Interview with Kim Moody, part 2: labour’s new sources of leaverage

August 17, 2016 at 12:14 am (class, internationalism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

walmart.jpg

We continue with this important interview with Kim Moody, on the prospects for the class struggle. Part 1 can be read here.

From Labor Notes:

Where’s our economy headed? This is part two of our interview with Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor.

Despite the hype about the “gig economy,” Moody argued in Part 1 that the bigger change most workers are experiencing is the rise of the crappy-job economy. On the bright side, he pointed out how just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing.

In Part 2, we ask Moody about corporate mergers, the changing demographics of the U.S. workforce, and what it will take to organize the South:

Labor Notes: Increased competition between corporations has led to massive mergers. What has been the impact on workers?

Kim Moody: It’s in the mid-’90s that this new mergers and acquisitions wave took hold. It was fundamentally different from the big mergers and acquisitions waves of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Those mostly were about conglomeration—companies buying up all different kinds of production, finance, and everything you can get your hands on. Diversification would be another word for it.

The mergers of the mid-’90s forward have gone in the opposite direction. More companies are shedding unrelated divisions. For example, General Electric and General Motors used to have huge financial divisions and they dumped those, even though they were moneymakers.

All these major industries have seen mergers that are creating bigger employers. In some industries the concentrations are huge. If you look at trucking, UPS is this massive employer that it wasn’t 20 years ago. UPS is in every field of logistics—not just in delivery or even in trucking, but also in air freight.

So companies are buying up things that are in their basic core competencies. The structure of ownership has been realigned in a way similar to the first half of the 20th century, when unions, including the CIO, organized these big corporations.

This concentration of ownership along industrial lines means that there are more economically rational structures now in which unions can organize.

So you would no longer see a situation where the union strikes one division but the company has plenty of unrelated divisions that are still making profits.

Right. And when you put that together with the logistics revolution, you begin to get a picture of what I’m calling “the new terrain of class conflict.”

We are dealing with production systems, of both goods and services, that are far more tightly integrated than they used to be, and companies that are bigger, more capital-intensive, and more economically rational.

So unions should be able to take advantage of the vulnerable points in just-in-time logistics and production to bring some of these new giants to heel. The old idea of industrial unionism might have a new lease on life if—and it is a big if—the unions can take advantage of this situation.

My view is that this is going to have to come from the grassroots of the labor movement. Or those who today are not organized, like the people in warehouses. There is a potential that really hasn’t existed in well over half a century.

The consolidation of industry and the whole logistics revolution: these things have only come together in the last 10 or 15 years. When workers and unions in these industries—and many of these industries have unions in pieces of them—look at this situation, it’s something they’re not used to yet.

It usually takes a generation for the workforce to realize the power that it has, and the points of vulnerability. This was the case when mass production developed in the early 20th century. It took pretty close to a generation before the upheaval of the ‘30s.

Another important change has been in the demographics of the working class. Can you talk about what those changes mean?

This bears not only on unions but on American politics. An obvious change that has taken place in pretty much the same period—the ’80s up until now—and will continue on is the change in the racial and ethnic composition of the entire population, but particularly concentrated in the working class.

For example, if you look at what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls the “transportation and material moving” occupations in the ’80s, maybe 15 percent of those workers were either African American, Latino, or perhaps Asian. Today it is 40 percent.

Workers of color now compose a much bigger proportion of the workforce, much of it due to immigration. The biggest growth, of course, is among Latino workers. Workers of color are now between 30 and 40 percent of union membership.

It seems the right is making its own hay out of the changing demographics of the country.

This is happening everywhere in the West. It is much easier to blame immigrants for the lack of jobs or housing or crowded schools than it is to figure out how to deal with the powers that be.

So a lot of people turn towards these self-defeating ideas that they can solve their problems by closing off borders and sending people back, or by keeping Muslims out.

We have the potential to have a phenomenally different kind of labor movement. It is going to be different from anything we have ever seen in the United States, or pretty much anywhere else, for that matter. That is, if we have a multicultural, multiracial labor movement that is larger and is growing and is taking advantage of the new terrain that we just talked about.

A common tactic used by business is whipsawing workers against one another, using non-union areas of the country against union-dense areas. I am thinking of Boeing and South Carolina. Boeing got from Washington State the largest subsidy ever given to a company in the United States. And yet they still sent all those jobs to South Carolina, which also provided them with massive subsidies. How much of a hindrance has the inability to organize the South been for labor?

The answer is massive. This goes all the way back to the end of the Second World War, and the amount of manufacturing value-added that was produced in the South just grew until the ’80s.

The amount produced in the South continues to grow a little, but it has more or less leveled off. I have some ideas why.

If you look at the auto parts industry, for example, in the last 10 or 15 years it has dramatically reorganized, one of the most dramatic reorganizations of any industry that I have seen. You have many fewer companies, and those that remain have gotten bigger.

The bulk of them are in the Midwest and not in the South. A huge percentage of them are actually in Michigan. Of course, they are nonunion.

So I am not saying that the South is not important. You won’t crack manufacturing until the South is unionized. These big corporations do whipsaw. But given the new structure of these industries and the logistics revolution, there is a possibility of counter-whipsawing.

Say you have a union drive at a South Carolina plant and you want to cut off production there, to force management to recognize the union. My guess is that you can find suppliers, if they are unionized or can be unionized, whether they are in the South or Midwest, that can strike and close down that plant.

Given the rise of these tight new logistics systems, unions can counter-whipsaw by closing down suppliers or even the transport links, and thereby starve management at these Southern plants into submission. That would require the cooperation of many different unions—but they have to begin thinking about that if they are ever going to organize the South.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Interview with Kim Moody: the myths of a workerless future

August 7, 2016 at 9:45 pm (capitalism, economics, posted by JD, unions, United States, workers)

.

