‘We must challenge the whole narrative of privatisation and link public ownership to people’s desires and hopes’Johnbosco Nwogbo, We Own It
Hundreds joined a panel of MPs, trade unionists, campaigners and youth activists at the Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s ‘Public Ownership Now!’ session, organised as part of the Arise Festival 2022.
Chairing the event, Labour NEC member Nadia Jama opened with a message of solidarity for Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum, which was echoed by Parliamentary colleagues who addressed the meeting. Jama emphasised the key role of public ownership in tackling the current crises affecting the lives of millions in Britain, and called for activists to link various ongoing struggles through it: “let’s build resistance to the Tories and support for socialist solutions”.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, gave his support to all workers currently in the middle of disputes across the country- and slammed “those on excess of £500k a year telling those on less than £20k a year that they should ‘tighten their belts’ and say no to a pay rise”. Expressing his desire to see Boris Johnson’s immediate departure from office, he also stated that he was proud to have consistently opposed him and championed an agenda based on public ownership throughout his tenure. Lavery discussed his time working in the coal industry, and compared the period when it was run publicly with the privatised era- noting the difference public ownership had made in terms of workers’ rights, collective bargaining, and educational programmes. Emphasising the importance of ending privatisation with regard to addressing the current energy crisis, he argued that the link between price hikes which leave huge numbers at risk of going into winter without heating and a model based on private profit was undeniable – calling for nationalisation of the energy sector to be “top of the agenda”. Noting that this weekend will mark the 136th Durham Miners’ Gala, he encouraged the labour movement to carry forward its spirit and politics in the months ahead.
Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union Kevin Courtney highlighted that with Michelle Donelan there have now been 7 Education Secretaries in the last 8 years (soon to be 8!): “none of them have come from a teaching background, or engaged with teachers over the future of education – but all have seen it as a career step and pushed further privatisation”. Recalling his mother’s experiences as a school cleaner (among the first group of workers in the sector to be privatised), he summarised the policy as meaning “more work for less money” in reality. Courtney argued that a wages crisis lies at the heart of the cost-of-living crisis: and that outsourcing is a common thread through many cases of low pay. Raising the situation for outsourced supply teachers as an example of how this was affecting NEU members, he praised the Welsh government’s announcement that it would be looking to bring supply staff back into the public sector – and highlighted successful industrial disputes such as Leaways School in Hackney as an example of increasing resistance. Warning of an intensifying drive for academisation from the government, he outlined how a model which financially rewards those in positions of power at schools with the best exam results has provided a clear incentive to remove some pupils through various means. However, he noted that the then-Education Secretary announced plans for all schools to be academies by 2022 6 years ago, only for her proposals to be defeated, and emphasised the importance of councils taking a strong stand against academisation in the coming period. Offering his strong support for greater public ownership, he concluded that “privatisation is damaging for education and those who work in it”.
Jarrow MP Kate Osborne highlighted how common higher levels of public ownership are throughout Europe, noting that the scale of privatisation in Britain was unusual even compared to numerous other governments which were not led by particularly left-leaning parties. Discussing the impact of increasing private sector involvement in the NHS, she noted the increasing trend of patients having to resort to crowdfunding for operations due to high waiting times and criticised the narrative that further outsourcing, rather than a fully public and funded health system, presents the solution. Summarising the Tories’ response to the pandemic as “a commitment to increasing profits and attacking workers’ rights”, Osborne reaffirmed her support for the RMT’s ongoing action, emphasising that they are not only defending the interests of their members but commuters at a time when rail companies are paying shareholders sums of up to £500m whilst fares continue to rise. Assessing that Britain currently has “a government with no authority and no plans to help”, she cited the labour movement and its history as a crucial source of hope: “whichever Tory is in charge, the fight to defend our communities will continue”.
Fraser McGuire, standing for the East Midlands seat on Young Labour’s National Committee as part of the Socialist Future slate, argued that “private profit being placed above social responsibility is at the heart of the climate crisis”, noting that the Carbon Majors report found that 71% of global emissions are caused by the world’s top 100 companies. Making the case for public ownership as a vital part of solving both immediate term issues in Britain and the ongoing threat of climate change, he emphasised the importance of also understanding the latter as “a class issue”. Discussing the campaign against plans to make his local sixth form an academy, McGuire outlined how privatisation is affecting institutions from primary schools to universities: warning of a drift to “for profit education”. He pointed to housing as another area which has illustrated the need for a new economic model to young people: with polling from the free market thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs finding that 78% of 16-24 year olds blame capitalism for the housing crisis and 67% are supportive of socialism. Linking this with increasing support for the RMT’s ongoing campaign, he described public ownership as something that “can benefit countless sectors”.
Johnbosco Nwogbo from the We Own It campaign opened by discussing their ongoing battle against the sell-off of Channel 4, and highlighted the opportunities presented by the current turmoil in government. Emphasising the need to “challenge the whole narrative of privatisation”, he called for a strong links between campaigns over the NHS, public transport services (“a much more important issue than discussions in public life often reflect”), and the energy crisis (noting that bills have increased by 119% whilst even some states in the US maintain a public energy provider). Nwogbo highlighted that polling has consistently shown a majority of the public, across party loyalties favouring significantly higher levels of public ownership, and stated that the key task in the coming period was to make it an issue that people base their votes on, in the way that those campaigning in relation to Brexit achieved at the last election: “we need to link public ownership to people’s desires and hopes”. Stating that “there is a widespread public consensus” in favour of reversing privatisation, he called on campaigners to “frame the issue in a way which emphasises the material benefits it will bring to communities across the country”.
Concluding the event, Nadia Jama thanked all panelists and attendees, and encouraged support for the rest of this year’s Arise Festival.