Archive for the ‘Working Conditions’ Category

Boris Johnson Is Not the New, British FD Roosevelt

July 1, 2020

It’s the first of July, the beginning of a new month, and a new set of lies, falsehoods, spin and propaganda from our clownish and murderous government. Yesterday, BoJob announced he was going to spend his way out of the recession caused by the Coronavirus lockdown. £5 billion would be spent on public services. Michael Gove hailed this as a ‘New Deal’, like F.D. Roosevelt’s for ’30s America.

No. No, it isn’t. Mike and Zelo Street have both published articles tearing great, bloody holes in this latest piece of monstrous spin. Zelo Street’s concentrates on the failings of Roosevelt’s original New Deal. Apparently it didn’t really begin to pay off until Roosevelt’s second term, because the great president was himself too committed to the economic orthodoxy of the time. This was to reduce government spending during a recession. Mike’s article, from what I’ve seen of it, dismantles Johnson’s promises. How much can we really trust them? Remember those forty hospitals Johnson told us the Tories were going to build. They weren’t, and aren’t. It was more lies and the number that were actually going to built was much, much lower. I think about six. The rest were going to be additions to existing hospitals, that had already been planned. And the numbers that were going to be built were far lower than those which were to be closed, either wholly or partially.

Everything says that this latest announcement of Johnson’s is exactly the same. More lies, and more promises that are going to be quietly broken later on.

And then there’s the matter of the amount Boris has said he intends to spend. £5 billion is an enormous amount, but Johnson has proudly boasted of spending such sums before. Like when he announced he was going to splurge out on renovating the country’s rail network. Zelo Street then put up an analysis of the figures and how much actually building new stations would actually cost, and the amount fell far, far short of what Johnson was actually claiming. I suspect that the £5 billion Johnson is now trying to get us all to believe he intends to spend is similar. It’s an impressive amount, but in reality much, much less than what’s actually needed.

And you can also bet it’s going to be lower than what our former partners in the EU are spending to get their economies started again. Recently, Private Eye published a piece attacking the Tories’ previous claim that leaving the EU would allow us to spend more on our economy. They compared what our government was spending with what France, Germany and some others were. They’re actually spending more than we are, which also demolishes the Tories’ claim that it was EU legislation that was preventing the government from spending more on the economy. No surprise there. The Tories have consistently lied about the European Union being the source of the country’s ills when the reverse has been true, and they themselves are responsible for the disastrous policies that have decimated our country and its people.

And when a right-wing British politico starts shouting about a ‘New Deal’, it’s always bad news.

Tony Blair similarly announced his new deal to tackle unemployment at the beginning of his government. He was going to introduce new reforms to encourage firms to take on workers. In fact, this was the wretched ‘welfare to work’ or ‘workfare’ policy, in which the unemployed would be sent to work for corporate giants like the supermarkets in return for the Jobseeker’s Allowance. If they didn’t go, no unemployment relief. As was documented by Private Eye, inter alia, the scheme does not help anyone get jobs. In fact, in the case of a geography graduate it actually stopped her getting the job she wanted. She was looking for work in a museum and had something in that line arranged as voluntary work. But the DWP insisted she work stacking shelves for Tesco or Sainsbury’s or whoever instead. It’s actually been found that if you’re unemployed, you are far more likely to get a job through your own efforts rather than through workfare.

And there’s another huge difference between the Tories and F.D. Roosevelt:

Roosevelt laid the foundations of an American welfare state. The Tories are destroying ours.

Roosevelt introduced some basic welfare reforms, like state unemployment relief. It wasn’t extensive, but it was something. The Republicans in America and the Tories over here hate the welfare state with a passion. It’s supposed to be subsidizing idleness and responsible for cross-generational pockets in which whole communities haven’t worked. The libertarianism which entered the American Republican party with the victory of Ronald Reagan was at heart concerned with reversing Roosevelt’s welfare reforms. Although it’s very carefully obscured now, it’s why the Libertarian’s magazine, Reason, in the mid-70s devoted an entire issue to denying the Holocaust. This featured articles by genuine neo-Nazis. This was vile in itself, but it was motivated by an underlying desire to undo Roosevelt’s legacy. FDR had been the president, who took America into the Second World War. This is seen as a good war, because of Nazis’ horrific genocide of the Jewish people, as well as others, though they rarely get a mention these days. If the Libertarians and their Nazi allies could prove that the Holocaust didn’t happen, it would discredit America’s entry into the War and make further attacks on Roosevelt and the New Deal plausible.

One of the reasons why he introduced unemployment benefit, such as it was, was because if you give money to workers during a recession, their spending will stimulate the economy.

