A large protest was organised this afternoon by the GMB outside the premises of Amazon near Birmingham.
The rally was part of a week of events organised by GMB, mirroring action taken across the globe. Amazon have a number of large warehouses in the west midlands and employ nigh on 30,000 workers in Britain and the north of Ireland, with a total worldwide workforce of 630,000.
Staff at warehouses around the world reportedly walked out on Monday this week to coincide with Amazon’s 48-hour ‘Prime Day’ sale – dubbed its very own Black Friday.The sale offers discounts exclusively to Prime members – which is the retailer’s £79 a year subscription service.
Seattle-based Amazon, founded by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, says new deals will launch as often as every five minutes until midnight on Tuesday, “giving shoppers plenty of reasons to come back again and again”. In Germany, the trade union Verdi brought out 2,000 workers on strike in Verne, Weinberg, Leipzig and Koblenz. In Britain, amongst a veritable shopping frenzy, Labour-affiliated GMB said:
“We’re not calling for economic damage for Amazon… What we’re asking for is for people to be aware. Leave feed back on Amazon”.
Companies like Amazon and Deliveroo, with large workforces enduring stressful conditions on poverty pay, are working hard to deny their workers the right to trade-union representation, even when those unions explicitly state that they don’t wish to impact on operating profits.
If the working class is to get up off its knees, there will have to be a fight-back (quite possibly impacting on operating profits, which by the way are of no benefit to the workforce). Britain’s poorest workers have for so long endured high levels of insecurity, unliveable pay and inhuman conditions, the first step to rectifying this will be advocating the interests of workers and not shareholders.
A report in The Times on July 8 described the rush of foreign capital into Birmingham’s housing market. With cheap, cramped and ugly apartments flying up across the city, it is clear that there is money to be made.
Birmingham reportedly has the youngest population of any city in Europe, is now the most popular destination for those escaping from London and stands to benefit from even better rail links to the Capital once HS2 is completed (journey times of 1hr 15mins are already available on some services). Furthermore, with house prices a fraction of those in London it is easy to understand why workers from the south are looking to cash in and buy in Birmingham, and other poorer workers merely escape to cheaper rents in the West Midlands.
“While London and Manchester were previously the prime targets for foreign investors there has been a surge in interest in Birmingham, with overseas buyers snapping up as many as 100 flats each in new developments.
As well as the promise of huge yields renting to young people, investors are being lured by glossy brochures boasting that Birmingham is “one of the greenest [cities] in the UK” has “more miles of canals than Venice” and is home to the “iconic” Bullring. Another developer, whose conversion of a factory in the trendy Digbeth area is being marketed in Hong Kong, promises almost guaranteed rental income.
Seven Capital, which is behind numerous developments in the city, is telling investors that demand from tenants is so high that some properties are being let on the same day they are purchased.”[i]
The Times, which is not well known for being concerned with the prospects of ordinary working-class people reported that,
“Chloe Thorn, 26, has been saving for a deposit to buy a flat in Birmingham since she was 16. But when she began putting offers in she found that minimum deposits were either out of reach or flats were marked as investment-only. “It’s like being priced out of the city I’ve grown up in,” she added. “I remember when I first started looking in 2017 and seeing all these new buildings being built and thinking I may stand a chance of buying somewhere in the city once they are done. But once they went online to buy it was all investors-only on the majority.””
Capitalism only builds for profit
What Chloe failed to realise is that houses are not built so that working people can have a nice place to live, to bring up children and start a family. Under capitalism flats and houses are built so that they can be sold for a profit. Under capitalism, commodities (houses, cars, food, video games) are produced so that they can be sold on the market, they are not sold at their value, they will be sold for as much as the seller can persuade somebody to part with. Capitalism does not work for ordinary working people.
Housing under capitalism has become a vehicle for the wealthy to invest money in. The influx of foreign capital into housing in Birmingham is a consequence of the lack of better (more lucrative) schemes for the wealthy to invest in, and despite the claims of estate agents in Hong Kong and elsewhere, it is far from certain that investment like this can return the rents which these landlords hope for. Birmingham is a working-class city, more than 100,000 children live in poverty and one in five workers earn less than the Living Wage (£8.25p/h), recent accounts from the city council show that many workers cannot afford to pay their council tax with Birmingham owing £115m in outstanding arrears – not a cast-iron guarantee for great rental incomes.[ii]
Whilst estate agents will say anything to shift overpriced, poor quality housing, it is surprising that there are so many gullible enough to fall for it. Even in London the property bubble is due to pop, and there are already signs that in the highest end of the market the glory days are already over,
“Viewed from Bangalore, the purchase of a newly built three-bedroom apartment in London for more than £1.4m seemed like a safe investment bet. The top-floor three-bedroom home under construction in Keybridge House south of the Thames boasted views of the City of London and the Shard skyscraper. As Shonu Bhandari considered the purchase two years ago, agents told him he could expect the value to rise 15 per cent before the property had even been finished. The Indian entrepreneur, who runs a medical products company, happily signed up to buy. But his purchase soured quickly. When Bhandari approached a mortgage lender, it valued the property not at 15 per cent more than he had agreed to pay — but at 20 per cent less. With completion of the building looming, he signed over the property to a new buyer in March this year for £1.2m, losing more than £200,000 of his deposit.
