The inane chatter accompanying the Tories' suggestion that workers could run public services as co-operatives indicate that they wouldn't know a co-operative if it crept up on them and bit their arses. The fact that George Osborne compares their little wheeze with Margaret Thatcher's assault on council housing through her 1980s right-to-buy crusade confirms who the real beneficiaries would be. While a number of council tenants benefited financially from being able buy their rented houses and flats at less than market prices, many others were unable to maintain payments as unemployment rose and they found themselves homeless. But the real beneficiaries were the landowners, construction companies, estate agents, mortgage advisers, banks, insurance firms and so on, who were boosted by the Tories' erosion of public-sector housing stocks, which forced millions of people to mortgage themselves to the hilt to buy a home or be condemned to make private-rented-sector landlords even richer than they already were.
To present this callous transfer of greater wealth from the poor to the rich as "a shift of power to workers," as Osborne does, indicates that he doesn't have a high opinion of public-service workers' powers of analysis. He and fellow Etonian David Cameron picture teams of nurses, teachers and jobcentre staff getting together to run services for councils, health trusts and government departments. And if co-operative teams based on existing staff prove resistant to suggestions that they cut costs to make savings for the parent bodies, they would then encourage new co-operative teams to become involved to make rival bids for a piece of the action. In effect, these co-operative teams would be indistinguishable from gangs of subbies in the building industry. And the likelihood is that various practices common to construction would be transferred to the Tories' fake co-operatives - tax avoidance, non-payment of national insurance, no sickness or holiday pay and so on.
Cameron is after general election votes from Civil Service, local authority and NHS staff, being aware that these workers have been treated disgracefully by the Labour government. However, a word of caution. Neither Cameron nor Osborne is in favour of treating them any better. If anything, the Tory plans to sack civil servants and cut finance to the public services is even worse than the scandalous anti-worker plans of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. And when Cameron speaks of a "power shift" to workers that would let them "take control of their own working environment and they get away from these top-down bureaucracies which have made life a misery from so many people in the public sector," he lets the cat out of the bag.
His target is exclusively the public sector. Does he seriously believe that lives of workers in the private sector aren't also a misery because of top-down bureaucracies? The Tories are joking when they claim to be serious about empowering working people.
Whether as workers or as consumers, working people have been systematically disempowered by the privatisation of natural monopolies such as the railways, gas, electricity, water and other industries. They could be re-empowered by renationalisation under a more accountable model than previously, with co-operative involvement of workers and communities. Cameron and Osborne won't be championing this progressive change because it lacks one essential item for them - namely the ability of private companies to make profits out of workers' labour power.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.