Iranian teachers’ union leader on hunger strike

May 28, 2017 at 5:56 pm (Eric Lee, Human rights, internationalism, Iran, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

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Eric Lee writes:

The name Esmail Abdi should be familiar to you.  In the past, I’ve asked for your help in demanding that the Iranian government free this leader of the Tehran teachers’ union.  Abdi was sentenced to six years in jail on bogus charges and teachers’ unions around the world, led by the Education International, have been demanding his release.

Now things have suddenly gotten much worse.

On 30 April, Esmail Abdi began a hunger strike to protest the continued, unlawful repression of teachers and human rights defenders and the lack of independence of justice in Iran.

Abdi is kept in harsh detention conditions and denied communication with his family and lawyer.

The hunger strike is taking a toll on his health, putting his life in serious danger.

And the prison authorities have not reacted to any of his demands.

Please take a moment to show your support for this brave trade unionist:

http://www.labourstart.org/go/hungerstrike

And please share this campaign with your friends, family and fellow trade union members.

Thank you!

Eric Lee

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AWL statement: Against the terrorists, fight to rebuild hope

May 24, 2017 at 7:55 am (AWL, fascism, islamism, Middle East, murder, posted by JD, religion, socialism, solidarity, terror)

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Only a rebirth of social hope can cut the roots of the vindictiveness-obsessed, death-obsessed political-Islamist movements.

The bombing at the Manchester Arena, which as we go to press has killed 22 and injured 59, has been claimed by Daesh as its own. Experts say that may be inaccurate and macabre boasting; but almost certainly the killer was an Islamist clerical-fascist of some sort.

We join many others in extending our solidarity to the families and friends of those killed and injured.

It will be good if the police can arrest any who collaborated with the attacker, and good if the Iraqi army (with US backing) can complete their battle to push Daesh out of Mosul, where it has ruled since June 2014. But recent decades show that no-one can have confidence in the cops or big-power armies to quell this clerical-fascist terrorism; that in fact their actions, like the clumsy “Prevent” programme​, like successive curbs on civil liberties, like the USA’s 2003 invasion of Iraq (launched under cover of the “war on terror” declared by US president George W Bush in 2001), like the USA’s record in Afghanistan since it came in to push out the Taliban in 2001, will feed the despair underpinning the terrorists rather than mend it.

Daesh extols the attack as killing “crusaders”, extracting “revenge”, and terrorising the “mushrikin” (polytheists or atheists). The attack has to be put into some historical context.

Cults of death run through the history of fascism. The Spanish Falangists (part of Franco’s forces) had the slogan Viva la Muerte, Long Live Death.

For the death cult to reach the pitch of suicide attacks on randomly chosen civilians, often young people or children (and, world-wide, more often what the Islamists see as the wrong sort of Muslims than non-Muslims), requires a particular mix.

Religion: cults of martyrdom, beliefs in afterlife rewards. Despair: an across-the-board rage at the modern world. Logistics: the idea that these attacks on “soft” targets bypass overwhelming military might.

Systematic suicide bombing starts, in the modern world, with the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers movement in 1987. They borrowed it from the Islamist movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon, which in 1983 had done a truck bombing of the US Marine base in Beirut and forced the US to withdraw.

With the Tamil Tigers — who eventually made hundreds of suicide attacks — and Hezbollah, there was some connection to determinable political aims (force the US out of Lebanon, force the Sri Lankan government to cede Tamil independence), though the tactics meshed with politics which made the Tigers and Hezbollah menaces to “their own” people too.

From the 1980s, and even more from the early 1990s, Islamic clerical-fascists took the lead in this tactic, and shifted it increasingly to attacks, like the Manchester one, which fail even to claim a determinable political goal. They had been boosted by Khomeiny’s seizure of power in Iran in 1979, the near-victory of Islamists in Algeria in the early 90s, and the Taliban’s gaining power in Kabul in 1996.

The balance of their attacks has shifted away from targets which could be held, however tenuously, to symbolise oppressive power, towards “soft” civilian targets.

The UK’s top “anti-terrorist” cop said in March this year that his forces had forestalled 13 terrorist attacks since June 2013. We have no way of checking his figures. He may be right. The facts show that the established powers and measures have no success at draining the swamps of hatred which lead to more and more attacks and attempts. Only a renewed socialist labour movement can do that.

After the 7 July 2005 Tube bombings the British police reported 269 religious hate crimes against Muslims and mosques in the next three weeks, six or seven times the level of the previous year. Such responses increase the suffering, rather than decreasing it.

Britain could scarcely have a meaner-spirited, more closed-door, attitude to refugees from Syria than it already has. Any further worsening there should be opposed. Many of those refugees are fleeing the clerical-fascist terror of Daesh and similar movements in Syria. The fight against that terrorism calls for welcoming them.

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Manchester Arena blast: the people rally round

May 23, 2017 at 4:09 am (good people, humanism, Jim D, solidarity, terror)

The BBC reports:

Within an hour of reports of the incident emerging, people began offering spare rooms and beds to people stranded in the city using the hashtag #RoomForManchester.

Hundreds of tweets offering places to stay are being shared and re-tweeted thousands of times.

#RoomForManchesterImage copyright Mark McGregor

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Labour’s manifesto and the economy: a moderate re-balancing towards fairness

May 21, 2017 at 6:41 am (economics, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity)

Image result for labour manifesto 2017

Martin Thomas looks at the modest reality of Labour’s manifesto (full text here).

The output (value-added) of the UK economy these days is around £1900 billion a year. Of that, about £360 billion is goods and services bought by central and local government, about £320 billion is capital investment, and about £1,130 billion is stuff bought by households. The sub-totals do not add up to the overall total because of other categories, and the figures are rough, based on the last available official figures, for 2014.

