Irish workers show the way to save jobs – Waterford Crystal is occupied

The bad joke about Ireland is that it’s six months and one letter away from Iceland…

But as in Iceland, where the government has been replaced by a coalition of social democrats and green socialists, people are fighting back.

Socialist Worker reports:

Waterford Crystal: ‘We’re occupying this plant to save our jobs’

by Simon Basketter

Workers at the Waterford Crystal factory in Ireland have delivered a powerful example of how to take on the recession – they are occupying their plant to keep it open.

The factory is owned by Waterford Wedgewood, which went into receivership on 5 January. The receiver suggested that the plant move to a three-day week.

Workers were reluctant to go along with this and were suspicious of the motives behind it. Many believed that the factory would close as soon as they were out the door. It turned out the receiver had the same idea.

Last Friday afternoon the receiver declared that manufacturing would cease immediately at the Waterford factory – with the loss of 480 jobs out of a 700-strong workforce.

News that the plant was closing was greeted with anger by workers. The union was only told of the immediate sackings when it directly asked if the rumours were true.

Tony Kelly is the Unite union’s chief shop steward for Waterford Crystal. He told Socialist Worker, “The plant is on a three day week – so they chose Friday afternoon because it isn’t a production day.

“I was driving home when I heard the news and drove back to the plant. Over the phone we agreed we had to get inside.”

Workers texted and rang round each other, urging as many as possible to get to the factory. The receivers had already hired in private security guards to secure the site.

“The security tried to stop us getting in – but they failed,” one worker told Socialist Worker. “They closed the doors, but there were too many people. We stormed our way in – some 400 workers entered the plant.

Support

“We’ve been in occupation since 2pm on Friday. Food, money and support have been flowing in.”

The occupation is on six-hour rotating shifts with up to 100 workers on each one. The Starry Plough – the flag of James Connolly and the Irish labour movement – was raised over the plant.

A rally was held outside the plant last Saturday. Over 3,000 people turned up to show their support despite torrential rain.

Across Waterford taxis stopped running, while shops and businesses closed for an hour in solidarity.

A van was touring the area to hand-deliver letters telling the Waterford Wedgewood workers that they had been sacked.

It was spotted on one estate and chased away – so many workers have yet to receive official notice of their dismissal.

Tom Hogan is a former Waterford glass worker and president of Waterford trades council. He told Socialist Worker, “People are just saying, ‘Thank fuck somebody is doing something!’ They used to go home to their fires at night and contemplate which window in the dole office they were going to line up at. But the occupation has turned that mood around.”

A worker from the occupation added, “The bosses thought people wouldn’t fight because they were too fearful. People are fearful – but they are also very angry.”

John joined the company in 1962 and worked at the factory for 46 years before being made redundant just before Christmas.

Long haul

He told us he had received the statutory portion of his 55,000 euro redundancy package – but was still owed 30,000 euro from the company. “We’re going to stay here for the long haul. We have nothing to lose,” he said.

One of the workers’ demands is that the Irish government guarantees that all previously agreed redundancy payments are made.

Joe, another worker in the occupation, told Socialist Worker, “We’re staying until we get the receiver’s decision to close the plant reversed.

“We want there to be an opportunity for someone to come in and buy this company and save jobs. And we want reasonable conditions for any that have to leave.

“Most of us have put in between 20 and 40 years of service. We are not being thrown on to the scrapheap by a receiver appointed by some accountant.”

Within 24 hours there were talks between the unions, the government and the receivers. As Socialist Worker went to press a number of firms were looking to buy the company and at least one is promising to keep 300 of the jobs.

As one worker told Socialist Worker, “They are private equity companies, which isn’t good – but we can fight them over conditions if we keep the manufacturing plant open.

“At the very least we want money from the government to guarantee pensions and redundancy money. If the private sector won’t keep open the plant, then it should be nationalised.”

People across the trade union movement – and in particular, workers at the Wedgewood plant in Stoke-on-Trent which is owned by the same company – should draw two lessons from the Waterford occupation.

