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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

The shape of things to come

by New Worker correspondent

TUESDAY saw Her Majesty the Queen read out her 67th state opening of Parliament speech, helpfully written out for her this time by Boris Johnson fresh from his glorious triumph in Hartlepool. So far we know little more than the titles of the Bills, and little or nothing of the contents. As they are Tory Bills, the contents of even the most promising are likely to turn out to be disappointing when the small print is examined.

Equally significant is what is not on the shopping list. Quick off the mark was Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for legal and politics, who denounced that fact that “the prime minister has failed to use this opportunity to outlaw fire and rehire”. This omission comes despite earlier vague Government promises to do something about the recent spate of fire and rehire attacks by employers.

He went on to say: “Instead of desperately needed protection from what the government itself calls a bully boy practice, all workers will get from Boris Johnson’s government are warm words. But with one in 10 working people being told take a massive pay cut or take a hike, we will keep hounding the Tories on this until they act to end fire and rehire.” Those who voted Tory in the north east at the General Election ought to ask themselves if they expected anything different. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey took aim more generally, saying: “This Queen’s speech reveals the nasty, repressive side of this government.”

In particular, he deplored the Electoral Integrity Bill that, whilst designed to “ensure the integrity of elections”, in effect “could see millions of young and poor people lose their vote alongside the plan to curtail the right to protest – long and dearly held in this country” due to its provision for having to show photo ID at election time.

Curiously, the same Bill contains provisions for British nationals who have lived abroad for more than 15 years to vote. This could benefit up to three million of the more than 4.3 million either working abroad or retired to sunnier climes. The abolition of the 15-year rule will be to the delight of ‘Conservatives Abroad’, who are experts at harvesting the votes of those able to afford

Mediterranean villas and who think Britain has gone to the dogs since that ‘Bolshevik’ Clement Attlee was in charge.

mixed reception

Some proposed Bills will meet with a mixed reception on the left. For instance, there is to be a High Speed Rail (Crewe–Manchester) Bill that will doubtless delight the transport unions (at least in private) and Unite the union, who never say no to the prospect of any construction jobs.

Transport Union RMT accused the Government of deceiving the public and transport workers for not declaring their planned cuts agenda across rail and bus sectors. It points out that Network Rail are presently planning drastic cuts that will result in thousands of job losses by this September and a wholescale dilution of safety standards, including a halving the frequency of safety critical maintenance work.

Newly elected RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “This Queen’s Speech was the Government’s opportunity to commit to a historic mass investment in public transport to drive our country forward out of the COVID-19 crisis whilst leading in the fight against climate change in year of the vital COP26 conference, instead we’ve got a paper-thin speech that masks the reality of their cuts agenda across our railways and bus sectors.”

He added that: “This Queen’s Speech confirms where this Government’s priorities lie, and it clearly isn’t with passenger interests and the heroic key transport workers that have kept our country moving throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Also disappointed was Unison general secretary Christina McAnea, who deplored the Health and Care Bill by saying: “The government cannot continue with empty words. Ministers must stop putting off the inevitable. It’s time for action, and a radical plan to fix the broken care sector,” adding that: “COVID has exposed the desperate and fragile state of social care. Those who rely on care and their families are being constantly let down, and lowly paid staff feel undervalued and ignored.”

The TUC has also deplored the fact that although in 2019 the government promised that it would bring forward a new Employment Bill to improve people’s rights at work, this has, surprise, surprise, not been done.

rowed back

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We can’t build back better from this crisis unless we improve pay and conditions at work. But the government has rowed back on its promise boost to workers’ rights by not bringing forward its long overdue employment bill.

“This pandemic has brutally exposed the terrible working conditions and insecurity many of our key workers in retail, care, and delivery face. We need action now to deal with the scourge of insecure work – not more dithering and delay.”

beggars belief

Turning to the lack of detailed proposals for social care, she said: “It beggars belief that the government still hasn’t come forward with a proper plan for fixing the crisis in social care. The cost of inaction is failing those who rely on the care system and those who work within it.”

