Brum bins dispute: on balance, a victory

December 2, 2017 at 9:44 am (Brum, Jim D, labour party, Unite the union, workers)

Strikers and supporters on the picket line
Strikers and supporters at the Lifford Lane picket line

After 12 weeks of action Unite members have agreed a deal to settle a long-running dispute over changes to waste management services in Birmingham.

On balance, this has to be considered a victory for the workers.

The Labour City Council have agreed to withdraw proposed redundancies in exchange for giving the affected workers new job titles and duties. Grade 3 workers will now be promoting recycling among residents but still be working on bin lorries and maintaining their current grade, pay and conditions.

In addition a victimised shop steward will be reinstated, unions will be included in a forum on future changes to the waste management service, and there will be no changes for at least 15 months. The concession the union has made is to agree to a five-day working week but there will be no increase in working hours.

The council has also agreed to pay Unite the Union’s legal costs. They have spent over £6 million of public money in an attempt to defeat the action and break the union.

The local authority’s leader, Cllr Ian Ward, said the deal had been struck after the council had reached “a legally-sound position, going through the governance processes which we must follow”.

Unite meanwhile described the agreement as “a victory for common sense”.

The dispute dated back to June this year, when the union warned that proposals for changes to the service could lead to the loss of more than 100 jobs and pay cuts of up to £5,000.

The tactics that Unite and the workers opted for – one-hour stoppages each day involving a return back to depots on each stoppage – proved to be effective in creating maximum disruption. This approach also minimised the loss in strikers’ pay and retained a limited service under the effective control of the workers.

On August 16th  it seemed that a settlement had been reached at ACAS and the action (then into its seventh week) was suspended: then the Council tore up the deal (incredibly, even claiming that there never had been any deal!) and Unite re-balloted and resumed the action.

The then-leader of the council, John Clancy, was forced to resign over this fiasco. The (unelected) council chief executive Stella Manzie (who earns £180,000 a year), a well-known ‘gun for hire’ who has worked for various local authorities, cutting jobs and services, joined forces with Tory and LibDem councillors to destroy the negotiated settlement. Labour councillors then demanded Clancy’s resignation.

South Birmingham Momentum gave active support to the workers on picket lines, and also organised a campaign of support within the Labour Party, demanding that the council honoured the ACAS deal and/or negotiated a similar settlement with Unite.

In September a High Court judge ordered Birmingham to withdraw redundancy notices it had served on 113 refuse workers ahead of a full hearing.

High Court Judge Mr Fraser, describing former council leader John Clancy’s management of the dispute and its ensuing chaos, said: “I could use the words remarkable, extraordinary and more.”

He said there had been an “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council as rubbish accumulated in the city’s streets.

Mr Fraser also criticised a “schism” between councillors and council officers, saying there had been “chaos” between senior managers and that at times councillors and officers were “positively working against one another.”

A council statement earlier that month said it had issued redundancy notices to ‘grade 3 leading hands’ in the refuse service to protect its legal and financial position.

Under the new proposal, the grade three bin loader role, which was to be deleted, will now be retained. However, this will be with a change of job title and added responsibilities such as data collection for refuse compliance. Refuse workers will transition to the new roles in February 2018. They will also move from a 4-day week to a five-day week.

The deal meant that a High Court hearing scheduled for 27 November did not go ahead. The council has agreed to pay Unite’s legal costs and a court order is expected to cement the agreement.

More information on the agreed proposal can be found here.

Cllr Ward said: “I made it clear that my top priority on becoming leader was to resolve this dispute – the disruption caused for the citizens of Birmingham has been completely unacceptable, and everyone recognises that.

“This has always been about providing an efficient and effective refuse collection service for Birmingham, as that is what citizens rightly expect and deserve from us. Neither the council or Unite wanted things to escalate in the way they did, so I am pleased that through quiet, open and honest dialogue we have been able to reach a legally-sound position, going through the correct governance processes that we must always follow.”

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “This deal secures the grade three role and protects the pay of workers who faced losing thousands of pounds.

“It is a victory for common sense and a victory for the people of Birmingham who no longer need worry about the disruption of industrial action.”

Beckett added: “This deal, which protects the livelihoods of hard working refuse workers, would not have been possible without the determination and solidarity of Unite members.

