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As Syriza win on an anti-austerity platform in Greece, Labour MPs seek a change in direction here

SYRIZA Labour logoAs Syriza wins a remarkable victory in Greece on a platform of ending austerity and greater state intervention in the economy, fifteen Labour MPs have today expressed concerns about elements of Labour’s policy agenda, and proposed a change of course in three key areas. They have issued a statement calling for an alternative to austerity, for public ownership of the railways and for a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace.

Michael Meacher – who co-ordinated the statement – said:

Jobs and growth are vitally needed rather than prolonged austerity as the best means both to cut the deficit fastest and to give hope to our people. Public ownership is urgently needed to reverse failed privatisations, and the railways should lead the way to a new perspective of the crucial role of the public sector. And an enhanced role for the trade unions is strongly needed both to promote economic partnership in our workplaces and to reverse the extreme inequality now so badly disfiguring our society”.

Here’s the statement in full:

1  An alternative to the continuation of austerity and spending cuts till 2019-20

All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20, even though wages have already fallen 8% in real terms, business investment is still below pre-crash levels, unemployment is still 2million, the trade deficit in manufactured goods at over £100bn is now the largest in modern history, and household debt is now over £2trillion and still rising.

The Tories want to continue with these cuts because it gives them political cover to achieve their real objective which is to shrink the State and squeeze the public sector back to where it was in the 1930s.

It isn’t even as though the deficit is being reduced by these savage cuts. Because the reduction in the government’s tax revenues as a result of shrinking incomes exceed the spending cuts, the deficit (which is still nearly £100bn) is likely to rise, not fall, in 2014-15 and in future years.

There is an alternative way out of endless austerity. We need public investment to kickstart the economy out of faltering growth and to generate real job creation and rising incomes.

It can readily be funded. With interest rates at 0.5%, a £30bn investment package can be financed for just £150m a year, enough to create more than a million real jobs within 2-3 years. And even without any increase in public borrowing at all, the same sum could equally be funded either through the two banks which are already in public ownership, or through printing money (quantitative easing) to be used directly for industrial investment rather than for bond-buying by the banks as hitherto, or through taxing the ultra-rich by a special levy.

2  Returning rail franchises when expired to public ownership rather than subjecting them to competition

The essence of rail reform must be to reverse fragmentation, to reintegrate the system under public ownership, and to run it in the public interest. At present Britain has the highest fares in Europe. The additional costs of privatisation to public funds are estimated at more than £11bn, or around £1.2bn a year, so that the costs to the taxpayer are now three times as much as under British Rail.

Since 2010 rail fares have increased 25%, yet at the same time more than £200m a year has been paid out in dividends to shareholders or overseas state-owned rail companies which now hold two-thirds of the current rail franchises. Over 80% of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.

The most obvious and simplest way to achieve this is by letting the rail franchises expire and then taking them back into public ownership at no cost whatever to the taxpayer. To subject them to a public bidding competition with private bidders is not only wholly unnecessary but sends out the wrong signals, as though we’re not confident of our own ideology. The Tories certainly didn’t offer a competitive option when they forced through privatisation

Anyway, the franchise process, so far from being economic, encourages the gaming of wildly optimistic passenger number projections and this, combined with huge legal contract complexity which is bureaucratic and wasteful both in time and money (except for the lawyers and accountants), has led in the past to franchise failures and operating chaos, most notably on the East and West Coast lines. From past experience public ownership has consistently worked better, and we should not gratuitously throw obstacles in our own path in getting there.

3  The need for the restoration of collective bargaining and employment rights as a check against excessive corporate power

When the Thatcher government came to office in 1979, 82% of workers in the UK had their main terms and conditions determined by a union-negotiated collective agreement.  The latest figures now show that the coverage is down to just 23%. One very significant result is that the share of national income going to salaries and wages has fallen dramatically from 65% in 1980 to 53% in 2012 – a loss to employees of some £180bn!

This has happened partly from the collapse in trade union membership from 55% of the workforce in 1979 to 23% in 2012. But it has also happened partly as a result of the anti-trade union laws introduced in the 1980-90s and partly because the state has withdrawn support for collective bargaining as part of the free market ideology of de-regulation of all markets, including the labour market. It is somewhat ironic however that de-regulation of the labour market requires the tightest regulation of one of the key players in that market, the trade union movement.

An incoming Labour government should choose to enhance the role of trade unions because trade union rights are human rights, a trade union presence creates more just and equal workplaces, and trade union collective bargaining is more redistributive than statutory wage setting and will assist on the road from austerity. We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.

Diane Abbott
Dave Anderson
Katy Clark
Jeremy Corbyn
Fabian Hamilton
Kelvin Hopkins
Ian Lavery
John McDonnell
Michael Meacher
Ian Mearns
Grahame Morris
Linda Riordan
Steve Rotherham
Jim Sheridan
Chris Williamson

9 Comments

  1. Peter Rowlands says:

    It is clear that unless there is a move in the direction indicated by the statement there is a danger of two groups not voting Labour in sufficient quantity to ensure victory. The first are ex Lib-Dem voters , left wing and middle class, who came over to Labour after 2010 but are now increasingly attracted by the Greens. The second are Labour’s traditional supporters in the working class who went to the Tories or didn’t vote in 2010, and some of whom are now attracted by UKIP.These are the groups that Labour must win, rather than the centre ground which Blair and Progress say we must focus on. In fact it was the AB and C1 social groups whose vote held up best for Labour in 2010, and as the Tories have moved significantly to the right since then that is unlikely to change.

