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by Robert Griffiths

On August 29, when Labour and the House of Commons voted against war in Syria, they broke an important political taboo. They defied the diktats of US foreign policy and upheld the sovereignty of the people of Britain.

The interests of the peoples of Britain and Syria prevailed over those of the US military-industrial complex.

Now we need to break another political taboo, urgently.

The case for public ownership of essential industries and services needs to be put, boldly and publicly.

The corporate monopolies and their so-called ‘free market’ are failing to provide decent jobs, wages, services, living standards or security for many millions of people.

While a tiny minority of the super rich continue to get richer by the week, the majority of people struggle to pay the bills.

Big business are by-words for greed, corruption, tax dodging, waste and incompetence.

Six huge corporations now dominate the vital gas and electricity market in Britain. They buy and sell between themselves and the oil giants to manipulate wholesale and retail prices, then pass the higher costs to consumers and the inflated profits to their top shareholders.

As the six threaten yet more price rises this autumn, tame regulator Ofgem pretends to disapprove and calls for more market competition.

The myth is that higher bills are necessary to fund investment in new technology and capacity.

Yet current prices include elements to cover depreciation. Profits after paying interest to the banks are high enough already, but around 40 per cent of them are distributed in share dividends.

Meanwhile, chronic under-investment in new production and storage facilities continues, with warnings from Ofgem that Britain faces blackouts from 2016.


‘two-thirds to three-quarters of people believe that postal services, the railways and water should belong in the public sector’


It’s a similar story in the water industry. Regional monopolies milk a vital industry for extra ‘shareholder value’, while companies such as Severn Trent, United Utilities and Thames Water lose a quarter of their supplies through leakages.

Still no national water grid has been built, which means another round of bans and restrictions next year.

Significantly, while most companies wage a price war against their own domestic and industrial customers, the lowest increases come from one of the few not-for-profit enterprises, Welsh Water.

Behind local sounding names, Britain’s water resources are mostly owned by a complex web of financial and industrial companies, from Europe and the Middle East to Japan and Australia.

As intended, Ofwat is toothless in the face of rampaging waste and profiteering.

On Britain’s privatised railways, government subsidies account for one third of the revenues on what is one of Europe’s most expensive networks. Without public money, most of the train operating companies would collapse within weeks.

Network Rail, a ‘not for shareholder dividend’ company effectively in the public sector, ensures that substantial investment goes into the industry’s infrastructure.

But the privatisation of bus, air, port and road freight services has meant that all attempts to create an integrated public transport system, with the transfer of freight from road to rail, have come to nought.

The lack of coordinated planning across our energy and transport sectors is stacking up huge supply and environmental problems for future generations. And it is now clear that without strategic elements of public ownership, strategic planning will continue to be ineffectual.

The same principles apply in the economy as a whole. Today in Britain mass unemployment (especially among young people), low wages, job insecurity, tax avoidance and under-investment are the norm.

The British capitalist class owns huge capital assets around the world, but has no commitment to build a modern. diverse and productive economy at home.

The City of London and its financial institutions control credit, investment, markets and government policy making across the British economy.

Yet without the £1.3 trillion bail-out of Britain’s financial sector and huge injections of public money through ‘quantitative easing’, the City would have gone bankrupt.

We nationalised the losses and liabilities during the post-2007 crash. However, now that RBS, Northern Rock and Lloyds are returning to profitability, kept afloat by public money, those profits will be privatised!

Yet, as China shows, large scale public ownership within the financial sector can ensure economic growth, investment, job creation and rising wages across the whole economy.

For example, a nationalised banking system working with local government could succeed where the private market has failed by building affordable homes for Britain’s five million people on council and housing association waiting lists.

Across Europe and Latin America, water and waste services are being taken back into municipal ownership. Even in Germany, public utilities are buying up local electricity generation and supply facilities.

The Welsh government is nationalising Cardiff-Wales Airport after decades of private under-investment.

Meanwhile, in England the East Coast mainline rail franchise is being handed back from a successful public enterprise to the same private sector that failed it previously.

After keeping pension fund assets and liabilities in public sector, the Royal Mail is being fattened up for gifting to multinational corporations.

Yet opinion polls indicate consistently that two-thirds to three-quarters of people believe that postal services, the railways and water should belong in the public sector

The time has come for the Labour Party leadership to break another taboo and embrace public ownership.


Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto

This appears in Unity@TUC the Communist Party daily issued to delegates at the TUC



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