In the crises we face, fighting to take over the banks is vital

By Mohan Sen

Regulation failed to stop banks collapsing and bringing down the economy. More regulation won’t work now. It’s expensive, bureaucratic and ineffective. Private ownership means profit comes before everything else. That will continue as long as banks are under private ownership.

The public has no control over the banks’ decision-making, even in banks that are majority state-owned. Only public ownership of the major banks with a new democratic structure of control can turn banking into a public service. A publicly owned banking system could finance a mass programme of useful public works, to create jobs and modernise infrastructure.

The resources are there. But they are in the hands of the billionaires, not in our hands. We must rise to the occasion and act decisively in the interests of our class.”

– Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary

In 2019, TUC Congress unanimously passed a Fire Brigades Union amendment to a motion from the Bakers’ Union on public ownership of energy, which said:

Congress reaffirms the TUC’s 2012 Congress policy on the public ownership of the big banks, which could play a central role in building a sustainable economy, investing in a publicly owned energy sector and creating decent, unionised jobs in the interests of working people.”

The 2012 policy, also proposed by the FBU, said:

Congress believes the economic chaos and devastation sparked by the major banks and financial institutions should be ended through full public ownership of the sector and the creation of a publicly owned banking service, democratically and accountably managed.

Congress believes that the banking and finance industry should be developed as a key public service.

This new form of banking could play a central role in building a sustainable economy, investing in transport, green industries, housing, creating jobs and assisting the recovery in the interests of working people.”

In the current, crisis, this demand is more important than ever – to protect ourselves from an implosion of credit and a snow-balling slump as the Covid-19 pandemic eases; to radically reconstruct the economy in the interests of working people and the vulnerable; and to seriously confront the climate crisis by replacing investment in carbon emissions with investment in green energy, infrastructure and jobs.

Taking over the banks and reorganising them as a democratic public service will certainly be essential if we want to seriously challenge capitalism and try to transcend it. But in fact it is also essential to gain the economic leverage and resources we need to defend the working class’ immediate interests in this crisis.

Yet, despite the highest body of the organised workers’ movement passing this policy (twice), the reality is that no one much is campaigning for it.

The TUC has stayed silent, ignoring its own policy. Aside from the FBU, no other union has done even minimal campaigning for this. In the Labour Party the Corbyn leadership avoided the issue, despite John McDonnell having previously campaigned strongly for it. It hasn’t been raised by many on the Labour left.

The demand was raised in motions for a “Socialist Green New Deal” submitted by CLPs and by the FBU to last year’s Labour conference, but it didn’t make the final composites.

The left, including Momentum, should discuss, argue and campaign for it now.

• Climate striker Abel Harvie-Clark, Ben Selby of the Fire Brigades Union and Ruth Cashman of Lambeth Unison and Labour for a Socialist Europe are speaking at a public meeting on this issue on Friday 29 May: details here.

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