Are we really all in this together?

The post pandemic economy is far too important to be left in the hands of those who slavishly follow the free market model

As talk turns increasingly to ‘post Covid’ and ‘the new normal’, it is worth taking a reality check on our economic and social situation and asking what really will be changing.

Alarming statistics

Prior to the pandemic, one person in five of working-age in Northern Ireland was living in poverty. An estimated 110,000 of them were children. Northern Ireland had the highest levels of fuel poverty in the UK and one of the highest levels in Europe. The education gap between children from better off homes and those from areas of high social deprivation remained large. More people here than anywhere else in the UK had no qualifications or had fewer higher-level qualifications.

Nearly two thirds of low-income families had no pension arrangements or provision for their financial security in later life.

The coronavirus pandemic will have made those figures worse, not better.

We’re all in this together?

While families struggle, and ordinary people are locked out of opportunities to build a decent and secure life, at the other end of the scale things look very different.

Recent estimates of the amount of tax unpaid through deliberate avoidance in the UK run at £35billion – or £673million a week: a figure that has been rising steadily for the past decade or more. 

However, even those astronomical numbers don’t include the monies ‘transferred’ by multinational companies such as Starbucks, Google and Amazon to off shore tax havens. For just five US tech companies alone that accounts for a further missing £1bn.

Is there a credible plan?

So what does the immediate future look like for working people, low income families, students and school leavers? 

The Assembly record of economic development is lamentable. Recent years have been marked by cuts to public services and the privatisation of health, education and public utilities, as well as the sale of public assets.

While the Assembly job creation strategy relies on Foreign Direct Investment on one hand, it cuts the budgets for further and higher education and training on the other. 

While it seeks to attract hi-tech and manufacturing investment it fails to invest in the development of a skilled workforce to deliver it and declines to upgrade and develop the local infrastructure to support it. 

The Assembly’s economic strategy is characteristically played out off stage. Economic rabbits are pulled out of hats at press conferences with seemingly little or no engagement with the relevant work sectors, the existing workforce or their representatives. 

The reality is that businesses, aided by the main parties at the Assembly, will seek to use the Covid 19 crisis as an excuse to further cut back on public services, reduce budgets and rescind workers’ rights.

A Planned Development Strategy

The shape of the post pandemic economy is far too important to be left in the hands of those who slavishly follow the free market model at all costs. 

Of course, we are not all in this together.

We can never be so in a society where the system produces wealth for a minority at the expense of the working class. We cannot permit those who have sought to exploit labour to dictate the future, post-pandemic, and we cannot allow those political parties who facilitate this exploitation to dictate its direction.

In the immediate term the state must utilise all the resources at its disposal to protect workers. It must do so to protect the poor and the vulnerable, to safeguard and enhance the health, education and housing sectors. It must also work with the trade union movement and voluntary and community organisations to effectively address the current needs facing working class communities and deliver a centrally planned development strategy.

Return to school must be safe, sensible and managed

A phased return to the classroom would re-assure pupils, schools and parents

Too many questions marks remain, and not enough guidance is in place, to be able to say with confidence that a full return to school this week, is either safe or sensible.

The return to school in Scotland, earlier this month, has already seen 18 cases of Covid 19 among pupils and teachers.

Teachers, school support staff and their unions as well as many parents  have expressed serious concerns about an absence of consultation , insufficient resources and inadequate guidance from the Minister and the Department of Education.

Of course it is important that our children return to school and that our education system continues to function, but it must be done safely, appropriately and with the maximum input from those in the front line.

If that means that, for a period, some children have to be taught on line or via distance learning , then that is what is required. In that scenario access to the internet and suitable tablets or laptops must be funded and guaranteed for all children and families who need it.

We have seen what happened with exam results when the Minister and others failed to place their trust in teachers. We are in danger of repeating those mistakes, but this time with potentially much more serious consequences.

A phased return to the classroom, backed up by all the necessary resources, and guided by the knowledge and expertise of teaching staff, classroom assistants, support staff and others would allow for informed risk management , corrective action as necessary and re-assurance for pupils, schools and parents.

Trust the teachers

*** UPDATE***

Since this statement was issued yesterday afternoon, the Minister for Education, Peter Weir, has announced that all GCSE grades will be based on teachers’ assessments


Current system is unfair to pupils and teachers

Ahead of the announcement of GCSE grades later this week, Workers Party spokesperson Nicola Campbell has called on the Education Minister and the Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) not to compound the fiasco they created around A Level grades, but instead to “abandon the algorithm model and put your trust in teachers”.

The Minster and the CCEA cannot continue to defend the indefensible”, Nicola said. “The academic future of thousands of local pupils is at stake and those involved in last week’s grades fiasco should admit that they got it wrong and place their faith in the judgement of the teachers and the grades that they have assessed”, she said.