They should be wary of what little promises to look after workers really mean when a company goes bust.

And they should be inspired by the example of Waterford workers, who have shown that you can fight back and turn the situation around.

Send messages of support and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland, phone +353 5187 5438, or send an email to walter.cullen@unitetheunion.com

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The Lindsay Oil Refinery dispute is about the rights of all – Polish workers strike in solidarity

Polish nationals were among the six hundred workers at Langage power station walked out on Monday, reports the Plymouth Herald:

Jerry Pickford, South West regional officer for UNITE, said the workers had walked out in “general sympathy with what’s happening in the construction industry”. He said Polish workers were among the 600-strong group.

Mr Pickford said: “All the Polish workers have walked out as well, because this is not an issue against foreign workers.

“This is an issue against foreign employers using foreign workers to stop British workers getting jobs.

“Once they do that they will try and undermine the terms and conditions of employment in this country.” [My emphasis]

Here are the demands of the Lindsay Oil Refinery contract workers as were agreed on February 2, and prove that the dispute is for fair access, not the exclusion of migrant workers:

* No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.

* All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement.

* Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members, with nominating rights as work becomes available.

* Government and employer investment in proper training/apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers – fight for a future for young people.

* All Immigrant labour to be unionised.

* Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers – including interpreters – and access to Trade Union advice – to promote active integrated Trade Union Members.

* Build links with construction trade unions on the continent.

* Re-instatement of [victimised worker] John McKewan

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.

TUC calls for a worker-friendly new year

TUC new year message

In his new year message to trade union members published today (Tuesday), TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

‘2009 has to mark a decisive turning point, away from the neo-liberal market-always-knows-best conventional wisdom that brought our economy to the brink of a catastrophic collapse, towards a fairer, more balanced economy delivering sustainable prosperity.

‘This is going to be a grim year. Unemployment will increase every month. Some predict it will hit three million, but in truth no-one knows.

‘First because we have little experience of a recession driven by a financial collapse, and secondly because we do not know how bold our Government – and as importantly, other governments meeting together as the G20 in April in London – will be.

‘Government therefore has three priorities in the year ahead:

* it must take every action necessary to make the recession as short and as shallow as possible;
* it must develop the proper policy response to mass unemployment;
* it must use these and other policies not just to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes that led to the financial collapse, but also to ensure that we emerge from recession as a fairer, greener and more sustainable economy.

Action to tackle the recession

‘The Government must be prepared to take further bold action to counter the recession and to save jobs.

‘The roots of this recession lie in the failure of the finance and banking sectors, and while the Government deserves praise for setting the international pace on the bail-out of banks, we do not yet have a banking system that is truly serving the interests of business or household borrowers. Banks are putting building up their own balance sheets and paying back government loans as their top priorities. But they also still hold high levels of ‘toxic’ debts which prevent them from dealing with other banks in a normal way. The Government and the Bank of England must therefore consider injecting even more support into the financial system to get credit flowing again.

‘The Government cannot be expected to come to the aid of every company that faces difficulties but it must be prepared to look at providing short term assistance to strategic companies in sectors vital to the future of Britain.

‘The Government should consider a further stimulus package in the Budget. Barack Obama’s team are already talking of a big package to boost the US economy. The UK should follow suit – and also use the April G20 summit in London to create a coalition of the willing to wage war on unemployment, poverty and recession.

‘As well as bringing forward planned infrastructure projects, ministers should be fast tracking new projects to ensure that further work can start when these finish. The UK is still suffering from a lack of investment in the key infrastructure a modern low-carbon economy requires.

Action to help the unemployed

‘Too much government policy towards the unemployed still tends to be trapped in the idea that there are enough jobs to go round, and that the unemployed either lack the skills or the motivation to get work. While of course with rights come responsibilities, the thousands of people losing their jobs every week throughout 2009 should not be treated as potential scroungers but victims of economic forces well beyond their control. They will need help through benefits and support through training and job search.

