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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
The system of Special Advisers:
Struggle between Contending Private Interests Intensifies at the Heart of Government
The "Hostile Environment" and All Forms of Racism Must Be Eradicated
There is a great concern amongst workers of the threat to their right to a livelihood caused by the recent unprecedented surge in unemployment. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unemployment across the UK rose to 4.8% over the three months from July-September, 0.9 percentage points higher than a year earlier. Employment in the UK fell by 247,000 compared with the same quarter last year, the largest year-on-year decrease since January-March 2010 - driven by a record high 314,000 redundancies over the quarter. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds was over three times the overall rate, at 14.6%.
"Looking more closely at the quarterly decrease in employment", said the ONS, "it can be seen that this is driven by decreases in the number of part-time workers (down 158,000 on the quarter to 8.11 million) and self-employed people (down 174,000 to 4.53 million, with a record 99,000 decrease for women). The quarterly decrease was partly offset by an increase in full-time employees, up by 113,000 on the quarter to a record high of 21.17 million. The increase in full-time employees was driven by women (up a record 165,000 on the quarter to 8.72 million), while men decreased by 53,000 to 12.45 million, the first quarterly decrease since March to May 2019."
There are still approximately about 2.5 million people on furlough which may increase in the current second wave, with uncertainty about what will happen later. The last wave of the pandemic saw cuts in workforces already on furlough, forcing workers onto benefits and basic subsistence allowances, and even the use of foodbanks. Examples were cuts in temporary staff at car plants and layoffs in airline staff and the associated aircraft industry. Now companies are sacking workers in a similar fashion across the board under the cover of the furlough scheme, which was reintroduced and operational until next March.
The initial furlough scheme, which was introduced in March, during the first lockdown, and ended in October, hid the fact that big business sought state bailouts in the form of public money raised through taxation and debt to continue to maintain "business as usual" profits. Though it was suggested that the scheme helped prevent job losses, the reality has been that firms have been making workers redundant in any case. The sacking of workers is grounded in the capital-centred treatment of workers as a "cost" to production. Workers are never afforded any say or consideration but are considered as merely ballast to be cast aside, supposedly to keep a company afloat. Big business showed no interest in the fact that they had been profiting from the workers, through their creation of value in the product of their work, over previous years and continued to do so even through the crisis. Business now considered workers as a burden and called them a "cost", lying about the source of value.
Projecting that furlough will prevent further redundancy is deceptive, not helpful or at best wishful thinking. The extension to the scheme might appear to safeguard jobs in the short term, but there will be a substantial rise in unemployment in the future if there is no fundamental change in the direction of the economy. The real protection should have been for workers to be maintained in their employment and paid 100% of their income, with those claims met from the social product. There would then be no need for temporary schemes as the means of production and the productive forces were kept in existence, functioning or ready to function, instead of becoming destroyed or redundant.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had spent four months telling the nation he was against extending the furlough scheme beyond October, having said: "I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job". He said in his winter economy plan in September it was "fundamentally wrong" to hold people in jobs that only exist inside furlough but was forced by circumstances to change his mind. The pandemic has highlighted that there must be a better way of doing things, with conscious planning of the direction the economy in place of the Chancellor's hit and miss "plans".
Workers were never given a say in furlough from the start back in March. By definition, furlough is a leave of absence scheme, granted by the powers that be as a permission. It is not debated but passed down via government by the divine right of those who own and control the wealth. But it was no gift: it was said on launch that the borrowing would have to be paid back to the financial institutions that had made the loans. It was implied that this debt would be paid out of the claim on any new value made by workers - denigrated as the problem in the economy, the "cost" - in their reduced wages, increased taxes, and cuts to social programmes.
Throughout, we have been subjected to the drone of the government's false mantra that the health of business and the economy must be balanced against the health and well-being of the people, and through sleight of hand, it is "the health of business" that is primary. But whose economy is it? The blame laid by the government, business and media on the coronavirus pandemic, as if it were the determining factor in the socialised economy, is deception aimed at diverting the opposition away from who decides the direction of the economy. It is as though workers were just incidental to the well-being of the direction of the economy. Workers' rights and the rights of all, such as society guaranteeing the right to a livelihood, must be fought for from their own perspective. There is a developing consciousness that workers should emerge from this crisis with the perspective that it is their economy, and they should be the decision-makers.
The resignation first of Lee Cain as Director of Communications and then of Dominic Cummings from the team of advisers of the Prime Minister reflects the intensifying struggle between contending private interests at the heart of government. Lee Cain is said to have been sidelined and blocked from promotion to Chief of Staff, and Cummings was said to have been his close ally and a de facto chief of staff at No.10. This fiasco has followed the "shake-up" of the Civil Service over the past nine months or so.
