It’s about Public Ownership – not about protecting profits

The cost-of-living crisis and soaring energy bills will not be solved by handouts, tinkering around the edges or populist sound bites.

They have real and life changing consequences from an increasing reliance on food banks, fuel poverty, financial pressures, physical and mental health crises and malnutrition to hypothermia.

How often does it have to be said? How loud do the demands have to be made? Taking our utilities into public ownership could, at a stroke, alleviate the human misery and suffering currently being experienced by young and old alike.

In the past year energy bills in the UK – where oil, gas and energy are all owned by multi-national companies- have increased by 215%. In the same period bills in France – where the government owns the gas companies and is the major shareholder in the main electricity provider – have risen by just 4%.*

What this current crisis of capitalism has shown, once again, is that short term measures result in short term and limited solutions. Another crisis will evolve and working people will be forced to bear the brunt, pay the price and shoulder the blame.

Thousands of working people across all sectors are being forced into taking industrial action in defence of their standard of living, terms and conditions of employment and the future and safety of the services they provide. They are being met with the full and organised force of hostile politicians, willingly supported by the mainstream media, and a growing list of apologists for profiteering multi-national companies.

It will require a disciplined, co-ordinated and class-conscious response if we are to counter and overcome these attacks on our living standards, services and quality of life.

Only fundamental change to the current economic system can address the cost-of-living crisis, runaway inflation and the erosion of workers rights. Taking public utilities out of the clutches of private profiteers and into public ownership and control would be a first important step in that direction.

* Sources: Ofgem, Enerdata, Ecoscope, Politico, Guardian

Grotesque attempt to rewrite history

To argue, as Michelle O’Neill has done, that the Provisional IRA’s bloody campaign was justifiable and unavoidable is not only a lie, it is yet another grotesque attempt by Sinn Fein to rewrite history.

Unfortunately, that is a project that has brought them some reward. Such is the ‘greenwashing’ of the period of The Troubles that today, twenty five years after they ended, a generation of young nationalists, which knew nothing of their terror, butchery and ultimate futility, blithely chant pro IRA slogans as they play out their odious tribal rituals.

Michelle O’Neill and the Sinn Fein machine knows exactly what they are doing when they glorify three decades of atrocities, sectarianism and barbarity.

They are playing to their own gallery, consolidating the lowest denominator in their support base and, using very specifically tailored language, constructing a counterfeit history in which everyone else is to blame.

It is worth remembering that the Provos were no friends of the Civil Rights campaign. They opposed it, they attacked it, they condemned it. But they did not support it. Nor did they support the efforts of all those who were working for a better and more democratic society.

They rejected the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 only to, eventually, sign up to the Good Friday Agreement twentyfive years and three and a half thousand deaths later.

The only inevitability about the IRA’s actions was that, like all forms of militant nationalism, British and Irish, they will always revert to the elitism of violence rather than join with others in a united approach to tackling the injustices of society.

There was no justification for what the IRA did over three decades. There is no legitimacy in its glorification or in attempts at its justification today.

Hugh Scullion is Chair of the MId-Ulster Branch of the Workers Party

Labour no longer a Party of the Left

Its failure to support striking workers, its sacking of the Shadow Minister for Transport for joining a picket line and the announcement by its current leader Keir Starmer that it should no longer be a party of protest has confirmed that Labour is not a party that will defend the interests of working people.

At a time of crisis in the cost of living, rising inflation, stagnant wages and the erosion of workers’ rights, the Labour Party elite has set its sights on winning power at the expense of working people engaged in a daily struggle to survive.

A Labour party that ignores workers when it’s in opposition is not going to champion their cause if it gets into government.

The Starmer Labour Party is all too familiar. We saw ‘New Labour’ set the scene for today’s abandonment of working people.

Labour is again saying ‘we don’t need working people’. The reality is that working people don’t need them, Now, more than ever, working people everywhere need a workers party.

