laws this time and allow electronic voting in the workplace.

TUC March and Rally on Saturday 18 October

Britain Needs a Pay Rise is the slogan for the march and rally tomorrow (Saturday 17 October) organised by the TUC. The assembly point is on the Embankment outside Temple Tube station. Look for the big red flag above the CP stall from around 10 am. Any help you can give in distributing the Morning Star and the CP’s special edition of Unity would be much appreciated. When the march moves off, probably around 1 pm, you can show your solidarity with the CP by walking behind our banner. The march will end at Hyde Park where there will be a rally addressed by big name speakers.

The Communist Party is giving its full support to this march and is encouraging everyone to join the London march. We should, however, be under no illusion that the government will change its policy on the strength of what has become, in effect, an annual carnival called by the TUC. The industrial action by health workers and civil servants this week and fire fighters earlier is likely to have more effect, but even these will need to be repeated on a larger scale and by other unions if the government’s strategy of favouring the 1% and making the rest of us pay for the financial crisis with cuts, austerity and public sector wage freezes is to be stopped. We also deserve a better slogan than the TUC has provided. Of course, Britain, excluding the 1%, needs a pay rise, but it also needs publicly owned services, real democracy, more jobs, free university education, an end to privatising the NHS – the list is immense. It would be unrealistic to expect the TUC to ask us to march tomorrow under the slogan Britain Needs a Revolution, but the time for this may be coming sooner than the rich and powerful now appreciate.

How to avoid the next banking crisis

Banks have been seen as at the heart of capitalism through their ability to create new purchasing power out of nothing and to direct funds into the most profitable areas. They can also be seen as machines for making money: every £1 deposited with them can be re-lent and re-deposited many times – provided the bank has the backing of a central bank or a government (i.e. taxpayers) to bail them out if, as in 2007, there is a run on the bank. This why the government resorted to quantitate easing following the banking crisis in 2007. Quantitative easing is a slightly more sophisticated version of printing money, the principal difference being that, instead of using this money to pay the government’s debts, it is given to the banks in the hope that the banks will use it to finance economic development. As if! It has been estimated that only 25% of bank lending in the UK is currently used to support businesses, and half of that is used to buy commercial real estate rather than support truly productive economic activity. Given that of the 12.5% going to businesses non-property investment, only a small proportion will be for truly productive investment, it’s clear that the sacrifices that ordinary working people have been required to make since 2007 in terms of cuts in services and wage freezes have yielded them a very poor return.

So what are the banks doing with ‘our’ money following their near collapse in 2007 and subsequent, and continuing bailout?

In addition to continuing to pay huge salaries and bonuses, much of it has been misused, as revealed in a series of post-2007 scandals such as:

• Fruitless speculation such as JP Morgan’s loss of $6 billion from trading activities of which CEO was blissfully unaware.

•Price fixing at LIBOR. The London Interbank Offered Rate has been manipulated by banks for their own profit.

• Market abuse by ‘flash trading’ underpinned by the big banks whereby security prices paid by ordinary investors have been manipulated using ultra-fast software and communications.

•Money laundering: Accusations of illegal, clandestine bank activities are also proliferating. Large global banks have been accused by U.S. government officials of helping Mexican drug dealers launder money (HSBC), and of funnelling cash to Iran (Standard Chartered).

•Tax evasion: In just one example, UBS helped 20,000 U.S. taxpayers with assets of about $20 billion hide their identities from US authorities. In the UK, the banks are unapologetic about being up to their necks in tax “avoidance”.

•Misleading clients with worthless securities: Only after the financial crisis of 2008 did people learn that banks routinely misled clients, sold them securities known to be garbage, and even, in some cases, secretly bet against them to profit from their ignorance.

The most serious abuse of all has, however, been that our banks continue to trade in derivatives in many of the same ways they did before the crash, but on a larger scale and with precisely the same unknown risks. Derivative trading now totals more than $700 trillion. That is more than ten times the size of the entire world economy.

It is a myth to believe that under capitalism we can have responsible, honest and transparent banks. They wield too much power in a capitalist society to be tamed. The capitalist parties, including Labour, have no intention of interfering with them. If the next, inevitable financial crisis, which is likely to be far more damaging than that of 2007, is to be avoided, not only do we need to bring the banks under democratic, public control, but this reform has to be accompanied by fundamental changes to our entire economic and political structure if it is to succeed. What are these changes? In a word: socialism.

PUBLIC SERVICES AND HOMES FOR ALL

The National Audit office reported in April that the privatisation of Royal Mail short-changed taxpayers by £1 billion. If that were not bad enough, 16 institutional investors given priority by the government in the queue for shares sold them within weeks despite having led the government to believe that they would hold their investments for the ‘long term’. As if! Such is the culture of short termism pervading capitalism in general and the City of London in particular, such understandings are worthless. Nothing gets in the way of making a quick buck.

Given this blatant rip off at the time that ‘our’ Royal Mail was sold off, who can now be surprised to learn that one of the jewels in the crown of Royal Mail, the former Mount Pleasant sorting office, is to be sold for an estimated £1 billion for luxury housing. This helps explain some, but of course not all, the jump in share price immediately following the flotation. The flotation price was supposed to reflect property development value, but the ruthless way in which this asset is to be exploited could not have been fully reflected in this price.

At a time when Londoners are being priced out of the property market, the Mount Pleasant site could have made a small but significant contribution to London’s stock of genuinely affordable properties. Royal Mail has, however, as a public company, only one overriding objective, enshrined in statute, which is to maximise shareholder value. This means minimising the proportion of affordable homes in the development – fewer than a quarter of the homes fall into this category, reflecting the minimum needed to secure Mayor Boris Johnson’s approval of the development – and maximising the interpretation of what is meant by “affordable”. A two bedroom “affordable” home in this development is currently expected to cost around £1,700 a month, or £20,400 a year. Assuming renters/mortgage payers can afford to pay no more than a third of their pre-tax income on accommodation, a couple would need a combined income of £60,000 per year to afford this “affordable” home. A couple both working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year for £8.85 per hour, the London Living Wage, which is better than many earn on the statutory minimum wage of £6.50 per hour, would together earn only £35,400 a year. Their mortgage or rent would consume 58% of their combined income – clearly unaffordable.

The solution? Simple! Re-nationalise our public services at no more than the prices they were sold off for; and public investment in decent homes for all.