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Kenya: Fair Taxation for Economic Justice

6 min read.

Unfairness in tax collection fundamentally erodes the social contract between an individual and their government because the provision of basic services is jeopardized when the affluent find legal loopholes to avoid paying taxes.



Kenya: Fair Taxation for Economic Justice
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Over the few years that I have been working on this subject, one question keeps coming up repeatedly. “What are you really talking about with this tax justice business?” Depending on where one falls on the spectrum of insight in public finances—be it collection, allocation, expenditure, or sanctions in public finance management of revenues—tax justice can generally appear to have many meanings in varied contexts.

Is this issue all about just taxing rich people? Are tax havens the reason why the world is hurtling towards Armageddon? Why should you be interested in this issue anyway? The simple text book answer is that tax justice is a call for fair taxation and that wealthier people are singled out because their affluence enables them to find tax loopholes, using tools such as tax havens at the expense of their respective societies.

Yet it is only when you go into the real-world problems facing Africa and other developing countries that you understand how important this issue is. In a world that is suffering from inequality among other challenges, tax justice is one among many sharp tipped spears in the arsenal of fighting the various manifestations of disparity today.

Tax justice primarily focuses on revenue collection first, by determining how fair the process of mobilizing domestic resources is, before linking it to other aspects of the fiscal cycle, namely, distribution, spending and administration of national proceeds. Bearing in mind the aforementioned loopholes, the tax burden is increasingly being carried by the poor or the middle class, thereby enhancing the gap between them and the rich.

Essentially, it is assumed that if unfairness starts at the point of tax collection, then it is guaranteed that it will likely manifest again and again throughout other aspects of how public money is allocated, spent, or managed. This fundamentally erodes the social contract between an individual and their government because the provision of certain basic services is jeopardized despite the surrender of monies to the relevant authorities who are expected to deliver without fail.

For tax justice to truly work on behalf of the citizen, it must be founded on the principles of human rights. This demands that the financial architecture and fiscal systems in place allow for: citizen participation in decision making; accountability of systems; non-discrimination in implementation of programmes; empowering processes that enhance social mobility; requisite sanction in the face of transgressions; and legitimacy through applying the rule of law.

By entrenching these tenets, then, the true benefits of taxation can begin to follow in the form of: revenues to fund public services, infrastructure development, and ensure the proper administration of initiatives; resources for redistribution to curb inequalities between individuals or between groups; and repricing of certain goods or activities to limit public “bads” such as tobacco use, over-consumption of alcohol, addiction to betting, or carbon emissions to mitigate the negative consequences.

More importantly, fair taxation enables true representation in the purest sense of how democracy establishes a healthier governance system in relation to access to public goods. Also, by using fiscal policy, tax can be used to reorganize an economy if the need arises, for instance in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The financial undercurrents

So, what is the problem with taxes? When this question is put to Kenyans, most believe the government cannot meet its revenue targets because some of their fellow citizens avoid paying taxes. Despite the patriotic fervour demonstrated in the call to achieve self-sufficiency through the payment of taxes, they see a wide gap between the high levels of taxation and the poor services provided by government ministries, departments, and agencies.

Drawing from local grievances, what emerges in Kenya, East Africa, and the continent, is that the reality of public finances is a magendo (black market) experience that is in opposition to the lofty aspirations of achieving domestic revenue mobilization. Various forms of malfeasance—resulting from corruption, the proceeds of crime, or the aggressive manipulation of tax systems—consistently colour public finance management at the expense of citizens.

Such insidiousness results in the loss of revenues within and beyond the borders of countries. However, away from illegal financial transfers that contravene national or international laws, there are the immoral aspects of loss of revenues legally through tax avoidance. Many companies—multinationals in particular—aggressively look for tax loopholes in order to minimize the tax payable using such legal means, eroding a government’s capacity to fulfil its obligations to its citizens.

One obviously has a right to minimize their taxes as much as possible but what does it gain the society in which they operate if the government receives much less (or in some instances zero) tax? How will public hospitals get medical supplies? How will public schools have their classrooms built? And how will the public roads to these institutions be constructed if the government is denied its fair share of revenues by actions that can at best be termed dishonest? Unfortunately, this sin has created an alternate reality where, even though it is obvious that tax avoidance is detrimental to a country’s efforts to raise revenues, it is not clear whether the actions by which this is happening are outright fraud. And it is these shades of grey that confuse the public and eventually annoy them.

