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For the millions, not the millionaires
The latest fashion among all the parties in Westminster is to steal the Socialist Party's slogan and claim they are introducing policies that help 'the millions not the millionaires'. Nothing could be further from the truth!
If you are a millionaire the government believes you need to be encouraged with incentives; anyone else needs to be punished with pay freezes and cuts in public services and benefits. The cut in the 50p tax rate in the latest Con-Dem budget has saved 14,000 millionaires £40,000 each. Their numbers include David Cameron and other members of the cabinet!
New Labour rightly attacked the government for producing a budget 'by the rich for the rich'. Unfortunately Labour's policies are not fundamentally different to those of the government parties. Labour says it will not reverse the vast majority of the cuts implemented by the Con-Dems and will maintain the public sector pay freeze and cutting of public sector pensions. It is happy to promise to maintain this government's misery for the millions, but refuses point blank to promise to restore the 50p tax rate.
At local level every single Labour council has so far done the government's bidding and implemented vicious cuts. There is therefore an urgent need for a party that stands in the interests of the majority - that really does stand for the millions not the millionaires.
More austerity - unless we stop it!
In 2011 millions of trade unionists took action against the government's cuts, particularly in defence of their pensions. An escalation of the action is clearly necessary; terrible as the cuts have been, they represent less than 10% of the government's plans!
Demonstrations, strikes and occupations are an essential part of the fight against austerity, but it is also necessary to have an electoral alternative that is genuinely anti-cuts.
This is increasingly being discussed in the Labour-affiliated trade unions. A quarter of the motions for this year's GMB conference are questioning why the union is continuing to use members' money to fund New Labour.
We argue for all trade unions to stop funding Labour and to begin to build a party that genuinely stands in their interests. We support all steps towards such a party.
That is one reason the Socialist Party takes part in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) which will be standing as many anti-cuts candidates as possible in the 3 May elections.
The candidates include many leading trade unionists:
Alex Gordon, president of the RMT transport union; Steve Hedley, London regional secretary of the RMT; Ian Leahair, London regional secretary of the firefighters union FBU; Tony Mulhearn, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council when it defied the Tories during the 1980s; Dave Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party councillor; and many others.
For councils that fight the cuts!
New Labour and Green councils say that they have 'no choice' but to implement the cuts - but that just isn't true. If any council was to stop acting as collaborators with the Tory axe wielders, and instead was to stand up and fight, they would discover there are a thousand ways to defy the cuts.
To name a few, councils could:
- Stop homelessness rocketing: by refusing to evict council tenants who fall into arrears because of housing benefit cuts. They could also use their legal powers to threaten compulsory purchase orders against big landlords who evict tenants suffering from housing benefit cuts.
- Halt the destruction of state education: by using councils 'schools monitoring powers' to build a campaign against academies and free schools by organising, for example, parents' ballots on the issue.
- Stop 16+17 year olds being thrown out of education: by continuing to pay EMA to local students, as the Welsh Assembly and Tower Hamlets and Southwark councils have done. Any council which continued to pay it would win the support of a whole generation.
All of these measures, and many more, could be carried out by using councils' legal powers. By themselves legal powers are not enough - councils need to set budgets that do not include any cuts in jobs and services.
A 'needs budget' means setting a budget based on the needs of the local population, not the constraints of central government.
We are told that doing this - following the example of Poplar in the 1920s or of Liverpool and Lambeth in the 1980s - is 'impossible' and will inevitably lead to defeat.
But the real history is different. Poplar council won a campaign to equalise the rates across London and were able to introduce a programme of financial assistance for the poor, equal pay for women and a minimum wage for council workers.
In the 1980s Liverpool City Council, in which Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) played a leading role, forced Thatcher to hand over an extra £60 million to Liverpool.
That was used to build 5,000 council houses (more than were built nationally the whole time New Labour was in office!), plus new leisure centres and nurseries and to create tens of thousands of jobs.
Liverpool's inspiring struggle was conducted in the teeth of massive opposition - not only from the Tories, but sadly from the right-wing leadership of Labour. If more Labour councils had followed the Liverpool road Thatcher would have been finished.
Liverpool's councillors were only able to be removed and surcharged after the betrayal of Labour leader Neil Kinnock and Co.
Today councillors can no longer be surcharged unless they are found guilty of financial crime for personal gain. But it is still true that any council that refused to carry out cuts or introduce hikes in council tax would - at a certain stage - come into conflict with the legal system.
Trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners would be able to mobilise tens of thousands in support of such a stand. In these circumstances - as in Liverpool - it would be very difficult for the law to be used against such councils.
However, most councils can prepare themselves before taking this road. By using their reserves and borrowing powers to avoid making cuts, councils could gain time to build a mass movement in their support.
