Carillion rapped by Swindon NHS Trust report

A damning NHS Trust report completely vindicates what GMB has said about Carillion since the union was first approached by staff in 2011.

GMB, the union for staff at Carillion at Great Western PFI Hospital in Swindon, commented on the report considered on 25th September by the Board of the NHS Foundation Trust which details significant concerns about the one star food hygiene rating, the cleanliness issues identified by the CQC last year and ongoing employee relations issues.

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB Regional Officer, said “”GMB call on Carillion to heed this chorus of criticism from the NHS Trust and to talk to us to settle the dispute and get on with delivering the service they are paid to provide.

“The Trust is well aware of the industrial relations issues on site and must be concerned by the high number of discrimination claims lodged with the Employment Tribunal, which are damaging to the reputation of the Trust.

“The report drives a coach and horses through the notion that private companies such as Carillion should have any role to play in the health service and is a damning indictment of the Private Finance Initiative.

“Great Western Hospital in Swindon is just one of 150,000 properties around the world where Carillion provide facilities management and support services. Even if the top managers are very good they cannot properly look after that vast number of buildings. Carillion’s main aim from the very start has been to line their pockets with cash from Swindon Hospital.

“As soon as it can, the Trust should end its relationship with Carillion and take these services in house to be run by directly employed and properly accountable staff in the interests of patients and not in the interests of profit.

“What we are seeing in Swindon is the same high-handed arrogance that gave rise to 224 construction workers from around the UK being blacklisted by Carillion. They have yet to apologise for this or compensate their victims”.
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Is RMT tilting back to the mainstream?

The RMT general secretary election result was interesting, giving the more mainstream Mick Cash a commanding lead over the other candidates; and Alex Gordon, the most left wing candidate, and the most associated with the No2EU and TUSC policies of the RMT getting the lowest vote.

An RMT official confided to me that he was hoping that the result would mean an end to what he described as “student union politics”. It has been clear for a while that RMT is able to exert far less influence over transport policy than either TSSA or ASLEF.

It will also be interesting to see whether Mick Cash is able to change the culture of the RMT, which for example, despite a reputation for being a progressive union, still has no female full time officials.

Scotland’s lessons from Quebec

By Ian Drummond

The future of Scotland and the rest of our island now hangs on a knife-edge. The SNP have, not for the first time, brought us to a pass where the smallest swings of chance in a very specific and abnormal time may lead to epochal changes for the worse for working people, on both sides of the border they so ardently wish to revive. Given their form in this matter, it is no wonder that Time and Chance was the title James Callaghan, perhaps our last real Labour Prime Minister, chose for his memoirs, for the SNP would make him and the majority of Britons who never voted for Thatcher’s Tories rue the terrible timing and feckless, drunken, almost chance nature of their treachery.

In 1979, with the winter of discontent over, the British economy improving on all fronts, and the Conservatives hampered by an alienating, extremist leader, all serious commentators expected Labour to win a historic third election in a row if it could just make it to the end of the year. And with the likes of Tony Benn and Michael Foot still in government, and the IMF loan having served its purpose even in the eyes of the Labour right, there was absolutely nothing inevitable about the radical shift of wealth and power in favour of the rich which eventually occurred, and much potential and pressure for a very different course. But on the 28th of March, in a fit of pique over the controversial failure of the first devolution referendum, the SNP MPs, “Scotland’s first 11”, first tabled their own motion of no confidence in the Labour government, then trooped into the lobby for Thatcher’s own, turkeys voting for Christmas as Callaghan said, triggering an election at the last point Thatcher could win it. The last real Labour government, ushered in by a victorious, all Britain miners’ strike, was thus ushered out by petty Scottish nationalism, and no-one tempted by such nationalism now, or who suffered the dreadful consequences for Scotland and the rest of deindustrialised Britain of the SNP’s shameful act, should forget it.
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Scottish independence – walking backwards while facing the future

All across the United States you will find Scottish cultural and fraternal societies, where people with a connection to Scotland or an affinity with Scottish culture and history gather to celebrate their shared love of the old country. Also in the US you will find the largest Highland Games events anywhere in the world, including Scotland itself.

