Alice Mahon quits Labour

A former MP and Labour Party member for half a century, she just couldn’t take it anymore:

Alice Mahon, a Halifax MP for 18 years and a party member for more than 50 years, has resigned her membership of the party saying she can no longer stomach how it operates.

In her letter to the Halifax Constituency Labour Party she criticises the Prime Minister saying he has shown zero contrition over privatising public services and failed to tackle the excesses of the bankers.

And she heaps scorn on the Welfare Reform Bill saying: “This Labour Government should hang its head in shame for inflicting this on the British public just as we face the most severe recession any of us have experienced in a lifetime.”

Mrs Mahon, 71, a trenchant critic of Tony Blair’s government, says she had hoped that under Mr Brown’s stewardship “we might go back to being a really progressive and caring party” but “in the event I could not have been more wrong”.

And she says the recent scandal over emails sent by Mr Brown’s special adviser, Damian McBride, proposing a blogging site smearing top Tories left her feeling “sickened”.

She told the Yorkshire Post: “My stepdaughter Rachel said to me: ‘How could they do that to people like David Cameron and his wife Samantha when they had recently lost their son Ivan? What kind of people think it would be a good idea to smear them?’

“I was sickened by that – that is not the Labour Party that I joined all those years ago.”

In the letter she said: “This has been a difficult decision to take as I feel I was almost born into the Labour Party. However, I can no longer be a member of a party that at the leadership level has betrayed many of the values and principles that inspired me as a teenager to join.”

Other targets include the Government’s alleged co-operation with the George Bush regime.

And she adds: “Our ministers shame us in front of the world when they give their support to the Israeli Government as they commit war crimes in Palestine and Lebanon.

“Brown has just announced plans to send another 900 troops to Afghanistan, billions to be spent on an unwinnable war and pensioners dare not turn on their heating because this Government will not tackle the energy fat cats.”

She also fulminates against the “despicable” treatment of Janet Oosthuysen, a mother-of-three who won a close contest to stand as a prospective Parliamentary candidate in Calder Valley last year only to be deselected by the National Executive Committee, over a police caution after her former partner’s car was damaged. She contrasted the NEC’s actions with its silence over the Home Secretary’s expenses row.

She said: “My final reason for leaving the party is because it is no longer democratic. The personally vindictive, dishonest, campaign played out on the pages of the tabloids by certain Labour Party members to deselect Janet Oosthuysen was despicable…

“Quite simply I have had it with New Labour.”

Workers at Visteon refuse to be insulted!

Sadie Robinson at Socialist Worker gives the details:

Senior management from Visteon in the US flew to London to meet with Unite union officials on Wednesday. They offered workers just 90 days pay each – in place of the 90 days notice that they should have given the workers in the first place.

This is about one thirtieth of what some workers would receive if their contracts were honoured.

The workers, at sites in Belfast, Basildon in Essex and Enfield, north London, were sacked with just minutes notice at the end of last month. They were given no redundancy pay and some were not paid for their last week’s work, after Visteon claimed it had no money to pay them. Pensions that some had paid into for 40 years now hang in the balance.

Kevin Nolan, Unite convenor at the Enfield plant, was at the talks on Wednesday. “They offered us pay in lieu of our notice but the union is trying to get that anyway – that’s what they owe us,” he told Socialist Worker.

“We were in shock. I could understand it if the whole company had gone bankrupt but it hasn’t. I told Dorothy Stephenson [senior vice president of human resources at Visteon] that I should have brought my daughters to the meeting so she could explain how she was going to feed them.

“People feel let down though they have come to expect such things from the company. But we’re determined not to give up.”

Workers in Belfast are continuing their occupation of their plant, which has now entered its third week. Those in Enfield and Basildon are holding 24-hour pickets of their sites to stop the administrator KPMG from removing any of the equipment.

The workers are demanding that their contracts are honoured and want assurances about their pensions.

Raymond Dixon is a shop steward for Unite at the Enfield plant. “The offer is disgraceful and we will stay until we get something better,” he told Socialist Worker. “It can be hard sometimes but people are determined.

“It helps when other people come up to the pickets or when we go and speak to meetings because having conversations with other workers helps keep our morale up.

“The bosses’ strategy is to try and wear us down. It’s very important that we keep going.”

