Friday, 29 February 2008

Stop the cuts, stop the attacks on the poor

Yesterday, the Government announced a further 12,000 job cuts in the DWP - on top of the 30,000 that have already happened in the past three years. These public sector jobs and funds will simply be diverted to the private sector who will take over the role of getting people back into work - and offered bonuses of up to £50,000 if they get people back into work - funded by job cuts and benefit sanctions.

The measures announced are more to do with the Government's neo-Thatcherite obsession with attacking the poor and privatising public services, than with a genuine attempt to tackle poverty.

Allowing private companies to profiteer at the expense of the benefits of the unemployed clearly demonstrates Gordon Brown is guided by a different moral compass than the rest of the labour movement.

Over the coming weeks and months I will standing in solidarity on picket lines with PCS members to resist these cuts

Friday, 22 February 2008

No Backing Off on the Agency Workers Bill

Yesterday I sent this letter to a range of trade union general secretaries in an attempt to urge them to hold firm in negotiations with Gordon Brown on the Agency Workers Bill to be debated in Parliament today. This Bill is the least the Government could do to prevent the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable workers in our society. I urge all trade unionists to do all they can to ensure that their union maintains the pressure for action on the Government otherwise we will lose the opportunity for another decade.

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Re: Agency Workers Bill

I am writing on the eve of the debate on the Agency Workers Bill. I understand from Andrew Miller MP that trade union general secretaries are meeting the Prime Minister on Monday to discuss the issue of agency workers in the light of the progress this Bill.

I fully support the Bill and I am confident that we can marshall sufficient forces tomorrow to secure a second reading of the Bill.

As you will be aware from various talks and media briefings, it is clear that as a result of lobbying by the CBI the Prime Minister is seeking to establish a commission of inquiry to examine the need for legislation involving representatives from the CBI and TUC.

I am firmly of the view that the need for legislation to protect agency and temporary workers has already been proved and that there has been too long a delay by the Government in acting to protect these vulnerable workers. For this reason I believe the proposal to establish a commission should be rejected and the Prime Minister should be urged to move swiftly to legislation using the Miller private members bill as the basis for this legislation.

However if the Prime Minister remains intransigent and insists upon establishing a commission I would urge that as a minimum condition the commission must be set up and report during the period in which the Parliamentary Bill Committee considering the Miller Bill is sitting so that any amendments to the Bill resulting from the commissions’ deliberations could be taken at report stage of the Bill and that Royal Assent to the Bill should be guaranteed by the end of the current session, that is no later than October this year. In addition the terms of reference of any commission must reflect that the contents of the Miller Bill are the absolute minimum acceptable to the Labour and trade union movement.

If the Prime Minister refuses to accept this compromise approach we should proceed with the Bill as far as possible through its Parliamentary stages, whilst mounting a ferocious campaign throughout our movement and within the wider community calling Ministers and MPs to account.



McDonnell MP"

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Northern Rock's missing Granite

I think that I was the first MP to call for the nationalisation of Northern Rock, although that is hardly surprising because I have been calling for the nationalisation of the financial sector for 30 years or more. Yet at last night's debate on the bill to nationalise, I noticed a gaping hole in the scope of this legislation.

When Northern Rock was in trouble last autumn, tax researchers like Richard Murphy exposed the array of special investment vehicles, special purpose vehicles, offshore trusts and other exotic financial models that were used by all banks to dodge tax, hide liabilities and generally use every trick in the book to maximise profit in the short term.

One series of offshore trusts associated with Northern Rock were called Granite (presumably a witty pun on the Rock bank). Granite holds approximately 40% of Northern Rock's assets, around £40bn. Yesterday, the Treasury minister told the house that "Granite is and has always been a separate legal entity".

Let's look at that: Northern Rock does not own Granite, that's true. It is however, wholly responsible for it: it's officially "on" its balance sheet in its accounts. But it is legally "off" its balance sheet when it comes to getting hold of its assets as the basis for the security of the sums owed the Treasury.

