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An Election Issue - Investment in Social Programmes:
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
10th Anniversary of the Vestas Dispute
Struggles in this Election Period
An Election Issue - Investment in Social Programmes:
This week, starting on Sunday, November 10, the BBC as well as other media are reporting that a "spending row" has erupted over investing in the NHS, other social programmes and the public sector as a whole. In fact the row stems from the Conservatives' claim that "Labour's policies would cost £1.2 trillion over the course of the next five years", if the party wins next month's general election. Chancellor Sajid Javid has also continued to attack Labour over "reckless" spending plans and "hiking up taxes". For his part, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell condemned the report as "fake news" and pointed out that the Labour Party has yet to publish its 2019 election manifesto detailing its policies and spending proposals.
This "spending row" came after a week of campaigning in which there have been claims that the Conservatives would undertake extra spending on the NHS, police and so on. Meanwhile, a scandal emerged when The National Audit Office (NAO) said that the Conservatives had failed to build even one of the "affordable starter homes" of the 200,000 they had promised in the 2015 general election. However, besides the Conservatives' brazen record of broken promises and deception, the main aim here is the limiting of "government spending" on the public sector and social programmes. The argument is presented that future investment in the NHS and other social programmes is a matter of "home economics", of "balancing the books" of the Treasury, of "costing" expenditure to be matched by income from taxation. The Labour Party had also spoken about investment in the NHS, social care, education, public services and social programmes. When challenged by the media to say what they would cut elsewhere, Labour responded that their manifesto plans would be "fully costed". The argument therefore continues along these lines.
In this way, the issue of wealth creation is obscured, as is that of the wrecking of public services that a neo-liberal economic perspective has contributed to. The question of who the economy should serve and what role the NHS, education and public services and social programmes play in the socialised economy is not discussed but deliberately avoided.
What is obscured is that those who work in health and social care, education and other social programmes all add value to the economy. Their work, which improves the productive capacity of the working class itself, is the origin of value in this sector of the economy, which directly contributes to other sectors. The issue of putting this value back into the economy as investment to meet all that is needed to sustain a modern universal health care, education and public services system at the highest level is never discussed. Moreover, enterprises that directly benefit from the health care their workers receive in the form of greater productivity do not pay for this benefit, meaning that the value created through that health work is not realised. Instead, it is made an individual matter to be paid for privately, or must be funded from the public purse and sourced from taxation.
Not only does this election "spending row" serve to try and create the notion that health, education and social care services are a "cost and a burden" to the "real economy", but it also serves to hide the fact that the private sector actually recognises this wealth creation in the public sector and social programmes. This is why global monopolies from the EU and Anglo-US are striving to take over the NHS and public services so as to realise for themselves the wealth created in health, social care, education and other social programmes. Such privatisation of public services drastically reduces the amount of services to the people and makes people pay for them through taxes or direct income. It is also well recognised that previous governments have not engaged in such arguments about "hiking up taxes" and "balancing the books" on taxation when funding war and war production, or bailouts to the rich and their interests.
It is important that the value produced by workers in health, social care, education and all social programmes is recognised. It is not possible to organise any aspect of the society without the contribution of the public sector and social programmes. In a modern society, not only can the mill wheels not turn but every aspect of the economy and of life cannot function without the need for healthy, educated people and the social programmes that contribute to the well-being of society as a whole, including welfare payments and pensions in old age and so on.
In a modern society, the health care, social care and education of working people are a vital claim on the wealth created by all of the people in the economy. For a government to speak about these social programmes being dependent on the balancing of income and outcome in taxation is to obscure the source of wealth available so as to serve other interests, notably that there are any number of pay-the-rich schemes funded by the Treasury. A government of the people has a claim on the whole economy to serve the general interests of society to meet the needs of all for modern public services. This is the way forward that working people fight for, and would unblock the path to resolving the crisis in the health service, social care and other social programmes.
November 27, 2009, marked the end of the Vestas dispute on the Isle of Wight, the day when the encampment on the traffic island, famously dubbed the "magic roundabout", outside the factory was finally evicted. The occupation of the plant had ended on Friday, August 7, 2009, when workers refused to be removed by police and bailiffs. Instead, those who had barricaded themselves inside the offices were seen abseiling down two stories from the balcony; one worker even jumped the two stories, facing injury rather than be handled by bailiffs.