  2. Barry Ewart says:

    Good points all of which I support as a Labour member. Could have democratic public ownership of rail (which could be allowed to break even) with staff electing boards and communities having a say. Should also have mail publicly owned. Could have some publicly owned banks, public utilities, pharmaceutical industry, some airlines (les seats and more comfort for passengers plus crèches in the sky) and all run on democratic models but with utilities could pay a community dividend to customers which could be used against bills to address fuel poverty or taken as money but people would feel they were theirs! Shame this only coming from 15 Labour MPs when it should come from the majority. I am proud to say – well done Syriza!

  3. Rod says:

    The statement is merely a stunt intended to prevent Left waverers from abandoning Labour.

    Of course, there isn’t any chance of Labour becoming an anti-austerity party.

    FFS – Labour supports TTIP and austerity while opposing public ownership. And has begun the process of ending the collective link to trade unions.

    Welcome to the Lib Dems Mk2.

  4. David Pavett says:

    I agree with the statement by the 15 MPs. I also agree with Peter Rowlands that without such policies Labour is likely to lose votes to the groups he mentions.

    But let’s be realistic. Jon and Peter both know that Labour is not going to adopt these policies in the next three months. Just 15 MPs were prepared to sign the statement. That is 6% of the PLP. Doesn’t that rather make the point?

    And as for the Syriza context Ed Miliband’s statement on their dramatic victory was so non-committal that it didn’t even reach luke-warm:

    Just like our elections are a matter for the people of this country, so who the Greek people elect is a decision for them.

    It is the responsibility of the British government to work with the elected government of Greece for the good of Britain and Europe and not to play politics.

    And it is up to each country to choose its own path on how to deal with the economic and social challenges they face.

    We have set out our path for Britain: to make sure our country is fairer and more prosperous and balance the books.

    Caroline Lucas for the Greens, on the other hand, tweeted

    ““Hope has won” – inspired by huge vote for #Syriza – now EU must listen to people & economists & respond with debt forgivenesss & support”.

  5. Jon Lansman says:

    David: It is true that we cannot expect Labour to change its policis this side of the election. On the Today programme this morning, he said:
    Mr Miliband rejected a call from 15 Labour MPs to rethink his plans to cut the deficit in the wake of the success of Syriza in Greece.

    There’re big economic and social challenges here. We can turn things around, we can make this country work again for working people, pushing working people first, that’s what this election is about for Labour – raising the minimum wage, more opportunity for our young people, sorting out the NHS.

    We also need to pay down the deficit, we need to balance the books – that is important and we set out a plan to do that. Not to go back to the 1930s in terms of public spending as a share of national income, as the Conservatives want to do, but a plan to pay down the deficit. And with tax changes like the mansion tax we’ve announced which are important for raising resources, spending reductions, but also – really important – if we run the economy in a different way, if we have a higher-wage, higher-skill economy, that is the way we pay down the deficit.”

    But the real point of this exercise is to let the public know that there are Labour MPs who will oppose austerity and argue for what needs to be done, and they will do so both inside the party and in Parliament.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Jon, thanks for the reply.
      I am not clear about the point of your Miliband quote which is a repetition of the usual rhetorical mush and confusion.
      I agree that it is important to let people know that there are Labour MPs actively opposing austerity. My point though is that there are pathetically few of them.
      The struggle between the conformist right, ever prepared to adapt to capitalism’s current needs, and the left, looking for a radical change in the direction of socialism, has run through the history of the Labour Party for more than 100 years. As I see it, that socialist voice in the Party is now weaker than ever before. Am I wrong about that?
      If Miliband falls at the next election we all know, do we not, that Progress will use that to tighten its already strong hold on the Party.
      I depress myself saying these things but facing the reality of one’s situation is surely a pre-condition for changing it for the better.

  6. Robert says:

    Theses are the 15 who we have deemed to be the left I’ve counted another six who maybe just about left leaning.

    Then you look at the Progress members the people who we think of being to the right and my god it’s most of the labour movement within the party people like Alexander reeves Miliband David and all the others including Mandy Blair.

    Blair hand picked his MPs mine was his secretary who was dropped into the seat with the parachute deployed. Other were also hand picked and then you have the once who turned like Prescott to the left went to the right now is between the two.

    The fact is labour as a socialist left wing party is as dead the leader Miliband is about as left wing as my bloody cat is. Miliband is supposed to take this party to the left the same bloke who attacked the Union a few months before an election knowing he would lose Millions, he also cannot say working class he lives off the statement working people or hard working, when was the last time he said pensioners for example or welfare state, except to tell us it’s being hammered.

    The NHS is now rolled out in the hope that people will believe it safe with him, but he’s not running labour these days Progress is.

    A left wing Miliband who attacked the Unions for daring to put up people who fight Progress candidates he actually wanted to kick them out and a voice in the back ground said I’ll back you of course it was Blair.
    I hope the Green’s can move to the left somebody has to.

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