|Volume 46 Number 9, April 2, 2016||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Weekly On Line Newspaper of the
Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)
170, Wandsworth Road, London, SW8 2LA.
Phone: 020 7627 0599:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition Freely available online
Workers' Weekly E-mail Edition Subscribe by e-mail daily: Free / Donate
WW Internet RSS Feed
The Line of March Monthly Publication of RCPB(ML) Subscribe
The announcement of Tata Steel at the end of March that it was seeking a buyer for its steel plants in Wales, Scotland and England, and that it had rejected a turnaround plan for its Port Talbot site, was a further devastating blow to the steel industry in Britain. The fight is on to prevent this steel industry being wiped out altogether on the altar of imperialist “free trade”. Steel workers, with the support of many sections of working people, are rallying to this fight. They are becoming increasingly aware that “trade wars” bring nothing but disaster, and what is required to turn things around is the independent programme and action of the working class to bring about a human-centred economy from its present direction of serving monopoly right.
The fight to save the steel industry is in some ways reminiscent of the fight to safeguard the future of the health service. For many years the neo-liberal agenda has gained momentum. With the health service, successive governments have taken it through a series of watersheds which have been decried as the end of a health service serving the claims of the people for health care as of right. With the steel industry, its destruction, privatisation and abandonment began in earnest under Margaret Thatcher and Ian McGregor, with the mantras that the industry needed massive restructuring and cut-backs. Such was their success, the same team turned to the destruction of the coal industry. Since then there have been successive closures and take-overs in the steel industry, all under the banner of neo-liberal “free trade”, “commercial decision-making”, being “competitive in the global marketplace”, “globalisation” and the like.
Various unions and other voices on behalf of working people have called for nationalisation or temporary nationalisation of the steel industry, and the government has so far refused. This, of course, is of marked contrast to the government's treatment of the banks at the height of the 2008 financial crisis. Two views on the economy have never been more marked.
There is a need for steel in all sectors of the economy, but the government does no more than pay lip-service at best to this requirement. The neo-liberal outlook takes no cognisance of what a balanced economy serving the people's needs should be like. Nor does it pay heed to the dignity of labour and the life of communities. If an industry cannot compete, let it go to the wall, accompanied by many crocodile tears and assertions that the government is doing all it can. The conception of a national sovereign economy serving the people's needs is itself thrown on the scrap-heap. Nor does it matter in terms of the neo-liberal outlook and programme that the workers have continued to make concession after concession in the name of keeping the steel industry producing and “competitive”.
For decade after decade now, successive governments have been warned of the damage to the economies of Wales, Scotland and of Britain as a whole with the decimation of the steel industry. At the time of Thatcher, there was still the British Steel Corporation when Ian McGregor was appointed in 1980 as its chair. In the hey-day of the social welfare state, the British Steel Corporation had brought into state ownership 90% of British steel-making in 1967. Under McGregor, the industry was “restructured” and then privatised in order, it was claimed, for the industry to survive, and the workforce was more than halved from 268,500 to 130,000. This was not without a bitter battle by the steelworkers who fought against the dismantling of the industry with a 13-week national strike.
The inexorable process of mergers, take-overs and closures proceeded with the merger of British Steel and Hoogovens in October 1999 to become Corus, at the time Europe's biggest steel company and the world's third largest steel producer. Yet this meant 10,000 steel workers in Britain losing their jobs in the name of “terrific cost savings in overhead costs, purchase, logistics and adjusted best practices”. But the results were plummeting stock market valuations, opposition from the steel workers to a pay-the-rich orientation and job losses and a drop in productivity.
In this context, it can be seen that to lay the blame for Tata's decision on the “dumping” of Chinese steel is completely misguided. If the steel industry were run to serve the needs of the economy, then the issue would not be to ascertain where the cheapest steel could be bought from. If international trade were conducted not on the basis of neo-liberal imperialist “free trade”, but from the motive of trade for mutual benefit and building a human-centred economy, then the cheapest steel on the international market would not be the decisive consideration. Nor would it be a question of imposing import tariffs, as if the economy could not be put under conscious control. Decisions are being taken on the steel industry in Britain which are not under the control of any public authority in this country. And the government claims it cannot intervene to rectify this situation. Decision-making must lie in the hands of a public authority here, whether that is for Wales, Scotland or the economy of Britain as a whole, and not in the hands of the monopolies of the European Union or anywhere else.