Even though discussions on such issues as trade mispricing, transfer pricing abuse, double taxation agreements, international financial centres, global minimum corporate tax, beneficial ownership, open contracting, unexplained wealth, asset recovery, among others, may be beyond the understanding of the common man or woman, they cannot help noticing and complaining about the fact that much of the tax collected is simply used to repay debt, diminishing the resources available for development.

Even though it is obvious that tax avoidance is detrimental to a country’s efforts to raise revenues, it is not clear whether the actions by which this is happening are outright fraud.

So even if one does not really understand the business models at play, it immediately becomes surprising that SportPesa could sponsor English football teams unlike other large taxpayers such as Safaricom or the East African Breweries Limited (EABL) which have been around for much longer. For all the claims of Kenya being a Silicon Savannah, one wonders why SportPesa had to pay proprietary fees to its UK affiliate company for the software used by punters in Kenya. Was there no one who could develop similar software here? If properly taxed, how much of that money could have gone into settling the national debt or providing services for Kenyans? Not to mention that it was clearly offensive when at one point SportPesa threatened to relocate to Tanzania if its tax concerns were not addressed. It is no wonder that President Uhuru Kenyatta was incensed on spotting a Formula 1 team sponsored by SportPesa (which had ignored his insistence that the company pay its tax arrears) at the Singapore Grand Prix 2019.

Yet, paradoxically, it would later be revealed in The Pandora Papers that the president and six members of his family “secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades. . .” If the leadership reflects who Kenyans are as a people, then he is not alone. Kenya’s former Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal was mentioned in the Panama Papers. Who knows who else is caught up in the offshore wealth business? It is no surprise that the president is yet to give a comprehensive response on the Pandora Papers as he promised.

Meanwhile, an enabling ecosystem that will further facilitate illegal financial flows out of Kenya seems to be taking shape. For one, lawyers are fighting the implementation of section 2 (c)(i) and section 14 (b) of the Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Act 2021 that requires them to report their client’s financial transactions.

Moreover, before it was challenged by the Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA), the government was signing double taxation agreements (DTAs) left and right with little parliamentary oversight despite constitutional thresholds. Then there is the opacity surrounding the setting up of the Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC).

An enabling ecosystem that will further facilitate illegal financial flows out of Kenya seems to be taking shape.

Mauritius keeps coming up as a favourable destination for Kenyan companies wishing to reduce their revenue bills. Household names like Naivas, Quick Mart, Tuskys, and Nakumatt all seem to have found a tax haven on the island. Centum was quick to adapt its strategy to reap from the Kenya-Mauritius DTA and is reported to have sought the incorporation of subsidiaries, namely, Centum Development and Centum Exotics. This makes the common man and woman wonder why there seems to be a separate system of taxation for the rich and powerful whereas they can’t catch a break from aggressive tax agents who are nowadays backed up by police officers.

A new citizenry is the answer

Kenya’s constitutional journey set a foundation of rights. Yet the construction of a great republic is not complete until its citizens figure out how to wall and roof their democracy by having a conversation about responsibilities. This requires civic education which was somewhat abandoned in favour of capacity building programming that was all the rage in anticipation of the heavy demands of implementing the new supreme law.

The construction of a great republic is not complete until its citizens figure out how to wall and roof their democracy by having a conversation about responsibilities.

Just like during the struggle for the Constitution of Kenya 2010, engaging the citizen is the next frontier for good governance, building a civil movement that will take individuals beyond the symptoms of the numerous existing problems they are familiar with, to an understanding of the root causes underlying their experiences. It will clarify the underlying patterns and lay bare the linkages between rights and responsibilities, and also create avenues to make claims once the authorities, the resources, and the decision makers are clearly identified and constantly engaged with to prioritize the necessary action.

Increasing the number of conscious individuals with an understanding of the importance, feasibility, and urgency of ensuring service delivery is the best guarantee of establishing a social contract that will address past injustices, current problems, and emerging threats using the resources available appropriately. Subsequently, if, as the saying goes, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, then let the tears of grief caused by inequalities in revenue collection in East Africa, the continent, and the developing world be a thing of the past while one is yet alive.

