A HEALTHY WELL-ORDERED SOCIETY?

In a healthy, well-ordered society, in order to achieve safety, efficiency, fairness  and innovation, activities would be under the control of those workers who possess the relevant direct experience and knowledge to run them. Thus, for example

  • Running trains would be determined by train crew, station staff and maintenance engineers.
  • The fire service would be run by fire fighters
  • Schools would be under the control of teachers.
  • Universities would be under the control of those who research and teach in them.
  • Hospitals would be run by doctors and nurses with suitable input from those who provide the essential support services – cleaning, food etc.

They would need, of course, a few advisers to assist them, but this would be on the basis of ‘on tap but not on top’; and some exceptions would be necessary. The armed forces, police and security services would still need close, democratic monitoring as their activities are too intrusive to be left to generals, police commissioners and shadowy chief spooks.

As we were reminded again this week, our society is neither healthy nor well-ordered.

  • RMT and TSSA opposition to removing  guards from trains and reducing platform staff is  ignored. Whether this had an effect on the Aberdeen train crash this week remains to be seen.
  • Three years after Grenfell, the FBU’s concern about inflammable cladding continue to be ignored.
  • Schools are set to re-open in the autumn while concerns expressed by the NEU are swept aside  and NEU itself is attacked in the yellow press by stooge Tory MPs. Meanwhile, teacher assessments in lieu of exam results are amended by a  government that consistently behaves as if it knows more about teaching than do teachers.
  • Universities are displaying more concern about the loss of income from fees from foreign students than the quality of the education they will be proving in the autumn to students from the UK.

Furthermore, as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and respond to the ensuing recession, ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. We face a global climate crisis that, unaddressed, could dwarf the effect of the pandemic. We cannot expect the rich and powerful, or the governments that promote and protect their interests, to come up with solutions. They are too well insulated, financially and physically, from the consequences. Workers lack this insulation. Without their input, the current mess we are in will be nothing compared with what is to come.

CAPITALISM’S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

The Guardian yesterday (14 May) quoted from the Daily Torygraph an internal report by HM Treasury officials leaked to that paper outlining the options for re-starting the economy after Covid-19. As readers will appreciate, it would be asking too much of me to read the odious Torygraph – reading the Guardian is bad enough – but here is the gist of the summary of the leaked document as the Guardian reported it.

• A forecast budget deficit for 2020-21 of £337 billion, up from pre-Covid forecast of £55 billion

• A possible intensification of the austerity programme, including an inevitable extension of the public sector pay freeze. As public sector pay is already depressed by years of pay
freeze, this would, however only save a paltry £6.5 billion over two years.

• “Broad based” tax rises, which is Treasury-speak for increasing VAT and National Insurance.

• Borrowing – but here the report is said to have warned of a “sovereign debt crisis”. Thus, despite record low interest rates and, thankfully, still with our own currency, borrowing is dismissed as a longer-term strategy.

• Cutting the state pension – but abandoning the triple lock would only generate modest savings. Not mentioned by the Guardian is the obvious strategy of ensuring that no state pensions need be paid. Encouraging an early return to work and opening schools before the Summer Break may well suffice to kill everyone currently receiving the state pension, but, if not, increasing the state pension retirement age to 75 should complete the job.

• Cutting welfare spending. Again, no mentioned was made of the obvious strategy of ensuring that poor people die in large numbers, thus saving most of the £130 billion previously spent on welfare.

Government strategy could be seen as already starting down the roads suggested by the last two strategies. Schools are to re-open in the teeth of opposition from NEU and other teaching unions while the mass media and, most shamefully of all, the BBC , seek to assure us all that this will be quite safe. In the private sector that may well be true, but not in most of the state sector. Funding that keeps the homeless off the streets is to be cut which will ensure that they will die within weeks. Return to work by low paid workers, i.e. those who cannot work at home using a PC, is being encouraged and, in effect, enforced. Many of these workers have no trade union to speak up for them, the result of policy by a succession of Tory and Labour governments.

