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.

Stimulus-pocus

The recession is deeper than we thought, the central bankers say.

No shit? Gee, these guys are at the cutting edge. I wonder how they found out – perhaps they saw the unemployment lines…

Their solution is simple – keep interest rates at a record low and erm, print more money.

How much, you ask?

Oh, say another fifty billion pounds…

Quantitative easing. It sounds clever, but that doesn’t butter parsnips.

Why do I get the feeling that the only thing QE is stimulating is the profits of the banks?

Okay, so the bailed-out banks have reported losses – but things are going great for the remaining banks (their investment arms at least!)

As for the real-world stimulus mesures, like the car scrapage scheme and the reduction of value-added tax, these will not be extended.

Why do I get the feeling quantitative easing will be given another go?

A 90% tax on banker bonuse: who could object?

Not the Daily Mail.

Who’s scared of the bankers? I mean, it can’t be any worse than Deal or No Deal, surely?

We could get Noel Edmonds on the phone to these guys…

Would he be any worse at it?

Truly the drunks are running of the brewery, the vampires are in charge of the bloodbank, the lunatics have taken over the asylum…

The Morning Star reports:

Labour MP John McFall tore into Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Parliament on Thursday over obscene bonus payments to bankers.

Mr Brown went along to a question and answer session with senior MPs hoping to fob them off with a tame document suggesting a few feeble banking “reforms.”

But the terrier-like Mr McFall made Mr Brown squirm, telling him: “I put it to you, Prime Minister, that the horse has bolted.”

He instanced the average bonus of half a million pounds each for bankers at Goldman Sachs announced just this week.

The West Dunbartonshire MP, who is chairman of the Treasury select committee, protested that the recent £9.6 million pay package for Royal Bank of Scotland chief Stephen Hester “is very similar to Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract at Real Madrid.”

He added: “The City has won. Like Ronaldo, they are running rings around both the government and regulators.”

Mr McFall demanded that Mr Brown must act to make sure that ordinary citizens can “trust the banks” and get a “fair deal from the banking system.”

Pale with tension, Mr Brown could only fall back on his prepared brief as he faced Mr McFall and other members of the Commons liaison committee in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House.

The Prime Minister agreed that “excess payments” to bankers were “unacceptable.”

Then he added weakly: “It is only on the basis of long-term performance that we can guarantee the bonus system.”

He said that an interim review of banking governance published on Thursday recommended that “bonuses and remuneration should be over a five-year period.”

Mr Brown stressed that there also needed to be “proper transparency” and a regulatory system “to take action where necessary.”

Thursday’s review was drawn up by City bigwig Sir David Walker – who was director of Lloyds Bank between 1992 and 1994.

He urged that non-executive directors of banks should be “better informed” and actually attend to company duties a bit more often. He suggested they spend “up to 50 per cent longer” at the bank.

Bonus schemes should include a “significant” deferred element to discourage short-termism, he added.

His wishy-washy report said: “Many boards inadequately understood the type and scale of risks they were running and failed to hold the executive to high standards of sustainable performance.

“Bonus schemes contributed to excessive risk-taking by rewarding short-term performance. And shareholders failed to exercise proper stewardship.”

Mr Brown told the MPs’ committee that Sir David “makes some very clear recommendations which I believe will be adopted.”

Tory MP Edward Leigh asked him whether there was any truth in press reports of plans for 20 per cent cuts in public spending.

Mr Brown dismissed this as “quite ridiculous,” but then added that “there are tough choices that have to be made.”

He said that £9 billion of cuts were being made in back-line public services “so that we can increase spending in front-line services.”

And he confessed that extra spending on the Iraq and Afghan wars had amounted to £14bn.

Let them eat guns!

Just another cog in the machine?

h/t: John Gray

Save Vestas!

First a report from Workers Climate Action, who have displayed tremendous solidarity in their efforts to assist the struggle of Vestas’ employees:

On Friday 3 July, Workers’ Climate Action and the Cowes Trades
Council held a public meeting attended by around 100 people, to oppose
the closure of the Vestas plant, Britain’s only wind turbine factory,
on the Isle of Wight.