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Leonard Wanyama is the regional coordinator of the East African Tax and Governance Network (EATGN) focusing on issues of development, governance, and international relations.


Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy

If Rwanda is to attain its stated ambition to become of a middle-income country by 2035 driven by the knowledge economy, then it must inject significant investments in the education and related sectors.



Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy
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Rwanda has shown commitment to bring improvements to its education sector. The development of Human capital that involves the enhancement of the education and health sectors was one of the main pillars of Rwanda’s development programme launched in 2000 to transform the country into a middle income state driven by the knowledge economy by 2020. Many developed countries joined in to financially support Rwanda to fulfil its development ambitions.

But while Rwanda did not meet its target to transform into a middle-income state by 2020, it has nevertheless made progress in the education sector that should be recognised. The country has now near-universal access to primary education with net enrolment rates of 98 per cent. There are also roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda has made great improvements in the education sector based on the gains made in primary school gross enrolment, out-of-school and retention rates and considering that the country came out of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Those of us living and travelling across the country can also see that the government of Rwanda has built more schools across the country to address congestion in classrooms.

However, education in Rwanda is faced with serious challenges which, if not addressed, the country will not attain its ambition to become a middle-income by 2035 and a high-income by 2050. The World Bank’s comparison with middle- and high-income countries, to whose ranks Rwanda aspires to join, shows that Rwanda lags far behind in primary and lower secondary school completion levels.

The gains made in education are not equally distributed across Rwanda. There are, for instance, wide disparities in lower secondary education by income and urban–rural residence. Whereas lower secondary school gross enrolment ratio level is 82 per cent in urban areas, it is only 44 per cent in rural areas. Moreover, transition rates between primary and lower secondary education are 53 per cent in urban areas, and 33 per cent in rural areas. School completion is 52 per cent among the richest quintile while it is 26 per cent among the poorest. Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

The standard of education in Rwanda is another major challenge. At the end of Grade 3, 85 per cent of Rwandan students were rated “below comprehension” in a recent reading test, and one in six could not answer any reading comprehension question. In my view, the quality of education has been partly affected by the abrupt changes in the language of instruction that have taken place without much planning since 2008.

Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.

Learning levels in basic education remain low in Rwanda.  Children in the country can expect to complete 6.5 years of pre-primary and basic education by the age of 18 years. However, when this is adjusted for learning it translates to only about 3.8 years, implying that children in Rwanda have a learning gap of 2.7 years. This is a concern.

Education in Rwanda is also impended by high levels of malnutrition for children under 5 years. Although there have been improvements over time, malnutrition levels remain significantly high at 33 per cent. Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings. It also deprives the economy of quality human capital that is critical to Rwanda attaining its economic goals and sustaining its economic gains. In 2012, Rwanda lost 11.5 per cent of GDP as a result of child undernutrition.

Because of low learning levels and high levels of malnutrition in children under 5 years, Rwanda has consistently ranked below average on the World Bank’s Human Capital index since 2018, the year the index was first published. HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens.

If Rwanda is to develop the competent workforce needed to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy and bring it into the ranks of middle-income states, the government must put significant public spending in basic education. This has not been the case over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s public spending on primary education has been significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan African countries with similar coverage of primary school level as Rwanda. This low spending on primary education has translated into relatively modest pay for teachers and low investment in their professional development which in turn affects the provision of quality education in Rwanda. The government recently increased teachers’ salary but the increment is being eroded by, among other things, food price inflation in Rwanda.

Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings.

Going forward, Rwanda’s spending on education needs to be increased and allocated to improving standards. Considering that the underlying cause of the high rate of malnourishment in children is food insecurity, the government needs to spend more on the agriculture sector. This sector employs 70 per cent of the labour force but has received only 10 per cent of total public investment. Public investment in Rwanda has in the past gone to the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector rather than towards addressing pressing scarcities. This approach must be reviewed.

Increasing public expenditure in education and connected sectors should also be combined with strengthening accountability in the government institutions responsible for promoting the quality of education in basic schools and in promoting food security and livelihoods in Rwanda. This is because not a year goes by without the office of the Rwanda auditor general reporting dire inefficiencies in these institutions.

