It turns out that the great Thatcher-Reagan promise about privatisation, free trade and the unrestrained market of a great share-owning democracy has been a costly experiment that has failed the many. Here in the UK, Thatcher promised a revolution where privatised utilities would mean lower bills, driven by competition. The lie that she rolled out was that as the industry wouldn’t need to be subsidised, it would mean lower taxes. This privatisation would lead to a prosperous country and a wealthy society for all. We would all get richer and better still, would get to keep more of our hard-earned cash. Of course the reality was completely different. Private companies have a legal obligation to their shareholders, not consumers so profit becomes the priority. Normally, this means cutting corners, cutting jobs and under-investing, whilst boosting the pay of the CEO.
While tax has fallen sharply for the richest, the tax take on the rest of us has largely stayed the same and privatised companies are pretty much unaccountable. Statistics show that since privatisation, gas prices have increased by 130%. The ten years before privatisation had shown prices increasing by just over 20%. The promise of lower bills was nothing more than an outright lie. If you look at the traditional five evils – want, squalor, idleness, ignorance and disease, in 21st century Britain you would now have to consider adding fuel poverty to those evils. Large swathes of people living in the UK now spend in excess of 10% of their income on keeping themselves warm. Statistics show that one in four households are defined as being in fuel poverty. Indeed, many people are faced with the daily dilemma of having to choose between keeping warm and eating, with the elderly being particularly at risk. It’s a clear and damning indictment that deregulation and privatisation has failed those who live in these Isles.
As for having more money in your pocket, the big six energy companies increased their prices by 37% between October 2010 and 2013. This rise is three times the rate of inflation for the same period, which was been around 10.2%. During that time, average earnings rose by 4.4%, so you don’t really have to be a mathematician in order to realise just how much people have been shafted by Thatcher’s privatisation of energy.
The problem is quite simple; the dynamics of today's electricity and gas markets do not create companies or business strategies in which public interest, objectives and social obligations are sufficiently prioritised. Instead, every dysfunction is passed on to consumers through their bills, which have now become the most regressive element in disposable household incomes. Today, people are starting to regard energy costs much like Thatcher's poll tax. It comes as no surprise that recent polls suggest 68% of Brits would like to see the renationalisation of energy.
In terms of the promise of lower taxes due to no longer subsidising the industry, it now requires long-term price guarantees for investment in renewables and nuclear without any comparable quid pro quo in lowering its target cost of capital. The National Grid, similarly privately owned, balances its profit maximising aims with a need to ensure security of supply. This means that the cost of every ambitious commitment to decarbonise British energy supply by 2030, is passed on to the consumer.
As part of its renewable strategy, the government has signed a long-term contract for nuclear power to be supplied at twice the current price of electricity. If there’s one thing that David Cameron’s government have excelled at, it’s been the ability to sniff out a bad deal. His lack of real concern, his greed and incompetence have led to the UK being locked into this deal for the next 35 years. We deserve better than this.
New research by Corporate Watch in collaboration with We Own It has found:
- Households across the UK could save £250 each on their electricity, gas and water bills and train fares if the services were publicly financed.
- Private electricity, gas, water and rail companies pay out £12bn a year to investors and shareholders in interest and dividends. In total, cheaper government borrowing rates could save the UK public £6.5bn: £4.2bn on energy, £2bn on water and £352m on rail.
- Years of inflation-busting price hikes by energy companies have increased the average profit per household more than ten-fold, leaving large numbers of people struggling and in millions of cases, failing to heat their homes adequately. Returning the energy sector to state ownership would provide some comfort for those people, not to mention a sense of empowerment as the tables could be turned on this culture of corporate greed that has only served to cheapen life in this country.
Britain needs a new and better deal, so the question is should we renationalise the big 6 or explore other ways?
What about the case for nationalisation?
According to Dr Robert Gross, Director of the Centre of Energy and Technology at Imperial College, London, the government could prevent any excess profits, while borrowing money to invest in the system could become cheaper. The government would be able to borrow money more cheaply than the big six, because it has a much stronger credit rating and because its monopoly status would make it more financially secure, therefore more likely to repay its debts. It would also not have to pay a large portion of its profits out to shareholders in the form of dividends.