“Scotland has already reviewed its decision on the awarding of grades and  England has introduced the ‘triple lock’, but the Minister of Education here doggedly refuses to even recognise the problem he has helped to create or the inequity which it is causing” Nicola pointed out

“The awarding of GCSE grades under the existing system will be made all the worse by the heavy reliance on the past performance of the school, dismissing the efforts of this year’s pupils”, she said

“If anyone doubted the class nature of education then this is a wakeup call”

“This represents a blatant and deliberate policy of a leg up for high achieving  schools at the expense of the pupils from more socially disadvantage backgrounds, further compounding the gap between the two” said Nicola.

“This is grossly unfair of those students awaiting their results. The Minister must act immediately; recognise the expertise and competence of our teachers and base GCSE grades on their professional judgements”, Nicola concluded.

Grades model not fit for purpose

Many questions remain unanswered about this process

‘Today’s exam results show that the model being used to determine ‘A Level’ grades is clearly not fit for purpose and that the criteria being used to reach these decisions must be published for all to see’ says Party spokesperson Joanne Lowry.

‘ It beggars belief’ , she said, that Education Minister Peter Weir and the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) refuse to accept that major mistakes have been made and that these will adversely effect the livelihoods and future prospects of thousands of local pupils’

‘Many questions remain unanswered about this process’, Joanne said.

Did the CCEA or the Minister deliberately limit the number of pupils receiving A and A* grades?

To what extent was a school’s ‘past performance’ a factor in determining pupils’ grades?

Was ‘ past performance’ applied universally across all schools?

Have non-grammar schools been disproportionately effected?

‘As if to add insult to injury we are told that the measures taken were to ensure the integrity of the education system. This is the same education system that still has selection at 11, educates Catholics and Protestant children separately, has separate teacher education colleges and has 52% of non grammar school pupils leaving school with a minimum of five GCSEs’, she said.

Scotland, England and Wales have already reviewed and amended their grading systems. Northern Ireland remains unchanged. Nothing short of full transparency and a recognition of the long term damage caused to a generation of A level and GSCE students can turn this educational fiasco around’, Joanne concluded

Party condemns intimidation

A clear message to vandals and gangsters – “get off our backs and get off our streets”

The Workers Party in West Belfast has condemned the intimidation and threats directed against local Councillor Tina Black because of her condemnation of last Saturday’s rioting in the Distillery Street / Grosvenor area.

What we witnessed last Saturday was a destructive orgy of violence imposed on an already hard pressed working class community by a combination of miscellaneous mavericks and groups whose only contribution to society is to drag it backwards.

Not content with a rampage of community vandalism, these same people are now attempting to physically intimidate anyone who opposes them. It is more important than ever that the community in West Belfast sends a clear message to these vandals and gangsters – “get off our backs and get off our streets”

Anyone with any information about Saturday’s rioting or about threats of intimidation should contact the PSNI, confident that the vast majority of the community supports them.

Grades fiasco a class wake up call

A school’s previous academic record must not feature in the awarding of A level grades

The A Level results fiasco, created by the Minister and the Department of Education, must be resolved immediately, and in an open, transparent manner”, the Workers Party has said.

Party spokesperson Joanne Lowry has called for the previous academic record of a school to be removed from the equation when determining pupils grades.

“If anyone ever doubted the class nature of education then this is a wake up call” she said.

“This represents a blatant and deliberate policy of a leg up for high achieving  schools at the expense of the pupils from more socially disadvantage backgrounds, further compounding the gap between the two” said Joanne.

“It is bad government but also grossly unfair of those students awaiting their results”, she said. “Scotland has already reviewed its decision on the awarding of grades, England has introduced the ‘triple lock’, but the Minister of Education here doggedly refuses to even recognise the problem he has helped to create, or the inequity which it is causing”, said Joanne.

“A school’s previous academic record must not feature in the awarding of A level grades and the minister should state that clearly and immediately”, concluded Joanne

No excuses – no justification

Violence is being imposed on already hard pressed working class communities

The recent rioting, hijackings and attacks on police in Belfast and Derry are completely without justification. They cannot, and must not, be ‘explained’ away by apologists for community vandalism.

What we have been witnessing in the past few days is the dwindling annual ritual of destruction and rampage with neither purpose nor political rationale. It is a self-destructive orgy of violence imposed on already hard pressed working class communities by a combination of local hooligans and sections of the political fringes who seek self-promotion through other people’s misery.

None of these events have anything to do with internment or any other issue. These days and nights of petrol bombs, rioting, wreckage and personal injury are the outworking of miscellaneous mavericks and groups whose only contribution to society is to drag it backwards and justify it with their own invented indignation.

All of those involved, whether they be front line rioters or back line generals, should remember the rioting of April 2019 which resulted in the murder of a young journalist. Even then there were those who sought to justify, explain and rationalise those events.  That must never be repeated.

Hard-pressed working class communities deserve better. Communities beset by poverty and neglect need positive leadership towards genuine progressive political and social change and a better future through the creation of a socialist alternative.

