For all of us working at Lloyds, the announcement that the bosses would
be throwing 15,000 (or 14% of the 104,000 strong work force) people onto
the street came not from our employer but from the press release that
was made to appease the stock markets – they were only too happy to hear
we’d be bearing the brunt of the effort, as ever, to drag Lloyds out of
the mess the bosses got it into in the first place.
For all of us working at Lloyds, the announcement that the bosses would be throwing 15,000 (or 14% of the 104,000 strong work force) people onto the street came not from our employer but from the press release that was made to appease the stock markets – they were only too happy to hear we’d be bearing the brunt of the effort, as ever, to drag Lloyds out of the mess the bosses got it into in the first place. This is on top of the 27,500 workers, who did nothing worse than turn up to work and put a solid day in, who have already paid for the crisis with their jobs. On the day, despite the media campaign to slander striking public sector workers, the June 30th strike (and the March 26th Trade Union demonstration) became a point of reference – for workers at Halifax and Lloyds the tone was not of dejection or resignation but of how to tackle management head on.
The planned job cuts are part of a strategic review aimed at cutting Lloyds operating costs by £1.5 billion within three years. The aim is of course to return Lloyds to a profitable state – given the state of the global economy there is only one way this could be done – on the backs of the working class. As ever the line of management is of ‘natural attrition and turnover’ and ‘no forced redundancies’ – loosely translating as ‘keep calm and carry on’. If they’re not lying to us then they’re definitely lying to themselves. The groundwork for large scale layoffs is already being laid down. Currently, in the call centres of Halifax the advisors are essentially jack-of-all-trades, trained to use about a half dozen inter-connected computer programs – ring up and one person will answer, handle or resolve anything from a question on interest rates and tax down to the nitty gritty of transfers, formal complaints and data protection. On top of this advisors must be alert to signs of money laundering, identity theft and fraud, build a sales approach into calls and ‘build rapport’ with callers. As with many other call centres all this is set to targets and closely monitored – anybody not meeting targets for calls answered or sales made have their names highlighted and compared to everyone else in emails sent within teams or across entire departments; name and shame is the game and fostering competition between individual workers is a tactic as old as time. Much of this (not the targets or ‘name and shame’ though) is all set to change – with the Lloyds takeover Halifax call centres are being transformed along Lloyds call centre lines, every advisor will be trained on two systems, taking Lloyds and Halifax calls, and will essentially become a high volume area – anything other than transfers or queries on transactions and the caller is transferred somewhere else. The new systems and processes will mean fewer workers can handle more calls – which translates into closures and mass redundancies. Now we see where a good part of the 15,000 job cuts will come from.
More than all of this, what is little spoken about is the extremely large bureaucratic apparatus required for the everyday functions of a bank. Within Halifax thousands of workers are employed to carry out administrative functions from filing to running anti-fraud checks. Aside from the massive waste and inefficiency brought about by the top down managerial structure, Halifax frequently completely under-staffs many of its departments; when this is pushed to its absolute limits backlogs of work three, four and five months long pile up and (like many other banks) they are dependent on the use of armies of workers on temporary contracts to tackle this – many are given the most rudimentary training and end up having to pass a lot of the work on to permanent staff anyway, which creates more delays and more work. Much of the work is simply not done until it is picked up on by a customer one, two and three years or more down the line. All of this can generate intense friction between different departments – the story of the temps in branch not receiving any training, because the manager is too busy chasing up sales and targets, calling contact centres to do things they should be able to do is a common one – and is not the fault of the temp either. No less common is that of poorly trained call centre staff – again no fault of their own – trying to explain why something hasn’t been done for a customer, who is absolutely furious, because the administrative staff simply don’t have the numbers to do the work put in front of them, or don’t have the training to do it! There seems little reason to assume that any of the other dozen or so high street banks are any less bureaucratic and inefficient – they will unnecessarily replicate work done elsewhere simply because they are held as separate bodies. At times, under these conditions it is no surprise that the urge for some kind of democratic control, whether openly or only unconsciously expressed, begins to come to the foreground.
When the crisis hit in 2008 Lloyds was amongst those banks which discovered that not only had the muck truly hit the fan but the bank was also running over the edge of a very steep cliff. Years of cack-handed bureaucracy, mis-selling and blind robbery that would make most loan-sharks blush were nothing compared to the fire and brimstone of the crisis – a crisis which Lloyds survived on the back of a state bail-out (the UK government still owns a 41% stake in Lloyds), conditional on their swallowing the poison pill that was Halifax. This kind of hard-nosed attitude to workers is of course nothing new, especially from a bank with the record Lloyds has. Alongside shares in the UK arms industry to the tune of over £700 million and being the principle banker for BAE Systems, Lloyds has also played a role in the criminal siege of Gaza – preventing the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB) from dealing with Interpal in November 2008, one of the few charities providing aid to Palestinians in the Gaza strip. The day after the IBB was forced to stop funding Interpal the UN would announce it had run out of humanitarian supplies for the Gaza Strip. If that’s not bad enough Lloyds (along with Credit Suisse, HSBC and Barclays) was also taken to court by the US government after it was caught dodging the US sanctions on Iran, ‘stripping’ wire transfers of money to their government, Lloyds settled with the US State Dept for $350 million US Dollars. They can probably afford that, though, given that they’ve dodged countless hundreds of millions of pounds in tax over recent years.
