Signal Failure – Rail privatisation & the fight against it

April 24, 2015

20 years ago I wrote a pamphlet for the Thames Valley District Council of the RMT.  The text on the back page reads:

“Rail privatisation is a universally unpopular measure save for a few ‘free market’ ideologues and managers looking to make a financial killing in line with the top dogs in the other privatised public utilities.

This pamphlet examines the method of privatisation, the results so far, and the likely ones in the future should a feeble government survive.

It examines the historical background to the decline of the railways in Britain, under both Tory and Labour governments.

It proposes an expansion of the rail network in the interests of tackling the environmental crisis, improving the service to the customers and creating a socialist plan for job creation.

It calls for an unequivocal commitment from the Labour Party to re-nationalise the entire network, though not to be run by a government appointed businessman on a profit-making basis. It looks at the debate in the old NUR over how a socialised railway could be run by the staff who work in it, at the service of social needs.

It examines the connection of this issue to the debate in the Labour Party over the question of Clause 4 of the constitution (“common ownership of the means of production, distribution, exchange.”

At the time, of course, the union was still affiliated to the Labour Party but the experience of the Labour Government from 1997, led to the union being expelled from it. What had been a Labour-loyalist union was alienated by the refusal of the Government to take a single step towards re-nationalisation and the practical consequences of New Labour’s support for the “dynamic market economy”.

You can read the pamphlet or download it from here: signalfailure

It was written under a pen name because of the threat of victimisation.

“What Future for Council Housing?” now available

March 24, 2015

Ken Loach

“Martin Wicks has written a valuable account of a grassroots campaign from the inside, but the book is more than that. It deals comprehensively with questions that arise when discussing housing and makes a convincing case for our being able to find answers collectively and democratically. This is essential reading for campaigners”

What Future for Council Housing?

Council housing and the housing crisis

A book by Martin Wicks

There is much debate about the acute housing crisis in Britain though it is mostly the voices of housing professionals and academics that are heard, not to mention government ministers who know little about housing. This book is written by a Council tenant and reflects the work and the ideas of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group which was instrumental is helping to defeat an attempt to sell-off Swindon’s more than 10,000 Council homes.

The book records the campaign against ‘transfer’ and the work of the Group in challenging coalition government policy. It looks at the crisis through the prism of the housing situation in Swindon: the decline of home ownership, the rapid rise of the private rented sector and the shortage of Council homes.

It offers a contribution to the debate about the roots of the crisis and how it can be resolved.

Council housing was a collective solution to a social problem created by the failure of ‘the market’. The profiteering private builder gave us ‘jerry built’ homes and the ubiquitous slums. Council housing was a liberation for people who lived in ‘rooms’ and over-crowded housing. It gave them better quality homes than most people in the private rented sector had.

The book offers evidence that the housing crisis cannot be resolved without a return to large scale Council house building once again. So long as housing remains dominated by commodity production then the shortage of genuinely affordable homes for rent and sale will drag on and the rising generations will to be forced to continue to live with their parents or in over-priced private rented accommodation with no security of tenure.

Britain is at a cross-roads where a question mark hangs over the future of Council housing as more and more of the homes are sold off. Yet another path can be chosen to halt the haemorrhaging of stock and to begin building Council housing on a scale large enough to address what is a crying social need.

Price £5 per copy, £7 including packaging and postage

For the price of multiple copies please email or ring 07786394593

Please send a cheque made out to Martin Wicks, c/o The Shop (Resource Centre), Cavendish Square, Swindon SN3 2LZ

Fantasy Island

March 23, 2015

Fantasy Island

George Osborne’s Budget speech reminded me of the old saying, an empty vessel makes the most noise. He was talking about a fantasy island of his own imagining far removed from the real country in which all the victims of his austerity programme live. True, as journalist Paul Mason said, faced with the consequences of his own projections, he blinked. Without explanation his Autumn Budget projected surplus for 2019-20 was cut from £23 billion to £7 billion. However, he has merely increased the punishment planned in the early years of the next Parliament.

