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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Cut bankers' bonuses and MPs' pay, not hospitals and schools.

Where a political party decides to launch its manifesto says a lot.

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition launched theirs last weekend on the streets of Cardiff, amongst ordinary working-class people from all over Wales. We "cleaned up politics" by putting an MP in the bin with his inflated pay and bogus expenses, and invited passers-by to sign a petition in support of our demands.

The Lib Dems, however, launched theirs in the City of London, surrounded on all sides by those profiteering pirates whose greed brought the recession down on our heads.

In the Guardian today, the Tories are described as "the party of choice for rich bankers" said Nick Clegg, Westminster-educated leader of the Lib Dems and himself son of a rich banker. Labour's credibility has been used up and big business is warming up its other team to push through its agenda. But you can't help but detect in the criticism a certain amount of jealousy. The Lib Dems would love to regain their place as capitalism's second eleven and they might not be too far from their goal: according to a poll in the Guardian today, Labour and the Lib Dems are in joint second place. The Labour Party - lost to working people for over a decade now - could be destroyed even as a useful vehicle for the ruling capitalist class is a possibility. That's the legacy of Blair, Brown and New Labour.

But the Lib Dems won't change the situation for us. They've said they'll participate in savage cuts and, like all the other main parties, they plan to hand back the banks to the same irresponsible gamblers that brought about the recession. At most they'll insist their boardroom meetings aare smaller by dividing up the biggest banks. If we want change we'll have to change things ourselves: and more an more people are deciding to do that. The percentage of people intending to vote for parties other than the main three has risen from a very low figure, steady at 1 or 2% for decades, to 12% according to the Guardian/ICM polls. And that figure would rise as a new confidence in a new political organisation for ordinary working class people grew.

Love Eddie Izzard, Hate New Labour

Supporters of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition protested today as Eddie Izzard came to campaign for the Labour Party. Ironically, the spin doctors thought that the Atrium campus of the university of Glamorgan would be a good place to take him, forgetting that - according to one Uni Glam worker we spoke to - the university is threatened with a 16% budget cut this year thanks to the policies of New Labour and the other main parties. Students returned last September to find the courses they were studying had been axed and they had to leave or scrabble around to find something else to study.

Protesters held up placards adapting some of Izzard's sketches, with slogans like "Labour: covered in sleeeeeeaze," "University: now harder to get into than an orange" and "War in Afghanistan: no cake, just death." We got a warm reception from those who turned up and were asked to vote Labour: Izzard fans can spot a joke when they hear one.

New Labour, however, don't have such a well developed sense of humour and watching them scuttling around trying to hide our placards from Eddie with red balloons was, frankly, embarrassing. They physically barred all of us from entering the Vulcan, including a prominent member of the campaign that saved the pub.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Good Luck to PCS members

PCS is challenging in the High Court today the attempt to scrap the Civil Service Compensation Scheme. It seems that these negotiated redundancy entitlements - which were good enough even for Thatcher - are far too generous for the Labour Government, which is attacking the contractual entitlements of their own workforce. These same politicians wrung their hands and said that there's nothing they can do to stop the bankers getting £60billion in bonuses last year, because they've got contracts. Is it only contracts with the rich that have to be honoured?

I travelled with some PCS members in Cardiff on their campaign bus, touring sites in which PCS are organised, including HMRC in Llanishen, Companies House and the DWP offices at Gabalfa. The workers understand that if the government (whichever of the main parties wins this time) manages to clear the way for sacking people on the cheap then they'll be coming for tens of thousands of civil service jobs. Time for a political voice for ordinary working-class people.

Good luck to PCS.

The Lesser of Two or Three [or Four or Five] Evils?

Excellent footage of young people grilling Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats about his expenses.

"when you were put in the practical position to walk what you talk, you did what they all do."

He spent thousand on pruning his plum trees and charged it to us because his garden was an "eyesore". One young person said "People in this country live with gardens that they consider an eyesore. Do you know how many people live in houses that they wished they could [get free money to renovate]?"

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Too busy to post

Socialists are used to working hard to build support for their ideas but the past week has taken things to a new level.

I was up at 4am yesterday to help leaflet the postal workers at the sorting office in Cardiff. We got good support and no wonder: postal workers were facing a vicious assault on the right of their union, the CWU, even to be involved in negoiation! They've won some concessions but management are still out to drive down wages and conditions as low as they can. They just don't get it that the best way to make the postal service more efficient is to kick the profiteering private companies out of the industry, renationalise the sector and run things democratically with the workforce represented in management.

Next we leafletted two of the big council workplaces in Cardiff. Already 350 jobs have been cut and another 650 are predicted to go - 10% of the workforce, leaving those left behind with higher workloads and those who've left with the unappetising prospect of finding another job in the context of the largest number of people not in work since records began.