“The newly created energy company could plan the system more effectively and potentially take strategic decisions for the good of the country,” Dr Gross says – a point that couldn’t be made for the four members of the big six that are foreign-owned. A focus on what was good for the country, rather than the big six’s profits and shareholders would make it easier to drive through policy goals such as ‘greening’ Britain’s electricity supply, and could bring bills down, added Dr Gross, who nonetheless describes himself as being agnostic about energy nationalisation overall, despite its potential benefits.
There is a strong argument that taking energy back into public ownership and control is vital to ensure businesses can be supplied affordable energy and thousands of customers do not die from the effects of fuel poverty. However, questions would be asked about the cost of renationalising the big 6. Maybe we need to consider that new power stations be publicly owned, whilst we encourage individuals or communities to set up smaller privately-owned generators, a process that would see energy generation largely returned to state ownership gradually over a period of two decades or so, as the main existing power stations reached the end of their lives.
I’m driven to the opinion that our main thrust should be to develop de-centralised energy that is community owned - so that effectively we make the big six redundant by building up a new ecology of community, locally and regionally owned energy, funded by strategic public investment. This is a slightly more radical version of the German model, which has seen a huge transfer from big corporate energy to local and community generation and ownership. Germans can switch power providers. In fact, they are not only free as power consumers, but also free to become “prosumers” – simultaneously producers and consumers. They can even sell the power they make at a profit. Germany’s Renewable Energy Act stipulates that the little guy’s power has priority over corporations. German feed-in tariffs have helped produce all of this community ownership, thereby simultaneously reducing ‘NIMBYism’ and increasing acceptance levels for renewables.
In most countries, the energy sector has long been in the hands of large corporations because electricity came from large central power stations. Renewables offer an opportunity, however, to switch to a large number of smaller generators, and this distributed approach offers an opportunity for citizens and communities to get involved. Germany has an unusually high level of citizen involvement in the ‘Energiewende’.
Either way, the current situation is unacceptable, not to mention unsustainable. We are an often windy island, surrounded by wave power. We even sometimes get a bit of sun. There is also the potential for countless jobs in renewable energy. We cannot continue to allow the cartel of energy companies to run roughshod over consumers and businesses and the archaic obsession with fossil fuels and digging into the earth is based on nothing other than the greed of a select few. There is a need to change the narrative and literally take back power. Now is the time to start.
Ian Hodson (BFAWU National President)
Following on from BFAWU concerns prior to the introduction of the 'living wage', and how certain employers would seek to dodge their moral responsibilities, Channel 4 News recently broadcast an expose of companies who were exploiting the pay 'rise' by reducing the terms and conditions of their employees. For many, this has involved attempts at introducing consolidated rates of pay and removing both shift premium and overtime bonuses.
In the broadcast item, Channel 4 named Samworth Brothers (who own the likes of Soreen malt loaf among other well known food brands) as a particular offender. Since then, the issue of how companies are implementing the living wage has been debated in Parliament with Samworth Brothers once again being named and shamed.
A clip of the debate can be found here
Please see below statement from the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) in relation to the Fast-Food Rights Campaign and the Labour NEC’s decision to refuse McDonald’s a stall at Conference.
McDonald’s are coming under significant pressure. The UK’s Fast Food Rights Campaign, led by the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), has been protesting outside McDonald’s restaurants and organising fast-food workers for over two years, calling for zero-hours contracts to be scrapped, a minimum wage of £10 an hour and Trade Union rights.
We congratulate the Labour Party NEC on the decision to refuse McDonald’s a stall at their Conference and our members at McDonald’s both agree with and support this decision. The Labour Party was founded by, and is still part-funded by Trade Unions and Unions and MPs right across the Labour Movement support the Fast-Food Rights Campaign. It would be nonsensical not to mention, hypocritical if the party gave stall and advertising space to a company as blatantly anti-Trade Union as McDonald’s; an organisation which utilises deplorable employment practices such as zero hours contracts, and who as it now turns out, are pretty good at avoiding paying their taxes. This isn’t a case of Labour turning up it’s nose at fast-food, or the countless people that eat at McDonald’s; this is about the principle of supporting workers and their right to be paid properly and treated with dignity. This is exactly what Labour stands for, and they should be applauded for taking this stance.
