the people’s charter: a charter for change? – updated

18 01 2009

In recent weeks and months a “People’s Charter” has been elaborated by a commission involving a number of leaders of the trade unions and the left, notably the leadership of the RMT railworkers’ union but also John McDonnell MP, leading officials in other broadly radical trade unions such as the FBU and NUT, and prominent members of Respect and the Communist Party of Britain. This “charter for change” has not yet been finalised, but it appears that its text will be decided upon and then launched at a rally, rather than openly and democratically discussed across wider layers of our movement. We disapprove of the manner in which this project has been carried out, and do not think much of the current raft of “programmes for government action” issued by left groups which say little about what action we ourselves must take and what movement we need to do it.

However, we publish this draft of the document (see below) in the hope that it will provoke discussion and allow dissenting voices in the labour movement like our own to be heard: as always, feel free to post comments and replies. A more thoroughgoing analysis and critique appears in the second issue of The Commune.

Britain is in the grip of an economic crisis. So is the world.

Every time there is a slump the politicians and financiers seem mystified as to how the system has failed. But boom and bust is the way it works. It’s  not stable.

When the economy grows, banks, corporations and speculators, driven only by greed, gamble other people’s money in their global casino. When they lose ‘confidence’ in their profit making schemes and panic, the bubble bursts and we pay the price.

Redundancies throw hundreds of thousands on to the dole. Savings are lost. Homes are repossessed. Pensions lose value. Workers are put on short time. Wages and conditions are cut. Public services are slashed.

Government is spending billions of pounds of our money bailing the banks and big business out of their crisis.

Its not right and we didn’t vote for it.

Those £billions are our money. And our children’s. We want that money better spent.

We have launched a People’s Charter. It sets out what must be done to get out of this crisis and put the people first, before the interests of bankers and speculators.

We need one million signatures to show we mean business. So sign and support the Charter – on line, at work, in your community.

Together we can get the changes we need. Can we do it? Yes we can!

1.     A fair economy for a fairer Britain. Take the leading banking, insurance and mortgage industries fully into democratic public ownership run for the benefit of all. Regain control of the Bank of England and keep interest rates low. Tightly regulate the City markets to facilitate lending and to stop speculation and takeovers against the public interest. Ban hedge funds, raids on pension funds, asset-stripping and corporate tax loopholes. Restructure the tax system so big business and the wealthy pay more and ordinary people pay less.

2.     More and better jobs. Existing jobs must be protected. Public and private investment must create new jobs paying decent money. In particular in manufacturing, construction and green technology. More jobs mean more spending power to stimulate the economy, increased tax revenue and fewer people on benefit. Build full employment. Reduce hours, not pay, to create more jobs. Raise the minimum wage to half national median earnings and end the lower rate for young workers.

3.     Decent homes for all. Stop the repossessions and keep people in their homes. Offer ‘no interest’ loans. Control rents. We need 3 million new homes. Give local government the power and money to build and renovate affordable quality homes and buy empty ones, ending the housing shortage, and creating jobs.

4.     Protect and improve our public services – no cuts. Save public money: bring energy, transport, water, post and telecommunications back into public ownership. End corporate profiteering in health, education, social and other public services.  Stop the EU privatisation Directives.

5.     Fairness and Justice. Free heating and transport for every pensioner. Link state pensions and benefits to average earnings. Protect pension schemes and restore the lost value of private pensions. End child poverty by increasing child benefits and tax credits and providing free nurseries and crèches. Enforce equal pay for women. End racism and discrimination in all its forms. No scape-goating of migrant workers. Invest in young people and give them a real stake in the future. Provide youth, community, arts and cultural centres, sports facilities, and clubs for all. Guarantee training, apprenticeships and education with grants for everyone and no fees. Restore union rights to allow them the freedom to fight the crisis and to protect workers.

6.     Build a secure and sustainable future for all

End the cost of war in blood and money.  Bring our troops home. Don’t waste £billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons. And beyond the current economic disaster, climate change threatens us all. Our future must be based on massive investment for a greener, safer world now. Debt is crushing millions of people forcing them to move and producing war, famine and misery. Get rid of the debt economy in Britain and cancel the debts of the poor of the planet.  A better future for all the people of the world.