In terms of international trade, the alternative lies in affirming the sovereignty of each state's public authority over the direction of its economy and society as a whole. On that basis, the people of each country can develop their co-operation and unity which expresses their interests and not that of the monopolies; on that basis sovereign peoples can develop their own institutions of international mutual benefit.
The workers' movement must reject the call to direct their anger against China, and direct it instead against the ruling elite in Britain who are absolving themselves of any responsibility for the steel industry or the health of the economy, or indeed public services. They are demonstrating that they could not care less about these considerations. In particular, they could not care less about the fate of working people with their decisions. What matters to them is what is termed “commercial viability”, obtaining the cheapest deals, worming their way into opportunities in the world market, and so on. And what has this outlook demonstrated since 1980? The complete wrecking of the economy, disregard of the claims of working people and unravelling of the social fabric. Particularly obnoxious in this respect are the chauvinist claims that the government is being dictated to by foreign interests, when the issue is actually that it is refusing to build a sovereign economy at home. Let working people here decide the direction of the steel industry and the economy as a whole, and let them give support to other countries making their own decisions and building their own sovereign economies! How many economies has Britain itself wrecked with its colonial and neo-colonial projects and its imperialist free trade! The “freedoms” it claims, for instance the “free movement of capital, goods, services and labour” are not to create jobs, spur investment and promote economic growth as neo-liberalism asserts, but to preserve the dominance of the global monopolies and the financial oligarchy.
Of concern also to the steel-workers is the talk about the “pension liabilities”, which means that the government puts the rightful claims of the workers to their pensions to the bottom of its concerns. Business Secretary Sajid Javid has said that the government rules out taking responsibility for the workers' pensions, and the contravention of EU law has been cited as the reason. Indeed, EU competition law is firmly against any restructuring or rescue packages from governments that are aimed to support companies facing financial difficulties or collapse.
It is becoming increasingly glaring that the campaign to Save Our Steel means that the working class has to take an alternative, independent stand on these matters. Workers must not get into these squabbles for instance about whether Chinese steel or EU steel is better or is the cause of undermining the steel industry here. Workers must take the stand that what is required are sovereign economies, and a steel industry that serves the socialised economy. There are many projects, such as rail and construction which require a thriving steel industry. The government is and has been refusing to make the emergency and long-term investments which the industry needs. The working class must draw the conclusion that the social economy must be brought under the control of those who live, work and produce for it if it is going to be capable of uninterrupted extended reproduction, where more is put into the economy than is taken out and the people's wellbeing is put as the motive force of the economy.
A new direction is needed for the economy with a thriving steel industry at its centre. Public control is needed over the steel industry, control by the actual producers. The Workers' Opposition must fight for and create public opinion for this new direction. The working class as a whole must reject the neo-liberal agenda and take the stand that their fate is in their own hands.
For a New Direction for the Economy!
1“Tata Steel Europe”, Wikipedia
It is asserted that an entity like the EU is a necessary free trade arrangement in order to efficiently distribute human and material resources so as to increase the competitiveness of its member states. However, so-called free trade is trade under the domination of the most powerful monopolies centred in the big powers. Under their control, international trade serves both their particular private empire-building interests and the geopolitical aims of those powers. International trade has grown into far more than a purely economic relation: it has become a weapon wielded by the big powers, both in collusion to maintain the imperialist system of states under their domination, and against one another, in mutual competition.
The reality of "free trade" is freedom only for the most powerful monopolies and states. This freedom is enforced over others via international agreements, trade blocs and other arrangements, and any opposition is met with blockades and sanctions through to war and regime change, and other violations of sovereignty. At the same time, rivalry between the big powers manifests itself as national chauvinism and contains the real danger of open conflict and warfare between these powers.
The EU provides a single large territory where the most powerful monopolies based in the big European powers have unrestricted monopoly right within the borders of the Union and have a power base from which to control international trade in contention with monopolies centred in other world powers, particularly North America centred on the US. The EU also provides a geopolitical entity from which agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) can be made with other powers that give these monopolies unrestricted access across whole swathes of the globe.