Capitalism is threatened and these are desperate measures intended to shore it up. It can only survive if the current social relations on which it depends are maintained. Banks must be allowed to enforce their security. Landlords must be allowed to evict and sue their tenants. Creditors must be paid. Employees must work and obey their employer. The message from the government will be that, if these social relations are not maintained, there will be anarchy.

Not necessarily! There is an alternative: working class power and socialism.

A cure for self-isolation

The Centenary of the Communist Party in Britain isn’t the only notable centenary to be celebrated this year. 22 April 2020 is the 150th anniversary of Lenin’s birth (22 April, 1870, new style dates). To mark this event, and to help keep those of us who are not key workers usefully occupied, a group of comrades in Latvia calling themselves the Latvian Labour Frontline have laid down this challenge. In the month of April

• read/re-read Lenin’s works at a rate of 20-30 pages a day. That’s more than enough. Don’t cram and try to finish Lenin’s Collected Works in just a month!

• Post our daily reading report with the hashtag #Lenin150Challenge

If our reports could also contain• a photo of ourselves holding one of Lenin’s books.
• a proud sign saying “I have finished [name of the work]!”
• thoughts on what we have just read – for example: “I’ve just read Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. Now I know I want to become an imperialist! ” (Yes, comrades, humour is allowed!)

that would be perfect!

But please don’t post individual quotes. They just go from one corner of the Internet to another and will be largely forgotten by your audience. If you really like a particular quote, just retell it in your own words.

If You don’t know where to start, try “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism”. But the choice is yours. You don’t have to rely on your bookshelf. You will find all Lenin’s most significant works at

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/index.htm.

This isn’t going to get us out of the current problems besetting society, but it might help us deal with things later.

 

The Day After Tomorrow

Despite the obsequious coverage in the mass media, it self-evident that the government has bungled its response to the coronavirus pandemic. It failed, in part, because ministers didn’t follow WHO’s advice to “test, test, test” every suspected case when they had the opportunity. They didn’t isolate and quarantine. Perhaps influenced by Dominic Cummings, they appear initially to have thought “herd immunity” would protect the rich while letting the old and poor perish. They failed to contact trace. They now have a new plan, Suppress–Shield–Treat–Palliate, but this was agreed too late and has left the NHS wholly unprepared for the surge of severely and critically ill patients. My view? No – those of experts. See link below.

What happens when the pandemic is over? The Tories will want to return to ‘business as usual’, ring fence the rich and powerful and require workers – survivors from the NHS, social services and the “unskilled” (SIC) workers to pay for rebuilding the capital owned by the 1%, just as they did after the 2007-8 banking crisis. A helpful strategy to this end will be to start a generation war. Sir Max Hastings on BBC Radio 4 yesterday argued that his generation had benefitted from the previous one’s efforts to defeat Hitler, benefited from the post-war booming economy until 2007, extracted from taxpayers “free bus passes” and other perks and now expects succeeding generations to pay for the cost of protecting them from the ravages of the pandemic and restoring the economy.
It’s not the elderly per se who have benefitted most in the last 75 years, it’s the wealthy – the owners of capital. Sir Max is, however, partially right. After the pandemic is over, we must establish a steeply progressive inheritance tax that covers wealth secreted away in trusts and other avoidance measures and use the huge amounts this would release as a true inheritance and ‘thank you’ for younger people who enabled the older and wealthier amongst us to survive.

As Solomon Hughes writes in the Morning Star today, it won’t be easy, but we must resist with all our might the coming attempts to revert to “business as usual” after the pandemic. We must build a better society for all working people – a society that can avert or withstand the next crisis coming over the horizon, global warming. If we can also bring to account those responsible for undermining the NHS, creating the gig economy, destroying free college and university education, undermining trade unions and destroying social housing and social welfare, so much the better.