The UK government produces many useful statistics on the distribution of household income, but not for the percentage of household income taken by the rich, the top 5%, and the fairly well-off, the top 20%. To get an idea, let’s borrow the US figures — 20%-plus of the total for the top 5%, 50%-plus for the top 20%. Historically, US income inequality has been greater than the UK’s, but the gap has decreased, and inequality between top and bottom incomes has been rising in a way that makes official figures, always produced after a delay, usually underestimates.

Household income and household consumption can diverge, especially for very high-income people who save a lot of their income, but the US figures will give us a ballpark estimate. A dozen complications make the figures inexact; but an inexact estimate of the shape of the forest can teach us lessons not visible from more precise statistics about the trees. If we subtract 20% from the employed-workforce total of 32 million for bosses and their high-paid associates, some 26 million workers turn out about £74,000 each in products and services.

Of each £74,000:
• about £22,000 returns as wage, benefit, and pension income to the lower 80%, mostly working-class households
• about £9,000 goes in household income to the top 5%
• about £12,000 to expanding capital, from which they benefit most
• about £13,000 in household income to the well-off-but-not-rich 15%
• about £14,000 in government purchases of goods and services, be that medicines for the NHS and books for schools, or Trident missile replacements.

Let’s say half to two-thirds of that £14,000 is health, education, and similar spending which should be counted as part of the social wage. That leaves over £40,000 of the average worker’s value-added going to the rich or well-off, to the expansion of capital controlled by the rich, and to the expansion of the power and pomp of the state. Or over £1,000 billion a year in total.

The figure is rough. But it gives a measure of the mendacity of the Tory propagandists who denounce Labour’s manifesto as made of “wild, uncosted spending commitments”.

To pay for:
• More than £6 billion extra per year for the NHS
• £8 billion extra for social care
• Reversal of the Tory school cuts
• Reversal of the Tory benefit cuts, including the bedroom tax and cuts to disability benefits
• Restoring student grants, and scrapping university tuition fees
• Ending the 1% freeze on pay rises for health and education workers

the Labour manifesto promises to:
• increase income tax for the top 5%
• reverse the Tories’ cuts in corporation tax.

It promises to take some tens of billions of pounds — John McDonnell estimates £50-odd billion — out of the £1,000 billion a year which currently goes to the rich and the very well-off, or to enterprises under their control.

Many other economic measures in the manifesto require little extra public spending. The government can readily borrow to build new council housing, and then by law council housing accounts are “ring-fenced”. Tenants’ rents cover the costs. In fact, more than that, since in recent years councils have been sneakily raiding their housing accounts by artificially increasing “service charges” paid from them to other departments. Abolishing tuition fees will cost little in current government spending. After tuition fees were raised, the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported “ the average total taxpayer contribution has not fallen very much”, since the government pays about as much on student loans for fees, and their administration, as it previously paid direct to universities.

Increasing the minimum wage to £10 an hour will force bosses to limit their profits and the amount they pay themselves, but that is all. The Picturehouse strikers have reported that the boss of Cineworld (which owns Picturehouse) could pay Picturehouse workers the Living Wage out of his own personal take, and still pocket £1 million. Repealing the punitive Trade Union Act, abolishing zero-hours contracts, and saying workers have “employee” rights by default (putting the burden on the boss to prove that they are not employees) will not tap public funds, but will help workers reduce inequality. Renationalising the railways, and launching publicly-owned energy companies, will limit privatised operators’ loot, but not cost taxpayers.

The moral and political content of the manifesto is the reduction of inequality. It is not to be counted in a few pounds here and a few pounds there. It is about changing towards a society of solidarity and cooperation from one where a rich few lord it over a majority who have to scrape and scrabble to find food and shelter, education and health care, or even to get a few hours’ work each week — where each one jabs their elbow in their neighbour’s face to get out of the mire and on to the high lands. It is about reversing the trends of the last near-forty years, since Thatcher.

When Thatcher took office in 1979, the ratio of incomes at the bottom of the top 10% to those at the top of the bottom 10%, the 90:10 decile ratio, was about 3. By the time she quit, in 1990, it was up to 4.5. Since then, and until now, Thatcher’s “neoliberal” mode of economic policy has dominated, with only slight inflections this way or that. Inequality has steadily drifted up to 5.3 now. Under the Blair and Brown Labour goverments, measures like the minimum wage and tax credits improved things for some of the very poorest, but inequality still rose, because the rich increased their loot much faster.

Under Thatcher, the very richest gained — individually, though not in terms of the society they were living in — and also a large group of upper-middle-income people. That has changed since the crash of 2008. The very richest quickly recovered their losses. The conservative Sunday Times headlined its report on its annual Rich List for 2017: “In a year of uncertainty, one thing was without doubt — Britain’s richest were getting richer… the total wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest individuals and families soared to £658bn — a 14% rise on last year”.

Since 2008 both the worse-off and also middling-income people have seen at best stagnation. Real wages increased a bit, on average, in 2014-5 and 2015-6, thanks to some recovery in the world economy, but are still well behind pre-crash levels. Almost certainly they are already decreasing, and set to decrease further. No-one yet knows what the eventual Brexit deal will be like. But only the most fanatical ultra-market economists believed that Brexit could actually improve Britain’s overall income.

Their recipe is to slash all social and environmental regulations and protections, so that Britain becomes a high-profit, low-wage, high-insecurity, low-welfare platform for global capital, conveniently close to Europe. viable The main Tory leaders do not think that is viable. They know that, by diminishing and hindering trade, they will diminish economic life, to a yet-unknown extent. What justifies that, for them, is their mean-minded obsession with excluding migrants. Which will further diminish economic life, since those migrants are mostly young, keen, taxpaying workers, essential to many public services. The Tory future is grim.

