Newspaper and radio coverage for Socialist response to Tata steel crisis

Newspaper and radio coverage for Socialist response to steel crisis

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Coverage in the Coventry Telegraph

The response of the Socialist Party and Dave Nellist to the crisis of the steel industry has received coverage in the local media.

The Coventry Telegraph carried an article that included the press release issued by Coventry Socialist Party (see below)

Dave Nellist was also interviewed live on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire on the Phil Upton show (Gagan Grewal was standing in)

It can be listened to here – go to 2:04:45 to hear Dave outline the case for public ownership and a fighting response from the trade unions.

 


 

‘Governments have bailed out banks – why not steelworkers?’ Dave Nellist urges Jeremy Corbyn to call for Tata Steel nationalisation

BY SIMON GILBERT (writing in the Coventry Telegraph)

Former Coventry MP wants the UK steel industry to be publicly owned following recent crisis in the industry.

Former Coventry MP Dave Nellist has called for the government to take over troubled firm Tata Steel as fears of plant closures loom after the firm announced it wanted to sell its UK business.

He also called on Jeremy Corbyn to adopt the same stance after the Labour Party leader urged the prime minister, David Cameron, to recall parliament to debate the situation in the UK steel industry.

Tata Steel’s parent company Tata owns Coventry-based Jaguar Land Rover and the metal firm is one of the luxury car manufacturer’s suppliers.

The steel company recently opened a research and development centre at the University of Warwick and aims to completely relocate its R&D to Coventry.

Mr Nellist said: “Most of my family were steelworkers. The sale or closure of the remaining steel works would be a disaster for the areas concerned.

“The Tories were forced to nationalise Rolls Royce in 1971, and completed the job in just 24 hours. If we had a serious public sector led house-building programme there would be plenty of need for steel. I support the call to nationalise steel.

“Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely right to urge the prime minister to recall parliament to debate the issue. But I urge Jeremy to add his name to the call for nationalisation to save jobs and to defend the communities that rely on the industry.

“Governments have been quick to bail out the banks. Why not the same for the steelworkers and their families?

“The situation with Tata once again shows why the capitalist system, that puts profit before everything, can’t be trusted to provide jobs and security for ordinary people.”

But Sajid Javid, the government’s business secretary, appeared to play down any suggestion of nationalisation ahead of a meeting of key ministers today.

Mr Javid said: “I’m deeply concerned about the situation. I think it’s absolutely clear that the UK steel industry is absolutely vital for the country.”

He added: “At this stage, given the announcement from Tata has just come out, it’s important I think we talk to them properly and understand the exact situation and we look at all viable options.

“I don’t think nationalisation is going to be the solution because I think everyone would want a long-term viable solution.

“And if you look around Europe and elsewhere I think nationalisation is rarely the answer, particularly if you take into account the big challenges the industry faces.”

Tata says it is being forced to sell its UK steel business after trading conditions “rapidly deteriorated” in the UK and Europe. It pointed the finger at a global oversupply of steel, cheap steel imports, high costs and currency volatility.

Tata was founded in 1868 and has an annual turnover of £77billion and made a profit of £4.7bn in 2015. It owns more than 100 companies and employs 600,000 people worldwide, including 80,000 steel workers in 26 countries.


 

Can Coventry councillors fight the cuts?

Can Coventry councillors fight the cuts?

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Protest against library closures

Coventry City Council is due to set its annual budget towards the end of February which will mean plans to slash over 1000 jobs, less access to vital services such as libraries, closure of play centres and much more. When questioned about their decisions, local Councillors respond with ‘nothing can be done’, ‘we have no choice’, ‘commissioners will be sent to make even worse cuts’ and ‘if we vote against cuts will be surcharged as the Liverpool councillors were in the past’.

The Socialist Party has consistently campaigned for Labour councils to fight back against cuts by setting no-cuts budgets and building campaigns throughout communities and trade unions to demand that the Government returns the money they have cut from council budgets. This strategy was used by Liverpool and Lambeth council in the 1980s and in following it they were able to secure increased funding and use it to build homes and services and create jobs.

A number of councillors and activists have raised concerns, however, that these budgets would be illegal and that the Tories would simply bring in commissioners to set a cuts budget. We understand these concerns, but no-cuts budgets do not have to be illegal. The objections to fighting the cuts from the Labour Councillors do not reflect the desire of the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn for opposition to austerity, and importantly they do not actually reflect the legal position.

