Len McCluskey, Unite and Jewish Voice for Labour

November 19, 2017 at 5:41 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Jim D, labour party, Unite the union, zionism)


Len has never witnessed anti-Semitism: 4.16

Len McCluskey (BBC Newsnight 26/10/2017): “I’ve never recognized [that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism]. I believe it was mood music that was created by people trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. In 47 years of membership of the Labour Party, I’ve never been at a meeting where there was any anti-Semitic language or any attacks on the Jews. They would have had short shrift in any meeting I was at.”

“Unfortunately, at the time there were lots of people playing games. Everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had become misogynistic and anti-Semitic because they wanted to bring Jeremy Corbyn down.”

Shami Chakrabarti (replied): “With the greatest of respect to Len, I was the person charged with investigating this. It wasn’t Len,” she said. “I have seen things which Len hasn’t seen. I would ask Len to read my report.

“There are real reasons why someone like Len may not have experienced racism and anti-Semitism. There is an obvious reason why he may not have experienced it. I was charged with investigating by Jeremy and the National Executive and I set out my findings, warts and all.”

In the same week as making those ill-advised comments on anti-Semitism, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey attended the launch meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) at this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Describing itself as a “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party”, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) already had the backing of such absolute anti-Zionist outfits as the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign and the ‘Electronic Intifada’ website; at the meeting, McCluskey and Aslef’s  Tosh McDonald seemed to affiliate their unions to JVL.

JVL’s chair is Jenny Manson, described in a JVL press release as “a retired tax inspector”, the Garden Suburb branch chairperson in Finchley and Golders Green CLP, an active supporter of Jews for Palestine, and editor of two books (one of them on consciousness: What It Feels Like To Be Me).

Manson was one of the five Jewish Labour Party members who submitted statements in support of Ken Livingstone in March of this year. According to her statement:

“… These actions by Ken were not offensive, nor anti-Semitic in any way, in my view.

 … In my working life as a Tax Inspector I saw a (very) few instances of anti-Semitism, such as the characterisation of ‘Jewish Accountants’ as accountants who skated close to the edge. I have never witnessed any instances of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

 Anti-Semitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism.”

 The JVL’s brief “Statement of Principles” includes the following:

“We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.”

A JVL press release likewise states that the new organisation:

“Rejects attempts to extend the scope of the term ‘antisemitism’ beyond its meaning of bigotry towards Jews, particularly when directed at activities in solidarity with Palestinians such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

In other words, this “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party” will be campaigning in support of the ‘right’ to boycott Jews, and in favour of restricting the definition of antisemitism so as to exclude the most common forms in which contemporary antisemitism manifests itself: Perhaps this is why McCluskey felt it appropriate to affiliate Unite without having consulted the Executive of the union – supposedly the highest decision-making body of Unite (which prides itself upon being a “lay member-led union”).

The JVL website (well worth visiting if you want an insight into the true politics of this organisation), hailed McCluskey’s support as a major breakthrough, but when I commented:

“Did Len consult anyone (even the Exec) before stating that Unite supported JVL? … Ironically, many of those associated with JVL are very keen on democracy elsewhere, and under other circumstances, within the labour movement”

… I was admonished by the “JVL’s webperson” thus:

“No need to be snide, Jim. Len knew that it would have to go to Unite approval [sic]. That process is in train” 

… which would seem to suggest that McCluskey and JVL had done a deal in advance, without consulting the Unite Exec, or any other Unite body.

McCluskey no doubt thought he was doing Jeremy Corbyn a favour by backing an organisation whose main objective seems to be to deny that Labour has any kind of problem with anti-Semitism, beyond that of false accusations cooked up by right wingers and agents of the Israeli embassy. Unfortunately, as Chakrabarti’s response to his foolish Newsnight comments, demonstrates, McCluskey’s hasty and undemocratic backing of JVL is likely to cause Corbyn a lot of embarrassment.

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Diana Holland on the Brexit threat to Unite members

November 13, 2017 at 9:36 am (Brexit, class, Europe, Unite the union, workers)

This week all Unite sectors are holding their conferences in Brighton. Each sector conferences determines a sector’s own industrial policies provided that they are not inconsistent with the general policy and objectives of the union – so they cannot deal with general policy or rules issues.