The offer of just 90 days’ pay is an insult. But it is a testament to the action that workers have taken that bosses were forced back to the negotiating table and that anything was forced out of them at all.

Visteon workers are taking their fight to others, particularly at Ford. Ford employed the Visteon workers before the company was sold off in 2000, and many remain on Ford contracts.

Pickets of Ford dealerships have been held across the country and Enfield workers have visited Ford’s Dagenham plant to make links with workers there.

Roger Madison, a Unite official, said this week, “It may well be that our fight has to move on to Ford.”

Kevin Nolan agrees. “We want Ford to come to the table,” he told Socialist Worker. “We will be organising pickets of Ford garages up and down the country to get our message across, and we’re asking all our supporters to join us.”

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.”

Visteon workers fight Ford liars

An inspiring response to economic destruction:

Occupy! Fighting for jobs at Visteon plants

The leader of the attempted occupation of the Visteon plant at Basildon (component supplier to Ford) speaks to Socialist Appeal. After the ending of the occupation, the workers have maintained a twenty-four hour picket on the factory. Belfast and Enfield remain occupied.
I was the former deputy convenor at Basildon up to 2003. I am affected personally by the threatened closure. I, like other pension holders, find my pension is in receivership with the government. It was our duty to come here in solidarity with the present workforce and with the former workers and pension holders.  We arrived here at 10am on the day after closure was announced. There was divided opinion as to whether to occupy. The advice from the union (Unite) was that occupation would be illegal.
We then took a vote on whether to ignore that advice. Two dozen of us voted to ignore the advice and occupy. I led the occupation through a back gate. We got in completely unhindered. We occupied the plant from 10 onwards, conducting radio interviews and generating publicity for the occupation.  When we were discussing at the gates at 10am against the argument that occupation would be illegal, I argued that if the Chartists hadn’t committed illegal acts we wouldn’t have universal suffrage; that if the Tolpuddle Martyrs hadn’t broken the law and been transported, then we wouldn’t have a trade union movement; and if the suffragettes hadn’t fought the law, women wouldn’t have the vote.  It is better to break the law than break the poor, as the slogan from Poplar Council in the 1920s reminds us.
With the smallness of our numbers, there was a build up of police during the course of the day. There were about 120 police in riot gear, with police dogs barking and a lot of intimidation. They were walking through the factory and peering into the board room, which we had occupied. A police negotiator turned up and told us we’d all be arrested. Five of the 24 decided to go up on the roof, as had happened at Enfield, where they had 80 on the roof. The roof here was unsafe and that didn’t give us confidence, and what with the smallness of our numbers and concern about being arrested, we voted to end the occupation. So we walked out in a dignified manner to tremendous applause.
Although the occupation didn’t succeed, it gave our cause tremendous publicity. We were having discussions throughout the day with the workers while we were occupying. We were discussing the reasons for the collapse and the question of the whole capitalist system, which has caused the crisis.  Waterford
In Belfast the police hadn’t been near the plant. The factory is in the Falls Road and they’d made no attempt to interfere. At Enfield they got a court order, an injunction, against the occupation. However the injunction had a technical mistake in it, so the occupation continued. The whole question of the occupation was inspired by the occupation of Waterford Glass in the South of Ireland. There have been massive demonstrations in Dublin, and movement in unprecedented numbers throughout Ireland. The idea of occupation spread to Belfast and from there to Enfield and to Basildon, where we have had a partial success. The occupations have been an inspiration to all workers.
The whole idea of occupation came from tactics used by the labour movement in France and also in the USA. General Motors at Flint, Michigan was occupied in the 1930s. There were sit-down protests to establish trade unions at Flint. Workers draw inspiration from other movements. This could be repeated on a large scale. The lessons have been carried from Waterford to Belfast and then to Enfield and Basildon. The tradition of occupation has started in Britain and will  be firmly established.
The closure is not just because of the crisis but because of management taking advantage of the crisis. They are doing what they are doing to make a profit. They have deliberately run the company into the ground, and moved jobs to Slovakia where the wage differential with British wages is 7:1. This is a prime example of capitalists squeezing workers and trying to squeeze, cajole and drive down conditions.
A document has been retrieved from Companies House by the local MP. Visteon management set up a new company on January 28th.They have the deliberate aim to bankrupt us and then reopen as Visteon Automative Products, as a new company with the same machinery and a new workforce with lower wages and conditions. This is the ugly face of capitalism. There is only one way to end this profiteering. We have to occupy and take production of goods into our own hands. The solution is nationalisation under workers’ control and management. There must be production for need, not profit. In other words get rid of the capitalist system, which is rotten to the core.