The brutal treatment of countries such as Greece, particularly over the past year, has shown very starkly how monopolised global trade and big power geopolitics directly confront the public desire for control over the economy and its direction. This desire, expressed in the courageous Oxi (No) vote in the Greek referendum in opposition to the devastating measures imposed by the EU at that time, which was answered by harsh punishment, is the desire for an alternative to austerity and for defence of public right over monopoly right. In the case of countries such as Greece in particular, this desire relates to the need to build diverse self-reliant national economies as opposed to nation-wrecking, sovereignty as opposed to outright annexation. In general, it is the desire for the people to have a say over their own destiny.
For these countries, sovereignty against the hegemony of the global monopolies and the geopolitics of the big powers is a life and death issue, posing the necessity to develop an economy and politics free from this control and exploitation. Any hint of such independence from the Europe of the monopolies cannot be permitted. This presents the problem of withdrawal from the imperialist system of states, where any trade with the big powers is conducted with strict safeguards in place to defend their sovereign economies.
The wrecking of the national economies and infrastructure of these countries has reached such a degree, along with political destabilisation, that the free movement of labour has become forced movement whereby whole sections of the population, particularly the younger sections, are leaving their homelands in search of employment and stability, creating huge diasporas in the case of some nations.
A country such as Britain, on the other hand, is itself a big power with its own empire-building plans relating to Europe and the world. It wields the geopolitical weapon of international trade itself, not only in collusion with the other big powers, particularly the US and the European powers, but also in competition with them. British monopoly capital is divided on where best to position itself, with conflicting interests between the monopolies that are based in and operate within Britain itself. The official Remain campaign in the referendum on EU membership and the version of the Leave campaign being promoted reflect these divisions. Both are characterised by British national chauvinism and an imperialist outlook, employing hysteria and fear to disinform the population.
For the desire for an alternative and for a say over the matters that affect people's lives to be realised means an alternative to the EU of the monopolies and other such "free trade" arrangements. This means sovereignty and decision-making power being vested in the people over the local economy, so as to develop a diverse, self-reliant economy in the service of the public interest. This creates the conditions for trade relations on a new basis to be formed with other such sovereign local economies for the mutual benefit of each trading partner.
A key battle-ground in monopoly control over international trade versus international trade between free and equal partners for mutual benefit is the determination of prices of traded goods.
The prevalent dogma that the prices of internationally-traded goods are simply determined by supply and demand ignores various factors relating to monopoly control of market prices. The most powerful monopolies influence both supply and demand through their control over production, determining what gets produced, how much and what raw materials are required. Through large financial institutions and rich hedge funds, they intervene in the markets both to speculate or to manipulate prices directly. Free trade agreements increase their scope to operate and eliminate competition. For example, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) being introduced through TTIP allows a corporation to sue a government for any action that may limit its profits.
Further distortion of price arises from the hegemony over international trade enjoyed by the US dollar, which functions as a means to extract tribute from the global economy. The Euro and other fiat currencies including the pound have aspired to gain this dominant position in contention with the US dollar.
Without such manipulation and distortion, prices of traded goods would reflect their value of production (comprising existing value of materials and instruments transferred by the production process and newly-produced value claimed by workers, owners of capital and governments). From such a starting-point, mutually beneficial bilateral trade would be possible at a price determined by the values of production in the two trading countries, which would account for their different conditions and eliminate the use of a third party's currency, be that the US dollar, Euro, pound or any other currency. Such arrangements would be an important precondition to popular sovereign control rather than monopoly control over international trade.
This article makes use of "International Trade as a
Geopolitical Weapon of the Big Powers", K.C. Adams, TML Weekly
Information Project, February 27, 2016 - No. 9
Over recent weeks Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck in Northumberland, and Labour's Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society has been subject to a high level campaign of specious allegations aimed at discrediting him and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) (Northumberland Area) for “profiting” from the mining community. There is nothing in these allegations that in any way prove that Ian Lavery has “profited” from the mining community other than receiving the payments he was entitled to under NUM terms and conditions. But what is most detestable and patronising is the message that these allegations are giving to the working class mining communities of Northumberland that they do not have the right to have a highly professional organised trade union working for them now that their mines have been closed. Of course it is also hypocritical in that those that closed down the livelihood of the miners have the protection of the state and the vast profits expropriated from the labour of the mining communities. Whilst on the other hand they expect the ex-miners, their families and their communities to exist without their professional unions and to be left to fend for themselves and at the mercy of further assaults on their livelihood and communities by the rich and their government.