Strengthening institutional accountability can be achieved if the country adapts its consensual democracy by opening up the political space to dissenting voices. Doing so would surely enhance the effectiveness of checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda, including in the education sector, and would enable the country to efficiently reach its development targets.

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No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States

Adam Mayer praises a new collection, Liberated Texts, which includes rediscovered books on Africa’s socialist intellectual history and political economy, looking at the startling, and frequently long ignored work of Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu and Makhan Singh.



No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
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Liberated Texts is a magnificent, essential, exciting tome that feels like a bombshell. This incredibly rich collection is a selection that is deep, wide, as well as entertaining. The book focuses on twenty-one volumes from the previous one hundred years, with a geographical range from the UK, the US, Vietnam, Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, the Middle East, Ireland, Malaysia, Africa (especially East Africa), Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, focusing on books that are without exception, foundational.

The collection is nothing less than a truth pill: in composite form, the volume corrects world history that Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States offered for the sterile, historical curriculum on domestic (US) history. The volume consists of relatively short reviews (written by a wide collection of young and old academics and activists from every corner of the globe) but together they reflect such a unified vision that I would recommend Liberated Texts as compulsory reading for undergraduate students (as well as graduates!) Although the text is a broad canvas it speaks to our age (despite some of the reviewed book having been written in the 1920s).

Each review is by default, a buried tresure. The writer of this very review is a middle-aged Hungarian, which means that some of the works and authors discussed were more familiar to me than they would be to others. For example, Anton Makarenko’s name was, when the author grew up in the People’s Republic of Hungary, a household word. Makarenko’s continued relevance for South America and the oppressed everywhere, as well as his rootedness in the revolutionary transformations of the Soviet experiment, are dealt with here marvellosly by Alex Turrall (p. 289). In loving detail Turrall also  discusses his hero the pedagogue Sukhomlinsky’s love for Stalinist reforms of Soviet education (p. 334).

There is one locus, and one locus only, where death is given reign, perhaps even celebrated: in a Palestinian case (p. 133) the revolutionary horizons are firmly focused on the past, not on any kind of future. The entire problematic of Israeli society’s recent ultra right-wing turn (a terrible outcome from the left’s point of view) is altogther missing here. Yet it is difficult to fault the authors or editors with this (after all, they painstakingly included an exemplary anti-Nazi Palestinian fighter in the text, p. 152) but it might be in order to challenge a fascination with martyrdom as a revolutionary option on the radical left.

In every other aspect, Liberated Texts enlightens without embarrassment, and affirms life itself. Imperialism is taken on in the form of unresolved murders of Chinese researchers in the United States as a focus (p. 307), and in uncovering the diabolical machinations of the peer-review system – racist, classist, prestige-driven as it is (p. 305).

The bravery of this collection is such that we find few authors within academia’s tenure track: authors are either emeriti, tenured, very young academics, or those dedicated to political work: actual grassroots organizers, comrades at high schools, or as language teachers. This has a very beneficial effect on the edited volume as an enterprise at the forefront of knowledge, indeed of creating new knowledge. Career considerations are absent entirely from this volume, in which thankfully even the whiff of mainstream liberalism is anathema.

I can say with certainty regarding the collection’s Africanist chapters that certain specialists globally, on African radical intellectual history, have been included: Leo Zeilig, Zeyad el-Nabolsy, Paul O’Connell, Noosim Naimasiah and Corinna Mullin all shed light on East African (as well as Caribbean) socialist intellectual history in ways that clear new paths in a sub-discipline that is underfunded, purposely confined to obscurity, and which lacks standard go-to syntheses especially in the English language (Hakim Adi’s celebrated history on pan-Africanism and communism stops with the 1950s, and other works are in the making).

Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu, Makhan Singh are the central authors dealt with here. Rodney is enjoying a magnificent and much deserved renaissance (but this collection deals with a lost collection of Rodney’s 1978 Hamburg lectures by Zeilig!) Nabolsy shows us how Nyerere’s Marxist opposition experienced Ujamaa, and Tanzanian ’socialism’. Nabudere – a quintessential organic intellectual as much as Rodney –  is encountered in praxis as well as through his thought and academic achievements in a chapter by Corinna Mullin. Nabudere emerges as a towering figure whose renaissance might be in the making right at this juncture. Singh makes us face the real essence of British imperialism. Nabudere, Babu and even Hirji’s achievements in analysing imperialism and its political economy are all celebrated in the collection.