These communities and those young people who live in them need a life free of the parasites who visit destruction, disruption and even death and who sabotage efforts to build the working class movement. There are no excuses for these events – none should be accepted”

Hiroshima 75 years on

Between 230,000 and 280,000 people were killed, most of whom were civilians.

On this day, 75 years ago, one of the great tragedies in human history took place. It was no accident but a deliberate and brutal attack by the U.S. against Japanese civilians.

On 6th August 1945 an atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Three days later, on 9th August 1945 a similar bomb was detonated over Nagasaki.

Long term effects

Between 230,000 and 280,000 people were killed, most of whom were civilians. The long-term effects of the devastation are still being felt. Hiroshima and Nagasaki became haunting monuments of death and destruction and brutally painted the consequences of nuclear war.

Today we remember the many victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we deplore the abuse of technology in the relentless arms race and the pursuit of imperialist warmongering and aggression.

Arms race continues

Imperialism remains a threat to global peace. Weapons of mass destruction, much more powerful that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, now exist. The arms race continues apace, devising ever more dangerous and destructive weapons.

The UK remains a member of NATO which for its entire existence has been a military instrument of imperialism amounting to a permanent threat to the peoples of the world. Ireland, despite its constitutional commitment to neutrality, remains a member of NATO’s so-called “Partnership for Peace” (PfP). The European Union has an ever closer and increasing relationship with NATO.

An end to aggression and interference

The Workers Party calls for an immediate end to weapons of mass destruction and an end to the arms race, an end to imperialist aggression and interference in the affairs of sovereign states and respect for the guiding principles of the World Peace Council. We also demand that the UK leave NATO and that the Republic of Ireland leave PfP.

We pay our respects today to the victims and survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, we extend our solidarity to those throughout the world dedicated to the struggle against nuclear weapons and we recommit ourselves to building a future free from the terror and destruction of imperialist war. 

Nursing vacancies: an emergency, but no accident

Nurses and Midwives were forced to take industrial action to demand safe staffing levels and the awarding of an overdue pay rise.

The chronic shortage of nurses in Northern Ireland, highlighted by the recent Audit Commission Report, is a clear sign of the failure to invest in nurse education, a failure of workforce planning, but, more ominously, an indicator that privatisation of the NHS comes in many forms‘, Party spokesperson Hugh Scullion has said.

‘The lack of registered nurses employed by the NHS has resulted in payments of almost £115 million to private nursing agencies in 2018/19. In addition to the 2,700 current nursing vacancies a further 1600 registered nurses are needed to ensure safe staffing levels for patients’, said Hugh.

‘For the first time in their unions’ histories members of the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives were forced to take industrial action earlier this year to demand safe staffing levels and the awarding of an overdue pay rise’, explained Hugh

‘Ironically, the same local political parties which had repeatedly withheld the pay increase and precipitated the safe staffing levels crisis were clapping for the NHS and lauding local nurses as heroes only a matter of weeks later, he said

Situations like this don’t simply happen – they are made.

‘It is impossible to ignore the fact that between 2011 and 2018 the EU Commission made 63 demands on member governments to cut spending on healthcare and/or outsource or privatise health services.

‘Taken together with successive local cuts to health and social care budgets, to nurse education funding and a reduction in the number of trainee places available and we have the origins and cause of this crisis’ he said

‘The recruitment of at least 2,700 nurses, to fill the vacancies in hospitals, community settings and in GP practices, must now be underpinned by safeguards such as legislation setting out minimum staffing safety levels for the protection of nurses as well as patients.

‘There must also be a public and trade union led campaign to bring pressure to bear to reverse the privatisation of our health and social care services and their surrender to the private profit sector’, Hugh concluded.

Sectarianism: condemnation alone not enough

Sectarianism: condemnation alone is not enough

“Condemnation of sectarianism and sectarian hate crimes is, by itself, not enough to overcome the cancer that blights this society”, Workers Party spokesperson Lily Kerr has said.

Her comments come after  sectarian graffiti was daubed on a house and car in the Kilcoole area of north Belfast.

“Of course we must condemn these kinds of outrages”. Lily said, “but unless we address the underlying factors we are doomed to pass the sectarian gene onto another generation”. 

How can we ignore the fact that our children are the product of a segregated education system, that our system of government is based on the myth of “two communities” and that almost every public and political initiative in Northern Ireland has to be counterbalanced to accommodate  ‘nationalists’ and ‘unionists’ – and then assume that automated condemnation of the inevitable outcomes of that segregation will be sufficient to end it?”, asked Lily.

“Furthermore, these incidents highlight the political hypocrisy of those who condemn on one hand and casually stoke sectarian tensions with the other”. said Lily

“We must never forget that there is a deeply traumatised family at the centre of this latest attack. They need the swift support of all the relevant statutory bodies to meet their immediate needs but most of all they need the unequivocal support of the entire community and the reassurance of a public commitment to remove the frameworks which enable sectarianism as well as the  political parties which peddle in and profit from it”, she said

Anyone with any information about this or any other sectarian incident should report it to the PSNI” Lily concluded