Assaults at Work

The rising number of attacks on workers as they go about delivering vital public services is a disgrace. It is inexcusable and abhorrent.

Recent attacks on Translink workers, and on a member of the public in one of the incidents, has highlighted the issue – but when that fades from the headlines the problems will still persist.

Nobody going to or from their work, or while they are at work should be subjected to any form of abuse: physical, verbal or sexual. Yet for thousands of people that is exactly the case.

More than 5,000 nursing staff were attacked at work in the first six months of last year. Ambulance crews, some now wearing body cameras, are subjected to an average of two assaults a day. In the past year paramedics have been attacked with a sledge hammer, knuckle-duster, a crow bar and a hatchet.

Public services are not the only targets. There are also an increasing number of assaults on retail and delivery workers, many reporting high levels of verbal and physical abuse. Several pieces of legislation currently deal with attacks on workers but they need to be updated and strengthened.

All workers deserve respect, support and protection. We all have a responsibility to ensure that happens.

PRIDE: Human Rights v Rainbow Capitalism

PRIDE remains important. It is a celebration but it is also a protest at the inequalities, discrimination and hatred which still persist.

The struggle for equality continues, desite recent advances. Protection from discrimination in employment, health and  housing, access to  goods and services must be secured. Family rights must be safeguarded and upheld. Sexual orientation and gender identity should never be a case for abuse or prejudice.

The commercialisation of PRIDE

In recent years it has been impossible not to notice the growing commercialisation of PRIDE.

Multi national corporations, many of them characterised by anti-worker practices, low wages, poor conditions and precarious contracts of employment, have been falling over themselves to produce ‘special’ PRIDE editions of their products and add rainbows to their packing to demonstrate their pro-PRIDE credentials.

Whether the practices of many of these corporations live up to their manufactured image is questionable. The commercial hijacking of PRIDE by companies wanting to prove that they are anti-homoophobic means little when those same companies and corporations make political donations to right wing conservative parties, exploit young people, discrimanate against women and people with disabilities, engage in oppressive working practices and avoid paying their rightful taxes. 

PRIDE has become a useful social marketing tool for corporations and brands. They use it to distract attention from the real and oppressive nature of their values and actions.

Fast food delivery companies,for example, paying poverty wages, and no sick pay or holiday pay presenting a smiling face to the public by changing its logo to rainbow colours  for PRIDE week. A cosmetics company declaring its support for PRIDE but sacking its celebrity promoter for speaking out aganist racism or the major UK bank which adds rainbow colours to its credit cards and merchandising while being guilty of gender pay discrimination, financing companies that manufacture and sell arms to Israel for use aganist Palestine and , on an environmental note, bankrolling fossil fuel companies to the tune of billions of US dollars in the last five years alone.

Rainbow capitalism has no conscience and no scrupples. If PRIDE can turn a profit or enhance its image, then it’s game on.

Endorsements by global brands do not liberate, elevate or alleviate the human condition. As we rightly celebrate PRIDE 2022, we should reflect on its origins and its purpose. We should not content ourselves with a level of recognition and acceptance inside a social order that is corrupt, oppressive and dehumanising.

Capitalism is captialism, what ever colours it chooses to dress up in.

Cut profits, not jobs and services

The Workers Party supports the industrial action of the RMT Union to secure
decent pay, job security and good working conditions.

Rail workers who worked through the pandemic are now confronting an attack on their terms
and conditions and are facing a pay freeze and hundreds of job cuts.

This is unacceptable at any time but is outrageous in the midst of a cost-of-
living crisis when inflation is at 11.1% and rising. Private train companies
bolstered by public contracts seek to generate even greater profits at the
expense of workers’ rights.

The Tory government which has the power to resolve the dispute, has instead
chosen to prolong it.

Today’s strike action is a clear message from workers of their determination to
secure their future. The RMT is fighting not only for its members rights but for
the future of the railways.

The Workers Party sends its solidarity to the RMT and to the other unions
working to secure workers’ pay and conditions and labour rights.

