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.

Passengers want public transport, not private profit

A good article in the latest Socialist:

Bus passengers will not have been surprised by a recent report from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) accusing bus companies of milking public subsidies and taking advantage of the free bus passes enjoyed by the over 60s and people with disabilities.

Calvin Payne, Sheffield

Despite deregulation in the 1980s, bus companies now receive annual subsidies totalling £1.2 billion. Companies profit from successful routes while claiming public money to ‘subsidise’ the less profitable ones, such as those used by school children and the elderly. Public money is spent adding to the profits of some of the biggest companies in the country under the threat of service withdrawal or reduction.

These companies receive the equivalent adult fare whenever a free pass holder uses the service and have been accused of increasing fares on certain routes to take advantage of this arrangement.

The problem according to OFT is that there are not enough companies competing to run services. But whether in a monopoly situation, or with competition, private companies are still going to try to drive down wages and increase fares. In Sheffield some routes have seen fare cuts as a result of competing firms; however a couple of weeks after one firm increased fares by 20%, so did the other!

The OFT report also accuses large firms of undercutting smaller firms to drive them away, so any fare cuts are short-lived once that aim is achieved.

The Competition Commission is set to investigate the ‘unfair business practices’ of large bus companies. But a return to public ownership is not being considered by politicians or business friendly investigative bodies.

Amongst passengers though, that solution is still very much in mind and demanded. The cheap and good service run publicly in South Yorkshire until 1987 is still the benchmark as far as local passengers are concerned and is fondly remembered.

As well as passengers, the drivers and staff are angry at the current situation. Companies such as First and Stagecoach are attempting to freeze wages at a time of record profits and shareholder dividends. This has led to a series of strike ballots which are planned to culminate in nationwide action later this year.

If drivers and passengers can be united in one fight to restore public ownership, then fares could be cut, services maintained, and wages increased from current low levels back to their equivalent from regulated days. This task is down to campaigners and fighting union activists in the coming weeks and months.

Brave Vestas workers are sacked – but the fight goes on

For over a week now Vestas workers on the Isle of Wight have occupied their employer’s offices in an effort to stop the factory closing and their jobs being shipped overseas.

A workforce that wasn’t unionised, that had no experience of such a campaign, have shown how workers in England can struggle and gain support nationally (from many trade unions and environmental activist groups) and internationally (South Korean workers in the same situation have sent solidarity greetings).

These workers have now been sacked.

We need to show the government and Vestas how much this annoys us.

Our brothers and sisters in Scotland had 20,000 people marching in Kilmarnock last Sunday to protest job losses at profitable Diageo’s Johnnie Walker plants.

We can do the same for the Vestas workers!

Socialist Worker reports:

The workers have released a statement, which was read out at the protest outside the plant this evening. They said, “We all received letters to tell us that we had been sacked with no redundancy money. This has not deterred us in any way. We are now fighting for everyone else. Come to the court tomorrow. Bring your friends and family, and spread the word.”

Steve, one of the occupation’s stewards, read management’s letter to the rally. It stated that the workers had been sacked for “gross misconduct” as a result of their industrial action.

Steve said, “We will fight this all the way. We will not rest until the workers get what is rightfully theirs. They have fought for all of us. We will show the world that they are heroes.

“We have one message for the Vestas management: ‘We are here to stay.’ Please come to the court tomorrow. We will be putting on a show of strength there to show that workers in the Isle of Wight will not roll over.”

Darling begs the banksters, yet again

Bad news for Alistair Darling.

No, not that his cat’s just died, which is sad enough.

But that the banks don’t listen to his pleas to lend.

For months now he’s begged them to do something to help the small and medium enterprises, which are the back-bone of the private sector, get affordable credit.

But no, despite having nationalised much of the banking sector, the banksters aren’t listening. They’re profiteering.

To cap it all, John Kingman, the head of UKFI, the arms-length company which administers UK citizens’ collective stake in the banks, has announced that he’s stepping down to get a bigger pay-packet in the private sector.

If Darling is serious about wanting to help people through the recession – to keep businesses going and keep workers in their jobs so we can get out of it – then he should put representatives on the boards of the nationalised banks and make sure they give small businesses a fair deal.