The pressure is now starting to tell, as we now see McDonald’s’ taking the decision to offer all staff contracts of 4, 16 or 30 hours a week. This hasn’t come about simply because the company has had a change of heart. The truth is that significant protest has had an impact. We will continue to fight for a £10 an hour minimum wage for all and union rights. We say to McDonald’s: if you can re-brand so much in your stores, from store layout to children’s meals, then surely you can adapt your business model, with the mega profits generated by your workforce, to recognise your workers’ Union and meet with the BFAWU now.
For more information, please contact the BFAWU’s National President, Ian Hodson on 07739326010 or email: email@example.com
The BFAWU has laid bare the inadequacies of the 'living wage' ever since George Osborne announced that his government were going to introduce it.
During the lead up to it's introduction on April 1st 2016, companies within the UK food industry have moved heaven and earth to try and find creative ways of dodging their moral responsibilities with regard to pay. Many have moved to introduce consolidated rates of pay, while others are attempting to slash shift premium, unsociable hours and overtime pay rates/benefits. In other words, workers are being expected to fund the living wage themselves, whilst the pay and benefits of CEOs remain untouched.
On April 13th 2016, Channel 4 News exposed the reality of Osborne's 'living wage' and even went as far as to call out Samworth Bothers, an umbrella company who own the likes of Soreen among a number of other companies and who allegedly donated over £500,000 to the Conservative Party. Channel 4 News' revealing feature also exposed the hypocrisy of Tesco.
To watch the news item, please click here
The BFAWU has campaigned for the minimum wage to be raised to £10 an hour for the last few years and the campaign has really started to gain momentum with fellow Unions and politicians including Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn giving their backing this call.
In light of this, and a Fast-Food Rights day of action taking place on April 14th 2016, the BFAWU has decided to put pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne with an online petition to further support this call.
The BFAWU calls on all members, friends, MPs and affiliates to sign the petition, which can be found here
Addressing a fringe meeting organised by the BFAWU's Scarborough branch at the recent Young Labour Conference, Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn called on people to join and support the Fast-Food Rights global day of action which takes place on April 14th 2016.
In a wide ranging speech to an audience of more than 200, he praised the work of the BFAWU and the campaigns it has launched. Jeremy also spoke about the issues of mental health, with the need to end the stigma and give real support to people.
We thank Mr Corbyn for taking the time out of an undoubtedly busy schedule to speak to BFAWU members.
To watch a video of the speech, click here
BFAWU Greggs Representative, Executive Council Member and newly elected Full-Time Official for Region 5, Sarah Woolley reports from the Union's first ever Women's Forum, which took place at Whelley Labour Club, Wigan on February 27th 2016:
At our Annual Conference in June 2015, we recognised that female membership in the BFAWU had fallen by quite a significant amount. As I was the females’ Executive Council member at the time, I challenged branches to look inwardly at themselves in order to identify whether they were inclusive or perceived as a ‘boys only’ club. In addition to this, I 'put the feelers out' nationally around the regions in order to organise a Women’s Forum and on Saturday the 27th February, the BFAWU held its very first one in Wigan!
There was a fairly small group of us and we began the forum with an overview of discrimination issues and family friendly rights from Sadiq Vohra from Slater and Gordon Solicitors. He explained how complicated the new shared parental leave can be and how important it is to research every aspect of it before making any applications. But what resonated with me the most was when Sadiq spoke to us about harassment and explained that it is about how you feel. If you feel offended personally, no one can tell you that you don’t and that is what is important. As soon as you feel that way, it needs to be reported and all evidence collected immediately, as this strengthens cases.
We then looked at the courses that the BFAWU provide via the learning services and suggested developing a course based around keeping safe online, especially around social media sites. If you’re not careful, a whole world of information can be found out about you, as a few of our female activists found out when they were recently targeted by some very aggressive right wing groups.
We spoke in depth about the structural set up of the Trade Union Movement agreeing that in 2016, it is still very male orientated and even the strongest, loudest of women can easily be ‘drowned out’, which can severely affect confidence and actually put women off even attempting to become involved. This appears to be happening at all levels of the movement.