All TUSC local authority candidates sign up to a simple five point pledge:
- Oppose all cuts to council jobs, services, pay and conditions - we reject the claim that 'some cuts' are necessary to our services
- Reject increases in council tax, rent and service charges to compensate for government cuts
- Vote against the privatisation of council jobs and services, or the transfer of council services to 'social enterprises' or 'arms-length' management organisations, which are first steps to privatisation
- Use all the legal powers available to councils, including powers to refer local NHS decisions, initiate referenda and organise public commissions and consultations, to oppose both the cuts and government polices which centrally impose the transfer of public services to private bodies
- When faced with government cuts to council funding, councils should refuse to implement the cuts. We will support councils which in the first instance use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to avoid passing them on - while arguing that the best way to mobilise the mass campaign that is necessary to defeat the cuts is to set a budget that meets the needs of the local community and demands that the government makes up the shortfall
THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE - SOCIALISM!
For the Socialist Party another important reason for taking part in the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is to raise the profile of socialist ideas. We do not accept the endless mantra that 'there is no alternative' to austerity.
Can even a few Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) representatives make a difference?
Many workers who are considering voting TUSC this year may ask if it is worthwhile to do so, given that TUSC is a new force. But even one or two fighting councillors, or members of the Greater London Assembly, can make a difference by using their position as democratically elected local representatives to give confidence to and help organise community campaigns and trade unionists to fight.
TUSC councillors would pledge to oppose all cuts in council jobs, services, pay and conditions. We will campaign against the idea that 'some cuts' are necessary.
We would refuse to allow divisions between council staff, service users and communities, which are inevitable unless we oppose all cuts. TUSC councillors would vote against privatisation of council services, or the transfer of services to 'social enterprises' or 'arm's-length' management organisations.
TUSC councillors would seek to use all the legal powers open to councillors to delay or obstruct government policies which lead to cuts or the transfer of public services to private bodies. For example, councils could refer local NHS decisions for further scrutiny.
They could initiate referenda, public consultations (for example of parents over the creation of divisive academy schools) and commissions as part of a wider campaign.
TUSC supporters will work with every anti-cuts campaign, and fight the implementation of the cuts agenda, library by library, swimming pool by swimming pool, youth club by youth club. It's one thing to pass a budget, it's another to execute it!
TUSC elected representatives can help by acting as a voice for the anti-cuts movement. Out of many such campaigns there will emerge new anti-cuts and trade union candidates to challenge the big three parties in future elections.
Capitalism has created enormous wealth, science and technique. We have technology today that was unimaginable a generation ago. The world economy is 17 times the size it was a century ago. In Britain the major corporations are hoarding an incredible £750 billion, which they are not investing because they do not consider they would make sufficient profit from it. Yet we are told that the most basic public services - a national health service, the right to retire at a reasonable age, a job with a living wage, the right to a secure affordable home - cannot be afforded by capitalism.
The current crisis is not caused by a 'bloated' public sector but by the worst crisis of capitalism in 70 years. Yet all the major capitalist parties - Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour - agree that it should be the 99%, the working class and public services that pay for it.
But it doesn't have to be like this. At the moment it is just accepted that the rich 1% can't be expected to pay 'too much'. Osborne's justification for cutting the 50p tax rate was that the super-rich would find ways to avoid paying it anyway, and so cutting it would only cost £100 million a year!
What a society, if you are poor and are caught claiming a few more pounds in benefit than you are legally entitled to you face opprobrium and being sent to prison. If you are a rich individual or a big corporation and avoid paying tax, the chancellor just accepts it and changes the tax system accordingly!
Make the 1% pay
To start with socialists argue that a major campaign should be launched for the 1% to pay their taxes. As the civil servants' (including tax collectors) trade union, the PCS, points out, there is about £120 billion in taxes that goes uncollected every year, almost enough to wipe out the deficit at a stroke.
Socialists argue that the rich should be the ones who pay for the crisis, via dramatically increased taxes for the super-rich and the big corporations. For most of the 1970s the tax rate for the highest band of income was 83%. Likewise, for most of the 1970s, big corporations paid 52% of their profits in tax. But that percentage has been reduced to just 24% now.
We also demand the immediate reversal of all privatisation of public services, including the NHS. Public services should be run to meet the needs of the population, not to make profits for big business.
The major corporations that dominate the British economy should open their books to representatives of their workforce and the trade unions. Up and down the country corporations are slashing pensions, cutting jobs and holding down pay, claiming that they cannot afford to do otherwise, despite the £750 billion sitting in their accounts.
We demand they open the books and let the workers see the reality of their finances. We also argue for an immediate levy - of at least 50% - of the un-invested funds of the big corporations, in order that it can be used in developing socially useful production, jobs and services.
While we favour taxing the rich and big corporations, we also recognise that the 'markets' - that is capitalism - will never meekly accept dramatically increased regulation and taxation. Capitalism is an economic system driven solely by the capitalists' need to maximise their profits, increasing exploitation of the working class, the majority in society, in order to do so.
