Yesterday, RBS Chief, Ross McEwan told MPs that the closure of 62 branches was “commercially necessary”. We publish here an article form our recent issue of Revolution on the RBS and why think its necessary (for non commercial reasons) to nationalise the banks under workers control.
By Emma McVitie
The Royal Bank of Scotland’s recent announcement of further bank closures has been met with disappointment in the local communities affected. The bank’s management argued the way people are banking is changing, with up to 30% fewer customers walking through some branch doors in the past few years, while online banking usage has gone up. The closures affect rural and island communities such as Castlebay and Rothesay as well as larger urban areas in the central belt. A total of 62 RBS branches in Scotland are to close, along with 197 Natwest branches in England and Wales. In some cases it will be the last bank in town to go, and hundreds of workerswill be made redundant too. However disappointing, the closures are unsurprising, considering the Bank’s recent history of reckless management and the general capitalist pressure to act in the interest of its shareholders.
This recent round of closures gives us food for thought regarding two topical arguments, that is nationalisation and the automation/robotisation of the economy which is set to have disruptive consequences unless promptly addressed.
Neil Findlay, a leading figure in Scottish Labour and MSP for the Lothian area, reported to parliament that he spoke to the bank directors asking them to donate the premises of the soon-to-be-closed banks to the respective local community, so that they could be used to mitigate the effects of the closure. He was told that the bank needs to provide value to its shareholders, hence RBS will sell the premises at market value. It seems of no importance to RBS’s directors that the bank’s majority shareholders are UK taxpayers, as the bank was unable to meet its commitments following the 2008 financial crisis and had to be rescued to the tune of billions and billions of pounds by us. The total rescue package for RBS was around £45bn and for the UK economy as a whole £500bn. This is a context in which we are reminded daily that there’s no money for the NHS, there’s no money to reinstate bursaries for students, no money for higher pensions and no money for the care of the elderly, yet billions can be found for trident, wars in the Middle East and banks.
Theresa May said to MPs that it was a commercial decision by RBS and Government will not intervene. However SNP parliamentary leader, Ian Blackford, entered dialogues with the bank directors who gave a concession of allowing 10 branches to stay open at least until the end of the year. Clearly this intervention does not constitute a long-term solution as only 10 of the 62 due to close will be kept open, and at that only for one year. The only long term solution is the nationalisation of banks and all big business under workers’ control.
The current state ownership of RBS is a different scenario from what we – as Marxists – envisage. The collective ownership of banks – which we proudly stand for- is an altogether different matter from the current public ownership of RBS – which is simply a mechanism to socialise the losses brought about by years of reckless strategies by the bank executives. Capitalists are keen to rule out any sort of state intervention when it comes to protecting the unemployed, sick and disabled, yet were ready to argue for the taxpayer to fork out £500bn to help the banks. As soon as RBS becomes profitable again and we taxpayers could benefit from owning shares, there will be a sell-off of state owned shares. What the IMT stands for is the nationalisation of the bank assets so that RBS – and other banks – are run in the interest of its workers and its users and not in the interest of the shareholders. This means no job losses and no closures even with the improvements brought about by technology – just a general reduction of working hours without loss of pay.
The public collective ownership of big business, banks and industry is closely linked to the devastating impact that automation will bring about in local communities, with shop assistants, bank clerks and even delivery drivers and pharmacists being replaced by sophisticated machines. Technology has the prospect of radically improving all our lives, with machines assisting in our daily tasks, reducing our working time and increasing the time we dedicate to our family, passions and/or political activity such as the running of our workplace. However, this will only be possible if technology is collectively owned and not in the hands of the same people that own big business, in whose hands it will simply be used as an excuse to make swathes of people redundant. The very technology that could be used to liberate us all, will instead be used to further impoverish to the benefit of capital.
With around 230,000 Scottish jobs under threat because of the rise of automation, it is of crucial importance that we fight to end the anarchy of capitalism and bring these businesses under public ownership in order to establish a rational and humane economic plan. While we support the establishment of a citizens’ income, this can only be considered as a temporary measure. If successfully established, a citizens’ income will be attacked by capitalists and their Tory spokespeople as expensive, burdensome and promoting lazy behaviour, and there will be attempts to reduce its scope. There is also the danger that it will be used to replace existing benefits and will pay less. The only long term solution is the nationalisation and collectivisation of all profits and of the means that make these profits possible, such as machinery and robots, in order to develop a rational plan of production