Tim Roache writes about the exploitation of agency workers

Tim Roache


We live in exciting times as socialists in Britain, where the arguments we have made, for example, about the need for social justice, employment rights, and an investment led economic recovery, have been thrust into the mainstream by Jeremy Corbyn’s victory.

The Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) is a think tank established in 2012 to act as a hub for left debate and discussion; and has benefitted from both trade unions support, and also a very impressive set of experts on the advisory panel. Class have produced – for example – an excellent briefing on the Tories proposed Trade Union bill, and a useful pamphlet on immigration. The type of research and popularisation of left ideas which Class is engaged with now has far greater potential, in conjunction with the Corbyn led Labour Party, than it did previously, and should be supported.

The elected chair of Class is Tim Roache, who is also Regional Secretary of Yorkshire & North Derbyshire Region of the GMB, and is currently standing as candidate for General Secretary of the union. Ballot papers will be going out to members shortly along with the GMB’s magazine.

I was delighted to see an excellent blog post by Tim on the Class website about the exploitation of agency workers in the Marks and Spencer UK supply chain, through abuse of the so-called Swedish Derogation, an issue that we have been campaigning about in Swindon. as Tim explains:

Over 75% of the workers at M & S Swindon are agency workers. The pay rates range from £8.57 an hour down to £6.50, even for workers who are stood side by side doing identical jobs.

There’s quite a supply chain to follow as well. The Swindon distribution centre, which is owned by M & S, is used to supply their stores. But M & S contract out the running of the facility to DHL. DHL in turn contract recruitment agency 24-7 to provide agency workers, who are given employment contracts in the name of Tempay Ltd – which is registered at the same address as 24-7.

In order to get round the Agency Workers Regulations, Tempay/24-7 have their workers on 7 hour a week permanent contracts. We all know what comes next. The workers who are contracted for 7 hours are routinely working a full 37 hours a week, in reality for DHL and M & S even though they are counted as permanent employees of Tempay when it comes to their pay. Many have been stuck in this trap for years, but because their contract is permanent, the Swedish Derogation applies.

Even worse, because only the 7 hours a week are guaranteed, the company can remove the offer of work at any time. They can even turn staff away when turn up for work at what they thought was the start of their shift, and leave them out of pocket for the week.

With a global revenue topping £10bn it’s hardly like M & S can’t afford to do the right thing, certainly not if we contrast the huge pay and bonus package that CEO Marc Bolland has been awarded with the plight of the Swindon workers.

M & S like to tell us about their values in their PR. They famously started out as an equal partnership between its founders, one a refugee who set up a stall with a borrowed £5. Today, they point to a Code of Ethics and Global Sourcing Principles, including respect for basic labour protections. In fact, their social and environmental programme, marketed as Plan A “because there is no Plan B” promised partnership at work and improvements for workers in the supply chain.

So they’re not just breaching the spirit of the law but of their own policies – surely what applies to overseas suppliers must apply at home. Yet the staff at Swindon are very much living in Plan B and these days, Marks gets paid less than Sparks.

That is why the GMB are now taking legal action on behalf of our members. This is a blatant misuse of the legislation to make a quick profit off the backs of a desperate, exploited workforce. It’s time to take a stand, and the GMB’s position is clear: equal pay for equal work. Nothing less will do



Corbyn’s first conference as leader proves Labour has entered a new chapter

The first Labour Party conference under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has to be considered a resounding success. In fact considering the circumstances in which it took place Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonell, played a blinder.

After just two weeks in post the newly elected Labour leader, whose election on an unprecedented mandate has been followed by a surge of new members joining the party, immediately found himself faced with a difficult political conundrum. The bulk of support for his leadership, albeit massive, is located outwith the PLP, while the bulk of opposition to it is located within the PLP.

Navigating this conundrum will be key to Corbyn’s success over the coming months, and will involve him utilising his base to bring pressure to bear on the PLP and shadow cabinet when the time is right. For despite his views on having an open debate and being willing to listen, there will have to come a point where the platform upon which he was elected must be reflected in party policy. Just as a ship cannot have a hundred captains, else it will merely sail round in circles, a potential party of government cannot be led from behind.
That said, though Jeremy is undoubtedly sincere in his intention of changing the style of leadership we have become accustomed to in our political leaders, it is hard to escape the feeling that his approach thus far is at least partly driven by his understanding that within the shadow cabinet and the PLP his authority remains weak at present. Placing a positive spin on this fact until it can be changed is therefore essential.

John McDonnell’s conference speech was a game changer. In it the new shadow chancellor planted Labour’s flag firmly on the side of working people and their long neglected needs. In so doing he announced a new and welcome chapter in the history of the party, ending the years in which it has been mired in triangulation and ideology-neutral spin.