“Rather than rolling over, they stood firm through thick and thin to defend their jobs and the service they provide to the city of Birmingham.

“The stand that Birmingham’s refuse workers took and the victory they have secured should be an inspiration to others right across the trade union movement.”

But serious socialists need to be clear: this deal will mean added responsibilities such as data collection for refuse compliance. Grade 3 refuse workers will transition to the new roles in February 2018. All refuse workers will also move from a 4-day week to a five-day week. In the present industrial climate, we can properly call this a victory – but we shouldn’t exaggerate the extent of the victory, as some are doing. Nor should we allow the ambitious Howard Beckett to use this as a springboard for his campaign to succeed Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite.

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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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Uber decision in the EAT: drivers win!

November 10, 2017 at 11:17 am (GMB, Human rights, law, posted by JD, transport, workers)

Barrister and employment law specialist Daniel Barnett reports:

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just handed down its decision in the Uber decision, upholding the employment tribunal’s ruling that Uber drivers are ‘workers’ and thus qualify for workers’ rights.

* BBC report here

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The mighty cry of “All power to the Soviets”

November 4, 2017 at 11:47 am (history, Lenin, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, workers)

Book excerpt: Through the Russian Revolution by Albert Rhys Williams

The US SocialistWorker.org (nothing to do with the UK-based SWP) is running a series 1917: The View from the Streets with excerpts from a firsthand account of the revolution by socialist journalist Albert Rhys Williams, written for the New York Evening Post and published as a book in 1921. Along with the more famous Ten Days That Shook the World by fellow journalist John Reed, Williams’ Through the Russian Revolution provides a riveting picture of the struggle to create a new society as Russian workers, soldiers, sailors and peasants began seizing control over every aspect of their daily lives.

In the excerpt below from chapter six, Williams describes the final days before the insurrection that toppled the Provisional Government on October 24-25 (November 6-7 on the calendar we use today) as the workers and peasants of Russia put their hopes in the workers’ councils. SW‘s series on 1917 is edited by John Riddell and co-published at his website.

The soviets of the Russian Revolution provided a model of the basic building block of workers' democracy
Above: The soviets provided a model of basic workers’ democracy

ANOTHER WINTER is bearing down upon hungry, heartsick Russia. The last October leaves are falling from the trees, and the last bit of confidence in the government is falling with them.

Everywhere recklessness–and orgies of speculation. Food trains are looted. Floods of paper money pour from the presses. In the newspapers endless columns of hold-ups, murders and suicides. Night life and gambling-halls run full blast with enormous stakes won and lost.

Reaction is open and arrogant. Kornilov, instead of being tried for high treason, is lauded as the Great Patriot by the bourgeoisie. But with them patriotism is tawdry talk and a sham. They pray for the Germans to come and cut off Petrograd, the Head of the Revolution.

Rodzianko, ex-President of the Duma, brazenly writes: “Let the Germans take the city. Tho they destroy the fleet they will throttle the Soviets.” The big insurance companies announce one-third off in rates after the German occupation. “Winter always was Russia’s best friend,” say the bourgeoisie. “It may rid us of this cursed Revolution.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Despair Foments Rebellion

Winter, sweeping down out of the North, hailed by the privileged, brings terror to the suffering masses. As the mercury drops toward zero, the prices of food and fuel go soaring up. The bread ration grows shorter. The queues of shivering women standing all night in the icy streets grow longer. Lockouts and strikes add to the millions of workless. The rancor in the hearts of the masses flares out in bitter speeches like this from a Vyborg workingman:

“Patience, patience, they are always counseling us. But what have they done to make us patient? Has Kerensky given us more to eat than the Tsar? More words and promises–yes! But not more food. All night long we wait in the lines for shoes and bread and meat, while, like fools, we write ‘Liberty’ on our banners. The only liberty we have is the same old liberty to slave and starve.”

It is a sorry showing after eight months of pleading and parading thru the streets. All they have got are lame feet, aching arms, and the privilege of starving and freezing in the presence of mocking red banners: “Land to the Peasants!” “Factories to the Workers!” “Peace to all the World!”

