Tag Archives: co-operative

Rachel Reeves’ weak speech has little to offer but social insecurity

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side - at least she isn't Liam Byrne.

Rachel Reeves: Look on the bright side – at least she isn’t Liam Byrne.

Was anyone else underwhelmed by Rachel Reeves’ speech in this years Labour conference?

Not by the promise to take the Bedroom Tax off the statute books, obviously. That has been a settled part of Labour policy since, well, since it landed on the statute books back in 2012. We should not take it for granted, though – and we must always remember that the Bedroom Tax won’t be going anywhere if the Blue Meanies manage to hang on to control after May next year.

But is anybody really convinced by her ‘Jobs Guarantee’? Is it really likely to work, or is it just another ‘make-work’ scheme? What difference will it make if private companies running the current work programme/mandatory work activity/workfare/whatever-they’re-called-today schemes are replaced by local councils and communities? Vox Political is based in Powys and the council here wouldn’t know how to help anybody get back into work off the back of any such scheme. Why should it be different elsewhere?

Do we really need a ‘Basic Skills Test’? Isn’t that an indictment of our education system – and shouldn’t that be where the skills gap ought to be tackled?

Did chills go up anybody else’s spine when Reeves mentioned a “pensions market“? Do we need a pensions market? Do you want to have to shop around for the best pension for you? Don’t you pay your National Insurance for the government to sort out that side of things and not make a mess of it?

And what did she mean by “tailored support” for disabled people who can work? By whose standards?

What did you make of her comments about the work capability assessment? “We need real reform”, she said. No! We don’t need reform! We need to scrap it altogether! It has never been fit for purpose; it never will be. The very word “assessment”, linked to a person’s sickness or disability, is tainted beyond reform. All that is necessary – all that has ever been necessary – is written confirmation of a person’s condition from – guess who? – a doctor. Work capability assessments are a waste of money and a risk to the health of sick and disabled people.

She said: “I give you this commitment: as Secretary of State I will come down hard on any contractor that gets these critical assessments wrong, or fails to treat disabled people with the decency and respect they deserve.” Do you think any such contractor was quaking in their boots at the thought of that? No.

What is she going to do about the Tories’ vindictive ‘mandatory reconsideration’ system? Will she agree to pay benefits to claimants while they await a decision, or will she forget them like the Tories forgot the ex-Remploy workers she mentioned in her speech?

She said Universal Credit was “stuck in first gear” – but made no promise to get rid of it. Its aim, under Tory control, is to ensure the government doesn’t have to spend as much money on benefit claimants. Even if Labour changes that – after it has been made to work at all, which is a hard battle in itself – there will be no way to stop the Tories changing it back into a weapon if the public ever becomes stupid enough to vote them back into office again. It would be far better to devise a scheme that the Tories could not pervert – difficult though such a task may be.

There was more good material than the Bedroom Tax, and it would be wrong to gloss over that. The plan to increase the Living Wage is good, and so is the plan to increase the minimum wage. But critics say the minimum wage provides employers with an excuse to reduce all pay to that still-paltry amount, so why isn’t she saying Labour will combat that? Labour could encourage companies to become employee-owned co-operatives; as co-owners, workers could ensure equitable rates of pay. These measures would go a long way to eliminating the “in-work benefit” element of the social security bill.

Labour should be going further, though. It should be renationalising railway firms that aren’t performing well enough, either by overcharging passengers, failing to invest in the service or simply demanding too high a subsidy from the taxpayer. These firms are supposed to be private – if we are still supporting them, we should still own them. At least, that way, we’d get the profits rather than some faceless shareholder.

Also on the nationalisation list should be power companies and water firms. The energy business seems to be a cartel, organised to screw customers out of as much money as possible – on pain of losing the power necessary to heat and light their homes, and cook their food. That must end. Whatever contract they were given when they were privatised, they have reneged on the deal and should be brought back under public control.