Ford Liars!

Documents leaked to the Belfast Telegraph reveal that Ford made cast iron guarantees to Visteon workers that they would not lose out when the new components supplier was spun off in 2000.
“Accrued seniority and all existing terms and conditions, in particular pension entitlements, will be transferred to the new employment contracts,” the documents state.
“For the duration of their employment, terms and conditions will mirror Ford conditions (including discretionary pension in payment increases) in the respective countries (lifetime protection).”
The agreement also noted that before the full spinoff Ford employees working in Visteon activities were eligible to volunteer to be reassigned to Ford and that all collective agreements, including investment and employment security agreements, would be fully adopted by the new company.
Davy McMurray from Unite said the documents are proof Ford has ongoing responsibilities for its former employees.
“How they can say there were no guarantees is beyond me,” he said.
Ford asserts it is under no “legal or moral” obligation to help Visteon UK employees.

Bobbies on the beat – G20 style

“No thanks, we’re not covering this, we see it as just a London story.”

That’s what the BBC said when offered footage of a policeman beating a man to the ground – a man who died of a heart attack shortly after.

This happened at the G20 protests last week -Mr Tomlinson was just walking home from work and was not a demonstrator.

Paul Feldman‘s is the best analysis I’ve seen:

Once again the police have blood on their hands and a cover-up is already well under way. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the video of the gratuitous police attack on bystander Ian Tomlinson during last week’s G20 protests in the City of London, soon after which he collapsed and died.

The police had the area covered from every angle by CCTV and by their own photographers and must have known what happened. Yet the first official statement said that Tomlinson just happened to be found in a side street and that the Met’s brave police were attacked when they went to his assistance!

Sounds familiar? Jean Charles de Menezes, you will recall, was alleged to have leapt over a Tube ticket barrier and was wearing a bulky jacket, clearly trying to evade the police. None of this, naturally enough, turned out to be true. Yet no one was prosecuted for the execution of the Brazilian electrician while he sat reading his newspaper. And you can bet that the same will apply in the case of Tomlinson.

Why? Because the police are always only “doing their duty” in “difficult circumstances”. And what is this higher “duty” that allows them to behave with impunity and do things that ordinary citizens would end up in jail for? The duty in question conferred on the police by the state is to protect the status quo of capitalist society by whatever means are necessary, lawful and otherwise.

The first professional police force in the world was set up first in London in the 1830s and then throughout the rest of the country at a time of major social and political unrest. Workers had demanded and been refused the vote, trade unionists were deported from Dorset for illegally combining and riots were breaking out against the introduction of the workhouse for the unemployed.

The Royal Commission on the Police 1839 reported that the creation of a force throughout the country was a way in which “the constitutional authority of the supreme executive is thus emphatically asserted”. What the commission was talking about was the authority of the state as a whole in relation to maintaining and developing capitalism in terms of private property, as our book Unmasking the State – a rough guide to real democracy elaborates in more detail.

And that’s how the boys in blue have behaved ever since, with the notable exception of the London police strike after World War One when demands for an independent union were ruthlessly crushed. The high command of the state in the shape of senior officers sets the tone with wild statements about a “summer of rage” on the streets and then the unthinking plods are sent into action to do their worst, which they gleefully do. That’s what happened at the Climate Camp in Kent last year and is routine for just about any protest or action that is not some orderly march from point A to point B.

As the economic slump develops, more and more people will act to defend their jobs and their livelihoods. The police are being prepared for this by the sinister and secret Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). This is the organisation that did the Thatcher’s government’s bidding during the miners’ strike, which began 25 years ago. In the course of that dispute, a total of 11,000 miners were arrested, 7,000 injured, eleven people died, and 1,000 men were sacked. More than 100 were jailed.

The present capitalist state is clearly an alienating power that is undemocratic and more or less the plaything of the corporations and banks. The police, together with the army and the spy agencies, are this state’s enforcers and nothing will change their historic role. This should add to the urgency of developing a strategy for creating a new kind of political democracy. This would be founded on co-ownership and control of resources and require the replacement of institutions like the police with new forms of community control.