Each Regional Industrial Sector Committee (RISC) and National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) is entitled to submit two motions to its sector’s conference.

The timetable for the conferences is as follows:

  • Sunday 12 Nov: Retired Members. Docks, Rail, Ferries & Waterways
  • Monday 13 Nov: Civil Air Transport. Passenger Transport. Road Transport Commercial, Logistics & Retail Distribution. Food, Drink & Agriculture. Service Industries. Government, Defence, Prisons & Contractors
  • Tuesday 14 Nov: Local Authorities. Energy & Utilities. Education. Health. Community, Youth Workers & Not for Profit. Unite Construction, Allied Trades & Technicians. Finance & Legal.
  • Wednesday 15 Nov: Aerospace & Shipbuilding. Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Process & Textiles. Automotive Industry. Graphical, Paper, Media & Information Technology. Metals (including Foundry). General Engineering, Manufacturing & Servicing.

Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary (transport & food sectors and equality) describes the background to the conferences, with particular emphasis on the threat to workers posed by Brexit:

Transport and food workers are under pressure – but are pushing back


Brexit, automation and digitalisation are intensifying uncertainty among workers, says DIANA HOLLAND


MENTAL health and stress in the transport and food workplace are right at the top of our agenda.

Pressure to win contracts through undercutting in the relentless “race to the bottom” translates into intense pressure on transport and food workers throughout the supply chain.

This means hard-fought-for working conditions, stability and security are constantly threatened and eroded, with pressure on pay, pressure on pensions, pressure on working time, on safety, training and equality.

Permanent contracts are being replaced with bogus self-employment, agency workers doing the same work on worse terms and conditions and a two, three and even four or more-tier workforce artificially dividing workers — all leading to isolation, a feeling of powerlessness, a climate of fear and even to trafficking and modern slavery.

Decent working hours so you can earn enough and have a family and personal life are having to be fought for, rather than accepted as the starting point for negotiations.

The growing uncertainty in the transport and food sectors over the impact of EU exit, automation and digitalisation is intensifying this pressure.

Decisions in financial markets, hedge funds, technology companies and immigration policy are creating enormous pressures on workers in transport and food sectors across the world, threatening their livelihoods and the services and businesses they sustain, without the workers ever being at the table, or even considered.

Proud professional workers and decades of achievements are bypassed at the click of a button; again artificially dividing the current and future workforce, and young and older workers. No way to run a safe, accessible, integrated, sustainable transport service. No way to securely, sustainably and safely meet the food needs of the country.

Faced with this onslaught, Unite’s broad industrial strategy for secure work, a strong union voice and decent pay, and an equality strategy for workplaces free from discrimination, violence and harassment, underpin everything we do.

Across transport we are building alliances and prioritising cutting diesel emissions, mental health first aid and ending the “race to the bottom.”

We have launched a diesel emissions register to record exposure, we have engaged all the major road transport and logistics employers in action on mental health and set up union industrial hubs in ports and airports, linking up workers.

In food, drink, agriculture and retail, we are calling with others for safe, healthy food and high-quality jobs, negotiating for the living wage and quality apprenticeships as a minimum, protecting the gangmasters licensing regime and monitoring the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England compared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. And we continue to campaign for reinstatement of the rights of migrant domestic workers.

These are the basics we want to build on. But right now the shambolic Tory approach to Brexit is threatening every single one in so many ways.

Seventy per cent of the raw ingredients relied on by the food and drink sector come from the EU and 29 per cent of the workforce are non-UK EU nationals, including 90 per cent of the vets in meat hygiene.

The sector is worth £27 billion to the UK economy, a major employer in every part of the UK. So the impact of Brexit negotiations is critical. And yet, as a result of a freedom of information request, Unite has uncovered that the government is refusing to publish a report on the impact of leaving the EU on food prices and possible food shortages, let alone the impact on workers and standards in the sector.

In aviation, if the UK does not retain access to the Single European Sky agreement, no flights to 27 EU member states and 47 nations with EU agreements will be possible. Tickets are sold in advance, so this is a threat to the whole industry.

UK membership of the European Aviation Safety Association is vital, and as employers relocate their registered headquarters, Brexit must not bring into aviation the “flags of convenience” model already devastating the shipping industry.