As for the water firms – they’re just tax avoidance schemes, aren’t they? Also, Yr Obdt Srvt seems to recall that one firm sold around 25 reservoirs to France, so they get the benefit of our water during hot summers while we have to suffer drought. That’s not why these firms were sold off. They should come back under public control, with stiff penalties for the shareholders who have abused the public trust.

Come to that, what about the construction industry? We need hundreds of thousands more homes – especially one- and two-bedroomed dwellings – to be defined as social housing, in order to stave off more Tory “captive victim” schemes like the Bedroom Tax. Why won’t the government employ the builders to carry out this work, starting on brown-field sites and avoiding green belt land, for the sake of the future?

Investment in work of this kind could revive the UK’s fortunes in a stroke – and would infinitely improve Labour’s offer to the public. The Attlee government did far more, starting from a far worse financial position so there is no reason to hesitate.

But Rachel Reeves has nothing to say about it.

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Why can’t Labour support working people AND be pro-business?

Know your enemy: If you want to know why Labour was so soft on business between 1997 and 2010, here's your answer - Peter (now Lord) Mandelson was in charge of Trade, Industry, and Business at various times throughout those Parliaments.

Know your enemy: If you want to know why Labour was so soft on business between 1997 and 2010, here’s your answer – Peter (now Lord) Mandelson was in charge of Trade, Industry, and Business at various times throughout those Parliaments.

Michael Meacher has missed a trick in his recent blog article about Lords Myners and Mandelson – who say they want Labour to be pro-business.

He correctly identifies these two peers – one of whom (Mandelson) is a Blairite Labour Party member and therefore might as well be a Tory, while the other (Myners) is not aligned to a political party and therefore might as well be a Tory – as being very rich and refers to them sarcastically as “those stalwart supporters of working people”, meaning the exact opposite.

He correctly states that they are wrong to claim that Ed Miliband’s attack on “predatory capitalism” is harmful to Labour’s election prospects, pointing to poll results showing that the next election winner needs to be tough on big business.

And he correctly – yes, Ukippers, correctly – points out that businesspeople know an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union could cause huge harm to their firms if the vote goes in favour of leaving.

These are all good points, but Mr Meacher could have gone much further.

Labour should be pushing its policies as better for business than anything the Conservatives have to offer – because they are.

The party wants more firms and public sector organisations to pay the living wage. As this blog has stated time and time again, this can only help British industry as it would show employees that their contribution is valued, encouraging them to improve the quality of their work and build up their employer’s profitability and prospects of expansion.

That’s not all that Labour can do. The party should be much bolder in its aims. For example:

The party should be promoting employee-ownership to more and more firms – the advantages of becoming co-operatives. Look at the success of John Lewis, whose employees receive a bonus equal to around four months’ extra pay – every year – because of the way that company is set up. John Lewis is going from strength to strength and so is its workforce. There is no valid argument against it.

Yes, there are some within the Labour Party who continue to push timid concepts about “strengthening” the minimum wage, but like Lords Myners and Mandelson, they might as well be Tories and it is time they were purged from the party. Neil Kinnock got rid of the Militant Tendency left-wingers; why shouldn’t Ed Miliband similarly divest himself of the right-wing fifth-columnist parasites who have held Labour back for his entire term as leader (including, of course, his idiot advisors)?

The Conservative Party’s idea of helping business has failed completely. It could never have done otherwise; starving the economy of money during a downturn makes it next-to-impossible for any but the largest firms to turn a profit.

Labour must present a vibrant alternative.

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Cometh the hour, time for a party

140505UPIP

A new political party has been launched – on International Workers’ Day – to represent the interests of people whose opportunities in life have been restricted because they earn low wages.

The Underpaid People’s Independence Party – UPIP – will campaign for better pay, better rights and a better say on behalf of all those who currently earn less than they need in order to pay their own way.