 

References
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(20)30727-3/fulltext
https://morningstaronline.co.uk

John McDonnell at Ruskin House

Speaking to a packed meeting at Ruskin House on Tuesday, John McDonnell defended Labour’s decision to campaign on a remain/second referendum ticket at the general election. It was necessitated, he argued, both by the Labour Party Conference decision in 2019 and evidence the leadership had gathered on voters’ intentions. A firm leave line would, he argued, have resulted in an even worse outcome. The important thing now, John McDonnell said, was for the Labour Party to rally behind the new leader, whoever he or she was, and campaign vigorously outside parliament for the next four years. His assumption was that, regardless of the Fixed Term Parliament Act,  the Tories would call the next general election at a time of their choosing, not at the end of the fixed five year term.

While taking full responsibility of the electoral defeat, there was, understandably, a measure of denial and excuse in McDonnell’s speech and in his answers to the questions that followed. As Tariq Ali argues in the current edition of the London Review of Books (1), one of the few progressive voices left in the UK’s printed media (the other shining example being, of course, the Morning Star), if Labour had stated clearly that the referendum and the chaos that ensued were the result of a Tory split and if Labour had then let them get on with it, Theresa May’s deal with the EU might have gone through and the general election scheduled for April 2020 could have been fought on the NHS, education and other public services.

On one point made by McDonnell there can be no dispute: his warning that any Labour leader who threatened the capitalist status quo would be subject to the same level of vitriolic abuse as that directed at Jeremy Corbyn. One of numerous examples of this was the absurd question relating to nuclear buttons put to Jeremy Corbyn and are now directed at his potential successors (2).

As Tariq Ali observed, the question would be more meaningful if expressed as “Are there any circumstances in which you would refuse US orders to fire the missiles?” However, as we have pointed out previously on this website, our nuclear missile technology is supplied by the USA. Does anyone seriously doubt that the Americans would not have installed a disabling switch in the Pentagon? A more worrying question is whether they have installed another switch enabling the US President to launch “our” missiles regardless of the wishes of a future UK Prime Minister.

Notes

(1) Short Cuts, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, Volume 42 Number 2, 23 January 2020
(2) With depressingly successful results. Unlike Corbyn, they all appear willing to declare themselves potential war criminals.

Sorry we missed you

Anyone who has seen the moving film Sorry We Missed You directed by Ken Loach will have been left in no doubt about the horror of the gig economy and the misery it heaps on workers and their families. Once referred to as McJobs, casual employment, zero hours contracts and spurious self-employment are now ubiquitous throughout the economy. Yet the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported on Tuesday that the unemployment rate in three months to November was only 3.8%, its lowest since the 1970s, while the number of people in work has risen by 208,000. The employment rate, according to ONS, is at a new high of 76.3%; and a report by Whiteshield Partners, in collaboration with the Said Business School, Oxford University, concludes that the UK remains the “ninth most resilient labour market in the world”. What exactly is going on here?

According to ONS someone who works only one hour a week is considered to be “employed”. They deny that this distorts the figures as the number of workers on less than six hours a week is “only” 1.4%. As the unemployment rate is “only” 3.8%, this presumably means that, as those working less than six hours a week are effectivly unemployed, the unemployment rate is actually 5.2%, not 3.8%. But even this figure is likely to be a gross underestimate.
ONS tend to hide behind internationally agreed definitions of employment and unemployment. That might assist international analysis, but it does nothing for assessing the economic reality that should be the basis for economic policy – and will be when we start to build a socialist future. Some 9 million people in the UK aged 16 to 64 are “economically inactive” and 14.5% of UK homes are “workless”. The official unemployment figure doesn’t reflect part-time workers who want full-time jobs, “inactive” workers alienated from the workforce and workers who are prematurely “retired“ by their employers . Analysing these groups leads some analysts to conclude that the true unemployment rate is not 50% bigger, as suggested above, it’s three or four times the official figure. That makes sense. How else can we explain the misery, so convincingly portrayed in Ken Loach’s film, of workers driven to seek jobs in the gig economy ?

