Saturday, 30 October 2010

Generation facing scrapheap

THE GOVERNMENT’S comprehensive spending review will put hundreds of thousands of public sector workers out of work and is an unprecedented attack on the welfare state, public services, communities, jobs and benefits, says PCS.
Chancellor George Osborne last week announced 490,000 public sector jobs will be cut over the next five years, with a 41 per cent cut at the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Ministry of Justice budget to be reduced by £2 billion, with a 24 per cent reduction in CPS spending.
There will be a 26 per cent cut to the Department of Work and Pension’s core budget and a £7 billion cut in welfare. Budgets will be slashed by 25 per cent in business, skills and innovation, 29 per cent at Defra and £1.5 billion reduction at the Home Office.
The Con-Dem Coalition also announced a 15 per cent “resource saving” at HMRC and a £1.8 billion cut in public sector pensions.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This spending review will throw a generation of people on the scrapheap. These cuts are a political choice, there is an alternative, not a penny needs to be cut, nor a single job lost.
“Rather than attacking the vital services offered by our members and removing jobs from some of the most vulnerable communities across the UK the coalition should be creating jobs in both the public and private sectors, closing the £120 billion tax gap, introducing a Robin Hood Tax on banking speculation and investing in our future.
“This announcement shows we are not all in this together but illustrates that it is the poorest in society who will have to bear the brunt of a crisis that was not of their making, while the millionaires in the cabinet massively increase the gap between the haves and have nots.
“With the increase in retirement age to 66 and a £1.8 billion cut in public sector pensions many people will be forced to pay much more for less.
“The Government has a vain hope that the private sector, at a time of recession and growing unemployment, will take up the slack in the labour market, but there is little indication how these jobs will be created
"We are united in opposition to these cuts and are ready to take co-ordinated action with other unions and community groups to build an opposition to these cuts and overturn them.”

Saturday, 8 August 2009

News round up

Immigration officers set strike date

THE CIVIL service union PCS warned last Wednesday that over 1,200 immigration officers could be taking part in a 24 hour strike on 5th August should further talks with UK Border Agency (UKBA) management fail in a dispute over job content, working practices and shift patterns.
Further talks are scheduled for this Friday aimed at resolving the dispute, which centres on plans by UKBA to force immigration officers to undertake duties and work performed by customs officers, as well as imposing changes to shift patterns which could see immigration officer’s wages cut.
Immigration officers are angry over moves by UKBA to force them to carry out duties which they weren’t employed for, such as strip searches and law enforcement duties, as the agency seeks to merge the jobs of customs officers and immigration officers.
The union isn’t against change but believes that immigration officers should be able to choose whether or not to undertake customs duties and will be pressing management for assurances on job roles, working practices and shift patterns.
The Home Office group executive section of the union which covers immigration officers will be on standby to meet in the event that talks produce an acceptable offer of settlement.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Immigration officers are angry at being forced to do a job that they weren’t recruited to do. We are not against change, but there needs to be a recognition that immigration and customs officers have separate specialist roles and duties"

PCS anger at job outsourcing

THE CIVIL service union PCS last Wednesday reacted angrily to the news that the Government intends to outsource more than 100 finance and IT jobs at the British Council to India as part of a massive cost-cutting exercise.
The decision to recruit local Indian workers to fill finance and IT posts has infuriated unions, who fear that this could be the blueprint for Whitehall.
It is believed to be the first time that the Civil Service or a quango has directly exported jobs to save costs. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which funds the British Council, is exploring similar options.
A spokesperson said that administrative jobs could be carried out by local staff in regional hubs overseas.
PCS said that the British Council decision went against Gordon Brown’s stated principle of “British jobs for British people” and could not be justified during a recession.
The council, which promotes British culture and language abroad, said that 500 of its 1,300 British workers would have to go in the next 18 months to save £45 million.
More than a fifth of these posts are to be filled in India and the body plans to bring some of the Indian recruits over to “shadow” finance staff in Manchester.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