Then on to the Cardiff University Student Union hustings, where socialist policies beat the policies of job cuts, public service cuts and privatisation pushed by the main parties hands down. I put sitting Liberal Democrat MP Jenny Willott on the spot, asking why is it that her party couldn't find the £3.5 billion needed to abolish tuition fees but supported handing the banks back to the profiteers in the private sector once they've become profitable again. Liberal Democrat leaders ditched their pledge to abolish fees and then backtracked when they realised this would look unpopular. The new line is that they would abolish fees in 6 years, but there's another election between now and then, and there could well be another recession! We can't afford to abolish fees now, claim the Lib Dems, but young people can't afford to wait until it's acceptable to the big business interests the main parties serve - we need an end to fees now! coincidentally, fees could be abolished if the war in Iraq and Afghanistan - costly in lives and money - were ended today. But the Lib Dems don't support bringing the troops home today either...

Friday, 16 April 2010

Campaign to Reopen Llanedern Post Office

Llanedeyrn residents were shocked this week when they turned up at the Post Office and found out it had been closed without warning. So was I! - we were at the Maelfa on Tuesday campaigning to abolish the carpark charges at the Heath Hospital and the Post Office was very busy.

I contacted Post Office Limited today, who told me that there is no re-opening date, that the Llanedeyrn Office has been closed indefinitely and that there is no emergency plan to provide services locally until the Office can be reopened permanently. Many people, including pensioners, are now having to trek all the way to Albany Road to use the Post Office there and fear (justifiably, in my opinion) that the Post Office won't reopen unless there's a campaign to save the service.

Post Office Limited wouldn't comment but there are rumours that the local franchise operators couldn't keep up with their payments and have gone bankrupt.

If this is true, then the finger of blame should be pointed straight at the Labour Government, which - besides carrying out a massive programme of Post Office closures around the country - has cut subsidies to local Post Offices, putting the important public service they provide at risk.

All three main parties, including the Liberal Democrats, plan to push privatisation further in Royal Mail, putting services further at risk. It seems the main parties won't be happy until communities like Llanedeyrn are stripped of every last shop and service. The Liberal Democrat and Plaid Cymru Council Executive plan to close the local high school Llanedeyrn and now it seems the Post Office is at risk.

The Socialist Party and supporters of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition are campaigning for the immediate reopening of Llanedeyrn Post Office and for fair funding and democratic control for all public services. No more treating vital public services like businesses - put services before profits.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Save NHS Facilities at the Royal Infirmary

Plans to break up health facilities at Cardiff Royal Infirmary are rolling ahead but so is the campaign to save them.

Socialist Party members have been at the heart of the campaign since the beginning, and helped to set up CRI - Save Its Services (CRI-S.I.S.) over a decade ago. First, campaigners - with a petition of over 100,000 names - prevented the selling off of the site, then we saved the buiding from demolition, next won £5million for extra services, and now a consultant employed by the Welsh Assembly has confirmed what we knew all along - that the CRI should be restored as a fully-functioning hospital. The pressure from the campaign has forced politicians to restore some NHS services to the CRI, including a badly needed walk-in clinic, but no casualty or triage facility, which the city centre badly needs. Emergency patients at the Heath hospital already face the longest waiting times in the country, thanks to the cutbacks in funding under New labour.

Since when is a "demolition" an "investment"?

The main parties are queuing up to take the credit for this victory (won by campaigning AGAINST them!) and they all support the "investment" approved by Labour's Assembly Health Minister. But we're not laying down our placards yet: take another look at the plans and you'll notice that 10% of the funding announced will be used up in knocking down all but the core of the original infirmary building, with no clear plans to replace. Freedom of Information requests to see a copy of Hunter's report have been denied. If the politicians of the main parties had listened to a previous report, we could have had a fully-refurbished CRI for £16-17 million, a fraction of the cost of this seemingly cut-price version on offer today.

A third of the buildings have gone already, and, if completed, 80% of the bed space which the CRI could house if renovated will disappear under the plans. One Health Board official dismissed this as getting rid of "100 years of tat" but the programme's motivated more by the need to make cuts and sell land off to developers if possible than it is with preserving the building. The Health Trust had its budget slashed by £20million last year, and the Assembly had the Grade II listing status removed from the bulidings so that the wreckers could take them down. If residents in the East of Cardiff aren't careful, they'll end up with another St David's - a small hospital in a massive carpark surrounded by private housing developments.

And we might not see an increase in NHS facilities in Cardiff under the plans. Services in Roath, Splott, Radyr and Butetown could be cut and moved to the CRI.