It does not signify a change in the system or a slow-down or reversal of the restructuring of the state but rather its opposite. It is widely acknowledged that these figures within the Number 10 Policy Unit wielded influence that ensured government was in no way accountable. The manner of their leaving, as well as who remains , demonstrates the instability of the system whereby it is narrow private interests rather than any public authority that control decision-making. One thing is for sure: that the interests of the people are nowhere reflected in governance. The anger of the electorate at their disenfranchising is palpable.
It is openly acknowledged that what is and has been unfolding is a power struggle. The system of SpAds, or Special Advisers, which consolidated decision-making away from the people's concerns, has itself degenerated into a disarray of warring factions. But what unites these factions is a determination to control this "elite centre". The drive of the factions of warring oligarchs, who want nothing more than fabulous enrichment no matter what the cost, is creating chaos, and is in utter contradiction with a socialised economy and the people's well-being.
It is clear that the working class and people reject this state of affairs. They are striving to find ways to speak and act in their own name, and work out the forms of their own decision-making power. They certainly reject the present system whereby those that are elected by them and usurp their name are then unaccountable to them, and decision-making at the heart of government goes on behind a veil. The conclusion is that new mechanisms must be brought into being which guarantee the accountability of the elected, the right of all to elect and be elected, and the end of the party-dominated system of government, which is showing itself to be completely dysfunctional. The desperation to prevent this alternative from taking root is creating political chaos, for which the answer is being sought in the police powers and the rearrangement of the state around the wielding of those powers.
1. Some of the notable advisers are:
Munira Mirza. As head of the No. 10 Policy Unit, she runs a team of around a dozen advisers. It is reported that her opposition to Lee Cain was decisive.
Edward (Eddie) Lister. Is said to be Boris Johnson's most trusted aide. He was Johnson's chief of staff at City Hall when Johnson was Mayor of London. Described as Johnson's chief strategic advisor.
James Slack. The Prime Minister's chief spokesperson, now to be Director of Communications at No. 10.
Ben Gascoigne. Was made Johnson's political secretary after the general election, having been Johnson's private secretary when he was Mayor.
Simon Case. Replaced Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service in September.
David Frost. Special adviser on both national security and Europe, and chief negotiator on Brexit. He is reported to be on the brink of resignation following the departure of Lee Cain.
Among the No.10 team are said to be six advisers closely associated with the think-tank Policy Exchange. In 2019, the think-tank published a report entitled "Whitehall Reimagined". Their recommendations were summarised as:
1. Significantly enhance the capacity of No. 10 to develop and direct policy change through Whitehall.
2. Promote systemic cultural reform to increase efficient working practices between the permanent civil service and political advisers
3. Restore Extended Ministerial Offices and enhance policy support for junior ministers.
4. Consolidate departments and revitalise Cabinet Committees
5. Reform of civil service recruitment and progression to enhance expertise, accountability and institutional memory
6. Improve digital capabilities and ethically harness the opportunities of AI and Big Data.
7. Strengthen the role of internal and external specialists in formulating policy and advising ministers.
8. Reform Whitehall processes to streamline policy making and strengthen the ability of ministers to obtain robust legal advice.
9. Streamline public procurement to make the tendering process faster, more flexible and more supportive of British jobs.
10. Reform the Public Appointments Process to enable it to better appoint the highest calibre individuals to roles where they will deliver the government's objectives.
Recent reports in the press have highlighted the fact that the government has done little to right the wrongs perpetrated in what became known as the "Windrush Scandal".
It emerged in 2017 that thousands of British citizens who had arrived in Britain from the "New Commonwealth", and particularly from Caribbean countries, prior to 1973 had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights as a result of the so-called "hostile environment" policy pursued by the Home Office. Although formally announced by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012, the term had first been used by the Labour Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne, in 2007. In his words a "hostile environment" was necessary to "flush out illegal immigrants".
After 2012, falsely targetted as "illegal immigrants" or "undocumented migrants", some citizens began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention centres, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they had not seen since they were children, even though they had lived and worked in Britain in some cases for over forty years. The government's "hostile environment" was aided by the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts, as well as by other equally racist legislation that had been enacted before and since. The 2014 Immigration Act emerged from a racist campaign whipped up by all the main political parties, which alleged that so-called illegal migrants constituted a major problem confronting society. The Coalition government of the day even despatched vehicles with billboards throughout London demanding that such migrants leave the country and "go home" at the earliest opportunity. The scandal highlighted once again that it is the British state that is the source of racism in society.
HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary carried out a review of the scandal, and an investigation of the circumstances surrounding it, which was published earlier this year. The main conclusions of the review confirmed what was well-known already - that the scandal was the result of deliberate government policy, based on decades of racist immigration legislation.
