Banksters are “socially-useless” shocker!

Lord Turner is the head of the FSA (that’s the Financial Services Authority, not the Food Standards Agency).

If the Tories win the next election, he’s toast and so is the FSA which will be abolished, its powers returned to the Bank of England.

So that’s probably why he’s giving strong views on taxing banks – the kind of talk that gets frozen out of polite society in the City, I expect.

The kind of reforms Turner suggests could save the capitalists from their chaotic system – but would hurt them in the short term by imposing costs to implement the regulation of apparently speculative or dangerous activities.

Transnational corporations are lobbying against proposed EU regulations on derivatives which would require deals to go through a clearing house.

In the UK, however, there’s nothing tough planned for the transnationals. The government might be talking up food sovereignty, the transition to low-carbon manufacturing, and so on, but there’s no plan to put the casino-capitalists on a diet.

Response to Turner’s views are revealing:

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, asks what would replace the City as a source of employment and tax revenues. So, at least he’s willing to consider alternatives if laid out before him.

The Shadow Chancellor has remained silent. For obvious reasons. No one would believe a Tory Chancellor would crack down on big business.

London’s buffoonish Mayor, Boris Johnson, is perhaps the only UK politician willing to leap to the defence of the City.

An unnamed London banker is quoted in the FT as saying “It is just illogical to want to shrink one of your most important industries,” unless it happens to have led to the destruction of all your other industries, I suppose… He goes on to say: “If you want to turn London into a Marxist society, then great.”

Yes, comrade. Great! Full marks for hyperbole.

“Saint” Vince Cable of the Lib Dems has welcomed what Turner has said, stating that that “competitiveness” arguments cannot be used to defend the status quo:

“If you are engaged in behaviour that is dangerous to the wider British economy, it is right some sectors may have to contract,”

However, Nick Clegg, the Liberal leader, has said that taxation would be unworkable as a way of shrinking the City as global agreement would be required.

It was interesting to observe President Nicholas Sarkozy of France revealing his tough plans for reform to bank remuneration – which will only be implemented if there’s a global agreement. Which in political terms, is a win-win deal. If the rest of the world says non, he wins; if the rest of the world says oui, he wins.

What changes do I suggest, then?

Well, given that the financial services sector could not exist without the taxpayer support that has been given, the government should ensure that restructuring takes place with the following modest reforms:

* Voluntary redundancies only, and terms and conditions respected for the pay and pensions of bank staff on low- to middle-incomes. Workers in the financial services industry should not be made to pay for the greed of their employers.

* Executive pay, pensions, and other benefits should be capped at all financial institutions – even those in which the government has no shareholding. If executives want to flee elsewhere, let them – there are plenty of talented people willing to take their place and be justly rewarded.

* To prevent future banking crises, the nationalised banks should be mutualised rather than be privatised. Mutual financial institutions – the credit unions, building societies, and Cooperative Bank – have served their members/customers and behaved responsibly.

Train cooperative on track in SW England?

Paul Gosling reports:

Electrification of the London to Swansea rail line is good news for public transport users in the South West and the Government’s approval for Network Rail to meet the £1 billion cost is a demonstration of real commitment not just to the rail system, but also to combating climate change.

But for many people away from the main urban centres, what is needed is more than just faster journey times to London. They demand connectivity that reduces rural isolation, makes journeys faster, cheaper and easier and improves the economic prospects of smaller towns and villages.

This is where Go! Co-operative comes in, which is not only one of the newest co-ops to be established, but also the most recently established train operating company. Its prospectus for raising capital is about to be published, with the ambition of raising a quarter of a million pounds over the next two years.

Go! Co-op intends to be the fifth train operating company taking advantage of the principle of open access to rail lines that is enshrined in legislation and which is intended to increase the provision of services by sharing existing lines. This provision enables additional services to operate alongside the main rail franchises. Existing open access rail operators include Heathrow Express and Hull Trains.

However, Go! Co-op would be the first open access train provider running as a multi-stakeholder co-operative that brings together the interests of commuters, workers and the communities that would be served, via their local authorities. It is backed by some heritage railway operators.

The co-operative’s business planning is already well developed, thanks to seed-corn funding supplied by Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative Group, through the Co-operative Fund, backed by practical support from the Somerset Co-operative Services.

