Citizens Ownership: PAPER

PRACTICAL EXAMPLES OF CITIZENS OWNERSHIP

The case for Citizen's Ownership (CO) would be best served by practical examples. Tower Colliery springs to mind, but caution must be observed. Not all worker ownerships are not all what they may seem. In Europe much play is made on "partnerships", but partnered with whom? It always with companies and remember the object of a company is to serve the interests of the shareholders; not the workers, nor the environment, nor the nation, nor safety, nor anything else and when firms undertake some magnanimous gesture They are well able to afford it and it makes no impact upon "shareholder value".

Another point, to ask is how much control do workers have over the finances? For example: there are massive redundancies at the German car maker Volkswagen. We ask what real control did the employees have over that. To make matters worse the trade union IG Metall went along with a 20,000 jobs loss; we ask what manner of trade union is that? (Source wsws 11-2-06).

This huge loss of jobs is happening all over the Western world where the present economic system reigns.

In a CO system firms such as Volkswagen would organise alternative work; but what? Flooding is endemic throughout the planet, a wholesale drive to build excavators and similar machines could be used to deepen rivers and so release the flood-water into the sea. Such a plan would be rejected by the present economists. They would opt for redundancies, rather than re-employ the ex-Volkswagen employees on a project the world sorely needs; again an illustration of profit before people.

This notion of Âshareholder valueØ casts a long shadow. The costs of safety on the railways as an example - it should be extended into other areas; sea going ferries comes to mind. The Hatfield train crash was due to inadequate track maintenance. This author has an engineering background. Any layman can see for themselves by standing upon a railway station platform and observe a train going over the rails, they buckle slightly and spring back, this constant buckling and returning sets up a fatigue phenomenon - all metals do it - and after thousands of times of this buckling, eventually the rail cracks and then breaks.

Proper track maintenance consists of replacing the rail before it breaks is the remedy, another extra safeguard is consolidating the ballast under the sleepers thus making a firmer foundation and so largely preventing the rails buckling. All this costs money, not only in labour, but also the track is out of commission whilst this work is undertaken. A CO company by disregarding Âshareholder valueØ would ensure safety comes first.

Another area in which a CO system scores is in housing. The lack of affordable housing plagues our society. The United Kingdom has the highest rate of home ownership in Europe. Owning your own home is a mixed blessing, it is true that after paying the mortgage The house is your own, this is fine for younger folk; but D.I.Y. for the elderly is a chore, or an impossibility especially when one is on a low pension.

A CO Housing Association runs something along these lines; who also finance the building. The prospective house owner engages a CO builder - or he may start the work himself or with co-operation of others of like mind. The secured loan at interest free (or modest bank charges). The work is supervised by the Association at no cost, or at a nominal cost and to ensure a good quality of housing is maintained any extensions are supervised by the Association and solar panels are fitted as a standard practice. Because of the excellent service given by the Association a small annual payment is paid to the Association to cover the outside fabric repair, this very useful for the elderly owner. Upon the death of the owner, or him/er selling the property, either to a nominated person e.g. a member of his/er family or back to the Association. The Association has the final say.

One reason for the Association intervening could be a desperate need of someone who is homeless. In a nation wide CO Housing Association exchanging could a comparative simple procedure. The reason for this, it is that policy of the local CO Housing Association to secure plots of land to build upon if the necessity arises. For some people there are many job opportunities lost because of a shortage of housing in a particular location.

WWII should teach the present Government a lesson: but it hasnØt. We refer to a supply of energy. It is the life-blood of the nation. All the U-boats the Nazi navy could muster did not stop the flow of oil. A far more efficient way of strangling the energy supply of our country is buying oil and gas from the unstable countries in Europe by turning off the tap!

In a CO regime energy must be generated within our own territory, be it wind power, solar panels, tides, but not nuclear, one, among many, objections is that it is hugely expensive to build, they only last, say, thirty years, and then decommissioned, another hugely expensive task and then there is the problem of waste.

In 1982 a two volume report was published, Strategic Review of the Renewable Energy Technologies, Stated That the U.K could create 110% of its generating power; Wind power (land based) 20%: Wind power (off-shore) 50%: Wave power 25%: Tidal power 15%: Total 110%. It was compiled by the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU) which is a part of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, and these are official bodies. (Source. TRIBUNE 23/2/1990).