Despite all the “gig economy” hype, Kim Moody argues, most workers are experiencing the rise of the crappy-job economy. But just-in-time production has created huge concentrations of workers—and vast potential for organizing. Photo: Nick Saltmarsh (CC BY 2.0)

From the US rank-and-file trade union magazine and website Labor Notes

Where’s our economy headed? Soon every factory worker will have to start driving for Uber, and the trucks will drive themselves—at least so the business press tells us.

But Kim Moody, co-founder of this magazine and the author of many books on U.S. labor, paints a different picture. Chris Brooks asked him to cut through the hype and describe what’s coming for working people and the opportunities for unions.

This is Part 1 of our interview with Kim Moody. Watch for Part 2, coming next week. —Eds.

Labor Notes: We read a lot about the “gig economy,” where workers cycle through multiple jobs using app-based companies like Uber, TaskRabbit [for everyday tasks such as cleaning or moving], and Mechanical Turk [for online tasks such as labeling images]. Is this really the future of work?

Kim Moody: One thing to notice is that, aside from outfits like Uber, most of these are not employers. They’re digital platforms where you can find a job.

The apps are not determining the hours and pay, or even the technology used on the jobs. It’s still employers that are calling the shots. So if jobs are getting worse, it’s not because people can find them digitally as opposed to reading them in the newspaper.

Also, discussions of the gig economy often assume that suddenly there are all these people who are multiple job-holders. But the fact is that the proportion of the workforce who have more than one job hasn’t changed much in 40 years.

The vast majority of them are people with regular full-time jobs who are also moonlighting, which is a very old thing. There are a lot of multiple job-holders, but there have always been a lot of them.

There’s also been talk of the “1099 economy.” Are we really moving towards a future where 40 percent of workers will be freelancing?

The idea that freelancers can become 40 percent of the workforce is science fiction.

There are two kinds of self-employed. The greatest number are the “unincorporated self-employed,” or independent contractors. Their numbers have been dropping for years.

The other group, the incorporated ones, are people who run a small business. They have grown somewhat, but they are still just 4 percent of the workforce.

You argue that the “gig economy” and “precarious work” concepts miss the mark because they don’t get at the most concerning change: the rise of the crappy-job economy. Can you talk about what’s changed for workers and why?

The first change is work intensification. Work has gotten dramatically harder in the last 30 years or so, and continues to.

That’s happened through lean production, which reduces the amount of labor to produce the same or greater amount of product or service and is tied to just-in-time production. Lean production began in the automobile industry in the 1980s, but now it is everywhere. It’s in hospitals, it’s in schools.

Another aspect is electronic and biometric monitoring, measuring, and surveillance, which allow employers to see how to get more work literally out of each minute. Another aspect is that the amount of break time has fallen dramatically since the ’80s.

Whether you are working full-time or part-time, in a precarious job or not, chances are you are going to experience some of this.

The other side is income. Wages have been falling since the early 1970s. More and more people are actually working for less, in real terms, than they used to. This also impacts everybody, although part-time and precarious workers are likely to get paid even less than full-time people.

And if you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for the fastest-growing jobs, millions of new jobs over the next decade or so, 70 percent are projected to be low-skill, low-pay jobs.

In other words, we are not heading for some big high-tech economy. Instead we are heading for a low-paid workforce with crappy jobs. The end of good jobs is nigh.

While app-based “just-in-time” gigs have gotten lots of media attention, far less attention has been paid to “just-in-time” production. Can you talk about why massive logistics hubs have emerged, and what they mean for union organizing?

In order for globalization to be efficient, low pay isn’t necessarily enough, because you have to move products from one location to another. That required a change in the way products are moved—the “logistics revolution.”

The time it takes to deliver a product to the point of sale is an important factor in competition. Like production, transportation now operates on a just-in-time basis. Products move faster.

The speed of trucks, planes, and trains did not change. What did was the way things are processed. Goods don’t stay in warehouses very long. Products arrive on rail and are cross-docked and moved out by truck in a matter of hours. This process has really only taken shape in the 21st century.

In order to make it work, the industry has created logistics clusters. These are huge concentrations of warehouses where rail, truck, air, and water transportation meet and can be coordinated, usually electronically.

You might think, “Well, this is all very high-tech.” But it turns out that it still requires thousands and thousands of workers. In the U.S. there are 60 of these clusters, but three stand out: the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Los Angeles and Long Beach port area, and Chicago. Each of these employs, in a small geographic area, at least 100,000 people.

Now, the whole idea of outsourcing back in the 1980s was to break up the concentrations of workers in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, or Gary. But what these companies have done now, inadvertently, is to recruit incredibly massive concentrations of manual laborers.

It has evolved in a way that might shoot these companies in the foot—because here you have the potential to organize vast numbers of poorly paid workers into unions. And there are attempts to do just that.

The other thing is that these clusters are tied together by just-in-time systems—which means you have hundreds, maybe thousands, of points in the transportation system that are highly vulnerable. If you stop work in one place, you are going to close down huge areas.

Media commentators and even presidential candidates blame the loss of millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs on trade and outsourcing. You’re skeptical. How do you explain it?

Outsourcing, if it is in the U.S.—which most of it has been—can break up the union, it can be very inconvenient to the people who lose their jobs, but it doesn’t necessarily eliminate jobs in the U.S. The jobs are just moved to a different, lower-paid group of workers.

Offshoring is another thing, but it’s not as widespread as people think. While moving production abroad has definitely impacted certain industries like steel, textile, and clothing, it cannot account for the loss of jobs we have seen. I estimate that between a million and 2 million jobs have been lost since the mid-’80s to imports and offshoring.

Manufacturing output, from the 1960s to just before the Great Recession in 2007, actually grew by 131 percent; the manufacturing sector more than doubled its output. If everything was going abroad, you couldn’t possibly have that kind of growth.

How can this be? I believe the answer lies in lean production and new technology, as we talked about earlier. Productivity literally doubled, and manufacturing jobs dropped by 50 percent or more. It’s the productivity increase that explains the loss of jobs.