But no longer do they carry their red banners thru the streets. They are done with appealing and beseeching. In a mood born of despair and disillusion they are acting now–reckless, violent, iconoclastic, but–acting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Derek Robinson, the CP and the decline of the BL stewards movement

October 31, 2017 at 4:17 pm (Brum, CPB, good people, history, Jim D, RIP, unions, workers)

Derek Robinson, trade unionist and Communist Party member, 1927 – 2017

Derek Robinson with Phyllis Davis and Leslie Huckfield, the then Labour MP for Nuneaton in 1979
Above: Derek Robinson leads a demo in the late 1970s (to his left, Les Huckfield MP)

For a brief period in the 1970’s, Derek Robinson (who has died, aged 90) was widely regarded as the most powerful trade unionist in Britain. Yet he was wasn’t a full-time official, but a shop steward (albeit a convenor, or senior steward, allowed time off ‘the job’, by management, to devote himself full-time, to union duties).

His downfall, and that of the shop stewards movement he led, is worth recalling because one day our class will rise again and start exerting the kind of influence it did in the 1960s and 70s: we must not repeat the mistakes that were made then. I was a shop steward at the same car plant as Robinson (Longbridge, Birmingham) in the 1970s, and was one of those who went on the picket line when he was sacked in 1979. If some of what I say below about Derek seems harsh, it’s because it’s essential that the political lessons are learnt. I would like to make it clear that I have never doubted or questioned Derek’s personal integrity nor his commitment to trade unionism, socialism, and the working class. I should also add that although we frequently clashed in the 1970s, when we occasionally met in later years Derek was unfailingly friendly and unsectarian.

In 1974 British Leyland (as it then was) went onto the rocks as a result of years of under-investment and over-generous payouts to shareholders. Tony Benn described a meeting with union leaders shortly after Labour narrowly won the February 1974 election and formed a minority government: “170,000 people were involved and they thought that government intervention was inevitable.” They were right: when the company went bust the Wilson government promptly nationalised it.

The difference between the response of the Wilson government of the mid-’70s and the Blair government that presided over the terminal decline and eventual closure of Rover between 2000  and 2005 can be explained in part by the global ascendency of neo-liberal economics and the corresponding transformation in official Labour politics. But abstract ideology is not the decisive factor (after all, Heath’s Tory government nationalised Rolls Royce in 1971). The crucial factor is the strength of the organised working class as a whole and, specifically, within the threatened workplaces.

In 1974 our class was strong and the Longbridge plant was probably the most powerfully organised (as well as the largest) workplace in Britain. The story of the Longbridge shop stewards’ movement contains important lessons for a generation of trade unionists who have known little but the defeats and humiliations of the last thirty years or so.

The shop stewards’ movement

Longbridge had been gradually unionised after World War Two. Communist Party members played a central role, often risking their jobs in the process. The plant’s first recognised union convenor, Dick Ethridge, was a CP member and in those days it seemed a natural step for active, militant trade unionists in the plant to join the Party. By the 1960s, the Party had a factory branch numbering around 50, and sales of the Daily Worker (later Morning Star) inside the plant (not on the gates) were in the hundreds. Management once tried to prevent sales by seizing a bundle of Workers and were forced to back down by immediate strike action.

The CP’s influence went far beyond its formal membership and permeated the entire Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee (JSSC), numbering around 500 stewards from the AEU, TGWU, Vehicle Builders, Electricians and the multitude of smaller white and blue collar manufacturing unions like the Sheet Metal Workers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bombardier ruling exposes stupidity of anti-EU claims of left and right

September 27, 2017 at 10:37 am (Brexit, Canada, capitalism, economics, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, nationalism, populism, United States, workers)

People work on a C Series aeroplane wing in the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland September 26, 2017
Above: Bombardier workers at the Belfast plant

America’s Department of Commerce has made a preliminary finding that the Canadian company Bombardier had received unfair state subsidies and sold below cost.

It has now imposed a 219.63% countervailing duty on Bombardier’s new commercial jets, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Bombardier, the largest employer in Northern Ireland with a workforce of 4,100, describes the contract as “critical” to its operations.

The US International Trade Commission will now consider the case ahead of a final ruling in February.

The dispute centres on the sale of 125 C-Series airliners, the wings for which are made in Northern Ireland.

Boeing alleges that the subsidies Bombardier receives from the UK and Canadian governments mean it is launching its new C series jets below cost in the US, and so the US trade authorities should impose tariffs.

