English water, anyone?

The Stonemason has blogged about the eagerness of the Adam Smith Institute to see Glas Cymru (which owns Welsh Water) subjected to the “disciplines of private sector ownership”.

While it’s no surprise that they are calling for a successful publicly-owned company to be used as a cash-cow for shareholders, I feel I must unpick this particular assumption.

The issue of “discipline” relates to the principle-agent problem. How can those running a company be held accountable to its owners?

The Adam Smith Institute may argue that privatisation has been a wonder – but this is only true for shareholders. And some of these shareholders are ordinary people who are facing huge bills because of prices that go up when costs go up and stay up even when costs go down – yet they cannot as shareholders demand this of the company.

Because Glas Cymru is a company limited by guarantee its purpose is not to maximise the dividend paid to shareholders but to meet its objectives of providing high quality water and sewerage services to customers. This year each customer of Glas Cymru will recieve a dividend of £21.

Now, I’m not saying that it has the most socially-just model of ownership.

The company’s workforce – and the employees of contractors – should be regarded as stakeholders just as much as consumers. The objective of high-quality service cannot be met if workers are disempowered; good wages, working hours, and democratic representation ensure that high standards are maintained.

The remit should also include efficient use of energy and minimising any negative effects on the environment or natural wildlife.

Though Glas Cymru may not be perfect, it looks a damn sight better than what we have in England! We are being told that the only way to lower our bills is to have the profiteering water companies competing with each other. We have this with our gas and electricity suppliers – but do our bills come down? No, they compete with each other to squeeze as much money out of customers!

Privatisation has been a disaster. Public assets sold off at knock-down prices to the friends and sponsors of the governing party (Tories, now New Labour). Prices have been allowed to skyrocket -natural monopolies are milked for profit by colluding suppliers in gas, electricity, and railways. Rather than seeing greater private investment in our railways, more public money is invested in rail than ever before!

The likes of the Adam Smith Institute can try all they like to convince the public of the benefits of handing public resources over to big businesses. Their nonesense is only heeded by those politicians hoping to get cushy non-jobs in business after they leave office.
We need to return the privatised utilities to public ownership and democratic control, with the involvement of workers and consumers in the process of management.

Surveys of public opinion have never found a clear majority in favour of privatisation – and with the credit crunch being perceived as resulting deregulation and demutualisation, more and more people will begin to see the necessity of reversing the neoliberal era.

Privatisation of water and sewage services did not take place in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Scottish Water is owned by the Scottish government and both the incumbent nationalist party and the opposition Labour Party are committed to the company remaining in the public sector. The Scottish Tories are for privatisation, but are at pains to point out they don’t want what has happened in England! Northern Ireland Water priovides water and sewage services in the six counties; like Scottish Water it is still part of the public sector.

So, there’s Northern Ireland Water, Scottish Water, Welsh Water – how about English Water?

Labour needs a policy contest

Gordon Brown has apparently been enduring the company of Thatcher. He chose to do this too, invite the former PM round for tea again – perhaps because he’s wanting to check the details of her taxpayer-funded state funeral, perhaps he’s senile… I’m sure the SNP will relish the chance to again advertise this budding relationship at the up-coming Glenrothes by-election, where the head teacher of Brown’s old school is standing for Labour.

As for talk of a leadership challenge to Brown, the leader of the Socialist Campaign Group has it right:

Entering the latest row on Saturday evening Labour MP John McDonnell – who has long been urging a leadership election – described current Labour infighting as “like watching the crew having a punch up on the deck of the Titanic”.

The MP for Hayes and Harlington said: “Most Labour Party members are looking on aghast as the Blairites and Brownites fight an irrelevant turf war.

“Without a single policy difference between them they are willing to destroy a Labour government. I challenge both of them to publish a policy programme to put before our members for support and let’s test the views of our supporters on the way forward for Labour.”


The lost cause of English Labour?

I’ve been thinking about the issues to be discusses at next saturday’s Convention of the Left meeting on the break-up of the UK

UK PM Gordon Brown is of course Mr Britishness, so it is odd when the policies of his cabinet are refered to as those of the English Labour party.

In Wales, Labour is sharing power with Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party. In Scotland, Labour went into opposition after losing the Scottish parliamentary elections to the SNP.