The new party has announced several policies already:

  • A living wage for every working person, ensuring that the overburdened benefit system does not subsidise greedy corporations
  • A guaranteed ‘income floor’ for all British citizens, ensuring that those who do not work because of illness or unemployment are able to live with dignity
  • The guarantee of employee benefits including sick pay, holiday rights and both lower and upper limits on the number of hours worked
  • Strengthened – and rigorously-enforced – health and safety regulations for all workplaces, to limit the number of workplace-related illnesses and disabilities
  • An end to corrupt ‘workfare’, ‘work programme’ or ‘mandatory work activity’ schemes that allow governments to collude with corporations in forcing citizens to work for no payment other than benefits that are subsidised by other working people
  • Tax incentives to encourage all companies to transform into co-operatives, with responsibilities and profits shared among the entire workforce

UPIP founder Nobby Fulsom, a former mineworker, said Britain’s hardworking poor had suffered for too long under neoliberal profiteers, and the time had come for a party they could all enjoy.

“I have stayed underground for too long; now is the time for working people to stand tall,” he said.

But he admitted: “It is too late for us to field any candidates in the European election.

“If we could, we would be opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that would push workers on both sides of the Atlantic into ever-worsening conditions of employment.

“Europe should be pushing for an agreement that will guarantee the best possible conditions for all workers. The fact that the EU doesn’t seem interested in supporting its constituents poses questions about its own role, and that is why we support a top-down reorganisation of the European Union, with authority granted to nobody unless they can prove they started their careers at the lowest level and worked their way up, rather than just walking in from a position of privilege.”

Mr Fulsom said it was not true that members of UPIP had been posting anti-corporatist Tweets on the internet, nor had they been targeting members of the aristocracy with derogatory remarks.

“UPIP is an inclusive party,” he said. We believe in uniting people – not in the divisive rhetoric of the Coalition government or certain minority parties with similar initials to our own.

“Any corporate executive who is willing to turn his organisation into a co-operative is welcome to join us, as is anyone from a family of wealth who accepts that the people who made that cash for them are entitled to the opportunities they and their forebears enjoyed.”

He added: “We don’t want much, but what we want is fair – for everybody, not just those with a private education and independent wealth.”

Undoubtedly, UPIP will have a great deal to say about the current election campaign and the future direction of British politics.

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Government justifies new Remploy closures. Public doesn’t believe a word of it.

Fight for dignity: When the government announced in March last year that 36 Remploy factories would close, unions campaigned alongside workers in a bid to help them maintain the dignity they keep by holding a job and paying their way.

Fight for dignity: When the government announced in March last year that 36 Remploy factories would close, unions campaigned alongside workers in a bid to help them maintain the dignity they keep by holding a job and paying their way.

Today we learned that the last remaining Remploy factories in Scotland are to close, in what I can’t help thinking is a last act of spite by the Conservatives against disabled people living north of the border.

Employees at the Marine and Frontline Textile factories at Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee and Clydebank will be thrown onto the dole, albeit with help from the government’s funded package to help them get into mainstream employment.

We have no idea how well this package works, despite its having been in use since March last year, when Maria Miller announced the government was closing 36 of what were then 54 Remploy factories. A BBC article in May stated that the DWP was “aware of” 351 former employees who have found new jobs – fewer than a third of the laid-off workforce. We don’t know whether any of those jobs were a result of help from the government package.

Also facing the dole are disabled workers at Packaging factories in Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland, bringing the total number of job losses up to 234.

Employees were well aware of the situation – an announcement before Christmas made it clear that 875 jobs were at risk, on top of the 1,700 axed in March last year, with only an automotive business and (ironically) employment services remaining safe.

The Frontline and Packaging factories were slated for closure then, and the marine textiles business was described at the time as making “significant losses” despite an established market position. It was not considered sellable as a going concern.

It was, therefore, surprising to hear Esther McVey say, in a statement today, that there had been “considerable interest” in the Scottish factories.

She went on to say Remploy “did not receive a Best and Final Offer for these businesses as part of the commercial process”. Why not?

And she added that there were no viable bids for Packaging. This implies that there were bids, and begs the question: What was wrong with them?

