Economic Violence Against Women and Girls also needs to be addressed

Nicola Grant, Workers Party constituency representative in Newry & Armagh represented the Party at yesterday’s all-party discussions at Stormont as part of the development of a strategy to end violence against women and girls.

Nicola also attended the conference later in the afternoon addressed by leading author and academic Dr Jackson Katz.

The Workers Party made a formal submission to the strategy consultation process earlier in the year in which it argued for a broader understanding of violence to include the impact which poverty has, particularly on women.

Speaking after her meeting at Stormont, Nicola said,

“Today’s meeting and conference represented a welcome and very necessary further step along the road to developing and adopting a robust approach to the problems of violence against women and girls.

“It was important the Workers Party were at the top table to voice the concerns of working-class women and girls and the lasting effects which economic violence can have on them”

“Of course, we must take every initiative and every opportunity to counter physical and psychological assaults on women and girls, but we must never lose sight of the violent effects which low pay, zero hours contracts, benefit cuts, inaccessible and unaffordable child care and a lack of affordable public housing can have on individuals and families”, she said.

“That is a message that must be heard and it is must be as central an issue in the final strategy as all other approaches”, Nicola concluded.

Abortion Services are a Health Issue to be defended and secured

The decision by the United States Supreme Court to nullify the constitutional right of women to access abortion services is alarming, dangerous and hypocritical.

In a country where it is perfectly legal for an 18-year-old to own and carry a gun it is now going to be illegal to provide a fundamental health service for pregnant women.

The Supreme Court decision is dangerous because it will signal the intensification by conservative and reactionary forces to roll back other progressive legislation like same sex marriage and even the right to access contraception and family planning services.

It is also potentially dangerous because it may be taken as a signal by anti- abortion groups here that they too can remove similar legislation from the statute books. That cannot be allowed to happen.

Women have the right to control their own bodies, including their fertility, and to pursue all reproductive choices.

Abortion services, family planning clinics and access to education and contraception are all health issues. They must be defended and secured.

Care staff expected to fund services themselves

An immediate and substantial increase in mileage allowances for domiciliary care workers, district nurses and those using their own car to provide health and care services in the community has been called for by the Workers Party Committee on Health and Social Care.

The Party has dismissed as derisory the recent offer by the Minister of Health to increase the milage rate by 10p per mile – after the first 3,500 miles travelled – saying it is insulting to front line staff and disrespectful to the needs of the ill, the elderly and the vulnerable who rely on the services provided.

The Party has written to Minister Swann and to the NHS Staff Council demanding that they immediately, and publicly, recognise the financial hardships being placed on staff as they continue to provide services at an increasing cost to themselves.

In the letter the Party also calls for an urgent lump sum payment for staff to offset the money they have spent, the introduction of fuel cards to radically improve the current method of payment and for the introduction by Trusts of a fleet of electric vehicles to provide an alternative, cost effective and environmentally friendly option for community-based staff.

International Trade Union Conference hears Workers Party condemn use of Agency Workers to Break Strikes

Yet a further erosion of workers right is being planned by the Conservative government.

The current restriction on employers hiring agency staff to replace striking staff is being considered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ahead of industrial action to be taken by rail staff, but would apply to all sectors.

The move has drawn strong opposition from trade unions including the RMT Union which represents transport and other workers.

It has also been criticised at an international trade union seminar organised by PAME in Athens this week to coincide with its Congress.

Addressing the seminar on behalf of the Workers Party trade union group, Lily Kerr, a lifelong trade unionist, said,” The British Government has stated that it is considering using agency workers to break strikes. This comes against a background where companies are refusing to honour collective bargaining agreements, governments do nothing to support the workers, and in many cases threaten anti-trade union legislation to support the monopolies”.

In the past number of months, we have seen P&O Ferries sack 800 workers without warning by Zoom, and employ agency staff at £1.80 an hour to replace them. University Staff are currently taking industrial action against cuts to staff, pay and pensions. Many public sector workers are taking industrial action because pay increases are not keeping pace with unprecedented levels of inflation”, she said.

“Every gain and achievement, every piece of legislation that granted even limited or modest forms of progress, social or economic rights, was fought for and won by workers themselves through vigorous struggle.

“We know that it is socialism which provides an alternative, a new social order which will bring about the emancipation of the working class and the peoples of the world. 

However, comrades, that does not mean that we can afford to, or indeed should, wait until the overthrow of this corrupt system, before we demand meaningful rights and social progress in the workplace and in wider society.”, added Lily.

Every gain and achievement has been fought for and won by workers themselves
through vigorous struggle.

See Lily Kerr’s speech in full here:

Rwanda scheme illegal and immoral

Plans to deport the first batch of refugees to Rwanda may have been halted temporarily, but the Conservative government will pursue this barbaric scheme to the end.

The sight of a charter plane, costing half a million pounds to hire, sitting empty on an airport runway may well be an appropriate metaphor for Boris Johnston’s administration but it doesn’t tell the full story.

Britain has legal and moral obligations to ensure the safety, welfare and human rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Flying them to an east African country with a dubious human rights record and with which they will have no connection is not only immoral it verges on the criminal. Given the Conservative party’s policy of privatisation and outsourcing public responsibilities it should, however, come as no surprise.