In road transport — buses, lorries, coaches, trams, taxis — EU legislation protects UK workers and communities — qualifications, licensing, drivers’ hours, tachograph standards, vehicle standards and roadworthiness — all must be retained into UK law.

In the logistics sector there is a skills shortage, and the industry needs to be able to retain and access the best talent, including protections for EU workers currently employed, alongside new investment in training.

Of course we can reform standards for the better, and Unite is up for that, but right now we must not let Brexit be used as an excuse to turn the clock back.

In ports, we cannot have new layers of customs clearance, in rail manufacturing technical specifications need protection, as does funding from the EU for next generation passenger vehicles and biofuel projects.

Nor can we let Brexit further undermine municipal buses, rail public ownership, control and reregulation of key transport infrastructure.
And finally, this year, on November 25, UN Day to End Violence Against Women, Unite is strongly supporting the call for a powerful new ILO core labour standard on violence and harassment in the workplace. No worker should be living in fear. Violence, harassment and discrimination are not “part of the job.”

Unite’s message is clear: “You are not alone. Join the union. Get involved. Together we can make a difference.” We need to — and we do.

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What does ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ actually stand for?

September 29, 2017 at 7:50 pm (anti-semitism, Free Speech, israel, Jim D, labour party, palestine, reformism, Unite the union, zionism)


_____________________

Describing itself as a “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party”, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) had its official launch at this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.

JVL chair is Jenny Manson, described in a JVL press release as “a retired tax inspector”, the Garden Suburb branch chairperson in Finchley and Golders Green CLP, an active supporter of Jews for Palestine, and editor of two books (one of them on consciousness: What It Feels Like To Be Me).

Manson was one of the five Jewish Labour Party members who submitted statements in support of Ken Livingstone in March of this year. According to her statement:

“… These actions by Ken were not offensive, nor anti-Semitic in any way, in my view.

 … In my working life as a Tax Inspector I saw a (very) few instances of anti-Semitism, such as the characterisation of ‘Jewish Accountants’ as accountants who skated close to the edge. I have never witnessed any instances of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

 Anti-Semitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism.”

 The JVL’s brief “Statement of Principles” includes the following:

“We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.”

A JVL press release likewise states that the new organisation:

“Rejects attempts to extend the scope of the term ‘antisemitism’ beyond its meaning of bigotry towards Jews, particularly when directed at activities in solidarity with Palestinians such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

In other words, this “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party” will be campaigning in support of the ‘right’ to boycott Jews, and in favour of restricting the definition of antisemitism so as to exclude the most common forms in which contemporary antisemitism manifests itself.

JVL already has the backing of the “Free Speech on Israel” campaign, the “Electronic Intifada” website and Len McCluskey of Unite (who claims never to have encountered anti-Semitism within the labour movement), and Tosh McDonald of Aslef, both of who have taken it upon themselves to affiliate their unions to JVL.

Last Monday at the Labour conference there was a fringe meeting of the so-called ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign (prop: Anthony Greenstein esq) at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton.  It was chaired by Jenny Manson.

The Mirror reported on the meeting:

Israeli-American author Miko Peled told a conference fringe meeting Labour members should support the freedom to “discuss every issue, whether it’s the holocaust, yes or no, whether it’s Palestine liberation – the entire spectrum.

And you can listen to the clip here.

Was he – and the Labour members sitting in the room – really suggesting that the historical reality of the Holocaust is a legitimate topic for debate? Did Jenny Manson agree with him? We cannot say, because Ms Manson has made no comment (as far as I’m aware) on the matter.

However, Ms Manson does have a letter in today’s Guardian that takes the paper’s John Crace to task for confusing JVL’s fringe meeting with the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ fringe meeting (understandably, one might think, given Ms Manson’s prominent role at both):

Jewish Voice is not an anti-Zionist group
John Crace, whose contributions are always good value, has got it wrong (Sketch, 27 September). I chaired the meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour he mentions in passing. What he discusses in his sketch is in dispute but, in any event, it happened at an entirely separate meeting – not ours. JVL is not, as he claims, an anti-Zionist group, nor was the Holocaust mentioned, let alone questioned at our hugely popular launch on Monday evening at the Labour party conference, attended by close on 300 people.