Homelessness and Housing Crisis

Workers Party members have joined with hundreds of community workers, volunteers and concerned citizens to highlight the recent deaths of homeless people and the crisis in housing provision.

The march to Belfast City Hall was organised in response to the deaths of 14 homeless people in recent months.

The Facts & Figures

Fourteen homeless people died on our streets or hostels in the past few months.

There are currently 16,000 people in Northern Ireland officially classed as homeless.

36% of those are single men and 29% are families

There are more than 44,000 people on the Housing Executives waiting lists

In 2005 there were more than 15,000 new homes started in Northern Ireland.

Last year that figure was 7,500—a 50% decrease

 Of the total number of homes built last year only 650 were public housing

We are in a housing crisis that is taking the lives of, mostly, young homeless people and is impacting on the quality of life, the mental well-being and the opportunities for thousands of individuals and families.

Not only are we not building sufficient and affordable public housing, but the fundamental and basic human right to a roof over our heads is classed as a Workers Party members have joined with hundreds of community workers, volunteers and concerned citizens to highlight the recent deaths of homeless people and the crisis in housing provision.

Not only are we not building sufficient and affordable public housing, but the fundamental and basic human right to a roof over our heads is classed as a commodity to be profited from – the housing ‘market’.

Well intentioned as they may be, and vitally necessary as they are, short term measures and one-off initiatives are neither capable of addressing nor resolving these problems.

Only a state-controlled house building programme can begin to alleviate the current distress and dangers and eventually lead to a society in which every citizen can be guaranteed the security and dignity of a home.

Re-writing the script

We are living in a bubble. It cuts us off from the real world, it substitutes politics with tribalism, it offers nothing but a Groundhog Day view of the world and yet the majority of people here seem perfectly happy with it.

The cost-of-living crisis that is having a devastating effect on working people, families, pensioners and the young is being driven by profit taking, dividends to shareholders and plain old-fashioned greed.

Wage demands haven’t caused inflation. Capitalism has.

Inside the bubble

Yet here, inside our bubble, we are, once again without a Stormont Executive

We still have a segregated education system. We’re not building enough affordable public housing but instead happily force people into the clutches of the private rented sector. We have the longest health waiting lists on these islands, while our public services continue to be subjected to cuts, privatisation and profiteering.

Our economy is designed specifically to accommodate multi-national companies and is based on low wages, part time employment and deregulation.

Workers’ rights are trampled on as companies pursue a policy of ‘fire and re-hire’

Just and necessary pay demands are met with derisory offers that fall way short of inflation.  Working people are told they must tighten their belts and do without while  the top 350 companies on the London Stock Exchange  have had a 73% increase in their profits in the last three years.

All the while, inside our bubble, were told that our priorities are border polls and protocols.

Working people have made it possible

Working class people built this society. The infrastructure, the services, the rights, the housing and the health – we made all that, and more, possible.

We’ve had to defend those gains every step of the way. We’ve had to do it in the face of sustained, coordinated and vicious attacks from capital and conservative forces.

It’s time we burst the bubble – it’s time to rewrite the script in favour of those who deliver with their hands and brains for the common good – not for those who leech off our efforts, hive off the profits and divert out attention away from the realities they want to cover up.

The coming months will be a serious test for working people, their living standards, their quality of life and for the nature of the society we live in. It’s not a battle we can afford to lose.

Tory Story

Amidst all the news coverage, speculation and conjecture surrounding Boris Johnson’s replacement, there is emerging dangerous and distracting talk of a ‘good’ Tories and ‘better’ Tories. Neither species exists.

The idea that Boris Johnson’s time as Prime Minister was a one-off, once in a lifetime, bit of eccentricity serves the Conservatives and the political class that they represent very well. It is also a line being adopted by many in the media. The collective message is that, with Boris behind us, we are set for new and exciting times for all. We’re not.

The collective message is that, with Boris behind us, we are set for new and exciting times for all. We’re not.