Despite the excellent work of Amnesty International and other human rights organisations in preventing the deportations thus far, there may soon be no legal grounds left to argue against this measure for those concerned

As part of the Rwanda plan a Nationality and Borders Bill, currently before parliament, proposes to remove the right to remain in the UK while an asylum claim or appeal is being processed. 

If passed, the bill will allow the removal of refugees and asylum seekers to a ‘safe country’ while their claim is pending.

The pressure to reverse the dumping of refugees and asylum seekers in other countries must be maintained and increased. There is a particular responsibility on The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which has already publicly criticised the policy and also on the heads of Commonwealth countries who meet in Rwanda this week.

Refugees and asylum seekers are the casualties of imperialist wars, aggressions and rivalries. For that reason alone, they should be made welcome, protected and secure.

The Time for Public Ownership of Energy Resources is Now!

When it comes to discussions about the cost of energy and other utilities, there is always a missing and unspoken link.

Radio phone in shows, television news, social media platforms and any amount of newspaper articles will talk endlessly about ‘increases in wholesale supplies’. The ‘war in Ukraine’, ‘unexpectedly cold winters’ and ‘technical problems with pipe lines’.

What they won’t mention is that the natural resources which supply the energy and other utilities are all in the hands of private companies and individuals. What they won’t mention is that increases in prices are driven by profiteering and delivering dividends to shareholders.

Gas and electricity were privatised more than thirty years ago. Separate, privately owned, systems were established for supply, transmission and distribution and the ‘Big Six’ energy companies cornered the market, saw off any competition and established a very profitable monopoly. Consumers have been, and still are, paying the costs ever since.

Energy and other utility providers don’t operate as a public service. They exist to make and maximise profits.

The Government’s response to the latest hikes in home heating and other bills has been to offer short term and, in practice, woefully inadequate financial relief to consumers. At best this is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

The solution to the cost of utilities crisis is not in vote catching gestures but in bringing gas, electricity, broadband services and fuel into public ownership and public control.

The increased poverty, deprivation and mounting mental health pressures caused by the current cost of living crisis is being fuelled by the astronomical price hikes in gas, electricity and petrol. At the root of the problems lie the private ownership of the natural resources and their distribution and delivery chains.

We work for our public services. We use them. We pay for them. We must own them.

The cost-of-living crisis is causing devastation for the least well off.

The following article by Nick Garbutt was first published in Scope Magazine and highlights the difficulties inflicted on poor and vulnerable people. The Workers Party analysis of poverty and austerity is rooted in its critique of the capitalist system and the absolute and immediate need for a socialist alternative.

Before, the cost of living crisis struck our welfare system was already deficient. Years of austerity coupled with barely disguised contempt for those who struggled to get by had seen to that.

A country that used to pride itself on providing a safety net for the vulnerable had turned its back.  So when banking systems all but collapsed as a result of deregulation … it was not those culpable who were forced to pick up the tab.

They continued to enrich themselves. Instead, we were told that what was needed most was a good strong dose of austerity. In practice that meant cutting benefits and other supports to the vulnerable.

At the time, and to its shame, the media bought into this and didn’t ask awkward questions. If they had they would have discovered that far from helping revive economies it has the opposite effect. Indeed every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity

In the interim we’ve learned the hard way that poverty actually kills. 

The British government’s response was one of the most severe and although it did not fix the economy it did succeed in reversing what had been steady progress in increasing life expectancy, creating the necessity for foodbanks and ensuring that many in employment became reliant on welfare to survive.

By March Richard Walker, managing director of frozen food stores Iceland, was telling BBC Radio 4 that families using food banks to keep themselves fed were having to leave root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes behind because they could not afford to cook them.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest rescue package may well make a difference … (but)…there are, … several problems which remain.

The absolute desperation that so many found themselves in when inflation hit at a time when household budgets were not able to cope with existing costs is the most worrying.

It demonstrated just how vulnerable poorer people are. The safety net which welfare is supposed to provide is not adequate to cater for the most basic needs.

What was really required was not just a one-off package, no matter how generous, but a reversal of the welfare policies that have become fashionable over the past decade or so.

These are based on ideas which are rooted in America, that the poor and vulnerable are somehow culpable for their own plight and that any benefits provided by the state should be the bare minimum for their survival.

And there should also be a rigorous examination of the energy industry and how it is regulated. These assets used to be publicly owned and for a very good reason.

The reason why oil and gas companies are having such a bumper time when so many are suffering is because of how the investment markets work. They don’t look at the actual amount of profit, rather they measure profit as a percentage of sales the resulting calculation constitutes the profit margin.

So therefore prices don’t just go up because the fuel is more expensive to buy they are also increased by the relevant profit margin. Hence when SSE CEO Alistair Phillips-Davies , who earned 1.6 million in 20/21 was asked about how people should cope with rising prices he did not offer to lower bills, instead he said people should: try “having a cuddle with your pets”, eating “hearty bowls of porridge” and “doing a few star jumps”.

A system that determines prices and measure performance to please investors is not one which necessarily suits the needs of people who can’t even afford to light the cooker.

 See Nick Garbutt’s article in full: