Myners strike – words of wisdom from City insider turned govt advisor

Yet another reject from the square mile has made it into government, take note!

Says Paul, who joined Labour because it was more “left wing” than the Liberals:

The capacity for soundly managed banks and markets to support the generation of wealth in the economy could never be matched by the public sector. That is why the government has a policy of supporting a return to an effective commercial banking sector, rather than nationalisation.

Ah, no comrade. The reason is that New Labour is committed to securing the power and wealth of the super-rich, as opposed to using the country’s wealth to re-invest in productive activities…

If Gordon Brown had really wanted to abolish the boom and bust of the capitalist economic cycle, he would have expropriated the banks years ago – not merely part-nationalise them by buying worthless shares.

As it stands, turbo-capitalism of the sort backed by New Labour has destroyed the manufacturing base of this country and damaged the social fabric of the country with mass unemployment. Many were bought off with the promise of a “housing ladder” to climb out of the working class, but now this bubble has burst along with the dream of a “popular capitalism”

The relentless pursuit of profit for the few has brought misery for the many. Now it has brought chaos for those who benefit the most – and they’ve called in the government, which has stepped in with wads of borrowed money which we will have to pay back in years to come (with interest!).

But never fear, we have utopians like Paul Myners in government. Men who can imagine a time when capitalism serves the many not the few. How fortunate he is to have such dreams – the rest of us must bear the reality of the recession: indebtedness, mass unemployment, and a rise in homelessness and crime.

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Two million unemployed now, three million unemployed later?

The Left Economics Advisory Panel reacts to the latest bad economic news:

Unemployment figures released today show that more than 1.92 million people were out of work by the end of November 2008. This figure is the highest since the year Labour came to power in 1997.

John McDonnell MP, LEAP Chair, said:

“On this basis, unemployment today is over two million. This is a depression not just a recession, and the Government’s measures have failed to protect people and preserve their jobs.

“A lack of planning and radical action makes it almost inevitable that unemployment will hit 3 million with the consequent human suffering.”

Graham Turner, author of The Credit Crunch and LEAP economist, said:

“The remorseless rise in unemployment continues and looks set to accelerate sharply in 2009. In addition to the job cuts, workers are seeing their pay squeezed. Average earnings growth slowed again in November to 2.7% y/y, the lowest increase since February 2003, and well below the headline inflation rate of 4.1% for that month. Real earnings continued to fall”.

“And the recession continues to take its toll on the public sector finances, with the current budget deficit rising from £25.9bn in the year to November, to £33.3bn in the year to December. The rate of deterioration in the deficit number is accelerating.”

Women workers will be hit especially hard by this recession, compared to the last one, reports the TUC:

During the downturn women’s redundancy rate has increased more quickly than the male rate. From January – September 2008 the female redundancy rate increased by 2.3 percentage points, almost double the rate of male increase (1.2 percentage points). It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue, leading to an even higher rise in the redundancy rate for women, or whether it will now level off to the same rate of increase as men.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘This is going to be an equal opportunities recession. Job losses in sectors where men predominate such as manufacturing and construction are now being balanced by job losses in retail and hospitality where more women than men work.

“But job losses among men are still more likely to hit the headlines as women tend to work in smaller workplaces where redundancies go unnoticed by the media.

“But with so many households absolutely dependent on women’s wages the Government must ensure that women benefit in full from programmes to help those facing redundancy and the long term unemployed.”

Yesterday’s Guardian had a letter signed by Labour MPs, trade union leaders, and anti-poverty campaigners, calling on the government to increase Job Seekers’ Allowance by 15 pounds a week:

A single person over 25 years old receives £60.50 per week, dropping to £47.95 for those under 25. The UK is near the bottom of the western European league table in comparative rates of unemployment benefit.

The gap between benefits and earnings has widened significantly over the past 30 years because jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) has increased at a rate below inflation. If it had increased in line with earnings, an unemployed person would receive in excess of £110 per week.

Politicians and government advisers argue that higher benefits would be a disincentive to work, but a wealth of evidence suggests that the descent into poverty has been a greater cause of economic inactivity. Benefit rates must be high enough to allow people to live a healthy lifestyle for physical and mental wellbeing. To achieve this, our long-term aim must be to substantially improve the miserly rates paid at present.

