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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Visteon - one year on

Today is the 1st anniversary of the closure of the Visteon factories, spun off and left to drift by Ford. Have a look at pictures here.

Ford developed a strategy to rip off the workforce by spinning off Visteon as a separate company and allowing it to go to the wall. At the very least, a Multi-billion-pound company like Ford should be forced to step in and honour its pensions commitments to its workforce. Otherwise big business could slip away from any agreement it makes with the workforce.

Rob Williams, Coalition candidate for Swansea West and convenor at the Linamar (former Visteon, former Ford) factory in Swansea, spoke at the rally to demand justice for pensioners.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Been helping out Dave Nellist's campaign in Coventry today. The Socialists' were a lone voice against the plans to bring private companies into the running of NHS facilities in Coventry. Now, visitors, staff and those needing treatment at Walsgrave Hospital can pay up to £10 a day parking charges. £2.7 million pound of profit has been squeezed out of the ill and their visitors by the carpark owners alone and altogether billions has been handed over to private companies which should have been used to make people well. That's a taste of what we've got in store unless we develop a political voice for ordinary people to stop privatisation and cutbacks in public services.

See more coverage of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition campaign in Wales here.

Dave says:

"It is a myth that the only way to fix the economy is a brutal slashing of jobs and services in the public sector. That is the choice that the three main parties have made - parties who act solely in the interests of big business and the bank-[ocracy].

"We say there is an alternative. That alternative includes genuine public ownership of the banks, taxing the rich and ending all privatisation plans."

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Hello Fitzalan people. Do you miss me?


Check out the Winkball website for a short interview I did with them. Other Cardiff candidates on there too.

Friday, 26 March 2010

TUSC National Launch covered by the Guardian

Article link here.

'[S]enior ranking members of unaffiliated unions [say the Labour Party] is "dead as a political vehicle for the interests of workers and trade unionists and that an alternative is needed".'


'This election coalition challenges the idea that unions are, de facto, in Labour's pocket – a view clearly not shared by some in the unaffiliated sector.'

Overall very good publicity but the Guardian makes the mistake of thinking that TUSC could split the Labour vote in the election ahead. TUSC supporters, angry at Labour, would be more likely to stay at home or look for other alternatives than go to Labour.

A Budget to Soak or Save the Rich?

The Western Mail yesterday proclaimed in its headline "Darling Squeezes the Rich" but how hard is he squeezing them really? It looks to me more like he's gently, carefully shielding them - especially the bankers - from the worst of our protests.

It's true the ferocity of the anger against the super-rich has pushed the political parties that represent them into supporting some minor steps against the most blatant excesses - the increase in income tax for the highest earners to 50%, for example. But are they really feeling the pain in the way that the 46,000 people - the highest number since 1995 - who lost their homes last year, or the two and a half million people out of work at the moment? After, all, for much of the 70s the top rate of income tax was 83% and that was in an era when inequality wasn't as stark as it is today. One report from the Rowntree foundation found that things haven't been as unequal in this country since the Victorian era, when - not uncoincidentally - working class people didn't have a political voice.

The consequences of this are shocking:

"IN ENGLAND, [and there's no reason to think things are different in Wales] people living in the poorest neighbourhoods, will, on average, die seven years earlier than people in the richest neighbourhoods. Even more disturbing, the average difference in disability-free life expectancy is 17 years. So, people in poorer areas not only die sooner they will also spend more of their shorter lives with a disability."

The gap in infant mortality rates, the report says, has widened to 25%.

These are the conditions that the main political parties have allowed to develop in Britain today - and that's during the boom period! Now, ordinary people are being asked to shoulder the full burden of the recession. Darling called yesterday for an extra £11 billion worth of cuts in public services, and post-election there'll be even more. The super-rich, who have enough private wealth not to need to depend on public services, made trilions in profits over the last decade while the rest of us languished. It's like being asked to pay for a party to which you weren't invited.

The budget also announced further "progress" on selling off the family silver - privatisation of public assets. Students - like the BA cabin crew, RMT signallers and maintenance workers and civil servants organised by PCS, will find the agreements they signed ripped up as the government sells off student loans to private companies. Already, the CBI is calling for high, market rates of interest to be applied to student loans.

But the most pitiful measure - embarrassingly inadequate - was Darling's crusade to provide a bank account for all, including the 1.75 million currently without one. Now, the reason I can't win an Olympic swimming event is not that I haven't got a pair of speedoes - it's because I haven't got the body to go in them. People have to have money to put in bank accounts to make them worthwhile, and with the programme of pay cuts and job losses supported by the main parties will take more out of our pockets to protect the profits of big business. The problem isn't "financial exclusion" - it's poverty and inequality.