I experienced this phenomenon for myself in the mid nineties when I moved to San Francisco for a spell and came across the St Andrews Society of San Francisco while out for an evening stroll with my partner at the time. Her apartment was close by in the affluent Russian Hill district and having just recently arrived from Scotland, where better to make friends and contacts than a society set up to celebrate the very country I’d only just left behind?

So along I went, not knowing what to expect but eager to show off my genuine Scottish accent and be lavished with the attention befitting a bona fide Scotsman. I was the genuine article, fresh off the boat, and I duly breezed through the door of that St Andrews Society puffed up with pride.

It only took fifteen minutes for me to realise that the people there – wealthy, white and right wing – had nothing in common with me nor I with them. The Scotland they held so dear was unrecognisable to me. It bore no relation to the country where I was born and grew up surrounded by the social maladies which flow from poverty – alienation, alcohol abuse, anger, violence, etc. In the end I couldn’t wait to leave, especially when a particular item on the meeting’s agenda came up concerning a campaign to make it easier for landlords in San Francisco to evict tenants with a view to taking advantage of the huge demand for rental accommodation that was prevalent in the city at the time. The good folks of the St Andrews Society of San Francisco, some of them landlords themselves, were fully behind the idea.

By this point my political consciousness was developing, and the very idea of evicting people in order to be able to charge more rent filled me with revulsion.
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George Galloway on Daily Politics with Andrew Neil

Reflecting on the referendum campaign

By Tommy Kane

Reflecting on the referendum campaign it’s clear that it’s degenerated into the most polarising, divisive and diversionary political event of our times. Countering this view, some socialists in the Yes camp suggest that the campaign has engendered hope, inspired a revitalisation of left politics and saw record levels of political engagement. These supporters pronounce independence will bring freedom from subjugation and a renewal of democracy, others proclaim it will allows us escape from the supposedly different Scottish and English political cultures, while others assert firmly that a Yes vote can go some way to ‘smashing the British state’ (incidentally not at the top of people’s concerns on the doorsteps). Amongst some there also resides a belief that, at the very least, independence will bring social democracy and a fairer and more just Scotland, because, whisper it, ‘we are more progressive up here’. In order to sustain a clean and seamless Yes campaign these left proponents of this missive appear to have suspended their critical faculties, especially in relation to the SNP’s White Paper, and whether they like it or not, have encouraged a discourse that has appears to have focused predominately on the liberation of ‘Scottish nationhood’.

Coming from a diverse range of views they all have one thing in common; a coalescing of grievance and anger at every recent failed policy or foreign adventure, a belief that solutions can only be found through the construction of a border and a seemingly faith based conviction that everything bad will, in time, become good but only if we vote for independence. If we don’t then, so the story goes, we are all doomed.

These assertions really need some interrogation. This message of hope is actually wrapped in real despair and pessimism that says nothing good can ever come from Britain. This is despite the fact that all material gains won over the past 70 or so years have come from a united Labour and Trade Union movement forcing them through. This fight back and material advancement for working people through the Labour and Trade Union movement is a force that has, incredibly, been written off by far too many sections of the left during this debate as they focus on the bad and ignore the good. All too easily they forget where the NHS, welfare, public services, social housing, and even the Scottish Parliament, emerged from
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Scottish independence: how did it come to this?

With under a week to go to the most important election in this country in 300 years, across Scotland the tension is palpable. Families, workplaces, communities, and friends are divided, some irrevocably, and whatever the result on September 18 there seems little likelihood of things ever being the same.

In his On Ideology Louis Althusser reminds us that, ‘The class struggle does not go on in the air, or on something like a football pitch. It is rooted in the mode of production and exploitation in a given class society.’