…One new-build brochure from the estate agent Savills in 2016 said price growth in prime central London was expected to average 21.5 per cent by the end of 2020. Prices have so far fallen 10.4 per cent since that date, according to LonRes, a data provider.
“Global capital entering local real estate markets is not particularly new, but what was new was the intensity with which it entered places like Vancouver, New York, London, Melbourne and Sydney,” says Andy Yan, a planner and academic in Vancouver.”
“…In London, research by Savills shows construction continues to be out of step with demand. The London market over the next five years will need 42,500 new homes a year for sale or rent at cheaper than market rates, the property agency found — but only about 3,500 a year will be built.
Demand also far exceeds supply in the “lower” and “mid” markets, up to £700 per square foot. But above that, planned supply starts to exceed demand. In the £700 to £1,000 a sq ft category, annual demand for 7,000 homes a year will be catered for by almost 10,500. Prices at the top end are falling, but the median London house price remains more than 12 times average earnings. “What we don’t need in London are more £1m-plus apartments with swimming pools, spas, cinema suites and service charges of £7 or £8 a sq ft [per year]. Those are not for normal Londoners,””[iii]
Socialism the only answer
Houses should be homes for people, shelter and a secure family life is a right for every worker. Houses should not, as they are under capitalism, be commodities, sold only to those who can afford to buy or rent them, rather than provided for those who need them. By its utter inability to solve the housing question and meet this basic need of working people, the capitalist system is providing yet more proof that it is well past its use-by date and due for demolition.
The Eighth Congress of the Communist Party (CPGB-ML), held in September 2018, passed a resolution on housing which put forward the basic demands of the Communist Party on the housing question. These demands form the basis of the party work on housing, and should be taken up by all advanced workers:
Scrap the 2016-17 housing bill:the immediate scrapping of the 2016-17 housing bill, which threatens hundreds of thousands with poverty and homelessness.
Build council houses not ‘affordable homes’:the provision of at least 300,000 new council houses per year to end the crisis.
Guarantee secure social housing:guaranteed, secure and well-maintained social housing for all who want it, close to people’s work and families, and the abolition of divisive allocation criteria.
Council ownership not ALMOs:the return of housing association and ‘non-profit’ properties to council ownership.
Abolish housing charities:the abolition of housing charities and the reintroduction of the legal right to decent, secure housing for all; slums, overcrowding and homelessness are an indictment on capitalism and a crime against humanity.
Set a rent cap: the introduction of a rent cap at 20 percent of minimum wage for all privately rented accommodation, and the scrapping of housing benefit (a subsidy to landlords that has helped to fuel rent rises).
Protect existing council housing:the scrapping of all schemes that fuel prices, create shortages and offer subsidies to landlords and developers.
Use existing surplus housing stock:the confiscation of all surplus homes and unfinished developments and their transformation into council housing.
Provide decent homes for all:the establishment of residents’ management committees to oversee planning and maintenance and ensure that all workers have access to adequate space, necessary amenities and decent facilities, including having usable and pleasant outdoor spaces and community halls.
In May Birmingham Worker reported on the crisis in council tax and its anti-working class character hitting many of the poorest in our cities. A publication by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) into council tax inequality focused on London but taking into account some statistical evidence for the whole of Britain concluded that council tax was beginning to look a lot like the ill-fated Poll Tax.
The Birmingham Mail on 2 July carried the story that council tax arrears in Birmingham have soared to their highest levels on record with workers in Birmingham owing a total of £115.6million in outstanding council tax. Non-payments in 2018/19 totalled £21.4million – an overall collection rate of 94.4%.
This was a rise from £111million in 2017/18, and up by almost a fifth compared to £98.5million in 2012/13 (the figures are cumulative and include arrears that stretch back many years).
The UK is ranked by the OECD as having, after France, the greatest reliance on property taxation of all OECD country respondents as a proportion of GDP. For 2017, property taxes accounted for around 4.2 per cent of GDP, more than twice the OECD average.