Liberal Democrats like our sitting MP have refused to say they won't support savage cutbacks in NHS services after the election. But Labour and the Tories - despite their claims to protect NHS spending - will do this same. After all - THIS IS EXACTLY THE PLEDGE THAT MARGARET THATCHER MADE before being elected, and all the main parties .

It's true: we do need to make cuts in the NHS. We need to cut the private profit-makers - like those running the carpark at the Heath and those hoping to make money out of CRI land - out of our public services. No more making money out of people being ill. The only way to cut bureacracy without cutting services is to run the NHS democratically, controlled and managed by health workers who know the job best and the working-class communities who rely on the services. No cuts in Hospitals to pay for MPs' Expenses and Bankers' Bonuses.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Sir Peter Gershon, the Butcher of the Public Sector, has been taken on by the Tories and is calling for £12billion more cuts and another 40,000 job losses in the public sector. Cameron's also calling for a pay cut for public sector workers and higher tuition fees and also for a longer working life.

In other words, the tories will try and make working class people pay for the recession with unemployment, lower wages, cuts to public services, a higher retirement age and by reversing the access to higher education they gained in the past.

Even this, however, doesn't mount up to their full programme of cutbacks. Labour has said that there is a £22bn whole in the Tories' plan and the Tories haven't denied it! They've countered by saying there's a massive hole in Labour's plans too. Both are right, because both Labour and Tories (and Lib Dems, who have refused to rule out cutbacks in the NHS after the election).

But - as a start - why not spend the £4.5bn a year spent on Afghanisan and Iraq by Britain and the £76bn pledged to renew Trident on public services instead? Why not stop private companies from squeezing profits out of cash-strapped public services? These are the real "efficiency savings" that need to be made, but it's only Socialists who are willing to make them.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Cardiff Communities Say No to Racism

There are reports on various internet sites that the English Defence League are planning to organise a protest in Cardiff under the banner of the WDL. I attended both the Swansea counter protest and the Newport Communities Against Racism day of action last year when the W/EDL was targeting South Wales.

Like the BNP, the EDL are anxiously trying to claim that they are not racists, and no doubt some of those people pulled into the orbit of groups like this aren't. But the organisers are not just right wing, not even just convinced racists (that would be bad enough) - they're fascists who are determined to exploit the social crises created by the banks, the bosses and the politicians who represent them in order to bulid support for racist ideas.

With all the main parties planning a massive assault on our living standards after the election, we've got to develop a united campaign to defend our jobs, homes and services. If the ideas of groups like the BNP, the NF and the EDL gain a foothold and they succeed in getting the working class to fight amongst itself, the millionaires will get away with the great bailout robbery. We should organise a show of unity to tell the organisers of the W/EDL that there's no place for them in Cardiff and the rest of South Wales. Join the Facebook group here. That's why we should organise a show of unity on the 5th June in Cardiff and build support in Cardiff's local communities.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Support Union Members' Democratic Right to Take Action to Defend Jobs

Socialist Party members who support TUSC were campaigning today in Clifton Street and Albany Road to scrap the anti trade union laws after another disgraceful decision banning workers from exercising their right to take industrial action. With no political party representing us, trade unions are the only thing standing between those who depend on public services and the main parties who plan to go further even than Thatcher did in slashing them to ribbons.

Hot on the heels of the second BA strike, postponed from its original date on the whim of a millionaire judge, RMT signallers and maintenance workers were due to take action next week to fight against their employers' plan to cut jobs. Network Rail wants to axe 1500 maintenance workers and are ripping up agreements with signal workers as a step towards cutting their jobs and worsening their working conditions. The result could easily be another Paddington, Hatfield or Potters' Bar.

But the courts have stepped in again. Unions are bound by so many requirements that defending services and jobs by taking industrial action legally is becoming impossible.

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the first of Thatcher's anti-trade union laws and the fact that almost half that period has been spent under a Labour government demonstrates the character of that party today and the urgent need for a "Taff Vale Two" - a move by the trade unions to help found a party that represents ordinary working class people and trade unionists.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Assembly Members demonstrated the contempt their party has for trade unions by making a point of crossing PCS picketlines at the National Assembly. Centreforum, A Liberal Democrat think-tank, has effectively called for the expulsion of trade unions from national negotiations over pay, earning the condemnation of Unison, my trade union. And Plaid Cymru members in Caerphilly have embarrassed leaders of their party by withdrawing facilities for trade union reps in the Council in order to try and weaken their campaign against cutbacks.

It's often said that the trade union movement, without a political voice, is fighting with one hand tied behind its back. But, unless it bursts out of the legal constraints binding it today, it will face its toughest fight in living memory with both hands bound.