The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 20th March 2009

Remembering Karl Marx at Highgate

Remembering Karl Marx at Highgate...

Lead Article  


by Caroline Colebrook

THE GOVERNMENT has launched an underhanded attack on the equality and employment rights of millions of vulnerable workers in answer to demands from bosses who say they can't afford it during the slump.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last Monday told the Government that the current economic climate is too fragile to demand that equal pay reviews should be imposed on employers. Instead of standing up for the rights of vulnerable workers it is acting for the Government and big business by keeping a lid on demands for too-long delayed equal rights.

Currently women's pay is on average 17 per cent less than mens and the gap is widening, making nonsense of the equal pay act that was passed over four decades ago.

The civil service union PCS last week also drew attention to cuts that the EHRC is making to its helplines, which provide a service for vulnerable workers seeking advice on equality issues. The Manchester helpline is to be axed while those based in Cardiff, Glasgow and Birmingham will be slimmed down and 50 jobs will go.


The move comes at a time when calls to the helpline are increasing due to the recession. Despite repeated representations from the union, the Manchester helpline, which handled over 50,000 enquiries last year from members of the public facing discrimination, goes this autumn. This, PCS warns, would undermine key government initiatives.

PCS national vice-president, Sue Bond said: "This is a key frontline service that provides support and advice for people who face discrimination in all its forms in every walk of life.

"It makes no sense to cut helpline posts at a time when call volumes are increasing, The EHRC need to think again and recognise that the service skilled and professional staff deliver is too valuable to downsize."

Meanwhile Peter Mandelson has decided to outsource another vital Government helpline for workers facing employment rights violations.

The move to outsource the new single enforcement hotline, which includes advice on the national minimum wage, comes despite opposition from the TUC, PCS and MPs.

single hotline

The formation of a single hotline for vulnerable workers brings together helplines for the national minimum wage, health and safety, gangmasters, employment agencies and the agricultural minimum wage. Many fear that lumping so many issues under one umbrella ? as with equality issues ? will allow the Government to dilute the service to each issue and in fact serve to curb legal demands from workers and act on behalf of the bosses.

PCS warns that outsourcing the new hotline could fail vulnerable workers, with providers lacking current staff's expertise and links with enforcement bodies.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "The important work of the vulnerable workers enforcement forum risks being undermined by the outsourcing of a key helpline that will cover the minimum wage and employment rights.

"We have major concerns about the lack of full consultation on these plans and doubt whether contractors have the expertise to deliver the new unified helpline.

"There is a danger that providers will cut costs, resulting in the help and support for vulnerable workers being read from a script in some distant call centre.

"As the recession bites, vulnerable workers are most at risk of being exploited. Support, advice and enforcement cannot be done on the cheap and we urge Lord Mandelson to think again and keep the helpline in-house."

TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, added: "I am deeply disappointed that yet again the Government is turning to the private sector to deliver a crucial public function.

real support

"The most vulnerable workers need real support and advice and this helpline could have been effectively delivered by dedicated public servants."

Once again workers must face the reality that a bourgeois state will give them no protection against the greed and oppression of the ruling class and that their only real protection is in solidarity with each other.

As the ruling class sharpens its claws to suppress workers' demands, so the workers must sharpen their union structures to defend themselves.


A people's bank
THE POSTAL WORKERS union and a number of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs are calling for a new bank run by the existing post offices to meet the needs of small businesses hit by the credit crunch that would also offers loans and mortgages to the three million-odd workers who do not have accounts with the high street banks.

The Government is considering the idea which would breathe new life into the post offices, create some 11,000 new jobs, and fill the gap left after the privatisation of the Post Office Girobank in the 1980s. It's a good idea and one which would pump real money into maintaining the post offices that are a vital part of the community up and down the country.

"The Post Bank answers the needs of the financially excluded and will appeal to many in this time of economic uncertainty," says Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communications Workers Union. "The Post Bank will be a true people's bank, meeting the needs of society and business alike, and will bring crucial security to the post office network".

But the main demand has to be the establishment of a national state bank through the nationalisation and rationalisation of all the banks on the high street. The Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS-Lloyds TSB have already been partially taken over to stave off their complete collapse. It seems only a matter of time before the others come under the wing of the State. The intention, however, is simply to hold the State's stake in the banking market for the duration of the slump and then sell off its shares on the open market when and if the "upturn" comes.

This is clearly nonsense. Taxpayers' money, now and for years to come, has been pledged in billions to bail-out the high street banks. That money must be used to create a banking system that provides a genuine service to the people; one that returns its profits to the State for investment and one that is accountable to Parliament for its actions.


The people's drinking

Meanwhile the Government is considering calls from the medical establishment for a minimum price for alcohol to reduce "binge drinking" and sickness due to alcohol abuse.

Drink has always been a problem for working people and the tendency to hit the bottle during times of trouble is understandable. But the problem is partly that of the Government's own making and the answer isn't simply to target the poor by hiking up the price of alcohol.

Tony Blair liked to flaunt his supposed Christian beliefs in public but it didn't stop him presiding over the virtual abolition of all controls on drinking hours during his terms of office. Following the Tory lead in abolishing the Sunday laws New Labour licensed the round-the-clock drinking which is a far greater problem than the availability of cheap booze in the supermarkets.

The simplest solution would be a return to the controls that existed in the 1970s under the Wilson and Callaghan Labour Governments and the restoration of the Sunday laws. This would restrict the sale of alcohol to off-licenses, pubs, restaurants and hotels and curtail its sale during the week and more so on Sundays. It would also restore Sunday's position as a permanent rest-day with double-time plus for those obliged to work it.

Smoking has been dramatically reduced by banning it in all enclosed places apart from the home. While no one apart from the temperance crowd seriously proposes prohibition, a return to the licensing laws that prevailed for the best part of the last century would make a big dent in the consumption of alcohol.