Clamping down on corporate welfare and tax avoidance is not only eminently just, it ends the ignoble kowtowing to big business that has become entrenched in our culture. Rebooting the economy from the bottom up on the understanding that a lack of aggregate demand, measured in a crisis of under consumption among working people and the poor, is the only route to sustainable economic growth, is another essential departure from the status quo. When it comes to his intention to embark on borrowing for investment with a view to ending years of economic stagnation due to Tory austerity, this makes impeccable economic sense.

Borrowing for investment and borrowing for consumption are two entirely different things, which the shadow chancellor outlined.

A fantastic development is the creation of an economic advisory committee, consisting of some serious intellectual muscle, which will add credibility to Labour’s economic plans. The highlight of McDonnell’s speech came at the end, when he wrapped up with the words, “Another world is possible… solidarity.”

Hearing those words from a British shadow chancellor was something most of us would never have imagined. What a wonderful antidote to a tradition in which the economy has been viewed as a tyrant of the many in the interests of the few instead of a servant of the many instead of the few. It represents a truly remarkable step-change.

Jeremy’s speech was likewise immense. His core humanity and decency shone through with his reaffirmation of his determination to bring about change in the country’s political culture. Reasoned debate and argument rather than invective and personal abuse is his credo and judging by the response both within the hall and throughout the country, it is being welcomed rather than scorned.

The part of his speech which confirmed he will be no pushover was the rebuke he delivered to those who blocked the debate on Trident. In reminding conference that he has a mandate for his views on scrapping Trident, and in reaffirming his view that there is no moral or economic case for spending £100billion on renewing weapons of mass destruction, he set down a marker for a future struggle within the party.

Trident is not a deterrent to war it is a deterrent to peace. It is not about insuring Britain’s national security it is about wielding power. The money it will cost represents a horrendous waste and could be much better invested elsewhere. In addition, with his pledge to ensure that the jobs concerned will be replaced, it was disappointing to see jobs being used as a reason to oppose him on it. Politically, unless Labour falls into line with progressive opinion on Trident it will be a gift to the SNP in Scotland, ensuring that the party’s ability to regain the huge ground lost to the nationalists will be an even more difficult task than it already is.

There is no moral, ethical, or economic case for nuclear weapons in 2015. On this Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely correct.

Overall, though, it is a case of so far so good with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour. He has been personally impressive, dealing with the inordinate pressure, scrutiny, and expectation over these past few months with grace, dignity, and strength. The right wing media’s relentless attempts to undermine and smear him have rebounded. While decency in a political leader is clearly something they have trouble dealing with, thankfully the tens of thousands flocking to the party have no problem dealing with it.

On the contrary, they represent a country that is desperate for it.

Kevin Ovenden’s new book on Syriza

by Mark Perryman

For all of 2015 the world’s eyes have been on Greece. The Syriza government elected in January under the leadership of Alexis Tspiras threatened to shake up the European economic status quo with its radical, anti-austerity politics. When Syriza’s challenge to the EU was put to the Greek people in a referendum the party and its allies won a stunning 61% vote in support of Oxi, No. And then, a few days later, the Greek government under immense pressure from the EU was forced into a climbdown. Next up Syriza called and fought a second General Election in the space of less than a year with the party challenged on its left by a block of the party’s dissident MPs and members who have formed the Popular Unity Party. Against all the odds, and with a reduced turnout, Syriza won that election. An extraordinary nine months in the life of a nation and one thing is certain, the story of Greek resistance is not over yet and will continue to dominate European politics for some considerable time.

Kevin Ovenden has written a thrilling account of the background to Syriza’s rise to become the most important party of the European radical Left, its trials and tribulations in office and the vision Syriza, despite the climbdown. continues to project that another Europe is not only necessary, but possible. Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth is a must-read for all those interested in the prospects for a radical Left, at home and abroad.

Philosophy Football is immensely proud that in an act of practical solidarity we have helped fund Kevin’s unrivalled reportage from Athens in 2015, provided free for radical media across the world. Kevin’s book is in large part the product of his eyewitness account of Greece’s year of change.

Published by Pluto Books the newly revived Left Book Club’s very first book is Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

The book is available exclusively at £3 Off Just £9.99 in a special edition signed by the author from Philosophy Football

The Syrian conflict and why Putin is playing chess while the West is playing checkers

It is always a treat to listen to a British prime minister issuing diktats to other countries about the fate of their governments, especially a government that for the past four and a half years has been manning the ramparts of civilisation against barbarism.

