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Trade Union Congress 2012:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
Trade Union Congress 2012:
A Future That Works
The Working Class Must Set Out its Own Vision for the Future of Society
The Need to Oppose the Government Forcing the Issue of NHS Privatisation:
No to Private Monopoly Interests! Yes to the Right to Health Care!
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Trade Union Congress 2012:
“A Future That Works” is the theme of this year’s TUC Congress, taking place from September 9-12 in Brighton. Indeed, “Austerity and the alternative” is the heading of the first of the motions (P01) in the Preliminary Agenda for the Congress, submitted by Unite, in supporting the TUC’s “A Future that Works” campaign.
This year’s Congress, being held at the Brighton Centre, opens with an evening session on Sunday, September 9. This will run from 4pm - 7pm. Congress will meet from 9.30am - 5.30pm on Monday, September 10, and Tuesday, September 11. It will meet from 9.30am on Wednesday, September 12, and conclude no later than 4pm that day.
As well as focusing on the campaign “A Future That Works”, the motions are categorised in the Preliminary Agenda under the headings, “Organising and rights at work”, “Equal rights”, “Economic and industrial affairs”, “Global solidarity” and “Protecting people at work”.
Trade Union Congress 2012:
The 144th annual Trades Union Congress takes place this year from September 9-12 in Brighton. The Congress comes at a time that the organised workers’ movement is stepping up its resistance in many sectors and making preparations against the Coalition government's relentless austerity programme.
Austerity Programme Blocking the Progress of Society
The austerity programme is aimed at cutting the living standards of the vast majority of people in favour of servicing the massive profits of the big multinational corporations and the international financial institutions. No stone is being left unturned in the government's ruthless pursuit of paying the rich out of cuts in jobs, public services and other sectors, of forcing privatisation in health care, and overseeing financial usury on a massive scale.
On August 23, the Bank of England’s own report admitted that the £375 billion of “Quantitative Easing” given to banks and corporations by the Bank in exchange for “assets” – that is, government debt – over the last two years has, not unsurprisingly, largely ended up in the hands of the richest 5% whilst the rest of the population is suffering cut backs and drop in incomes. Thus, out of the Bank’s own mouth, QE is exposed as one more pay-the-rich scheme under the fraudulent guise of assisting the economy. As regards utilities, Ofgem, the energy regulator, said that the profit margins of energy companies were due to rise by almost 14 per cent in September which will further impoverish working people.
As the recession and economic crisis continues, commentators have made much of, and even expressed surprise at, the fact that the unemployment rate was 8.0 per cent of the economically active population, down 46,000 in this quarter. There were 2.56 million unemployed people. But this “downturn” belies the injustice that millions are without a livelihood in a modern society where a productive economy cannot sustain those who live and work in it. It also covers over the fact that long-term youth unemployment is still rising fast, with almost double that amongst national minorities. Part-time work for all workers has reached 8.07 million and the number of people who are working part-time only because they cannot find a full-time job also hit a new high of 1.42m. Adding insult to injury, young people, practically a whole generation, are being deprived of their right to a livelihood. Benefits are being cut, introducing a “conditionality framework” and concentrating on the combating of alleged fraud, instead of meeting the needs of those thrown out of work and guaranteeing payments of benefits and the right to a livelihood,. This has been underlined through the opposition to the notorious workfare schemes under which the unemployed and disabled are being dragooned as forced unpaid labour on pain of losing all benefits. Those affected even face a battle to claim the expenses of travelling to the site of their compulsory unpaid work, or lose all their benefits for six months if they fail to comply.
All such aspects of the Coalition’s agenda represent the rejection by the government of a responsibility for the public good, whether it be provision of health care, or welfare benefits, public services and pensions. Instead, the government is putting the state totally at the disposal of the rich and is enforcing the dictate of the monopolies, as well as handing over control of public services such as health care to private interests directly.
This is also at the centre of the agenda of the European Union of the monopolies, in which the Coalition government is an enthusiastic partner while attempting to maintain its own independent role. This agenda is increasingly taking the form of continent-wide executive power of monopoly interests in enforcing austerity on whole countries like Ireland, Spain and Greece, wrecking these nation states, their economies and their societies.
Working Class Vision for the Future of Society
Working people in many sectors are resisting and are actively working out how this deep crisis of capitalism can be resolved in their favour. The organised workers’ movement is making preparations to continue the fight for the alternative and to launch massive demonstrations on October 20 in London and Glasgow and “march for a future that works”.
The issue in the movement is not only resisting this austerity programme of the Coalition government but also fighting for the alternative and looking towards the future – in other words, the burning question is: what kind of society does the working class envision? With the theme of the TUC Congress being A Future That Works, following on from marching for the alternative last year, it is of crucial importance that the working class takes the opportunity to come to the fore and set out its vision for the future of society. This is not some utopian vision of socialism but a vision for a new society that begins from the concrete conditions of the working class, takes up for solution the issue of making its voice and its character effective, and on this basis charts a path to the future with its own thinking, agenda, outlook and independent politics. This is the space for change which has opened up.
The conditions are such that now everyone can see that the block to society and to all social progress is that society is more and more openly geared to paying rich at the expense of the rest of society. What these conditions are pointing towards is the necessity to uphold the dignity of labour and to enforce the claim that the working class and people have on the whole economy, opposing the interests of the monopolies in favour of programmes that serve the interests and rights of all in society.