The government has rightly made a priority of increasing demand to maintain employment at as high a level as possible, and recognised the importance of measures that will have a speedy impact. Unemployed people, because of their low benefits, are particularly likely to spend any increases they receive as soon as they receive them – pound for pound, raising JSA levels will do more to fight off the recession than any other fiscal stimulus.

The Morning Star gets to The root of the problem:

THE most misleading statements that any government makes regard the problem of unemployment.

Certainly, unemployment is rising at an appalling rate and, given that the figures released on Wednesday relate to the quarter to November, the jobless count is undoubtedly over 2 million now.

And that only relates to those who the government hasn’t managed to sweep under the administrative carpet by reclassifying them, sticking them on makeweight, irrelevant courses in jobseeking or otherwise losing them in the flurry of apparently contradictory figures.

Include them and the jobless figure could easily double.

Add on those who, when they become unemployed, are immediately expunged as being too near retirement to count, allow for those who are forced into McJobs at insulting rates of pay and do not use the skills that they have acquired over a lifetime of work and you could probably double that figure again.

Manufacturing jobs are vanishing at an alarming rate, with 86,000 disappearing in the last quarter.

Around 225,000 people became redundant across the economy in the same period and almost every indicator shows that Britain is not in a recession but a full-scale depression, as MP John McDonnell has pointed out so clearly.

The misleading element comes in several guises. When Employment Minister Tony McNulty attempts to harangue young people about the “half a million vacancies that are available right now,” he fails to add that they are out there because they are either not in the same places as the jobless, do not match their skills profile or are so appallingly badly paid that only the starving and desperate would touch them with a bargepole.

He also fails to point out that, even taking government statistics as gospel, there are now over four people unemployed for every vacancy and that employers are seizing the opportunity to downgrade wages even further.

Nor does anyone in government admit that its disgraceful neglect of the state pension has driven hundreds of thousands of pensioners to continue working past retirement age since that is their only way to keep body and soul together, which cuts job availability even further.

But the worst misinformation is the statement that unemployment is the root problem.

Quite simply, it is most certainly not. It is an effect, not a cause. At the centre of the problem is the lack of finance for business due to the disgraceful conduct of the banks in clamping down on lending so far that it is strangling the economy and any chance of recovery.

And right at its heart is a government which refuses to force the banks into compliance, despite the fact that they are now largely owned by the taxpayer.

As GMB general secretary Paul Kenny acutely observed: “Putting taxpayers’ money into the banks is not working in terms of getting that money to companies. A change of approach is urgently needed to save job losses in the pipeline.

“The government must take control of the banks already in state hands and use them to do this job.

“The lesson has to be learned quickly that banks are just another public utility that the economy requires to function effectively.”

Mr Kenny, we really couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

If Hamas rockets are so lethal, why doesn’t Israel swap an F-16 for some?

It’s a credit to Mark Steel’s comedic talent that he can make you laugh about a subject that’d otherwise make you cry…

Now we’ve all seen through the Israeli government’s excuses

The worrying part about whether the ceasefire in Gaza can hold together will be whether the international community can stop the flow of arms to the terrorists. Because Israel’s getting their planes and tanks and missiles from somewhere and until this supply is cut off there’s every chance it could start up again.

The disregard for life from these terrorists and their supporters is shocking. For example Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, wrote that the purpose of the Israeli attack must be to “inflict a heavy death toll and heavy pain on the Gaza population”.

Replace “Gaza” with “western”, and that could have been written by al-Qa’ida. Maybe this is the problem: the Israelis are writing their policies by downloading statements from an Islamic Jihad website and just changing the place names. Also, if the Israelis think the Hamas rockets are as lethal as they say, why don’t they swap their F-16 fighters and Apachehelicopters for a few of them?

These things are capable of terrorising a whole nation for years apparently, yet the Israelis have neglected to buy any, wasting their money on gunboats and stuff. Given that their annual arms budget is $7.2bn plus $2.2 bn in “aid”, they’d save enough to buy a selection of banks in every country in the world.