Councillors in Hull, Leicester and Southampton, supported by TUSC, have put forward budgets that do not include cuts and were fully legal. In Coventry the council has over £72million in reserves – these could be used to set a budget that supports the people of Coventry, giving the council time to campaign with local trade unions and the community for the reinstatement of funds that have been stolen from our city by the Tories. The below article by TUSC national election agent Clive Heemskerk goes into more detail on these issues.

We encourage discussions on these issues between local Councillors, trade union activists and anti-cuts campaigners.

No retreat on resisting Council cuts

“A week before Christmas, on the last day of parliamentary business in 2015, the Communities and Local Government Secretary Greg Clark announced the 2016-17 local finance settlement, listing the exact amount of national funding each council will receive for the next financial year.

This filled out the details, at least for the coming year, of George Osborne’s plan revealed in the November comprehensive spending review for a further four years of draconian austerity for local public services.

Even the Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter, had denounced Osborne’s attack. “If councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light”, he complained, they will still “not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020”.

Labour’s shadow local government secretary Jon Trickett agreed the situation was “bleak” for councils and “is only set to get worse”.

So it was doubly disappointing for those who hoped Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory opened up a new opportunity to resist austerity that, on the same day as the local finance settlement was announced, Corbyn issued a joint letter with Trickett and the shadow chancellor John McDonnell that, whatever its intentions were, will have the effect of undermining the anti-cuts struggle in the months ahead.

Interpretation of letter

The letter, sent to the leaders of council Labour groups, did not instruct councillors to respond to the Tories’ cuts in government funding by setting budgets in February and March to further slash local jobs and services. But that was how it was eagerly interpreted by the capitalist media, with a Guardian strapline proclaiming: “Re-run of 1980s defiance over cuts is ruled out”.

Labour councillors across the country followed suit, using the letter to say that their approach of passing on the Tory cuts had been endorsed by Jeremy and John.

One graphic example was Manchester, a city where all 96 councillors are Labour. Local groups of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), which the Socialist Party plays a leading role in, have been sending letters to Labour councillors since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory asking for a discussion on how council cuts could now be resisted.

The Manchester TUSC letter was sent in October but it was only after the Labour group leader Richard Leese had received the circular from Jeremy Corbyn that he replied, quoting selected paragraphs from it. There are no Tories on Manchester council but Labour councillors will blame them nonetheless for the cuts they will vote through, 96 to nil!

Unfortunately, every service cut, bedroom tax eviction made or worker sacked by a Labour-controlled council will now be justified by councillors referring to the Corbyn and McDonnell letter.

This has been made possible because the letter misleadingly conflates the issue of not setting a budget at all – which would be open to immediate legal challenge – with the legal requirement that councillors have to set a ‘balanced budget’.

Legal budgets

Complying with Tory laws is not the highest duty. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are on record, rightly, as backing workers prepared to defy the anti-union laws.

The 1921 Poplar councillors fought under the banner, ‘It’s better to break the law than break the poor,’ echoed by the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors in the 1980s. But in fact a no-cuts budget could meet the legal requirement to be ‘balanced’.

This was the case with the alternative budgets that have been presented by TUSC-supporting councillors in Southampton, Hull and Leicester, and the example they were based on, the budget moved by the two Lewisham Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, in 2008.

The details differed but the budgets were ‘balanced’ by drawing on the councils’ reserves, using the borrowing powers that councils have, and ‘creative accountancy’. In fact they were models of the “innovative ways of making progress” that councils still have the powers to implement and which are praised in the Corbyn and McDonnell letter.

In each case they were legal budgets, unorthodox and not recommended by the councils’ Chief Finance Officers, but budgets which could have been passed if the majority of Labour councillors had found the will to fight the cuts.

But they would only have bought time for the individual council, preventing cuts for a year or two. They could only ever be a first step in a national campaign to force the government to properly fund local public services. The possibility for that is what is being undermined by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s letter, unless they clarify their position to make it clear they still oppose Labour councils sacking workers and cutting services.

Potential power of councils

A combined campaign of Labour councils refusing to implement the cuts could defeat the government. If the total gross spending of the 100-plus Labour-controlled councils in Britain was counted as a ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP), they would be the eighteenth biggest country in the EU! How can it be credibly argued that they ‘have no power’ to resist the Tories?

