Thursday, 10 February 2011

Eric In A Bit Of A Pickle

In the last week or so pressure on the Liberal-Tory Government has begun to increase over the Cuts. The one area where they have front-loaded those Cuts is in Local Government. The biggest cut in the four year programme for Local Government comes in the next financial year. There are good reasons why the Government has done that. Firstly, by shifting the early burden of the Cuts on to Local Government, they hope to shift some of the approbrium that will result when the effects of those Cuts are felt in practice. Secondly, the Liberals and Tories in Local Government would have been bound to take a hammering - the Liberals in particular having faked Left, and moved sharply Right - in the Local Government Elections in May, whether the Cuts in Local Government were light or heavy. Unlike a General Election, those Local Government elections are unavoidable.

The Liberal-Tory Ministers must have calculated that they might as well sacrifice their Councillors, in order to save their own skins in the longer term. Better to lose a load of those Councillors now they calculate, whilst minimising the damage to themselves - Central Government Cuts in things such as Welfare Benefits are backloaded to the last three years of the four year programme with the major Cuts in things such as Child Benefit and Incapacity Benefits not scheduled to actually take effect until 2013, by which time they will have chance to row back if they see the need - in the hope that by 2015, when the General Election is scheduled, the economy will be improving and they will be able to increase their election chances.

The other advantage of this strategy for Liberal-Tory Ministers is that they can blame LABOUR Councils for the Cuts, as well as blaming Labour for their need to have to rein in the deficit in the first place. That has been the Liberal-Tory Government's strategy already in recent weeks as it has responded to drastic cuts in services by places such as Manchester City Council, and wide ranging criticism by prominent people over things such as Cuts to Libraries. The Government has already U-Turned on many of the Cuts it had proposed in relation to School Sports and so on, where it has faced direct criticism from prominent people. But, over Libraries and other Cuts, it has claimed in the last week that it is all the work of politically motivated Labour Councils who are cutting more than they need to, and are deliberately targetting front-line services in order to make the effects of the Cuts seem worse than they need be.

Let's be honest, no one ought to be so naive as to beleive that some of that is not true. Anyone who has worked in Local Government knows that the first response of the Chief Officer in any Department when asked for Cuts, is to offer up the most politially sensitive option in the expectation that it will be rejected.
The Tories are right to point out that in Local Government as in most of British Society, those at the top get huge salaries and benefits in comparison to those at the bottom, and yet very few of those at the top will be offering up a proportion of their salaries, or offering to move to a smaller office to save money. No, they are happy to see low paid, especially manual workers providing the services get the chop, but they are always sure to protect their own pay and conditions, and their own immediate empires. That's why Cuts in Local Government, and the Public sector in general aree always counter-productive. They always lead to a reduction in services, and an increase in bureaucracy.

And, I had to smile when the Leader of Manchester Council was being interviewed about the closure of Swimming Pools. One of the Pools featured I could identify with closely. It was very similar excpet looked slightly older than the oldest swimming pool owned by the Council where I used to work. It was then 90 years old.
It was depressing for the staff who had to work there because the fabric of the building was so worn out that even keeping the place clean was like painting the Forth Road Bridge. Even 15 years ago, it was losing nearly half a million pounds a year, whereas a new facility could have made money. Sure enough, when pressed the Council Leader in Manchester admitted that some of these facilties would have close anyway to make way for new facilities - though undoubtedly fewer of them.

It would be naive to beleive that politicians will not play games over the Cuts, as they try to save their own hides. That doesn't help those dependent on those services, and those trying to fight the Cuts. Yet, even taking that into consideration the Liberal-Tory Government's strategy is unravelling. It appears that Liberal Councillors are not prepared to simply play the part of sacrificial lamb on Nick Clegg's altar.
Typical of the wholly careerist nature of the Liberals, its Councillors are very keen to keep their own little Empires, thank you very much, in Local Government.

Now 90 of their Councillors, including the Leaders of 17 Councils, have signed a letter arguing that the Liberal-Tory Cuts are too large and too soon, and will devastate local economies. Of course, again typical of the opportunist, careerist - after all some of these Liberal Council leaders will aspire to climbing the greasy pole to become MP's themselves so they won't want to upset Cleggy too much - mealy mouthed nature of Liberal polticians they have been sure not to attack the Liberal-Tory Government itself, but to launch a personal attack on Communities Minister, Eric Pickles, himself, as though the Cuts he is making have nothing to do with the Government of which he is a part!!!

This once again shows that the Liberal-Tory Government is weak, in part arising from the contradictions that exist within it, and its wider periphery. A powerful resistance to it, as the U-Turns already made demonstrates, can at least cause it to row back on its programme, and at best will cause it to fracture and to fall.