The military advantages would be enormous because the Israelis’ complaint about Hamas is the use of tunnels to smuggle arms. But if Israel gave Hamas a few planes and tanks and helicopters, they could probably be persuaded to shut down those tunnels that seem to be the cause of such bad feeling.

Whatever you say about Israel, at least it moves its weapons about legally – except for when it secretly built a nuclear arsenal against an array of international agreements. But they did it above ground and not in a tunnel and that’s the main thing.

Watching the reports from Gaza, another reason why the ceasefire may break down becomes apparent. The Israelis might claim that their satellite pictures now show Palestinians in possession of huge mounds of rubble – lethal if thrown over the border. Luckily these weapons are easy to spot. Most of them are next to women howling, “Look what they’ve done to my house,” but perhaps the airforce should bomb them again – just in case. The Israelis say they fear Hamas will once again break the ceasefire by sending over those rockets. But the whole point of the operation was to make that impossible. Because they must have asked themselves the question, “If we slaughter 1,300 people, including 300 children, is that likely to make people: A. less cross or B. more cross?” And presumably they concluded it will make them much less likely to grow up full of hatred and determination to retaliate. Perhaps they saw medical research that shows when someone is suffering from anxiety and bouts of irascible ill-tempered behaviour, the best treatment is to pen them in with no food or medicine and then kill some of them, and that calms them down a treat.

Another way to allay their worries about Hamas breaking the ceasefire is to read the report from their government’s own Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre. This states that during the ceasefire “Hamas did not take part in any rocket fire and sometimes prevented other organisations from attacking.” Still, with all that’s been going on I suppose they haven’t had time for reading.

Despite all this there might be one cheery sign, which is that never before have so many people seen through the Israeli government’s excuses for handing out mass destruction. The demonstrations in support of Palestinians have been bigger than ever before, and even the United Nations and the Wall Street Journal have suggested Israel has committed war crimes. One poll in America suggested that 60 per cent of people opposed the bombardment, and the change of opinion reached the point that an Israeli diplomat has admitted that “The harm to civilians in Gaza is causing us huge damage.”

Maybe, best of all, was genetics expert Steven Rose who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about a new study that’s located “morality spots”, the part of the brain that deals with our morality. Asked how we could know whether this was true, he said in a marvellously posh academic Radio 4 voice “Well we could test the brains of the Israeli cabinet and see if they’ve got no morality spots whatsoever.”

And the most immoral part of all is the perfectly cynical timing, as if three weeks ago Bush shouted: “Last orders please. Any last bombing, before time’s up? Come along now, haven’t you got homes to demolish?”

What’s Mandelson’s excuse for Royal Mail privatisation now?

Royal Mail is in the black:

All four Royal Mail businesses were profitable in the nine months to Christmas last year, for the first time in almost 20 years.

Royal Mail Letters, the Post Office, Parcelforce Worldwide and the European parcels business GLS contributed to an operating profit of £255m.

That nine-month figure compares with £162m for the whole of the previous financial year.

The union says this proves no need for privatisation:

The Communication Workers Union said that the strong financial results proved that the company was thriving while modernising in full public ownership.

But general secretary Billy Hayes stressed: “Today’s financial results must not be seen as an invitation for any part sell-off but instead prove the viability and future sustainability of a wholly publicly owned modern Royal Mail.”

Recession no excuse for construction safety cuts

Along with soft-touch “regulation” in the financial sector, New Labour has championed self-policing in other sectors of the economy – most lethally, in construction.

With the government accelerating public works projects and becoming a big fish as private construction shrinks, there’s an opportunity to regulate the industry.

Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of UCATT, writes in Tribune:

End confusion and chaos in construction

LAST April, Sonny Holland, a 20-year-old “apprentice” scaffolder, fell to his death while at work. His death was a chilling example of everything wrong with the construction industry. Despite being described as an apprentice, Sonny was not being formally trained. He was officially working as self-employed – a ridiculous situation for a so-called apprentice. After he was killed, the firm he worked for went into liquidation in an attempt to avoid its liabilities and then established a “new” company.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Sonny’s death is not that it was unusual, but all too common. In the past two years there have been just over 150 construction deaths – an average of six a month. It says much about the media’s view of the expendable nature of construction workers that the vast majority of these deaths barely received a mention. If there is any reduction in the next annual fatality figures, it will be due to a combination of luck and less available work due to the economic downturn.