It is very difficult for politicians to deal with this question, because it means attacking employers. It means saying, “You are taking too much out of your workforce.” And of course since most economists, politicians, and experts think that productivity growth is a wonderful thing, it’s beyond criticism.

There’s a lot of hand-wringing about the future of automation. Former Service Employees President Andy Stern has been making the media rounds claiming that driverless trucks are going to replace millions of drivers.

You can sell a lot of books with this pop futurology. It reminds me of the great automation scare of the 1950s. It was popular then to make predictions that there wouldn’t be any factory workers left.

And automation has reduced the number of factory workers, but there are still 8 or 9 million of them lingering around—despite all this technology, which is much greater than anything they predicted in the ’50s.

I have a shelf of books predicting “the end of work.” And yet we have millions more workers than we used to—the problem being that they are worse off than they used to be, not that they don’t exist.

There’s more! We also asked Kim Moody about workforce demographics and outsourcing to the South. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Read more: Everyone in this auto parts plant was a temp—until they all joined the union and threatened to strike.

Read more: The Cargo Chain is a beautiful poster/pamphlet that maps out how ship hands, longshoremen, truck drivers, railroad operators, and warehouse workers move goods across North America.

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #449, August 2016. Don’t miss an issue, subscribe today.

Permalink 5 Comments

Turkish union leader calls for democracy, secularism and peace

July 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm (democracy, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, secularism, solidarity, turkey, unions)

kani beko

Statement from DİSK Chair Kani Beko on the state of emergency declared in Turkey

The solution is democratization, not a state of emergency!

In the wake of the 15 July coup attempt, a three-month state of emergency was declared all over Turkey in accordance with “suggestions” from the National Security Council.

Declaring a state of emergency following a coup attempt that aimed to completely suspend democracy will solve none of the country’s problems but only serve to realize the system of governance envisioned by the coup plotters.

Turkey is being subjected to a nationwide state of emergency for the first time since the 12 September 1980 coup. Occasional states of emergency were implemented on a regional basis until 2002, but they were synonymous with extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances in custody and torture.

For those who proffer that “it won’t be like that this time,” just one look at their record under “ordinary” legal circumstances provides warning as to the grave new threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

From the government’s pun on the 1980-era catch phrase “Should we feed them instead of hanging them?” in support of capital punishment to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, all the signals indicate that the government is not responding to the coup attempt in accordance with “democracy” and universal values.

Let no one forget that the coup plotters bombed the country’s parliament. The decision to sideline the Turkish Grand National Assembly – which had provided a very pointed reply to the coup plotters’ attacks – cannot be explained with “democracy;” the only term appropriate is a “counter coup.”

It is also clear that workers’ rights are severely threatened by the state of emergency. In an atmosphere in which the quest for all manners of rights has been prohibited, the rights that workers have won could be stripped away without even a cursory hearing in Parliament’s General Assembly.

From the theft of the right to severance to the obligatory individual retirement system, the government will be able to impoverish workers and reduce their employment security without encountering any resistance from workers’ struggles, the courts or the parliamentary opposition. It will be possible to convert the state of emergency into a state of unprecedented exploitation for capital.

One cannot categorize an authoritarian system of governance devoid of any legal foundation as a “struggle against coups” with the legal window dressing of a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to pick from the least worst of a perfidious bunch of coup plotters and dictators.

Turkey does not need torture, capital punishment and a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to see its parliament effectively sidelined.

All these violations are part of the aims and goals of civilian and military coups.

What Turkey needs is democracy, secularism and peace and for all of its people to create a country in which all can freely practice their beliefs, express their thoughts and live in dignity.

With its demands in favor of labor, peace, democracy and secularism, DİSK has always stood against all coups and all attempts to impose a dictatorship, and will do so once more against the new state of emergency.

(H/t: Labourstart)

Permalink Leave a Comment

Unite votes to stay a union: defence workers and McCluskey give ‘Marxists’ a lesson in Trade unionism

July 13, 2016 at 8:38 am (class, Johnny Lewis, Marxism, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Johnny Lewis reports from Unite’s policy conference:

The first big debate of Unite’s conference concerned Trident: conference was confronted with a number of motions, calling for scrapping Trident now and an Executive Statement which argued for opposition in principle to nuclear weapons but; “Unite does not and never will advocate or support any course of public policy which will put at risk jobs or communities. Although in favour of defence diversification “Until there is a government in office ready, willing and able to give cast-iron guarantees on the security of the skilled work and all employment involved, our priority must be to defend and secure our members’ employment”. This Statement was passed overwhelmingly and with it the motions calling for trident to be `scrapped now’ fell.

For the union leadership and the defence workers this debate was not really about trident but the very character of the union, it is fair to say this character was encapsulated in the Statement and in particular no support for policies which `… put at risk jobs or communities’. The resolutions opposing the Statement with their demand of ‘scrap now’ violated that idea of a union’s function. If such a resolution had been passed, while it would not have materially effected defence workers’ jobs, it would have signalled support for a policy which put jobs at risk, and the union would, to use the words of one of the speakers, have “abandoned us”.

Although victory for ‘scrap now’ would have had no material impact on jobs it would have had a very real impact on the union’s unity. Large numbers of defence workers would have left and at best joined the GMB (at worst joining Community or leaving the movement altogether), and who in their right mind could blame them? I don’t think those arguing to ‘scrap’ got the implications for the union – until McCluskey spelled it out in his closing remarks.

With one or two exceptions those opposing the Statement were white collar, from outside manufacturing and from London, while supporters of the Statement were largely manual workers from the industry and from outside of London. This division mirrors Brexit and has been observed within the Labour party. While it is clear the vast majority of the ‘scrap now’ support can be characterised as Corbynistas it is not possible to clearly pigeon hole those supporting the Statement except to say they saw themselves as trade unionists rather than political animals and a majority would not see themselves as Corbyn supporters.