Boeing had accused its much smaller rival of “price dumping” to win a lucrative contract from the American carrier Delta. The US aerospace giant claimed each jet cost $33m (£25m) to produce, but that Bombardier had sold them for $20m (£15m) each.

Bombardier also disputes claims that support it had received from governments – £75m from the UK and $1bn (£745m) from Quebec was illegal.

Bombardier says Boeing’s position is hypocritical and absurd – hypocritical because Boeing prices its new planes very cheaply at launch, and because Boeing has received huge subsidies from the US government over the years; and absurd because Boeing is claiming to be damaged by Bombardier’s sales even though Boeing does not sell any competing planes of a similar size and has not done so for a decade.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now said the Canadian air force will not buy Boeing’s Super Hornet jets from “a company that’s busy trying to sue us and put our aerospace workers out of business.” Theresa May, in turn, has said she will raise the issue with the famously protectionist Donald Trump when she grovels to him later this week at the UN.

This case provides a classic demonstration of the stupidity of those (on both left and right), who try to make out that the EU is the major obstacle that a British government faces (or would face) if it tried to give state aid to particular industries. Both supporters of Theresa May’s “industrial strategy” and of Jeremy Corbyn’s interventionist industrial policy have suggested that, when the UK leaves the EU, it will have greater freedom to apply state aid. But in a capitalist world, state aid may still come into conflict with new trade deals if one side or the other decides that such government intervention provides a legitimate reason to impose tariffs.

Some sectors of the economy (of which aerospace is just one) have very significant government involvement almost by their nature. In such cases it may be very difficult to treat trade disputes as “purely commercial” matters. As things stand, it will be the US trade authorities that decide on the Boeing-Bombardier dispute.

In any future US-UK trade deal, would we want US and UK courts deciding these matters, or would some joint arbitration body be a better way to adjudicate? This issue places May and the Tory anti-EU fanatics in a very difficult position, given their hostility to the ECJ and (presumably) any other supranational court with national jurisdiction.

Maybe post-Brexit the little-Britainers of left and right will stop complaining about “Brussels” interfering with national governments and start complaining about “Washington”, “Geneva” … and, indeed “the rest of the world”?

  • JD acknowledges the use of information from a piece by Andrew Lilico at City A.M. in the preparation of this post.

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Addison Lee drivers are workers, rules tribunal

September 26, 2017 at 4:59 pm (law, posted by JD, transport, workers)

Employment law barrister Daniel Barnett writes:

Most readers will be aware that yesterday an employment tribunal ruled that Addison Lee drivers are workers, not self-employed. The judgment is here.

Meanwhile, Uber’s appeal against the decision that its drivers are workers begins tomorrow in the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Yesterday’s news makes this paragraph in Uber’s skeleton argument somewhat unfortunate:

holdingimage160.jpg

 

 

[Thanks to Leigh Day and Rachel Farr for the above information]

See also: The Spectator, how Addison Lee became bad news for London drivers

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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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Brexit bonfire of workers’ rights

September 12, 2017 at 9:36 am (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, immigration, Migrants, posted by JD, scotland, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

 


Published in the Morning Star, Saturday 9th Sep 2017
As Brexit moves closer to Brexit, protecting workers’ rights must be foremost in our minds, says LARRY FLANAGAN

AS THE reality of Brexit moves ever closer, concern continues to grow within the trade union movement about the implications for employee rights.

With many of the rights and protections afforded to workers in this country deriving from EU legislation, questions arise about what will change once the UK is no longer bound by European directives.

Little comfort is gained from Tory government claims that its European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will seamlessly repeal EU laws and replace them with new versions which will become incorporated into UK statute.

Recent experience of other prominent attempts to simultaneously “repeal and replace” major pieces of legislation suggests that the loss of binding EU commitments will place many aspects of employment law at risk, subject to the political whims of government.

Post-Brexit, important gains in employee rights — such as health and safety protections, rights for temporary workers and paid maternity and paternity leave — are ripe for attack by right-wing politicians.

Britain has not always been at the forefront of initiatives to improve employment protections, particularly in comparison with the rest of Europe, so it is difficult to see an emboldened political right suddenly changing tack once EU safeguards are removed.