So what is the alternative to this market madness? For a start we call for the nationalisation of the big banking and finance companies. Compensation should be paid on the basis of proven need. Not one penny should go to the speculators who bear responsibility while demanding that the working class pays for the crisis.
It would then be necessary to introduce full government control of all incoming and outgoing foreign trade. That would enable a democratically elected government and the working class - not the market - to control imports and exports including capital.
A socialist nationalised banking sector would be democratically run by representatives of banking workers and trade unions, the wider working class, as well as the government. Decisions would be made to meet the needs of the majority - for example, offering cheap loans and mortgages for housing and for the planned development of industry and services, and ending all repossessions of peoples' homes.
That would only be the start. Capitalism has led to enormous economic destruction. In Britain around 10% of wealth has already been lost as a result of the recession, due to factories and workplaces closing, resulting in over 2.5 million officially unemployed with the number rising.
No growth prospects
There is no prospect of a return to growth. This is the real difference between now and, for example, the end of the second world war when the total national debt was far higher than it is today - over 200% of GDP compared to around 60% now. Then, however, Britain entered a period of significant economic growth, thereby shrinking the national debt. Today, the economy has only staggered into technical growth as a result of massive state intervention. The best prospect that can be hoped for under capitalism is a prolonged period of economic stagnation.
That is why a crucial step towards solving the economic crisis would be to take the big corporations that dominate Britain's economy into democratic public ownership. This would allow for production to be planned for need and not for profit. A democratic, socialist plan of production would make it possible to very quickly transform the lives of millions of people.
Unemployment & long hours
As unemployment soars Britain still has one of the longest working weeks in the European Union. New Labour consistently fought for the right to opt out of EU laws limiting the working week to a maximum of 48 hours.
More than four million workers in Britain work longer than that each week in order to make ends meet. At the same time workers are being told they have to retire later and later.
This is the lunacy of capitalism - millions thrown on the unemployment scrapheap while others work their fingers to the bone.
By introducing a 35-hour week with no loss of pay - in other words sharing out the work - it would be possible to dramatically reduce the number of unemployed while simultaneously improving the quality of life of working class people.
If this was combined with, not only an immediate halt in cuts to public services, but a massive expansion of services it would be possible to eliminate unemployment.
This would allow us to develop a vastly better public transport system, build more housing, and train and hire more teachers, doctors and nursing staff.
Meanwhile there are five million people, two million households, who are on the housing list and desperate for social housing. The pipe dream propagated by Thatcher of a 'home owning democracy' lies in ruins.
In London the average deposit required to take out a mortgage on a house is £85,000, while the median wage is just £24,500. More and more people are being forced into the private rented sector, sometimes substandard, and almost always expensive and insecure.
The million families in private rented accommodation are ten times more likely to be forced to move than those in other forms of accommodation. And homelessness is soaring - with an 18% increase in the number of officially registered homeless in the last year alone.
A socialist government would immediately institute a mass programme of renovating and building high-quality, affordable council houses. This would not only provide work for the hundreds of thousands of unemployed building workers, but would also immediately cut the amount of money paid to private landlords in housing benefit.
Of course, a socialist government would have to take the protection of the environment into account when building housing. At the moment the big construction companies build purely for profit. A mass house-building programme would mean careful planning to ensure the protection of green spaces. In many cases, it would be possible to build on fully decontaminated brownfield sites (land formerly used for industrial purposes).
Moreover, pleasant and safe homes for all forms a crucial part of a decent environment.
Half a million young people were unemployed even before economic crisis hit. Now over a million young people are jobless. Student fees have gone through the roof, while EMA student payments have been abolished.
A socialist programme for young people would start with the right to high quality training, and a job and/or college place for every school leaver. It would also include the abolition of tuition fees and the immediate introduction of a living grant.
To do this for all students would cost a maximum of £15 billion a year. It would also mean introducing a living minimum wage of at least £8 an hour, with no exemptions on the grounds of age, or any other basis.
The capitalists increasingly expect us to 'work 'til we drop'. A socialist pension policy would allow workers to start drawing a decent state pension at 55. Those who want to continue work could do so.
Part-time work with part-pension could bridge the gap between work and retirement for those who want it.
State pensioners should receive an immediate 50% increase, and this should be extended to all state benefits.
The link between pensions and earnings or inflation, whichever is higher, should be restored.
These measures would cost around £560 million a year. This may sound a lot, but the big pension companies get more than half this amount in tax relief every year!
In addition, pensioners, having contributed to society all their lives, should be entitled to free housing, heating, telephone and travel.
Join the Socialist Party
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Our struggle does not stop at the shores of Britain. Capitalism is an international economic system. Multinational companies exploit the entire world in the pursuit of profit. The struggle for socialism is an international struggle.
That's why the Socialist Party is affiliated to the Committee for a Workers' International, which is struggling for socialism in over 40 countries worldwide.
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In The Socialist 28 March 2012:
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