This campaign is similar to the campaign that has been conducted against the Durham Miners Association for a number of years. Its aim is to discredit the resistance and organisation of the NUM and its leaders in the face of unprecedented difficulties they face in organising when thousands of miners were thrown out of work and the paid membership of the NUM plummeted. It is the same situation now being faced by steel workers and public service workers who are being thrown out of work in their tens of thousands. Such a campaign also has to be be seen in the whole context of the attacks going on in the working class movement, including the imposition of the Trade Union Bill to attack them and to leave workers without the means to resist and the right to organise. It is also aimed at sabotaging the gains made in breaking the mould of the pro-austerity consensus in Parliament with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party and Ian Lavery as the Shadow Minister for Trade unions and Civil Society and a leading opponent of the government's Trade Union Bill and its anti-social agenda.
These allegations against Ian Lavery and the NUM Northumberland Area have been made by sections of the press and some in the Labour Party. The Sunday Times claimed to have examined the financial records of the Northumberland Branch of the NUM for the period from 1996 to 2010, when Ian Lavery was its general secretary. This seems to clearly indicate the aim to pinpoint their smear campaign against Ian Lavery. They then set out publicly to assert that the NUM was a bad union and to allege that Ian Lavery and the union had profited from compensation paid to sick and injured miners. They claimed that NUM had “profited” from “£1.6 million....payments and loan write-offs were made by a tiny union made rather wealthy from the compensation paid to coal miners who suffered from chronic illness.” Yet they failed to reveal the real facts that followed the closure of the mines in Northumberland, Durham and elsewhere, where thousands of miners were thrown out of work, no longer able to pay union dues. The union carried on representing them by asking for voluntary contributions from compensation claims that they won along with the union's solicitors. This is one of the ways ex-miners and their families have managed to maintain a highly professional and dedicated trade union following the decimation of their industry.
Ian Lavery, who was also National President of the NUM from 2002-2010, defended his actions and the actions of the NUM when he said: “We represented tens of thousands of former miners and succeeded in bringing in tens of millions of pounds in compensation and reduced earnings allowances. That has been a lifeline for these former miners and their families. That £1.6 million was received is both testament to the generosity and comradeship of those in the community, but also to the work of the union which brought tens of thousands of successful claims.”
“The recent attacks in the media have failed to represent the work that I am proud as a full time official to have played a part in. The biggest criticism would appear to be the fact the NUM employed its officials on excellent wages, terms and conditions. This is something the union fought for all of its existence and something that we can rightly be proud of. My wages, terms and conditions were set according to union agreements and I was privileged to be well paid for a job I loved.”
Nationally, the compensation scheme for conditions such as pneumoconiosis and vibration white finger had paid out £4.1 billion by 2010 and a lot of that is down to the persistence of NUM officials like Ian Lavery1. Without setting out and fighting test cases in which the NUM risked millions of pounds none of these compensation claims could have been won. In other words, this is the issue that is sticking in the throat of those that want to discredit Ian Lavery and the NUM. With the increasing destruction of manufacturing industries, such as steel as well as also the increasing closure of public services the ruling elite cannot stomach the fact that people will continue to resist and organise in their trade unions and professionalise them so that they can take on the the British state and the anti-social measures of the British government with its pro-austerity agenda.
What is hated by the ruling elite is the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers, in Durham, in Northumberland, in Yorkshire, and elsewhere has done precisely that and maintained highly professional organisations which continue to fight them tooth and nail not only in the courts and tribunals but continue to organise huge political manifestations of the workers such as in the Durham Miners Gala and Big Meeting. And in continuing to fight for the interests of the mining communities and in defending their interests and traditions they are also inspiring future generations of workers to fight for and defend the rights of all.
WWIE calls on the working class and people to add their voices against this vindictive campaign against Ian Lavery and on the NUM. The issue is not to be blown off course by such smears whose aim is to sow doubt, cause divisions and deflect everyone from fighting for what is theirs by right. The organised resistance in the ex-mining communities and in the whole working class must continue to be strengthened. We call on everyone to go all out to ensure that the fraudulent, anti-worker and anti-social “austerity” programme of the government is defeated.
RCPB(ML) Home Page
Workers' Weekly Online Archive