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Wednesday, 17 June 2009

PCS ponders the future

By Andy Brooks

Brighton was once again the venue for the annual conference of Britain’s largest-civil service union and the sixth biggest in the country. Delegates representing some 320,000 members in the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) gathered at the south coast resort last May to pass a host of worthy and progressive bread-and-butter motions and welcome the new national executive elected by a postal ballot that was an overwhelming vote of confidence for the left-led Democracy Alliance platform. The left held the deputy and assistant general secretary posts, retained the presidency and vice-presidency and the ineffectual right-wing opposition was reduced to just one seat on the NEC. On the face of it this would seem to be a remarkable victory for the left. But behind the scenes there are causes for concern.
Though the Democracy Alliance notched up another electoral victory – the seventh on the run – the turn-out was low. Only 9.5 per cent of the membership bothered to vote, a drop of two per cent from last year and that should send alarm bells ringing amongst the leadership, which is dominated by members of the former Trotskyist Militant Tendency now organised around the Socialist Party.
Though the senior officer elections were won by the left-led slate the incumbents were hit by an anti-full-timer vote. Deputy General Secretary Hugh Lanning, a veteran careerist, was seriously challenged by a maverick left candidate while a relatively unknown right-winger came within 200 votes of toppling Assistant General Secretary Chris Baugh, a leading member of the Socialist Party.
The charismatic general secretary Mark Serwotka, of course, dominated conference, and he rounded on the City, MPs and the government over the expenses scandal and the handling of the economy in his opening speech to main conference.
Serwotka launched his re-election campaign at conference during the week and over 300 delegates packed a hall to pledge support for him at the forthcoming poll this November. The Socialist Party rally was also dutifully supported by many delegates. But attendance at other fringe political meetings was well-down on last year.
John McDonnell, the leader of the Labour Representation Committee, is also the chair of the PCS parliamentary group and his address to conference summed up the bitterness, anger and frustration of the membership at the sleaze culture that revolves around Westminster. He demanded a sea-change in the entire British political system and called on PCS to reach out to other unions to build the new agenda for fundamental change in favour of working people. Though this was met with rapturous applause the leadership are following a slightly different path.
PCS, like its predecessors in the amalgamated union, is not an affiliate of the Labour Party. and the Democracy Alliance as a whole is pursuing the illusory path of the “left alternative”.
The Alliance is a big tent of factions that came from the three civil service unions that finally united in 1998 to create PCS. Led by the Socialist Party it includes its Trotskyist rivals in the Socialist Workers Party and what once was the Scottish Socialist Party; the revisionist Communist Party of Britain and even a section of the old right-wing Membership First bloc which includes at least one prominent Liberal Democrat. Bizarrely enough the only forces, like the NCP, that directly support the Labour Representation Committee or still work within the Labour Party are in the maverick “Independent Left” that walked out of the big tent last year over the pay campaign.
The right-wing For the Members (4TM) faction, a motley crew led by former Blairites, may have little to offer members but the Democratic Alliance itself is going down a blind alley of its own with the “Make Your Vote Count” campaign which aims to funnel union support for trade union candidates, opposed to Labour, in the general election. All sorts of nonsense was said by leading members of the Socialist Party, who should know better, about the supposed support for this on the street, when this was debated. Though the European elections had not yet taken place the miserable vote obtained by No2EU and the other left social-democratic slates could have easily been predicted.
Solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs was highlighted when guest speakers Fathi Naser and Hana Joma,from the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) told delegates about the reality of trade union life under the thumb of the Israeli occupation that opened a debate on a solidarity motion condemning the Israeli attack on Gaza which was overwhelming passed.
Pay is, of course, the paramount issue for the membership and it’s become the Achilles heel of the leadership. Last year the union called off a series of planned protest strikes and accepted a deal which they claimed was a “breakthrough” that would lead to considerable improvements in the future. In practice all it’s done is provide a cover for departments to impose the miserable pittances they intended to implement in the first place.
The problem is simply that the only way the employer – and we’re talking about the State in most cases – could be forced to seriously negotiate with PCS is under the threat of an all-out indefinite strike. That is beyond the reach of PCS, or indeed any other union in the country. Few are ready to endure the immense hardship of a prolonged struggle these days and most believe it wouldn’t work anyway. But that’s the point. What members fear is not lost wages as such – victory would get it back and more – but struggle which ends in hardship and defeat, like what happened to the miners in 1985.
The Serwotka leadership chose the only other course open to them which was a series of two-day protest stoppages designed to wear down management and put pressure on the Government to settle. It was essentially a war of attrition and the only favourable outcome could have been a “good draw” with at least half a loaf on the table. Unfortunately the strikes were called off because support over two years of action was waning – creating a climate in which even crumbs from the employer seemed credible. In reality the problem was that the leadership didn’t explain the tactics to the membership and perhaps more accurately hadn’t really worked out the strategy for maintaining a prolonged protest campaign in the first place.
The Independent Left alternative was the old tactic of pulling out key workers on high strike pay – ignoring the fact that when that was used last management simply routed work to other offices and bled the union’s coffers dry in the process. As for the right-wing their answer is the white flag. They argue, without any shred of evidence, that if they were in power the Government would reward their collaboration with a better deal.
When PCS was created it was led by a united and craven right-wing bloc that won the first elections with ease. Within a year the right-wing split and the left not only won control of the executive but also succeeded in tearing up the undemocratic new constitution and restoring the powers of Conference through the same postal ballot procedures that the right had for years thought was their ticket to ride. The Democracy Alliance has achieved a lot with the support of the activists and the rank-and-file. It now needs to mobilise the membership to take on the challenges of the future. This can only be done by encouraging mass participation in the campaigns and within the Democratic Alliance itself. The old dragons have been slain. But it’s not the past that matters but what comes next that counts