But the Tories hate the idea of unemployment benefit and the workers actually having any money. They are the party of low wages, conditionality and benefit sanctions. Thatcher viewed the Victorians’ attitude that conditions should be made as hard as possible for the poor to encourage them not to rely on state assistance and agree to take work no matter how poor the wages and conditions as a ‘virtue’. It was one of her wretched ‘Victorian values’. During her reign, you couldn’t get away from her and the rest of her scummy party prating on about rolling back the frontiers of the state and the need to abolish the welfare state. The rhetoric has since quietened down and been modified, so that instead of abolishing the welfare state they talk about reforming it to target those who are genuinely in need. But the ideology hasn’t changed.

As a result, the British welfare state is in tatters. One organisation dealing with poverty and hunger in this country has stated that they’ve torn such great holes in it that it no longer functions. You can see this by the way unemployment has shot up so that one in four people is now claiming Universal Credit.

This isn’t just due to the Coronavirus. It’s due to the forty-year long Tory assault on the welfare state.

Johnson isn’t the new FDR. He’s the exact opposite – the destroyer of unemployment benefit and killer of those who need it.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/bozo-is-not-franklin-roosevelt.html

New deal? No deal! We can’t accept a plan for the future from the failed PM who deliberately wrecked it

The Reasons for the Toppling of the Statues of Columbus and King Leopold of Belgium

June 13, 2020

It isn’t just in Bristol that people are pulling down the statues of those, who were racist, imperialist or connected to slavery. In America protesters have pulled down more statues of Confederate generals. According to the Beeb, they also pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus. Back across the Pond in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was also attacked.

Columbus and the Genocide of the Amerindians

Many people are no doubt surprised and shocked that Columbus should be the centre of such controversy and anger. Again, this is because most people largely don’t know much about him. All most people are taught are that he discovered America, as in the rhyme ‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’. He was an Italian in the service of the king of Spain. Many may also believe the myth begun by Washington Irving, that until Columbus found the New World, everyone believed that the Earth was flat and you’d fall off the edge if you sailed far enough. In fact people at the time had know perfectly well that the world was round, and had done since at least late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Columbus himself was seeking a new route to the wealth, and particularly spices, of India and China. The overland trade routes had been blocked by the Turkish conquests, so Columbus was seeking a new route to these countries by sailing around the world. In doing so, he failed to realise that the world was actually larger than he believed. When he landed in the Caribbean, he thought he had landed in Asia. It was only towards the end of his career that he began to suspect that he hadn’t, and had discovered an entirely different, new continent instead.

Although it opened up a whole new world for Europeans, and especially the Spanish, it was a catastrophe for the indigenous peoples. Columbus described the Caribbean peoples he met as ‘gentle and mild’, and they welcomed their strange, new visitor. After Columbus returned to Spain, the situation changed with the Spanish conquest. The indigenous peoples – the Taino, Arawak and Caribs were enslaved and worked to death mining the gold that the Spanish and Europeans craved. If they failed to produce enough gold for their European masters, they were killed and mutilated. One of the contemporary sources for the conquest of the New World states that one of the punishments was to amputate their hands, and then hang them around the victim’s neck. Indigenous women were raped and sexually exploited. Indigenous populations were also devastated by the diseases Europeans brought with them, such as smallpox. The population of the Americas had reached several million before Columbus’ arrival. I forget the estimated number – it might be something like 8 million. That number had dropped considerably after the European conquests. The Spanish pushed further, overthrowing the Aztec and Inca empires and conquering the Mayan city states. And across the continent the indigenous peoples were devastated by disease and war, and enslaved on the vast estates carved out by the conquistadors. Other Europeans followed them, who were equally brutal – Portuguese, French, Dutch and ourselves.

The carnage of the European conquests means that Columbus is very definitely not a hero to the New World’s indigenous peoples, nor to the Black populations who succeeded them. Transatlantic slavery emerged because Europeans replaced the Indian workers they’d exterminated with African slaves. Nearly thirty years ago, in 1992 there were demonstrations and denunciations by indigenous Americans and Blacks at the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. For the Amerindian peoples, the festivities were a celebration of their genocide and enslavement. Black Americans also condemned them as a celebration of slavery, an accusation that was repeated by Black Britons three years later when this country celebrated John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.

Leopold of Belgium and the Congo Atrocity

Centuries later, at the end of the 19th century, Leopold was also responsible for genocide on a scale comparable to the Nazis in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo. He’d acquired the area as his own personal property, and decided to exploit his new territory through rubber production. He set up his own, private police force, the Force Publique, and forced the indigenous peoples to cultivate and produce it. The indigenous Congolese were given quotas, and if they failed to produce the set amount of rubber, they were beaten, mutilated and killed by the thugs of his private police. Tony Greenstein in an article he has published on his blog a few days ago estimates the number of killed at 10 million. I don’t know if that’s the generally accepted number, as it seems he prefers the upper end of the estimates of European genocide. But it wouldn’t have been far off. There’s a very good popular book on slavery produced by Buffalo Books. I think it’s called just Slavery, and covers all of its forms, including the infamous Coolie Trade in Indian indentured migrants and the enslavement of Pacific Islanders to serve on the plantations of Fiji and Queensland. This also covers the Congo atrocity. It’s profusely illustrated with contemporary pictures, cartoons and photographs. I came across the book when a copy was given to the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, where I was doing voluntary work cataloguing the Museum’s holdings on slavery. One of the photographs was of a Congolese man forlornly looking at his severed feet. Slavery is an horrific subject, and there were a number of very graphic illustrations. But that was one that definitely made me feel ill.