It was in July that year that 25 Vestas workers began a sit-in to try to save the factory from closure with the loss of more than 600 jobs. Months of struggle ensued, culminating in their eviction from the factory following a court order prompted by the company.
The Vestas occupation became widely admired, inspiring poetry and cartoons; prompting meetings and rallies through Newport, as well as manifestations of solidarity across the country and even internationally. There were actions held at Job Centres, somebody scaled a crane in Southampton, and a song became popular: "The Boys on the Balcony" by the group "Seize the Day", known for their anti-war and pro-environmental stands.
The occupation invigorated politics on the Isle of Wight and breathed some new oxygen into the Trades Councils and trades unions and their day-to-day affairs. Attention to the struggle caused politicians such as Ed Miliband and Caroline Lucas to visit the "magic roundabout". The late Bob Crow, then General Secretary of the RMT, was a regular visitor, rousing people with solidarity speeches. On the first anniversary of the struggle, the roundabout was re-occupied. Many Isle of Wight councillors supported, and activists from groups such as Workers' Climate Action took part. The speeches informed the people that the fight for jobs, justice and the climate is far from over on the Isle of Wight and beyond, a sentiment that resonates ten years later.
The workers at Vestas had taken the bold step of occupying the offices of the management of Vestas Blades UK. It was against the arbitrary decision by the Swedish monopoly owners to close what was actually a profitable plant, the biggest private employer in an area of high unemployment, in a time of recession. The decision was made to close a factory that had been producing blades for wind turbines on a would-be "eco-island" just at a time when people were talking about investment in green technology, one year after the financial crash of 2008.
One slogan of the Save Vestas Campaign at the time was: "Save Vestas, Save Jobs, Save the Planet". At the same time, a huge banner was displayed prominently on the factory gates on which were inscribed the words: "Whose Factory? Our Factory! Whose Blades? Our Blades!" It was pinned to the gates in front of the "magic roundabout" for all passers-by to see. It epitomised the outlook of the working class and workers in occupation. This banner was carried at the head of a blockade organised in August 2009 and co-ordinated with the workers who had occupied.
In a statement at the time, the occupying workers said: "We believe that wind energy belongs to the people, and that it is workers who have built this factory and made these blades. It is our side that have demonstrated the determination to guarantee the future of renewable energy and the creation of socially useful jobs for all. It is long overdue to take back the power from the likes of Vestas and the politicians who work to defend their profits."
After the eviction, the Newport site was picketed 24/7, seriously disrupting and delaying the company's plans. As well as protests, the campaign held regular educational events and outreach work to bring ordinary people together to champion their right to socially useful work, with a union recognition and freedoms. For a month after the eviction of the occupation, there was daily leafleting of the remaining workforce with information.
After these events, Vestas was challenged continuously, and still are to the present day. Vestas denied workers their legal right to redundancy and some still have not received adequate compensation for their families. The RMT union continued to appeal against their dismissal. A series of forums was organised by the workers in the aftermath. They summed up the campaign and occupation, discussed public ownership and the way forward, as well as important issues concerning climate change, political representation, jobs and services. Afterwards, Vestas workers embarked on a speaking tour of the country, talking in Nottingham, London, Plymouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Sheffield.
The Ryde Trades Council, which had always played a prominent part in the struggle and had huge affinity with the occupiers, said that only the working class can save the day on the Isle of Wight. In summing up, it said amongst other things:
"With Vestas closing, the crisis on the Isle of Wight has been exacerbated. Hundreds of jobs at Vestas and related suppliers and indeed the local economy are all affected. The issue on the island is how it can be led out of this crisis. Only a workers' movement, organised and conscious, can solve this serious problem. Only the working class can save the day on the island.
"Vestas workers are a contingent of the working class as a whole. The capitalists want to deny this, separate them and marginalise the workers who have disrupted their peace. The big monopolies are the cause of the crisis in the first place. They are the ones that take more out of the island economy than they put in. They are the ones who up sticks and move outâ¦ What is needed is more put into the island economy than is taken out. This means investment in social programmes and not handouts to the rich. This is the experience of Vestas.