The main problem for the ‘scrap now’ speakers was how to argue a position which if passed would have meant the union’s abandonment of the Trident workers. Unable or unwilling to confront this conundrum they ignored it, speaking in general terms and in equal measure about diversification and the need to support Corbyn – of course the most zealot Corbynistas where those outside the party.

Both these points were easily dealt with by the defence workers: on diversification they pointed out that the ‘scrap now’ advocates were substituting the potential to develop diversification which had been opened up by Corbyn’s victory with the present situation where there are no diversification blueprints and even if these existed the Tory Government is not going to implement them. The diversification argument existed simply as a prop to enable scarp now to avoid arguing there real position `scrap regardless’ of the impact on members or on the union.

The Corbyn argument was of a different order: here the ‘Marxists’ came into their own, and the broad sweep of history and grand strategies alighted on the shoulders of the Unite conference.

Their line of argument went something like this: Unite supports Corbyn; failure to support ‘scrap now’ would be a failure to support him and so give a hostage to Labour’s right. On the other hand supporting ‘scrap now’ would be a massive boost to Corbyn’s struggle in the party and by default the movement which has gathered around him. Needless to say, this missed the mark by some many miles.

If the Corbynistas are a broad socially liberal movement, the self-proclaimed ‘Marxists’ within it should want to move beyond liberalism and build a class-based movement which by definition must include the defence workers. Indeed, building a class movement will largely depend on how far the left wing of the Corbynistas can turn it outward and proselytize among workers such as those in the defence industry. The supposed ‘Marxists’ in this debate provided a master class in how not to build that movement. Most striking was the unintended consequence arising from combining ‘scrap now’ with the Corbyn struggle in the party: the effect was to reduce defence workers to pawns to be sacrificed in the great game that is the left vs right battle within the Party.

That approach illustrates the complete failure of these ‘Marxists’ to recognise the division between the economic and political, and within this division that unions are primarily economic entities. A consequence is these people continually push unions to adopt programmatic demands appropriate to a party rather than a union. In this instance asking conference to supress the union’s core function of defending member’s terms and conditions in pursuit of a political goal, the only possible result was to further repel the defence workers from the left and Corbyn.

The real tragedy in this vignette is that until now the only serious work undertaken on defence diversification has been that of defence industry workers. Now a Corbyn labour party can build on that work harnessing the workers in the industry, their unions and party to formulate diversification blueprints. This approach was central to the Statement:

“Unite commits to campaigning to secure a serious government approach to defence diversification… and urges the Labour Party to give the highest priority to this aspect in it considerations.”

We have then a platform which can not only develop diversification policies but also a process where defence workers will be exposed to the ideas of the left opening the possibility of winning them over to socialism.

Apart from the decisive victory the debate itself was well run and a joy to watch as the defence workers and McCluskey, provided the ‘Marxists’ with a lesson on what is a trade union and how it should function. I hope (but doubt) they will have learnt their lesson.

Permalink 11 Comments

McCluskey: Labour plotters “will be branded forever with the mark of infamy”

July 12, 2016 at 10:52 am (labour party, posted by JD, unions, Unite the union)

Speech delivered by Len McCluskey to Unite Policy Conference 11/07/2016

This is the third time I have had the honour of addressing a Unite policy conference as your general secretary.

And it must be around the twentieth time I have attended the conference of my union in one capacity or another.

I can never recall in all those years the supreme policy-making body of our union convening in such turbulent times, and with such a weight of responsibility upon its shoulders.

Our country is riven after the EU referendum. Our movement is divided – bitterly and unnecessarily. Jobs are in jeopardy, and long-established rights could be under threat. Millions of working people are looking for urgent answers to the crisis engulfing us. Our members and many besides are looking for a way forward.

It is out of no sense of misplaced vanity colleagues that I say that the judgement and the actions of Unite, the greatest and largest trade union across Britain and Ireland, will be decisive. There is no other organisation in our movement – and no other conference beyond this one – that has the capacity to give the lead the situation demands.

In part that is because of the breadth of our organisation across our economy and our counties, from the car factories and steel plants now under a shadow, our oil and gas industry being ravaged, to the threatened public service and finance sectors and much more besides.

But it is also in part because we are a strong, stable working-class organisation firm in its principles and practical in how we apply them. Those values are more vital than they have ever been. They are the star we have to guide us through this storm.

Of course, there will be different views here in this hall regarding the European Union referendum, and about the roots and the solution of the crisis in the Labour Party.

That is natural and normal. We are a diverse and democratic organisation. And I know that this conference will debate these issues in a disciplined and respectful way, without hysteria.
Following our procedures and abiding by the outcomes. An example that other parts of our movement would do well to follow.

So, sisters and brothers, I can’t deliver the speech that I would have made had we gathered just three weeks ago. I know you will forgive me if I don’t touch on every aspect of our union’s life, as I would normally do, under these circumstances.

Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink Leave a Comment

McCluskey on the EU: “my final appeal is on the basis of hope”

June 22, 2016 at 11:26 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, rights, solidarity, Tory scum, UKIP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Speech delivered 20th June (NB: not the same as his piece in yesterday’s Guardian)

Colleagues,
May I start by expressing Unite’s shock at the death of Jo Cox and our deepest sympathy to her family.
We can only hope that the outpouring of grief from across the nation will help Jo’s husband, Brendan and his family in these unbearable times.

Her death places in context what is really important in our lives.
She was, of course, a passionate advocate for the Remain campaign and would surely want political debate to continue.

Brothers and Sisters,
As this referendum campaign draws towards a close, I think everyone can agree on two things.

First, it matters. As we come up close to the moment of decision, this feels like one of the most important votes any of us will cast in our lives.

And second, this is close. The elite complacency of the start of the campaign, that this was just a quick canter to the winning post for REMAIN, has disappeared.

This could go either way.

For those two reasons, I wanted to speak out directly, both to and on behalf of the members of Unite, the biggest trade union in the United Kingdom, also as someone who can legitimately claim to know the hopes and fears of the working-class communities across the country, the sort of community I grew up in and have kept my roots in.