The horror stopped because of the public outcry created by its exposure by several brilliant, crusading European and American journos. The Belgian government took it out of Leopold’s hands and turned it into a state colony. For many years the whole subject was something most Belgians wished to forget. However, in the late 1990s or early part of this century, Belgium began reexamining its relationship with its colonial past. There was an exhibition at the country’s national museum around the exhibits from the Congo. This included new works from contemporary artists and performers about the exhibits and the issues they raised.

Conclusion

For most ordinary people, at least in Britain, the attacks on these statues are astonishing. They’re yet another example of the violent iconoclasm and assault on history and White identity of the BLM movement. I doubt many people in Britain know enough about Leopold and his personal crimes against humanity to care what happens to his statue. But there are good reasons why Blacks, the American First Nations and their sympathisers should hate these statues and want their removal. Columbus and Leopold were monsters, and like Colston brought suffering to unimaginable millions. The attacks are shocking because we aren’t taught about the consequences of the European conquests in school history, although it is certainly not hidden or covered up. You can read about the Spanish conquests and the genocide of the Amerindians in books on South American history, as well as the classic treatment of the dispossession and genocide of the North American peoples, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

It’s why the BLM and Black and Asian activists are justified in calls for the dark side of British and European imperialism to be taught in history.

 

Boris Isn’t Churchill, He’s Neville Chamberlain

May 21, 2020

Okay, it’s finally happened. I think people have been expecting this, but were hoping that somehow it wouldn’t come true. But it has. Mike today has put up a piece reporting that the death toll from the Coronavirus has hit 62,000. 51,000 people are known to have died, according to some of the people, whose tweets about this tragedy Mike has reproduced in his article. That’s more than those killed during the Blitz.

How do I feel about this? Absolutely furious and bitterly ashamed. Britain is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, but we now have the second worst death rate from this foul disease in the world. And it can all be put down to our leaders’ incompetence, their doctrinaire pursuit of neoliberalism and private industry at the expense of the res publica, the commonweal, the public good. And their willingness to sacrifice the health, safety and lives of the great British people for the sake of their corporate profits and the narrow interests of their own class.

Mike, Zelo Street and a host of other left-wing bloggers and activists have published article after article minute describing the Tories’ culpable negligence. They were warned in advance by scientists and medical experts that a fresh pandemic was coming sometime. As you know, I despise New Labour, but Blair, Brown and the rest nevertheless took the threat seriously. They prepared for it, setting up appropriate government and NHS departments. What did the Tories do? Shelve all these plans, because they were committed to austerity and they didn’t think the money spent on these precautions were worth it. 2016 the government wargamed a flu pandemic, and this pointed out all the problems we’ve subsequently experienced with the Coronavirus. And what happened after that? Zilch. For the same reasons the plans were shelved and weren’t updated and the specialist departments closed down.

And the Tories’ commitment to austerity also meant they prevented the NHS from being adequately prepared for the outbreak. It had too few intensive care beds, the supplies of PPE were too small, and underlying it is the plain fact that the NHS has been criminally starved of proper funding for years. Because, for all that they’re praising it now, the Tories are desperate to sell it off and have a private healthcare system like the one that works in America. You know, the one country that now has a worse death toll than ours.

Austerity has also exacerbated the impact of the disease in another way. It hits the poor the hardest. Which is unsurprising – the poor often suffer worse from disease, because they don’t have such good diets, jobs, housing and living conditions as the rich. In this case, poorer people do jobs that bring them more into contact with others, which leaves them more exposed to infection. I really am not surprised, therefore, that Blacks and Asians are therefore far more likely than Whites to contract Covid-19. There are other factors involved, of course – ethnic minorities as a rule tend to live far more in multigenerational households than Whites, which increases the risk of infection. But Blacks and some ethnic groups also tend to do the worse, most poorly paid jobs and that’s also going to leave them vulnerable.

And Boris is personally responsible for this debacle. He was warned in November that the Coronavirus was a threat and January and February of this years the scientists were telling him to put the country into lockdown. But he didn’t. He was too preoccupied with ‘getting Brexit done’. He also didn’t want to put this country into lockdown, because it would harm the economy, which meant that the big businesses that donate to him and his scummy party would take a hit. And he and Dominic Cummings and certain others also subscribe to the Social Darwinist view that the disease should be allowed to take its toll on the weakest, because they were useless eaters holding back all the biologically superior rich businessmen the party idolizes. It was a simply just culling the herd, nothing to worry about. And apart from that, Boris was just personally too damn idle. He doesn’t like to read his briefs, he didn’t turn up to the first five meetings of Cobra, and rather than working shot off back home at the weekends. And he was also far too interested in pursuing his relationship with his latest partner.

Johnson fancies himself as Winston Churchill. A few years ago he published a book about the great War Leader, that was so execrable it was torn to shreds by John Newsinger over at Lobster. In this, the Blonde Buffoon resembles Jim Hacker from the Beeb’s comedy series, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. Whenever Hacker had some grand idea that would raise him or his administration above mediocrity, he’d start posing and speaking like Churchill. Boris hasn’t quite done that, or at least, not in public. But he certainly shares Hacker’s vanity in this respect.

But he isn’t Churchill. He’s Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain. Churchill hated Nazi Germany and was determined to destroy it. Chamberlain, on the other hand, wanted to avoid war. Hence he came back from Munich waving a worthless piece of paper, which he proclaimed as ‘peace in our time’. He was thus absolutely unprepared for Hitler’s invasion of Poland. But the Tories got rid of him, and replaced him with Churchill.

Johnson was unprepared for the Coronavirus. He should have been removed long ago and replaced with someone, who could do something about it. But that would mean replacing the entire Tory party, as none of the Prime Ministers since Brown have been serious about preparing for this threat.

And thanks to them, more people have now died than in the Blitz.

What an under, damnable disgrace!

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/20/uk-coronavirus-deaths-hit-62000-no-wonder-johnson-only-appears-for-pmqs/

 

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Four

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Conclusion

While this a great book I immensely enjoyed, it also very much the product of its time. Shaw is unrealistic and more than a little sectarian himself in his advocacy of the equalization of incomes. He regards it as the real, fundamental goal of socialism and that unless they too believe in it, others advocating nationalisation aren’t real socialists. But the Soviets and various other socialist groups have tried the equalisation of incomes, and it didn’t work. But nevertheless, even if wages shouldn’t be exactly the same, the differences in wealth should very definitely be far less than they are now.

Similarly, I don’t entirely agree with his views on the unions. Now other socialists also struggled with the problems they posed for working class power. Trade unions by themselves aren’t socialist organisations. Their role is to fight for better wages and conditions for the workers, not to replace capitalism, and Lenin himself pondered how workers could go from ‘trade union consciousness’ to socialism. In the 1980s it was found that trade unionists often voted Tory, because of the improved quality of life they enjoyed. But the unions are nevertheless vital working class organisations and are rightly at the heart of the Labour party, and have provided countless working class leaders and politicians.

Shaw was right about the coal mines, and his description of the results of the great differences in viability between them and the comparative poverty or wealth of the mining companies was one of the reasons they were nationalised by Labour under Clement Attlee.  He’s also right about nationalising the banks. They don’t provide proper loans for the small businessman, and their financial shenanigans have resulted, as Shaw noted in his own day, in colossal crashes like that of 2008. He is also right about the rich sending their money abroad rather than contributing to the British economy. In his time it was due to imperialism, and there is still a hangover from this in that the London financial sector is still geared to overseas rather than domestic investment. It’s why Neil Kinnock advocated the establishment of a British investment bank in 1987. Now, in the early 21st century, they’re also saving their money in offshore tax havens, and British manufacturers have been undercut and ruined through free trade carried out in the name of globalisation.

His arguments about not nationalising industries before everything has been properly prepared, and the failures of general strikes and revolutions are good and commonsense. So is his recommendation that capitalism can drive innovation. On the other hand, it frequently doesn’t and expects the state to bail it out or support it before it does. I also agreed with Shaw when he said that companies asking for government subsidies shouldn’t get them unless the gave the government a part share in them. That would solve a lot of problems, especially with the outsourcing companies. They should be either nationalised or abolished.

I can’t recommend the book without qualifications because of his anti-religious views. Shaw also shows himself something of a crank when it comes to vaccination. As well as being a vegetarian and anti-vivisectionist, which aren’t now anywhere near as remarkable as they once were, he’s against vaccination. There are parts of the book which are just anti-vaxxer rants, where he attacks the medical profession as some kind of pseudo-scientific priesthood with sneers at the religion of Jenner. He clearly believes that vaccination is the cause of disease, instead of its prevention. I don’t know if some of the primitive vaccinations used in his time caused disease and death, but it is clear that their absence now certainly can. Children and adults should be vaccinated because the dangers of disease are far, far worse.

Shaw also has an unsentimental view of the poor. He doesn’t idealise them, as poor, ill-used people can be terrible themselves, which is why poverty itself needs to be eradicated. In his peroration he says he looks forward to the poor being exterminated along with the rich, although he has a little more sympathy for them. He then denies he is a misanthrope, and goes on to explain how he likes people, and really wants to see people growing up in a new, better, classless socialist future.

While I have strong reservations about the book, it is still well-worth reading, not least because of Shaw’s witty turns of phrase and ability to lampoon of capitalism’s flagrant absurdities. While I strongly reject his anti-religious views, his socialist ideas, with a few qualifications, still hold force. I wish there were more classic books on socialism like this in print, and widely available so that everyone can read them.

