Remember when we were “all in this together”?

Throughout the recent, and still with us, pandemic our NHS and its staff struggled heroically to contain and overcome the coronavirus COVID 19.

They fought the virus at great personal cost, often without adequate or appropriate resources, frequently without clear political direction and against a backdrop of a decade and more of cuts to the service.

Having turned the tide, the NHS then went on an incredible vaccination offensive, unparalleled in our collective lifetimes and once again delivered through superhuman efforts and in the face of naysayers and deniers.

Society went in to lock down. Routines, lifestyles and work patterns were turned on their heads but, of course, all of this was secondary to the almost 190,000 deaths across these islands and the more than six million worldwide.

If we ever really were ‘all in this together’, then some of us have come out the other side a lot better off than others.

While the NHS laboured and students, families and essential workers knuckled down to keep systems and society functioning and hundreds of thousands of lives were cut short, the Covid Crisis also saw the creation of an additional 573 new billionaires.

It’s been said before that capitalism, and capitalists, never waste a crisis. During the two-year pandemic period the combined wealth of the billionaire class rose more than it had done over the previous 23 years. Billionaires now own 14% of the world’s wealth Twenty years ago that figure was under 5%.

Food and agribusiness billionaires saw a 45% increase in their wealth

The five largest energy companies, including BP, Shell, Exxon, and Chevron, made a combined profit of $82 billion last year alone. The oil sector saw its profit margins double during the pandemic 

The pandemic created 40 new pharmaceutical billionaires as companies like Moderna and Pfizer enjoyed a bonanza from their vaccines against Covid-19.

The development of their products was funded by public investment, but despite this they are charging governments up to 24 times more than the cost of generic production. It is estimated that the vaccines alone brought the big pharmaceutical companies profits of $1,000 a second

Likewise, tech sector enjoyed rapid growth amid the pandemic and produced some of the wealthiest individuals as a result. Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon, and Alphabet made $271 billion in profit in 2021, – twice as much as they recorded in 2019

The views of Oxfam’s International Director, Gabriela Bucher are worth noting.

Billionaires’ fortunes have not increased because they are now smarter or working harder. Workers are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions. The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits,

They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens – all with the complicity of governments,” she says.

It’s hard to argue otherwise, but doesn’t that all make demands for windfall taxes, VAT reductions and one-off cost of living payments seem little more than a token gesture in the current circumstances?

If we want to solve these problems, rather than accommodate them, then we need to take what should be public utilities, into public ownership and democratic control.

Who can look at the obscene wealth accumulated by private individuals, at the expense of working people, during a period of public adversity and not be convinced that only the radical transformation of this society and a planned socialist economy can deliver security, opportunities and a better quality of life for all?

See: https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/profiting-pain

Threat to University staff withdrawn

Management at the Ulster University has withdrawn its threat  to deduct 100% of salary for each day that a member of staff participates in a marking and assessment boycott. 

The industrial action is to continue and talks with the representatives of the Univesity and College Union are ongoing.

Holiday Meals scheme must be funded

Workers Party representative in South Belfast, Patrick Lynn has written to the acting Education Minister Michelle McIlveen demanding that she takes the necessary steps to ensure that holiday meals money is made available this summer.

The £22m needed to fund the school summer holiday home meals scheme is claimed to be ’frozen’ because the Executive is not currently functioning due to the DUP refusing to nominate a Speaker or Deputy First Minister.

“Ninety-eight thousand children here will be dependent on these payments for regular meals during the summer holidays”, Patrick said.

” Whatever the arguments about process, and how the money can or cannot be released, the imperative is that the scheme is fully funded and that children’s health, well being and nutrition are protected,” he said.

“I have written to the Acting Education Minister Michelle McIlveen demanding that she contacts her fellow Ministers to secure their agreement to release the money immediately. This is not only possible but it has a precedent with other Ministers releasing money from their budgets for other schemes,” Patrick explained.

“There can be no excuses for depriving children of food and nutrition. There must be no excuses. If golf clubs and businesses can be given cash subsidies of over £22 billion, then vulnerable children can also be provided for.” concluded Patrick

There is an alternative to the politics of austerity

Far from addressing the cost-of-living crisis, Tory proposals to cut 91,000 jobs in the civil service will worsen the situation.

Workers, including key workers and those occupying frontline roles, are likely to be targeted. Many of those who risked their lives during the pandemic are now facing a loss of their jobs. 

Public services, already under pressure, will be adversely affected with longer waiting lists for passports and driving licences. This proposal is connected with the earlier announcement that various agencies such as the DVLA would be considered for closure or privatisation.

This is a further attack by capital and its representatives on the working class, a mechanism to weaken the public sector and to further the privatisation agenda – an attempt by capital to consolidate class power. It also reopresents continuing confrontation with the trade unions seeking to protect the livelihood of their members.