Two months ago, Vestas announced over 500 job cuts and is seeking to move production to the USA

The room was packed with workers from the factory as well as people
from the wider community. By the end of the meeting, there were people
seriously discussing the tactic of a factory occupation to save jobs
and force much-needed investment in wind energy. How did this come
about?

The Isle of Wight is, for the most part, staunchly Conservative,
with very little history of class struggle or environmentalism. It has
one Labour councillor, no branch of any left group, and an apparently
inactive Green Party branch. The previous campaign to save jobs at
Vestas was very small, based mainly on a Facebook group and a petition
had ground to a halt, lacking direction and the confidence to take
radical action.

A small number of activists from Workers’ Liberty heard the news of
the closure began getting in touch with people on the Island three
weeks ago. We managed to get a hold of the few local trade unionists
from the Trades Council. Most of these turned out to be past retirement
age, but many with militant histories.

As impressed as these old heads of the labour movement were and as
glad as they were to see a bunch of energetic young people having come
down to set up a campaign, no one expected it to go anywhere. The
wisdom was that this was a workplace that had never been unionised, the
closure had been announced, the ball was in motion; we should try by
all means but that we shouldn’t get too disappointed if we got nowhere.

Despite this, we went out and simply stood outside the factory
waiting for people to come out of work, we had no leaflets other than
the basic WCA ‘Climate Change is a Class Issue’ one. As the workers
went past we got chatting, heard stories of people having to move house
as a result of the redundancies and various attempts over the years to
get trade union recognition met with victimisations and sackings.
People felt betrayed, many of them young, many had thought that this
was an industry with a future, many genuinely felt they were doing
their bit to save the planet. All this was down the drain.

People were pissed off, all that was lacking was the sense that
anything could be done to do anything, to fight back, we decided at
that point to try and pull together a meeting. We got the Trade’s
Council to sort the venue, came back to London and knocked up a leaflet.

We then mobilised a small but diverse group of Workers’ Climate
Action activists (environmentalists, socialists, and anarchists) from
across the country to come down.

We spent a week intensively building for a public meeting. We
leafleted the gates of the two factory sites at least twice a day, did
stalls in the main towns, and constantly spoke to people about their
concerns – the impact of the closure on jobs and the local community,
environmental concerns, the poor state of health and safety at the
Vestas plants, and raised the appropriate political questions – who
should determine how jobs are provided and how energy is produced? How
should the transition to a low carbon economy be achieved? What is to
be done about harsh management practices, job losses, and factory
closures?

Working in a political environment not usually best suited to
revolutionary politics, we found that our concern for jobs and the
environment was immediately taken on by the many of the hundreds of
people we spoke to.

Not only are Vestas management cutting jobs, they are also a highly
exploitative employer. In the tradition of post-fordist management,
they sought to generate a high turnover of employees to prevent
unionisation, and to prevent the workers from building up significant
redundancy packages. The air conditioning in the factories is
inadequate, many workers contracted contact dermatitis, an allergic
reaction to the resin used in moulds, and the company operates an
unofficial ‘three strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure, as
well as regularly denying workers days off and sick days for no good
reason. The exploitation of the worker for profit provides us with an
analogy for environmental exploitation and degradation.

We succeeded in talking to the local media, including BBC radio
Solent, the Isle of Wight County press, and Meridian News, and we were
able to voice ideas like the just transition to a low carbon economy,
and democratic workers’ control of industry in forums where they had
not been heard in a long time.

Using contacts made during the Visteon occupation, we persuaded the
former convenor of the Enfield Visteon plant, Ron Clarke, to speak at
the public meeting. Ron spoke about the experience and the tactics of
occupation, telling the gathered crowds that physical control of the
factory was the only way to bargain with the bosses. The experience
gained by the Visteon workers, and their resounding success provided a
galvanising example of what can be achieved if workers take action and
stick together.

We encountered problems and obstructions from all the usual sources.
Just before the public meeting, a police inspector phoned the secretary
of Cowes trades council, informing him that the Workers’ Climate Action
had published a piece exhorting Vestas workers to chain themselves to
machinery. This was, of course, a lie. The police were, nevertheless,
very visible outside the public meeting.

In addition to this, many of the speakers brought to the public
meeting by the local trades council revealed themselves to be
bureaucrats. They told workers to simply join UNITE and get official
recognition, but were disdainful about the idea of occupation. These
business unionists and social partnership bureaucrats brought little to
the campaign, but they certainly alienated a lot of workers with their
elitist talk of letters written to ‘Lord Mandelson’.