Our mission is to contribute to making the Labour party an open, democratic and inclusive party, encouraging all ethnic groups and cultures to join and participate freely. The sole ideological commitments members make is to broadly support what is contained in our statement of principles. These include a commitment “to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism”. Describing JVL as “anti-Zionist” fundamentally misrepresents us. Our statement of principles makes no mention at all of Zionism. Rather our objective is simply to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities. I gave an assurance from the chair that, in accordance with our statement of principles, you need hold no position on Zionism – for, against or anything else – to join and work with us.
Jenny Manson
Chair, Jewish Voice for Labour

There are two obvious points to make about this letter:

(1) Anti-Zionism is, in itself, a perfectly respectable ideology, and the Bund has an honourable history (even though the holocaust proved it to be, eventually, on the wrong side of history) so why does the Chair of the anti-Zionist JVL seek to deny the obvious?

(2) Why didn’t Ms Manson take the opportunity to clarify the links between JVL and ‘Free Speech on Israel’, whose meeting she chaired and at which the controversial comments on the holocaust were made?

A much more detailed – and honest – description of the politics of JVL was given in a speech by David Rosenberg, published in today’s Morning Star.

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Chakrabarti slaps down McCluskey’s stupid remarks on antisemitism

September 27, 2017 at 11:18 am (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, crap, Jim D, labour party, plonker, Racism, Unite the union)

Len McCluskey (on BBC Newsnight): “I’ve never recognized [that Labour has a problem with anti-Semitism]. I believe it was mood music that was created by people trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. In 47 years of membership of the Labour Party, I’ve never been at a meeting where there was any anti-Semitic language or any attacks on the Jews. They would have had short shrift in any meeting I was at.”

“Unfortunately, at the time there were lots of people playing games. Everybody wanted to create this image that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had become misogynistic and anti-Semitic because they wanted to bring Jeremy Corbyn down.”

Shami Chakrabarti: “With the greatest of respect to Len, I was the person charged with investigating this. It wasn’t Len,” she said. “I have seen things which Len hasn’t seen. I would ask Len to read my report.

“There are real reasons why someone like Len may not have experienced racism and anti-Semitism. There is an obvious reason why he may not have experienced it. I was charged with investigating by Jeremy and the National Executive and I set out my findings, warts and all.”

  • See also, Coatesy on Labour’s new rules to fight anti-Semitism, here

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Unite statement on Uber: Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have done the right thing

September 23, 2017 at 8:17 am (London, posted by JD, profiteers, transport, Unite the union)

Statement from Unite:

Black cab drivers’ union Unite, has today (Friday 22 September) praised mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) for putting the safety of Londoners ahead of big corporate interests by deciding not to renew Uber’s licence to operate in London.

Commenting chair of London’s Unite black cab section Jim Kelly said: “The mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London have done the right thing in putting the safety of passengers and Londoners ahead of the big corporate interests of Uber.

“Dogged by controversy, Uber’s approach has been to exploit workers and bend the rules while trying to brush passenger safety concerns under the carpet.

“No one is above the law and today’s decision will be welcomed by London’s trusted professional black cab drivers. It signals that the mayor of London and Transport for London are not prepared to allow London to become the ‘wild west’ of the cab trade and put passengers at risk.

“In the coming weeks Uber will no doubt throw all its legal and corporate lobbying might to overturn this decision. We would urge the mayor of London and Transport for London to stand firm and continue to stand up for the safety of Londoners and the capital’s trusted cabbies.”

ENDS

For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.

See also:

Guardian piece by this driver  who welcomes the sanctions against Uber.

at first you could make a good living. But then Uber slashed prices to attract customers, and began recruiting on a massive scale to keep up with demand. Not only did we end up with more drivers working longer hours, for worse pay, but some of those drivers should never have been behind the wheel.

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Brum bin workers win first round against redundancy plans – council humiliated

September 21, 2017 at 9:04 pm (Brum, campaigning, Cuts, Jim D, labour party, Liverpool, Socialist Party, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

 Len McCluskey addresses solidarity rally last Sunday (Image: Birmingham Mail)

Refuse workers in Birmingham are celebrating a major victory and Unite has suspended strike action after a high court judge issued an interim injunction to block redundancy notices sent out by the Labour council.

A full court case in November will rule on the underlying legal dispute over the council’s bid to shed staff and change working patterns.