Also, on the day the government announced new help for businesses considering a change to employee-ownership or co-operative status, was this never considered for the Remploy factories? If not, why not?

That question becomes urgent when one considers the following, again from Ms McVey’s speech: “Businesses like textiles which didn’t have commercial interest and closed afterwards re-opened as social enterprises or new businesses, and in fact nine sites have been sold on that basis. This has resulted in employment opportunities for original employees.

“For example, businesses have opened under new ownership in the Bolton and Wigan factory premises, who are looking to create up to 35 job opportunities for disabled people, including former Remploy employees.

“In addition Remploy have confirmed already they have received an asset bid from a Social Enterprise organisation for the purchase of assets from within the Textiles business. This may have the potential to create employment opportunities for disabled people.”

If that is the case, they why has the government not considered restructuring the businesses along these lines, and leaving them to the employees – to manage as they will?

After all, according to the same government which is planning to close these factories without having considered this way forward for them, “Employee-owned businesses enjoy greater staff retention, innovation and motivation than non-employee owned businesses and, in turn, these deliver wider economic benefits including increased productivity, profitability and more resilience to economic shocks”.

All of the above makes it very hard to believe another statement made by Ms McVey: “We have always made it clear that this is about supporting the individuals in the factories, and disabled people across the country. £50 million was going into funding failing factories which meant £50 million not available to support disabled people across the country.”

Unfortunately for her, we know that this government has been cutting support for the disabled, partly by refusing them benefits, pretending that they are lying or deluded about their disabilities.

And her claim that, “As announced in the Spending Review, the Government further committed to continuing to support disabled people to move into, remain in, and progress in work” rings hollow when one considers the appalling result of the government’s work programme for people on Employment and Support Allowance.

It managed to hit only one-third of its target. Only 5.5 per cent of people on ESA were moved into employment via the work programme, compared with an expectation that 15 per cent of them would have, if they had been left to their own devices (the targets are based on numbers of people who would otherwise get work, plus 10 per cent. The work programme’s result – 5.5 per cent – is significantly lower than its target of 16.5 per cent).

All of this, coupled with the possibility of Scotland seceding from the Union after next year’s referendum, points to the possibility that the Conservatives are using Remploy as one last, great act of spite for our cousins north of the border.

I would just like to make it clear that this has nothing to do with me. I neither support nor condone it and I think more could have been done to find a fruitful way forward.

Scottish people always saw through the Conservatives – look at the way they reacted to the imposition of the Poll Tax, back in 1989 or thereabouts.

I fear for the rest of the UK if we should lose that perspective after the referendum.

The Coalition is hoodwinking us towards totalitarianism. Will the ‘People’s Assembly’ halt this?

Wise words: The 'People's Assembly' hopes to stir people out of their apathy and encourage them to oppose the right-wing, ideologically-driven and austerity-led destruction of British society. Are you interested, or is it too much like hard work?

Wise words: The ‘People’s Assembly’ hopes to stir people out of their apathy and encourage them to oppose the unelected and unmandated right-wing, ideologically-driven and austerity-led destruction of British society. Are you interested, or is it too much like hard work?

“The people are not ready to embrace Socialism and may never be ready.”

“What, a cobbled together bunch of leftie socialists?”

“It will take more than a few breakfast TV celebrity socialists turning up in community centres to shake people awake, and armchair socialism – like conservatism, capitalism, fascism, communism and any other political ism that involves a minority seeking to impose its will on the masses down at their local community hall – is the last thing that anyone needs.”

“It would just be a talking shop of unelected and ‘celebrity’ allegedly left-wingers, who like to hear the sound of their own voices. It does not have any democratic structure, and would just be a sort of an admiring glee club, that would allow its supporters to have the illusion that something is being done.”

“Even if you got five million people to march through London protesting over the austerity program, the Palace of Westminster wouldn’t hear it.”

These are just a few of the negative responses to a recent article by Owen Jones, on the forthcoming meeting of the ‘People’s Assembly’, organised by the new socialist organisation Left Unity. None of them are saying anything we haven’t heard before. It seems the constant refrain, to which the British people sing along, is “Don’t bother trying to change it; there’s nothing you can do”.

