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Democrat April-May 2000 (Number 43)

Conference on Jobs and Welfare State launches a

Charter for Social Justice

report by Ken Knapman

Solidarity with the Rover workers and a determined effort to help their success and prevent economic devastation and social deprivation of the Midlands were focal points of the conference on jobs and the Welfare State. Conference chairman, CAEF organiser Ron Dorman, said the region could become a manufacturing wasteland with "soaring unemployment threatening the social fabric...the fact corporate capital is allowed to move capital in and out of Britain at will without considering the social consequences is a prime cause of the present situation."

Solidarity with the Rover workers and a determined effort to help their success and prevent economic devastation and social deprivation of the Midlands were focal points of the conference on jobs and the Welfare State. Conference chairman, CAEF organiser Ron Dorman, said the region could become a manufacturing wasteland with "soaring unemployment threatening the social fabric...the fact corporate capital is allowed to move capital in and out of Britain at will without considering the social consequences is a prime cause of the present situation."

The conference was attended by 54 people including delegates of organisations and members of eight political parties.

In the opening contribution John Boyd, CAEF Secretary, said: "Like many parts of Britain, the Midlands is facing a series crises in different areas of life." Our Campaign has a view of the world which will help to understand what is going on and establish links between the campaigns represented here today. This includes the EU factors such as Britain joining the single currency, adhering to the stringent convergence criteria, privatisation and use of Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and need for the Government to stand up to the European Commission.

PFI in the NHS

In her personal capacity, Ursula Pierce from the South Birmingham Health Council informed conference of how (PFI) would affect the health service and patient care. Private firms design, run and build hospitals. When built, the hospitals are leased back to the NHS over a projected period of 35-60 years. The New Hospital to replace Selly Oak and the Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham will work out to be much more expensive to run and includes European Investment Bank money.

Four years ago in Carlisle the estimated cost for their hospital was £40m and is now doubled to £87m. This clearly shows how PFI will mean higher costs and higher rents for the NHS.

In the case of the Birmingham University Trust, who runs the two hospitals, they will have to pay £30m each year in rent. They only pay £6m to the government each year at present and these are funds that can be recirculated into the NHS.

Now, the cost of rent will be 3 to 5 times higher. Money will go straight into the pockets of shareholders of private firms and will be lost to the NHS. Surveying companies will jump onto the gravy train making huge profits estimated at 15 to 25% each year on investments.

If there is a budget squeeze on the health service by future governments, rents will be protected, patient care will take second place to shareholders' profits. The government are saying there will be no help towards the rents and will not invest in private hospitals. The result will be smaller hospitals, beds are expected to drop by 30% according to the "National bed enquiry" and there will be staff reductions.

The future is one of "production line care" or what is known as a "revolving door" scenario. Older people are being discriminated against. More workload will be shifted to GP's and there is a chronic shortage of these in Birmingham and the Black Country. Patient charges will come in and there will be hotel charges, the poor will be left to recover at home.

Ursula analysed that the causes behind it are the Treaty on EU (Maastricht) which is central to European policy. There is no need for PFI because it only helps big business, the global financial institutions. What is going on undermines the NHS and principle that healthcare should be "free at the point of delivery". This is happening when there has been no public debate on the future of the NHS.

Third and other ways

Mark Oley, an AUT research officer, gave an informative account of the government strategy of "Partners for Progress". He outlined the history of collaborative policy, which included, "New Realism" of the 1980's. He exposed the ideology of Tony Blair's "Third Way " politics the main plank of New Labour's compromising social partnership policy. He pointed out that the leadership of the unions was a block to progress, as they are the main engine driving the social partnership.

Residents Action Group

Graham Fletcher from Residents Action Group for the Elderly (RAGE), delegate to the conference, said the privatising of old people's homes has been carried out under the pretext of saving money.

He said: "We have taken the council to the high court but we couldn't go forward because legal aid has been stopped." Local authorities have been driven by the "New Labour" government to constrain council's spending.

Graham was adamant the fight was not going to stop and said: "We must stand up and say No!"

He pointed out how people's money is being used to fight the legal cases of the authorities but people's money cannot be used to provide legal aid for the people themselves when they need it.

One woman delegate said that mental homes are going too and £650,000 has been spent on various infrastructure improvements to property while there are 7 handicapped homes closing.


