In the follow-up to his article on the need for alternative economic recovery groups, Sean Baille proposes what these forums would look like and drafts a provisional programme of economic recovery.
The core purpose of any alternative recovery forums must be to amplify and support the needs, demands and voices of working class people and the communities disproportionately affected by any increased austerity measures post lockdown. It must do this in a way that encourages, promotes and develops those most affected to take action on our own terms and build up our own infrastructure as an economic class for sustainable and prolonged economic recovery.
For decades there has existed a political culture preventing this from happening. It has led to a massive reduction of organic working-class intellectual thought and political agency. I will cover this reality in more detail in the future but it is important to mention this at the outset, and for it to remain a clear principle as we begin to discuss the formation and programme of this proposal.
Examples of working class self organisation have existed for many years, principally in the form of Trade Unions. and have begun to appear in new forms such as Tenant and Community Unions. There is potential for them to be created elsewhere in the form of debtor unions or even the proposed councils of economic recovery and reconstruction themselves.
This document is intended to be the starting gun for a conversation around the framework for any proposed alternative economic recovery strategy and the potential programmes that could follow. It is therefore not intended to be an extensive or rigid proposal, as this would prevent the necessary pollination of ideas and ownership to develop long term. To begin we will look at which demographics, organisations and groups must be integral to this process. Then, I will breakdown the programme into 4 main area’s following the template offered to us by Fiona Hyslop MSP and Andrew Wilson founder of Charlotte Street Partners, in their ruling class orientated recovery plans.
Any alternative economic recovery formations must be constituted in such a way as to ensure representation and participation from across the working class. It must include lay member representation from trade unions, black workers committees, tenant and community organisations, committees of unemployed, disability groups, representation from migrant communities, under-organised workers on the front line and even mortgage prisoners. Steps must also be taken to ensure the participation and influence from mutual aid groups, food banks and solidarity groups.
It must however make a clear stand against the paternal and patronising culture that can be seen from many NGOs, charitable and third sector organisations. Any formations must seek to challenge power and be able to do so without worrying about the consequences of losing funding from central government and foundation partnership working.
Political organisations and parties will also have a role to play in winning supportive reforms in parliament, but must agree to play this role in a non-sectarian manner that reflects the serious nature of the situation. Contributions should also be made by progressive think tanks, campaigning organisations, new media outlets and academics. These groups will all have an essential role to play in informing discussion but cannot be allowed to consume and dominate, drowning out the voices of individuals and further preventing the development of potential working class leaders.
Finally, we must begin and remain committed to action based organising, uniting people around issues, allowing potential victories to influence strategy and using them to maintain momentum and growth. Victories must be celebrated and shared widely, collectively evaluating our successes and our limitations in order to overcome them.
The first steps will be to support and amplify the demands and aims of organic working class response to the crisis. All workers must be protected from exposure and risk of infection, mass testing and contact tracing should be called for as an immediate priority. Trade Union calls for adequate risk assessments and PPE must be backed in a ferocious manner, with increased facility time for all workplace reps. Furloughed workers must be supported in demanding 100% of their wages, huge efforts must be made to identify and pool resources to support workers not furloughed but unable to work, receiving statutory sick pay or recently made redundant due to the crises.
A banning of evictions must be tied to rent and mortgage suspensions applied universally or, at a minimum, tied to a percentage of income in each case. Permanent tenancies secured for everyone facing homelessness, in insecure tenancies and seeking asylum. A cessation of personal debt repayments on loans and finance. Immediate roll-out of free internet for every household backed by the distribution of smart technology for all who need it.
Lastly in order for us to move onto the next phase of an economic recovery, moves must be made to secure a basic income to bring every household income up to the cost of living, with an immediate wage supplement for all key workers.
Once the immediate safeguards are won and in place, we must look at the steps required to reset the economy on our terms. Here we should call for the creation of local, regional and industrial councils for recovery and reconstruction. The Community Empowerment Act should be amended to allow an easier migration of ownership, with the use of all empty premises to be handed over to these councils.
A 3-day week implemented across the board to further allow new employment possibilities for everyone out of work due to the crisis. Universal repeal of anti-trade union laws with new reforms granting universal access for trade unions to visit workplaces. Facility time and secondment opportunities for workers to take part in the creation and running of community spaces, co-ops and participation in the councils for recovery and reconstruction.
Commitments should be sought for rents and mortgage payments to be frozen for a period of 5 years, with interest on personal loans and finance capped.
Restart and Rebuild
With the above reforms in place we would hopefully then stand a chance of restarting and rebuilding the economy on our terms and in the benefit of the working class as a whole. Councils for recovery and reconstructions would be responsible for facilitating the creation of a new economy.
A new economy that fully recognises those that contribute the most. One that awards the true value of work carried out by our carers, our cleaners, our nurses, the bin men, workers in the ambulance services and those that keep food on the shelves and on our tables. The workers who have for too long been overlooked and undervalued. This crisis has shown now more than ever that it is these key workers that are the drivers of our economy, the backbone, without which society would stutter and break apart.
To re-divert funds back into working class communities, the wage of the highest earners should be capped at 10 x that of the lowest. A community wealth tax introduced on the profits of bookmakers, a minimum wage increase of 10% above the national minimum for all workers employed by large supermarket chains and employers registered in offshore tax havens.
This new economy would be built on the community owned small businesses and infrastructure meeting the demand of local economies. New jobs and supply chains created from the increased income of the lowest paid and economic stimulus measures on these terms would ensure a greater percentage of liquidity remaining at a local level for a longer period of time.
This would help to provide the local councils for recovery and reconstruction a greater degree of political and economic assets and infrastructure. Which in turn will provide working class communities a far greater degree of political agency and ownership over their lives and the economy.
Recovery and Reconstruction
Using that increased political influence and agency, national forums of these councils would then be able to meet, and shape demands at a much higher level. We could push for huge national infrastructure programmes around care, housing, healthcare, education, transport, the redistribution of land and resources.
These measures would help to restrict the international extraction of wealth and resources, it could stimulate local and regional economies historically underdeveloped or those still reeling from the asset stripping of de-industrialisation.
It would equip a generation of working-class people with the confidence, capacity and experience to play a more influential role in society. It would pave the way for stronger political, cultural and economic expression. By meeting the needs of society and developing a new political and economic culture huge numbers of working-class people would have a greater opportunity to fulfil their potential.
The alternative is another decade of economic contraction. The forced competition of scant resources manifesting itself in racism, resentment, frustration at a lack of agency over our lives, another generation lost to despair, addiction, violence and suicide. I am not willing to let that happen, are you?
Image: Roberto Ventre