Darling and Labour, along with the Liberal Democrats and all the other main parties agree that ordinary working class people should pay for the crisis by swallowing job losses and cuts to the services upon which they depend. Otherwise, obtaining credit from the world financial sector will become more and more difficult, economic problems will spiral out of control and public services as a result will suffer anyway. But why should we allow a finance sector which OUR MONEY bailed out to hold a gun to our head? If the finance sector is too important to be allowed to collapse then it's too important to be left in the hands of those who, by playing the economy like a casino, brought the recession down on our heads. We should nationalise it, put it under democratic workers' control and management and use it to do something useful in society instead of waste wealth in unproductive enterprises during the boom and periodically destroy wealth in the recession.

The Contempt for Democracy

The attitude of all the main parties towards democracy became crystal clear yesterday.

In a letter to Cardiff Council, Leighton Andrews, Assembly Education Minister, agreed with the decision of Cardiff Council to close Llanrumney and Rumney High School and Eastern Leisure, and replace these three important community facilities with one school with some scanty leisure facilities attached on the site of Rumney Rec. The community in all likelihood will lose the playing fields there too unless the plans are stopped.

A referendum of local residents voted a whopping 93% against the plan on a turnout higher than the council elections but Andrews, a Labour Minister, nevertheless supported Cardiff's Liberal/Plaid Cymru executive's decision.

I and other Socialist Party members helped to set up the campaign against the plan but had to battle against Labour Party supporters who argued that ordinary people should relax, not cause too much trouble and rely on "their representatives" in the assembly and council to defend the facilities - this despite the fact that Labour councillors sit on the committee that drafted the closures plan, and that Labour (and Plaid) Assembly ministers have created the problems in schools though underfunding.

The way schools are funded sets up schools to fail. Because funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, if fewer children go a school one year - for whatever reason - the school gets less money. It becomes harder and harder, therefore, to keep schools running and if there wasn't a problem in the school before, after years of not getting enough cash to maintain school buildings etc then one soon develops. It's a deliberate and cynical attempt to cut back education purely to save money which will leave some communities, like Llanedeyrn, without a community school.

Instead, getting slightly less children one year should mean that class sizes become smaller and chlidren get more time with teachers. In that way the quality of education would both increase overall and become more even across the city.

The game isn't over yet. Campaigners from Llanrumney, Llanedyern and Canton, where Lansdowne Primary School is also under threat, should link up with campaigners across Cardiff and stand against the main parties in the council elections this year, demanding an end to the school closures plan. Former First Minister, Labour's Rhodri Morgan estimated that 170 schools would close across Wales, with a devastating impact on the communities which they serve. In Cardiff alone, 600 jobs in 22 schools are threatened by the plans. We've got to get organised to defeat them. We need funding for schools based on need, not on some marketised perversion of education.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Liberals show their true colours.

The rally outside the Welsh Assembly this afternoon demonstrated how determined PCS members are to defend their entitlements. Good luck to them.

Article below from Dave Reid (See full roundup of reports from around the country here):

Despite never failing to speak on PCS platforms in previous disputes to gain a few votes posing as the left alternative to New Labour, Liberal AMs contemptuously crossed PCS picket lines manned by government workers to go ahead with a debate in a largely empty Senedd. The Liberals made it clear which side of the divide they are on as New Labour and the Tories make it clear that public sector workers and public services should pay for the crisis triggered by rich bankers.

For the third strike day in a row the proceedings of the Welsh Assembly were disrupted by the strike called by PCS. Over 200 members rallied outside the Assembly building in Cardiff Bay to hear Chris Baugh assistant general secretary of PCS and Peter Harris, Wales secretary of PCS condemn the current government for its attacks on public sector workers to pay for the crisis in government finances.

Labour and Plaid Cymru members of the Assembly have been prevented from taking part in the Assembly business by the PCS pickets outside the Senedd. In the last strike the plenary session was cancelled, but this time the Liberal Democrat assembly members joined the Tories in making a point of crossing PCS picket lines to go ahead with the session of the Assembly in a largely deserted Senedd.

Speaker after speaker at the rally asked why public services and public sector workers should pay for the crisis caused by the bankers. Meanwhile the main parties are preparing to take an axe to public services. Most worker see this action as the opening shots in the war between the capitalist parties and public sector workers.

Photos from the PCS rally at Assembly today

Video from PCS rally at Cardiff Bay today.

Over 250 PCS members from across Wales protest outside the Senedd at government plans to scrap the Civil Service Compensation Scheme.

Victory to striking PCS members

Pickets outside PCS workplaces in Cardiff today were in relatively high spirits despite the Welsh weather. The strike was supported solidly at every picketline I visited.