Charlie Denton from the pensioners' movement said that he had travelled down from Skelmersdale to the conference is Regional Chairman of the "Pensioners' rights campaign in the North West." He outlined how the pensioners problem was very much linked to European policy and felt strongly that, "Pensioners conditions are being constrained as the welfare state is affected" He said that pensioners are an important force with 20 percent of the population. Pensions, he stated, are part of the same problem as everyone else is talking about. He said that the main principles were linked to living with dignity in old age he said that pensions should be linked to the average wage.


Dick Howell a Transport and Workers Union Shop Steward from the Rover Longbridge plant spoke and was well received by the delegates. He said that under the present conditions we could see the activities of the so-called European Works Councils. He said that Longbridge, Solihull, Cowley and Swindon had Works Councils, for what they are worth, since BMW had purchased Rover.

He said:"No-one was elected to go on these committees, no-one came to came to the shop stewards or the shop floor and asked which person do you think is best?" He said shop stewards objected to them and didn't want any truck with it. That was five and a half years ago.

Dick said that he now found himself in the present predicament after 31 years as a Longbridge worker and 25 years as a steward. He is now, as ever, trying to defend workers' jobs.

The agreement brought back was sold to stewards. It represented a longer working week with no extra money. "For 14 months we done it!" he said, but, "BMW dropped us like hot cake."

Dick said that he wanted to nail the lie about BMW losses he pointed out that from 1996 there was supposed to have been £600m per year losses, £2,400m losses were the total in four years.

"Where has the money gone then?" asks Dick he explained, "The `Freelander' (4x4) was successfully launched and is showing profit. The revamped `Discovery', which Alchemy is stealing was re-developed with plenty of the cash, the R75 was developed with money as was the R25 and the R30 and also the R50 Mini."

"Where are your losses?" Dick is demanding on behalf of the workforce and says: "You cannot invest money and put it down as losses! It is investment! £40m was taken out of our pension fund as part of the survival package too!"

Dick pointed to the way forward and he came here to CAEF because he knew he could count on support. He referred to the way the chairman had spoken about being vigilant about these union leaders and their "social partnership programme." He remembered how CAEF had said that Rover workers and stewards should keep the initiative in their own hands, maintaining their own agenda.

Dick spoke about the lukewarm speeches by the Trade Union leaders" but went to state: "The fightback started last Saturday, on the first of April!"

There was a huge applause when he had finished speaking and the conference resounded their support for the Rover workers in their fight.

Disabled workers

Les Woodward, a steward at the Swansea factory of REMPLOY, speaking in his personal capacity, talked about the origins of Remploy factories set up after the war to employ disabled workers. He said the biggest factory was in Birmingham. Les said that Remploy had been under continuous attack since 1994. The £94.2m subsidy from the government had been frozen since 1994. Each government since has said that Remploy must employ more people. This is despite the maintenance of the subsidy at the present levels, which has increased the pressure.

An 18 month campaign has been taken out and politicised the workers. There was a resolution passed in Manchester that any factory attacked would face united industrial action. MP's have been lobbied and a 24-hour vigil was placed outside the Houses of Parliament. Les pointed out that much of the work of Remploy is down to supplying Rover and there is an estimate of an immediate effect on the jobs of 250 disabled workers.

"In 2 or 3 moths now," Les said, "we will be back on the campaign trail fighting the same government of today because they won't support disabled workers."

Les said that the £155m of new money is a drop in the ocean and asked the conference to take the issue of disabled back to the rest of the working class.


The second half of the meeting was was devoted to a charter for social rights. There was much discussion on the basis of unity of the organisations present who reached a unanimous decision on the contents of a Charter for Social Justice given below. The Charter is now being finalised through discussion with the delegates who attended the conference. Both the Charter and a full report of the main speeches made at the conference will be published. Organisations and individuals will be invited to support the Charter.

Charter for Social Justice

*** Opposition to PFI in the NHS;

*** A fully funded NHS;

*** A free health service at the point of delivery;

*** Maintaining properly publicly funded, publicly owned facilities for the elderly, mentally and physically disabled;

*** Proper fully funded employment provision for disabled workers;

*** Pensions providing a decent standard of living linked to average wage;

*** Support for the manufacturing base in Britain;

*** Maximum support to maintain the Rover Longbridge Plants and jobs

*** Opposition to the "Social Partnership" between trade unions, transnational companies and European Commission;

*** Opposition to racism

*** Opposition to the movement of capital out of Britain where it will cause devastation to the local community

*** Opposition to the EU currency convergence criteria

*** No to the Euro single currency