No More Mr Nice Guy

The Tory government, having secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate, is hell bent on making irrevocable changes to our society by the time of the next general election. These changes are intended to permanently disadvantage working people and their families and to secure their continued exploitation. They include

  • Handing over every school and the council owned land on which they stand to Multi Academy Trusts run by unaccountable and profit hungry businesses.
  • A Trade Union Bill which puts insuperable legal barriers in the way of industrial action and which will make most strikes impossible or illegal. One feature, the requirement of pickets to give their names to the police, is a step along the road to a fascist state.
  • Cuts to disability and welfare payments – don’t trust them not to go further despite the reassurances following the Budget fiasco
  • Underfunding of social services and resort to food banks
  • A Trade Union Bill which is also intended to slash trade union funding for the Labour Party while turning a blind eye to corporate funding of the Tory Party
  • Dismantling the NHS
  • A commitment to sign up to TTIP
  • Undermining social housing and an end to secure, affordable housing, whether to buy or to rent
  • Education cuts and crippling student loans
  • Cuts to arts funding and library closures
  • intimidation of the BBC
  • An abject failure to address global warming – the greenest government ever? I think not.

The aim of the last New Labour government under Blair and Brown was to halt the direction set by the previous Tory administrations under Thatcher and Major but not to roll their policies back. This was a critical mistake and the Tories have duly taken full advantage of it. What is there for them to lose? Our aim next time should be not only to roll back the Tories’ policies but this time to go further. We need to oppose every Tory advance with one for ordinary working people which will hurt the Tories and their modest number of supporters. Simply by way of illustration, here are some of the policies we could promote now in opposition to theirs:

  • Education – public schools to be nationalised and turned into comprehensives
  • Trade unions – a requirement for every employee to be in a union
  • Welfare payments – a living wage for all
  • Social services – public servants, not charities, to provide comprehensive social care
  • Party funding – a total ban on corporate donations and corporate lobbying
  • NHS – a tax on private health care
  • TTIP – a free trade area with Cuba and Venezuela
  • Social housing – a huge, high quality council housing programme
  • Arts funding – a public theatre, library and art gallery in every town and a tax on ownership of works of art not open to the public
  • BBC – national newspapers to be published only by co-operatives owned by their readers
  • Global warming – a ban on flying and other conspicuous carbon consumption by wealthy individuals unless they can demonstrate real need.

Perhaps then the Tories will understand that Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies to societies as well as to inanimate bodies: for every reaction there is an equal and opposite reaction. We’ve had enough and we are pushing back: no more Mr Nice Guy.

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Croydon Communists Respond to the Education White Paper

At the branch meeting last night (17 March) Croydon Communist Party condemned the Education White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere published earlier that day. In the view of the meeting the White Paper heralded the end of local democratic control of education – indeed essentially the end of any democratic control over education as every state school is to be handed over to unaccountable multi-academy trusts (MATs) by 2020. Parent governors are to be abolished and the land owned by local authorities surrendered to the Secretary of State so that it can be leased to MATs. The White Paper offered no changes to the way in which MATs are to be regulated and to the level of fees and salaries they can extract from public funds.

The role of local authorities in education is to be confined to three areas:

 

  1. Ensuring every child has a school place
  2. Ensuring the needs of vulnerable pupils are met
  3. Acting as champions for all parents and families

 

The first duty is to be discharged by enabling so called free schools to open – but quite how local authorities can do this is unclear. Also unclear is how the other two duties can be discharged in the absence of any influence or power over MATs.

 

While the objective of the White Paper was clear enough, the meeting identified a number of contradictions indicating confused thinking at the Department of Education and in the mind of its Minister, Nicky Morgan. While proclaiming that it was not for the government to impose teaching methods (apparently reversing twenty years of politicians telling teachers how to teach), the highly questionable phonics method of teaching reading was endorsed. Similarly, on the contentious issue of religion in education, the government commits itself in the White Paper to work with the Churches and “relevant faith bodies”, whatever they are, to ensure that the religious character and ethos of Church and faith schools is protected. Thus for both curriculum and staffing academies will be allowed to “innovate”, i.e. employ priests to the exclusion of others and promulgate such views as creationism, without central interference.

There was only one reference to teaching unions in the White Paper: they are asked to work with others to identify and challenge the “culture” in and beyond schools which leads to “unnecessary workload”. It is not “culture” that led to unnecessary workload, it was government imposition of Ofsted and the National Curriculum. The role of teaching unions was not mentioned elsewhere in the White Paper, but here can be little doubt that a major objective of the paper is to break the influence of teachers’ unions in education. The meeting gave them every encouragement and support to resist the White Paper and committed the branch to do likewise.