Despite the politically questionable character of the meeting, we
managed to get workers and people on-board to expand the campaign
further into the factory and the local community. The Socialist Workers
Party and Socialist Party are already organising public meetings in
Southampton and Portsmouth with speakers from Workers’ Climate Action
and workers themselves. A protest in the centre of Newport is planned,
with the possibility of a happening outside Downing Street in London to
put pressure on the government.

National groups are expressing an interest in getting involved, and
we are following up contacts in Denmark, where Vestas have their
headquarters, with a view to encouraging solidarity actions. Watch this
space, and the Workers’ Climate Action Website (www.workersclimateaction.co.uk) for more information as it comes in.

Our actions to oppose the Vestas closure will demonstrate that,
though energy and enthusiasm are essential to achieve results, we must
also, as Lenin says ‘be able at each particular moment to find the
particular link in the chain which you must grasp with all your might
in order to hold the whole chain and to prepare firmly for the
transition to the next link; the order of the links, their form, the
manner in which they are linked together, the way they differ from each
other in the historical chain of events, are not as simple and not as
meaningless as those in an ordinary chain made by a smith.’

Already messages of solidarity are pouring in via email
(savevestas@googlemail.com), and a motion will be circulating around
trade unions who wish to offer their support to the Vestas workers. The
campaign is already snowballing, but it must be held in mind that this
situation could be brought into existence anywhere – at Corus, or in
the car industry, or at Nortel where 2,000 redundancies were announced
today. Go to where jobs are being lost, talk to a few workers,
collaborate and draft a leaflet, call a big meeting. Raise the
experience of Visteon. Raise the possibility of direct action: it can
be done.

Workers Climate Action are holding an organising meeting in
Cambridge on Friday 17 July. Come and get involved. The WCA website
should have more details soon.

And this weeks’ The Socialist reports on the situation on the Isle of Wight:

Save jobs at Vestas wind turbine plant

Over 600 workers at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight are on the brink of losing their jobs after the company announced they intend to move production of wind turbine blades to America. The workers have been offered an insulting redundancy package of less than £1,000 and at a public meeting last week a call for action was raised.

Ben Norman, Portsmouth Socialist Party

The meeting, called by the Isle of Wight trades council and a local campaign group called ‘Workers Climate Action’, was attended by around 150 people, made up of Vestas workers and local residents.

The ideas raised by the seven speakers, none of whom were Vestas workers, varied enormously. Members of ‘Workers Climate Action’ called for immediate direct action and factory occupation. Speakers from the trades council simply urged workers to join their local union.

These demands are not enough, especially as the factory bosses do not recognise the trade unions. Members of the Socialist Party raised the need for a clear programme of demands to accompany coordinated action and urged both the meeting organisers and the workers to learn the lessons of Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar.

The job losses at Vestas are not unique on the Isle of Wight. There has been a 15,000 increase in the number of people forced to claim unemployment benefit since last year.

Currently the island is the lowest wage economy in the UK. Closure of a factory of this size would be a disaster for the entire Island.

The workers of the island will not find allies in the bosses or even in their elected MPs.

Tory MP Andrew Turner effectively turned his back on the workers by saying: “My job is not to solve this problem!”

The representative from SEEDA, the regional development agency, said that although they have a budget in excess of £169 million, there was no will to use it to save Vestas jobs.

One member of the trades council even announced that they had written to Peter Mandelson to petition him to save the plant.

We say that the answer will not be found with Lord Mandelson or an unelected government quango.

We pledge our support to and call for clear demands for the workers of Vestas, including:

  • No to job cuts.
  • Re-invest in the factory – Keep production going.
  • Full trade union recognition.
  • Take the factory into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management.
  • Form an action committee to take the campaign forward.
  • Organise a demonstration on the Isle of Wight as soon as possible to build solidarity for the Vestas workers.