This is, of course, lazy nonsense. You hear it from people who genuinely can’t be bothered and, more perniciously, from supporters of the status quo (in this case, the Coalition or UKIP) who know that a discouraging word at the right moment can nip a potential rival organisation in the bud. It’s called conditioned helplessness, and I’ve discussed it before.

Remember, the ‘People’s Assembly’ has not had its first meeting yet. Already people are trying to tell us it is a failure, a “talking shop” for “armchair socialism” that would not be heard in the corridors of power.

I wish I could attend, but geographical issues and other responsibilities mean this is impossible (I live in Wales and have responsibilities as a carer).

One thing we should all remember is that this is a socialist movement, not the creation of a political party. We already have a democratic socialist political party, although our Labour members of Parliament seem to have forgotten that (here’s a clue, folks: Read the top line on the back of your membership cards). They appear to be taking the soft option and following the Coalition narrative. But that’s no reason to let them get on with it.

It seems to me that the ‘People’s Assembly’, like the Left Unity organisation that is staging the event, will work best putting pressure on systems that are already in place. Labour presents the best chance we have for ousting the Tories and their little yellow helpers, without putting something equally right-wing in their place. People of good faith just need to encourage the Party to do the right thing.

And that is: Ditch all the idiotic follow-my-Tory-leader austerity-driven policies announced in recent weeks. Austerity has failed as a way of balancing the books; it was never intended to do so in the first place. Ditch the divisive Tory-soundalike rhetoric that shows Labour also wants to blame the poor for problems that they never created. Clear private sector ‘advisors’ out of Labour Party meetings and thinktanks – corporate influence will only benefit corporations and their shareholders; they have the Conservatives for that.

Adopt the line taken by Michael Meacher MP: “We will end austerity”.

Devise new policies for health, workplace safety and social security that will aim to prevent not only workplace-related sickness and disability, but also congenital conditions that blight lives. That will bring down the bills for health and social security far more than misplaced attempts to punish those whose ill-health is already an unjust punishment, as they have not committed any crime.

Reconsider policies relating to business. Labour has long since admitted that nationalisation of all industry does not work, and it doesn’t. But there are some services that should be run – as a business, perhaps, but under the authority of the state – in the national interest. These are the public utilities – water, electricity, gas. Possibly rail transport as well, because the current privatised situation is costing the taxpayer far more than when the service was nationalised.

Encourage self-employment where practical. People can only be assured of the ability to sustain themselves if they own the means of production. The best way to do that is to work for themselves. For businesses involving more than a single trader, encourage mutualism or co-operatives. This is the best way to ensure that all workers get the most benefit from the products of their labours. With employees encouraged to put more effort into their trade by the promise of getting more out of it, progress towards meeting and exceeding the Living Wage seems more likely.

And support new technologies, especially those that are environmentally-friendly. This is where many of the new jobs will be generated and the UK has delayed its support of these advances for far too long.

I don’t think these are impossible ambitions.

They can be achieved if the progressive members of British society get their act together and stand up for them. And let’s all admit it, they would be much healthier than the cuts that have spawned a continuing storm of protest ever since the Coalition first inflicted them upon us, just because most of us are poorer than they are.

I can see a willingness to take part in this activity, all around. I recently commented on attempts to silence progressive thinking in the letters page of my local newspaper – that has only happened because people (not just me) were willing to put pen to paper and say they think the Coalition has got it wrong.

People are realising that they can’t expect their political representatives to do the right thing without being told what it is. What’s holding them back is the concern that this is a minority view. That is why they may welcome an umbrella organisation like Left Unity and the ‘People’s Assembly’, to show them they’re not alone.

I would like to say that in Central Hall, Westminster, on Saturday but I can’t be there.

Would anybody like to say it for me – or something better?

Or shall we all just sit back in our armchairs and mutter, while the country goes to hell in a handbasket?