Why I am a patriot and an internationalist

To be patriotic, is to appreciate and be grateful for all that is valuable in the country you live in. It does not require you to be a xenophobe or a blinkered nationalist.

The failure to recognize and to appreciate one’s heritage is a sign of an all-round ingratitude. Ingratitude in turn breeds cynicism. As Oscar Wilde had it in Lady Windermere’s Fan, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”.

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

Hear, hear!

The Britishness agenda, pushed by the ruling class to justify their wars, will not unite working people in England, much less Scotland, Wales, or Ireland.

Our gratitude should be to the Diggers, the Levellers, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes, and all those working people around the world who have struggled for social justice, without whom our lives would be much harder.

Another public service reform is possible!

Not the catchiest of slogans, that. But, you get the picture, hopefully.

Following on from her 2003 book, Reclaiming the State, which was about reforming the public sector through greater involvement by workers and the general public, Hillary Wainwright has a new book published by the socialist pressure group Compass and Unison, the trade union….

Public service reform … but not as we know it!

How do you save money, improve services, involve the unions and strengthen democratic control at the same time? In Newcastle, they have come up with an alternative to privatisation that achieves all these objectives, as Hilary Wainwright reports

The need for convincing alternatives to market-led politics is urgent, especially as the government continues to defer to the financial markets rather than challenge them. Lord Mandelson’s determination to part privatise Royal Mail is the most high profile rebuff to what should be a common sense moratorium on handing anything more to private business.

There are many unsung alternatives that people are creating as they refuse the idea that market-driven policies are the only way. Take the Royal Mail itself. Go behind the union-bashing and you’ll find that the Communication Workers Union and the management of Parcel Force, a subsidiary of Royal Mail, are constructing a model of industrial democracy that has turned this public organisation around from near collapse, showing that a democratically managed public sector company can provide better value for money than most of the private companies with which it now has to compete.

What if we systematised and drew broader lessons from such practical experiments?

A laboratory of public service change
I was fortunate enough last year to be able to study, from the inside, a self-consciously public process of public service reform. I squatted in an empty office in Newcastle’s civic centre for several months interviewing the staff, management and trade union activists responsible for a five-year programme of modernisation of the council’s IT and related services, and with it improvements and savings in the systems of collecting council tax, delivering benefits and making its services accessible to the public. What gave the process its special character was people’s pride in transforming these basic services as public servants, following a hard-fought struggle against their privatisation led by the city council branch of Unison.

‘It wasn’t about resistance to change,’ explains Tony Carr, who was the full-time Unison rep for the staff involved in these services. ‘It was about controlling your own destiny and not having someone come in and manage us through change.’

Such an explicit effort at publicly-led reform created an ideal laboratory to test and elaborate the hypothesis that democratisation rather than privatisation is the most effective and appropriate way to modernise and improve public services. In testing this, my intention was also to explore exactly what are the specific mechanisms of change driven by democratic public service goals rather than by profit maximisation.

Keeping it public: a strategic campaign
This explicitly and determinedly public-driven programme of internal reform was the outcome of a struggle between 2000 and 2002 to keep these strategic services public. At stake for a private company was a £250-million, 11-year contract. For the staff and the union, it was 650 jobs and the quality of strategic services on which other council departments depended and that could be a base for public-public partnerships in the region.

The strategy of the Newcastle city council branch of Unison to keep these services public had five essential elements, all of which laid down foundation stones for the democracy of the transformation process itself:

1. First, building on a tradition of participatory organisation, the priority was to involve members in every step of the campaign: from mass meetings and the election of reps when market testing was first announced, through industrial action against privatisation, to the reps directly scrutinising the private bid and contributing to the ‘in-house’ bid.

2. The second element in the strategy was to intervene in the procurement process and campaign for an effective in-house bid. ‘We had to recognise that even though we were against the whole concept of market testing, if we actually wanted to win an in-house bid we had to intervene at that level from the beginning,’ says Kenny Bell, then convenor of the Unison branch.

3. Third, campaigning meant reaching out to the public, building popular support for a general opposition to privatisation. ‘Our City Is Not For Sale,’ declared the banner leading several demonstrations of trade unions, community organisations and dissident Labour councillors.

