The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 16th February 2018

Repossessing our utilities and services

THE LABOUR Party held a conference in London last Saturday on Alternative Models of Ownership — a debate about the nuts and bolts of taking our privatised utilities and services back into public ownership, and doing it in such a way that a future Tory government would find it impossible to re-privatise them.

The neo-liberal policies that set off a plague of privatisations all around the globe have now shown themselves up as destroyers of public services and utilities. Their supporters claimed that they would be infinitely more efficient than the “bureaucratic” nationalised industries and would at the same time deliver unlimited wealth to millions of shareholders from all walks of life.

But it did not take long for the shares in British Telecom and British Gas and the council homes bought by their long-term tenants to get bought up by speculators and accumulate in the hands of the already wealthy venture capitalists, leaving the working-class share buyers and council tenants out in the cold.

Predictably it was impossible to run these industries more efficiently and at the same time pay shareholders generous dividends. Over and over again they have had to be bailed out by taxpayers because the Government could not allow these services to fail completely in a civilised society.

At the same time, the workers who had had their jobs transferred to the private-sector faced pay cuts, job cuts and pension cuts. The TUPE [Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)] regulations that were supposed to protect the workers were full of loopholes.

Then came the Private finance Initiative (Pfi), transferring out schools, hospitals and other public buildings into private hands and loading them with impossible debt.

The venture capitalists have drained our public services dry, taken the bailouts and, like Carillion, gone, leaving us with broken services and a Government up to its eyeballs in debt. So, renationalisation is once again regarded as an option. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described it as a political and economic necessity.

The possibility of a new general election at any moment means that Labour is wise to be working on plans for renationalisation, which, McDonnell says, will avoid the mistakes of the post Second World War nationalisations.

He wants to see the railways and water supplies run by bodies involving the workers in these industries and the general public users of these services. He is confident that it is the existing workers who know best how to run these services efficiently and they must be democratically accountable to the people who use them.

The right-wing media have attacked the renationalisation plans as impossibly expensive. But McDonnell plans to pay off the current shareholders with Government bonds. These bonds will be redeemable when the services have been restored, reorganised and are once again generating more money than they are receiving. “We will halt the cuts, restore services and pay for all day-to-day expenditure from the Treasury. But for new investment we will issue bonds that will be bought back when the services are on their feet again and productive.

McDonnell also intends to fund co-operatives to run things, working with local authorities to restore their services from the ravages of the cuts.

It’s not a perfect plan — it is doubtful that any financial structures would be totally protected from predatory future Tory governments. Even the old mutual building societies were corrupted — and indeed The Co-operative Bank itself. But it’s way, way better than any other option available now — better than any prospect we could have dreamed of three years ago.

The only real defence against re-privatisation would be a complete change of the whole state system and putting the organised working class fully in charge of a newly constructed workers’ state.

One thing that is certain is that if it is to be implemented the Corbyn-led Labour government will need a really big majority. It would be a disaster if Corbyn had to rely on the Liberal Democrats or Scots Nationalists to govern.

Theresa May’s government is hopelessly weak and lacks real power, and there are no Tories queuing up to step in her shoes under current circumstances. So, there could be an election at any time. Or the Tories could limp along, leaving a trail of further economic damage for the next four years. Most people expect May to quit either this autumn with the parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal or soon after — early next year.

The Labour leadership, confident, relaxed and now with a well-thought out, popular plan, stands a very good chance of getting the big majority it will need.