There is no need for a spoiler alert – Unite is fighting all the way for a Remain vote, and for Britain and British workers to build their future in unity with the rest of Europe.

But I have not come here to lecture or to patronise those working people who take a different view. Who can be surprised that in so many industrial areas, voting for the status quo is not exactly a popular option?

I am just asking all those people, including many Unite members, to reflect on their concerns, and whether they would be best addressed by staying in Europe, or by a Brexit.

And I want to flag up what I believe will happen to working people on the morrow of a vote to leave.

Let me turn first to the issue of IMMIGRATION:

Some pundits and commentators, like explorers returning from a visit to the deep unknown, are stunned to find that this has become an issue.

I for one am not in the least surprised. I understand those concerns. They are NOT, for the greatest part, anything to do with racism or xenophobia.

They are to do with the systematic attempt by our greedy elite to hold down wages and cut the costs of social provision for working people.

Let us be clear – what has been done in the last ten years is a gigantic experiment at the expense of ordinary workers. Countries with vast historical differences in wage rates and living standards have been brought together in a common labour market. The result has been huge downward pressure on living standards.

What happens when two hundred workers are competing for jobs where previously only ten did? Wages are frozen or cut.

What happens when workers can move from a country where a job pays £5 an hour to one where the same job pays £20? The answer is that many do so move, and the same job then ends up paying just £12 an hour.

That is why trade unions have never been in favour of a so-called free labour market. Control of the labour supply in an industry or across society has always been the core of our mission, to ensure that workers get their fair share of the wealth they create.

But let me be clear about something else. Pulling up the drawbridge against the rest of Europe is the wrong answer. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 8 Comments

Unite to Remain!

June 16, 2016 at 6:23 am (campaigning, class, Europe, internationalism, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, Unite the union)

Text of a speech by Jim Kelly, London & Eastern Region Chair of Unite, at a Norwich meeting  “What future for the Left in Europe?” making the case for trades unionists  to vote and campaign for REMAIN in the EU referendum.

Above: Jim Kelly

…………………………………………………….

Unite is the largest private sector manufacturing union in the UK, with around half a million members employed in manufacturing. We are clear that a vote to Remain will be better for our members employed in British manufacturing than the chaos and uncertainty that will follow a Brexit. The same applies to the public sector, where TU membership is far stronger.

Unite research shows that Brexit will have a disproportionate impact on exports to the EU in industries where membership is strong, Aerospace, 54%,
Transport, 44%, Finance, 44%, Food manufacturing, 53% and the Chemical industry 54%. This will have a devastating impact on union membership.

Within TUC affiliated unions the overwhelming majority, in terms of membership support Remain, with only three small unions, RMT, ASLEF and the
Bakers Union supporting exit.

Unite’s position on the referendum issue was agreed overwhelmingly at the 2014 Policy Conference.

“That on balance of advantages at present Unite would argue for a vote to stay in the EU while also campaigning against a neo- Liberal agenda being
promoted from Brussels”

We went on to agree we should be addressing the need for hope & solidarity: developing A new vision based on the values of social justice;

This was a continuation of the decision of the 2012 conference to reject a Brexit position. It was recently decided at the April EC to join the Remain
campaign, as a “permitted participant” but not to work with the Tories but to support “Another Europe Is Possible” and urge our members to vote
Remain.

Unite is all too aware that some of our members, like many working class people across the UK have been influenced by the right wing and its supporters in the media. Some on the Left are also advocating Brexit.

*Those on the Brexit left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to positively answer two questions; that exit will benefit unions and workers,
and their campaign will help develop worker’s consciousness *

Why these two questions are fundamental is because Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways; industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union legislation has increased. Seen as a totality such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall: with two major exceptions (TU recognition and the minimum wage) all such post 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

In the UK our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties, a cumulative effect of the way European laws have been introduced in the
UK, with UK governments using their rights to Opt Out to water down EU legislation.

While we may blame many things on the EU, the majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted that legislation.

Let’s look at two cases:

First; The recent steel crisis caused by dumping of cheap inferior steel on the world market by China. It was the UK government which vetoed the right of the EU to impose tariffs to keep foreign steel out of Europe. Also other EU members have state-financed steel plants – for instance in December 2014 Italy did this 2014 to prevent a steel plant closure. EU law didn’t ban bailouts for British Steel – after all, Gordon Brown part nationalised a number of banks in 2008 – Sajid Javid and the UK Tory Party simply wasn’t interested in supporting tens of thousands of workers due to the UK Tory government’s free market dogma.

Secondly, The Posted Workers Directive: this has frequently been cited by some as an example of legislation which divides workers and undermines pay. In reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the National Minimum Wage (thereby creating a two tier workforce) while in Ireland they linked the Posted Workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining: meaning far less room to drive down wages and divide workers.

A much higher level of workers’ rights in Europe applied across the EU would ease some of the pressure whereby employers exploit free movement of
labour to accelerate the race to the bottom, exploiting both UK and migrant workers.

However weak the present floor of rights may be, post-exit would see the government dismantle it, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions:

· Priti Patel (employment minister) has called them a “burden” and said she would like to “halve” them.

· Boris Johnson said it was “very disappointing” that Britain had not made “changes to employment law”, complaining that we “need to weigh in
on all that stuff, all that social chapter stuff”. Boris at his most articulate!

· Chris Grayling, when asked what European “red tape” he disliked, he referred to health and safety laws.

The consequence of this pulling apart of the floor of rights could also accelerate a European wide race to the bottom. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development?

Unless, of course, someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believed the Tories will leave it intact (as some people on the anti-EU left sometimes, incredibly, appear to do).

The Press has made much of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership during the referendum. My view is that Jeremy’s strategy of presenting a “warts and all” argument focusing on worker’s rights, consumer protection and democratic reform while strengthening European solidarity to fight against austerity is absolutely correct.