That is why Theresa May has gone for an election now, and why she refuses to offer any substantial prospectus other than “strong and stable leadership”. It is why she refuses to rule out tax rises. The Resolution Foundation think-tank, analysing known wage trends and already-programmed benefit cuts, has predicted a rise in the 90:10 inequality ratio from 5.3 now to 6 in 2020, a faster rise even than under Thatcher. That is without taking into account effects from Brexit.

The choice at this election is between a “strong and stable” drive to make inequality even more hurtful, and an attempt to reduce inequality and institute some social solidarity and cooperation.

Explaining the Labour manifesto to workers who have been beaten down by years of Thatcher, Blair, and Cameron into believing that no plan for improvement can ever be true is a first step. It is not all. We need an active, mobilised, and lively labour movement to sustain the message, and to sustain and push a Labour government if we win one on 8 June.

The proposed clawback from the rich is moderate. In simple arithmetic, they could afford it easily — some tens of billions out of hundreds of billions of value which they siphon away each year. But the rich do not get rich, in a capitalist society, by being generous and easy. They get rich by being the people most ruthless in pursuit of greed, exploitation, trampling down and squeezing the working class.

What they say now, while they are still confident of a Tory victory, about Labour’s policies being “wild”, “ruinous”, “disastrous”, and “illegal”, is a pale anticipation of how they will react if Labour wins. They have a hundred levers of sabotage of an elected government — from “strikes” of capital, through top officials, to the Labour right — and they will use them.

In Solidarity’s view, even the moderate rebalancing proposed by Labour’s manifesto can be implemented thoroughly and securely only by a labour movement ready and willing to take economic power out of the hands of the ultra-rich, by workers’ control and social ownership across industry. The movement will become strong enough to do that only by uniting, now, to create and organisation in every workplace and working-class street capable of winning a majority for the manifesto and fighting the battles needed to implement it.

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Darcus Howe and the Mangrove Nine

April 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, black culture, civil rights, From the archives, history, liberation, police, posted by JD, Racism, RIP, solidarity)

Above: Young Radford/Darcus (left) and in later years (right)

The death, yesterday, of Darcus Howe, reminds us of just what an important figure he was. He was a follower of the Caribbean intellectual and Marxist CLR James (to whom he was in fact related), and also a British advocate of the Black Panther movement. Later, of course, he gained fame as an affable but still sharp and highly political TV presenter (‘The Devil’s Advocate’, etc), who memorably and with great humour once took on Bernard Manning (!) … and ended up befriending him.

But now seems like the right time to remember one of Darcus’s early battles, the campaign and eventual Old Bailey trial of the Mangrove Nine.

The trial of the nine arguably represents a high point of the Black Panther movement in the UK, showing the power of black activism and the institutionalised police prejudice. But what prompted the backlash of black British people against the police, leading to a virtual show trial at the Old Bailey?

Background

The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill opened in March 1968, and quickly become a centre for the black community, attracting intellectuals, creatives and campaigners.

The restaurant was repeatedly raided by police. Although the raids were carried out on the basis of drug possession, drugs were never found and Mangrove owner Crichlow’s anti-drugs stance was well known.

In response the black community and allies took to the streets to protest on 9 August 1970. The demonstration was organised by a small group from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove and the (British) Black Panthers. This included Frank Crichlow, Darcus (aka Radford) Howe and barrister Anthony Mohipp, secretary of the Black Improvement Organisation.

The protesters were met with a disproportionate police response: There were 150 demonstrators at the beginning of the march accompanied by 200 police.

The police claimed in court that the Black Power movement was implicated in planning and inciting a riot.

Later a Home Office commissioned report from the Community Relations Commission concluded that contrary to the police reports, the violence was not initiated by the marchers but by the police themselves.

Flyer calling for justice for the Mangrove Nine,1970. In the tenth week of the trial these were distributed to black people around the court and Notting Hill to raise awareness of the case (catalogue reference: HO 325/143)

Flyer distributed outside the court and in Notting Hill, 1971. Darcus was then known as Radford

The Trial of the Mangrove Nine by Constance Lever, Workers Fight (forunner of Workers Liberty), January 1972

The Old Bailey trial of the Mangrove Nine in 1971 took the fight of Notting Hill’s black community against police harassment right into the nerve-centre of the British legal system.

With the unexpected help of a mainly white, working class jury, the Nine won a partial victory: they were cleared of 25 out of 31 charges — including the serious ones of riot and causing grievous bodily harm. 5 were acquitted and 4 got suspended sentences.

In June and July 1970 the Mangrove Restaurant was raided nine times by the police, supposedly looking for drugs, which they never found. Its licence to stay open after 11pm was revoked when the police lodged an objection. Thereafter, those who ran it were repeatedly dragged into court and accused of serving food after hours.

On 9 August 1970 local black people marched in protest at this police harassment.. Without “provocation” police baton-charged the march. Naturally the marchers fought back. The charges — which were later insisted upon by higher police authorities — arose from this battle.

The harassment by the police bully boys is not accidental. The police must protect the private property system of the wealthy against its victims. To forestall trouble they tend to pick most on those who stand out, who have the rawest deal, and try to terrorise them into submission.

The Mangrove was a community restaurant, one of a network of community organisations. The restaurant and its clientele were harassed so as to stamp out a centre of black consciousness.

The trial itself was not quite what the police had bargained for. The accused turned the trial into an indictment of the police and the system. Three of them, Darcus Howe, Rhodan Gordon and Althea Lecointe, conducted their own defence. They all refused to shut up when told to and rejected the judge’s rulings that statements about police brutality in Notting Hill were irrelevant.

The Mangrove Nine refused to behave as individuals charged with crimes, unsure and apologetic, but acted instead as representatives of a militant black community challenging police and court intimidation. And their community backed them up: every day of the 49-day trial they packed the public gallery to give solidarity.

With these tactics they broke through the hidebound ritual of court procedure and managed to actually talk about their lives and experiences and about their conflict with the police, to the ordinary men and women of the jury.