Go! is looking at various routes, including local branch line operations and longer cross country services. Some of these involve open access services on Network Rail lines, while others would operate in partnership with heritage rail and other independent railway owners.

At this stage, it is not possible to say which routes will be pursued — detailed studies on line capacity and passenger demand are needed first, as well as more negotiation with potential partners.

The chair of Go! Co-op is well known co-operative activist, Tim Pearce — the South West regional organiser for the Co-operative Party until he retired three and a half years ago.

“Existing train services run to London,” explains Mr Pearce. “Our intention is to serve other communities that don’t have good connections to anywhere. Cross-country connections are important. We are looking to potential routes in the south of England on existing rail networks.”

The Go! Co-op initiative has been given extra impetus by the recent publication of the Association of Train Operating Companies’ (ATOC) document Connecting Communities, which supports the principle of much improved connectivity for isolated communities by making greater use of lines that, at present, run few services. “We are interested in underused and also closed lines and closed stations, but that’s a lot of money,” says Mr Pearce.

“We are interested in the electrification, but that is a long time ahead, at least five years. It does raise interest in the rail network and the South West is getting a fairer crack of the whip than it has in the past.

“We want to develop routes in the South, but including the North. We are hoping to develop routes from the South to the Midlands, servicing the West Midlands conurbations, developing links where they don’t exist.

“We are trying to raise money from potential commuters and from councils along the rail lines. We will run it as a multi-stakeholder co-op.

“The communities that benefit will have control over the service. We envisage a scenario where the guy who pushes the trolley can be on the board. I have been very impressed by the results of [societies’] board elections where you get electricians and so on elected to the board.”

Mr Pearce’s involvement in the project arose from a motion put forward to Co-operative Party Conference in 2007, which called for the mutualisation of Network Rail. “We have made some progress there,” says Mr Pearce. “We still hope to get a result from that and are fairly optimistic.

“We then organised a conference last year [on Network Rail mutualisation]. That was successful. It had a lot of rail people and Co-op people there. Basically the idea [for Go!] started to gel about that time and because of that conference.” With that momentum established, one of the founders the project — Alex Lawrie of Somerset Co-operative Services — invited Mr Pearce to get involved.

The timetable for progress is as impressively ambitious as the project itself. The co-op has already been authorised by the Financial Services Authority to raise the funds. It is also working with the FSA to develop rules that allow for withdrawable and transferable Industrial and Provident Society share capital raised from members and outside investors. Outside investors will have enough voting power to protect their investment, but in accordance with co-operative principles the passenger and employee members between them will have effective control.

Go! believes, given the example of the major fund raising achieved by windfarm co-ops, that it can raise the necessary investment. Assuming it does so, it hopes to gain route authorisation some time next year and begin services in 2011.

Ultimately, Go! has aspirations even beyond this — its motivation is to improve connections between communities, not just to run rail services. So it would also like to be involved in running bus services that feed the rail services and perhaps operate bike hire and car clubs.

It is one of the most impressive and ambitious co-operative projects to come forward in many years. But it is also firmly grounded in a sense of realism — it deserves wide support.

Northern Rock – use it to set up a Post Bank, or sell it to Tesco?

The government nationalised the ailing bank, formerly a building society, but only after many months of foot-dragging. And only on a temporary basis, natch.

Word is, Northern Rock could be sold to Tesco, handing the supermarket even greater power in the economy. Given that a majority of shareholders voted against plans to improve workers’ rights at the company, we know that Tesco isn’t very socially-responsible – so why give them a stake in the banking sector?

There’s a better alternative, as Louise Nousratpour reports:

A coalition of unions and businesses will step up their campaign for a “post bank” tomorrow with proposals that government-owned Northern Rock be used to offer services via post offices.

The group will publish plans arguing that their proposal would give a boost to the Post Office network and provide a vital community service.

A Post Bank would “revive and protect” post offices, support local communities and help smaller firms, especially as the banking system was still in “disarray,” they argue.

The report Delivering the post bank outlines four options the government could follow to establish the post bank. These range from using Northern Rock as a foundation for a mutually structured people’s bank to buying out the current relationship between the Post Office and Bank of Ireland.

Support for the idea of a post bank is growing within all three main political parties as well as among a range of campaign groups.

