Industry matters: NHS divide and rule

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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TUC continues to procrastinate

The TUC conference went through the same pointless rigmarole as on previous years. On the one hand, a PCS delegate was on hand to rouse trade unionists to action, calling for “mass coordinated action whenever and wherever possible”, adding for good measure this salutary warning: “Gone are the days when we could just hope for a Labour government. Gone are the days of waiting for the cavalry over the hill. We are the cavalry.”

But, just in case anyone were disposed to take this call to arms too literally, the shop workers’ union was there with a bucket of cold water to calm things down. Usdaw’s John Hannett, after denouncing “a systematic rolling back of many of the rights we fought for over many years”, then proceeded to call for a Labour victory in 2015, claiming that the “difference between the Conservatives and Labour is a difference of values. We have an opportunity in May and we have to take it.”

Meanwhile, the week commencing 13 October will see some industrial action across the public sector, including strikes by local-government workers and NHS staff on 14 October.

The TUC is also to organise a ‘day of action’ on 18 October around the theme ‘Britain needs a pay rise’, with the built-in assumption that capitalism really is enjoying a ‘recovery’, and it’s only a question of agitating for a bigger slice of that imaginary cake.

Happily, the CPGB-ML will also be sending a contingent to make sure that the fundamental communist message gets through: only revolution will end capitalist crisis, so get ready.

Ukraine solidarity

The most cheering episode at this year’s TUC conference was the resolution put up by the RMT in support of the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine. The motion, which opposes the use of British forces in the conflict, calls for a ceasefire and supports those fighting against fascism in Ukraine, was proposed in the following uncompromising terms by RMT president Peter Pinkney:

“Who caused the crisis in Ukraine? Nato should be looking at themselves. A million people are displaced and 3,000 have died. The US is sending 200 soldiers in an advisory capacity — well, I remember that happening in Vietnam.

“We cannot ignore the massacre of trade unionists by Kiev-allied forces in Odessa. This is about answering a scream for help from the Ukrainian people and opposing war. The only wars we back are wars on injustice, poverty and the whole stinking capitalist system.”

Despite some opposition from those who have been bamboozled by capitalist propaganda – disgracefully including the FBU’s Matt Wrack, who wanted the resolution to condemn Russia – the resolution was passed and is now official TUC policy. That being so, let the TUC now put that policy into practice and get behind a campaign of active non-cooperation with every aspect of the imperialist war effort.

Polarisation of wealth

As food banks multiply across the country, a report from the High Pay Centre lobby group reveals that, over the past 15 years, the pay gap between the CEOs of Britain’s biggest companies and their employees has tripled, with the average FTSE 100 CEO in 2013 getting total remuneration (taking into account share-option scams, inflated bonuses and the like) of 143 times that of the average worker employed by their firms – up from 47 times in 1998.

This is partly explained by the fact that the figure includes the global workforce of each firm, so that the average is dragged down by the inclusion of the low-wage, superexploited workers of the neo-colonies, the life-blood of these monopoly parasites. Yet even in the case of a firm like Associated British Foods, which hires a lot of British workers, the pay received by CEO George Weston (£5.3m pa) is 361 times higher than that of the average worker (£14,558 pa).

Meanwhile, the real value of wages continues to suffer erosion. Recent figures from the Midlands, for example, show that workers’ wages are now rising at the slowest rate since records began in 2001, lagging far behind inflation. Nationwide living standards are down by an average of 8 percent since 2008, while those of young workers are down by 15 percent. So much for the ‘recovery’!

‘Self-employment’ masks the real employment picture

Another recent report, this one from the Office of National Statistics itself, reveals some of the grim reality underlying all the whistling in the dark over an apparent increase in the number of people in employment.

The study shows that nearly two out of three ‘new jobs’ were accounted for by building workers, taxi drivers and others being nudged into unenthusiastic self-employment to escape the dole queue. These are, for the most part, not bright-eyed young entrepreneurs eager to win their spurs, but often redundant fifty-somethings driven by fear of a life on benefits. Far from rejuvenating the capitalist economy, this growth in enforced self-employment – in many cases effectively ‘self-exploitation’ – further reinforces an insecure employment landscape already plagued by low wages, casualisation and part-time working.

Since 2008, only about 339,000 actual new jobs have been created, as opposed to the 732,000 new cases of ‘self-employment’. There are, in fact, over 4.5 million workers officially registered as ‘self-employed’ – a 20 percent rise on 2008. This high figure is only rivalled in the EU by Slovenia and Estonia.

NHS: Divide and rule

In a healthy development, thousands of health workersare balloting over the government’s derisory offer of a 1 percent rise (in reality, a pay cut, as inflation outraces wages), an offer which includes only those at the top of their pay band and therefore excludes over half the workforce. This ‘offer’ comes at a time when 1.3 million NHS workers have suffered pay cuts in real terms of up to 15 percent since the present government took office.