A majority of the Mangrove jury were workers, and only two of the 11 were black. It is known that the jury divided along class lines, with the middle class members inclined to believe the police and favouring conviction. It seems that some of the workers knew better and simply decided the police were liars. Eventually they compromised on the basis of agreement on acquittal on the most serious charges.

And when the trial ended, 7 jurors joined the Nine to spend 3 hours chatting and drinking like old friends long kept apart.

But only partial victories can be won in the courts. The police and the state retaliate. Within 24 hours of hism acquittal, Rhodan Gordon was rearrested on charges of obstructing and assaulting the police.

What is needed is a drive to mobilise the active support of the labour movement for the struggles of black people. It would be pointless and stupid to deny the widespread racialist attitudes in the labour movement. It is the job of socialists to fight to break this down — not to pretend working class racism doesn’t exist.

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Guilt, race and class politics: “Where are the people of color?”

March 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, class, left, political groups, posted by JD, solidarity, Trump, United States, women, workers, youth)

Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.

It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.

On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.

Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.

But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”

In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.

The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?

Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.

This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.

Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.

But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.

A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.

White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.

Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.

This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.

To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.

But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.

It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.

You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.

Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.

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March tomorrow for the NHS

March 3, 2017 at 8:43 am (campaigning, health service, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity, unions)

From Momentum:

A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn will re-nationalise and restore our NHS, but it really is up to everyone to make sure there is an NHS left to restore. #OurNHS demo this Saturday marks the start of that movement.

Join the Momentum and Labour bloc:

This Saturday, 4th March
12pm, BMA House, 1 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9JP

Coaches are coming from across the country. Click here to find out about coaches coming from your area. And if you’re able to help steward on the day or help make placards tomorrow, please email contact@ournhs.info

ournhs.jpg

So bring your friends and family to join Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and many thousands of others to stand up for our NHS.

Nye Bevan famously said the NHS “will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. Now it’s time to fight.

 

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Notes on Brexit from a trade union and working class perspective

February 16, 2017 at 8:02 pm (class, Europe, Johnny Lewis, labour party, left, nationalism, populism, Socialist Party, solidarity, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Protesters block the main gate to the Wilton Chemical Complex on Teesside in support of a mass walkout by energy workers in Lincolnshire

Above: Reactionary Socialism in action

By Johnny Lewis

Labour and Brexit
For Labour the 2015 election may well prove as significant as the Liberals’ 1924 defeat which signified their eclipse by Labour. Certainly this fate was signalled by the psephologists post ’15 analysis of Labour’s 2020 prospects. They concluded Labour needed to win 100 seats and, more importantly meld together a number of very different political constituencies.  While this predates both Corbyn and the referendum all three spring from the same fountainhead of a profound change to class, one that has equally impacted on the unions as on Labour.

As I have argued in a previous post the unprecedented changes to class are profoundly changing the labour movement, and it is not a question of if, but when and how, this leads to some form of fundamental realignment. Whether, in the end this is piece-meal in character or takes the form of a sharp break, the prelude to such a change will be Labour’s electoral decline.

Since at least 2010 this should have determined the left‘s strategy; to form a  tendency within the Labour movement primarily working in the Party to roll back New Labour’s uncoupling of the unions from the Party and their abandonment of social democracy for social liberalism. A strategy which only made sense by turning the Party outwards to win back its working class base.

Such a view is one among many and the left cannot be measured by its failure to take up this particular approach but it can on its inability to adopt any strategy to reform Labour, a failing compounded by the hapless Corbyn and his entourage. Brexit has now amplified our shortcomings and seems set to bring to a head the crisis within the movement.

Unlike Trump or Le Penn’s programmes Brexit was not a programme for government yet the inescapable logic of the exit process makes it just that. Injected into the body politic as this virus spreads it is radically transforming the host and its weakest part is Labour. Labour is no longer facing a passive indifference from sections of its core electoral base, rather they are now mobilised around Brexit and the Party is in a life and death struggle with the forces Brexit unleashed. How Labour defines itself against the Brexit process will play no small part in determining its future.

To date the only impact of Brexit on Labour has been to function as an accelerant on the divisions between its membership (Remain voters) and its working class electoral base (Leave voters). The likely consequence of this is to speed Labour’s electoral decline and further push the Party back in the direction mapped out by New Labour: that of social liberalism, now cast as identity politics.

The casting of Labour as a party of social liberalism can only happen through a focus on pushing back against the rise of social conservatism. All to the good that the Party takes on conservatism, but when this is seen to be its primary role it cannot but become part of the process of moving the body politic to one where the primary cleavage is defined as one of social liberalism against conservatism. The consequence is to move the party further away from class and the ability to speak to those workers smitten with reactionary socialism.

Reactionary Socialism
Surely it is now clear that Brexit is the English version of a phenomenon sweeping the west, where large numbers of workers, including trade unionists are moving from passive political indifference to an active engagement with, what is commonly known as the populist right.

In all cases its core support comes from the least well educated, and those impoverished by industrial decline typified by Logan County West Virginia. The site of the battle of Blair Mountain, a struggle to unionise the mines and the biggest armed insurrection since the civil war – Democrat to its core – now belongs to Trump.

The stage of development and pace of this process is different between countries so in France the Front National has built up its working class base over decades, while Trump’s rapid accent was made possible by winning over sections of core democratic voters; some 48% of US trade unionist voted Trump. In the UK this tendency has been galvanised by Leave and is still being formed around the Brexit process.

Regardless of each country’s stage of development the tune is the same; a direct appeal to workers on the grounds of the betrayal by their traditional parties, nationalism and its corollary xenophobia, hostility to supra national institutions, conservative social policies and elements of economic social policies usually associated with the left, wrapped in an imagined past. This is a form of reactionary socialism.