My union, UCATT, fears the recession could actually make construction sites more dangerous in the medium term. Much of the industry has a macho culture that only pays lip service to health and safety. When times are tight, safety is first to be cut. With thousands of construction workers losing their jobs, those still employed are even less likely to refuse to perform a dangerous task, for fear of being given their cards and told there are plenty of others who will work without complaint.

Despite these problems, there is a very real opportunity for major improvements in health and safety in general and the construction industry in particular. Two major initiatives were announced shortly before Christmas.

They are the Health and Safety Executive’s launch of a consultation on a new strategy and the Government’s announcement of an inquiry into the high number of construction deaths, chaired by Rita Donaghy, the former head of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

In recent years , the HSE has suffered a bad press. The recurring refrain from the right-wing media – of health and safety legislation “gone mad” – has distorted the real story about what is wrong with the organisation responsible for keeping us safe at work.

Since 2002, the HSE has suffered year-on-year real term cuts in resources. This has led to a reduction in the number of frontline inspectors and fewer inspections. In the construction industry, there has been a 42 per cent decline in the issuing of enforcement notices and a 30 per cent reduction in prohibition notices.

The reduction in safety notices is not because sites are safer. When the HSE scrapes together the resources for a targeted blitz of construction sites, at least 75 per cent of those visited are found to be breaking health and safety laws. Many are so unsafe they are shut down immediately. Yet so slim are the HSE’s resources that these blitzes, which cover a tiny fraction of the industry, are becoming more infrequent and visiting a smaller number of sites.

Even more disturbing are the low level of prosecutions following a construction worker’s death. Convictions rates have fallen to just 30 per cent. This is put into perspective by the HSE’s admission that management failure is a factor in more than 70 per cent of fatalities.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in Britain, but a similar pattern of a reduction in safety enforcement can be seen in other sectors, particularly agriculture.

The HSE is under the misapprehension that safety will not improve through an increase in inspectors, inspections and prosecutions.

Instead it is the responsibility of industries to regulate themselves. This dangerous nonsense would be funny if it was not so serious.

In a highly casualised industry such as construction, the only way to keep the many rogue employers in line is by the constant threat of prosecution. Sending them glossy leaflets asking them to be more safety aware is a waste of time and money.

There has been a growing awareness of the failure of the self-regulation throughout the labour movement. Last September, the TUC Congress unanimously backed a UCATT motion opposing self-regulation at the HSE and mandating all TUC-nominated representatives to campaign against it.

That the HSE is now consulting on a new strategy gives the labour movement an opportunity to have a say. This is vital, as the HSE document produced to launch the consultation is so bland and non-specific. It is essential that as many people as possible attend the road shows planned for this month and contact the HSE calling for a greater number of inspectors, more inspections and greater enforcement. Further details of how to get involved can be found at http://www.hse.gov.uk/strategy

If we do not give clear direction to the HSE, then business – obsessed by so-called red tape and “flexibility” – will use try to dilute safety at work still further.

The Government’s inquiry into construction was created because of UCATT’s lobbying, to which ministers finally conceded as part of last year’s Warwick agreement between Labour and the unions.

The inquiry must get to grips with the dark underbelly of the construction industry. If it has the courage, it will take some far-reaching decisions to change the way the industry operates. It must examine the highly casualised nature of construction. People are able to walk onto a site and start work immediately with no checks on whether they know what they are doing and whether they are a danger to themselves or others. Such laxness can have tragic consequences. In January 2007, Zbigniew Swirzynski was killed on his first day on a site in central Liverpool when the jib of a tower crane fell off. A lack of paperwork meant it was several weeks before his family in Poland was informed.

Casualisation in construction is made worse by bogus self-employment. Rather than employ workers directly, companies opt to use bogus self-employment via the Government’s Construction Industry Scheme, a unique stand-alone tax scheme. More than 400,000 workers are officially classified as self-employed while having all the characteristics of an employee.