Since 2018, successive governments have made a great fuss about having learned lessons from the Windrush scandal, even claiming that such events must never happen again. However, only a few weeks ago Wendy Williams, the author of the review, made it clear that the government had done very little or nothing, and that the "hostile environment" is still in existence. Speaking to the home affairs select committee, Williams reiterated her view that the Home Office required urgent reform. She expressed surprise that less than two hundred of those victimised by the Home Office had received any form of compensation, two and a half years after the government accepted that they were entitled to it. According to figures released by the Home Office, only 12% of those entitled to compensation have received any. Therefore only 1% of the funding set aside for such claims has been paid out. Many of those affected have died before the Home Office managed to provide any form of reparation, including the well-known campaigner Paulette Wilson, who died weeks after delivering a petition to the government demanding that it act more swiftly. Those affected by the actions of the Home Office have voiced similar criticisms pointing out that although the government has accepted all the recommendations of the William's review few, if any, have been implemented. They also point out that the government's tardiness in addressing the victims of the Windrush scandal is in stark contrast to the speed with which it has further clamped down on the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, who it also refers to as "illegal immigrants".
The fact that the "hostile environment" is still in operation, and that the government has done little to compensate those affected by it, speaks volumes. It also puts into context the government's repeated claim that it is concerned with racism, as well the aim of the so-called Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, which was established in July this year. As many have pointed out, the facts are well-established, well-known and well-documented.
As one informed commentator has pointed out, the main impact of the "hostile environment" has been on those who live and work in Britain, since in addition to those rights denied by the state it also leads to more discrimination against minority communities in such areas as housing. It is for these reasons that some have claimed that the "hostile environment' constitutes harassment under Equality Act of 2010, a law which, needless to say, has not been enforced against the government.
Neither reforms of the Home Office, nor government enquiries and commissions will alter the fact that it is government and the entire state apparatus that remain racist to the core and the main source of racism and inequality in society. What is required is that all democratic people take up the problem of racism for solution, by stepping up the struggle for the rights of all which has been so evident this year. People must keep these struggles in their own hands by establishing the mechanisms for change and empowerment, that can usher in a new society where the people are the decision-makers and rights of all are guaranteed.
Wightlink have launched a consultation with staff following their announced £20m losses since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The terms of the "consultation", which amount to an ultimatum, are that the responses, comments and conclusions must be done in only 60 days. The company has a chequered history in dealing with the public and its workforce, and has changed hands a number of times since it was privatised. Only recently the company suspended its FastCat service between Portsmouth and Ryde Pier and reduced sailings between Lymington and Yarmouth. The ferry operator maintains it must become a more sustainable business to cope with future financial risks. From the narrow capital-centred perspective of the company's owners (50% owned each by Basalt Infrastructure Partners and Fiera Infrastructure), this means that the company must return a bottom-line profit.
The company has put forward three elements to ensure it emerges with what it sees are its monopoly rights: changes to pensions, flexibility in working patterns and changes to terms and conditions for future employees. The Sword of Damocles is held over the heads of the staff, who are told: accept the proposals, or there will be compulsory job losses.
The diminution of conditions includes an attack on the workers' defined-benefit pension scheme, using the cover of blaming the pandemic, with accruals to that scheme to be ended. In additional to the protection of existing benefits, the carrot is the doubling of company minimum contributions to the defined contribution pension to which most employees belong, with new poorer terms and conditions for new joiners. In this way, the company is using the pandemic to hasten its shift from defined benefits to defined contributions and so converting pension provision to a matter of personal saving.
Further, in preparation for redundancy, there is to be a "generous" mutual severance scheme and a pledge that no employee will lose their job as a result of the pandemic if the proposals are accepted. Through sleight of hand, the company is leaving the future pathway wide open.
"It is my duty to ensure that Wightlink survives this crisis, however long it lasts," Wightlink Chief Executive, Keith Greenfield, said. "We must manage our current costs and future financial risks to protect jobs and our lifeline connections for Islanders."
The CEO went on to say: "The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the travel sector and wider industry. There have been widespread job losses, changes to terms and conditions and long-term pay reductions. We do not want to see this happen at Wightlink. If we can reach agreement with our colleagues and trade unions to combat these financial challenges, we can avoid compulsory redundancies and protect Wightlink's services for the future."
The claim on the value created by the Wightlink workers are divided between those made by the shareholders (the bottom line profit), the owners of the company debt, the government in the form of tax, and the workers in the form of wages and pensions. The norms and practices of private companies like Wightlink ensure that the narrow aim of maximising the bottom line is what is pursued, and in particular, the claims of the workers is labelled a cost, the main cost to be cut. The organisation of the company and its decision-making process has been totally in the hands of the owners of the company with this aim. The public have seen no benefit out of the exorbitant fares and reduced services. At no time has there been a suggestion of a cut in what the owners of debt and equity or the government receive.
Attacking workers' terms and conditions or hiking fares has always been the solution put forward, and this can be interpreted as "business as usual". It cannot be accepted that the workers and the public pay for the crisis. There must be a change in the way companies operate. Industry is still trying to maintain the status quo, contrary to the demand that things need to operate in a new way. The economy cannot and must not maintain the current direction - it needs to change. Workers are fighting to defend their rights, and in the course of this are putting forward their own solutions.
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