This is not the first time workers have been mobilised behind a reactionary programme, the phenomenon was first noted by Marx when remnants of feudal society tapped into workers’ anti-capitalist sentiment attempting to mobilise them against the consolidation of bourgeois political power and regress development of the productive process.

Today’s reactionary socialism is not peddling a regressive form of capitalism such as autarky(although this might come) rather we are witnessing neo-liberalism’s attempt to restructure itself on national rather than super national institutions, uncoupling the state institutions from  social liberalism, and realigning them with a social conservativism. To push through the latter it attacks bourgeois democracy by shifting power away from the legislature to the executive exemplified by Trump and seen in the UK by the attempts to stop Parliament holding a Brexit vote. Linked to this are attacks on the independence of the judiciary, again the benchmark is Trump but the Mail’s retro Stalinist headline “Enemies of the People” points in the same direction.

Apart from the policy specifics what makes this international movement different from previous incarnations is the manner in which it threatens the fabric of these countries Labour movements

The electoral success of the populists is unthinkable without mobilising large sections of the workers. Nowhere is this more apparent than the workers role in securing a Brexit victory.

Brexit and the working class
The most remarkable aspect of the Leave campaign was how its working class base drove it making border controls its beating heart and effectively turning it into a single issue campaign. The fact it makes little to no economic sense, or for the more enlightened among the Leave leadership it was anathema, to win they needed the working class vote which stood behind the demand.

Brexit is however more than border controls. As with other populist demands it is a modern day Janus; on the one hand it looks to the past with its socially reactionary programme but also to a future of repositioning British capital to its post EU incarnation. It envisages a future where the state becomes an enabler for multi-nationals through a low tax low welfare economy or as UKIP’s Douglas Carswell put it `Singapore on Steroids’.

The lynchpin holding these elements together is workers support for immigration controls. The shadow it casts over the Brexit process obscures all else, at least at this stage of the process.  However workers mobilised behind this banner are signing up to become the foot soldiers in the repositioning of Neo-Liberalism. They are the battering ram to eviscerate democratic institutions, and what remains of social legislation. The irony is their future in this Brexit Arcadia is prefigured in the present by the flexibility of the deregulated ‘gig’ economy; the as and when work ethic of the migrant labourer.

This is the terrain socialist and trade unionists have to fight on if they wish to engage with workers, mapping an alternative which counterposes workers’ rights to Singapore on Steroids. Such an approach will in the short term be swept away by the Brexit tide, an inevitable consequence of the time lag between the expectations raised by Brexit and its consequences.

However those wishing to engage with the Brexit worker are doing so largely from within a social liberal / conservative discourse and will surely miss their mark.  At least they, unlike Lexit supporters have something to say about Brexit other than viewing it as a victory.

The Lexit Delusion
As part of Marx struggle against feudal socialism he polemicized against those socialist whose watch word can be summarised as “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”:  this included elements among the Chartists who supported aristocratic Tories who, like them, were against the factory owners.  As an organised tendency these supporters of reactionary anti-capitalism were known as `True Socialists’. Today our world is replete with their offspring from Putin lovers, Jew-haters through to the Lexiteers: often, but not always, one and the same.

The starting point for Lexit was the True Socialist dictum of a defeat for Remain being a defeat for the ruling class – my enemy’s enemy is my friend. Once ingested it enabled a view of the world which ignored the reactionary premise of Leave, ignored the reactionary character of the campaign’s leadership, ignored that its core working class support was concerned with stopping immigration, and ignored the consequences of Brexit for the Labour Party. Perhaps most delusional was their belief they had a voice in the campaign. It is then hardly surprising that they are unable to grasp that Brexit was the catalyst for the rise of reactionary socialism.

A central pillar of this denial is to view the Leave voters as sticking two fingers up to our rulers, in reality this is a collective act of wish fulfilment of transposing and imposing their formula my enemy’s enemy onto the workers. Of course this does have a point but the point is banal. If you sees class conflict as central to how society functions you also accepts that workers often take reactionary positions. The fact Brexit has mass working class support does not make it less reactionary. Trump and La Pen peddle the same programme as Brexit and rest on a similar working class base, but apart from our hard core Putin lovers, on what possible basis could one support such people?  In the end the only purpose of `class struggle by stealth’ is as a piece of self-deception.

This cul de sac finds our `true socialist’ tied to the coattails of a hard Brexit and however surreptitiously need to distance themselves from Corbyn’s attempts to cling to the single market, until the consequence of Brexit has beaten them over the head enough times to knock some sense into them they have nothing to say to workers.

Of course the majority will march against Trump seeing no contradiction with Lexit, as they too become corralled within the social liberal / conservative discourse.

Socialist \ social liberal defence of free movement
It would seem most supporters of free movement start from the basis of upholding the socialist principle of internationalism. Yet this seemingly most of radical position rests largely on social liberalism, a mix of a moral imperative, rights and equality for migrant workers overlaid by a socialist gloss of workers’ solidarity and internationalism. See for example Allinson (Unite GS candidate) or the recent defence of free movement by Ira Berkovic posted on Shiraz Socialist.

Such appeals sit within the liberal – conservative discourse and invite rejection by the workers leaving the socialists with nothing more to say, and the way open for the populists to further consolidate their hold over such workers.

This defence betrays a division between a socialist and trade union approach, in big picture terms it separates out a socialist principal from workers immediate interest whether perceived or real.

Although such socialists like to view support of free movement going back to earliest times our movement’s history is far more chequered, and the liberal / Socialist approach (as with the broader social liberalism) has its origin in the struggles for equality in the early post-war period ’45-’79. Obscured in those struggles was the issue of competition between workers

Workers’ competition and free movement
Competition between workers can take many forms; between individuals, groups, or categories of worker  struggling to maintain or obtain an occupational position at the expense of others or a willingness to undercut the wage rates to obtain or maintain work at the expense of others. This competition is the worker’s natural state under capitalism as are the divisions it engenders between workers.