The Office of Budget Responsibility called these plans “a roller-coaster profile for public service spending” which would mean “a much sharper squeeze on real spending than anything seen over the last five years”. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies the cuts in 2016-17 and 2017-18 will be “twice the size of any year’s cuts over this Parliament”. Read the rest of this entry »

Keep Buckhurst Field a public open space

March 9, 2015

I’m not sure what evidence Elizabeth Mackley has that the proposal by the New College Corporation in relation to Buckhurst Field has been “well received”. Certainly the College management has cultivated support from local football clubs by promises of its use at prices they can afford. However, we don’t know what prices and we were told that their Business Plan would not be ready before the planning application is put in. Mr Taylor told me in an email that the prices will reflect ‘the going competitive rate’ whatever that is. We fear that the football clubs would be mistaken to trust the management of the New College Corporation, especially in the light of its deteriorating financial situation. Read the rest of this entry »

Buckhurst field and the New College Corporation

February 28, 2015

New College is shortly to put in an application for an all-weather football pitch on Council owned Buckhurst field1 which sits on the edge of Park North and Walcot. The New College management are looking to the Council to give it a 25 year lease. The cost of the pitch would be £600,000 with £300,000 provided by the Wilts FA. The FA fund says that “priority will be given to those that can demonstrate that it draws a significant proportion of its participants from neighbourhood deprived areas”, although we can find no definition of “significant”. The pitch would be fenced, floodlit and open until 10 p.m.

New College held a consultation meeting recently. They had obviously not expected many people to turn up since they chose a small room which was packed out. There were a number of local representatives of football clubs as well as some of us from the Parks & East Walcot Community Forum, from SWAP (Swindon Walcot and Parks Community Group), and some local residents who could be affected by the scheme. A number of football clubs are in favour of it because they have been told it will be a facility they can use at a price which is affordable. Local community groups are opposed to the proposal because they want the area to remain a public open space. (Download a PDF here buckhurst article or read on below) Read the rest of this entry »

What future for Council Housing?

February 20, 2015

Council housing and the housing crisis

A book by Martin Wicks

Everybody knows there is a housing crisis. However, it is usually written about by academics or professionals who work in the housing sector. Tenant voices are rarely heard. What Future for Council Housing? is written by a Council tenant and reflects the work and ideas of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group which has successfully resisted the sell-off of our homes; managed to secure more money for their maintenance; and challenged the dominant policies responsible for the crisis.

What Future for Council Housing? is a contribution to the local and national debate on housing policy. It begins with a detailed account of the ‘Swindon Housing Vote’ in which tenants decisively rejected ‘transfer’ of their homes to a Housing Association with a 72% ‘No’ vote on a 65.6% turnout. It gives a blow by blow account of the dirty tricks of the Council and how the campaign challenged their propaganda. The experience is rich in ideas that can hopefully be used by other tenants facing a ballot. (Download a PDF here whatfuture  or read on below) Read the rest of this entry »

The cleaners and the oligarchs

February 1, 2015

Why solidarity with Syriza against the EU leaders is crucial

If anybody can remember a new Finance Minister (anywhere in the world) beginning his first press conference by announcing he is going to reinstate the cleaners made redundant by the previous Finance Minister let me know. When has anybody given a damn about cleaners? This was not just symbolism. It came from the lips of a man who has said that Syriza is going to destroy the oligarchic system in Greece. Whether they succeed is another matter. However, the first actions of the new government were directed at addressing the social catastrophe which the population has suffered as a result of the Greek version of austerity. They have also announced that they are halting plans to sell stakes in Greece’s biggest port and its main electricity provider. The importance of this is that both sales were demanded by the Troika.

The election of Syriza presents a big problem for the European rulers. They are nervous that a break with austerity and the logic of the dominant economic strategy will encourage a similar rejection in other countries, especially in Spain where Podemos is seen to be a similar threat. That’s why the outcome of the current situation in Greece is so critical. Will Syriza stand its ground or will it cave in to the intransigence of Merkel and the others, with the threat of the tap being turned off? Download a PDF here greece or read on below Read the rest of this entry »


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