There’s a good chance that at the next election, Labour will lose in England. Loses in Scotland and Wales have come at the hands of a nationalists able to articulate a progressive alternative and come up with policies which people can feel the benefit of – policies which go against the neoliberal agenda (but crucially, do not break with it).

Demands from the party’s base for a windfall tax on the energy companies to help the poorest cope with rising prices have been ignored by the leadership – making a revival in England that much harder.

Brown is leader of the UK Labour party – the absence of a specifically English leadership means he’s also Labour’s leader in England (which is an oddity, since his constituency is in Scotland where many areas of public policy are controlled by the devolved government).

Both the PM and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling (MP for Edinburgh South West in Scotland) have been defending their policy of wage cuts in the public sector to delegates at the TUC conference this week.

The Scottish Labour leadership are likely to continue supporting public sector strikes against this policy – re-opening a rift between Labour’s centres of power. Scottish Labour are in opposition, and the SNP government is doing its best to live up to the Tartan Tories jibe, as The Scotsman reports:

They agreed the financial settlement with local government and they could find the money to increase the offer to workers if they had the political will.

But if the dispute escalates, there is likely to be a change in the Scottish Government’s position. Ministers will stop being so neutral and instead they will put more and more blame on the UK government.

Holyrood’s position will then become that the problem is not low wages but high prices and if the UK government did something about high prices, there would be less pressure from unions to raise salaries.

If the dispute drags on, then Scottish ministers will use this argument more and, in doing so, try to distance themselves from the pay row even more.

In 1978-9, the government was blamed for the strikes. Alex Salmond is determined if an administration has to take responsibility, it won’t be his.

The question is, will it work? If the dispute escalates, then government – any government – will be blamed, however much Mr Salmond will try to deflect this. Therefore, it is in his interests to sort this out as soon as possible.

Labour, though, is in a difficult position. In London, the government is trying to keep down wage inflation and will not provide any more money for public-sector wages.

In Scotland, the party is going through a leadership campaign where two of the candidates have been backed by unions involved in the strike action.

What this means is that, when Labour in Scotland does get its new leader this weekend, the party here will almost certainly be in favour of strike action while the party in England is not.

Brown is de facto leader of English Labour. He’s unelected. Harriet Harman, de facto Deputy leader, was elected by the party’s members and affiliates.

She’s been speaking to the TUC about class – a prelude to a campaign for the top job, perhaps – but she’s got nothing better than a report she’s commissioned.

Brown’s supposed rethinking of New Labour was quickly rubbished by his office – this was in an article he probably didn’t write and certainly isn’t worth reading.

New Labour declared dead again

I can’t find the words to describe the situation of the dead arising to declare they’ll go on living. This might be helpful:

AFTER the Labour party defeat at Glasgow East, one of the safest Labour seats in the country, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown has stated that he will not be changing the policies of the Labour Party, it will continue to hand billions to the bankers and cut everybody else’s wages.

Quite succinct, dontcha think?

At Lenin’s Tomb, there’s a terse explanation of why Labour lost:

They gave in to the City and the rich on tax evasion, declared a freeze on public spending, advertised for bids on the privatised delivery of welfare, and announced a ‘revolutionary’ shake-up of benefits for the unemployed and incapacitated that will treat both like criminals.

Tony Woodley, leader of the country’s biggest union, Unite, has called for a purge of the Tory entryists that call themselves “New Labour”:

Just three words from Gordon Brown could transform Labour’s prospects even now: “Blairism is dead.” Already I can hear the objections from remaining defenders of the faith – drop the Blairism that won Labour three elections?

Alas, each victory at the polls was won with 2m fewer voters than the one before. We have run out of road there – and the Tories have had a makeover. But there is a more profound reason why we cannot look to 1997 for lessons. The world has changed. The Blairite “all things to all people but more things to rich people” approach could get by when the world economy was booming. Trickledown theory only works when it’s raining money.

Alas, Gordon thinks that rainclouds will gather within two years, so it’s not going to be easy to reason with him – and besides, he’s made amends with the Blairites.