George Osborne was forced to retreat after a rebellion in the House of Lords, making him claim he had found an extra £27 billion in the public finances to enable him, among other things, to drop his proposed cuts to tax credits. The Lords were stretching their ‘legal powers’ to overturn a government finance measure. Arguably, in fact, more so than Labour councils would be stretching their powers if they ‘interpreted’ those they do have in order not to make the cuts.

The issue for Labour councillors, which is what Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should be stressing, is one of political choice, a determination not to carry out the capitalists’ demands for austerity.

But over 90% of Labour councillors did not support Jeremy Corbyn for leader. In his latest appeal for a ‘moderate fightback’ the New Labour architect Peter Mandelson identified “Labour’s legions in local government [as] a bigger force for sense in the party than at any time in the recent past”. They are the bulwark of the counter-revolution against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

What is needed is the type of campaign that was mobilised to secure Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, this time to take on the organised forces in the Labour Party defending the capitalist establishment, not seeking ‘unity’ around their pro-austerity agenda.

Party members and supporters were polled over whether or not Labour should support air strikes on Syria. Why should there not be another poll of party members – and trade unionists and local council service users facing cuts – to ask if they want to see Labour councillors implementing the cuts or resisting them?

The Socialist Party is arguing within TUSC for local groups to systematically take up the approach to Labour councillors in the run up to the council budget-making meetings in February and March to see if they are prepared to fight the cuts, as some will be. But we also fully support the position adopted by the TUSC conference in September that any politician who votes for cuts cannot expect to have a free run at the ballot box, “no matter what party label they wear”. There can be no compromise on cuts.

What is the legal position?

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s letter says: “councils must set a balanced budget under the Local Government Act 1992. If this does not happen… then the council’s Section 151 Officer is required to issue the council with a notice under Section 114 of the 1988 Local Government Act. Councillors are then required to take all the necessary actions in order to bring the budget back into balance.

“Failing to do so can lead to complaints against councillors under the Code of Conduct, judicial review of the council and, most significantly, government intervention by the Secretary of State”.

This is an accurate summary of the legal position. But even just from a legal viewpoint it actually shows that the Tories do not have the draconian powers they are usually portrayed as having by Labour councillors seeking to excuse their refusal to fight.

Where, for example, is the power of surcharge, which timorous Labour councillors still raise and which actually was inflicted on the Liverpool and Lambeth councillors in the 1980s? As TUSC has consistently explained, it was abolished in the 2000 Local Government Act.

And equally there is no prospect of imprisonment, as the Poplar councillors were faced with in 1921. Instead today’s rebels would have to confront… the councillors’ code of conduct!

And even that sanction is no longer as potent as it was. Breaches of the code of conduct used to be dealt with under the Standards Board regime, which could lead to a councillor being disqualified from office for a maximum of five years. But the Standards Board was abolished by the Con-Dem’s 2011 Localism Act, in a cost-cutting purge of ‘quangos’. Now a complaint would have to be considered by the council itself “in any way the authority sees fit” – hardly a fearsome block to a Labour council committed to resisting the cuts.

The purge of quangos also saw the end of the Audit Commission, the body that had previously appointed District Auditors with the power to seek a judicial review of council budgets. Councils are now moving to a position similar to NHS Trusts who appoint their own auditor.

Significantly, despite almost two-thirds of English NHS Trusts predicting that they will end this financial year in deficit, the accountancy companies seeking to retain their audit contracts have issued no ‘public interest reports’ against them.

And lastly, there is the spectre of “government intervention by the Secretary of State,” with the reserve powers to appoint commissioners to take over particular council functions. These were used most recently, in February last year, after a report found Rotherham council to be ‘not fit to handle child sexual exploitation’.

Winning public support for commissioners to intervene in the Rotherham scandal is one thing. But deploying commissioners to take over Labour councils, backed by the Leader of the Opposition and mobilising popular support in a national campaign against the cuts, is another matter entirely.

No Labour councillor can credibly say ‘we have no choice’ but to implement the cuts. They do.