Where Shivji focuses on empire in its less violent aspect (notably NGOs and human rights discourse) powerfully described by Paul O’Connell, Naimasiah reminds us that violence had been as constitutive to Britain’s empire, as it has been to the Unites States (in Vietnam or in Korea). An fascinating chapter in the collection is provided by Marion Ettinger’s review of Richard Boyle’s Mutiny in Vietnam, an account based entirely on journalism, indeed impromptu testimony, of mutinous US soldiers tired of fighting for Vietnam’s landlord class.

Many readers of this anthology will identify with those veterans (since the collection appears in the English language) perhaps more than with East Asia’s magnificent, conscious fighters also written about in the book. Even in armies of the imperialist core, humanity shines through. Simply put, there are no imperialist peoples, only imperialist states.

Zeilig’s nuanced take on this important matter is revealed in Rodney’s rediscovered lectures. Also, the subtlety of class analysis in relation to workers versus peasants, and the bureacratic bourgeoisie profiting from this constellation (p. 219) brings to mind the contradiction that had arguably brought down Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president who nevertheless found himself opposing working class demands. Rodney’s politics in Guyana invited the same fate as Sankara, as we know.

Nabolsy’s review on Hirji’s The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher touches on very interesting issues of Rodney’s role especially in the context of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s idiosyncratic version of African socialism. Nabolsy appreciates Nyerere efforts but analyses his politics with great candour: Ujamaa provided national unification, but failed to undermine Tanzania’s dependency in any real sense. The sad realization of the failure of Tanzania’s experience startles the reader with its implications for the history of African socialism.

On an emotional and personal level, I remain most endeared by the Soviet authors celebrated in this text. So Makarenko and Sukhomlinsky are both Soviet success stories and they demonstrate that this combination of words in no oxymoron, and neither is it necessarily, revisionist mumbo-jumbo. Their artificial removal from their historical context (which had happened many times over in Makarenko’s case, and in one particular account when it comes to Sukhomlinsky) are fought against by the author with Leninist gusto.

Sukhomlinsky had not fought against a supposedly Stalinist education reform: he built it, and it became one of the most important achievements of the country by the 1960s due partly to his efforts. The former educational pioneer did not harm children: he gave them purpose, responsibility, self-respect, and self-esteem. The implication of Sukhomlinsky and Makarenko is that true freedom constructs its own order, and that freedom ultimately thrives on responsibility, and revolutionary freedom.

As this collection is subtitled Volume One, it is my hope and expectation that this shall be the beginning of a series of books, dealing with other foundational texts, and even become a revolutionary alternative to The London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, both of which still demonstrate how much readers crave review collections. Volumes like Liberated Texts might be the very future of book review magazines in changed form. A luta continua!

This article was first published by ROAPE.

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We Must Democratize the Economy

In the UK, prices for basic goods are soaring while corporations rake in ever-bigger profits. The solution, Jeremy Corbyn argues, is to bring basic resources like energy, water, railways, and the postal service into democratic public ownership.



Jeremy Corbyn: We Must Democratize the Economy
Photo: Chatham House, London
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On Thursday, December 15, the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in their 106-year history. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, tens of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) nurses walked out after being denied decent, livable pay rises. Hailed as heroes one year, forced to use food banks the next, nurses’ wages have fallen more than £3,000 in real terms since 2010; three in four now say they work overtime to meet rising energy bills.

People will remember 2022 as the year that the Conservative Party plunged this country into political turmoil. However, behind the melodrama is a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed desperate people into destitution and the so-called middle classes to the brink. We should remember 2022 as the year in which relative child poverty reached its highest levels since 2007 and real wage growth reached its lowest levels in half a century. (Average earnings have shrunk by £80 a month and a staggering £180 a month for public sector workers.) These are the real scandals.

