Socialist Worker

Can Jeremy Corbyn’s plans work?

Rivals attack Corbyn’s policies as ‘loony left’ but millions back them nevertheless. Raymie Kiernan and Tomáš Tengely-Evans look at what difference his policies could make

Issue No. 2519

What is Corbyns blueprint for a Labour government?

What is Corbyn's blueprint for a Labour government?


Jeremy Corbyn is putting forward the policies that he believes a Labour government should carry through to make Britain a country that works for “the millions not the millionaires”.

He has called, for example, for an extra £500 billion in public spending. This would be used to build new homes, boost the NHS and education and reduce income inequality.

He proposes to set up a National Investment Bank to direct moves towards a hi-tech and green-based economy.

Corbyn wants a “national education service” that includes free childcare, the abolition of tuition fees and a boost for adult education services.

Even a brief glance shows such policies are far better than the ones that Corbyn’s challenger Owen Smith is putting forward.

Corbyn’s leadership and the infusion of new members has pushed Labour leftwards. Smith knows he cannot confront directly a substantial amount of what Corbyn says.

So Smith, the supporter of the chicken coup and former pharmaceuticals industry lobbyist, says he will “deliver a revolution in workers’ rights”.

But the detail reveals the weakness of his vision. Smith, for example says he agrees with Corbyn that zero hours contracts should be outlawed. But he quickly added that a one-hour contract could be acceptable.

Corbyn says the millions of workers earning less than the Living Wage should earn above it. Smith proposes “a true living wage”—extended to all adults.

In his pitch for the youth vote he said the minimum wage “would be raised to meet the living wage of £8.25, giving an annual pay rise of £5,369 to a worker aged between 18-20”. It’s right that young people should not be paid less for doing the same job as older workers.

But for the 87.5 percent of workers in Britain aged 25 and over Smith’s “true living wage” would leave them in the same place as the Tories’ phoney National Living Wage in 2020.

Try as he might, it’s hard to believe Smith will go beyond changing some of the Tories’ worst policies since 2010, and even then it’s clear he’s supported some of what they’ve done.

Richard Branson’s obvious hatred for Corbyn is one early sign of the hostility a left-led Labour government would face.

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn see a much more principled, genuine politician. He goes further than Smith on workers’ rights. He argues that workers should have “a real say in the organisations they work for, and the boardrooms that control them”.

Collective bargaining with trade unions “should be mandatory” at firms with more than 250 workers and in general “sectoral union bargaining rights” should be introduced.

The Guardian newspaper also recently reported “aides to the Labour leader” saying that a Corbyn government would “repeal” 1999 union legislation that was passed by Tony Blair’s government.

But this example shows that Corbyn’s policies need to go much further if they are to offer real change. What we should be fighting for is the scrapping of all anti-union laws.

Corbyn’s calls for nationalisation of transport and health services (see below) strike a chord with huge numbers of people. But like his arguments on workplace rights and union representation, reversing privatisation and the market in our public services needs more radical policies and a wider fight than in parliament.

Corbyn’s polices are based in the idea that with a bit of pressure bosses can be pushed into working alongside workers as the economy grows for all. But it’s an illusion.

Britain’s bosses will fight tooth and nail to protect their position. Virgin’s Richard Branson’s obvious hatred for Corbyn is one early sign of the hostility a left-led Labour government would face.

It wouldn’t just involve manipulation of CCTV pictures. Labour would face the much more serious withdrawal of investment and manipulation of currencies and bonds.

Privatised public services are cash cows for corporations and improving workers’ pay and conditions is a direct challenge to their profits.

Supporters need to do more than hope for a Corbyn government in 2020. Improvements in working class living standards will be the result of class struggle outside parliament. We need mass demonstrations that demand the kinds of things Corbyn calls for—that’s the best way for his supporters to strengthen his position against the Labour right.

But we have to go further and use the industrial power of workers to show the bosses that we aren’t taking no for an answer.


Vampires carry on bleeding the NHS

Privatisation, budget cuts and the decimation of social care services have combined to cause a perfect storm in the NHS.

While private companies leech millions in NHS contracts, hospitals are sinking in debt and poverty pay and rocketing workloads are pushing staff out and hitting patient care hard.