The issue here is not Jeremy but in many cases the UK media sucking up to Farage, Gove and Johnson and making the divisions in the Tory party the main focus of their reporting

Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation would result if we Brexit on 23rd, we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on all unions and their memberships.

Moreover, the impact of a serious downturn caused by Brexit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what the Left Leave advocates believe will happen: rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos an exit victory will cause within our ranks.

In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will boost an insurgent populist right and it is that which our movement, including the Labour Party will have to contend with.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being
galvanised into activity by the programme of the populist right, whether Farage, Le Pen or Trump. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in worker’s consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalisms and a sense of alienation. This referendum should not be seen solely as being about “in” or “out”: it is also a key episode in the formation of this populist right-wing.

For many workers supporting exit, the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against the causes of their social problems, whether it is about politicians not listening, their growing impoverishment or their belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline; not least by stopping immigration.

In voting for exit many workers, clearly including many of our members, will not have been influenced by the arguments of the left, rather they
will cast their vote bound hand and foot to Johnson, Gove and Farage and the hard-right leadership of the Out campaign.

Once the impact of destabilisation on the working class is grasped and the wider political impact on working class politics understood, it should be obvious that our enemies’ enemy, in this instance UKIP and the hard-right of the Tory Party, is not our friend.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it. Those who advocate leaving are right when they speak about its undemocratic nature and we on the left know what to do about its shortcomings: our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer = it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive; it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers; and on a pan European level it is our answer to the present democratic limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European-wide trade union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe – a social Europe.

Our starting point, however, must be to ensure we stay in.

Permalink 4 Comments

Junior doctors: is the deal a sell-out?

May 25, 2016 at 8:20 pm (health service, reblogged, solidarity, unions)

From A Healthy Blog, republished with the permission of the author, Dr Peter Campbell:

Sell Out?

During the past year we have learnt an incredible amount. From how to organise a picket and dealing with the media, to contract law and equality impact assessments.

On Wednesday (last week) we were taught a lesson by the Government. A lesson on media management. The power of the Government to define a story in its own terms. When the news of the deal broke and we were faced with an onslaught of media and press reaction. ‘The war is over,’ ‘the deal is done,’ ‘BMA agrees terms with NHS Employers.’ It left a lot of Junior Doctors scratching their heads. Is it? Have we just lost?

The appearance of Jeremy Hunt on the national news did nothing to reassure us. His usual mix of factual inaccuracies and scorn for Health Professionals driving many into a frenzy. How could the BMA have done a deal with this man, and how could any deal be any good with the claims Hunt has made?

But if you look beyond the spin, the picture is a lot less clear cut, and there are parts of the deal which are very good for Junior Doctors, and directly oppose Hunt’s narrative on the contract. There are bits of the contract which quite frankly are not good enough and will the apparent return to a position of a cost neutral contract leave Junior Doctors open to more attacks down the line?

hunt plan.jpg

There is a lot for Junior Doctors to consider, and there is much to discuss as we plan the way forward. Industrial action and tough negotiation has won us concessions from the government that I did not believe were possible. The Junior Doctors Committee will meet on the 3rd June prior to the referendum of all Junior Doctors (and penultimate and final year medical students) to articulate a way forward.

Here are my thoughts on some of the issues:

Pay & Weekends

Currently junior doctors receive a pay uplift for unsociable hours (called banding.) The new contract splits this pot of money into sections. A pay premium for hours worked at night, retains a banding for Non-Resident on-call (NROC) and introduces a graded banding for weekend work.

This graded banding, based on the number of weekends worked is vital for Junior Doctors. It means there will be an escalating cost to increased weekend working, putting trusts off from rostering more doctors at weekends. Because it is a banding system it applies to the entire weekend. The risk of a junior doctor being asked to work repeated Saturdays as plain time has gone. Junior Doctors have got what they wanted, a financial disincentive to routine weekend working, and Jeremy Hunt is left trying to spin a defeat into victory.

Pay for all work done

When we look back at this contract negotiation I believe this will be seen as the biggest mistake made by the government.

Late last year the Junior Doctors Committee stated that it wanted pay for all work done. A reasonable request. The previous version of the contract honoured this on paper, but not in practice by stating that if a Junior Doctor could predict the hours they were going to be overworked they could request to be paid for these hours. Any junior doctor could tell you this was a joke, and would never work in practice.

The ACAS agreement states that we will now be able to claim for these hours before, during or after the period of extra work. This means the system will now be able to cope with the realities of the work. Doctors will be able to ask for this time to be added to annual leave or claim it back as pay if there is no space in the rota for them to take the leave.

This will be overseen by the Guardian. This newly created role with have oversight over a number of aspects of safety, rotas and exception reporting. The mechanism of reporting overworking. This was rightly described as a weak point in the previous contract. But it has been beefed up, and crucially will now be under scrutiny by Junior Doctors.

Equality

Unfortunately it is here that the ACAS document doesn’t stand up so well to scrutiny. The March contract offer was rightly attacked for its discrimination towards women, lone carers and the disabled. While this contract makes some moves in the right direction, many of these are of speculative benefit.

The reality of the loss of annual pay progression is a less equal contract. A week point of the new contract is also evening working. Particularly important for carers. The governments desire for the political victory will currently see this contract implemented before much of the work around rotas, equality issues or safety has been completed. Not a good starting point for a complicated, divisive new contract.

Cost Neutrality

Jeremy Hunt argues this contract is ‘cost neutral.’ What he means by this is that compared to October 2015, this new contract would not cost any more than our current contract. Therefore if we were to transport ourselves back to October 2015 and put all Junior Doctors on the new contract the pay envelope would be the same.

Nobody believes this contract is cost neutral. An accurate estimate of the extra work done by Junior Doctors is difficult, but there is clearly a lot of it. If we start paying out for that cost neutrality is blown out the window.