Suggesting that it will make any difference at all whether the next leader of the Tory party is a woman, from an ethnic minority, gay or the product of a grammar school education is a deliberate strategy to divert attention from the fundamental issue. Who ever the next Prime Minister is they will be a Conservative and a Tory.

For thousands of households and for millions of workers that should be the only characteristic that matters.

Next leader

The next leader of the Tory party, and the next prime minister, will not serve the interest of working people, people looking desperately for employment, single parents, students, people in part time jobs on minimum wage and less, pensioners or people on zero hours contracts and other forms of precarious employment.

Neither Sajid Javid, Liz Truss, Jeremy Hunt nor Rishi Sunak will champion the rights of working people, support their demands for above inflation pay rises and better working conditions or make the necessary investments in our public services.

What they will do, what the Tory party exists to do, will be to govern in favour of the large financial institutions, the multi-national corporations and the stock market speculators.

The next leader of the Tory party will, without question, lower the rate of corporation tax for big businesses, underinvest in our public services, continue to privatise the profitable parts of the NHS, continue the deregulation of industries and services placing short term profit ahead of health and safety.

He or she will further erode workers and trade union rights, it will be made more difficult to go on strike or support those who are. Wages and benefits will not keep pace with inflation, public housing programmes will be cut and only those with the financial means will be able to access further education.

The next Boris Johnson will continue to support NATO and its aggressive and confrontational policies, will follow, unquestioningly, United States foreign policy and will continue to prop up, and trade with, despotic and corrupt governments around the world. That is the Tory party, that is right wing political conservatism.

Home Grown Tories

Of course, we don’t need to go to Westminster in search of conservative politics. Several local parties are openly in favour of cutting corporation taxes, some are opposed to the Living Wage for workers, most are happy to see nurses and other workers on picket lines rather than improve their pay and conditions and very few will support enhanced workers’ rights.

At Westminster and Stormont, the world will continue to be made safe for capitalism at the expense of working-class people. The name, the party, the gender or the ethnic back ground of the Prime Minister, First Minister or Deputy First Minister are irrelevant. Our lives are determined by politics-class politics.

That is a reality that many, including some who claim to be on the Left, choose to ignore.

Childcare Scandal

Two years ago the then Executive parties signed up to the New Decade New Approach initiative. One of the commitments was to produce a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland.

Two years later on and we are still waiting. We have no strategy and we have no Executive.

Currently parents in England, Scotland and Wales can benefit from 30 hours of free childcare, for thirty-nine weeks each year. Not in Northern Ireland though. Neither it, nor any similar scheme, has ever been introduced by the Assembly.

The Assembly’s lack of urgency and action demonstrates the value the main parties here place on the contribution of working parents and on the development of society’s greatest asset: its children.

Early childhood is a key period for brain development. During the early years of life, and especially in the first 1000 days, a child’s brain develops rapidly. What happens in the early years, matters for a lifetime.

Now, the Westminster government is proposing to reduce the ratio of childcare workers to children from 1:4 to 1:5. Although this currently will apply only in England, it is nonetheless a dangerous and retrograde step that others might find attractive to include in their long overdue childcare strategy.

Just like health, education and housing, childcare is viewed and treated as a commodity which can be successfully exploited and profited from.

Northern Ireland has some of the lowest levels of childcare provision in these islands, and many of our near neighbours could make significant improvements in their provision.

Compared to many other European countries we are light years behind, in our funding, our services and our understanding of the significance universal, flexible, accessible and affordable childcare services can have for a child’s early and future development, for parents and for the economy.

If and when the Assembly ever gets around to progressing a Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland, it could do worse than to look at the Cuban model. In its recent report on ‘Early Childhood Development in CubaUNICEF praised its world class approach and noted that 99.5% of Cuban youngsters had a nursery placement.

In the meantime, yet another generation of children here will go without the benefits, the opportunities and the enhanced development that progressive childcare brings.