Perhaps like his view of working people and the poor in Britain, the problem with David Cameron when it comes to foreign policy is that his brain is stuck somewhere in the 19th century. If so he needs to get himself into the 21st century sooner rather than later, because the British Empire is no more and Syria’s government is a matter for the Syrian people to decide and not a British prime minister with delusions of colonial grandeur.

In relation to recent events in Syria, Russia’s decision to provide military support for Syria can only be considered controversial or wrong if you believe that a moral equivalence exists between ISIS and the Assad government.

The prolongation of the conflict in Syria and suffering of the Syrian people is a direct result of the mendacity and perfidy that informs the West’s stance towards the region. Indeed the lack of any moral clarity, leadership, and competence on the part of Western governments has been nothing short of criminal, with scant evidence of it changing anytime soon. Only in an upside down world could any equivalence be drawn between ISIS in Syria and the Assad government. Yet this is exactly the equivalence that the West continues to make, thus hampering efforts to destroy a movement that is intent on turning the clock back in Syria to the seventh century, embracing inhuman levels of butchery and barbarity in the process.

ISIS is the Khmer Rouge of our time, holding to a similar objective of turning an entire nation into a cultural, human, and physical desert. It revels in its cruelty and bestiality, enslaves and rapes women on a grand scale, and has been allowed to grow to the point where it now constitutes a direct threat to centuries of human progress. Thus we are talking about an organisation that has no programme that can be negotiated with, nothing to offer except carnage and chaos, making its complete and total destruction a non-negotiable condition of saving millions of people from a horrific fate.

In contradistinction to ISIS the Assad government is secular, believes in modernity, and upholds the rights of minorities, both Muslim and non-Muslim. More crucially, regardless of the huge campaign of demonisation that has been unleashed against it in the West, it retains the significant support of a large section of the Syrian people, who understand more than any Western diplomat, politician, or ideologue the nature of the struggle they have been engulfed in these past four and half years.

Yet just as when it came to Saddam Hussein and Iraq, along with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, we are being bombarded with the inference that Syria consists of one man in the shape of its leader. This narrative is employed to condition and shape domestic public opinion when it comes to currying support for seeing said leader’s removal, even though the empirical evidence of Iraq and Libya’s descent into an abyss of sectarian violence, mayhem, and societal collapse is undeniable in this regard.

Assad’s crime is not that he is a dictator or that he is oppressing his own people, as his detractors would have us believe – else why on earth does the West count among its closest regional allies Saudi Arabia, arguably the most corrupt, venal, and barbaric regime in the world today? The problem with the Assad government in Syria is that it has long been marked for regime change as a pole of resistance to a US hegemonic agenda going back to the Bush administration. It is an agenda currently being driven most vigorously by US allies in the shape of Israel, the aforementioned Saudis, and Turkey in pursuit of their own interests, which are self evidently inimical to stability and any prospect of peace and regional security.

There is no and never has been a fully formed liberal democracy waiting in the wings to take over in Syria, just as there wasn’t in Iraq or Libya when it came to either Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. But even so, like a blind man groping and lurching around a china shop, the West remains attached to a blinkered strategy that only succeeds in sowing mayhem with each step it takes in pursuit of it.

Russia’s rational and coherent alternative stands in marked contrast. President Putin has been calling for an international coalition to combat terrorism and extremism for some years now and been continually rebuffed. He has also been calling for a diplomatic and political solution to the conflict in Syria, but again those efforts have been continually thwarted by Western leaders whose obduracy is literally killing people, in addition to creating the worst refugee crisis the world has seen since the Second World War.

Russia’s refusal to relinquish its support for Syria, despite coming under huge pressure to do so, and instead to increase that support demonstrates commendable principle and courage given the risks involved. It will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the ground, raising the morale of the Syrian Arab Army and the Syrian people, whose courage and tenacity has been extraordinary. Not only have they resisted an invasion of the country by thousands of foreign extremists and jihadists, they have done so in the teeth of massive external pressure from the West throughout.

The barbarians are at the gates and Russia alone is heeding the call to intervene in order to save not just the Syrian government or Syria, but civilisation itself.

Corbynomics and balanced budgets

It has been a stormingly successful two weeks for Jeremy Corbyn, and for the Labour Party. We have seen membership growth, not only more members, but a membership more representative of the broader population, younger and more gender balanced. We have a majority of women in the shadow cabinet for the first time ever, we have seen Jeremy being able to assemble a front bench team reflecting the talents and views across the whole party.

There are certainly challenges ahead. The changes to the leadership election process from the Collins Review saw the number of trade unionists voting in the leadership election decline dramatically to roughly only 3% of the numbers affiliated, and the mandate for the scale of the continued trade union involvement in the party will need reinforcing through further constructive engagement. The good will exists on both sides to achieve this, and the trade unions play a vital mediating role for their party through their connection with millions of working people.