She concluded by observing of the adult skills plan, that: “Upskilling and retraining is vital to productivity. But we won’t level up this country by saddling workers with lifelong debt.

“The government must invest now for the future, and work with unions on a new skills system.”

The main teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), were unimpressed by Government proposals. Kevin Courtney, NEU’s Joint General Secretary, said that: “Boris Johnson is performing his usual trick of re-announcing and repackaging previous announcements, in the hope no one will notice the general lack of new money.”

In particular, he pointed out that the National Tutoring Programme, part of the Government’s recovery plan announced in February, will amount to just £200 million, and the £302 million boost to the Pupil Premium, announced at the same time, is well short of the £750 million recommended by the Sutton Trust. This, he said, “makes a mockery of the Government’s efforts today to talk tough on child poverty. It can scarcely be described as ‘levelling up’.”

Instead, the union demanded proper investment in education to enable children and young people to recover, pointing out that the Government offers £250 per pupil compared with £2,500 in the Netherlands and £1,600 in the USA.

Commenting on the proposed Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, he welcomed a focus on post-16 education, but warned that: “Unless there is sufficient funding in place the realisation of the Government’s ambition of high-quality training and a comprehensive offer to young people will simply not happen.”

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary of shopworkers Union USDAW, said: “Today is a missed opportunity to reward the millions of low-paid workers who provided essential services to help ensure the country is fed, healthy and safe throughout the coronavirus pandemic. By not delivering on the Conservative manifesto promise of an Employment Bill, the Government is failing to ‘build back better’ as we drift back to pre-COVID inequalities and injustices.

“We need a New Deal for Workers: a minimum wage of at least £10 per hour, an end to insecure employment, an action to ensure that retail jobs are no longer underpaid and undervalued.

“The legislative programme announced today goes nowhere near delivering on the Prime Minister’s promises to ‘levelling up’ and to ‘build back better’. Today shows that they are just empty soundbites and that is deeply disappointing for our members.”

Civil Service unions were not impressed either. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, noted: “The much-vaunted levelling-up agenda has been proven to be a lie for thousands of civil servants today.

“PCS members have delivered Universal Credit, the furlough scheme, kept the justice system running and made sure our borders are operating safely throughout the pandemic.

“Yet the failure to offer them a proper pay rise is a national outrage and shows the government’s own staff are not a priority, despite the key role they have played in keeping the country going. We will now consider all our options and we are not ruling out industrial action.”

The Prospect union again condemned the failure to mention the promised Employment Bill. General Secretary Mike Clancy said: “The government have repeatedly promised ‘the biggest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation’ but today that promise has been dropped with no Employment Bill and nothing on measures to increase flexible working from the Queen’s Speech.

“These new challenges require workers’ rights fit for the twenty first century, including new rights on flexible working and a Right to Disconnect from work.”

None of the unions made any mention of actually doing anything to mobilise workers about the measures they dislike, but that would be expecting too much.

Housing Neglect

Housing campaigners were not happy with the two key pieces of housing legislation announced: the Building Safety Bill and the Planning Bill. A Renters Reform Bill will also be introduced, with measures to implement the Social Housing White Paper promised, but no mention has been made of a promised Social Housing Bill listed. Survivors from the Grenfell Tower fire said they were promised reforms almost four years ago but are still to see any substantial changes. Grenfell United said they have been “deeply let down” by the Queen’s Speech.

The Planning Bill was criticised by Fiona Howie, CEO of the Town and Country Planning Association, who said it was “disappointing” in that the government’s “narrative has focused, once again, solely on housing numbers”.

Kate Henderson of the National Housing Federation pointed out another omission. She said it was “good to see this government put housing high up the political agenda” – but added disappointment to see “no new update today on who will pay for all immediate building safety works, such as replacing cladding, in social housing”.

“Charitable housing associations are diverting billions of pounds away from improving existing social homes and have been forced to cancel the building of thousands of new ones to cover these costs. Meanwhile, homeowners are left picking up huge bills,” she said.

She also warned that the Planning Bill will axe Section 106, which she said was “the single biggest contributor to building new affordable homes”.