Monday, 8 June 2009

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Budget Blues

Last week’s budget did little to rally support for Labour where it counts. The new 50 per cent income tax band on the rich and an equally modest allocation of new money for council housing has done nothing to rally working people behind Labour’s banner. The latest opinion polls show the Tories widening their lead over Labour and Cameron looks set for a landslide victory at the next general election.
Harold Wilson always stressed that nothing is certain in politics. Wilson, a Labour leader far greater than Gordon Brown, famously said that a week is a long time in politics and that goes for opinion poll projections as well. Wilson confounded the pollsters who had predicted big Tory victories in the two “who governs Britain?” elections of 1974. Wilson, of course, could rely on the enthusiastic support of the unions and workers fighting for higher wages and a stake in the direction of the economy. Gordon Brown on the other hand seems to hope that he can still scrape by with the support of significant sections of the bourgeoisie.
There’s no doubt that the ruling class is deeply divided over Europe and the economic crisis. The bourgeoisie as a whole are not too bothered by the income-tax hike despite all the wails in the Tory media about a new “class war” and a return to the “politics of envy”. Those who can will avoid it. Those who can’t can easily afford it. Someone’s got to pay for the crisis and in any case the bill for bailing out the banks is going to be largely paid by working people in tax, job losses and cuts in services.
The bourgeoisie themselves have difficult choices. They approved of Brown’s decisive switch to social-Keynesianism to stave off the complete collapse of the British banking system. Many of them doubt whether the Tories could do the same given that so many of Cameron’s cohorts are still wedded to the failed Thatcherite monetarist policies that were once so eagerly embraced by New Labour as well.
There’s still no consensus amongst the ruling class over Europe either. The Neanderthals and those who still believe British imperialism’s best hopes lie in close partnership with US imperialism have been undermined by the slump which exposed the underlying weakness of the American economy and finished off the neo-cons in the US elections last November. But their views still hold sway in the Cameron leadership while those who favour greater co-operation between British imperialism and the rest of Europe cannot fully rely on Labour to do their bidding.
The Tories are implacably opposed to the single European currency. Labour is more amenable towards European integration and the Government has clearly shifted more towards Franco-German imperialism but the biggest obstacle to joining the euro is Gordon Brown himself.
Brown, like Blair before him, has turned his back on the unions though he occasionally goes through the motions of “consultation” to ensure the continuous flow of the money chain that keeps the Labour Party afloat. But Labour’s only hope of a fourth term is by mobilising the grass-roots around policies that clearly benefit working people.
Some Ministers are already talking about scrapping the odious identity card project to save money. But Labour will have to come up with much more than this to win back the millions of disillusioned voters.
The Labour Representation Committee and the unions have drawn up alternative programmes that could win back the workers to Labour. A massive council-house building programme; increases in social welfare and pensions; the restoration of the public sector and the abolition of the anti-union laws would make a good start. It can all be paid for by a return to the progressive taxation levels we had in the 1970s, pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and scrapping Trident.
If Brown & Co respond to the union demands Labour can certainly win the next election. If they don’t we will certainly be in Tory government for many years to come.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Whistling in the Wind

by Daphne Liddle

CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling promised it would all be over by Christmas – the recession that is – as he delivered his 2009 Budget speech. The Tories squealed when he raised income tax on the rich to 50 per cent but the Chair of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) said this was too little, too late. And working people were hit again with more duties on petrol, beer and tobacco.
Darling claims that though the British economy will shrink by 3.5 per cent this year it will soon pick up. He says it will grow by 1.25 per cent next year and then expand by 3.5 per cent every year from 2011. But nobody believes him.
Official Government figures show that the British economy is now in deflation and that unemployment rose by another 177,000 to 2.1 million between December and February. Thousands more job cuts are known to be in the pipeline.
The International Monetary Fund calculates that the global economy is set to decline by 1.3 per cent in 2009 – the first global recession since the Second World War.
In January, the IMF had predicted world output would increase by 0.5 per cent in 2009. It now projects that the British economy will shrink by 4.1 per cent in 2009 and by a further 0.4 per cent in 2010.
Darling shouldn’t feel too bad; other major economies are predicted to shrink even more, with Germany declining by 5.6 per cent, Japan by 6.2 per cent, and Italy by 4.4 per cent in 2009.
The truth is that none of these capitalist economists have a clue about the real size of the economic crash they have cooked up between them.
Darling announced that Government borrowing levels will rise to a massive £175 billion this year. This is the result of the massive bail-outs to the banks.
In theory those banks should be paying back some of that money over the next few years; the Government now technically owns some of them. But the global power of the banks is such that they can demand governments shore them up at whatever expense to taxpayers or their collapse will wipe out not only the governments but whole state economies overnight.
Gordon Brown could of course reduce public borrowing by many billions simply by scrapping Trident and pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. It would probably win him some votes too.
Brown’s promise to revive the economy by using public spending to create new jobs turned out to be a damp squib.In housing, where he could have done most good by creating jobs and homes for workers at the same time, Darling announced only a scheme to guarantee mortgage backed securities, an extension of the stamp duty holiday and a measly £80 million for a shared equity mortgage scheme.
There will be £500 million to restart stalled housing projects and a mere £100 million for local authorities to build energy efficient homes.
There will be new investment in retraining redundant workers and keeping young people in education longer. This will create jobs only for teachers but it will help to massage unemployment statistics.
There will be £2,000 subsidies to persuade people to junk old cars and buy new “green cars” to boost sales. But since just about all motor manufacturing here is owned by global giants in Europe, Asia and America and all these giants are in deep trouble, the fate of our car industry is beyond the scope of anything much our Government can do.
And for every job created the Government’s very small public investment schemes, far more are likely to be lost in the swingeing public sector cuts that everyone knows are just around the corner.
Darling and Brown did make one move in the right direction by bringing forward and raising to 50 per cent the increase in income tax for those earning over £150,000-a-year. But this is not nearly enough and most of this elite one per cent of the population have accountants, who will maximise their personal allowances and other avoidance strategies.
LRC Chair John McDonnell MP said: “Although the 50p rate is a small step in the right direction, it really is twelve years too late and a tokenistic measure, given that the poorest will still be paying more of their incomes in tax than the rich.
“For the Government to announce tax avoidance measures amounting to only £300m per year is derisory when £100 billion is estimated as lost to the Exchequer by tax avoidance.”
Most very rich people pay very little tax and though Darling did announce some tightening of tax loopholes, it is nothing on the scale of what Merkel and Sarkozy have been calling for in Europe.
This was a budget that showed a Government trying to pretend that economic prospects are not as bad as they really are; trying to reassure voters in the run-up to the next general election.
Whoever wins that will be forced to bring in big tax rises and big public spending cuts as soon as the results are announced, whatever they say in their manifestos.
But with Tory leader David Cameron’s mind still set firmly in the Thatcher era, we know his solutions will be the more painful for workers in Britain.