This planned industrial action, whilst welcome, would pack more of a punch were the core question of privatisation to be raised to unite health workers nationwide. But Unite will not be balloting for action in Scotland now that Alex Salmond, with his attention firmly fixed on the referendum, decided not to obstruct payment of the 1 percent pay rise recommended by the Pay Review Body to NHS employees.

This well-timed crowd-pleaser may have garnered a few more divisive nationalist votes for the referendum, offering Scottish health workers (as it does) a provisionally less-bad deal than that imposed on their fellow workers down south. Similarly, the devolved Welsh government’s decision to offer a ‘living wage’ for all staff might give a little fillip to illusions in the Welsh Assembly as the last fortress of the welfare state.

The reality, however, is that what is being imposed now on staff in England (a selective 1 percent ‘rise’ that will not apply to those earning annual increments, thereby excluding 600,000 NHS employees) is in line with what Wales and Scotland can expect to see around the next corner. The fact that the welfare state is being dismantled unevenly, with England slightly further down the road than its more ‘fortunate’ siblings (free prescriptions for Wales etc) is temporarily good news for some workers, but does nothing to alter the fundamental reality: the British welfare state is for the knackers’ yard, even if some old nags are trotting there a little slower than others.

NHS workers need to understand that any ‘resistance’ against the demolition of welfare that relies upon the superior ‘democracy’ of imperialism in Scotand or Wales will only serve to keep the British working class divided, thereby hastening all the nags’ progress to one and the same destination. Neither Labour nor Plaid Cymru nor ScotsNats can deliver anything other than more privatisation of the health service and more austerity across the whole of social provision, albeit at different speeds.

Don’t Care UK

Fifty care workers in Doncaster are continuing their long-running strike campaign. Most of the strikers were forcibly transplanted from the NHS to their current rogue employers, Care UK. The stampede to cut local-authority welfare bills by privatising care work has proceeded unchecked under both Tory and Labour governments for the past 20 years.

Back in 1993, just 5 percent of publicly-funded social care given to people in their own homes was provided by the private sector; now the figure is 89 percent.

The former leader of Care UK was Lord Nash, currently Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools. Doubtless the previous 30 years Nash spent devoted to working in the field of venture capital prepared him as well for looking after schools as it did for looking after the disabled.

Since being bought by vulture-fund outfit Bridgepoint in 2010, Care UK has paid no corporation tax. Despite the fact that 88 percent of its income is supplied by Her Majesty’s Government, the company still finds it necessary to launder money through the Channel Islands.

And who provides the care homes? Why, Care UK’s sister company, Silver Sea Holdings (domiciled in Luxembourg), which builds them and then rents them back to Care UK – all under the watchful eye of Bridgepoint. If the Inland Revenue gets hopelessly lost in this incestuous maze, so too do the interests of both care workers and their clients.

By playing these tax-avoidance games, and by slashing wage bills, companies like Care UK can offer local authorities care packages that undercut the NHS. Once the cuckoo has tossed all the other eggs out of the nest, however, and the NHS is driven from the field, the privateers will be free to jack up prices to their heart’s content, whilst presiding over a constant deterioration of both care standards and working conditions.

The striking care workers of Doncaster have found themselves at the forefront of resistance to this process, and should be getting the practical support of the whole workers’ movement. Their demands are modest indeed: a living wage of £7.65 an hour for the worst paid and a pay rise for more experienced staff – as opposed to the pay cuts of up to 35 percent being imposed by the company in tandem with the hiring of 100 new workers at £7 an hour.

Yet the stand they are taking puts them at the cutting edge of class struggle. They deserve strike action in solidarity with their stand – union laws or no union laws. In south Korea, people are dying for the simple right to join a union, whilst in Britain, the TUC continues to shelter behind the might of the law, fearful of endorsing anything looking remotely like a sympathy strike.

Samsung: capitalist ‘democracy’ in action

In south Korea, 2,000 electronics workers at Samsung remain on indefinite strike. Led by the first full-scale union ever to have challenged the giant company, the Korean Metal Workers’ Union, the workers are striking for an end to labour oppression, for union recognition, a living wage and collective bargaining.

As previously reported in Proletarian, the struggle became so bitter that the local branch leader sought to publicise the workers’ plight by burning himself to death. In his dying words, the comrade expressed the passionate wish that his personal sacrifice should be used to publicise the workers’ struggle to overturn Samsung’s iniquitous ban on unions. Instead, the funeral cortege was raided by 300 police, who snatched the corpse and had it cremated elsewhere under police ‘protection’.

This outrage by agents of the state against all normal human decency, so far from intimidating the workers, has afforded them a grim schooling in the true nature of the ‘democracy’ practised in the neo-colonial protectorate of south Korea, inspiring them to further struggle.