Today’s system of council tax leaves those living in the lowest-value homes paying a higher proportion of council tax with regard to property value, than those living in the highest value homes. This is particularly acute in London where property investment has taken house price prices to ludicrous levels. The poorest Londoners pay 8.1% of household income in council tax, whilst those in the top income decile contribute just 1.3% of their declared earnings.
No tinkering with the present system of taxation will be enough to stop the steady slide of hundreds of thousands of workers and middle classes into absolute destitution and misery. The crisis of overproduction, its consequent lay-offs and redundancies destroy the purchasing power of the masses who are also crushed under the weight of rising prices and taxation which they can no longer afford. Millions of workers today are a pay cheque away from ruination. Raising taxation of empty homes in London does nothing to undermine the financial power of the landlord and capitalist class, it does nothing to alleviate the underlying cause of the people’s misery – capitalism. Only under socialism, where the private ownership of the land by a tiny few is replaced with a socialist system of land ownership and taxation, where the recurrent crisis of capitalism is done away with and replaced by planned production can the working man and woman finally find themselves liberated.
Join the communists
If you want to fight for a better life for yourself, your class and your children, get in touch with the communist party in Birmingham:
According to figures released by the Department for Education, 11,503 children in Birmingham are being taught in classes of more than 30 pupils (as of January this year). This means one in nine primary pupils in Birmingham (11%) are now being taught in a large class, up from 10.9% a year before.
Across England, there were 558,658 pupils in primary schools being taught in classes of 31 or more.
The Birmingham Mail reported Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, as saying: “Today’s figures expose the consequences of the Tory cuts to our schools, with more and more pupils crammed in to super-sized classes that can only make it harder for them to learn.”
What Angela Rayner and other Labour MPs/councillors etc want to hide from the public is that the commercialisation of schools began under Tony Blair’s Labour party with the Learning and Skills Act 2000. Successive Labour governments, and then the Liberal Democrats and Tory coalition (and in more recent times the Conservative governments of Cameron and May) have consolidated and deepened this process.
The academies, which began to replace LEA-funded schools brought private finance into the running of schools, and are a part and parcel of move towards full-scale privatisation in primary and secondary education. Along with the increase in religious, private and grammar schools, academies paved the way for the re-establishment of the two-tier system in state education, abolishing comprehensive schooling.
What do communists say?
At the 8th Congress of the Communist Party (CPGB-ML) held in Birmingham last year, a motion on education declared:
“This congress notes that today in Britain, rather than education and vocational training being viewed as a social necessity and individual necessity required for the full flourishing of society as a whole as well as the individuals within it, education and training are treated as a commodity, which is sold to the working class as a product that will provide a higher income to them as individuals, irrespective of its social utility or its ability to enhance the individual life.
Congress believes that all education and training from creche and kindergarten through school, university, vocational college and on to adult lifelong learning and retraining should be provided free, along with full maintenance grants to full-time pupils and students, that sufficient teachers should educated, trained and provided, and that vocational training should be awarded equal respect to academic education, since the plumber is as useful and as necessary as the sanitation engineer.
Recognising the above, congress resolves that the party’s demands regarding education are:
1. The expulsion of all private interests in education, including the abolition of academies and their return to the state school system and the end of private provision of goods and services to educational institutions, with all staff brought in-house with realistic wages and full employment rights.
2. The abolition of private, religious and ethnically-divided schools.
3. The abolition of tuition fees in all institutions at all levels of education.
4. The provision of maintenance grants to cover living expenses of working-class students and their families, from creche and kindergarten through nursery, to school, undergraduate and higher-degree level.
5. Changes in the syllabuses and teaching methods should reflect the scientific, historical and artistic needs and interests of working-class people, including the teaching of materialist philosophy, science and working-class history and politics.”
After eight years the £2.7bn PFI deal which Birmingham city council made with private contractor Amey has come to an end.
Amey have agreed to pay the council £160 million to exit early from the contract to look after the highways for 25 years, which was at the time the largest PFI contract for highways, covering the management and maintenance of more than 2,500km of highways, 96,000 street lights, 1,000 traffic signals and more than 850 bridges, structures and tunnels.
In a joint statement agreed after a hearing in the Court of Appeal, the contractor and council announced that:
“The full retendering of the project to find a permanent replacement contractor will take place during 2020-21.”
Workers and ratepayers in Birmingham deserve much better than another hashed PFI outsourcing nightmare. PFI has been proven to be unable to deliver public services time and again. Contractors assume that they will be able to deliver the promised services on a shoestring, happy to cut staff numbers, slash pay, pensions, work breaks, travel time and other rights of employees in their quest to make a profit. Workers must demand that these services are taken back in house.
Politically the lesson for workers is that the Labour party which nationally and locally championed PFI and continues to support big business interests is no friend of the working class. The fight for socialism cannot be taken forward by those who hide this truth from the workers.