Workers who attended the two-day hearing hailing the ruling as “fantastic” and a “massive victory”.

Unite’s assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said the ruling left the council’s “unfair and unjust plans in tatters”.

Beckett said: “This judgment will be a huge relief to Birmingham’s bin workers, who in just a matter of weeks were facing losing their job or pay cuts of up to £5,000 a year.

“As part of the ruling, Unite will suspend its industrial action until the matter is put before a full court hearing at a later date.”

The union also repeated calls for Stella Manzie, the council’s chief executive, to resign. This follows an deal reached on August 16 at ACAS between the council’s then-leader, John Clancy, and Unite. As a result, the union then suspended strike action and issued a statement saying plans to abolish 120 grade 3 (supervision) jobs had been dropped, and no redundancies would take place.

Then, out of the blue, the agreement broke down with council leader Clancy even trying to make out that there never had been a deal – a bare-faced lie that ACAS publicly disputed. As a result, Clancy was forced to resign as leader of the council

To be clear, the pressure on Clancy from fellow Labour councillors was not for having reneged on the deal, but for having reached it in the first place. It has also became apparent that the driving force behind aborting the deal was interim chief executive Manzie, a bureaucrat with a long record of driving through cuts at various local authorities: at the high court, Mr Justice Fraser read out an email sent on 15 August from Manzie to Clancy saying the council could not look weak and “as if it’s being walked over”.

Referring to the dispute between Clancy and Manzie, Fraser said: “Neither party comes out of this sorry saga with any credit at all – I could use the words remarkable, extraordinary and more.”

It seems that one of Manzie’s arguments against Clancy was that the deal would open up the council to a wave of equal pay claims – something that Unite’s legal team strongly disputes. Howard Becket says that the equal pay issue was not put to Unite by Manzie’s legal team during discussions and it was not raised by the council during the high court hearing.

Immediately following the council’s repudiation of the ACAS deal, redundancy notices were issued to 113 grade 3 workers – a provocative move that resulted in Unite’s successful high court action.

Unite is confident of winning at the full court hearing in November, but there can be no doubt that the refuse workers (who voted 94% in favour of resuming their strike after the ACAS deal broke down) are prepared to return to the picket lines if it proves necessary.

A relatively minor, but politically interesting, aspect of the dispute has been the stance of the Socialist Party (SP). They have been commendably active in their support for the workers, but noticeably embarrassed over the council’s issuing of redundancy notices. After all, this was exactly what the SP’s forerunner, Militant, did when they ran Liverpool council in 1985.

The SP has always proclaimed Liverpool council’s record to have been exemplary and refused to countenance any criticism of the decision to issue redundancy notices – until now. In an attempt to explain the difference between Liverpool council issuing redundancy notices in 1985, and Birmingham doing exactly the same in 2017, the SP now describes the Liverpool decision as “a mistaken tactic to buy time”. However, it was OK really because:

“[T]he council made clear to the workforce that not one single worker was to be made redundant – and none were”.

The trouble with this excuse is that Birmingham council are saying pretty much the same thing:

None of the Grade 3 leading hands who are being made redundant need to lose their jobs with the council. Alternative Grade 3 posts, at the same salary in other parts of the council, are available for all those affected leading hands. No one needs to suffer a cut in their basic pay”.

So perhaps a minor, but valuable, by-product of the dispute will be to force the comrades of the SP to make an honest re-assessment of their own tendency’s record when it ran Liverpool council.

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Brum bin strike back on as council reneges on deal

September 2, 2017 at 5:47 pm (Brum, Jim D, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

Strikers and supporters on the picket line

Strikers and supporters at the Lifford Lane picket line

Birmingham refuse workers have returned to the picket lines after the Labour city council reneged on a deal and sent out redundancy notices.

Mountains of rubbish bags piled up on street corners before the last seven-week strike was suspended on August 16 after Unite and the council struck a deal at ACAS.

Now the council leadership has inexplicably torn up the deal (incredibly, even claiming that there never had been any deal!) and cancelled a meeting on Friday that had been called to ratify the settlement.