For some MPs, this was the year they kick-started their reality TV careers. For others, this was the year they told their children they couldn’t afford any Christmas presents. For energy companies, it was the year they laughed all the way to the bank; in the same amount of time it took for Rishi Sunak to both lose and then win a leadership contest, Shell returned £8.2 billion in profit. SSE, a multinational energy company headquartered in Scotland, saw their profits triple in just one year. Profits across the world’s seven biggest oil firms rose to almost £150 billion.

Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means offering an alternative to our existing economic model — a model that empowers unaccountable companies to profit off the misery of consumers and the destruction of our earth. And that means defending a value, a doctrine, and a tradition that unites us all: democracy.

Labour recently announced “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.” I welcomed the renewal of many of the policies from the manifesto in 2019: abolishing the House of Lords and handing powers to devolved governments, local authorities, and mayors. These plans should work hand in hand, to ensure any second chamber reflects the geographical diversity of the country. If implemented, this would decentralize a Whitehall-centric model of governance that wastes so much of this country’s regional talent, energy, and creativity.

However, devolution, decentralization, and democracy are not just matters for the constitution. They should characterize our economy too. Regional governments are demanding greater powers for the same reason an unelected second chamber is patently arcane: we want a say over the things that affect our everyday lives. This, surely, includes the way in which our basic resources are produced and distributed.

From energy to water and from rail to mail, a small number of companies monopolize the production of basic resources to the detriment of the workers they exploit and the customers they fleece. We rely on these services, and workers keep them running, but it is remote chief executive officers and unaccountable shareholders who decide how they are run and profit off their provision. Would it not make more sense for workers and consumers to decide how to run the services they provide and consume?

As prices and profits soar, it’s time to put basic resources like energy, water, rail, and mail back where they belong: in public hands. Crucially, this mold of public ownership would not be a return to 1940s-style patronage-appointed boards but a restoration of civic accountability. Water, for example, should be a regional entity controlled by consumers, workers, and local authorities, and work closely with environmental agencies on water conservation, sewage discharges, the preservation of coastlines, and the protection of our natural world. This democratic body would be answerable to the public, and the public alone, rather than to the dividends of distant hedge funds.

Bringing energy, water, rail, and mail into democratic public ownership is about giving local people agency over the resources they use. It’s about making sure these resources are sustainably produced and universally distributed in the interests of workers, communities, and the planet.

Beyond key utilities, a whole host of services and resources require investment, investment that local communities should control. That’s why, in 2019, we pledged to establish regional investment banks across the country, run by local stakeholders who can decide — collectively — how best to direct public investment. Those seeking this investment would not make their case with reference to how much profit they could make in private but how much they could benefit the public as a whole.

To democratize our economy, we need to democratize workplaces too. We can end workplace hierarchies and wage inequalities by giving workers the right to decide, together, how their team operates and how their pay structures are organized. If we want to kick-start a mass transfer of power, we need to redistribute wealth from those who hoard it to those who create it.

Local people know the issues facing them, and they know how to meet them better than anyone else. If we want to practice what we preach, then the same principles of democracy, devolution, and decentralization must apply to our own parties as well. Local party members, not party leaders, should choose their candidates, create policy, and decide what their movement stands for.

Only a democratic party can provide the necessary space for creative and transformative solutions to the crises facing us all. In a world where the division between rich and poor is greater than ever before, our aim should be to unite the country around a more hopeful alternative — an alternative that recognizes how we all rely on each other to survive and thrive.

This alternative is not some abstract ideal to be imagined. It is an alternative that workers are fighting for on the picket line. Even before the nurses went on strike, 2022 was a record-breaking year for industrial action. Striking workers are not just fighting for pay, essential as these demands are. They are fighting for a society without poverty, hunger, and inequality. They are fighting for a future that puts the interests of the community ahead of the greed of energy companies. They are fighting for us all.

Their collective struggle teaches us that democracy exists — it thrives — outside of Westminster. The government is trying its best to turn dedicated postal workers and railway workers into enemies of the general public — a general public that apparently also excludes university staff, bus drivers, barristers, baggage handlers, civil servants, ambulance drivers, firefighters, and charity workers. As the enormous scale of industrial action shows, striking workers are the general public. The year 2022 will go down in history, not as the year the Tories took the public for fools, but as the year the public fought back. United in their thousands, they are sending a clear message: this is what democracy looks like.

This article was first published by Progressive International

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