"The working class on the island need a workers' movement that is conscious and organised. It requires the Vestas workers by their side to develop this process. Workers are becoming more aware of their role. They are not making it a point of departure whether anyone is socialist, communist or green. Socialists and environmentalists put forward their views to solve the crisis. Yet the working class are becoming aware of their special position as the arbiters of change. Only the working class can save the day and develop a programme to lead the people out of the crisis."
In those days, the Vestas workers were raising the issue of empowerment, decision-making and control. They were developing their ideas about the direction of the economy and suggesting possibilities for alternatives. When they raised the issue of intervention and public ownership and control, the government of the day refused, saying that the government could not reverse "commercial decisions". Of course, this was and is the neo-liberal outlook. They were acting in the name of the state and private big business. These were the privileged decision-makers. As people said at the time: "Can't or won't?" They acted in the name of private property and not on behalf of the democratic rights of the people involved, which is why the workers wanted decision-making to pass into their own hands. There is no such thing as "Can't". Companies can be told to change, and monopoly right can be restricted.
The Vestas occupation has shown that the workers can discuss, decide and take decisions when they feel empowered to do so. Despite the closure of Vestas on the Isle of Wight, the struggle is one of those which points the way forward to what can happen when human beings seize the initiative and organise.
The Deeds of the Vestas Workers Live On!
(With thanks to the Ryde Trades Council - the RTUC - for its contributions to this article)
Postal and Rail Workers Fight to Defend their Rights and Safeguard Public Services
The general election campaign has exposed that neither was the election intended by the ruling elite to give the electorate the opportunity to decide the direction of society and the economy, nor have the working people been cajoled into divorcing the outcome of the election from their own concerns and the issues facing society.
The struggles of the postal and rail workers have served to emphasise that workers are striving to overcome the havoc which is being caused not only to their collective interests but to the general interests of the economy and society by the status quo and the neo-liberal agenda.
The crisis of credibility and legitimacy in which the so-called liberal democratic institutions are caught up is deeper than ever. This includes the form of government and the form of decision-making. Confidence in the government, the parties which form a cartel party system and the House of Commons are at an all-time low and confidence that an election will sort the problems out is also lacking.
Postal Workers Outraged at the Courts' Blocking of their Just Struggle
The High Court decision on November 13 to enforce Royal Mail's injunction to void the outcome of the ballot for strike action by the CWU communications workers demonstrates how the ruling elite in furtherance of the agenda of privatisation and neo-liberalism is going all out to block the voice of the workers. This in itself shows how the rich and powerful will simply tear up agreements arrived at through painstaking negotiations when it suits them. The workers are left with no resource which is peaceful and legal with which to challenge these dictates. Yet the workers are determined to find a way forward to defend their rights and interests, as well as to safeguard the future of public services.
This state of affairs also underlines the necessity for the workers to find a way forward in this election which enables them to block the coming to power once again of forces which represent the status quo, and to give rise to their empowerment so they can speak and act in their own name.
This can be said to be a central election issue. Working people lack the control over the laws which get passed by the cartel party system. This must be challenged. When workers have resisted privatisation and negotiated in good faith, they still face a situation where this outcome is not protected in law. The opposite is being shown to be the case. This cannot continue.
For Your Information
Royal Mail went to the High Court to prevent 110,000 communications workers from taking action, despite a 97% vote in favour of strike action on a 75% turnout. Even after the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013, postal workers have continually fought to uphold the public service ethos in the face of the privatisation agenda, with agreed protections on pay and conditions, resistance to casualised work and zero-hours contracts, and for a reliable 6-day-week delivery service to every part of the country.
Specifically, this strike concerns Royal Mail's Universal Service Obligation, which upholds many of the agreements workers have fought for, and the "four pillars of agreement" which also ensures that workers are able to have an input in the future direction of the industry.
This has all been abandoned by the Royal Mail CEO Rico Back, who receives a £2.7 million pay packet, which he pays no tax on as he is based in Switzerland. While consistently refusing to consult with the CWU, Back has brought in reforms to deepen privatisation, reduce Royal Mail to a 5-day-week resulting in 20,000 job losses, and to weaken legal protections. Assisting him was Donald Muir, a management consultant whose firm once charged the NHS £935,000 in a single year for advice on pro-market reforms, and who were branded as "racketeers" as a result.