Because today’s capitalism is very much like the predatory capitalism of Shaw’s age, and becoming more so all the time.

 

 

 

Shaw on Imperialism: Exploitation Abroad, Poverty and Unemployment at Home

May 13, 2020

As I may have already said, I’ve been reading George Bernard Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism. It’s a brilliant book, in which the great Fabian playwright attacks and exposes the contradictions, flaws, poverty and inequality in capitalism and argues for a gradual, socialist transformation of society through nationalisation and the equalisation of incomes. Although it was written between 1924 and 1928 some of the topics Shaw covers are still acutely relevant. He argues for the nationalisation of the banks because private bankers have caused massive financial problems and concentrate so much on big business that small businessmen and women suffer through lack of funds. He also shows how the extremely wealthy should have their incomes reduced, because instead of doing anything genuinely productive with their money they simply hoard it. And that means sending it overseas. This is an acute problem now, with the super-rich hoarding their money unspent in offshore tax havens, instead of properly paying their fair share to build up the country’s health service and infrastructure.

Shaw is also acutely critical of imperialism for the same reason. He is not against imperialism per se. Indeed, he states that it would be admirable if we really had taken over the different lands of the empire for the benefit of the indigenous peoples. But we hadn’t. We’d taken them over purely for the enrichment of the capitalists through the exploitation of their non-White inhabitants.

The process, according to Shaw, began with the arrival of a single British trading ship. This was fine on its own, but others also arrived. Soon a trading post was set up, and then the merchants behind the trade demanded the entire country’s annexation. Capitalism preferred to fund socially destructive enterprises, like gin, rather than the socially useful, like lighthouses, which had to be set up and managed by the government. The market for gin had been saturated, and so the capitalists had proceeded to look abroad for more profits for the gin trade. And once a country was conquered and incorporated into the empire, its Black inhabitants were forced into commercial labour unprotected by legislation, like the Factory Acts, that protected British workers.

These overworked, underpaid, exploited colonial workers were able to produce goods that undercut those of domestic, British manufacturers. As a result, British businesses were going bankrupt and British workers laid off, except for those in the service industries for the extremely wealthy. The great mill and factory towns of the north and midlands were declining in favour of places for the genteel rich, like Bournemouth.

Ordinary working people couldn’t starve, as the capitalist class had grudgingly allowed the establishment of the dole following the mass unemployment that followed the First World War. But there weren’t any jobs for them. This was why the British government was encouraging them to emigrate, promising to pay £12 of the £15 fare to Australia if the worker would provide £3 him- or herself.

Now Shaw’s description of the foundation and expansion of the empire is obviously over-simplified, but nevertheless contains more than a grain of truth. Both Fiji and New Zealand were annexed because they had suffered an influx of White settlers through trading ships. The people arguing for their annexation, however, did so because they were opposed to the indigenous peoples’ exploitation. The White settlers in Fiji were aiming to set up a government for Whites with an indigenous king, Cakobau, as puppet ruler to give it a spurious legitimacy. More enlightened colonists therefore persuaded Cadobau and his government to approach Britain and ask for annexation in order to prevent the dispossession and enslavement of indigenous Fijians. In New Zealand the request for annexation was made by Christian ministers, who were afraid that the country would be conquered for Roman Catholicism by France on the one hand, and that the whalers and other traders who had already settled there would destroy and exploit the Maoris through alcohol, prostitution and guns.

And the enslavement and exploitation of the indigenous peoples certainly occurred. Apart from enslavement and dispossession of the Amerindians and then Black Africans in the first phase of British imperialism from the 17th century to the end of the 18th, when the British empire expanded again from the early 19th century onward, it frequently did so under the pretext of destroying the slave trade. However, once we were in possession of those territories, indigenous slavery was frequently tolerated. Moreover, British colonists often used forced labour to build up their plantations and businesses. This occurred around about the time Shaw was writing in Malawi. When slavery was outlawed in the British empire in 1837, the planters replaced it with nominally free indentured Indian labourers, who were worked in conditions so atrocious in the notorious ‘coolie trade’ that it was denounced as ‘a new system of slavery’.

The British government had also been encouraging its poor and unemployed to emigrate to its colonies as well as the US in what historians call social imperialism from about the 1870s onwards.

Reading this passage, however, it struck me that the situation has changed somewhat in the last 90 or so years. Britain is no longer exporting its surplus labour. All the countries around the world now have strict policies regarding emigration, and the developed, White majority countries of Canada, New Zealand and Australia are busy taking in migrants from the developing world, like Britain and the rest of the West.

But the super rich have found a way to surreptitiously go back on their early policy of providing welfare benefits for the unemployed. Through the wretched welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and other Tory scumbags, they’ve torn holes in the welfare safety net with benefit sanctions, fitness to work tests and a five week waiting period. The result is that the unemployed and disabled are starving to death. And those that aren’t are frequently prevented from doing so only through food banks and private charity. This has been changed somewhat with the expansion of welfare payments for workers on furlough and food packages for the vulnerable during the lockdown, but this is intended only to be a temporary measure.