‘Despite its tough presentation and some objectionable policies such as workfare, there were some good proposals in the welfare reform Green Paper to make Job Centre Plus services better tailored to individual needs. Mass unemployment will make it even harder for those who normally find it more difficult to get work such as disabled people and those juggling child care and work. There needs to be specific help for such groups – such as an increase in child care, which in turn creates jobs.

‘The TUC has already called for better benefits, higher statutory redundancy pay and a bigger tax allowance for redundancy pay to provide more help for the newly unemployed. We now look for action in the Budget on these issues.

Action to create a fairer, greener and more sustainable economy

‘2009 is going to be tough, but it can still be made positive if it becomes a turning point – the year in which we set out to build a deliberately different kind of economy.

‘That first means recognising the mistakes of the past – made not just by this Government, but by governments and the economic and political establishment almost everywhere.

‘We have given far too much weight to the interests of the finance sector, and began to believe it could create wealth simply by moving it around, rather than through long-term investment in the goods and services that people want and need.

‘The challenges we face are clear. Even before the recession we were scarred by poverty, particularly child poverty. Our society was coming under increasing strain from growing inequality as a new class of the super-rich escaped their responsibilities to pay a fair share of tax. We had neglected important sectors of the economy as we gave preference to financial services. We have failed to do enough to meet the environmental imperative.

‘This challenges us all to put the measures we will need to beat the recession to a longer term purpose of building a better greener and fairer economy that can emerge the other side of the downturn.

‘This will require:

* a new kind of industrial strategy – not a return to picking winners and easy hand-outs, but strategic support to the sectors where we are already strong but could do better. Some will be in manufacturing, but others will be in services and parts of the economy often neglected in such discussions such as the creative sectors.
* A green industrial revolution that recognises that many industries will have to adapt to survive, but that also that the environmental challenge can generate thousands of productive worthwhile jobs, and build on the strength of our science base.
* An intensification of efforts to make society fairer – the recession should encourage the government to speed up efforts to eliminate child poverty.
* A fairer tax system. The government is right to increase borrowing to maintain the strength of the economy. But this borrowing and decent public services will have to be paid for, and 2009 must see a real debate on how to make the tax system fairer. There is a real demand for the super-rich to pay a fairer share. President Elect Obama has been a long-time supporter of a crack down on the tax havens used by multi-nationals and the mobile super-rich to avoid tax.
* A new kind of banking system that no longer threatens international economic stability and instead serves the rest of the economy and society. Britain’s banks already look very different. Some are now state-owned, some have large public stakes and all have received substantial help from the Bank of England and the taxpayer. At the very least we will need new regulatory structures to enforce stability but also to protect the consumer in a sector with less competition.

‘2009 will not be easy year, but it could be the turning point that will make 2010 not just the start of recovery, but the first steps in building a new economy.’

Vauxhall and I – take a paid break?

We need a new green deal for the productive economy. Without state-support, much of the manufacturing sector will go bust, even with a weak dollar helping exports. Think “managed decline” speeded-up.

The car industry must be rescued – if we can nationalise failing banks, why not failing companies? Without a solid manufacturing base, the whole country will go bankrupt.

The News Line reports:

30% WAGES ‘SABBATICAL’ FOR VAUXHALL ELLESMERE PORT
General Motors, the owner of Vauxhall, has put forward a plan for its Merseyside workforce to ‘take a break’ from two to nine-months from work on 30 per cent pay from January to September 2009.

The ‘sabbatical’ scheme was put to unions at its Ellesmere Port plant, Cheshire, on Thursday.

A Vauxhall spokesman said the number of staff who choose to take up the option will not be known until the New Year.

Vauxhall employs more than 5,000 workers in its plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton.

Vauxhall is already shutting down for a month this Christmas.

Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley has called for government assistance.

He said: ‘While it is clearly very disappointing that talks to secure financial assistance for the Big Three car manufacturers in the US have stalled, failure to reach a deal there must not mean a moment’s delay in this country.