Guns before butter

From Socialist Appeal, the priorities of our ruling class:

Afghanistan: Guns Before Butter Print E-mail
By Ewan Gibbs
Wednesday, 08 July 2009
As the Pakistani army continued to be bogged down in a ferocious battle against the Taliban inside its own borders and yet another British soldier is killed in Afghanistan, to date the one hundred and seventy-sixth since 2001, it is evident that the British military is engaged in a war it cannot win. Defence Minister Bob Ainsworth has outlined desperate measures which entail a wholesale reform of the Territorial Army. Gone forever will be the image of a glorified Dad’s Army as the TA is to be integrated with the rest of the army and better prepared for wars abroad.afghan_map.gifThe plans will see the TA trained more quickly for deployment abroad, and will come alongside an attempt to bolster the TA’s numbers which have halved to just 330,000 in recent years. Unsurprisingly when presented with the prospect of having to risk their lives in a deployment to either  Iraq or Afghanistan fewer people have signed up to the TA or the military as a whole during the last few years. Under the conditions of the recession this is starting to change. Faced with either the dole queue or the army many young people, in particular male sixteen year old school leaver opt for the latter. The military knows this and in recent months has upped its recruiters’ presence in areas with a high rate of unemployment, disgustingly exploiting the situation that the capitalist crisis has put many working class people in.

False Hopes For The Imperialists

However, even the increasing numbers of economic conscripts that are signing up for the US and British militaries are not enough. The US and its junior partners thought they were on to a winner when they started their predatory wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These imperialist adventures aimed to establish political hegemony and secure control over natural resources, including oil and gas for the Americans and their allies. Initially all seemed to be going well. Who could forget Bush’s  Iraq War victory speech delivered on board an aircraft carrier, complete with his very own presidential action man uniform? The period since has seen the American’s success turn into its opposite. Iraq and Afghanistan have become death traps for the military forces trying to contain the insurgency and suck up billions upon billions of dollars that even the world’s biggest military and economic power cannot sustain indefinitely. Next to no resources, aside from Afghan opium which comes alongside a flight of skilled labour, are being reaped from either country whilst this whole area of the world has been destabilised. The departure from Iraq seems to be well under way following Obama’s inauguration, and an undignified retreat from Afghanistan will have to follow at some point. Yet it is clear we have entered a new period of global instability that will lead to more so called ‘small wars’ as the recent episodes in Georgia and the Gaza strip have demonstrated.

TAs In Trouble

bobainsworthinbasra.jpgAinsworth has said in words that the proposed changes will leave intact the TA’s ability to come to the country’s aid in the event of a national catastrophe, whilst the plans presented suggest otherwise. Actions speak louder than words. Reservists already account for 9% of British troops deployed in Afghanistan and over 17000 TA troops have been deployed abroad since 2003. (BBC News 28/4/09) It is clear the government wishes to see these figures rise. It must be noted that these measures have more than just an immediate military purpose. The expansion of the TA and the increasing presence of the Officer Training Corps and Cadets in universities and schools represent attempts to build an auxiliary state military apparatus outside of the army itself. Perhaps the layer of ‘economic conscripts’ to the regular army, recruited because they had nowhere else to go, are unreliable? Could they be trusted to fire upon working class people in this country? Better perhaps to rely on some gung-ho volunteers who were not forced into the ranks of the military outside of economic necessity alone. The Officer Training Corps and Cadets are invariably dominated by middle-class youth who are much more likely to be sympathetic to the reactionary role they will be asked to play. The same applies to the TA.

Armed Bodies Of Men

Engels famously explained that the capitalist state could ultimately be reduced to armed bodies of men standing in defence of private property. The actions of the police at the G20 protests in London brutally revealed the true nature of the British state. The reservists being trained and sent to oppress and kill workers and peasants in Iraq and Afghanistan today could well be deployed on the streets of Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow or London tomorrow if Britain were ever to face a revolutionary situation.

ta.jpgAfter spending so long telling us the money was not available for even the most basic reforms, government found the money to bail out the bankers at the drop of a hat and is continuing to fight and fund their wars. The resources have been found for this whole sale rejuvenation of the TA that will see infrastructure, training and structure renewed, whilst billions are being poured into the Trident nuclear weapons programme. All this leaves working people asking where their bail out is as they face unemployment and repossessions. Clearly the only form of Keynesianism boost to the economy this government is interested in is the same kind Ronny Reagan was: military Keynesianism! That shows where their priorities really lie and who they serve.

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.”

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