The Collins Review changes also abolished the separate section of the electoral college for the parliamentary party, and much is made of the low levels of support for Corbyn amongst MPs. This point can be exaggerated, Ed Miliband also suffered from lack of support from the PLP, and Corbyn’s position is stronger not weaker than Ed’s, not only due to his overwhelming mandate from the party’s selectorate, but also because Corbyn has the support of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor.

The improvement of Jeremy’s own self assurance and authority has also been extraordinary, compared to his first hesitant performance at the hustings at GMB Congress in Dublin in June. There has never been any doubt about his talent, but Jeremy had been relatively marginalized within the PLP for many years, and just the few months of participating in the leadership contest and now leading the party, has seen him grow into the role.

The appointment of McDonnell as shadow chancellor was vitally important. While there were arguments in favour of a more mainstream figure as a step towards consolidating a coalition of support within the PLP, Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership on the basis of opposing austerity. Only a shadow chancellor who wholeheartedly agreed with that position would be consistent with Corbyn’s mandate.

John McDonnell has also suffered from years of relative marginalization within the PLP, but already he has shown a human and humane manner in dealing with the press, and an assured touch that will only grow and grow. It is worth reminding ourselves of the judgement of Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, that Corbyn’s victory was not a lurch to the left, but due to the surrender of the Labour centre to Conservative snake oil over the deficit:

Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. … … the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

It was an assured move for Corbyn and McDonnell to appoint an advisory team of economists, including Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty, Danny Blanchflower, and Ann Pettifor. It will also be essential to ensure that economic policy is privately discussed with the trade unions..

McDonnell’s announcement that Labour will seek to run an overall budget surplus in normal times is good politics, and is founded on a solid economic basis that the objective of economic policy will be to secure growth through investment.

To deal with the economic argument first, there has been some debate between the Socialist Economic Bulletin, and economists associated with Ann Petifor’s PRIME. To quote Michael Burke:

There is a debate among anti-austerity economists and supporters of the Jeremy Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party on balanced budgets and related matters. The debate was prompted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s commitment to eliminating the budget deficit and was sparked into life by this SEB piece, The need to clarify the left on budget deficits- confusions of so-called ‘Keyenesianism’. It was met with this reply from PRIME economics,‘Living within our means’: deficits and the business cycle.

The importance of this debate is to understand that

If a radical, anti-austerity government simply borrows or creates money to fund consumption, it will provide no boost to long-term growth. This is merely a stimulus to spending or consumption. This may be needed when consumption has fallen dramatically but cannot be a feature of a medium-term economic policy. If on the other hand, the same government borrows to invest in the productive capacity of the economy then the economy is capable of sustainable expansion. This in turn can lead to economic growth and the growth in consumption. Therefore such a government or economic policy framework, which we can call Corbynomics, should aim at increasing the level of borrowing for investment and aim at eliminating borrowing for consumption in favour of borrowing for investment.

Unfortunately, a commonplace fallacy has arisen to conflate government investment and government spending on consumption as a single category as a contribution to GDP. As John Ross observes:

Both economic economic theory and practical results show that in a capitalist economy, not necessarily an economy such as China’s, there is greater resistance to government spending on investment than on consumption – as state investment involves an incursion into the means of production, which in a capitalist economy by definition must be predominantly privately owned. This theoretical point is confirmed by the fact that state expenditure on consumption has historically risen as a proportion of GDP in most capitalist economies since the economic period following World War II while state expenditure on investment has in general fallen in the same period.

The result is that if government runs a deficit through borrowing to fund consumption, then this can result in non-invested private savings being transferred into consumption, therefore decreasing not increasing the overall investment rate in the economy, and therefore effectively decreasing not increasing economic growth rate.

In contrast, government action to underpin growth rates gives confidence to private investors, producing a win win cycle.

The political debate since the 1970s has conflated all public spending, whether it is for investment or consumption. This has confused the question as while a long or medium term policy of spending more on consumption than is raised as government income is unsustainable, government investment in the productive economy can be designed to achieve the maximum sustainable rate of overall investment, and therefore sustain economic growth, and boost government income.

Some caution also needs to be considered over the alleged lack of competitiveness of state owned enterprises, and other forms of direct state investment in the productive economy, as historically state investment has been strategic to effectively provide a subsidy to other – privately owned – parts of the economy.

