On Wednesday, 29th October 2014, Bristol Trades Union Council held a public meeting with the title “How do we re-nationalise Public Services?”. The speakers included Stuart Davies, Unite Public Services Officer for the South West Region, Joanne Kaye, Unison South West Regional Secretary and Rob Griffiths, Communist Party of Britain General Secretary.
This was the first public meeting held by Bristol Trades Union Council in a number of years and was an indication of it’s desire to project itself within the trade union movement and the wider community.
Stuart Davies set the scene for the meeting’s topic by giving an overview of how the National Health Service had been projected down the privatisation road.
Stuart explained that even though the previous Labour government had had a big appetite for privatisation, such as PFI, it was small compared to the Tory led coalition driving through the truly damaging policies of the Health and Social Care Act, which wasn’t even part of the Tory led coalition agreement.
He then went on to illustrate the acceleration of Tory privatisation in that during April 2012 – March 2013 there were £3bn of contracts put out to tender whereas during April 2013 – March 2014 the figure was £13.5bn of which 68% were awarded to the private sector.
Drawing on his experiences Stuart then reminded the audience of recent nationalisations in the finance sector, which were nothing else but a prop to big business. Northern Rock, the building society, was nationalised and then split up into a “good” and a “bad” bank with the “good” bank being quickly sold back to the private sector, with the tax‑payer keeping hold of the “bad” bank and all it’s ensuing losses. He also pointed out the Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS, and Lloyds had following their nationalisations sold some of their profitable businesses back into the private sector.
Stuart suggested that the current plan of awarding NHS contracts to the private sector would result in the state run NHS being left with the more expensive services that the private sector couldn’t get a satisfactory profit from. Further, he suggested that if the private sector failed they would hand the services back to the NHS to sort out the mess only for it then to be re‑tendered to the public sector.
He gave the recent example of the East Coast Mainline where just such a thing is happening. In 2009 the Labour government had been forced to give the failing National Express owned rail franchise to the publicly owned Directly Operated Railways which restored financial stability resulting in £1bn being returned to the Treasury during the last 5 years. Steve warned that the Government’s intention was now to return the franchise to the public sector before the next General Election.
Steve concluded by saying that if there is a political will, we can stop this and that the trade unions should exert pressure on Labour to stop all privatisations.
Joanne Kaye, Unison South West Regional Secretary, started by explaining that it was achievable to have ownership and control over public services and that we should always ask three questions – Who owns? Who controls? Who benefits?
Joanne reminded the audience that state control is not always benevolent and that people were entirely unaware of the consequences of privatisation of the energy sector. She pointed out that the profit at the onset of privatisation which had been £8.00 per household had now reached £53 and this at a time when old people can’t afford the prices for fuel and dying as a consequence.
She put forward the argument that people have an inbuilt alienation towards the state so it was important to get people’s emotions involved with a sense of local ownership which explained why the recent campaign by south Londoners to save Lewisham hospital galvanised the local community whereas the national campaigns to save the NHS were struggling.
Rob Griffiths, Communist Party of Britain General Secretary, explained that we are going through a period of huge destruction of public service jobs. He said that the recent announcement by the National Grid which warned of lower winter power capacity in 2014-15 was an example of a complete failure to invest even with huge public subsidies.
Rob criticised Labour and specifically Ed Balls who had said that we can’t afford to bring back some of the privatised companies into public ownership.
Rob then listed the current market values, as quoted on the London Stock Exchange, of some of the leading British companies such as Centrica, the electricity companies, BP, the water utilities, Royal Mail, British Airways. BAE, Qinetiq and Rolls Royce totalling about £281bn. Rob then pointed out that over the last 5 years we have bailed out the banks through Quantitative Easing to the tune of £375bn and posed the argument to Ed Balls that if there is enough money to bail out the banks there must be enough money to nationalise the recently privatised companies.
Rob said that the key to renationalisation was to break down the neo-liberal agenda and to explain that the mistakes in the way nationalisation was conducted in the late 1940s should not be repeated. He quoted Tony Benn who once said that nationalisation in in the 1940s had saved capitalism.
Rob suggested that we should look at the many models of public ownership around the world – e.g. New Zealand, Bolivia, Venezuela and Denmark to name but a few.