Workers struggle to overcome such competition is the driving force in the formation of unions and with it the starting point in the formation of class and therefore class power. It is also the starting point for working class socialism. There is however always an alternative which poses a reactionary resolution to worker competition. In periods of economic prosperity and or a strong labour movement it lies largely dormant, today we see the consequences of living with a weak and fractured labour movement.

Older workers will have direct experience of such divisions played out along gender and race lines. I can recall a job where the better paid plumbing work was given to white workers, who defended the practice on the grounds their jobs were more complex and “`N’s  are just not up to it.” Of course there are parallel examples of how women were excluded from the workforce, often backed up by law.

This example is drawn from a period of powerful unions, full employment and state welfare which had largely removed the reserve army of labour as a factor in a workers life and gave a particular shape to the struggles against these forms of worker competition.

Pushed by an emerging constituency of women and black workers it was the unions– often against the wishes of members and local union officials who came to the fore to fight discrimination. From the early ‘70s they were joined by the state and the two can be viewed as working in tandem to `civilise the workplace’ for women and black workers. State sponsorship led to a growing judicial floor of rights which defined our understanding of such practices. The workers who perpetrated these practices were increasingly marginalised seen as backward, bigots, racists’ sexist etc (all usually true) as the ethos of equality and rights came to dominate the workplace.

Today worker competition takes on a very different complexion; the economic model Thatcher built and continued under Blair reshaped the workforce, deregulated the labour market, and has largely removed the state social security system and social infrastructure. In our civilised workplaces where employers stuff workers mouths  with rights and equality we find for most workers job security has gone, work has intensified, workers are fragmented, unions are weak and competition between them takes many forms such as; in multinationals the employer threatens to relocate, the struggle between core (often unionised) and periphery workers, workers who take wage cuts to save their job from being undercut by a cheaper competitor, all are underpinned by a reanimated Reserve Army of the underemployed.

It is this markertising economy which EU migrants have been sucked into, and have become one factor in the competition between workers. More importantly they have become one of, if not the central way difference between workers is understood, and consequently one of the key ways worker competition is comprehended.

Our present throws a different perspective on the early post war struggles for workplace equality; in retrospect we can see discriminatory practices were a form of competition between workers. The bigotry of whatever type, while all too real was a hook one group was able to hang their hat on to rationalise their advantage over another, illustrated today by the inadequacy of the concept of race to categorise hostility towards E Europeans

Such reactionary solutions not only exist when workers are in direct competition with each over jobs and has a real basis in fact it also functions as the background noise in the workplace where divisions are understood through different forms of prejudice. In the latter case the worker comes to understand difference through breathing in the prevalent common sense prejudices of the day creating an unholy feedback loop where the prejudice explains difference and the difference reinforces the common sense prejudices.

Those defending free movement have, to all intense and purposes transposed the understanding of workers’ call for the end of free movement solely as a form of prejudice (it is) which they challenge by raising equality and the rights of others failing to comprehend it is a major plank in the reactionary (and completely illusory) solution to the problem of competition between workers. A different approach to this question starts from a trade union perspective.

A trade union perspective
In reality ‘rights’ are a secondary issue in any worker employer relation, as prior to them is the economic relation. If capital did not need migrant labour and if migrants did not need the work then there would be no relation around which rights could be discussed. From a trade union perspective the starting point for viewing migrant labour is necessarily the economic and it should also be the starting point for socialists. From this perspective it is another element in the struggle to mitigate competition between workers.

Yet it is precisely this point the liberal / socialist approach wishes to obscure through a non-recognition of the impact of migrant labour on labour markets. Berkovic touches on this matter in relation to the Socialist Party (SP) idea of the state-imposed closed shop and McCluskey’s call for sectoral bargaining. He says;

“The demand relies on two assumptions: one, that migrant labour necessarily has a depressing effect on the pay, terms, and conditions of domestic workers. And two that employers deliberately and directly hire migrant workers in order to drive down their costs, because migrant workers will work for less.”

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the SP’s or McCluskey’s views, Berkovic’s position does not hold up: far better to say some migrant labour depress wage rates as they are willing to work for less, and where employers can use migrants to drive down wages they will.

If one looks at aggregates of migrants impact on wage rates the evidence shows a somewhat neutral picture but that does not help with the specifics where wages have been depressed or the local labour market has been radically reshaped by an influx of foreign Labour. This is not a universal experience but it is a wide spread one among lower paid workers the cohort who voted Leave, to deny this or believe it is press hysteria leaves you unable to speak to these workers. It also puts their concerns beyond the pale because either they are dupes of the press or racists or both. It is akin to denying that in some parts of the country the health service has not been overwhelmed by the influx of migrant Labour, in both cases you cannot pose a solution if you refuse to accept that any problem exists.

A trade union approach recognises the issue but rejects the reactionary solution of border controls. Instead, we attempt to tackle the issue as with any other industrial matter – or  wage inequality which can only be undertaken in two ways: industrially where workers bid up wages and terms and conditions, for example in the recent strike at Fawley where Italian contract Labour took strike action to obtain parity and won; or through governmental action and developing policies for a future Labour government to enact. In this instance labour can increase the minimum wage (a point made by Berkovic) and change  labour legislation to alter the terms on which labour can be hired for example to regulate how agency labour can be used. Such demands are of course not specific to migrant labour they are general demands to improve the material well-being of workers. An effect of implementing such demands will, reduce or the flow of foreign labour. A conclusion which gives socialist radicals’ apoplexy as it is seen to be capitulating to the tide of reaction they need to consider where not supporting such demands places them in relation to the working class.

