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.

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