Report on Croydon TUC’s Referendum Debate

The EU Referendum Debate hosted by Croydon TUC at Ruskin House yesterday (9 June) was a well attended event whose tone and content was very different to anything we are hearing on the BBC or reading in the mass media. None of the invited speakers and hardly anyone speaking from the floor raised the racist and anti-immigrant arguments discussed obsessively in the ‘official’ campaigns; and little heat was generated about the specious “facts” seen as pivotal in the ‘official’ debate. Indeed, there was wide agreement that the debate reported by the BBC in the mass media was little more than a row between two wings of the Tory Party and those hangers on foolish enough to be sucked/suckered into their squalid debate.

The case to stay in was put by Mark Serwotka, the much respected and admired General Secretary of the civil servants union PCS, speaking in a personal capacity. The leave case was put by Eddie Dempsey, a young and dynamic member of the Executive Committee of the rail union RMT which is a long standing opponent of the EU (and its predecessors the EC and the EEC). The third speaker was Steve Freeman from Republican Socialists group who argued for abstention in order to deny credibility to either of the ‘official’ campaigns.

There was a remarkable degree of consensus expressed and acknowledged by all three speakers. All agreed that the EU was based on:

  1. the free movement of capital and labour – a right wing, neo-liberal concept that benefitted the former but did little or nothing for the latter; and
  2. suppressed democracy and trade union rights – this being a deliberate strategy from the foundation of the EEC to ensure that workers were not in a position to overturn (1).

The different conclusions reached by the three speakers turned on their views on the immediate consequences of a vote to leave. For Eddie Dempsey it would sweep away both the Tories and the legal obstacle to public ownership that the EU provided. The Tories would split and an opportunity to build towards a socialist future would open up. Mark Serwotka feared that if we left the EU we would face continued Tory rule and a government set on making workers pay for the resulting economic uncertainty. For Steve Freeman, the immediate prospects were bleak whatever the outcome of the referendum: the real need was to unite the European working class and whether or not we were in the EU was irrelevant.

There was unanimous agreement that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated in secret by the European Commission and the US would be disastrous for the UK, but the speakers disagreed on whether leaving the EU would enable the UK to escape it. Again, these differing conclusions arose from the speakers’ different views on what government would come out on top following a vote to leave. A right wing government would, according to Mark Serwotka, drag us in; but for others it was undeniable that, in the short term at least, exit would enable us to escape TTIP.

There were a number of useful contributions from the floor, including one from Comrade Peter Latham of this branch who drew attention to the Lexit  or Left Leave Campaign.

At the end of the evening, the Chair, Jon Morgan, called for a show of hands on the voting intentions of those present. This was pretty evenly divided. The call to abstain didn’t, however, receive any significant support.

Follow the Cuban Model

In the posting last week I suggested that resistance to antibiotics should be added to the threats facing humanity. This has been confirmed by the Final Report to government from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) published today. In the preface to this report, Lord O’Neill, now a government minister, accepts that routine surgeries and minor infections will become life-threatening once again and that the hard won victories against infectious diseases of the last fifty [surely sixty plus] years will be jeopardized. Unless action is taken, the report concludes, the number of deaths each year from AMR could balloon to 10 million, at a cumulative cost to global economic output of $100 trillion. On this basis, by 2050, the death toll could be a staggering one person every three seconds and each person in the world today will be more than $10,000 per annum worse off – quite a problem when the world average income is currently less than $18,000 per annum – but such distributional matters tend not to concern Tory ministers.

Some of the report’s recommendations are obvious, including restricting doctors from prescribing antibiotics until they have confirmed with tests that they are actually required. Others are conspicuous by their absence and reflect the prejudices of the government of which Lord O’Neill is a member. These include the need to block TTIP so that US factory farming methods dependent on intensive antibiotic use are not forced on us when this agreement with the  EU is signed. Leaving the EU is the best, possibly only, way of stopping TTIP  – what a shame that the official Brexit Campaign, dominated as it is by right wing Tories, is so reluctant to point this out.

The report concludes that remedial action can be financed from existing NHS budgets. That will generate a huge sigh of relief from a government unwilling to provide an adequate level of funding for even current services. It depends, however, on the assumption that the drug companies can be made to pay. The key recommendation is a new settlement with Big Pharma, a so-called ‘pay and play’ requirement: pay for the investment in new antibiotics and inoculation in exchange for continuing their privileged position as monopoloy suppliers to governments. Given Big Pharma’s record of dodging taxes and ripping off governments, this has all the prospects of a snow ball in hell. The knee jerk reaction from the trade body the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry was, as would be expected,  immediate rejection.