Postal workers union CWU leader Billy Hayes urged Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, who has been pushing for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, to endorse this “vote-winning” initiative.

“We have met the challenge to create a workable model for the creation of a post bank,” he said.

“Our new report builds upon the conceptual idea and provides practical blueprints that will appeal to the general public who are disillusioned with the old, tired banking model.”

Federation of Small Businesses chairman John Wright said: “Northern Rock presents the government with a considerable opportunity and it should not consider selling it off privately, but instead should use it to establish a post bank and invest in the long-term future of the Post Office.”

Finance union Unite national officer Paul Reuter argued that the ambition should be to “secure the future of the workers in Northern Rock as well as securing the Post Office network while, at the same time, resolving the problem of financial exclusion and meeting the needs of small businesses.”

Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners Convention added: “Ministers need to rise to the challenge and secure a future for the post office network that serves local communities rather than pander to those who want to run it down and sell it off.”

LDV: the bailout has failed, it’s time to nationalise

Hundreds of jobs are in jeopardy at van-maker LDV and its suppliers after the company went into administration yesterday.

The firm was going to be bought out by Westar, a company based in Malaysia, after being owned by a Russian oligarch who is a friend of the Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.

Mandelson had agreed a five million pound bridging loan, but Westar is unable to raise funds, and the deal has collapsed.

For the workers at the company and its suppliers in Birmingham, the last few months have been incredibly stressful – like thousands of workers at Vauxhall’s plants in Luton and Ellesmere Port, they fear unemployment and the heartache it brings to families.

As soon as I heard that the company would be taken over by an overseas firm, I feared that the result would be the outsourcing of production – in other words, factory closures here in England.

This cannot be allowed to happen, either at LDV or Vauxhall.

There’s no reason why the government can’t step in like it did with the banks – here there are sound economic and environmental reasons for acting. As I’ve said before, there will be a market for fuel efficient vehicles once demand picks up, and if the productive economy is not rebuilt we will suffer a decline in living standards.

Short of nationalisation, these auto firms could be converted to cooperative ownership, with the government providing a loan out of the billion set aside to help the car industry.

Workers at Visteon showed the way forward by occupying their plants to demand justice. This is the only effective course of action open to workers at LDV and Vauxhall.

Organise, occupy, nationalise!

Conned by John Lewis?

This story was first brought to my attention by a commenter on my recent post on the Partnership:

Conned by John Lewis

Unite convenor Rob Williams makes the point that the Visteon workers’ struggle is important for all workers. This is clearly shown by the example of ex-John Lewis partnership workers who have just been made redundant on minimal terms, by the company which took them over two years ago. Alan McDermott, one of the workers from the plant in Carlisle told The Socialist:

“Our textiles and dyeing firm, Stead McAlpin, was sold by the John Lewis Partnership in September 2007 to a newly set up company called Apex textiles. We were told by John Lewis managing director Andy Street, that all John Lewis benefits, including enhanced redundancy payments would be honoured by Apex for two years from the date of the sale.

But on 1 April, we endured the sickest April fool of all. We were asked to the works dining room, split into two groups and told that over 60 of us were redundant. We were given a form to fill in and send off to claim statutory redundancy.

We had 15 minutes to empty our lockers. After over 25 years service, all that many of us had was a carrier bag, some boots and a paper to post off, along with friends we had worked with all our lives.

We are in the unenviable position of facing the loss of our homes.

We are planning a protest on 8 April. A 24-hour vigil at the gates of Stead McAlpin in Carlisle, where our families will also support us.

We are also planning a walk from the plant in Carlisle to John Lewis head office in London to register our disgust at their failure to help us, after being part of John Lewis since 1965. Let’s face it we have nothing else to do!

We were conned by John Lewis.”

Waterford Wedgewood’s new owner plans to outsource jobs

The company should have been given over to its workers, without whom the company is nothing. The old bosses had failed, the workers should have been given a crack of the whip – the British and Irish governments could have helped turn the firm into a workers’ cooperative. But no, both states are structured to help the rich get richer, not to keep workers in good jobs.

Now most of them will be sacked – their jobs going where the wages are cheaper, all part of the “free” trade “free” market race to the bottom. The rest will no doubt be called upon to take pay cuts – all to restore the profitability of the firm for its new owners.