Women still hold the majority of the caring responsibilities at home; from looking after children to after they grow up and fly the nest before then in many cases, caring for ageing parents. This means that evening meetings may well be inaccessible and activism therefore takes a back step. We need to be aware of this as a movement and support women wanting to become active by making meetings more accessible for example; holding them in the morning or simply rotating the times/days.
Austerity hits women far harder than men and we suggested that as a Union, we should create more links with groups designed to support and help women through this, and even help develop them for the sake of our members.
As active women in our Union, we decided that we need to be the driving force of change. We need to work together, support each other and make our voice louder by way of our collectivism. By doing this I believe we can change the dynamic of the structure and make it a more balanced and equal one. We can no longer rely on others to do it for us!
The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers' Union opposes the expulsion of socialists from the Labour Party; including the eight comrades expelled because of their association with the socialist organisation, Workers' Liberty. We believe in a democratic party where there is unity in action, but freedom of opinion and reasoned debate about political differences.
Many Labour Party members also support distinct political groupings within the party - on the left (eg LRC, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, Momentum); on the right (eg Labour First, Progress); and in between. That is a sign of a healthy internal life and of course, the party was founded by distinct socialist organisations (Independent Labour Party, Fabians, Social Democratic Federation) working with the unions.
We have the absurd situation where members who have been active in the party for many years are being expelled out of the blue, with little due process - and for no good reason.
The party needs much more transparent and accountable structures for deciding such questions - just as it needs more democratic structures generally.
We cannot help suspect that these expulsions were motivated by the frustrations of some who were not happy with the results of the leadership election. We call on them and everyone in the party to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn in order to build up our movement and take the struggle forward.
Ronnie Draper, BFAWU general secretary, said: "We need to unite the broadest forces in the party to build a stronger labour movement that can take on and defeat the Tories. That means Labour maintaining and strengthening a democratic culture where differences can be discussed in a comradely way while we unite in campaigning. That is why we are opposing the expulsion of these comrades and calling for them to be reversed."
'Stand Up To Racism' (Greater Manchester) have issued the following press statement:
GOVERNMENT MUST OPEN UK BORDERS TO REFUGEES LIVING IN THE CALAIS "JUNGLE"
- People from Manchester will join the national Stand Up To Racism delegation travelling to France on Sunday, December 13th
- Delegation will highlight conditions at the camp and refugees dying as a result of the harsh winter weather
- Local group to include a North West MEP, a Bury councillor, a representative from a Manchester Mosque, health workers, teachers and human rights activists
"EVERY NIGHT, SOMEONE IN A TENT ON THIS CAMP IS DYING" ... these are the words of a Sudanese refugee speaking on the phone to a Manchester human rights activist last night.
The man is living in the Calais camp known as "The Jungle" and, next Sunday morning, a delegation will leave Manchester for the French port to highlight the dangerous and squalid conditions in which refugees are still being forced to live. Now people are starting to die as winter brings other problems for refugees at the camp.
The North West group will be part of a national Stand Up To Racism delegation which is demanding that the UK government opens its borders to the refugees before there are more deaths in the camp this winter.
A North West Labour MEP will join a local councillor, health workers, teachers, religious and community leaders, and human rights activists as part of the region's delegation.
Bury councillor Tamoor Tariq, who is Lead Member for Community Safety and Deputy Cabinet Member for Health and Well-Being, said he was joining the delegation to learn first hand what is happening on the ground in the Calais camp. "I hope to work with colleagues to campaign and put further pressure on our government to take in refugees from Calais."
Also travelling from Manchester will be midwife and lecturer Sarah Davies, a member of the Royal College of Midwives and of the Universities and Colleges Union.
She said: "There are pregnant women, mothers and babies living in appalling, dangerous conditions in Calais without access to the maternity care they urgently need.
“It is simple human decency to ensure all pregnant women get access to maternity care - no matter which country they find themselves in. The RCM is appealing to all European countries to work together in a co-ordinated way on this.”
A Manchester Mosque will be represented on the delegation. Shujaat Hussain, treasurer of the UKIM Madina Masjid and Community Centre in Levenshulme, said they were going to France to assess the needs of the refugees and ways the Mosque can help.
He said: "From countries experiencing conflict, widespread violence and insecurity, huge numbers of migrants have opted to come to Europe to find a safer place.
“But they are stuck on the borders and forced to live in very unpleasant conditions. Efforts are being made to provide migrants with the necessary aid to survive in these conditions but the situation is getting worse day by day.”
Nick Wigmore, a national executive member of the National Union of Teachers, said many children and young people in the UK had shown concern about the escalating refugee crisis - in particular, the media images of young children suffering and dying in their attempts to flee from war zones.
He added: "We should thank those teachers who have already explored ways in which pupils, schools and our local communities can help.
“We must do as much as we can to provide not only warmth, food and shelter for refugees but also good education, health care and the opportunity for everyone to flourish within and contribute to our communities.”
Trade unionists supporting the delegation include Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers' Union. which has said it stands in solidarity with refugees in Calais. The union leader praised Stand Up To Racism's delegation and its call for the government to let people fleeing from war and death into the UK.
Ian said: "Britain has a proud tradition of reaching out and offering both support and a safe haven to people caught up in desperate and terrifying circumstances.
“No human being, uprooted and left homeless due to the ravages of war, should be left to undergo further uncertainty in a camp facing a severe winter - inevitably putting the lives of innocent men, women and children at risk.”
The Manchester-based Human Rights organisation RAPAR is sending two of its members, a refugee and a British citizen, to Calais.
A spokesperson for the organisation warned: "We are not prepared to sit back and accept the idea that nothing can be done to stop the Calais camp from existing.
"The 5,000 plus people at the camp are literally on the British border. They are women, children and men from many different war-torn countries and they are now at risk of death again - but this time from a combination of plummeting temperatures and unsanitary conditions.
"This delegation is spotlighting the situation and its solution. The British Government can take a simple step that will stop these deaths from occurring - by allowing people and their families to enter the UK and make their refugee claims in the country where they want to be."
Dr Rhetta Moran, RAPAR
On 25/11/15, Hovis made a company announcement, stating that they are to cease making bread at their Wigan site, with the proposed closure of the thirty sack bread plant. The BFAWU has entered in to a forty-five day consultation period, which began on 26/11/15. The company have put forward a business case which states that the current downturn in the bread market and a long term forecast of ‘no change’ has led to this decision. However, the site will continue to manufacture crumpets and be a distribution point for bread products made at other sites around the country.
This announcement came completely out of the blue, as we had only recently seen the seventeen sack plant closed and moth-balled in July of this year with the loss of forty jobs, following the consultation period. The Union believed that any further cuts to the operation would take place at other Hovis sites, as the Wigan bakery is the only one in the group to produce crumpets, and is conveniently located close to the motorway network, thus ensuring the freshness of products and efficient delivery. This announcement means that there will be a further loss of up to one-hundred and eleven positions across the site, covering management, production, technical services, engineering and administration staff.
As an ex-employee of the Hovis, Wigan site with twenty-two years of service, I have seen lots of changes over the years. I have also made many friends and have some great memories of my time there. However, there can be no doubt that incompetence, greed and a culture of confrontation at the top levels of management have contributed greatly to company’s current position. Hovis has been treated like a cash cow, with a revolving door policy in terms of owners, chief executives and managing directors, who have bled the business dry before walking away with golden handshakes as a reward for failure, leaving shop floor staff to bear the brunt of their lack of business nous.
I am of the opinion, that since the BFAWU’s historic victory against the company’s use of exploitative labour and zero hours contracts in 2013, the Wigan site has been targeted for a managed decline and a scaling back of jobs and skills, resembling nothing more that the business equivalent of a death of a thousand cuts, which I fear may lead to the eventual total closure of the bakery. This decision by the company will not only be devastating for our loyal, hard working BFAWU members at the site, it will have a detrimental effect on the local community, of which the bakery has been a central part going back generations; in many cases, employing fathers, sons, mothers and daughters.
As a Trade Union, we will be entering these consultations in a positive manner. Despite having very little to work with, we are hopeful that we can put forward counter-proposals, which may save a number of jobs. We would ask that the company be open-minded and willing to engage in ideas that might protect jobs, as well as the local economy and taxpayers, who will ultimately have to foot the bill in welfare support, should the company follow through with this potentially damaging decision.
Geoff Atkinson (BFAWU No.4 Regional Organising Secretary)
Tel: 07834930002 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org