Public Ownership

The growth of public protest in Plymouth recently should be a cause for hope if not celebration. The protests to raise concern about the cost-of-living crisis on 20th August and 1st October were surprisingly large. Their slogan, “Enough Is Enough!” gained much popularity nationally.

The climate protest coinciding with the COP conferences, loud and colourful through the City Centre linked with hundreds of similar marches in towns and cities across Europe and the USA, proving Plymouth to not be a parochial backwater. Not least, the demand for international “Climate Justice” offered a strong anti-racist message across the City.

As has, of course, the well-supported and applauded protests by our own Iranian and Kurdish communities for women’s rights against the autocratic repression of the Iran’s “morality police”, incarcerating, torturing and shooting those who demand a woman’s right to choose how to live.

Some of these protests are responding to new challenges, demanding democracy and human rights. Some offer a reprise of ancient and constant demands for human suffrage.

Take, for example, last month’s protests outside the Plymouth Council House. Two groups, and more, with single issues that in fact merge into one. Now is the time for all progressive campaigns to join with the growing number of strikes, across unions and movements, into a mass action of millions to defeat the corrupt neoliberal Tory government. A key demand is renationalisation.

I was a trade union leader in Plymouth City Council for more than two decades. During my time I built strikes and protests to defend jobs and, as importantly, services. Of all the campaigns, the central core issue was privatisation. In 2006 Plymouth was the least privatised Council in the South of England, with services funded for need not profit.

Now most services are outsourced, with private contractors making big profits from Council Tax payers. Little wonder our taxes are so high, and about to go even higher.

So the latest anti-cuts demonstration, protesting against a more-than £30million deficit in Plymouth Council’s budget with the potential of an 18% cut to vital services, was reminiscent of the many protests we held through the 1990’s, Noughties and twenty-teens.

The demise of democracy and the rise of the political class in Britain should be of concern to all. Where once at least some Councillors were motivated to stand for election because they wanted to make a change, to help The People, and to serve, today the vast majority are motivated by the self interests of status and wealth.

At national level, the creep of privatisation of the NHS has occurred over decades, managed by parties both blue and supposedly red, and has now reached a point where the intentional destruction of the cohesion of an integrated health service is being used to invite private health industries from the USA to cash-in. Bill Morgan, a founding partner of the PR and lobbying firm Evoke Incisive Health, joined No 10 as a health policy adviser earlier this month, committed to encouraging competition for private for-profit contracts for public health care.

Both major groupings of politicians have throughly embraced what is known as neoliberal capitalism – the free-market control of the economy by large Corporations freed from political regulation. We now see the results in our crumbling services and crisis-riven National Health Services.

If we are to come out of this terrible state of entrenched poverty at one end and absurd levels of wealth for a tiny group of super-rich at the other, we have to focus upon renationalisation.

It is important to remind ourselves that all public transport, all utilities from water and sewage through to electricity and gas, all health and social care services, our streets (and the trees), and of course “Council Housing” were owned by the public, absent of profit but rich in investment, within my lifetime.

Public ownership is the better term for renationalisation. That which is paid for by our taxes should remain in our ownership. Any returns form our tax investments should be there to benefit us all, collectively. Taxes should not be the source of private profits or shareholders dividends. It’s a simple-enough moral and ethical principal to understand. Profit takes money out of service.

At a time of enforced austerity for the many, the destruction of welfare principles and the Welfare State, the privatisation of everything from care of our aged to every tree and landscape is a false economic and political mechanism which only benefits the wealthy and entitled at the expense of the rest of us. The money should be better spent.

And now, as we are told each hour of the waking day that “there is no money” (except for war…), the question is how to renationalise. The neoliberals meant privatisation to be a one-way path. But governments make laws, and laws can and do allow the compulsory purchase land and businesses when necessary – look at the enforced devastation caused by the HS2 project. The services that we owned, the land, the buildings, the employees that have been sold to private individuals without our agreement must be reclaimed. Our welfare state has been stolen from us, mostly for a pittance of remuneration, and we must take all assets back, without compensation, into democratically controlled not-for-profit public ownership.

The political class clearly will not help us. Our power lies on the streets and in the workplaces. We need to rebuild democracy by force of numbers, ousting the old and re-establishing public service over private profit. And the ultimate power on our side remains strike action, by rail workers to renationalise public transport, nurses to force real investment in health and social care, teachers to rebuld our crumbling schools, civil servants to ensure welfare services for those in need, and council workers to rebuild social infrastructure.

Above all we have to own our agency. We can affect change. We are living in a worsening social, political and climate crisis. We will not prosper by half-measures. It’s time to rise up!

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