More bin collections are now likely to be missed with many of the city’s streets still strewn with overflowing wheelie bins.

the union said it would re-ballot members, meaning industrial action could extend until the New Year. The union is also considering extending the action to other council workers and services.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This is a deeply provocative act that drives a coach and horses through the agreement Unite reached with the council in good faith at the conciliation service Acas.

“It does a great disservice to the people of Birmingham and the city’s refuse workers who now face being made redundant and losing their livelihoods or pay cuts of thousands of pounds.”

He added: “The last thing refuse workers want to do is resume industrial action and see piles of rubbish accumulating on Birmingham’s streets. This is their city too.

“Our members want to focus on delivering a safe efficient service to people of Birmingham.

“Sadly, it seems the council does not want to see that happen. Instead of embracing an agreement that would have seen compromise on all sides, the council seems content to put people on the dole and cut their wages by up to £5,000.

“Unite calls on the council to come to its senses and withdraw these redundancy notices to avoid the disruption of industrial action.

“John Clancy [council leader] has said there was no deal in place, which is just outrageous. It is completely contrary to the ACAS statement that says there’s agreement in principle for the Grade 3 to remain, and consequently no redundancy steps are in place.

“The council is in a shambles. They have rowed back from a good agreement and have returned us to industrial chaos.

“We will be balloting across the council because I am now convinced that this is an ideological message the council is sending out – that they intend cuts, and cuts widely to the workforce.”

South Birmingham Momentum, which prior to the August 16 suspension of action, was actively supporting the workers, will now resume its solidarity activities, and demand that the council honours the ACAS deal. Consideration is also being given to a possible call for John Clancy’s resignation.

STOP PRESS:

In an unprecedented statement this afternoon (2 Sept) ACAS contradicted council leader John Clancy:

Acas can confirm that an agreement was reached between Birmingham City Council and Unite the Union on the 15th August 2017, following discussions at Acas.

The terms of the agreement were made public by Acas at the request of both parties, in a press release agreed with both parties.

– Acas statement

You can see the press release Acas is referring to here.

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Support the Brum refuse workers!

August 11, 2017 at 9:26 am (Brum, Cuts, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, Unite the union, workers)

By a member of South Birmingham Momentum

For the past few weeks the refuse workers in Birmingham have been in dispute with Birmingham City Council over proposed changes to pay-grades, terms and conditions, and levels of public safety.

Workers from the Unite union are now beginning a third week of industrial action. I went down to Lifford Lane depot to find out more about the dispute.

There were a large number of workers on the picket line. I introduced myself, telling them that I was a Labour Party member, and that I wanted to find out more about the dispute, but through the workers themselves, and not just those who had the fortune of having their views published, often exclusively, by the local mainstream media. Immediately, one of the striking workers exclaimed, “Where’s the councillors? Why aren’t the councillors here to discuss this with us?” This was an issue that was raised time and again throughout the morning, and contributed to a genuinely angry atmosphere on the picket line. Workers were collectively angry that councillors did not seem to be engaging with them. Moreover, they felt like they were being ignored by the political class who distance themselves from the realities of real worker’s struggles and real working-class life.

Part of the dispute is about a pay and grade review, where previously agreed pay levels linked to skill grades are threatened by council proposals. One worker was disgusted with the language that has been used by councillors. “They call it ‘modernisation’ – we call it job cuts,” he said. “We’re out doing this job year on year, we’ve told the council how we need to modernise, how we need to improve efficiency. They ignore us, yet they have no experience of doing our jobs.” Some workers spoke of the inefficiency of the council’s long-standing policy of relying on agency staff – some who have been doing the job for over a decade – rather than take the workers on permanent contracts. “Hardly modern, is it? But they do not listen,” grumbled another disgruntled worker.

Workers complained at the attitude of the council. “They won’t come to the table,” they said. “They have their view of ‘modernisation’, and that’s it.” Another angry worker told me that the proposed changes will mean the scrapping or downgrading of the grade 3 post. This is a safety-critical post. It concerns the very workers who are trained and skilled to drive the vehicles. One only has to think of the size of the wagons that are used in the huge operation of moving Birmingham’s rubbish to imagine the carnage that could occur if cuts to safety are allowed.

And what for the future? If the council can alter conditions and get rid of previously agreed terms then what is stopping them doing it again in the future? Could councillors simply abolish grades, after, in the words of Unite regional officer, Lynne Shakespeare, “woefully inadequate consultation”?