The continuing erosion of workers’ pay and conditions, cuts to essential services, privatisation, the proposed reduction of taxation on income and an increasing number of direct charges imposed on those least able to pay is all the current social order has to offer.

As we made clear our recent Election Manifesto there is another way.

There is an alternative to the politics of austerity. It is an immediate programme of progressive, publicly funded investment in the public sector and the replacement of the current noxious social system by a new, centrally planned, socialist society as the only way to a better future.

Joint letter spells out the harsh realities

The Workers Party’s six Assembly candidates have written a joint letter to the editors of Northern Ireland’s three daily newspapers questioning how the election results will change, for the better, the lives of working class people, the young, the old and the vulnerable.

Dear Editor,

The major parties and most of the media have hailed the outcome of the Assembly elections as one of major change. How have they come to that conclusion?

Exactly the same parties that were elected the last time have been returned this time. The same parties that, when they weren’t collapsing the Executive, were responsible for growing waiting lists, a lack of public housing, economic stagnation and pay cuts to public sector workers.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill even went as far as claiming that the election results were “…  a defining moment for our politics and for our people. Really?

Throughout the election campaign we made the point that, when the polls closed, the priorities for working class people would remain the cost of living, health, education and low pay. That certainly hasn’t changed.

Given the re-election of the same parties, and in most cases the same people, there seems little chance that it will.

The hype, the self-congratulations and the media circus will fade and the realities of the outcome will kick in. Twenty-four years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement we still have no Bill of Rights, we continue to educate our children separately, we have developed a low wage, part time, zero hours economy, our public services are run down, underfunded and fragmented and we are living with a mental health crisis.

The task of socialists and progressives must to continue to present the alternatives, stay on the backs of the new Executive, if one is ever formed, and hold them to account at every turn.

Eoin MacNeill, Nicola Grant, Hugh Scullion, Patrick Lynn, Patrick Crossan and Lily Kerr

It May Look Different, but it’s Same Old, Same Old

The media and the Big 5 parties have trailed this election as the most significant one in over twenty years. But what has really changed?

Workers Party candidates said consistently throughout the election campaign that the morning after polling day the big issues would remain, the cost of living, health, education, low pay and the environment. Nothing has changed that.

Beyond the rhetoric and the social media hype only the names on the doors have altered.

Thousands of working- class people voted in their droves for parties that do not, will not and cannot represent their interests.

Partly, that is because politics here has moved from a culture of representation and accountability to a big business circus replacing substance with glitz and glamour. That scenario has been re-enforced and replicated by sections of the media which treat politics here as a cross between a game show and a beauty contest.

The winners, once again, are the professional political classes, their media acolytes and the economic system they serve.

“The names on the doors have changed. Nothing else“.

The losers, once again, are working class people, public services, the young the old and the vulnerable. In that sense too, nothing has changed

The task of socialists, those on the left and other progressives is to present a coherent and class-based programme to challenge and counter the privatisation, low pay, zero hours and free market agenda of the big five parties.

It must remain our task to defend and to protect working class people,to speak out for their interests, to present and deliver the socialist alternative and to radically change this society and social system. That hasn’t change either.

Assembly Needs Major Reform

Later today the votes will be counted and the election results declared: but that doesn’t mean that we’ll have a working Assembly.

In the past four years we have seen the Executive collapsed twice, once by Sinn Fein for a period of three years and a few months ago by the DUP.

The structures established by the Good Friday Agreement have long since reached their sell by date. They are no longer fit for purpose and now stand in the way of effective develoved government.

The Assembly structures urgently need root and branch reform.

The starting point has to be getting rid of the sectarian and inoperable structures that the two main parties in particular continue to use, abuse and hide behind.

At a minimum, we need to move from mandatory to voluntary coalition, community designation requirements should be abolished and the Petition of Concern reformed to ensure that it can never again be used to veto social or equality legislation.

We cannot endure another five years of stop / start government. Immediate and far reaching reform is the only way in which a new Assembly can function effectively.

Candidates endorse Radiograhers’ Manifesto

Workers Party candidates have called for the adoption of the five-point manifesto presented by the Society of Radiographers as one of the ways that hospital services can be enhanced and referral times and waiting lists reduced.

“We fully support the call by local radiographers for an above inflation pay settlement as one way in which staff retention and future recruitment can be enhanced”, the candidates said in a joint statement

Hospital Radiography departments provide a wide range of diagnostic imaging services including CT scanning, ultra sound and X-Rays.

“Only through planned and guaranteed investment can out of date equipment be replaced, staff shortages be addressed and timely access to services, diagnosis and treatment be secured”,the statemengt said

“Referral times and waiting lists could be significantly reduced though the development of existing staff and an increase in the number of reporting radiographers”.

Over £10 million was spent last year alone in Northern Ireland outsourcing patient images.

“Nine out of every ten patients attending hospital will be seen by a radiographer for diagnosis or treatment. It is vitally important that we invest in their skills and careers to ensure that high quality services are available when thet afre needed”.