Elaine, a rep at Charles St explained that "The press always talks about civil servants as if we all wear suits and are highly paid but we're not. Most are on low pay and some only get barely above the minimum wage." There's a general understanding that the government's looking to cut the compensation scheme as a first step towards making massive job cuts on the cheap after the election. That's why workers of all ages have supported the strike. Youth Fight for Jobs has also sent a message of support to members taking action.

The public understand, as well, that you can't cut jobs without cutting services and with the likelihood of another dip into recession and more job losses on the way, working class people need to defend their rights to unemployment benefit and the services which provide it. Pickets had a good response from passers-by wishing them good luck.

RMT signallers and maintenance workers have also voted to take industrial action over the ripping up of agreements. There's a stark contrast between the apparent fragility of agreements between government and other employers and the workforce and the apparently invulnerable contracts enjoyed by the bankers. If we had politicians offering their services to us instead of to big business has perhaps we'd be able to win the same.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bring the Soldiers Home to Decent Jobs and Education

We were in Canton this morning campaigning to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. I noticed that a lot of people from Ely and other outlying areas of West Cardiff were keen to sign the petition. The recession and the job losses are dealing areas like Ely a hard while they're still suffering from previous ones. A lot of ordinary, young, working class people in areas like these and the valleys see the armed forces as their only route to getting access to training, education and something approaching decent: they're economic conscripts that are dying for the sake of politicians' prestige and the big business profits behind them. The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign is demanding decent jobs and real education for young people in Britain, without the need to get ordered around and shot at to get hold of either.

The British government spent an incredible £4.5 billion on the war in these two countries. This figure would pay the tuition fees of every student in the UK, with a cool billion to spare.

Also went to the National Assembly today to attend a protest of staff and students on childcare courses which are under threat of being savagely cut back. Proposals would cut the teaching time by two thirds and leave students much less prepared to look after children. One student from Llanelli explained to me that she will be the last-but-one student on the full-length course and that those who come after her could have to look after children much younger than those with which they have experience.

We leafletted the Cardiff University Unison AGM later in the day and spoke to Graham Francis, the branch secretary there, and other members about the cutbacks University management is planning. Interestingly, when LEARN, the adult education department in CU was threatened, the gap between its funding and its expenditure was almost exactly the same figure - around a quarter of a million - as the salary of David Grant, the vice-chancellor. Public universities should be under the control and management of ordinary people: they should discuss and set salaries for staff and also decide what the priorities of universities should be - not big business.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Will they get away with it?

We're at risk of being overwhelmed by tidal wave after tidal wave of MPs' corruption scandals.

Full details were finally released yesterday of how Tory Lord Ashcroft was able to buy his way into the House of Lords, even though he doesn't pay taxes in the UK. I think we should call him "The Enemy Not-exactly-within".

After Cash for Honours, Cash for Questions, secret donations from millionaires and countless other examples of corruption, perhaps the footage released by the Sunday Times last weekend of MPs selling their services to private companies should shock us less, but this is the most explicit example I've ever seen of what we've know all along - that the politicians of the main parties are in it for themselves and for what they can do for big business. Stephen Byers described himself as a "Cab for hire" and boasted he'd already helped out Tescos and National Express.

It's wrong to imagine, however, that the corruption is limited to three former ministers from one party. Actually, it's general. The expenses scandal, which implicated all the main parties, showed us that. (I noticed, by the way, that Jenny Willott, Liberal Democrat MP for Cardiff Central, handed us a bill for £23,083 - on top of her £64,766 basic salary - including £499 for a tv and a £933.50 contribution towards her £1,709.60 four-poster bed.)

In reality, all the main parties are touting for (big) business.

I heard during the PCS strike rally on the 8th March that no fewer than 27 Labour ministers who forced through privatisation when in office have been rewarded with grossly overpaid jobs with the companies to which they handed over our public services.

Personally, I don't think people are angry enough; or, rather, the angry people aren't focussed and organised enough so that they can change things. But Ms Willott is concerned about something else - that the tidal wave of public anger at MPs will put some people off the job. But ordinary working class people don't need representative that bury their noses in the trough, and if these people are put off by the spotlight that's been shone onto their corruption, then that's a good thing and good riddance to them.

We need MPs like Dave Nellist, a Socialist MP who took an ordinary worker's wage when he was in Parliament, donating the rest of his pay to local, trade union and labour movement campaigns. He was already publishing his expenses in the eighties, and managed to cope without demanding the working class pays for luxury goods for "their" MP that they could never hope to own themselves. Like me, Dave's been selected as a candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition for the upcoming general election. Now, are we going to let them get away with their corruption or are we going to vote for workers' MPs on a worker's wage?