I look forward to seeing Woodley’s name at the bottom of the People Before Profit Charter alongside those of union leaders Jeremy Dear
(National Union of Journalists), Brian Caton (Prison Officers Association), and Joe Marino (Bakers, Food & Allied Workers Union)…

Inflation and recession are now tightening their grip on the economy with every day that passes. Working people face rapidly increasing prices, especially for food and fuel; government led pay restraint; rising unemployment and a disastrous housing crisis.

At the same time the super-rich continue to enjoy huge profits, salaries and bonuses – yet pay less tax than under the Tories.

The desperation felt by many is having equally serious political effects: the resurgence of the Tories and an increase in anti-immigrant and fascist arguments.

We need a coordinated response to these threats. As part of this response please add your name to this Charter and then move support for the Charter at your trade union, party or campaign organisation.

  1. Wage increases no lower than the rate of inflation as given by the Retail Price Index. No to the government’s 2 percent pay limit.
  2. Increase tax on big companies. Introduce a windfall tax on corporation superprofits, especially those of the oil companies.
  3. Repeal the Tory anti-union laws. Support the Trade Union Freedom Bill.
  4. Unsold houses and flats should be taken over by local councils to ease the housing crisis. No house repossessions. For an emergency programme of council house building.
  5. Stop the privatisation of public services. Free and equal health and education services available to all.
  6. End the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and use the money to expand public services. Stop the erosion of civil liberties.
  7. Abolish tax on fuel and energy for old people and the poor. Re-establish the link between wages and pensions.
  8. No to racism. No to the British National Party. No scapegoating of immigrants.
  9. Reintroduce grants and abolish tuition fees for students.
  10. Increase the minimum wage to £8.00 an hour.

Many workers and trade unionists are now engaged in strikes and protests to defend their pay, jobs and services. We pledge ourselves to support their action and to support the campaigns that are dedicated to protecting working people, including:

  • Unite Against Fascism
  • Public Services not Private Profit
  • Defend Council Housing
  • Stop the War Coalition
  • Keep Our NHS Public

Please return to: People Before Profit Charter, BM 6035, London WC1N 3XX or email your name and details to peoplebeforeprofitcharter@googlemail.com

Is Gordon Brown living in the past, or on another planet?

Let them waste less food and go without rights, says Brown.

What century is this man living in?

He’s flying off to a G8 summit in Japan, but he can’t help lecturing us about the food we throw away before stuffing his face with a six course meal.

He’s denied all along that his police state “anti-terror” measures are eroding our rights, but admits that there are rights taken by previous governments that have not yet been returned.

From yesterday’s Morning Star:

Living in the past
(Monday 07 July 2008)

GORDON Brown apparently believes that successful governments are those that do not hark back to the past.

So why does he hark back to the industrial relations regime imposed by Margaret Thatcher in the anti-union 1980s rather than supporting the kind of basic trade union rights that almost every other developed capitalist country regards as normal?

Why is he hooked on the tradition begun by Mrs Thatcher and continued by John Major and Tony Blair whereby Britain is singled out by the International Labour Organisation as being in breach of ILO conventions?

Sound bites such as “combining fairness and flexibility” are meaningless waffle that serve to camouflage new Labour’s subservience to big business.

Trade unions have been patient with new Labour, far too patient, as it has demeaned Britain’s 6.5 million trade unionists, sought to weaken the unions’ link with the party they founded and flaunted its preference for big business and wealthy individuals.

While individual Labour Party membership has plummeted, contributing to a financial crisis, new Labour’s rich fair-weather friends have done a runner now that they can no longer expect knighthoods and House of Lords seats for their largess.

No less than 90 per cent of the party’s finance now comes from Britain’s trade unionists.

Given that the Prime Minister is effectively a dead man walking, just one more lousy election result away from the sack, why should the unions put up with his arrogant disdain.

From the earliest days of Bernie Ecclestone’s £1 million donation coinciding with the government’s watering down of its ban on tobacco advertising on TV, big business has received a return on its investments in Labour.

In contrast, the trade unions have continued to fork out cash for little or nothing in return.

As one prominent leader put it, “We give cash to Labour to secure a Labour government not to buy policies.”

This differentiation between the industrial and parliamentary wings of the labour movement is understandable except in a context where the party’s internal democracy has been suspended, with conference denied the right to take policy decisions and delegates serving only to provide ego-boosting standing ovations for the leadership.

Labour is sleepwalking to electoral oblivion and yet the only response is for unnamed prominent people to suggest that loss of Glasgow East would mean a challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadership.

The situation is too important for such personality games. What improvement would there be if he were replaced by Charles Clarke, Alan Johnson, Alan Milburn or any other of his partners in crime?

The fault lies not with individuals. It lies with new Labour’s entire neoliberal approach, which is undermining the NHS and all public services and driving down living standards for working people, pensioners and the poor.

That approach has to be changed or Labour will go down to be replaced by a Tory-led government that will be, if anything, worse.

However, to expect Labour’s lost voters to return solely on the basis of claims that the Tories will be worse would be futile.

The unions have to force a change in government policies or look for an alternative political vehicle.

And today’s Morning Star editorial points out that the popularity of the nationalists in Wales and Scotland is because of their commitment to the public services:

Lessons on health care
(Tuesday 08 July 2008)

DOES the Prime Minister ever stop to wonder why the Scottish National Party government in Holyrood and the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition in the National Assembly of Wales constantly outflank it to the left on health issues?

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to take action to prevent notorious US health privateers taking over GP surgeries did not arise out of a doctrinaire hostility to the private sector.

SNP willingness to take the Brian Souter shilling, or, more accurately, about 10 million of them, and to drop its commitment to public ownership of Scotland’s rail services indicates a certain political flexibility.

The SNP is engaged on a strategy of seeking to use the early years of its minority administration in Holyrood to broaden its appeal, to win over many left-of-centre voters who traditionally vote Labour and to use this greater constituency to win an independence referendum in 2010.

Like the coalition in Cardiff Bay, it is aware that a non-commercial attitude to the health service is popular with the public.

In Wales, the cancellation of prescription charges and the abolition of car parking charges in hospitals, which served as a tax on the sick and their families, have proved extremely popular.

And the stock of impressive Welsh Health and Social Services Minister Edwina Hart has never been higher by virtue of her principled refusal to countenance the internal market nonsense that has become an article of faith for members of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet.

Despite the disapproval of Westminster Welsh MPs and of erstwhile colonial governor Peter Hain, both Welsh Labour AMs and their sometimes difficult allies in Plaid have stuck to their guns.

Why? Because voters understand that public is better than private when it comes to health care.

They know that health privateers owe priority to their shareholders’ dividends, whereas the NHS ethos is based on care and service, paid for out of the public purse.

Every pound paid out to a United Health shareholder is one pound less to be invested in better care and services. It’s not rocket science.

Voters understand it, but it seems beyond the superbrains of the Labour Cabinet who, bizarrely, equate private with efficient.

It seems inexplicable that a Labour government would seek to learn lessons from the example offered by the US.

Yes, they spend more money on health in the States than anywhere else and they have some of the most modern, state-of-the-art facilities in the world.

Well, that’s not surprising. It’s the richest country in the world, but having the largest health budget doesn’t mean having the most efficient or comprehensive.

They spend most because their health-care model is based on private insurance, encouraging high and ever-rising costs of surgery and bloated bureaucracy, to meet the needs of corporate shareholders.

There is nothing efficient about a health-care system that omits 50 million citizens, who are sidelined because they have no valid insurance.
The US ought to be the last country to which a Labour government looks to learn lessons.

In fact, given new Labour’s obsession with the mythical land of middle England, perhaps it might be better placed to look to Wales and Scotland for brighter examples of rational health care.

New Labour and Tories have a dirty weekend

* The Tory Mayor of London, Borisconi has lost a deputy over claims of corruption and sexual impropriety. That’s bad enough, but the Tory leader David Cameron was quite fond of this guy, Ray Lewis…

* Labour’s would-be candidate for the Glasgow East by-election failed to attend the selection meeting and dropped out, leaving the party without a candidate. Word is that his past nationalistic tendencies would prove embarrassing: the SNP are the main challenger in this safe Labour seat.