‘The UK car industry is facing unprecedented tough times with the collapse of the financial market spreading vulnerability right through the supply chain and placing 40,000 jobs in jeopardy.

‘This must mean unprecedented intervention from government, just as it did with the banks.’

All Trade Unions Alliance national secretary Dave Wiltshire said: ‘The only way to save jobs and auto manufacturing is to nationalise the car industry.

‘Any factories threatened with closure must be occupied, until they are nationalised.’

Bring back British Steel!

Ah, remember when we could make plans for Nigel?

British Steel might have been flogged off by Maggie twenty years ago, but now

The chief executive of Corus, the Anglo-Dutch subsidiary of Indian steel giant Tata, has asked UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown for government aid.

Corus head Philippe Varin said state help was needed to allow firms to avoid redundancies amid falling output.

The scheme could be similar to the plan recently introduced in the Netherlands to pay up to 70% of workers’ basic pay to allow retraining and paid down-time.

Corus has already axed 500 jobs from its UK workforce of 25,000 last month.

‘Swift action’

The firm, which was bought by Tata Steel for $12bn (£8.1bn) in 2007, plans to reduce its European output by 30% by March.

“We are looking for the [UK] government to take swift and decisive action to mitigate the effects of the financial crisis on manufacturing industry,” the company was quoted as saying by the Financial Times newspaper.

Mr Varin was among business representatives at a European Business Summit in London on Monday, attended by leaders of Britain, France and the European Commission.

Corus has three main UK plants at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Teesside.

No subsidy without equity!

Is progressive taxation is back on the agenda?

The Compass group has welcomed the Pre-Budget Report with as much optimism as the Chancellor’s asessment of the depth of the recession:

Neal Lawson chair of Compass said: “Today’s Pre-Budget Report marks a move away from the Neo-Liberal/free market economic consensus pursued by both Labour and Conservative governments of the past 30 years – but this should not just be a blip before normal service, in the shape of speculative consumer capitalism, is resumed – the government needs to make this a turning point that leads to the moral transformation of our society”.

Jon Cruddas MP said: “This is exactly the kind of measure that we’ve been advocating for a while now and it’s good news for people like my constituents in Dagenham. This should be the first stage in re-balancing the tax system so it’s fairer for middle and low income earners, as well as kick-starting the economy in the short term. When the new US administration takes office then we have the chance to move in to another phase – an international crackdown on corporate tax evasion. Meanwhile, Cameron is now retreating from New Conservatism into orthodox Thatcherite economics and we have to expose that.”

Gavin Hayes General Secretary of Compass said: “A financial crisis that was in part caused by the excesses and risky behaviour of those at the top should not be allowed to unnecessarily hurt the rest of us, so today’s announcement on reducing VAT, whilst at the same time announcing plans to increase the tax burden on the super-rich should both be welcomed, it is absolutely right for government to limit the impact of the recession by using pragmatic and sensible measures such as these.”

As Richard Murphy points out, cutting VAT by such a small amount isn’t likely to impact upon retail prices for consumers:

On an item costing £4.99 the VAT saving will be under 11p. Can you see anyone shifting that price to £4.89?

On £500 (VAT inclusive price) the saving is £10.60. That’s neither here or there: if you are going to spend £500 then £10.60 or so will not change the decision. Other influences are much stronger.

So at low price points this is a boost for the retailer who will take much of the gain. I really do not expect them to pass this on. At high price points I doubt the impact.

Either way the saving goes to marginal jobs in the UK, and Woolworths won’t be saved by this, whilst cheap imports are the only likely sector to see a boost. The business to business sector will see none at all: VAT does not impact them.

But it’s more than that: this might fuel deflation, which we can ill afford. So it’s a mistake.

VAT is regressive, but not as badly as some taxes (e.g. council tax) so the poorest who need help will not benefit most.