Thus the complete collapse of a large section of the left in Scotland with its embrace of a nationalist project as a shortcut to what they believe will be a socialist dawn has been tragic to behold. As I wrote in my article in the Guardian recently, ‘Nationalism, unless rooted in national oppression, is a perniciously hollow doctrine. It succeeds to the extent that both left and right embrace it as a vehicle to advance their own economic and political interests, and works by substituting the past for the present. But this is a mythological past that invites us to negate a consciousness forged through our engagement with the world in favour of a cause rooted in nothing more than an accident of birth.’

The economic arguments in favour of independence have been completely blown out of the water by now. On the issue of the currency alone we know beyond doubt that Salmond and the SNP are arguing for Scotland to become a de facto colony of England, stripping away their vision of independence to reveal dependence in truth. Add to this the recent announcements by the Standard Life, RBS, Tesco Bank, John Lewis, Asda, and other major businesses and financial institutions operating in Scotland, warning of the deleterious impact of a Yes vote, and anyone with a mortgage, pension, and/or a job will surely have pause for thought regarding the implications of their vote when they go to the polls next week.

Whether we like it or not we live in a capitalist society and there is little appetite among the overwhelming majority of working people in Scotland to take the leap in the dark they are being invited to by the SNP/Yes campaign.

People like Tommy Sheridan and Jim Sillars, who I debated a couple of months ago on independence, have been touring the country delivering speeches short on analysis and long on hollow emotionalism and vacuity. To watch Sheridan screaming into a microphone with a Saltire pinned to his chest puts you in mind of a bad audition for Braveheart. The Hampden Roar has supplanted the Internationale as the fulcrum of the politics of many in Scotland, with Sheridan and others turning into examples of what Nye Bevan described as ‘people walking backwards with their faces to the future’.

When this is over, and at this stage I remain convinced a silent majority will deliver a No vote, there will have to be an inquest into how we reached this point and how we move forward. The Labour leadership both in Scotland and the UK has proved utterly inept. The ideological hollowing out of the party that occurred throughout the Blair years has brought us here, giving rise to cynicism and anti politics among a large swathe of the population, specifically the poor and low waged. Complacency and hubris led Labour to make the disastrous decision to join with the Tories in the Better Together Campaign, a campaign which history will record as one of the most uninspiring, limp, and ineffectual ever fought in British politics.

A No victory will be won in spite of Better Together not because of it. That the issue remains neck and neck in the polls, given the glaring weaknesses and holes in the Yes campaign’s assertions and arguments, is testimony to the paucity of the official No campaign. It has been left to George Galloway to make the progressive case for No almost singlehandedly, arguing the politics of class rather than nation and shaming Labour in the process.

That we need a Labour government in 2015 is not in doubt. But it will only be certain if redistributive policies are placed front and centre in its manifesto. People are crying out for change not just in Scotland but throughout Britain. It is a desperation measured in support for Scottish independence among a large section of the Scottish working class, most of them Labour voters and/or supporters at one time or another.

Unless the right lessons are learned from this near disaster Tory ideas will continue to prosper and sow despair. It is this despair that has driven support for the Yes campaign. It is this despair that Labour must address as a matter of priority going into the next general election.



















Labour must address casualisation

Mark Carney’s speech to the TUC Congress yesterday was interesting, and it was right for the unions to invite him. As major civil society institutions with mass membership, the trade unions can and should seek to influence the parameters of democratic debate unmediated by political parties, alongside of course the different strategies for engagement through political parties that some unions engage in.

Carney spelt out that both the American economy, and the Euro zone have their own problems:

German driven austerity in Euroland has been catastrophic:

The results have been dire. Euro-area unemployment has risen sharply over two successive recessions to its current rate of over 11%. It stands at over 14% in Portugal, 20% in Spain, and 25% in Greece. Over 6% of the euro-area labour force is now long-term unemployed and in danger of becoming detached from the labour market.6 And despite high unemployment, there is evidence of labour shortages.

However, The US economy suffers from lack of investment, leading to a drop in the umber of people economically active.