4. Fourth, although the union filled a political vacuum in standing up against privatisation, Unison no more wanted to take the final decisions about who should deliver services than it wanted management to do so. The aim was not to substitute the union for council officers but to make the council genuinely ‘democracy’- led.

The pressure on the elected politicians eventually paid off, with the council passing a resolution insisting that alternatives to privatisation must be found.

5. Campaigning was little use unless it was grounded in strategic research. Key to the success of the Unison branch was the work of the Centre for Public Services, which in the course of 30 years of collaboration with trade unions and community organisations has honed a participatory method of work that shares skills and intellectual self-confidence. The CPS’s work had an impact on members’ consciousness as well as on trade union strategy. For Unison shop steward and housing benefits worker Lisa Marshall, collaboration with the CPS on investigating the bid of the private sector rival was a turning point: ‘As we looked over their bid, we found a lot that we knew could be done better. From then on I felt confident about what we were trying to do keeping it in-house.’

This leads into the final component of Unison branch thinking: the leadership treated their members as skilled people who cared about their work. Josie Bird chairs the branch: ‘We recognise that our members want to provide a service. It’s not a romantic idea that they live to work. No, they work to live – but it does matter that it’s a public service that they work for.’

The campaign was successful. The in-house bid drawn up by management in agreement with the unions was clearly better public value for public money.

In 2002, the then Labour-run council (since 2004 it has been Lib Dem) gave it the go ahead and borrowed £20 million to invest in it on the basis that savings would eventually more than pay back that investment. Jobs would go but without compulsory redundancies and with exceptional resources for training and redeployment.

Why union strength is vital to democratic reform
The union campaign laid the basis for real staff engagement in the process of change. The union was involved at every stage, from selecting new managers to discussing every significant change. ‘It’s our job to keep the management accountable, not so much to the staff but to the change’ was Kenny Bell’s description of the unions’ role.

‘The union keeps us honest.’ Ray Ward, the senior manager who led the changes, echoes the point from the management’s point of view. It’s a collaboration but the union has retained its power to act independently and to escalate a conflict if necessary. And the management knows this. The union wouldn’t be trusted by its members if it could not. The result is an experiment in industrial democracy with real benefits in terms of quality of services and the best allocation of public money.

By 2008, net savings of £28.5 million had been achieved, projected forward over an 11-year period. Every area of service has improved significantly, from the speed and accuracy of benefit payments to the high levels of satisfaction with the new call centre and the ‘one stop shops’ for all council services for which community groups have campaigned for years.

The role of the union in these achievements requires emphasis because although there is now widespread talk of the ‘empowerment’ of public service workers, there is scant recognition of the necessity of a well-organised and democratic trade union to achieve it.

A break with traditional managerial elitism
But it takes two to tango for change. And the nature of the City Service management team was important too. (City Service is the name of the new department that brought all the reformed services together.)

‘It’s the people, stupid’ has been the slogan of City Service. People’s capability and commitment are assets to be realised, not costs to be cut. This focus on people, on encouraging them, believing in them, has been systemic to the transformation. Management is about ‘coaching not commanding’. Initiative and responsibility has been pushed away from the centre, layers of supervision have been eliminated and replaced by support. The dynamism of the department lies in working across its different sections through project groups involving all those with a relevant angle on a problem to come together to resolve it.

All in all, City Service transformed the centre of its organisation from a traditional model of local government management into a hub from which management supports numerous, largely autonomous projects and activities. A new kind of public sector organisation has emerged, with a leadership role that is more about facilitation and developing a shared direction than it is about exercising control.

The kind of people who made up this leadership is revealing. Ray Ward for example, first chose to work for local government, aged 16, because it was ‘a good place to sleep’ after nightly gigs in a rock group! In 2003, many years later, with much experience as a senior manager but not forgetting his own early experiences, his goal was to reorganise Newcastle’s management systems to enable council staff to exercise their creativity in their day jobs, in the service of the public.

He recruited Kath Moore, who had transformed Newcastle’s school meals system through involving the cooks and kitchen staff. She saw one of her missions as to release the staff expertise buried beneath the hierarchies and procedural fetishism that is too common in local government – as in much of the public sector. City Service management’s ability genuinely to engage the staff in designing the changes, not simply accepting them, was a special key to their success.