* Shadow Chancellor Gideon George Osborne has denied breaking his party’s rules by accepting ten grand for appearing at the conference of the Institute of Directors. He’s refusing to give the money back…

* Back in the confusing world of Scottish Labour politics, Margaret Curran, a member of the Scottish parliament, is tipped to be Labour’s candidate for the British parliament. This is particularly problematic – in the past, Labour made much of the SNP’s Alex Salmond being a member of both parliaments…

* The Tories have adopted a modified verson of the Scottish and Welsh nationalists’ proposals for tacking the soaring cost of fuel. The difference? Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists want a fuel price regulator, the Tories want a fuel price stabiliser. It’s a matter of branding…

GMB cuts Labour funding – but is there an alternative?

The Beeb reports:

The GMB union has voted to cut funding to a third of the 108 Labour MPs it sponsors, saying they have failed to back its policies.

It also said it would ask its 600,000 members if they wanted to reduce the £1.2m funding for the Labour Party.

The union discussed its links with Labour at its conference in Plymouth.

General secretary Paul Kenny said he had been “weighing” up the performance of MPs, who could lose up to £20,000 a year if funding is cut.

The union was no longer prepared to finance MPs who treated workers with “contempt”, he added.

‘Performance-related pay’

The vote came as fire-fighters, prison officers, teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers joined a TUC rally in Westminster to press the government to make sure their pay keeps up with the rising cost of living.

Outlining his members’ grievances, Mr Kenny said those targeted would be MPs who had failed to support union policies, had not responded to requests for help or had not engaged with local branches.

“The intention is not to cut funding overall; it’s to divert it to areas where frankly people are doing a job of work,” he told the BBC.

“The government is very keen on testing for everybody, performance-related pay, and we’ve applied in the GMB over the last 12 months exactly the same principle.

“We’ve examined the records of MPs both at local level and national level and many are doing a fantastic job, but there are a number who seem at times to be embarrassed by their relationship with the union.

“We don’t want to embarrass them by giving them union money.”


Instead the GMB plans to put more cash into encouraging its members to take more control over constituency parties so the union has more influence over party policies.

Mr Kenny also warned the union could scale down the size of its funding for Labour – although it has ruled out of order a motion urging the GMB to disaffiliate from Labour.

He said he expected there would be “huge anger” among delegates over policies on taxation, public sector pay, executive bonuses, social housing and other issues.

One motion called for the GMB to give an ultimatum as to whether to give continued support to Labour because of unhappiness about the so-called Warwick Agreement – the deal reached before the last election between unions and the party – has not be implemented in full.

Another motion said: “The congress notes with disgust the continuing failure of the Labour Government to adequately represent the interests of working people.”

The Labour Party has become more reliant on union funds as donations from individuals have dropped following the cash-for-honours row and falling opinion poll ratings.

The TUC rally comes after a survey of 2,100 adults suggested that most believe it is unfair for public sector workers to receive lower wage increases than staff in private firms.

In the past, Kenny has suggested that the GMB fund Plaid in Wales and the SNP in Scotland if there’s no change of course within Labour. But what of an alternative political party in England? The GMB, and the labour movement, is getting overtures from the Green Party:

“We need each other,” Green MEP tells trade unionists
9th Jun 2008

Caroline Lucas speech aims to unite environmental and labour movements

Green politics must involve trade unions to ensure that the response to climate change advances social justice and equality, Caroline Lucas MEP will tell activists at the GMB union’s annual congress in Plymouth today.

In a discussion on ‘climate change and jobs,’ Dr Lucas will argue that the labour and environmental movements need to work together to acheive their goals, and that the Green Party’s role is to unite the two.

Commenting ahead of the session, Dr Lucas said:

“More secure, fulfilling jobs; stronger communities; social justice. That’s the Green response to climate change. Panic, blame, and regressive taxes: that’s Brown.

“Not only is the Green response more desirable, it’s also the only one that can succeed. A zero-carbon world and a socially just one will happen together, or not at all.

“To acheive our goals, the labour movement and the environmental movement must realise that we need each other. The Green Party, with roots in both, is the ideal matchmaker.

“We need to work together to demand support for the renewables industry that could provide thousands of new, highly-skilled and secure jobs but is being neglected by government. We need to work together to make a warm, energy efficient home a right, and abolish fuel poverty. And we need to work together for an economy that exists for people, not the other way round.”