But by saying it, and if Junior Doctors do not oppose it, it gives the Secretary of State political leverage for further cuts. In a years time when the pay bill has grown due to the NHS actually paying doctors for the work they do how will the government respond. In order to keep the pay bill cost neutral will it cut doctor numbers? Will it ask hospitals to cut services? Will it try and close whole wards or hospitals?

Junior Doctors have put themselves in an incredibly powerful position. We should not lose faith in our collective power now. Baring any surprises in the terms and conditions released on or before the 31st May I will be voting ‘no’.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Steel crisis: state aid, including nationalisation, is *not* prevented by the EU!

March 31, 2016 at 4:31 pm (economics, Europe, Jim D, reformism, solidarity, Tory scum, unions, workers)

As the UK’s steel industry faces extinction, the Tories prevaricate over what – if any- state aid they are willing to offer in order to save the Tata operations at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Corby and Shotton (North Wales). At least 40,000 jobs are at stake.

Business minister Anna Soubry initially stated that the  government was willing to consider “everything possible” – including nationalisation – in order to save the Port Talbot plant. But now her boss, business secretary Sajid Javid has ruled out nationalisation, arguing “if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer.” According to the Daily Telegraph, Tata Steel have suggested that EU rules restricting state aid were to blame for its decision to sell the UK steel business – a claim that has been seized upon by campaigners for Brexit, including the supposedly “left wing” Morning Star, always willing to let the Tories off the hook by claiming (entirely falsely) that the British government “is banned by EU competition laws” from intervening to save the industry.

While it’s true that EU rules place some restrictions on using state aid to prop up industries, European governments with the political will have either turned a blind eye to the regulations or found ways round them. For instance, while the EU blocks support for “manufacturers in difficulties”, it allows national governments to nurture the “long term competitiveness and efficiency” of industry, and also to provide state funding to lessen the “social impact” of closures.

Even outright nationalisation is not barred by the EU: Article 345 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:12008E345

All across the EU states have majority shares or own and run their own transport and energy sectors. This is confirmed in this 2013 Estep report, commissioned by the EU: http://www.esparama.lt/es_parama_pletra/failai/ESFproduktai/2_UM_valstybes-valdomos-imones_2013-03.pdf

In particular the report states: ‘SOEs are entitled for public services provision, which can be broadly observed in utility sectors such as transport, telecommunications or energy.’

While nationalisation may be restricted it is not banned or illegal. This is a widely-believed myth, promoted, in particular, by the anti-EU “left”.

In Italy the government took control of the Ilva steelworks last year to save 16,000 jobs. Then the firm was handed £74 million for “environmental improvements” – ie direct state aid.

Germany also provides aid to its regional governments on the understanding that steel produced in the country is used on any German building or engineering projects. Germany also operates the part-publicly-funded Gesellschaft, a research organisation that provides applied science for companies that would otherwise find the cost prohibitive.

In 2012 French president Hollande threatened to nationalise Arcelor Mittal steel’s operations in the Lorraine plateau in order to save the blast furnaces of Florange and their 2,500 jobs. He didn’t seem to be particularly concerned about any EU state-aid rules. Ironically, Hollande’s threat was denounced by Boris Johnson – now a leading light of the Brexit campaign.

In a written answer to Labour Euro-MP Jude Kirton-Darling at the time of the Redcar steelworks closure last year, the European Commission confirmed that the UK Government could have given state aid to support the steelworks. Here are some of the ways that other EU governments have intervened to support their domestic steel industries, and other energy intensive industries. There are also examples of regional governments taking initiatives in Germany and Spain.

(Temporary) Renationalisation

In early 2015, the Italian Government temporarily renationalised the Ilva Steel works in Taranto, Southern Italy. The Italian government cited the unabated toxic emissions and very poor environmental standards, which had led to unusually high rates of cancer in the area around the plant. It is estimated that it will cost €1.8bn to make Ilva compliant with the Industrial Emissions Directive’s standards. This decision is currently subject to a complaint from EUROFER (European steel industry association) under state aid rules.

Investment in strategic R&D facilities

The French government are providing state-aid to the ArcelorMittal plant at Florange, in France to support their ongoing R&D work, this follows on from a long running industrial dispute over the closing of two blast furnaces. This public support comes to a total of €20-50 million over 4 years, with a further 33 million been raised in public-private investment.

Support for energy efficiency/environmental technologies

In 2010, the European Commission accepted German state aid of €19.1 million for an energy-saving steel production project run by Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH, a subsidiary of the Salzgitter AG group. The aid will allow Salzgitter to produce steel through an innovative production process, Direct Strip Casting (DSC), which consumes less energy than alternative processes. The aid is in line with EU guidelines on State aid for environmental objectives (see IP/08/80) because on balance, the positive effects for the environment largely outweigh potential distortions of competition.

Loan guarantees

In 2010, before the May elections (which saw a change in Government), the UK Labour government was willing to provide Sheffield steel producer Forgemasters with an £80m loan to develop new technologies as part of a supply chain for nuclear reactors. While ultimately the new government withdrew this offer, the reasoning for a change of heart was ideological and not related to European State-Aid rules.

Taking a public stake in a steel company

Following the sale of 20.5% of shares in ‘NLMK Belgium Sogepa Holdings SA’ for 91.1 million euros ($123 million), the Belgian public authorities have a shareholding in a new company producing steel which owns steel plants in Belgium, France and Italy. NBH employs about 1,000 people in Belgium, while the European division employs 2,530 people in total. The engagement of the Belgian public authorities has helped strengthen the commitment of the Russian group, and transformed the company carrying the steel business in public private joint venture with the financial support of the Walloon region.

Compensation for energy costs

A range of German Government industry policy interventions provide German industry as a whole, including its energy intensive industries, with a range of long established reliefs from energy and climate change-related duties, levies and taxes:

Over the period 2010-2012 Germany’s support for its EIIs were worth 26bn euros, or some 8bn euros (£6.4bn) a year (table 2).
Support covers thousands of firms. Unlike the UK package, support is not confined to specific sectors.
At company level, in Germany compensation is available for 90% (or in the case of larger and energy intense consumers, 100%) of electricity taxes.