Big Pharma is the epitome of capitalism and the illusion that if we give the rich and powerful everything they want, the welfare of everyone else will be enhanced. The truth is that, as with global warming, international, profit driven enterprises cannot be trusted with the fate of humanity. They will always put the interests of the elites who own them or feed off them as managers first. They must be cut down to size, stripped of their monopolies and, in the case of Big Pharma,  replaced with democratically controlled research institutes. If the impoverished Cubans can do it, so can we!

Branch Meeting in April: debate on EU Referendum

The Croydon Branch met at Ruskin House at 7 pm on Thursday, 21 April, our usual third Thursday of the month. The Political Discussion this month centred on the EU Referendum.

Disappointment was expressed at the poor quality of the coverage of the debate in the mass media. This was partly due to the Government’s “project fear” strategy”. This employed the argument that the decision should be based on “facts”, much like its Gradgrindian policy for education. Yet the Government‘s official pamphlet failed the provide any “facts” on Exit despite the cost to taxpayers of £9.3 million, just opinion. The subsequent Treasury report purporting to show, as a ‘fact’, that every household would be £4,500 worse off by 2030 was equally specious. Yet the official Exit campaign could offer little response that was not xenophobic or racist.

In the view of the meeting, the political issues that needed to discussed were

  • The balance of class interests in the UK and the EU and whether these would be improved by Exit.
  • The lack of democracy in the EU.
  • Whether the UK by exiting could ameliorate the consequences of likely future EU collapse, whether triggered by the instability of its external and internal borders or by the inevitable collapse of the Euro.
  • Whether leaving would enable the UK to block TTIP – this question was subsequently answered in the affirmative by Cameron when he persuaded President Obama to say that the UK would ”go to the back of the Queue” (SIC) in any trade negotiations with the USA after we left. TTIP is the only pending negotiation!
  • How best to show solidarity with the workers in the EU, especially those in Greece currently subject to fierce attack and likely soon to endure worse.
  • The consequences of the UK as a whole voting to leave but Scotland voting to stay. Would the breakup of the UK be too high a price for workers in the UK to pay?

Fortunately, branch members on Croydon TUC have succeeded in persuading Croydon TUC to hold a debate in May where these issues will be raised and discussed. Watch this website for more details when known.

The other date to note is the Croydon May Day march on Saturday 30 April. Assemble at noon outside Marks & Spencer, North End for speeches and then a march to Ruskin House led by a pipe band. Comrades were encouraged to attend and help staff the Party stall at Ruskin House afterwards.

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.

The EU Referendum and TTIP

There is a progressive case for voting to leave the EU at the referendum in June and the Communist Party backs it. It relates to recognising what the EU is really about. The treaties creating the Union are bereft of aims to enhance democracy and promote the interests of working people. They are concerned about granting businesses four Fundamental Freedom, the freedom to:

provide services;

establish new businesses;

move capital; and

move labour

within the Union. Nothing of comparable importance attaches to workers’ rights, nor is there much emphasis on improving democracy across and within the EU. In consequence the European Parliament is toothless and is likely to remain so and there is no pressure on national governments to democratise what remains of their powers or to devolve them to local government. Thus the scandal of media ownership, corrupt representative democracy and the absence of workplace democracy in the UK has continued unchallenged and unabated.

In a thoughtful piece by John Hendy QC The terrible tale of the EU and Trade Union Rights   he describes the limited scope of social measures in EU treaties and what little they do for trade unionists in particular and workers in general. The Community Social Charter for the Rights of Workers adopted in 1989 proclaimed, amongst other things, the right to freedom of association, to negotiate and conclude collective agreements, and a right to resort to collective action including the right to strike. Mrs Thatcher duly called it a “Marxist Charter” (as if!) and, after much bitter opposition, it was afforded no more status than that of a “solemn proclamation”. A Social Charter Action Programme was subsequently adopted which led to modest Directives on workplace safety, work equipment, personal protective equipment , VDUs, manual handling, proof of the employment contract, posted workers, pregnant workers, young workers, and working time. The Maastricht Treaty in 1992, gave greater prominence to what was called the Social Chapter to which the UK Tory government promptly secured an opt-out. Amongst other things the Social Chapter provided for European level collective agreements between the “social partners” to be enforced as EU law. In fact very few such agreements have ever been reached because of resistance by employers. By the time Labour was elected and the UK opted back in again only four Directives had been adopted under the Social Chapter: on European Works Councils, parental leave, part-time work and burden of proof. The Treaties underpinning the EU were tweaked by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2000. As John Hendy concludes, they gave the illusion of a greater social dimension but little of substance.