We all face this situation – the fear that if our jobs aren’t exported our wages will stagnate. But if we were the owners, we wouldn’t be trying to squeeze profit out of ourselves – we’d be trying to make a living, not a killing!

This candid article is from the Financial Times, and I’ve put the pertinent information in italics and bold:

The new owner of Waterford Wedgwood plans to use the fabled but struggling ceramic and crystal tableware brands as a platform for acquisitions after cutting costs and transferring production of all but the most prestigious products overseas.

Michael Psaros, co-founder of KPS Capital Partners, said that his strategy for turning round the lossmaking company was to cut costs by streamlining its back office operations and shift more production to cheaper countries.

“It is all based on costs and we are not assuming any revenue growth to achieve profitability,” said Mr Psaros, who completed the purchase of the major assets of Waterford Wedgwood out of receivership last night. “We intend for Waterford Wedgwood to be an acquisition platform in this industry and we’re prepared to invest very significant capital in helping to grow the hell out of the business.”

The deal transferred 3,800 staff and many Waterford Wedgwood assets out of receivership, such as its Staffordshire china factory and visitor centre, and its biggest brands, including Royal Doulton and a licence to make Vera Wang pottery.

New York-based KPS, which specialises in buying troubled companies, will invest €100m (£94m). The company will be “virtually debt free”, after leaving €800m of debt and pension liabilities in receivership. The deal involved operations in 10 different countries, including the US, Japan, Australia and Singapore.

KPS is not buying any assets in Ireland except the stock of products. Mr Psaros said 173 of the 480 staff in Ireland would continue to work, but they would be employed by the receivers, not the new company. A consortium of local Waterford-based businessmen are in talks with the Irish government to fund construction of a new crystal factory in the area. Mr Psaros described the existing factory as “a dinosaur manufacturing plant”.

Mr Psaros said the company was already moving its Waterford crystal production to Germany and Slovakia, and its Wedgwood and Royal Doulton china production to a factory in Indonesia. But he said “it didn’t do it fast enough”.

“We are going to accelerate transfer of activity from the UK to Indonesia,” he said. “Indonesian labour is 85 per cent cheaper than the UK. But the real works of art and highest-end products will still be done in Barlaston.”

Co-op movement calls for change at G20

Social enterprise has joined the calls to Put People First and to consider the model of co-operative ownership:

Co-operatives UK is asking members to support calls on G20 leaders, when they meet in London on April 2nd, to put people first by providing decent jobs and public services for all; ending global inequalities of wealth and power, and creating a green economy.

In a week of action in the run up to the G20 Summit, development NGOs, trade unions, faith groups, anti-poverty campaigners and international social movements are uniting to make their voices heard.

Pauline Green, Chief Executive of Co-operatives UK, said: “Co-operatives are founded on values of equality and solidarity and they believe in social responsibility, caring for others and protecting the environment.

“The G20 Summit in London is a terrific opportunity to get our message across that more should be done to end global inequality, provide fair employment opportunities for all and help protect the planet.

“The experience of the world economy over the last few months has highlighted the inadequacies of the financial and economic system and lessons need to be learned. Co-operative businesses, like all businesses, are being affected by the economic downturn and more co-ordinated action needs to be taken by governments.

“This is the best opportunity for a generation to learn from the mistakes of the past and to create a more inclusive global system that offers fairness and opportunity for all. This isn’t the time for retrenchment and protectionism, but for reaching out to create a new global system which rewards self-help and recognises the importance of community.”

Added Dame Pauline: “Co-operation as a business model is recognised the world over as a sustainable and people-centred way of doing business that understands the importance of ‘fair globalisation’.

“It provides a means of helping developing countries maximise their potential and thus helping their people live better lives.”

Co-operatives UK is also supporting calls for change from the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA), whose members represent over 800 million individuals in co-operatives around the world. The ICA has issued an Open Letter to the governments of the G20.

Iain Macdonald, ICA Director General, said: “The ICA is particularly concerned that the G20 examines every option in seeking to overcome the current financial crisis.

“We are asking the G20 governments to give serious consideration to the advantages of the co-operative model of business. With over 150 years of commercial success in all economic fields, it is our conviction that co-operative enterprise, with its unique set of values and principles, can provide possible solutions particularly in promoting stability in the global economy.”

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