In Sweden, the PFE programme aims to encourage, through incentives (reductions in the amount of energy taxes), energy-intensive industries to improve their energy efficiency. This is a long-term agreement involving the Swedish government, the energy-intensive industries and trade unions. The duration of this program is 5 years. 117 industrial companies are involved in this project (i.e. 250 plants). The Swedish Energy Agency monitors and controls the programme. The Programme Board, established in 2005, brings together representatives from government, business, trade unions and employers as well as research centers. Both with an advisory and regulatory purpose, the Board meets four times a year. After only two years of existence, more than 900 measures were implemented or underway. These measures cost the companies € 110 million but benefited from a rapid return on investment (two years on average). They have saved about 1 TWh per year of electricity, i.e. from 500 kT to 1 million tons of CO2, and a total of € 55 million. In 2010, it doubled its objectives.

Using the powers of the official receiver to support employment & attracting buyers for troubled plants

In November 2014, the Italian government agreed to sell Italy’s second-largest steelmaker Lucchini’s Piombino complex to family-owned Algerian conglomerate Cevital. Lucchini was previously owned by Russia’s Severstal but was declared insolvent in 2012 and placed into special administration. The company received two offers for its core assets in Piombino, one from Cevital and the other from India’s JSW Steel. The government administrator said the Cevital offer was more attractive as it foresaw full employment at Piombino. The Piombino complex employs about 2,000 people and can produce up to 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year.

Permalink 10 Comments

Strike at Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham and Bethlem Hospitals for a living wage, sick pay and unsocial hours

March 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm (health service, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

Adapted from the GMB’s website:

 Hospital cleaners demonstrating.

Photo: Michelle Gordon

Hospital Workers Strike At Maudsley, Lambeth, Lewisham And Bethlem Hospitals On Monday 21st March For A Living Wage, Sick Pay And Unsocial Hours Payments

With a profit of $1.4bn, American multinational outsourcing provider Aramark can well afford to pay their staff a proper wage says GMB.

GMB, the union for staff in the health service, is holding a strike at four South London Hospitals on Monday 21st March for 175 members working as cleaners and hostesses for private contractor Aramark.

GMB members will make history by leading the first strike against Aramark in the UK, having voted 97% in favour of industrial action. They will be seeking a living wage and fairer arrangements for sick pay and unsocial hours payments.

Picketing is taking place at the following addresses:

Maudsley Hospital
Denmark Hill
London
SE5 8AZ

Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road
Beckenham
BR3 3BX

Lambeth Hospital
108 Landor Road
London
SW9 9NT

Ladywell Unit
Lewisham Hospital
University Hospital Lewisham
Lewisham High Street
London

SE13 6LH 

Many of the staff who keep the hospital sites clean and prepare and serve food to patients are paid as little as £7.38 per hour and receive only 10 days of sick pay per year. Sick pay is only provided after the first 3 days of illness and workers in their first year of service receive no sick pay at all.

Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “GMB members are serious about fighting for something that any worker should be entitled to: A wage they can live on and a sick pay scheme which ensures they won’t be forced into poverty as a result of falling ill.

“Aramark make a profit by paying workers as little as possible. GMB members in South London and Maudsley NHS Trust are now saying enough is enough, they should be rewarded properly for the work they do.

Our members are proud to be making history by leading the first strike in the UK against Aramark. Predominantly low paid women workers, the bravery our members are showing in this fight against an aramark multinational is inspiring. One woman was telling me how she was punched in the face by one of the patients while she was serving food on the ward – all for £7:38 ph!

Aramark is a $14.3 billion, American owned, multinational outsourcing provider. They can afford to pay their staff a proper wage.”

End

Contact: Nadine Houghton on 07714239227 or Andy Prendergast on 07984492726 or GMB press office on 07970 863411 or 07739 182691

Notes to editors

1 GMB press release dated Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dispute Looms At Of South London And Maudsley NHS Trust As Pay Talks With Contactor Aramark For £10 Per Hour Living Wage Stall

Next step is seeking permission for official strike ballot and there will protest demonstrations on 2nd and 9th February says GMB.

A dispute looms as pay talks covering 175 GMB members employed as domestics and hostesses by private contractor Aramark at four sites of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) have stalled.

The pay talks which have broken down cover members at the Maudsley, Lambeth, Bethlem and Ladywell sites where GMB is seeking a living wage of £10per hour and an end to two tier arrangements on sick pay and shift allowances.

GMB officers will now seek permission to proceed to an official strike ballot. GMB will also be calling demonstrations outside the sites as part of the campaign for a living wage and an end to the two tier workforce in the NHS.

Aramark is an American owned multinational outsourcing provider turning over $13billion. It pays many staff on the SLAM contract as little as £7:30ph for providing front line services to mental health patients.

Nadine Houghton, GMB regional organiser said: “It’s unfortunate that we have been forced to ask our members whether or not they are prepared to strike but we have consistently told Aramark that our members provide a front line service in a mental health trust within London and as such they deserve to be paid a genuine living wage of £10ph, full sick pay and proper shift allowances.

Our members are working around many vulnerable individuals, sometimes they are verbally and even physically attacked and yet many of them are unable to take sick leave as they are not paid for this, some of them also receive no extra pay for working weekends and bank holidays. they have rejected the offer that Aramark made to them as it went nowhere near satisfying the members demands.

GMB will continue to press for a living wage to be set at £10 per hour as agreed at GMB Congress. Members make clear in their experience you need at least £10 an hour and a full working week to have a decent life free from benefits and tax credits. Less than £10 an hour means just existing not living. It means a life of isolation, unable to socialise. It means a life of constant anxiety over paying bills and of borrowing from friends, family and pay day loan sharks just to make ends meet.”

The Guardian‘s coverage, here

Permalink 2 Comments

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 632 other followers