I can remember when globalisation first began in the 1990s. It was supposed to lead to a new era of peace and prosperity as capital moved from country to country to invest in businesses across the globe. But the result for Britain has been mass unemployment. And while developing nations like India have massively profited, it has been at the expense of their own working people, who are now labouring for lower pay and in worse conditions than ever.

The empire has gone to be replaced by the commonwealth. But what Shaw said about it and the exploitation and poverty it caused is true of today’s neoliberal global economy.

Except instead of encouraging emigration, the Tories and the rich have found ways to starve to death Britain’s surplus workers.

Angela Rayner Urges People to Join A Union

May 12, 2020

This morning I, along with countless thousands of other Labour party members, got an email from Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner. I have to say that I didn’t vote for her in the leadership elections – I voted for Richard Burgon instead as a left-wing, genuinely Labour candidate. But Rayner’s message is one that I can totally get behind. She was urging me, and others like me, to join a union. She wrote

(L)ast night I sat shocked on my sofa as Boris Johnson spoke to our country.

Workers who can’t work from home were encouraged to go back to work – but given no guidance on how to stay safe.

Millions of jobs are impossible to do while 2 metres apart. Millions of us have been given no protective equipment. But David, we don’t have to sit on our sofas and take this.

When I was a care worker on a zero hour contract and poverty pay, I joined a trade union. With my union, alongside my work mates, I won better working conditions. Labour MPs will always fight for workers’ interests, and you can do the same by joining a union. Are you a trade union member?

This crisis has proved the strength of workers when we unite – whether you’re a construction worker or a care giver. It’s proved the power of having a trade union membership card in your pocket.

Trade unions fought for and won the furlough scheme. It’s trade unions who are making sure thousands of workers don’t get laid off during this crisis. In retail, healthcare, catering, building and beyond, union representatives are sorting safety measures like protective equipment, hand washing facilities and enough space to social distance. ​But we can’t rest until every worker does their job in safe and fair conditions.

The Labour Party was founded when working people came together to win. As one movement, we won a 5 day week, equal pay for women and a minimum wage. Together, we will win again.

Angela Rayner

Deputy Leader and Chair of The Labour Party

The question ‘Are you a trade union member?’ was followed by two answers,  ‘No, tell me how’ and ‘Yes – give me advice’. These were linked to the relevant TUC pages. The ‘No’ answer takes you to the TUC page on joining at union at

https://www.tuc.org.uk/join-union?source=20200511_UnionLab&subsource=bsd_email&utm_campaign=UnionLab&utm_medium=email&utm_source=bsd

This doesn’t apply to me, as I’m still off work because of the cancer treatment. But it very much applies to everyone fortunate to be employed. Whatever side of the Labour party you’re on, whether you’re left, right, centre or undecided, if you’re a working person you need to join a union. The unions have been there since the late 18th century, when they first appeared in the industrial north, to defend working people’s rights at work and fight for higher wages and better conditions.  The wage freezes and declining working conditions that have produced poverty, job insecurity and starvation in this country are a result of over four decades of right-wing governments doing their best to destroy the unions. And the situation for all too many millions is desperate.

We need to give working people back prosperity, job security and dignity, and that means strong unions. And they can only be made strong by people joining them.

So I urge everyone who can to join a union, because working people need their protection.

Private Eye on the Problems of the Government’s Medical Central Purchasing Company

May 7, 2020

Mike’s article about the government’s privatisation and centralisation of the purchasing of PPE and other essential medical equipment for combating the Coronavirus follows a report in last fortnight’s Private Eye for 21st April – 7th May 2020 about the problems besetting the state-owned company the Tories had set up to do this. Centralising the purchase of PPE was supposed to lead to massive NHS savings. However, according to the Eye it has led instead only to its chiefs awarding themselves massive salaries, and staff shortages and poor pay at the bottom. The article on page 10, ‘SKIMPING OUTFITS’ runs

The government-owned company struggling to supply masks, gloves, aprons and eye protection to hospitals and GPS was set up explicitly to reduce spending on NHS supplies.

Supply Chain Coordination LTD (SCCL) has been in charge of procuring NHS supplies and the warehouses and lorries getting PPE out to the NHS since April 2018. The government argued that one centralised buying system would “generate savings of £2.4bn over a five-year period” through “efficiency”. In fact it has led to big salaries at the top and lower pay and staff shortages at the bottom.

SCCL was set up as a government-owned company in response to the Carter review of NHS productivity. Lord (Patrick) Carter argued that too many NHS trusts buying their own kit was inefficient and the government could “rationalise the procurement landscape, reduce spend and consolidate purchasing power”. Jin Sahota was brought in as SCCL chief executive from French media firm Technicolor on £230,000 a year, after the government allowed higher salaries for “commercial staff”. I’ll be absolutely blunt”, he told Civil Service World last year, “If the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me.”