This change to labour legislation is my understanding of the origins of McCluskey’s proposal (even though he has now clearly overreached himself and taken this proposal to a ridiculous extreme), specifically out of a problem posed by the Posted Workers Directive. Originally wages, terms and conditions were derogated to individual member states; Blair chose the minimum wage rather than applying the going rate set by sectoral collective bargaining, which a number of other member states chose to do. This had two generalised consequences firstly in some workplaces peripheral workers have been replaced by Posted Workers on a lower rate; second the substitution of Posted workers for English workers sometimes at a lower rates. The demand was for government to shift the rate to the going rate which would also mean the employer of Posted Workers would also have to engage with unions around sector-wide collective bargaining.

It is clear that Labour’s present policies on workers rights are far from fully formed. However it can only be by proposing policies that curtail labour flexibility that we can build working class opposition to border controls and  begin to speak to workers about the issue – a hearing I am sure will get easier as Brexit unfolds and its consequences become apparent.

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Organising the Labour Party in Northern Ireland

February 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm (campaigning, class, democracy, Ireland, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, solidarity, Unite the union)

Leonie Hannan, Vice Chair of the Labour Party’s Belfast branch, spoke to the unofficial Momentum magazine, The Clarion.
For an open letter from Momentum supporters in Northern Ireland to the Momentum NC, arguing for their right to organise a group, see here. At present the Labour Party in Northern Ireland meets regularly, decides on policies, campaigns on issues and sends delegates to conference, but is not allowed (by the national Labour Party) to stand  candidates in any election.

lpni2

How has the Labour Party in Northern Ireland changed over the last eighteen months?

LPNI has changed in two main ways. First of all it has grown dramatically, from around 350 members back in May 2015 to over 3000 now. There was a first surge during and just after the leadership election in the summer of 2015 and then a second leap in membership prompted by the coup and the prospect of a challenge to the elected leadership.

This first change, in many ways, predicts the second – that the politics of the party here have shifted to the left and members have an appetite for active involvement in politics. It’s clear that people are joining because they are motivated by Corbyn’s leadership, his critique of society’s problems and the kinds of policies he is advancing. When the party was much smaller, it did not have the reach that we have now, it was in some ways quite de-politicised because the focus was trained almost exclusively on the right to stand in elections – which LPNI still does not have and which remains a very important issue for us.

However, despite this difficult context for Labour activism, now we are seeing new members who are primarily motivated by politics and the need to contribute to the Labour Party’s new direction – a direction which they see holds potential to address the serious problems facing society, problems that have been compounded by years of austerity and which have particularly acute ramifications in Northern Ireland.

What kind of people are involved and what motivates them?

Well this is the really interesting bit and points to how our increased membership can contribute significantly to our long-standing campaign for the right to stand candidates. LPNI attracts members from across communities, people who see the system isn’t working for them and who feel a profound disillusionment with sectarian politics. We have trade unionists joining us, we have BME members and many LGBT members too – who don’t always feel comfortable in some of the other political parties in this region.

We have members who might describe themselves as Republicans alongside those who hold Loyalist views and, of course, many in between and this is something quite unique in Northern Ireland. Something quite unusual and yet extremely powerful. For progressive politics to make an impact here, we have to draw people from across the sectarian divide around issues that affect all communities – the effects of poverty, loss of jobs, social, educational and health inequality, homophobia and racism and the continued repression of reproductive rights. The larger a party we are here in Northern Ireland, the more motivated activists we attract, then the greater pressure we can apply on the issue of our right to stand candidates. We are here, we are many, we are diverse and we need Labour representation.

Corbyn won 70pc of the vote in your nomination meeting – more than in his own CLP. Why such strong support?

He didn’t just win 70% of the vote at our meeting, he won 70% of the vote in the election itself. Moreover, he would have had an even higher share of the vote if the majority of our members had been able to use their vote. In the end, much less than a third of members could exercise a vote (because our membership is disproportionately new and therefore found itself subject to the NEC’s last minute rule changes). I just think this shows the way Corbyn’s political agenda resonates in Northern Ireland, which is a post-conflict society suffering deeply at the hands of its own power-sharing government and their implementation of Tory cuts.

In fact, at the nomination meeting, person after person stood up to say why they had been brought into politics (often for the first time and, for some, after decades of disillusionment with politics) by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They saw this change as offering an opportunity to rehabilitate the Labour Party as a political party for ordinary people; a party that would not put the needs of corporations above those of struggling workers.

How does the LP fit into, or stand out from, the framework of sectarian politics and the constitutional conflict in NI?

As I mentioned, LPNI draws its membership from both communities and provides a much-needed space for non-sectarian politics. In fact, its growth in membership speaks not only to the interest in Corbyn, but also to the disillusionment with Stormont [the Northern Ireland Assembly]. Effectively we have a government made of false opposites – Sinn Fein and the DUP power share, they govern together and they implement the Tory agenda. Of course, engaging with the Labour Party doesn’t preclude having a view on the Union, but in the end the Good Friday Agreement ensures that any change would have to have the consent of the people.

What is your relationship with the trade unions?

We have a really strong relationship with Unite, who provide us with space for our meetings, who campaign with us on local issues and who resolutely support the project of standing Labour candidates in NI. There is really high trade union membership here in Northern Ireland, many as part of affiliated unions and so it is a real disservice to those affiliated members not to have the possibility of full political representation.

Please explain about this issue of standing Labour candidates.

Historically, the Labour Party has tried to remain neutral in relation to Northern Irish politics, preferring to sustain a relationship with the Social Democratic and Labour Party instead. The SDLP are sometimes referred to as a ‘sister party’ and attend Labour Conference.

However, there are a number of problems with the SDLP in terms of Labour representation. First, they do not (and cannot) attract support from both communities because of their status as a nationalist party. They have their origins in the Civil Rights movement and the Catholic community’s struggles in the 60s for equality. Today, their commitment to equality only goes so far, they describe themselves as a pro-life party and their spokespeople have continued a virulent attack on women’s rights by vocally supporting the current abortion law (women cannot even have an abortion in Northern Ireland in the circumstances of rape, incest, foetal abnormality or risk to a woman’s health – interesting considering the recent Polish women’s campaign).