Council attempts to redefine the job are another slap in the face for the workers. They stressed that the job hasn’t changed at all – people still need to have their rubbish collected – but the conditions have. Expectations of time had been put on workers, especially since the introduction of wheelie-bins, but the council had shown arrogant disregard with a one-size-fits-all policy. The view that there is no difference in removing refuse from a wheelie-bin from two completely different areas in two completely different houses is as ludicrous as it is ignorant. Add to this the policy of side-waste – waste that is left outside of the bins, that workers are not contracted to take, but bosses have instructed them to collect – then the time constraints become even clearer. Furthermore there are special requests from residents, for example, some elderly residents who cannot physically move their wheelie-bin on to the pavement, so leave it at the top of their drive. Both the council and the workers want to get this waste collected, but it is seemingly only the workers who recognise that this takes more time.

The points made by the workers were plentiful and detailed. Previous projects that had wasted many times more than the predicted savings were to make, ignoring the cost-saving advice of the unions and not listening to the solutions offered by the workers, the false offer of equivalent employment, the privatisation of the vehicle mechanics and maintenance, the lack of assessment on a variety of health and safety issues and the failure to correctly survey properties were just a sample of the points that were made.

The workers were clear:

• These proposals will not improve the service, they will make it worse.

• If the workers don’t stand up for their jobs now, the council will move to make even deeper cuts in the future.

• People never noticed the refuse workers……..until they weren’t there.

South Birmingham Momentum sends its true solidarity to the Birmingham refuse workers and supports their action 100%. We don’t want a city with a fourth-rate, underfunded refuse collection service. We don’t want the safety of all of us to be jeopardised in the name of austerity. We don’t want the council to attack Birmingham’s most valuable assets – those workers who I met today. If we want to reduce pay, perhaps we should start at the top, those in senior council positions with fat-cat salaries that are in excess of ten-times the amount of some of the workers I spoke to today.

We do want to show our solidarity with the refuse workers. We can do this by attending the picket lines every day until we win this dispute. Workers will be on strike outside Lifford Lane depot every weekday morning between 6am and 8am and every weekday afternoon between 1230pm and 130pm.

Members of the Labour Party can further show solidarity by passing resolutions at ward and constituency level that support the industrial action of the refuge workers and oppose the council proposals that amount to nothing more than an assault on the working-class of this great city, and a guarantee of a worse service.

NB: Unite statement here

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Unions challenge Corbyn’s Brexit delusion

July 31, 2017 at 8:38 pm (Conseravative Party, economics, Europe, Jim D, labour party, populism, TUC, unions, Unite the union)

Steve Bell cartoon
Above: Labour shouldn’t back this Tory obsession (cartoon: Steve Bell, The Guardian)

Watching the Tories tear themselves apart over Brexit is excellent spectator sport, but some on our side seem determined to follow them into the right wing, nationalist mire. Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has been showing signs of revisiting his anti-EU past, apparently committing Labour to hard Brexit, and capitulating to the anti-immigration camp.  Since then, John McDonnell has softened the position, suggesting that Britain could stay in the single market under some circumstances.

It’s becoming clear that the Labour leadership and PLP are almost as split on this as the Tories, though the rank and file membership (including those who identify as Corbynites) are overwhelmingly anti-Brexit. It may not be an accident that just lately, the delusion of a “left exit” (or “Lexit”) from the EU has been canvassed in left of centre publications (here and here) and expertly demolished here.

But as well as the rank and file of the party, another powerful constituency has been horrified by Corbyn’s apparent capitulation to the ideas of a hard Brexit: the unions. The TUC remains committed to staying in the single market and customs union (even if it uses some dodgy arguments) as does the biggest pro- Corbyn’s union, Unite.

But the most outspoken (and perhaps, surprising) union attack on “Lexit” so far has come from Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, a union that supports both Corbyn and Momentum. In an article on the New Statesman website, Cortes tears into the “Lexit delusion” and concludes by raising the possibility of Labour coming out against any kind of Brixit – soft or hard – and campaigning to stay in the EU:

“We don’t know yet what Brexit will look like. By the time the deal – or no deal – is finalised, almost three years will have passed since the vote to leave was made. That’s a lot longer than the Tory 2015 majority lasted. Let’s treat the voters as grown-ups not ideologues. If what’s on the table damages our livelihoods and/or is a simply a free trade deal in which the EU makes all the rules, why can’t we can’t change our minds?