Click here to see the short version of the charter.

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6 responses

18 01 2009
David Broder

I’m all in favour of programmes for action which unite labour movement activists, and these should reflect the questions we face organising in our communities, campaigns and workplaces today: what can we do about the public sector pay freeze? Can we stop mass lay-offs, or is unions’ role just to negotiate good terms for those made redundant? What do we say about imperialism and the declining anti-war movement, the role of the state, gender oppression, racism, etc., etc.?

Debating such points and eleborating such a document could be a unifying element. It could be the basis – and only the basis, not the substance – of a reinvigorated labour movement mounting a socialist offensive in society.

Unfortunately it seems these questions are never taken seriously, and left groups (and now, it appears, the left of the trade union bureaucracy) are keen to write programmes for what the government ought to do, but nothing much about how on earth the workers’ movement can build its strength, or even resist further defeats. The above document is little but propagandistic… and among some basic problems it doesn’t even refer to “capitalism” or class society, which is pretty poor given some of the people involved in doing it (clearly the Stalinist “Communist Party of Britain is to the right of people like John McDonnell and Bob Crow, but still…). McDonnell’s advocacy of direct action against the Third Runway at Heathrow, including his own disruption of the Parliamentary discussion/non-vote on the proposal, is by itself far more advanced than this.

The charter’s preamble calls for a million signatures – but the purpose of this is far from clear. Who is meant to enact the plan? Of course, clearly no-one, because it is clearly not designed with a strategy for success in mind, but all the same, a stronger/more serious initiative would not just be able to sidestep that question.

Maybe the idea of a charter is meant to be a nod to the Charter of 170 years ago which called for universal suffrage, annual parliaments etc., but the petition was merely one of the aspects of a large revolutionary movement using diverse tactics. Hopefully some action does come out of the People’s Charter: for all the disagreements we have with it, we will get involved in any events or activities that are held and argue for more practical proposals.

18 01 2009
Ian

David you have made a very good point. In fact its central to the whole movement to discuss as you say

“Unfortunately it seems these questions are never taken seriously, and left groups (and now, it appears, the left of the trade union bureaucracy) are keen to write programmes for what the government ought to do, but nothing much about how on earth the workers’ movement can build its strength, or even resist further defeats”

I made it a personal aim of mine to not join any Marxist political tendency until I see this very question not just discussed (anyone can discuss) but actually acted upon. What are we doing for our movement ourselves if we are trying to build a Socialist Opposition to Capitalism? Its not about seling papaers or just raising money, even though these are important. Its about getting out into the workplaces, then the unions in order to change things from below. How do we organise? What is best practice? How do we share best practice and unify our struggle?

Charters come and go. So do Left Conventions and Meetings to discuss political representation. But if we continue to be ignored by the workers we are meant to represent , the most important question will be how we change the way we work.

It doesnt seem to be working at the moment.

20 01 2009
internationalcommunist

Note that the above post now includes an updated version of the charter as well as a short version (click link at bottom of article)

13 03 2009
phill

I have just found out about the charter and am all in favour. You can argue that the original chartists failed or you can argue that they succeeded in all but one of their demands. This is not a charter of what we want the govt to do but a suggested list of what we demand. The website containing the charter allows no discussion which cannot be allowed- let’s take the discussion forward and, dare I say it here, accept that there may be a broad agreement on at least some of the issues. Would you welcome conservative support for keepind a raralpost office alive?

13 03 2009
phill

apologies for spelling – rural post office is what I meant

14 03 2009
c0mmunard

Hi Phil,

This is not a charter of what we want the govt to do but a suggested list of what we demand.

What are demands other than things we want the govt to do?

Would you welcome conservative support for keepind a rural post office alive?

No. I wouldn’t, as such, be displeased about such support, but I wouldn’t solicit it, make alliances with it, or give it a platform. I would be neutral. What is the point? In a few years, the same Tory comes in, and their party runs a government which then cuts the post office anyway. Why? Because like New Labour, their party represents the interests of capital…




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