Working for Halifax it’s hard not to feel like a stoker on the Titanic, where the captain insists on brightly polished brass and full speed ahead into the dark. Lloyds has enough of its own problems to tackle without the inevitability of a Greek default and the collapse of the EU to face. According to a report by the Bank of England, picked up in the Financial Times (26/06/11), between its own lending and that of Halifax Lloyds is badly exposed to risky mortgages – more than a quarter of all the mortgages on Lloyds’ books are for 90% or more of the value of the property; borrowers who put down a 10% deposit are considered twice as likely to fall into arrears compared to borrowers who put down 30-40%. Given how difficult it is for many workers to raise even a small deposit for a home it takes little to work out who will be considered the most ‘risky’ and most vulnerable to repossession orders. Looking at Lloyds total secured debt – mortgages to both individuals and businesses – this type of risky loan makes up 60% of all the lending on Lloyds books. About 13% of the mortgages – or £45 billion pounds worth – on Lloyds books exceeds the actual value of the property. Gangrene can be lethal if not dealt with swiftly.
Over recent months a split in the board of the Bank of England over whether or not to raise interest rates has raged. The arguments for have centred largely on efforts to cut across inflation, which for most working people has been rampant and continues to eat into the wages of all workers. One argument, probably decisive for the moment, against raising interest rates is the prospect of a tsunami of defaults resulting from the hike in repayments. The state holds around £80 billion of mortgages (with around 750,000 borrowers) from the nationalisation of Bradford & Bingley and Northern Rock, 10-15% of which are effectively sub-prime mortgages and would be the first against the wall should interest rates rise. Given the amount of ‘sub-prime’ debt on Lloyds books such an interest rate rise would provoke a crisis to make 2008 look like the ‘good-old days’ when only tens of thousands of people lost their homes rather than hundreds of thousands. Had it only been the Halifax, Lloyds may have been able to limp on by cutting the Halifax loose, the way a gangrenous limb is amputated to save the patient. However, for Lloyds the rot has set in to the core. There is only so far above the shoulder a surgeon can amputate before the operation itself kills the patient. Again, this is all without considering the impact of the looming default of the Greek state – once that sets in, all bets are off.
The first demand in fighting against this open assault on Lloyds workers is the oldest of the labour movement – open up the books. Let the workers see why they are being asked to sacrifice by men like CEO Manuel Horta-Osorio. Let all workers see the immense lengths all the banks go to evade tax. Let everyone see the waste, the corruption and the bribery. Let all workers see how the banks are absolutely complicit in the siege of Gaza, of the arming of regimes from Latin America through Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Let all workers see who they will strike deals with, including the bloodiest of regimes. Let all workers see exactly how much of the wealth of all working people goes into the pockets of a small section of society and how it is used to decide, in a chaotic and often criminal way, what is made and where. So long as the banks are left in the hands of these crooks and robbers they will only ever be used in the interests of capitalism. In escalating the action in defence of our jobs we can address the broadest section of the working class – stand with us and together we will fight to nationalise not only Lloyds but all of the banks and the finance houses and insurance companies. Once this is done the experience of Lloyds, a part nationalised bank carrying out attacks on the working class and dealing as though it were ‘business as usual’, demonstrates the necessity to remove completely all of the old CEO’s, all of the layers of management who will only ever run it in the interests of capitalism.
The day to day running of a single, consolidated, state bank must be carried out under the democratic control of the workers in it – not only will work no longer be needlessly repeated but we can raise wages so that we can live in a reasonable degree of dignity and comfort, provide decent pensions to all staff, defend our current jobs and share work out with unemployed workers, in doing so we can also shorten our working work without loss of pay. On a broader scale how the money in the bank is used can be decided in a planned democratic way by all of working society – we can use the money to build the homes that are urgently needed, which will immediately provide jobs for thousands of laid off construction workers, we can build the schools and hospitals we need, we can fund entirely the education from cradle to grave of everyone, eradicating tuition fees completely. The call is clear – nationalise all the banks and finance houses, to be run under workers control and management as part of a socialist plan of production to benefit everybody not just the parasites of the City of london.
Within the vaults of these banks rests the crystallised labour of the billions of workers, slaves and petit-bourgeois sections of society going back three, four and five centuries. So long as the banks are run in the interests of capitalism they will only ever demand a blood sacrifice of workers at the altar of capitalism – Greece stands as absolute testament as to what the bosses have planned for us all as they attempt to dig their way out of the crisis. Like the workers and youth of Greece our only option is open struggle.