The High Court decision comes on the same day that Interserve Rail, describing itself as an engineering and facilities management company, called the British Transport Police to a redundancy meeting in an attempt to remove Steve Hedley of the RMT union, denying workers their right to union representation.
(with files from Counterfire)
RMT Accuses SWR of Deceit over Agreements on Guard Guarantee
The RMT has accused South Western Railway of deceit over agreements that were proposed and then withdrawn by the company over guaranteeing a guard on the train. The union is set to take 27 days of strike action in December over the fact that management reneged on agreements that had been made in principle and in good faith. The company are now trying to deny these agreements were ever made in a blatant display of contempt for previous negotiations and the workers involved.
RMT members will take action from December 2-11, from December 13-24 and from December 27 to January 1.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "The strike action called is well and truly down to SWR's mismanagement and disingenuous position on the agreement and discussions.
"This dispute could easily be resolved if management started taking discussions seriously. SWR are once again showing their true colours, leading the union to believe we almost had a deal before pulling the rug from under our feet.
"We still have not received anything from the company and they have made no attempt whatsoever to reach an agreement. These strikes could have easily been avoided if the company had stuck to their agreements, corresponded with RMT and offered further discussions.
"I want to congratulate our members on their continued resolve in their fight for safety and the role of the guard on SWR. It is wholly down to the management side that the core issue of the safety critical competencies and the role of the guard has not been agreed.
"The union remains available for talks."
CWU's Voice of Defiance Rings Out around the Country
Communication Workers Union, November 13, 2019
Tonight, the CWU stands absolutely united in their anger at Royal Mail bosses and the high Court following today's "outrageous" decision to invalidate our overwhelming Yes vote and enormous turnout.
While our national leadership was speaking out in central London, our representatives from around the country spoke with one voice - a voice of steadfast defiance.
From the North East, divisional rep Steve Warren said: "This verdict today is the establishment sticking together to throw democracy in the bin."
And he slammed the false claims made by senior management in the case they put to the court, describing their slurs against the CWU as "sour grapes from people who have lost the support of the workforce.
"The 'Vote Yes' campaign was excellent - so good that other unions have been asking us for advice on their own campaigns," Steve added.
North Wales/North West divisional rep Ian Taylor also slated the company's manufactured claims, insisting that the union's "Vote Yes" campaign had been "brilliant."
Members would, he predicted, be "extremely angry" at the verdict of the Court, commenting: "from what I've heard so far, these sound like highly spurious reasons.
"I didn't hear of one single complaint from my division - so that's not one single complaint from about 20,000 members."
Down in London, Martin Walsh dubbed the judgement "a political decision". "Members will be very angry that management have taken their own workforce to court," pointed out the divisional rep for the capital, and he continued that, despite today's ruling, "the issues here remain the same and we will not accept what the business is trying to do to our members."
South Central Division rep Terry Jackson said that the court's decision was "a nonsense decision". "If people declare how they've voted in a general election, or in a referendum, that doesn't invalidate those polls does it?" he pointed out and added that, if the union does ballot members again, "the result will be the same".
"Here in the Midlands, our members will be furious at the decision of the court today," was the reaction of divisional rep Simon Edmunds. "I've never heard of such a ridiculous ruling before - has the right to strike been made illegal in this country?" he asks.
"Across Scotland and Northern Ireland, our members will be raging," says divisional rep Tam Dewar. "It's an anti-democratic verdict and the High Court has sided with Royal Mail. We will stay united behind our leadership that has never let us down."
And from down in the Anglia Division, Steve Butts describes this afternoon's pronouncement as "a dark day for working class people in this country". "But if we have to reballot then I'm confident our members will support us again," he added.
Pete Sinnott, from South East Division, says that his members will "no doubt be very disappointed - but we'll get over that disappointment and get on with the good fight". And regarding the allegations made against our union's campaign, Pete said: "I haven't heard one complaint from any of our approximately 11,000 members. It seems like the court is saying we can't even campaign."
South Wales/South West divisional rep Andy Nash was in Bristol Mail Centre when the judge's verdict was announced and he reports that "the unit reps and the area rep were incensed" when they heard it. "Among our members, even some of our members who were not that enthusiastic were annoyed by what the court decided," he added, predicting that "if we have to reballot, I reckon we'd get a bigger turnout and a bigger 'Yes' vote."
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