In order to realise its vision, the working class cannot accept the role of spectator that the Westminster government is trying to impose on it. It must grasp the full significance of fighting for a future that works, consolidate and strengthen its own organisations on a modern basis, and develop its own independent political outlook. That entails building the trade union movement itself on the modern basis of involving and mobilising the class, the strengthening of the organisations of the workers through their conscious participation, fighting for security against all the austerity measures which only recognise monopoly right and not the rights of workers and their collectives, nor of the local communities, or the national economy.
The working class needs to participate in decision-making so that the agenda of the working class can be implemented. The participation of worker politicians in decision-making is necessary to set the stamp of the working class on the nation, standing against the dictate of the big parties in the service of monopoly interests.
Furthermore, the working class needs that kind of party of the class which is also built on the basis of participating in arriving at decisions in order to implement them, and which can facilitate the realisation of the alternative agenda and vision of the working class for the future and realise this in society. This is not a party that seeks power for itself as an electoral machine, as the old parties do, but a party that is organised in the class and for the class and represents all the advanced thinking, political culture, values and political skill of the working class as a class. It is a party that leads the political interventions of the working class to oppose systematically the power of big monopolies and big government and to empower worker politicians and the whole polity to run society.
This is the vision of the working class, with its own character, and its ability to determine its own destiny and to settle scores with the governments of the rich, and to put forward its own vision and method of democracy, which constitutes itself the nation, vests sovereignty in the people and inscribes on its banner the defence of the rights of all by virtue of being human.
WWIE is confident that the TUC Congress and its delegates can contribute to turning things around if they remain true to this historic vision of the working class and fight for its independent politics against the politics of austerity and monopoly right. The future lies with the working class, the vast majority of society, not with the rich and their system. Let us together occupy the space for change!
The Health and Social Care Act 2012, which in March was rail-roaded through Parliament in the face of unprecedented opposition from all sections of the people, has been the catalyst for the government to force the issue of privatisation of the NHS.
For instance, NHS Surrey has signed a contract with Richard Branson’s Virgin Care to manage community services in south west and north west Surrey in a contract worth £500 million and running to 2017, which also included some county-wide services such as prison healthcare and sexual health services. The services that Surrey's million-plus population access through their GPs, including community nursing, therapies, end of life care and sexual health screening, will now be provided by a private company. In a further announcement, Virgin Care has also been named as preferred bidder in a £130 million contract to run health and social care services for children in Devon. The deal will see Virgin take over about 1,100 staff employed by NHS Devon and Devon county council, which currently oversees about 2,400 children with disabilities, children's mental health services and school nurses and health visitors. In the face of the opposition from the people of Devon, the company tried to boast about its track record because, in 2010, Branson had bought 75% of Assura Medical with a £4m loan. The company, which was rebranded as Virgin Care this year, has expanded and now runs 120 NHS services mainly in the south, most notably GP practices. An investigation last year showed Virgin had links with 50% or more of the board members at three of the 52 first-wave GP commissioning groups that will purchase care on behalf of patients from next year.
These measures which are being forced through are based on the legislation put in place by the previous New Labour government to turn the Primary Care Trusts from NHS bodies that provided NHS community care into “world class commissioners” of health care buying NHS services from “any qualified provider”. This “purchaser/provider split” has increasingly been vigorously pursued since that time. Prior to the emergence of Virgin Care, a “social enterprise” made up of NHS staff had run the community services as a sort of half way house to full privatisation. In a response to an accusation that the Tory Health Act was to blame, a spokesperson for Virgin Care was prompted to say that the "privatisation" was not a consequence of the Coalition's Act but of the previous Labour government’s separation of the NHS's £10bn of community services from the bodies that commissioned care. The Virgin spokesperson failed to point out that it is with the present government’s Health and Social Care Act that the impatience of these global monopolies to accelerate the take over of the NHS is leading to open privatisation and wrecking of health care in Britain, and that Virgin is one of its prime movers.
The Health Minister is also using the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that changes his “responsibility to provide” to a responsibility only to “promote” a comprehensive service, in order to force through privatisation. This was highlighted when in June the Health Service Journal (HSJ) revealed that Andrew Lansley had used his powers to set up NHS Property Services, a brand new property company which will very soon have seized assets of £5,200,000,000. PropCo, as it is otherwise known, is now listed at Companies House as a stand-alone company. PropCo will take all surplus NHS land throughout England and pool it into one stand-alone company, namely itself. The government says that PropCo will receive no funding from the Department of Health and is expected to generate its own income by selling land, i.e. NHS land. Its property portfolio is due to expand quite rapidly in the coming years as it confiscates NHS land especially from PCTs that fail to convert to Foundation Trusts. Already 591 hectares of NHS land is up for sale to private developers, and this is expected to increase sharply. All Primary Care Trusts which are due to be abolished in 2013 are now legally required to hand over their surplus land to PropCo. The company will employ 2,500 staff and 22 of its employers will have income of £100,000 or above. The government have not ruled out selling PropCo to private investors. As it stands this would be the largest sell off of NHS land in the history of the state. Going forward, it is set to be the largest one off private sector takeover of the NHS since its formation.
The working class and people must become fully conscious of the need to develop their resistance and organisation against the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012. In the day to day battles and fight to build for an alternative future, what is being revealed is that in the neo-liberalisation of health care, the trajectory has been inexorably going the way of full privatisation. But now it is being done so openly. The Minister for Health is empowered by Labour's previous legislation to force the private takeover of Trusts, for example, and now by its own Act to simply seize NHS property for the private sector with impunity. This is the contemporary development, and this systematic attempt to deny the right of the people to health care is what must be opposed.
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