Politically, committing to eliminating the government deficit is a necessary accommodation to prevailing public opinion, with the advantages that this allows Labour to exploit the Conservative government’s own failure to achieve a balanced budget through austerity and the resulting economic contraction, and allows the debate to be recalibrated over the key question of whether we continue with the Tory approach of an economy based upon shopping and speculation, or whether we commit to a policy of building the real productive economy through investment, and improving the skills and training base of the workforce.

Corbyn’s mandate being openly and flagrantly opposed inside his own shadow cabinet

More people have joined Labour since Jeremy Corbyn was elected the leader of the party than are in the Lib Dems. This amounts to 62,000 new members, adding to the thousands who joined or registered as supporters during the election campaign, which it is worth recalling ended in an emphatic victory for Corbyn, who received almost 60 percent of the first preference votes cast.

You would automatically and logically think, given the size of his mandate, and given that his election has attracted so many new members to the party, that his authority would be unquestioned within the PLP and especially within his own shadow cabinet. At the very least you would imagine it would be respected.

However the opposite has been the case. In fact, since becoming leader, Jeremy Corbyn has found himself being opposed, undermined, and boxed in at every turn in what can only be considered an egregious and disgraceful violation of his mandate and a studied insult to the thousands who campaigned and voted for him.

On the very morning after winning the election, the Labour Party’s new deputy leader, Tom Watson, appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and articulated his intention of opposing the new leader’s position on NATO and on Trident. For those who may have been asleep these past few months, Jeremy Corbyn made it clear during his leadership campaign that he favours Britain’s withdrawal from NATO and the scrapping of Trident.

Since then we’ve had both Lord Falconer and Hilary Benn publicly voicing their opposiiton to their new leader’s policies, while Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London in 2016, has left nobody in any doubt that he intends to use the office of mayor to mount a Blairite fightback, recently using the Daily Mail as a platform to attack Corbyn in the most withering terms.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this is part of a coordinated and systematic campaign to neuter the new leader and erode his authority, to the point where he will find it impossible to push through any of the policies and implement the vision upon which he was elected. Though it is still very early days in his leadership, if such flagrant and open opposition within the PLP is allowed to continue the prospects for the radical change he outlined will undoubtedly diminish.

A lack of organisation and coherence is the death of any leadership, which is why Corbyn needs as a matter of urgency to come down on those who are intent on undermining his mandate. In this regard he needs to mobilise his base outwith the PLP, the 16,000 who campaigned for him across the country, the over 200,000 who voted for him, and the 62,000 inspired by his message and vision to join Labour since the election. The PLP needs to understand that the membership of the party will not accept such naked disregard for them or their leader.

Unity at any price is a chimera. It is tantamount to the unity of the graveyard. It is unity of purpose that is required, which may well mean a period of protracted internal struggle and strife before it is achieved. But if Labour is to become the party of transformational change promised by Jeremy Corbyn’s election this unity of purpose will have to be achieved.

The right within the Labour Party is clearly determined to ensure that the new leadership passes into history at the earliest opportunity. It is therefore up to the membership to rally round and ensure it does not. If there is to be an internal struggle for the direction and soul of Labour better now than later – and better a good fight than a bad peace.

Jeremy Corbyn has been personally immense over these past few months. The pressure, scrutiny, and expectation he’s had to deal with will undoubtedly have taken its toll. He needs help, he needs allies – most of all he needs to be continually reminded that he does not stand alone, that he has mass support outwith the House of Commons and Labour Party HQ, and that it is their vision not his that is marginal and incompatible with the real world.

The record of the last decade of growing inequality and social injustice at home has been married to the nauseating hypocrisy of a foreign policy that has succeeded in sowing crisis and chaos across the world. This is their record as part of a political establishment whose shake-up is long overdue.

Those members of Labour’s new shadow cabinet who oppose the newly-elected leader should either resign or be sacked. As for Sadiq Khan, he is not the Labour candidate for Mayor of London in 2016 – at least not one worthy of support. The real Labour candidate for Mayor of London in 2016 is George Galloway.

Cameron’s denial – a topical poem

Cameron’s Denial
#piggate #pmqs

I’m delighted the honourable gentleman
asked me that question. To clarify; the pig
didn’t have its throat slit so it could sexually
gratify me, but had been dead
some time when I placed my little
pink manhood in its stiff, cold jaws. Nor
was I arrested and fined fifty Pounds
for taking without paying for
three pairs of bright red knickers
from Tescos at Leamington Spa.
Nor did I pay good money, with
the Queen’s head on it, for the privilege
of laying half a pound of raw liver
across an elderly
prostitute’s belly. Nor was I any
part of the group who put yams
up Boris’s bottom for a lark.

These are just tales chums
concoct to make one look
excellenter even than one
already knows one is.