John McDonnell MP, chair of the Left Economics Advisory Panel said of the tax changes:

“The introduction of a higher rate of tax for high earners is long overdue but the Government’s proposals are hardly a revolution, and delaying them until after the next election is pointless. The higher rate should be the start of creating a fair tax reform agenda, redistributing wealth from the super rich in order to take the low paid out of taxation altogether.

“The Government should also move immediately to tackle the large scale tax avoidance by the corporate sector, introducing legislation to outlaw tax havens, mirroring the Obama bill in Congress. The public revulsion over City bonuses and bank executive salaries has opened the way for radical tax reform. Government must seize the moment.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union warns of the impact of so-called “efficiency savings” and points out that billions of pounds in taxes go uncollected:

Commenting, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “Further efficiency savings of £5 billion should not be a prelude to yet more job cuts, office closures and privatisation.

“Key public services, such as justice, welfare and tax are already struggling to cope against a backdrop of massive job cuts and office closures.

“Whilst the promise of additional funds for jobcentres is welcome, the government needs to reverse its job cuts programme across civil and public services to safeguard their delivery.

“Whilst the promise of additional funds for jobcentres is welcome, the government needs to reverse its job cuts programme across civil and public services to safeguard their delivery.

“For example the government should be looking at tackling the £21.5 billion worth of uncollected tax and £25 billion lost through tax evasion, by putting more resources into HMRC to claw back the billions in lost revenue, which could be ploughed into public services and stimulate the economy.”

The Morning Star‘s editorial is critical of the direction of travel signalled by the Pre-Budget Report, not so much a return to Real Labour but a continuation of Blue Labour:

Out of his own mouth
(Monday 24 November 2008)

CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling condemned himself out of his own mouth when he said that the central objective of his unambitious pre-budget report was to support firms and businesses going through difficult times.

That is why he opted for a cut of two-and-a-half percentage points on VAT, which will be absorbed into business income rather than find its way into lower prices.

Working people, especially those wondering how long they will be in a job, are unlikely to run out on a spending spree on the basis of a VAT cut.

And, if Mr Darling really wished to spark economic activity, he should have helped those on the lowest incomes whose extra cash would certainly have increased demand.

Those robbed when Gordon Brown abolished the 10 per cent tax rate should be compensated by being lifted out of income tax liability entirely.

State pensioners, whose living standards have been eroded every year since the Tories abolished the link with wages, those working for a totally inadequate minimum wage and others forced to exist on the jobseeker’s allowance pittance should receive a boost in their income.

It is pathetic that the Chancellor should be posing the possibility of no more than a 5 per cent increase to 45 per cent for tax on annual incomes over £150,000 and then only on condition that Labour wins the next general election.

This proposal will not bring any additional income to the Treasury in the life of this government. It’s not even of sufficient scale to encourage the electorate to vote Labour in the hope that it will switch the burden of taxation from working people to the rich.

Government failure to tackle the spiriting away of potential tax revenues of at least £25 billion a year through overseas tax avoidance centres, mainly in British crown territories, emphasises once more its priorities.

The bulk of taxation should fall on the shoulders of those able to pay rather than those too poor to afford avoidance schemes.

And the government should also lift the cap on National Insurance contributions, which is a hidden tax benefit for the better-paid, and introduce a wealth tax.

But the government must not restrict itself simply to measures calculated to increase demand.

It has a responsibility to intervene actively in the economy, especially since the banks have been quick to accept cheaper Bank of England lending and government investment but have not passed benefits on to small businesses seeking to weather the recession.

The government must put substance behind its much-vaunted commitments to environmental issues and to higher employment levels.

Financing at least 100,000 new council homes a year and a nationwide programme of renovating and insulating existing local authority properties could begin to tackle the housing crisis, improve energy efficiency and cut fuel bills.

Similarly, a crash programme of expanding the railways would not only improve the transportation network but increase demand for steel, concrete etc, safeguarding jobs in these industries as well as construction.

Unless the government adopts an economic programme with social justice at its heart, its cosmetic measures will simply prop up big business and ensure that costs of the recession will be paid for by workers.