In May 2019, Rob Houghton, former Post Office chief information officer, was made SCCL’s “IT focused” director. As the last Eye’s special report on the Post Office’s Horizon IT scandal noted, in 2016 Houghton launched a review into the malfunctioning system, which was mysteriously abandoned. The courts later found that a matter of “great concern”.

SCCL manages procurement of NHS bulk supplies and contracts distribution of NHS essentials through a five-year, £730m deal signed in 2018 with UK logistics firm Unipart, which runs the NHS warehouses and lorry deliveries. In September 2018, Steve Barclay (then a health minister, now at the Treasury) said the SCCL/ Unipart deal was “streamlining” the NHS.

Meanwhile, £500m is being taken from NHS trusts to fund the new system and “incentivise” trusts to use it. However, any “savings” delivered look more like penny-pinching than efficiency: in December, HGV and 7.5 tonne drivers on the SCCL/ Unipart contract had to threaten strike action to get decent sick pay and push their rate above an industry low of £10.24 an hour.

At the start of April, union Unite said warehouse staff were exhausted and struggling to keep up with demand. In a cuts-driven system, there was no slack to deal with the extra burden of a pandemic. The government’s solution was to send in the army to help in the warehouses. This has provided some relief – but once the immediate crisis passes, will it return to its ill-conceived “savings” plan?

It looks like Boris’ decision to privatise the purchasing process is a result of this company’s embarrassing failure. But Deloitte and co. aren’t going to fare much better, if at all. What’s at fault is the whole notion of centralisation itself. This was used to destroy local DHSS and inland revenue offices in the 1980s and 1990s, all in the name of efficiency. I don’t believe it made the process any more efficient. In fact, given the delays benefit claimants experienced in the processing of their claims, even before IDS’ stupid and murderously destructive Universal Credit was rolled out, it made it much, much worse.

It also won’t solve the problem of a poorly paid, overworked and demoralised staff working flat out for a grossly overpaid senior management. This is now general throughout business and what used to be the civil service. It’s how the outsourcing companies were able to generate their profits in the first place – they laid off staff in order to give their shareholders nice fat dividends and senior management nice fat salaries and bonuses.

What is causing the problems is the Tories’ decimation of the NHS across its services. As Mike and others have reported, other countries like Germany were able to respond more effectively to the pandemic because they had spare capacity in beds. But the Tories had removed that in the NHS in the name of efficiency.

It’s time these false economies were wound up. Purchasing should be handed back to NHS trusts, and the NHS and the rest of the civil service properly funded.

And the Tories and their obsession with centralisation, rationalisation, privatisation and rewarding overpaid, greedy managers and board chairmen thrown out of government.

Boris Johnson Postpones Paternity Leave – Who Advised Him Against It?

April 30, 2020

It seems that I was wrong. In the previous article, I claimed that Boris was planning to take paternity leave following the birth of his new baby. This would have meant that his time back at work following his stay in hospital with the Coronavirus would have been a grand three days. But now Boris has said that he plans to put it off until later.

Despite the polls showing that the majority of the British still somehow believe he is doing a good job, the trend is downward. More people are waking up the fact that Boris has done a terrible job of protecting the British people from the disease. Some of this is due to Boris’ sheer incompetence, his complacency in not seeing the virus as a threat, his making Brexit and the British economy a higher priority than human lives and ignoring medical advice calling for an immediate lockdown. But it’s also due to Johnson’s sheer idleness. He was not working all through the night working to defeat the virus, as his spin doctors insist. Rather he missed the first five Cobra meetings and preferred to go away for the weekend rather than work. And people know it.

Hence, Johnson’s decision to defer his leave until later in the year looks like one of his advisers had a quiet word and told him how bad it might look if he bunked off again. However, the two weeks’ leave must be taken within eight weeks of the baby’s birth. There’s no doubt that the crisis will still be going on by then, despite attempts to say or imply otherwise by people like the Torygraph and Tim Martin, CEO of Wetherspoons. On the other hand, as the maximum he would be paid if he took the leave is £302.40, he may well suddenly find reasons why he should stay on and work.

Was Johnson shamed into taking paternity leave ‘later in the year’?

 

Starmer’s and Rayner’s Zoom Discussion with Labour Members

April 27, 2020

Last Monday, 20th April 2020, I got an email update from the local constituency party here in south Bristol letting me and the other members know what was happening with the party. This included nationally as well as locally. This included the news that the previous Wednesday the new leader and deputy leader, Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, had held a meeting over Zoom with 10,000 party members, answering their questions. Those discussed included

• How do we hold the Tories to account – related to the deaths of frontline workers

• How do we unite the Party in the light of the leaked report

• Can the green new deal be used to help rebuild the post pandemic economy

• How can we encourage more women in leadership

• A question about schools, keyworkers, PPE and tracing/testing

• Asked if Labour Party could push on the gaps for support for workers e.g. recently formed small business

• What about nationalisation post pandemic

• How to we stop the frontline workers being relegated after the crisis

• How will we oppose austerity

I am no fan of Starmer. He’s a right-winger, and the indications are that he will attempt to undo the gains for the left made under Corbyn and return to the party to the Conservative policies of privatisation and dismantling the welfare state under Blair. But the questions indicate that many members are still serious about nationalisation, the Green New Deal and opposing austerity, as well as placing more women in positions of leadership, alongside immediate, life and death issues such as holding the Tories to account for the deaths of front line workers.

