Download Leaflet here: conference0310
Swindon TUC has organised a conference on the theme of Campaigning for Public Services. It will take place on Saturday March 20th, starting at 11.00 a.m., at the Broadgreen Centre, Salisbury Street, SN1 2AN. Speakers will include PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and John Lister of Health Emergency.
Swindon TUC is organising a conference on the theme of Campaigning for Public Services. For the last 30 years public services have either been privatised or commercialised, often with disastrous consequences. This policy was based on the dogma that the public sector was ‘inefficient’ whilst the private sector was ‘efficient’. Begun by Thatcher and Major the process was deepened by New Labour. Services which were seen as socially necessary were transformed into commodities, the provision of which was determined by market forces and the profit motive. Even where they were not privatised ‘competition’ was used as a means of ‘improving’ service provision. What have been the results?
- The privatised utilities (e.g. water, gas and electricity) have fleeced consumers. They are known for the speed with which they raise prices for consumers when wholesale prices go up, yet are slow to lower them when wholesale prices go down. Massive job cuts were made to increase profitability so that too few staff struggle to handle the work.
- The water industry allows millions of gallons to leak away every day whilst money which could be invested in renewing the infrastructure is handed over to shareholders. Locally Thames Water has been taken over by international investment company at the price of loading it up with massive debts. Job cuts have been the result and the threat of the local call centre being moved to India hangs over the head of the workforce.
- The NHS, as a national service, has been undermined by the introduction of a ‘health market’ in which Foundation Trusts compete with each other and private companies for patients. The ‘market’ was rigged in favour of private companies. To encourage them to take over NHS work they have been guaranteed payment even when they do not fulfil their contracts. They have been paid for work they have not done whereas NHS Trusts have been penalised for doing ‘too much’ work, being paid less than the ‘tariff’ for work above their quota! Patients, of course, do not fall ill by order.
- Our Council housing has been under threat of transfer to a Housing Association. We are currently waiting for the response of the government to its consultation on ‘reform’ of Council Housing Finance. The government has retreated from its original intention to wipe out Council Housing. Whilst Tory policy on Council housing is not yet clear – its emphasis is on helping tenants to become home owners – we can expect no favours. They have already commercialised Swindon Commercial Services, turning it into an ‘Arms Length Management Organisation’.
- Local government has long been under pressure from outsourcing and tight budgets. The annual budget cycle produces a debate on where the cuts should fall. But local government is insufficiently funded to fulfil its statutory functions. Swindon Council is imposing a new pay structure which includes the idea of subordinating pay to ‘market rates’ (see box).
- The civil service faces a unilateral worsening of its compensation scheme as well as the usual cuts which increase pressure on staff and undermine service provision, and more privatisation (e.g. Land Registry). The government has now decided to cap its contribution to civil service pensions.
- Our postal services are being undermined by ‘liberalisation’ – the opening up of mail to private companies. The government introduced liberalisation even before they were obliged to by EU legislation. This ‘competition’ is rigged in favour of private companies since Royal Mail has to deliver their competitors mail in the ‘final mile’. Unlike Royal Mail they do not have to bear the cost of setting up a delivery infrastructure. This set up threatens the ‘universal service obligation’ whereby the cost of a letter is the same however far it has to travel. Royal Mail management is attempting to casualise the work by replacing full-time posts by part-time ones, and loading up delivery staff with more work than they can manage on their daily rounds.
- The move towards Regional Fire Centres (an expensive and ill-designed proposal which would have worsened the service with the loss of critical local knowledge) appears to have hit the rocks in the face of FBU opposition. However, some managements are pressing to cut resources as a cost cutting measure during the night hours, the time when most lives are lost.
The trades unions are thus challenged to defend their members jobs, their conditions of service and the services they provide. As the national campaign in defence of Council housing has shown, where the unions have united with tenants’ organisations, an alliance between service providers and service users strengthens any campaign.
Our ability to defend our members and the services they provide depends upon the strength of trade union organisation in the workplace and across the public sector. The conference will provide an opportunity to assess the situation we face in the new year and to discuss workplace and industrial organisation: how it can be strengthened, how we can learn from the experience of different unions.
At the same time we have to develop a different vision for the provision of public services – one which is based on a measure of efficiency by the quality of the services we provide, rather than the balance sheet. The deeper commercialisation goes the more public services will be reduced to commodities the provision of which will be determined not by human needs but by whether or not individuals can afford to pay for them. Defence of what we have needs to be combined with a long term campaign for re-nationalisation or social ownership, pushing back the process of marketisation.
The conference will have 2 sessions:
- Defending jobs and working conditions, and campaigning for public services;
- Strengthening workplace and industrial union organisation