What is also clear and encouraging is just how quickly some ideas, and tactics are spreading. Students at many Universities, realising that just marching and fighting with police, in the end goes nowhere, have begun occupations of their Universities.
Now protesters over Library closures, such as those at New Cross Library have adopted the same tactic. In fact, its not just in Britain that tactic is being adopted. Reports from Egypt show that workers there are moving from just the strikes they have started in recent days, but to Occupations, and Work-ins at very workplaces. That is no doubt another benefit we have now from th Internet, which means that tactics that have been succesful in one part of the world can quickly be adopted elsewhere.

But, Occupations themslves are a limited strategy. As I've pointed out in the past, its important for workers to move beyond just the Occupation, which challenges the basic premise of private property, which underlie Capitalist Society, to challenge the very premise of Capital itself i.e. that it is something which determines our use of it, rather than vice versa.
That is what the workers of UCS did when they decided to actually organise a Work-In rather than just an Occupation. They turned the Capital in the form of machines and equipment and buildings, back into what they really should be, just tools to be used by human beings to produce useful things, not a power over human beings that are themselves reduced by Capital to being merely useful things that are employed only when Capital chooses to do so.

That is what the University Occupations need to do, to turn the Universities into open places of learning for all workers. Organising lectures and other forms of learning for all workers in their area to participate in free of charge, to understand the basic elements of the world around them, and the real causes of the problems they face, as well as discussing how to change that world and resolve those problems.

That is what the Occupations at places like New Cross also need to do, as I set out in my blog Fighting The Cuts. But, as pointed out there, we need to go beyond that. The Trade Union leaders will not voluntarily support the idea of Occupations, certainly not Occupations that put such services under Workers Control. That would undermine the basic fucntion of those Trade Union leaders as middle men negotiating between the workers and the bosses. Its why they are so desperate to retain the current State Capitalist set up, rather than propose a Socialist solution to the Cuts. But, the experience in the NUS has shown how rapidly things can change when Union leaders blatantly disregard the views and aspirations of their members.

Instead of Occupations like New Cross being sporadic events arising spontaneously from the inventiveness of groups of workers, we need to insist that the Public Sector unions themselves adopt the strategy of Occupation to prevent closures. We need to build up rank and file groups in every workplace of workers, who because it is them who will be directly affected, are prepared to push for that demand, and to implement it in practice. But, if these Occupations are to succeed, if they are to be able to continue to offer the services that local communities need, then that will require financing, it will require other groups of workers to provide support - for example, power workers refusing to cut off the electricity to places under Occupation.

That in turn will require, at least at some point if not immediately, finance to pay the wages of those involved. David Cameron might beleive that vital services can be provided on the cheap by unpaid volunteers, but that should be no part of a socialist strategy. On the contrary, if we the workers Occupy a Library, and continue to provide the service, then we the workers will ensure that the workers we employ to provide those services are well-paid, and well treated rather than the money going to well-heeled Chief Officers and others. And we will do that be ensuring that the wages of those workers continue to be paid by the Council.
And if the Council prevents that, then we will organise a Council Tax and Rent strike to ensure that the costs of running thsoe services, which we are now paying for, do not get deducted from our Council Tax and Rent.

In fact, the very premise of Socialism is that we the workers can run all of the factories, the shops and offices, the transport and everything else better oursleves than can Capitalists be they private Capitalists or State Capitalists. If the State, be it at national or local level, cannot provide the services we need, we should simply reply, we will do it, ourselves, in fact we already are doing it ourselves, so why are we paying you? It is workers who provide the care not you. It is workers who drive the ambulances and staff the hospitals not you. It is workers who teach the kids, and maintain the schools, not you. It is workers who staff the Libraries not you. What do we pay you for? Where does our money go?

That is the answer we should give to the State and Private Capitalists who rob us of our Labour Power, and of our taxes. We already do the work, we should now simply demand the ownership and control of all those things that we the workers have built, and stop paying the Capitalists for things that are already ours.
That is what Marx meant by workers "self-government", not something consigned to some distant era after the revolution, but here and now, workers taking over the ownership of shops, factories and offices, establishing Workers Co-operative Property, and demonstrating in practice that they can do it more efficiently, more humanely, and more rationally than any Capitalist. We should not respond to the Liberal-Tories Cuts and privatisation programme by simply being "anti-Cuts", or "anti-privatisation", we have seen where that leads with "anti-imperialism", it leads to accepting lesser-evils, and some of those lesser-evils are pretty evil themselves. We should respond by being "pro-Socialist", we should begin to build socialist alternatives to the failures of both private and State Capitalism. The workers in Egypt are showing how quickly something positive can develop.

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