A common vision
A precondition of this success of a decentralised system of management in an organisation facing huge challenges has been a clear common vision of high quality publicly-delivered public services. Every aspect of the transformation programme was geared to and judged by that goal. This shared goal provided a basis for motivation and common purpose, a mutually accepted reference point that avoided drift and helped to overcome conflict. It enabled the management and union leadership constantly to move the process forward.

The shared vision also served to dust off and bring to the fore a public service ethic that normally lies dormant or reduced to a matter of formal rhetoric. There was an active thinking through of what this meant in practice so that it became a practical force for change.

The political economy of democracy
There was a financial foundation to this revitalised public service culture. The goal was to maximise public benefit rather than to maximise profits. Again the determinedly public-led nature of the transformation process threw the distinction into sharp relief in every key relationship.

Consider relationships of scrutiny and democracy. Ray Ward sums up the difference: ‘The private company can say that as long as we are adding shareholder value, share prices are looking good, profits are looking good, we’re okay. We can’t do that. The level of scrutiny is much higher, quite rightly because it is public funds.’ If it is to be more than an empty or self-serving bureaucratic formula, the goal of ‘maximising public benefit’ rests on the importance of democracy as a live force, driving the efforts of everyone in a public organisation.

Until now, the focus on strengthening local democratic control over public money has focused on strengthening citizens’ participation. The Newcastle experience takes our thinking about democratisation further by opening up and democratising the normally hidden, taken-for-granted internal processes of managing public resources. As long as the internal organisations of the public sector are top-down, fragmented and semi-oblivious to the real potential of their staff, all the participatory democracy in the world can be soaked up and defused or blocked by hierarchical structures and bureaucratic procedure. The process of internal democratisation, therefore, is a matter of economic as well as political importance, creating the conditions for a public sector business model that lays the basis for a political economy of democracy.

When we get into the detail of such a new political economy, an important practical implication of maximising public benefit is minimising, if not eliminating, the amount of money spent on institutional relationships that are not intrinsic to the delivery of a service. This is one of the costs of outsourcing and privatisation.

Time and time again I asked Newcastle staff what it would have meant if this relationship (whether at the highest level between the council’s treasurer and City Service managers, or in the daily provision of a frontline service such as the call centre) had been with a private company instead of ‘in-house’. Repeatedly the answer came that it would have meant all sorts of extra charges – for making changes to respond to needs or problems not foreseen in the original contract with the private company –and a lot of time diverted to negotiating these charges and changes.

City Service did have a relationship with the private sector but it was only where the public sector did not have the capacity to do something itself – for example, with the procurement of the IT hardware needed for the modernisation programme. Here the relationship was very much on terms set by the public sector, including a ‘guaranteed maximum price’ contract to ensure there was no unpredicted overspend. Another aspect of the relationship being on public sector terms was the rigorous transfer of knowledge from the private company to public sector staff who worked with it. So often it is the other way round, with knowledge being privatised and re-presented as a profit-driven tender the next time round. Countering the depression

The service reforms in Newcastle’s illustrate in a modest but practical way how the public sector can have its own criteria and mechanisms for efficiency, quite distinct from goals of profit. This story provides evidence that, with a clear shared vision, an egalitarian and professional management, a strong union and workplace democracy, the public sector generally has the capacity to make itself a highly effective steward of public money. In particular it can realise its special asset of skilled staff committed to serve their fellow citizens. This is exactly the asset that Lord Mandelson’s plans will squander.

But this story is not relevant simply to the case against privatisation; it is also fundamental to an alternative economic strategy to counter the fast-moving economic descent into a depression. Publicly-led public service reform on the basis of the kind of principles exemplified in Newcastle lays the basis for creating new and useful jobs in the public sector throughout the UK – in building council housing, caring services, youth services, environmental services, ICT, strengthening the social economy and so on – it is not as though there is a lack of things that need doing!

Depressions lead to social devastation. One foundation stone of a new, more humane political economy should be the expansion of democratically reformed public sector.

For more detail on the Newcastle experience, see Public Service Reform … But Not As We Know It, published by Unison and Compass. Available from Red Pepper at a special price of £5 or free when you subscribe for £20.