We need democratic public ownership – with workers’ representatives on the boards of the banks.

In another months’ time there will be thousands of people out of work because the banks are being greedy – and they won’t be begging New Labour to change course…

Rail for the people – or Brian Souter?

That’s the question. Should we have public transport or a subsidised cash-cow for a man made wealthy by the state?

RAIL UNION RMT today stepped up their pressure on the government to remove National Express from their rail franchises as new research shows that the company has made nearly half a billion pounds in profits from their rail operations in the past 10 years while sucking in nearly £2.5 billion in public subsidy over the same period.

Just under two weeks ago Transport Secretary Lord Adonis announced that he was taking the failed National Express franchise on East Coast Mainline back into public ownership. Since then, the company have made bullish noises that they will fight to retain the rights to run the service and have also thrown down a gauntlet to the government over National Express East Anglia and c2c which they should be stripped of under the “cross-default” clause.

Today, Tuesday July 14, a parliamentary adjournment debate will take place under the title Rail Services on the East Coast Mainline led by York MP Hugh Bayley where a growing number of MP’s will be applying pressure on ministers for National Express to be stripped of their rail franchises.

Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said today:

“It’s now two weeks since the government announced that they would be taking decisive action over National Express on the East Coast and we are stepping up the pressure for the company to be dumped as a matter of urgency and for their franchises to be nationalised on a permanent basis, not as a short term, crisis measure.

“National Express have been taking us all for a ride. Not only have they milked the best part of half a billion pounds out of their rail operations but they have sucked in £2.5 billion in public subsidies in the process.

“Now National Express are leaving a potential rail funding gap of £1 billion behind after their chaotic performance on the East Coast Mainline and once again it’s the travelling public and rail workers who are left to pick up the pieces. National Express, along with the rest of the rail privateers, should be kicked off the tracks for good.”

I’d go further than Bob – I’d like to see the privateers prosecuted for their theivery.

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.”

Nationalised Express – public ownership for East Coast rail route

Great news, as it is a step towards ending the corporate domination of our railways which has cost us dearly both as taxpayers and passengers.

The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union has backed the move:

“RMT welcomes todays announcement by the Government on the renationalisation of the East Coast route but this shouldn’t be a short term, crisis measure.

“It should be a long term solution to the chaos that privatisation has brought to the UK’s most lucrative rail franchise.

“RMT’s national AGM will send a clear message to the Government today that they should strip National Express of their other franchises and use this opportuinity to begin the process of renationalising the rail network,” said Bob Crow.

John McDonnell MP, RMT Parliamentary Group Convenor, said:

“The public control of the East Coast Mainline franchise should be a stepping stone to full and permanent public ownership.

“This East Coast franchise should be used as a public sector benchmark – and if the public sector performs better then let’s have other franchises back in public ownership too.”

The Green Party agrees, saying

The government should go further. Under cross-default clauses, the Transport secretary, Lord Adonis, could strip National Express of all its contracts, now that the group has handed back one franchise.

The Green Party remains the only major party in Britain to call for the full re-nationalisation of the railways.

Rupert Read, candidate for Norwich North and Green Party spokesperson on public services, said:

“Train privatisation, from the beginning, was a very flawed model. We can’t keep socialising private companies’ losses and privatising their profits. We need a national train network under direct public control and with full public accountability.”

“National Express must pay back whatever monies are outstanding from their rail franchise of the East Coast Main Line – it would be quite wrong for National Express to continue to profit on some lines, while the taxpayer has to foot the bill on others. To use the government’s own rhetoric, this should be a zero-tolerance issue.”

Sir Richard Branson, co-owner of the Virgin west coast franchise, has expressed an interest in bidding for the east coast franchise if it became available.

Read responded to this by saying: “Virgin would then have control of England-Scotland services, as well as London to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Doncaster. The entire idea of privatisation was to inject competition, and this would be substituting a public monopoly for a private monopoly. That cannot be allowed to happen, and as a Green MP for Norwich North, I would be absolutely steadfast in resisting it.”

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