  • Read a full account of the record of Lewisham’s two Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, including the 2008 alternative budget,
  • Original article click here

Dave Nellist responds to Michael Gove on union ballots

Tories plan further anti-union laws – Dave Nellist responds

Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party and TUSC

Michael Gove has followed Boris Johnson and other right-wing Tories to demand tighter new rules for strike ballots, which they believe would put an end to virtually all public sector strikes.

The Daily Mail reports – see here – if the Tories win the 2015 General Election that a strike could only take place if it was supported by a majority of the entire membership of the union in the sector concerned voting Yes in a postal ballot.

Dave Nellist, who was an opposition member of Parliament 30 years ago when Tories Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit first introduced postal ballot requirements, comments:

“There isn’t actually a legal right to strike in this country. There are tighter and tighter rules which define whether a strike can lead to employers suing unions whose members take strike action, or not. The current law on postal ballots already makes it hard for unions to conduct a legal ballot, and if all those rules are not complied with employers can sue a union. The proposal of Michael Gove is to set a bigger trap to make it harder for unions to remain immune to that legal action.

At the moment what is required in a ballot for industrial action is a simple majority of those voting. That’s the same principle, as Paul EmberyFBU London secretary, has said, as is required in virtually all votes from elections, through company shareholder meetings, to the X Factor Grand Finale.

It’s not a question of union strike ballots lacking a ‘democratic mandate’. There are few politicians who could pass Michael Gove’s test of only being legitimate if they receive over 50% of those eligible to vote – including Michael Gove himself.

Boris Johnson was elected as London Mayor in 2008 on 19% of those eligible to vote and some Tory Police Commissioners won their elections in 2012 on votes as little as 7% of those eligible to vote! The Tory Party itself in the 2010 election got less than 25% of the 45 million people eligible to vote. Yet they want to impose on trade unions a higher threshold than applies to themselves in elections to public office.

Trade Unionists always want a maximum turnout and a maximum yes vote for any action. And we had much higher turnouts and votes when decisions were made either at mass meetings at workplaces or by ballots issued and collected at workplaces.

The Tories in the 1980s brought in postal ballots to break up the solidarity of workers discussing at work whether an issue demanded strike action (always a last resort) and whether a particular form of strike action could win. They wanted workers atomised, making the decision individually at home, where the influence of the Tory press and mass media could weigh down on workers and their families.

The Tories brought in (and Labour never reversed!) a raft of requirements (to do with nominated addresses, time of ballots, class of worker who could be involved in the balloting, rules on questions, statements warning of breach of contract, separate ballots for separate workplaces and so on) all designed to make it easier to trip up unions.

And employers have been quick to go to court on the tiniest technical detail (including one famous case when, despite a turnout of 78% and a yes vote of 87%, train drivers’ union ASLEF was taken to court, and employers initially won an injunction, because ballot papers had been given to 2 drivers who it turned out were not entitled to vote!).

TUSC is currently arranging trade union delegations to Labour Party prospective parliamentary candidates to see whether any of them are serious about reversing the austerity agenda.

On the issue of trade union rights we will be asking them whether they support the provisions in the Labour MP John McDonnell’s ‘Trade Union Rights and Freedom Bill’, on reintroducing protections for participating in industrial action, unfair dismissal, complaints to employment tribunals, automatic reinstatement, agency labour in industrial disputes, definition of a trade dispute to include associated employers etc (and on other union issues such as the reinstatement of facility time and check off rights removed by the Con Dem coalition).

The nature of their replies on that, as well as on other issues including restoration of public services and benefits, the immediate introduction of a Living Wage, the lifting of the public sector pay cap, and renationalisation (for example of rail and Royal Mail), which are all policies widely supported the trade union movement, will help decide whether local TUSC groups add those constituencies to the list of possible challenges in the 2015 general election.

On Thursday, July 10, 1½ million workers, possibly the biggest number involved in industrial action since 1926, will be sacrificing a day’s wage to make a stand against years of pay freezes; of pensions costing more, paying out less, and arriving years later; and of hundreds of thousands of jobs gone, and many more to come as all politicians seem to accept that austerity in the next Parliament will be sharper than even what we have had so far.

Those on strike will represent millions more who feel the same anger towards the Con Dem government, and who will take heart by those standing up on July 10.

As the prison officers have shown (whose right to strike has been completely removed) when that anger boils over and action is taken it will take more than a new rule from Michael Gove to stop working people challenging austerity.”

Dave Nellist

National Chair, TUSC