If renewable energy can be used sixteen years ago; with our increased efficiency today, we ought to be able to do better. Such a source of energy would be almost ØfreeØ. Those who object to windmills could pay for the electricity energy they use: "putting their money where their mouth is". Tony Benn commissioned a report on tidal power. It was called the Bondi Report after Sir Herman Bondi when he anticipated that nuclear would be "socially unacceptable".

In a CO regime the monarchy is as unnecessary as are the Chief Executives and their acolytes in the corporations, as we have indicated above the work of the directors is governed by the works council.

The Royal Prerogative is a denial of democracy. Under it Ministers can and do declare wars, sign treaties, release prisoners, confer knighthoods, ennoble peers and commit the nation to all sorts of exploits but the most damming aspect of this medieval custom is the first, all done without a word of sanction from the Commons or anyone else. The evil is further compounded by the fact it is all legal.

On pensions. Should we regard pensions as a deferred payment of salary? How much money does a person need in fifty years time is an absurd question. Earlier we postulated that the major tax would be corporation tax. The custom of the young would look after when their parents are old dates back thousands of years. Which is the reason in a CO regime pensions are paid out of total current earnings of the working population and when wage levels are fixed this is taken into consideration. The upshot being all pensions are roughly the same, but depending upon the pensioners status in society. This does not prevent someone putting aside a sum/s for their future, but in an interest free society the idea of investing for their old age is a non-starter; true, they can save up and spend it on a grand holiday or similar project when they retire &c.

Another question that may be asked on the CO philosophy. "Does C O stifle 'private enterprise'?" That depends upon "what is the purpose that the private entrepreneur has in mind" If it is to make money and more money; clearly the answer is "yes it intends to stifle greed". But if the intention is to create something that will, if pursued, add to the welfare of society it would get support: then comes the question; but how?

Imagine someone has an idea for making a better "widget". It could be a breakthrough on a cure for spine injury, or a new twist in stem cell technology, or a quick and easy method for filling up potholes in a road. Then the C O Company or laboratory would be expected to assist the inventor; another innovation could be for a book on an obscure topic, but needs the expertise of a university department. To get the idea under way. The inventor approaches a suitable C O company who either develops the project themselves or refers to another C O company; the main point is that these ideas are not left to moulder away.

Democracy in a CO regime will be quite different from the usual form that passes for democracy. In voting, the citizen is handcuffed to the particular party he/er puts their cross or mark against and that is governed by a small body of policy makers whose ideas (and could be fashioned by the lobbies of trade unions or corporations &c) are probably different from citizensØ wants are.

The fact every worker in whatever profession they are engaged have a voice in the outcome of their labours, be it as a member of the producer element, or the consumer element, or the environmental element. The sum total of these voices is reflected in the wealth that is created. Think of the consequences such a policy may lead to: would the tobacco industry corporations with all their advertising hype held such an influence over our lives?

What should happen under a CO regime would run something in this mode: the environmental element in a tobacco factory on seeing the damage tobacco does to the nationsØ health would look round for a harmless replacement for tobacco or change to making an alternative product. This author has spent a lifetime in engineering and has many colleagues engaged in arms manufacturing, but has never known any who prefers to work on arms, True many of the technical problems related to a particular problem they find profoundly fascinating and taxes their knowledge to the limit. At this stage it is worth our while to observe that persons not normally associated with a trade union are entitled to have a voice in loose federation of caring citizens. As to whether the Community Union at www.community-tu.org is able to adapt itself to accommodate such persons remains to be seen.

Crime blights any society. Unfortunately, none ask the root cause. Deprivation is a good place to start. One thing is certain; we will never have a crime free society. One of the main ingredients is alcohol and drugs. We ask why are some people who are so unhappy that they find their only solace is found at the bottom of a pint pot by getting drunk. This is a problem the Salvation Army have been tackling for the past hundred years. A C O regime would ask them for advice and act upon their recommendations.

The greatest crime of all is greed; hence we are back to where we started. The advertising industry has a lot to answer for; but they are driven by the marketeers. However, we can safely say that crime in a CO regime would fall.

The great fault with the party and parliamentary system is that the electors vote for the party of their choice — warts and all — whereas with the CO concept citizens can cheerily pick on aspects of the party they prefer and those they don't. Make no mistake, it is impossible for any party to please all the people all the time and that is the reason the CO concept is able to work with any elected party.

In theory, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) should embrace the CO concept and remember too the TUC also represent consumers ° one workers production is another workers consumption. Unfortunately as a body they have closed minds.

Albert Rowland
13th March 2006

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