“Voters want reality and honesty over delusion. That’s why it’s important that Labour keeps all options on the table. If as I suspect, staying within the EU is the best deal on offer in 2019, we should not deny voters the possibility of taking it. Jeremy’s past Euroscepticism, his vote against both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, actually makes him the best person to renegotiate a new future for Britain in the EU, not a Brexit deal which will harm the implementation of our manifesto and our vision of a People’s Europe.”

Cortes is to be congratulated for posing the issues so plainly, and for breaking an emerging  taboo within the labour movement: the idea that we might just campaign to overturn the referendum result.

(NB: and before anyone mentions it, none of this changes Shiraz‘s past criticisms of Cortes and the way he runs the TSSA)

  • Acknowledgements and thanks to Peter Ryley for an excellent piece that gave me some ideas for this post.

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“A perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book” … or, more simply: it’s shite

July 27, 2017 at 3:15 pm (crap, publications, scotland, stalinism, unions, Unite the union, workers)

By Anne Field

I’ve just been idly browsing the internet looking for reviews of “The Battle for Grangemouth”, penned by former Ineos (Grangemouth) Unite convenor and current International Transport Workers Federation full-timer Mark Lyon.

I came across four reviews of the book:

http://www.cercles.com/review/r79/Lyon.html

https://rs21.org.uk/2017/04/08/review-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-workers-story/

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worthless-exercise-in-self-righteous-posturing/

http://www.counterfire.org/articles/book-reviews/18924-the-battle-of-grangemouth-a-worker-s-story

Without doubt, the most damning review is that written by Keith Laybourn – Huddersfield University Diamond Jubilee Professor, former Huddersfield University Professor of History, author of 47 books (that’s 46 more than Mark Lyon), and successor to the late Eric Hobsbawm as President of the Society for the Study of Labour History:

“This is a perplexing, confused, contradictory and controversial book. … It is written in the form of a pantomime sketch to the extent that one can almost join in and boo and hiss when the ‘devious’ and ‘greedy’ Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of Ineos, appears on the page, and cheer when the ‘brilliant’ Pat Rafferty, the Unite Scottish Secretary, and others of the Unite union enter the stage.

 Lyon also adopts an anecdotal style which makes it very difficult to establish the details of the events in a clear manner, especially when his anecdotes about individuals cut across some major points of discussion, and even more so when dates seem to fluctuate. … Obfuscation is often present with the result that a smokescreen descends over the script.

 This could have been an important and perceptive book. What a pity that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, should seek to endorse a book which throws little light on the events of 2013 and little honour on his union, of which Mark Lyon is vice-chair. The story of Grangemouth deserves a detailed and worthy study. This is not it.”

(As an aside: Laybourn’s review was published by the French magazine Cercles, which describes itself as a “Review of British Civilisation”. How sad to think that Lyon’s tawdry oeuvre should be regarded as an exemplar of the state of our national culture.)

 The book review published by Counterfire is not quite as damning. But Counterfire does not do damning. And it is a review in which criticism of Unite runs in parallel with criticism of the book itself:

Lyon and his colleague Stevie Deans soon found themselves extremely deep in helping to further Ineos’ corporate lobbying. The results were about as unappealing to socialists as you could imagine.

Unite was involved in helping Ineos get tax breaks from the government, get tax-payer-funded subsidy from the government and get around environmental legislation that might have cost it money. 

I really don’t think anyone will be coming to this (book) looking for a ‘how to’ guide. Given the serious mistakes the union made lobbying for a ruthless company to achieve its socially and environmentally unfriendly goals, only to be severely attacked for its trouble, this is probably just as well.

The book is a history of things lost by our labour movement, not least because of a faulty strategy of colluding with an employer. For ideas about how to take struggle forward, you will have to look elsewhere.”

The other two reviews linked to above are no less critical.

The question which all this is leading up to is the following: Can anyone point me in the direction of a review of Lyon’s book which actually has a good word to say about it?

(Other than a ‘review’ published in a certain daily newspaper which is the recipient of substantial financial assistance from what used to be Britain’s biggest union.)

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