Croydon Assembly Saturday 19 March

Historically, democratic assemblies of workers such as the Paris Commune and the Russian soviets, built in the old society, played an essential role in the attempt to build a new one. This role was both to provide a bridge to the new society and the democratic framework on which democracy in the new society could be built. This is not an easy task: the Paris Commune lasted a mere 71 days, the USSR ‘only’ 74 years. Next time the democracy in the new society we build must be even more robust.

It is asking a lot of Croydon TUC and its outreach initiative, the Croydon Assembly, to provide this bridging role, but they currently represent one of the best ways of doing this. The Croydon Assembly will reconvene on Saturday, 19 March at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD, 11 am to 4 pm, and it deserves our support.

Confirmed speakers include Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philipa Harvey, President of the NUT and Dr Philip Howard from the BMA General Council. The main focus will, however, be the launch of the Croydon Assembly Manifesto, a democratically drafted document reflecting previous meetings of the Assembly and now presented to a wider public.

Entry is free and it is possible to register in advance at Eventbrite. Advance registration is, however, not essential. The important thing is to be there and join in.

The Property Ladder

Walking around Croydon it’s obvious that there are a lot of home extensions being built by owner occupiers. This is hardly surprising. Homes are seen by owner occupiers as a form of saving – often their primary form – and a recent report by LSE Professor Paul Cheshire forecasts that house prices will double by 2030. This would represent a tax free return on investment of 4.6 per cent a year. It could be even higher: according to the Office of National Statistics house prices have grown on average by 8.75% per annum over the past 47 years. That is much higher than the return on bank deposits and comparable with long run returns on equity investment – especially so as tax is paid on interest, dividends and capital gains on shares but not on your primary home.

Many extensions have the effect of shifting what in many cases would be affordable homes for first time buyers into a more expensive category. They do, however, represent a great investment opportunity for owner occupiers already fortunate enough to be on the so called ‘property ladder’. Not only will the new investment increase in value in line with the original investment but there is also an immediate tax free capital gain to be enjoyed. As rule of thumb, it’s generally thought that £20,000 of building work, providing it’s not totally unsuitable, should add more than £50,000 in property value.

What’s going on here? There are a number of economic and socio-political forces at play. First, we need to ask what is the source of this exceptional high return to owner occupiers. The answer is straightforward: it is a transfer from those who don’t own homes to those who do. Many in the fortunate latter group think it’s an entitlement justified by their hard work paying off their mortgage and they have a right to pass it on to their kids. The fact that these kids may themselves be unable to get on the “property ladder”, or, on the other hand, may already be much better off than those without homes is overlooked. Also overlooked is the risk that predatory care home operators lie in wait for owner occupiers with every intention of appropriating the bulk of their investment. There is also the consideration that banks do very nicely in providing mortgage finance. Banks are essential to modern capitalism and, as the government’s austerity programme demonstrates, nothing must stand in the way of their profits.

Another interesting question is what is the source of the capital gain when an extension is built. According to neo-classical economic theory – the type they teach in universities, award Nobel Prizes for and regurgitate on the BBC and in the capitalist press – market should respond to eliminate all such predictable gains. They call this ‘arbitrage theory’. Marxist economist, on the other hand, recognise that building workers, like every other worker in productive industries, sell their labour for less than the value it creates. It’s this surplus value that accounts for the average capital gain on building extensions. If building workers were to received the full value of the labour power they sold to owner occupiers, on average there would be no capital gain from building extensions. But then if all workers could do this, capitalism would grind to a halt nd we would be forced to begin constructing a socialist society in which, initially, operate on the principle of from each according to their means to each according to their work*.

The underlying issue here is that, according to neo-classical economic theory, value is created when a commodity (including a house) is sold, or merely revalued in a market. Value is created out of thin air in the form of a “consumer surplus” because the seller and buyer have different subjective valuations. Marxist economists, on the other hand, take a more objective view. They consider that value cannot, on average, be created by exchange or shifting market prices. Exchange is a zero sum game – the buyer’s gain is the seller’s loss and vice versa. These are two fundamentally different ways of looking at how markets work in capitalist societies. It’s a theme we hope to explore when the Communist University in South London is relaunched shortly. Watch this space for news of this development.

* Only under a fully developed communist society would we attain the position of to each according to their need