Besides this key issue, the SDLP hold conservative views on a range of issues and just don’t offer a left-wing alternative to the ultra-conservatism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, founded by Ian Paisley). In these circumstances it is just not reasonable for the Labour Party to suggest that Northern Irish people should support the SDLP in the absence of Labour. I suppose the other simple point to make is that 3000 people didn’t just join the SDLP, they made themselves clear when they joined the Labour Party and I think they should be listened to.

What are the big issues the party, or its members, campaign/should be campaigning on over there?

Northern Ireland is an economically deprived region, a problem which fosters sectarian tension, and has suffered a series of devastating job losses. JTI Gallagher let workers go in May, Caterpillar announced job losses in September, cuts have been seen across the voluntary and community sectors, library service cuts and many more. There are also the same issues as elsewhere with un-unionised labour, which need to be tackled and LPNI is playing its part supporting worker organisation and strike action wherever possible.

The Momentum NC in February passed a document saying the organisation wouldn’t organise in NI. What’s your view on that?

We are writing a letter to the NC making our case for Momentum organisation in NI. The main point is that their decision not to organise is based on a a statement made by a Momentum national officer that Labour does not organise in NI. Well, as I have just explained – Labour absolutely does organise in this region and so there is no reason why Momentum should not also organise, especially so considering the motivation of the vast majority of our members. I regularly get forwarded emails received by Momentum from members in NI who are eager to be involved, the demand is there and it really should be met. Like the right to stand issue, it is a bit much to be told by people in England what we can and cannot hope to achieve over here in relation to Labour politics. Really, the people in England, both Momentum and Labour, ought to listen to the 3000 Northern Irish residents who are telling them very clearly what it is they need.

nilp

Northern Ireland Labour Party members protesting against cuts

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Pimlico Plumbers case and the gig economy

February 11, 2017 at 3:23 pm (campaigning, Jim D, law, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

Image result for picture charlie mullins pimlico plumbers
Above: boss Charlie Mullins in characteristic pose

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that a plumber who claims he was sacked following a heart attack, was a ‘worker’ and thus entitled to some work-related rights, according to the decision in Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another v Smith.

The judgment has important implications for so-called ‘gig economy’ companies that claim their workers undertake services on a self-employed basis and so have no employment rights.

Gary Smith worked for Pimlico Plumbers from 2005 until 2011. The agreement between the company and Mr Smith described him as a “self-employed operative”.

The wording of the contract suggested that he was in business on his own account, providing a service to Pimlico Plumbers.

Smith was required to wear Pimlico’s uniform displaying their logo, use a van leased from Pimlico (with a GPS tracker and the company’s logo), and work a minimum number of weekly hours.

However, he could choose when he worked and which jobs he took, was required to provide his own tools and equipment, and handled his own tax and insurance.

There was no express term in the agreement allowing Mr Smith to send someone else to do the work.

Pimlico Plumbers did not guarantee to provide Mr Smith with a minimum number of hours. Following the termination of this arrangement, Mr Smith brought claims for unfair dismissal and disability discrimination.

The employment tribunal found that he could not claim unfair dismissal because he was not an employee.

However, the tribunal decided that he could claim disability discrimination as a ‘worker.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) agreed with the employment tribunal, and the Court of Appeal has now dismissed Pimlico Plumbers’ appeal.

Unlike recent high-profile judgments involving Uber drivers and CitySprint couriers, this ruling is binding on other courts and tribunals.

Pimlico Plumbers boss and prominent Tory donor Charlie Mullins, decorated his fleet of vans with pictures of Margaret Thatcher on the day of her state funeral. He says there is a “good chance” he will take the case to the Supreme Court, but so far he’s lost every round of the legal fight.

The Appeal Court decision is likely to be a key authority in any forthcoming cases on employment status in the gig economy. However, it is important to note that this decision did not find that the plumber was an employee of Pimlico Plumbers.

People categorised as workers have a right to minimum wage and to paid annual leave, along with some other procedural rights, such as a right to be accompanied at any form of disciplinary meeting, but they do not enjoy the full range of protections given to employees and are not subject to the PAYE system applicable to employees.

Frances O’Grady of the TUC said: “This case has exposed once again the growing problem of sham self-employment.

“Unscrupulous bosses falsely claim their workers are self-employed to get out of paying the minimum wage and providing basics like paid holidays and rest breaks.

“But the best form of protection for working people is to join a union in your workplace.”

The GMB is currently supporting a group of Deliveroo food couriers in Brighton currently classed as ‘independent contractors’, who have given two weeks notice of industrial action for better pay and more hours.

The GMB’s Paul Maloney said: “We stand with the riders against Deliveroo, another company trying to duck its obligastions and responsibilities by making its workforce ‘independent contractors’.”

The government has only now, after more than a year’s delay, released a report warning that “unscrupulous” employers were in a position to exploit low-paid and low-skilled workers.

Other gig economy cases

Uber is appealing against the high-profile employment tribunal decision that the drivers who brought the claim are workers rather than self-employed.

A similar finding when the Uber case goes to the EAT would be bad news for the company, as it could lead to it having to radically overhaul its contractual arrangements with its drivers.

In another recent case about employment status in the gig economy, the employment tribunal found that a CitySprint courier is a worker rather than self-employed.

In both cases, the employment tribunals were highly critical of the contracts that the workers were asked to sign.

The employment tribunals saw the contracts as drafted in a deliberately complex manner to mask the true nature of the working arrangements.

There are also a number of other forthcoming legal challenges against courier companies including Hermes, Addison Lee, Excel and eCourier.

  • For more details of the GMB’s Brighton Deliveroo campaign, contact Paul Maloney on 07801 343 839 or Michelle Gordon on 07866 369 259

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