This is thin gruel for those of us seeking more power and a better deal for ordinary working people. But we are nevertheless confronted with two problems in voting Out at the forthcoming referendum. The first is the right wing element dominating the Out campaign. A more unsavoury bunch than Nigel Farrage, Ian Duncan-Smith and Boris Johnson would be hard to find, and their appeal to latent racism is difficult to stomach. The second is that a vote to leave the EU would probably lead to the break up of Great Britain if, as seems likely, the Scots and possibly the Welsh voted to stay. It would surely have been much better for the referendum to have required unanimity across England, Scotland and Wales and for the referendum in Northern Ireland to have been about whether to remain an appendage of Great Britain (whatever the result of the other referendums) or to join the Republic.

All, however, is not lost for the progressive Out campaign. There is no need yet to throw our lot in with the Corbyn Labour leadership and accept that the potential loss of jobs means that we must stay in the EU and campaign inside it for reform. As appealing as that that may appear to some, it won’t halt the EU’s continuing secret negotiations with the USA over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment (TTIP). The impact of this could be worse that those predicted if we leave. TTIP will cost at least one million UK jobs, undermine our most treasured public services and lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ in food, environmental and labour standards. For the first time, huge US corporations will be able to sue the UK government over democratically enacted laws. A vote to leave the EU should enable us to escape TTIP, although a Tory government might still try to sign the UK (or just England) up to it. With a barrage of scare stories expected such as the headline in the Observer today (“Brexit would spark decade of ‘economic limbo’ claims top Tory”), perhaps the best response would be a slogan along the lines No Vote for In if it means a vote for TTIP. Let the In Campaign chew on that.

Agreement in Paris!

The agreement reached in Paris yesterday at the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 21 See attached,) is to be welcomed. Recognition of a new target ceiling for global warming of 1.5 degrees centigrade and a new goal of net zero emissions by the second half of this century are both highly desirable. The first test of whether this agreement is to be taken seriously will be how stock markets respond when they open on Monday. If the share prices of oil, gas and coal companies fall substantially and stay down, this first test will be passed. We shall see.

It would be foolish to celebrate COP 21 and abandon all scepticism when the USA has yet to ratify the Kyoto Agreement and when our own government has been cutting green subsidies and is seeking to overcome environmental objections to a third runway at Heathrow (or the no less serious environmental objections to Gatwick expansion). Furthermore, there are no sanctions on governments who fail to deliver their obligations under COP 21. This is in sharp contrast to TTIP under which businesses will be able to prosecute governments who stand in their way of their profit making by taking into account environmental considerations. Can a government willing to sign up to TTIP be trusted to deliver under COP 21 when the latter has no sanctions?

A low carbon future is attainable, but whether it can be delivered without dismantling capitalism first is quite another matter.

The Future of the NHS and the role of the Independent Left

The news, suppressed until the Tory Party Conference had ended, that NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months did not come as a surprise to the Communist Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public who have been waiting for the figures. Make no mistake, the Tories intend to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US style private insurance based scheme, not stop at merely tendering out services. The outsourcing of Croydon University Hospital’s A&E service, now shambolically and expensively run by Virgin, is just the start. As a step to achieving their aim, the Tories, naively supported by the Lib Dems for the first five years, engaged in a programme of inadequate funding and enforced ‘efficiency savings’. But these alone will not enable them to bring their plans to fruition. For all their bluster, they know they lack enough support across the country to enforce a complete privatisation of the NHS. Not even the backing of the capitalist press and sympathetic coverage by a BBC cowed by the prospect of charter renewal will be enough to force it through. They need a TINA argument – There is No Alternative. They are looking for continued membership of the European Union and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to provide this.

From where will the opposition to the Tories’ plans come? Jeremy Corbyn deserves our support following his election as Labour Leader, especially in his struggle with a sullen Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – many Labour MPs resent the power exercised by new members and supporters in electing him and will seek to oust him as soon as they can. The NHS cannot, however, be saved by parliamentary opposition alone; nor should everyone on the independent left, especially those in the Communist Party, tear up their membership cards and pile into the forthcoming internal struggle inside the Labour Party. It will take time to clear out the PLP (assuming it can be done) and, meanwhile, we need to organise independently in the trade unions and trade union councils, support what’s left of our free press (the Morning Star and the internet) and campaign on the streets and in our community groups. Even more important than the next meeting of Croydon Constituency Labour Parties is the next public meeting of the Croydon Assembly. This is a genuine, bottom-up democratic initiative by Croydon TUC and will take place on Saturday 7 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Confirmed speakers include John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Such grass roots initiatives, conducted independently of the current struggle within the Labour Party, are essential if continued membership of the European Union on unsatisfactory terms and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both essential steps in the destruction of the NHS, are to be opposed. We cannot rely on an internally divided Labour Party to do this for us. We must do it ourselves.