Unfortunately, Starmer’s and Rayner’s answers aren’t recorded, so I don’t know what they were or how they intended to tackle these issues. But at least those issues are still live.

Despite the Lockdown, Tories Still Enforcing Benefit Sanctions

April 23, 2020

Mike put this story up only a few a hours ago, and its disgusting. According to the DWP, their promise that there would not be any sanctions for three months during the Coronavirus emergency only meant that there wouldn’t be any new sanctions. If you’re already sanctioned, tough – those sanctions are still very much in place.

A young man in his early 20s, Ben, found this out the hard way according to the Mirror. He had been sanctioned earlier this year because he had not found work. He believed, however, the freeze would be lifted during the crisis, like the payment holiday for homeowners and the payments made to support employees furloughed. But this didn’t happen. After waiting a week to go shopping, he received a statement from the DWP’s online portal last Thursday that his family were entitled to a big, fat, round zero. He was directed to take out a hardship loan instead, which he would have to pay back if and when he was given benefit. Mike’s of the opinion that it’s the Tories’ plan to force him, and those like him, further into debt and hardship.

The DWP then issued its clarification to the Mirror, which stated that sanctions imposed before the freeze still continue to apply. As Mike points out, this means that people, who were led to believe that they would be helped in during the crisis, are left to fend for themselves with no money. And it’s especially harsh on the disabled, who may find it difficult coping with sanctions normally.

Fortunately, it has worked out well for Ben, as after the Mirror took up his case, the DWP reinstated his payments and gave him £1,600.

Benefit sanctions have NOT been suspended – as Universal Credit claimant found out the hard way

The Tories began replacing benefits with loans a long time ago. I think it began under John Major, when they set up the Social Fund in the DHSS as it then was. The previous system, I believe, included a series of grants that could be made to the unemployed to purchase necessities that they couldn’t afford. This was replaced by a system of loans. Some of those loans were to give claimants money to tide them over a certain period, for example if they had absolutely no money and still had to wait several days or a week for their benefit cheque. Others were for the desperately poor, who could not afford to buy certain necessities, like cookers. The system meant that those, who were already desperately poor, would be left with even less money if they were forced to take out these loans due to the repayments, which would be deducted from their benefits. Not everyone approved of the Social Fund system, and some Benefits Agency staff privately said that the previous grants system was better.

Since then, the Tories have expanded this scheme into a replacement for welfare, a policy the authors of The Violence of Austerity call ‘debtfare’. There’s an entire chapter on it, and how it is leaving people vulnerable to starvation and homelessness, as well as mental health problems from the stress of worrying about this danger and debt obligations.

But I think that’s the point. You degrade, humiliate and impoverish the poor, following Thatcher’s ‘Victorian value’ of less eligibility, so that they will do anything not to have to take up state aid. It also benefits the employers by giving them a cowed, fearful workforce, which will put up with poor wages, terrible conditions, few employment rights and insecure contracts, simply to avoid the humiliation and starvation inflicted by the DWP.

This crisis and the necessary lockdown have pushed many more Brits into poverty. We’ve already seen mass sackings, when some employers decided that rather than apply for the government’s payment of 80 per cent of their employees wages during the lockdown, they’d rather sack them instead. This would have surprised no-one, who actually knew how rapacious some business people can be. It did, however, shock the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This either shows how massively naive she is in some ways, with a very idealised notion of capitalism completely at odds with what it’s like for many people. Or it shows just how insulated she is as part of an extremely affluent, metropolitan media set. Way back when Cameron was inhabiting 10 Downing Street, it was revealed just how many leading members of the lamestream media lived in his home village of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. And while 80 per cent of people’s wages may sound generous, it means that those, who are paid far less than the living wage and who therefore find it a struggle to cope normally, are forced even further into poverty.

The many people made unemployed and forced to rely on jobseeker’s allowance will not have magically found work by the time the lockdown is lifted. They will still be faced by the sanctions system, so there will be even more people reliant on charity and food banks, and more people forced onto the streets. Perhaps Laura Kuenssberg will be astonished by that as well. The Tories won’t, as it’s what they’re aiming for. But they will hide it from the rest of us so people keep voting for them, deluded into believing that the ranks of the unemployed has magically come down through the invocation ‘market forces’ and ‘personal responsibility’.

The sanctions system is an abomination. It should be ended now, not merely given a rest during this crisis.