This project is on indefinite hiatus.
Contact can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The struggle continues!
yours in solidarity,
This project is on indefinite hiatus.
Contact can be made via email@example.com.
The struggle continues!
yours in solidarity,
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.
Simon Basketter reports:
The anti-union laws are being extended by default and we are moving towards a situation where it will be virtually impossible to organise legal strikes.
At the beginning of the month the Court of Appeal ruled in a case that has significant consequences for every worker.
Judges ruled in favour of Metrobus, which had secured a legal injunction against a planned strike by Unite members in October last year. The union called off the strike in response.
This ruling had a knock-on effect on another group of workers last week.
Unite union officials called off a planned strike by bus drivers at First in South Yorkshire—not because there was any challenge to their own ballot but purely on the basis of this Court of Appeal ruling.
The judgement in favour of the employer can be referred to by judges in future cases. It sets a precedent that will make it more difficult for workers to take legal strike action.
One of the reasons the company won the injunction was because a judge found that the union had not detailed with sufficient precision the occupational grades of those taking action.
The same manoeuvre has recently been used against postal and tube workers.
The anti-union laws were designed to hamper unions’ ability to resist, and to give union leaders a way of persuading their members not to strike.
All these laws should go. But instead of being repealed, they are being interpreted ever more harshly. The laws detail a thicket of obstacles that the unions have to navigate to avoid being sued during a strike.
One clause says that unions have to give the employers a list of workers who are going on strike and their workplaces.
Unions must also sort workers into their occupational categories. Such requirements are ideal for employers who want to use technicalities to halt strikes.
The Metrobus appeal case shows how these laws work.
The union argued, “Unite takes the view that the grounds on which the judge decided to grant the injunction constitute a serious impediment on its ability and that of any other trade union to call a strike.”
In response Lord Justice Maurice Kay wrote, “The right to strike has never been much more than a slogan or legal metaphor.”
There were two main elements to the court’s decision.
Firstly, although the strike ballot had closed at noon on 1 September, Unite informed Metrobus bosses of the outcome almost 48 hours later.
In part this was due to a mix-up between Unite and Electoral Reform Services involving a missing fax.
But the court ruled that the time taken to inform the employer was too long.
The judgement reads, “Sec 231 imposes on the union a free-standing obligation to notify the employer of the outcome of the ballot as soon as reasonably practicable; that obligation must be fulfilled, regardless of whether strike action is or is not voted for.”
And importantly, “Notice of strike action can only ever come after notice of the ballot result to the employer.”
Secondly, the court ruled that the union did not properly explain how it arrived at its membership figures for how many bus drivers would be called out from which depots.
The three Court of Appeal judges disagreed about how the legislation applied, but they still ruled that insufficient explanation was given.
The judgement read, “Information about the numbers of employees balloted—what categories they fall into in terms of what job they do, where they work, etc, for union members who may or may not pay their union dues by deduction from salary (whereby the employer can know they are union members) – is provided to the employer, and such information must also include full explanations of how such figures are reached. The figures must also be accurate.”
In effect, legal ballots become almost impossible to organise. Working out all the grades of construction workers or local government workers, for instance, would be completely unfeasible.
The only point on which the majority in the court disagreed with the original injunction was over the importance of a typing error—766 instead of 776. It ruled that this was trivial.
Furthermore, the court also ruled that the anti-union laws are compatible with the article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to join a trade union.
When Labour was elected in 1997 it had a policy of repealing the anti-union laws. But 12 years later it is sitting on its hands while the laws are applied ever more stringently against workers.
The anti-union laws fly in the face of the democratic decisions of thousands of workers. Unless the laws are challenged, no union could survive the level of detailed scrutiny now imposed on ballots.
But a recent spate of unofficial walkouts and occupations has shown that anti-union laws are powerless if workers defy them.
The only way to win is for unions to refuse to back down in the face of injunctions and threats and strike regardless.
The right to withdraw labour by striking is the most fundamental power that workers have. We must fight urgently to defend that right.
More and more working people are having to use more and more public services as the capitalist economy crumbles. Unemployment is in the millions, underemployment too.
Unlike the bankers and big businessmen, we can’t afford to hire financial advisers and accountants to help us deal with our problems, and if we lose the roof over our heads, we’re out on the street or a friend’s sofa – we can’t swan off to our second, third, or fourth home…
We need advice on housing and benefits, provided by local councils.
Unlike the bankers and big businessmen, we don’t have yachts or our own island to retreat to when we want to relax.
We might take a walk in the park, lend some books from the library, or visit the leisure centre to use the gym or have a swim in the pool – all provided by local councils.
Across England, Tory councils are preparing to slash spending, just when working people need help the most. Instead of boosting employment, Tory councils are ready to add to the dole queues. (But this won’t mean cuts in taxes – in fact, they’ll have to go up to help bailout bankers!)
Rather than expell these wreckers for the chaos they are planning, the Tory leadership in parliament is watching these councils and using their examples to draw up spending cuts top implement if they form the next government.
Yesterday the shadow chancellor, George Osbourne, claimed the Tories were a “progressive” party. Lord Mandelson responded by claiming this was laughable. Truly, this was two bald men fighting over a comb…
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.
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?