The number of Americans in work has only just returned to where it was before Lehman failed, even though there are now 14 million more people of working age. Much of the fall in the unemployment rate is the result of workers in their prime leaving the labour force. Far more vacancies remain unfilled than usual, indicating big mismatches in the labour market. And fewer people than normal are switching jobs, suggesting an ongoing reluctance to take risks.

Interestingly, Carney observes that lack of capital investment is also a feature of the UK economy

There are now one million more people in work in the UK than at the start of the crisis. But … that exceptional employment performance has come at a cost. Wage growth has been very weak; in fact adjusted for inflation wages have fallen by a tenth since the onset of the crisis. And in order to find such a fall in the past, you would have to go back to the early 1920s.

Carney acknowledges that this expansion of employment, has not led to wage growth:

wage pressures based on past relationships are as low today as if the unemployment rate were 10%, not the 6.4% rate it currently is.

In fact, the Other Resolution Foundation has found that while real weekly wages have fallen by 6% since 2007, the drop in real income for the self employed has been 20%, leaving a self employed person paying 40% less than someone in employment.

Although Carney dicusses the structural change in the UK workforce polarizing towards high skill and low skill sectors; he fails to factor in the shift towards casualisation, which has been a major paradigm shift in employment practices over the last 5 years.

According to a new pamphlet published by LRD, public sector outsourcing alone has seen a 168% year on year increase in the first quarter of 2014, for example, seven out of ten home care providers now only offer zero hours contracts. The office of National Statistics (ONS) published figures in April this year which shows that 1.4 million workers have contracts that fail to guarantee a minimum of working hours, and 1.3 million workers were provided with no work in their 2 week reference period.

The workforce in stable, standard employment is stagnant outside London; so the biggest growth areas have been those on zero hours contracts, or fixed contracts for only a set number of short hours.
The apparent shift towards self employment is also illusory, although it makes up for a full 40% of the rise in the number of people working since 2010; as this includes a variety of odd-jobbers, those getting sparse work at very low income; and those in industries like construction and airlines forced into false self-employment; or personal services contracts; such practices facilitated by payroll companies and sharp practices by employment agencies.

Carney is deluded in stating that any economic recovery based upon the growth of such casualised and precarious employment can lead to stability:

… although this adjustment has been painful, trading off lower productivity and lower wages for much higher – and it is much, much higher – employment, on balance that trade – that trade-off provides a solid foundation for a durable expansion. By staying in work individuals retain and learn new skills, and they are better placed to participate in the expansion as it gathers force.

This is over-optimistic. Firstly, much of the casualised workforce systematically underpays tax and national insurance, and also represents a ticking timebomb of underfunded pensions, which hardly helps with the government’s deficit; but secondly, all the evidence suggests that workers in precarious employment are less likely to have access to training, and are likely to be working in less safe condition, and the terms of their contracts either seek to exclude them from employment rights, or make them too scared to enforce their rights.

The British economy has founded its recent apparent recovery on a return to the precarious employment practices of the Victorian era. I have had GMB union members explain the practices of unethical employment agencies and payroll companies who offer workers contracts of 7 or 9 hours, and then call them in by text message only hours before their shift is due to start; and who give workers “rest days” when they are ill, to avoid paying sick pay.

One payroll company I have locked horns with employs a supervisor who has put 5 or 6 agency workers into an aisle in a warehouse, and then the one who gets the lowest pick rate has their hours reduced. When I approached the company, they claimed that this practice could not be happening because no one had complained to them using their grievance process! Of course they hadn’t complained, because workers who raise grievances get their hours reduced. The client is a household name retail chain.

The next Labour government has already committed to several welcome reforms of employment law, but there are grounds for concern that the original suggestion, made at last year’s TUC, that people on zero hours contracts would have a right to regular hours after 12 weeks, has been watered down to 12 months.

Precarious employment is one of the greatest problems facing millions of working people, and the Labour Party needs to be seen as their champion. As Ed Miliband correctly said during his speech at last year’s party conference, Britain cannot succeed in a race to the bottom, we can be better than that.