NEW YEAR DISHONOUR

The New Year Honours list contains the usual mixture of time-servers, government stooges, tax dodgers, donors to the Tory Party (typically the same thing), over-paid entertainers, sportsmen and women and those unctuous recipients who accept ‘to recognize the contributions of others’. It’s time again to remind ourselves that recipients can decline the ‘honour’. We salute those who have, over the years, had sufficient principle and self-confidence to do this. This honourable band includes, amongst many others:
Stephen Hawkings
Ken Loach
Alan Rickman
Bill Nighy
Peter Capaldi
Benjamin Zephaniah
Jon Snow
Rudyard Kipling

The New Year honours list has, however, plumbed new depths this year with the award of a knighthood to Iain Duncan-Smith. It’s this government’s way of poking two fingers in the face of claimants of Universal Benefit and everyone who has campaigned against its introduction.

You can sign a petition objecting to this award here:

https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fchng.it%2FGZn9YfWK4F&data=02%7C01%7C%7Ced863a0bf7a0420a560208d78c5d3de4%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637132204398848736&sdata=AikWEQaacnjB3avEHLnGLABoKuSHRC%2FXwhNEZaRAIGw%3D&reserved=0

No notice will be taken of your objection, but at least you will be able to say not in my name!

HOPE DESTROYED?

Croydon communists share the dismay and disappointment of our friends in the three Croydon Constituency Labour Parties at the general election results last night. Their own results were good, with Croydon North and Croydon Central (a marginal) retained and a little bit of a shock for the Tories in the smug Tory heartlands of Croydon South due to a spirited campaign focussing on school cuts. Although we questioned Labour’s decision to abandon their commitment in the 2017 manifesto to implement the EU Referendum, we recognised (although didn’t agree with) the argument that this was a strategic necessity given the leave/remain split amongst Labour voters and we welcomed many of the other commitments in the manifesto for this election.  How sad the strategy failed. This was the true cause of the results last night, not, as the right wing of the Labour Party are already claiming, a shift too far left.

An internal battle inside the Labour Party for its future has already begun and the prospects don’t look good. The Parliamentary Labour Party is even further to the right than it was before the general election and it’s hard to believe they would allow another left wing candidate to stand, even assuming a credible candidate could be found. The left won’t easily surrender the gains they have made in the constituency parties but it nevertheless seems inevitable that much of the political struggle for the next five years will have to be extra-parliamentary and ‘on the streets’. The prime target? Aside from fighting Austerity and advancing privatisation, it has to be exposing Tory acceptance of  global warming and their implicit belief that the 0.1% who fund them can insulate themselves from the consequences.

 

National Character? The Shame that is Kensington and Chelsea

Some interesting statistics and comment by Ash at https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2018/05/14/londons-local-elections-2018-the-consequences-of-voting/:-

“Out of an electorate of 95,378 people, 37,835 voted, 39.7 per cent of the total. Across the 18 wards, a total of 100,429 votes were cast, and 52,211 of these were for Conservative candidates, 51.98 per cent of the total. That was down from the 57.8 per cent of votes the Conservatives had in the 2014 elections; but out of the 50 councillors elected, 36 are Conservative, 13 are Labour and 1 is Liberal Democrat. That’s an increase of a single Labour councillor since the 2014 elections at the expense of a single Conservative councillor. Significantly, 18,578 more votes were cast than in 2014, but the Conservative vote actually increased by 4,220, which means more people came out this time to make sure they got back into office against the threat that Labour would take the borough. By my reckoning, the 71 people (at least) that died in the Grenfell Tower fire have cost Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives 5.82 per cent of the vote, or 0.08 per cent for every identified corpse, the loss of whose life has equated to the loss of 0.014 per cent of a Conservative council seat.

 As ASH wrote back in July last year when we published our report on the Grenfell Tower fire, how we react to this man-made disaster could turn out to be worse than the chain of decisions and shirked responsibilities that caused it, and this vote by the people of Kensington and Chelsea is a stain on what’s left of our national character.”

As communists we struggle with the concept of “national character”, stained or otherwise. For us this disaster and its consequences can only be understood in class terms. As the Communist Manifesto puts it, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. There are no fixes, social democrat or other. The sooner we change the entire system the better.