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.

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.

BRITISH VALUES

Following Ofsted investigation into Birmingham schools and the resulting undignified spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May, David Cameron was forced to intervene and explain what Gove meant by the “British Values” he wants to see taught in English and Welsh state funded schools. Apparently these “British Values” are freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.

This list is loaded with class implications and is worth picking apart. Taking them in order:

Freedom – a term always banded about by those on the right but never properly defined by them. They mean, of course, freedom for those with wealth and power to enjoy these with as few constraints as possible.

Tolerance – this means a relaxed view to the views of others provided they don’t impact on those with wealth and power. Ownership and control by the rich and powerful of the mass media does, of course, ensure that really dangerous views such as socialism can be not so much tolerated as safely ignored.

Respect for the Rule of Law – this means rigorously enforcing those laws that protect property and generally disregarding those laws which protect the rights of ordinary working people. To ensure this, the judiciary is drawn from the powerful and wealthy sections of society and can be relied on to protect their class’s interests.

Belief in personal and social responsibility – this means that ordinary working people should not anyway expect “rights” under the law. They must take personal responsibility for their own welfare, just like the rich and powerful do.

Respect for British institutions – this means we should not criticise or question those institutions that prop up the ruling class – the police, parliament, the army, royals etc. Such unquestioning respect need not, however, apply to those institutions that actually serve ordinary working people such as the NHS, our trade unions and those schools that have not yet been sold off to business interests.

It is quite easy to think of a more wholesome set of values. The list could include solidarity with fellow workers, opposition to sexism and racism and treating other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. The problem with these from a Tory perspective is that they are not exclusively “British”. How strange then that Cameroon and his Tory chums appear to have overlooked that it would only take one more clumsy intervention from them in the debate in Scotland on independence and the term “British” will become an historic relic.

Martin Graham

Education: Open and Free

Image

At a time when governments are becoming ever more prescriptive in their education policy, abandoning child-centred education for one in which a dim and doctrinaire Secretary of State for Education determines not only what is taught but how it is taught, the Communist Party is moving in the opposite direction. The philosophy behind the Party sponsored Communist University in South London (CUiSL) is that adults learn from each other in free and open discussion. Rejecting the traditional model in which the student is seen as an empty vessel for the teacher to fill, every member of the class takes turns to research a topic and present their findings to the class. This is then discussed and analysed by the class which is chaired and moderated by another student selected by the class. Topics are themed under a general heading which lasts for five or six classes. As Marxism provides an all encompassing world view, these themes range widely across political, economic and cultural issues.  There is no indoctrination and no pre-determined “right answer” to be reached by the end. The CUiSL motto is “Question Everything”.

The classes have proved highly successful. Operating at a level that some participants have described as equivalent to that of a university tutorial, they are nevertheless open to everyone, regardless of experience, political affiliation and formal education qualifications. Access is open and no fees are charged. Classes are held at 7 pm on the first Tuesday of each month at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD (photo above). There is no class in June – predictably not so that students can celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee but rather to enable some of them to attend the Morning Star AGM that evening at the Bishopsgate Institute. The next CUiSL class is therefore on Tuesday, 3 July.