Granite is based in Jersey, an offshore tax haven where Northern Rock's best assets sit outside the reach of taxpayers. So the bill to nationalise Northern Rock will, in fact, be nationalising only dodgy debt, which will increase the burden on the taxpayer and put at risk the jobs of Northern Rock workers. The sad truth is that by failing to regulate the financial sector adequately, the government has been hoist by its own neoliberal petard. The participants in this tax dodge will be allowed to walk away with millions, when workers may lose their jobs and the taxpayer risk billions.

People will be asking, "how can the government have got us into this state of affairs?" the answer is that a dogmatic belief in markets has become government policy. New Labour has deregulated, liberalised and privatised - but every time the private sector fails it is the taxpayer who pays.

Northern Rock is not an epoch shift back to old Labour, but a continuation of New Labour's failed market experiment: we part-privatised the tube, it failed, and the taxpayer is currently picking up a £2bn bill; the nuclear industry was bailed out by the taxpayer a few years ago when British Energy disintegrated, and we nationalised nuclear waste (the unprofitable bit), which will cost the taxpayer £75bn; and now Northern Rock.

I made the case for public ownership in Another World is Possible - a manifesto for 21st-century socialism - as it is the most rational approach for managing resources in the long-term interest of the entire community. In the absence of that, we need strong regulation - and in the absence of that, we will continue to use public money to bail out private failure.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Crunch Reached on Agency Workers Bill and Future of Trade Unions Role in New Labour

Next Friday we reach the crunch date in Parliament on the Agency Workers Bill. For years New Labour has blocked every attempt so far through European legislation and in the UK Parliament to introduce legislation to give agency workers the same protections in law as other workers. This has meant not only that agency workers have become the victims of often grotesque exploitation but also that they have been used by ruthless employers to undercut the wages and conditions of other workers.

Last year Government ministers blocked my Trade Union Freedom Bill which would have given all workers basic trade union rights. This week the Government is attempting to undermine the Agency Workers Bill which is scheduled for debate as a private members bill on Friday. This time the Government is trying to prevent a vote on the Bill by offering a sop of a deal it has cooked up with the employers' CBI, proposing to set up a commission of inquiry "to review the rights of temporary and agency workers."

This is a typical New Labour grubby tactic aimed at stalling, preventing or at the last ditch watering down the effectiveness of any legislation. We have had years to study the rights of agency and temporary workers and years of exposing the exploitation they face.

In the Labour anad Trade Union movement we have been waiting over a decade for the Government to introduce basic trade union rights for these vulnerable workers who are mostly women and migrant workers. Addressing this issue was a core commitment in the famous Warwick agreement between the unions and New Labour.

To renege on this commitment once again will call into question in the minds of many trade unionists why their trade union remains affiliated to New Labour. For many Labour Party members the creation of the alliance between the New Labour leadership of Gordon Brown and unscrupulous employers to undermine this legislation begs the question why Brown and his followers are in the Labour Party. If they want to serve as the electoral voice of big business they should have the honesty to leave Labour and set up their own pro business party.

The debate over the Agency Workers Bill has become critical not only to the future of these vulnerable workers but also potentially is becoming a critically important test for the future of trade unions within New Labour and for the future of the Labour Party itself.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Attack poverty, not the poor

Today I issued the following press release:

In a week where new Work & Pensions Secretary James Purnell, welfare reform adviser David Freud and now Housing Minister Caroline Flint have all lined up to threaten the poor, reports on inequality and fuel poverty paint another picture.

John McDonnell MP, Chair of the Labour Representation Committee, said:

"The Government should attack poverty and not the poor. As the fuel poverty report reveals that one in six households is now living in fuel poverty, the Government seems focused on only demonising and punishing the most vulnerable.

"Instead of attacking poverty, the Government's Housing Minister has launcged another attack on the poor. A succession of statements by Purnell, Freud and now Flint demonstrate the Government is cut off from the reality of the poverty and insecurity people face in our community.

"Sanctions and threats already exist within the benefits system, so to threaten to make people homeless is more brutal than anything we've seen since the end of the Poor Law. The new generation of Ministers and advisers appear to be living up to the mantle of Thatcher's children. What next? Will it be the novel idea of the workhouse?"