That’s why most health workers support Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge that a Labour government would “renationalise” the NHS.

A Corbyn-led Labour government would reinstate NHS student bursaries and end the public sector pay freeze to deal with the staffing crisis. It would inject cash instead of demanding £22 billion in cuts.

Joseph, an outsourced health worker, told Socialist Worker, “I fully support bringing our jobs back into the NHS.

“It would be a great idea, not just for us, but for the patients too. Many patients complain about the cleaning and the food because everything is done cheap quality.”

Joseph works as a porter for outsourcing giant ISS in Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London. Not content with the £250 million profit it made last year, it’s threatening to slash workers’ jobs and hours.

Dave, another porter for ISS, added, “The problem with private companies is that they don’t care about standards.”

ISS is just one of the many multinational companies profiting from the NHS. One third of NHS England contracts have gone to private companies since the Tories’ Health and Social Care Act 2012 prised open the health service.

Health workers fighting back

Health workers fighting back (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Stopping privatisation would mean scrapping the Health Act, which Corbyn would do by supporting the private members’ NHS Reinstatement Bill.

But this would still leave the current contracts untouched.

Diane Abbott, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said, “The NHS under Jeremy Corbyn will shift resources to frontline care and away from profit-seeking private operators.”

Abbot rightly argued that scrapping privatisation means “bearing down the costs of the private finance initiative” (PFI).

First introduced by Tory prime minister John Major in the 1990s, the PFI con trick was taken up with relish by New Labour.

PFI meant that private firms paid for the building of hospitals—and then leased them back to the NHS. Not using any more PFI contracts in the NHS is crucial, but that leaves the existing PFI contracts intact. Corbyn has said that a Labour government could set up a public fund to alleviate the burden on hospitals. But why should the privateers get any more money?

Corbyn has begun to talk about the root causes of the NHS crisis—the privatisation that’s breaking it apart.

But to fully deal with the problems will mean confronting the outsourcers head on, not just gradually reversing privatisation.


Rail changes must go further

As the latest rise in rail fares was announced Jeremy Corbyn laid out his public transport strategy, “to bring the railways back into public ownership” and “extend public control over our bus network”.

What does it mean in practice?

“Extricating the railways from the mess of privatisation could save £100s of millions a year,” Corbyn argues.

Private firms are handed franchises to run parts of the network. They rent train carriages from rolling stock companies (ROSCOs) often controlled by private equity and pension funds.

Corbyn argues we should get rid of the ROSCOs “making double-digit profit margins” and the state should buy the trains. The franchises would be run by the state—but only after they expire.

Tendering

Franchises often run for seven to ten years. It could take until 2029, pretty much two general elections, before they would all be publicly run.

Another one, possibly two, will be in the process of tendering out if Labour wins in 2020. Will a Corbyn government cancel these tenders?

If not it would be at least three years after Corbyn’s Railways Act in 2020 before the next two franchises end and are made public.

Corbyn’s team should campaign for a mandate that does not let the privateers off so lightly. Renationalisation of all the franchises is needed as soon as a Corbyn government is elected—and without compensation to the fat cats.

There are also problems with the plan for buses. Some 4.65 billion bus journeys were made last year in Britain. Many services provide a lifeline to people yet the Tories have cut bus grants by 20 percent.

In the ten years to 2013 bus companies handed £2.8 billion to shareholders.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald’s “simple solution” is the “London-style franchise model”. If it was rolled out there would be net financial gains of £340 million per year, Labour says.

The Transport for London (TfL) model saw bus usage grow by a third between 2004 and 2013, compared to a six percent drop in other English metropolitan areas. And fares are better in London.

But it is far from perfect. Bus firms compete for route contracts. They receive an income from TfL and TfL takes the revenue.

So to turn a profit, companies must reduce costs. Performance statistics determine bonuses or losses for the companies.

Pressure from TfL translates into high expectations on drivers adding pressure on to what’s already a stressful job.

And the competition for routes sees pay rates driven down as bosses cut costs to bid for contracts.

London’s drivers are on 80 different pay rates. And the number of accidents, serious injuries and deaths are on the increase. Is this really the solution for buses?


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