They are placed at greater danger because they lack employment rights and can be fired at a moment’s notice. Sites using bogus self-employment are almost exclusively unorganised and do not have safety representatives. A well-organised site with independent safety representatives can reduce accidents by 30 per cent.

Is there another industry where the major players do not employ their own workforce? It is the norm in construction. The big household names barely employ a single construction worker.

Work is performed by sub-contractors, who then further sub-contract the work. On a large site, it is perfectly possible to have a dozen companies all working at the same time. Chaos and confusion reign. Even if intentions are good, safety messages are lost and unnecessary accidents occur.

Fragmentation in the industry has accelerated in recent years due to the rise of employment agencies and gangmasters. Workers of widely varying abilities are placed on sites without competency checks being made. UCATT has campaigned for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to be extended to the construction industry in order to improve health and safety. Sadly, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform rejected our proposals.

The inquiry should examine the arguments in favour of introducing directors’ duties. This would require companies to nominate a director responsible for health and safety. If someone died as a result of flagrant breaches of health and safety, there would be the possibility of a director going to jail. The first time a director was filmed being led from their office in handcuffs, the vast majority of the industry would swiftly get their act in order.

This year could see the beginning of a huge improvement in protection at work and a subsequent reduction in deaths. We need those writing the new HSE strategy and conducting the construction safety inquiry to have the courage to challenge vested interests, ask difficult questions and reach brave conclusions.

We cannot afford another false dawn or a report that is a damp squib. Workers’ safety is simply too important.

Rail union calls for end to service cuts by private operators

Bob Crow makes a good case for public ownership if the privateers start making swingeing cuts, will Hoon listen? (A rhetorical question, obviously!)

Private operators must be told ‘no rail service cuts’, says RMT

Publication Date: January 19 2009

PRIVATE TRAIN operators that have made hundreds of millions in profits at the public’s expense must not be allowed to cut services and jobs simply to keep their profits up, Britain’s biggest rail union says today.

RMT has urged Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon to give a resounding ‘no’ to expected attempts by the ‘big five’ rail operators tomorrow to win permission to operate fewer services than specified in their franchise agreements.

The union points out that rising revenues and rail profits made by the big five have fuelled rises in group dividends of between ten and 33 per cent (see attached analysis).

“If ever there was a case of greedy privateers wanting to have their cake and eat it this is it,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said.

“The big five monopoly operators have been minting it at the public’s expense for more than a decade, handing over tens of millions of pounds in dividends to shareholders on the back of public subsidy, overcrowding and massive fares hikes

“Revenues, profits and dividends have been rising steadily, but at the first hint of a slowdown they want to slash services and sack staff when that is the reverse of what the economy and environment need.

“We already have operators threatening to sack staff and undermine the quality of service they offer by removing catering facilities and other front-line and service staff, and RMT will resist them with all the means at our disposal.

“Now we have the same privateers seeking to add to the downward spiral, and it is quite clear that they care nothing about the health of the economy, the environment or the services they are supposed to provide and everything about their shareholders’ bank accounts.

“We need a growing rail network that encourages people to travel by train through attractive fares, not least in these hard economic times

“If these parasites aren’t willing to run the level of services specified in their franchises they should hand back the keys and allow them to be run in the public sector where they belong,” Bob Crow said.

ends

Note to editors: Attached is an analysis of the big five’s profits and fare increases

Brown offers British help in Israel’s war on Gaza

No, that title is not misleading.

He’s really offering naval assistance to Israel:

Mr Brown said he had been involved in talks with Mr Olmert and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

“Germany, France and Great Britain have just sent a letter to Israel and Egypt to say they will do everything we can to prevent arms trafficking,” he said.

No mention of arms sold by UK companies to the IDF! Presumably, any British naval assistance would not be to the Palestinians to prevent attacks by the Israel…

Contra Hazel Blears, it’s not that the government has failed to get its message across, the message is very clear – Israeli terror is bad, but not so bad we’re going to do anything about it (like stopping arms sales to Israel).

Saying that Israel’s actions are “disproportionate” isn’t good enough. In fact, it suggests that there exists a number of civilian casualties that would be proportionate.

Saner stances towards the conflict have been forthcoming from backbench parliamentarians.

Here’s Gerald Kaufman:

And George Galloway: