Saturday, 1 May 2010

Our City's Not For Sale

May Day 2010 Edinburgh, being the speaker after the comedian!Many years ago I was a semi-pro magician, believe it or not, and one of the key showbiz maxims was ‘never follow a comedian’. All those years and I’ve never learned. Mind you, there’s a lot of not-learning around as we run up to this election.

Not learning the lessons of investing in services and infrastructure to build out of recession after the war.

Not learning the lessons of the New Deal in America that invested hugely to build out of the great depression.

Not learning even from the ‘double dip recession’ lessons of the last Tory government.

Instead, the politicians, the media and the banks and big business vested interests queue up in a competition for who can cut public services better than the other.
That makes it all the more important to remind everybody that public services are not a vast army of bureaucrats, they are people serving people.

Delivering services relied on by people - often people in desperate need.

Used by people who pay their general tax, their council tax and are now paying higher charges on top to buy the service they need.

In Edinburgh, day care charges for 1500 pensioners almost doubled a couple of weeks ago with hikes in other charges all over the place.

Pay their general tax, their council tax and higher charges on top to buy the service they need. People paying three times over to fund the con about a council tax freeze.

Services under attack from all quarters – Services delivered by people facing attacks on pay and conditions in arms length organisations – or facing cuts in conditions to fund private profits.

Delivered by women whose jobs are being hived off in some parts of the country to avoid paying equal pay.

Delivered by staff in Glasgow’s arms length Culture and Sport organisation on strike this week against huge cuts in conditions.

And as huge privatisation plans roll out, your council tax being used to pay for profits rather than services.

A multi-million pound Dutch auction is starting in Edinburgh as over a hundred companies line up, desperate to get their hands on our services.

A fifth of the workforce could be sold off in an exercise that is grossly flawed and driven by some weird ideological partnership between the Lib Dems and the SNP backed enthusiastically by the Tories.

And the evidence mounts every day to explode the myths of the sell-off plans.

Of the 18 councils they use as comparators, hardly any are anything like Edinburgh and one is the smallest metropolitan borough in England.

In almost all of the 18 contracts listed as shining examples, there is no evidence at all of any benefits being achieved.

At least one has been slammed on quality, others have lost money and services have had to be brought back in house.

Even the audit commission has warned against the dangers of this model.

But if all that is not enough, just ask the obvious question.

If the council provides services without having to make a profit, how can big business save money and make a profit on top?

And let’s be clear. There are no private companies out there which exist to provide services for the common good.

They exist first for profit with everything else second.

Making that profit is simple. It’s done by cutting quality. By cutting services. By cutting wages and conditions.

AND once they’ve cornered the market, getting councils over a barrell – accountability goes out the window. Is nobody learning from the trams?

A few days ago I was privileged to briefly renew a 20 year acquaintance with comrade Denis Goldberg.

Denis was convicted in 1964 at the same trial as Nelson Mandela and spent 22 years in a South African prison for fighting apartheid.

He is an inspirational man, convinced of the justice of his cause and a key figure in bringing down the evil that was apartheid.

That sureness in the justice of his cause – or the mission as his book calls it – led to a memorable phrase in his speech last Wednesday in Glasgow when talking about his treatment at the hands of the Warders in Pretoria jail.

He said, “It took them years and years and years and years to learn to respect us”.

But he clearly never doubted that, eventually, they would respect these heroes of the struggle.

Now, it would be stupid and disrespectful to set our struggle alongside that of Denis and Mandela, Sisulu, Tambo, Slovo and the others.

But his phrase did prompt me to think, “When are the politicians going to learn to respect public service workers?”

The home carers, the street cleaners, the library workers, the social workers, the environmental health workers, the nursery nurses, the school team, the people who are out in all weathers mending our roads, maintaining our parks and open spaces.

None of them gambled billions on the financial markets. None of them almost brought our country to its knees. Why should they have to pay for it?

And why should they endure the lack of respect that trades their jobs like commodities.

That cuts their pay and conditions to make profits.

That axes their very livelihoods so that big business can dodge their fair share of tax while amassing billions to themselves.

Councils of all colours are up to outsourcing and privatisation but none to the extent of the Lib Dem/ SNP pathfinder here in Edinburgh.

And the SNP coalition partners in Edinburgh are strangely silent about all this. Maybe that silence is handed down from their bosses in the Scottish Government.

Because when they said they’d freeze the council tax, I didn’t hear them saying they’d sell-off jobs and services to pay for it.

I didn’t hear them saying they’d double charges for the elderly to pay for it.

I didn’t hear them saying they’d starve the voluntary sector of funding, closing projects, cutting conditions and axing jobs and services.

Well there will be no silence from the unions in Edinburgh. We will stand up for jobs and services. We will make sure the public knows exactly what’s happening.

And we will be saying that there is an alternative.

We in the trade union movement need to believe in our own solutions. We need our fair share of an economy that is far from bust if cuts and spending were done in the right places. Places like…..

 Making the rich pay their fair share in a transparent and progressive taxation system that does away with tax havens. Almost £60 billion could go into services instead of the pockets of the rich and huge corporations.

 Cancelling Trident. £1.8 billion next year and £76 billion over 40 years.

 Over £4 billion could be saved by cutting agency costs in local government and by replacing PFI projects with conventional procurement.

 Edinburgh Council alone spent over £6 million on consultants last year. £6 million that could have stopped services being cut.

The unions will not be silent on this.

Investment in public services is the only way out of this recession. For every pound a public service worker earns, 64p goes right back into the local economy.

That keeps small businesses going. That keeps jobs in Edinburgh. That benefits the whole economy.

We won’t be silent on this. We will build partnerships with workers, service users and with local businesses to make our voices heard.

Most of all, we will be telling the politicians, the profiteers, the people who want to sell off our services. We’ll be telling them loud and clear.

Our City’s Not For Sale.

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