Britain has long had some of the most obstructive anti-trade union laws in Europe, and the obstacles facing unions grew even more daunting with the Tory government’s 2016 Trade Union Reform Act.

This highly restrictive Act, disingenuously portrayed by the right as a progressive piece of reform, is a politically motivated attack on the ability of employees to campaign through their unions.

In the context of Brexit and the Westminster government’s attack on trade unions through the Trade Union Act, it is essential that unions organise and that members are fully informed and engaged in the work of their own union.

The Educational Institute of Scotland will shortly launch a ballot on the renewal of its political fund — another restrictive aspect of British trade union law that obliges all unions which wish to campaign, on any political issue, to operate a distinct fund for the purpose and to ballot on its retention every 10 years.

Given the current political climate, union campaigning is perhaps more important than at any time this century so it is vital that the EIS, and other unions, maintain this political campaigning role. One slightly unexpected positive of the government’s Trade Union Act is that it has placed a spotlight on the value of unions, led by an active membership base, in protecting employee rights.

Although the government’s intent was to weaken union effectiveness, the legislation has provided a jolt and reminded members of the importance of being active in their union.

A key issue for the movement must be the rights of people from other EU countries who have chosen to come to live and work in Britain.

These continue to be at risk as a result of Brexit, despite some attempts to assuage concerns on this issue.

It is deeply distressing that many people who have chosen to make Britain their home, and who have made a positive contribution to many aspects of society, are being treated as pawns in political posturing and Brexit-induced haggling.

The fact is that many of these workers are fulfilling vital roles in our society and in our economy, including in our public services such as health and education, and do not deserve to be treated in this way by our government and demonised as they are by many in the tabloid media.

From the perspective of Scotland, migration is essential to the future economic prosperity of the country.

This year’s Trade Union Congress provides an important forum for unions and members to work together to stand up for employee rights, and to send a message that we will continue to fight for our members in the run-up to Brexit and beyond.

  • Larry Flanagan is general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

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Musicians must be free to travel in Europe

September 11, 2017 at 7:40 am (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, culture, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, music, posted by JD, unions, workers)


published in the Morning Star

Saturday 9th Sept 2017

Freedom of movement in Europe is a vital concern for performers who tour, writes HORACE TRUBRIDGE


THE fact that most unions here at the TUC Conference have put forward motions on Brexit shows just how important the issue of leaving the EU is to workers.

At the Musicians’ Union (MU), we have some very specific concerns that go right to the heart of what our members do and how they work.

Most professional musicians and performers rely on touring and travelling as part of their careers. Many of the MU’s 30,000 members work in Europe either on a freelance basis with orchestras, touring as an individual or group or working for theatre producers or orchestras on touring productions.

Some performers can be working in several different European countries over the course of a few days, and gigs or tours are sometimes arranged at very short notice, so the possible introduction of work permissions and/or visas for British performers touring and working in Europe could be extremely detrimental. Individuals without representation or financial backing are likely to struggle the most with the extra costs and admin that this might entail.

The vote to leave the EU is already having an impact in this area: the European Union Baroque Orchestra has already left the UK for Antwerp, in part due to concerns over restricted freedom of movement for working musicians.

In a post-Brexit Europe will a European festival find it easier to give the gig to a French band rather than a British band? That is my fear.

The MU is campaigning for reciprocal free movement for musicians and performers across the EU’s 27 member states, in the form of an exemption from visa and work permit rules for performers.

Over the past couple of months, we have been asking MPs and peers to sign up to a pledge — to ensure that professional musicians and performers continue to be able to travel easily across Europe post-Brexit for time-limited activities such as touring and performing with minimum administrative burdens.

To date, more than 80 MPs and peers have signed up to our pledge and we will be working with them to help ensure that musicians continue to be able to do their jobs post-Brexit.

Of course freedom of movement is not the only concern that we have associated with Brexit. The majority of copyright law that protects performers’ rights is enshrined in European law, and although we have had assurances that the government does not intend to reduce copyright protections post-Brexit, there are as yet no guarantees on that front.

Equally, the arts currently receive a great deal of funding from the EU. The loss of European Social Funds for arts organisations is going to hit particularly hard.

There are a number of regional music organisations that have been sustained by European Social Funding (ESF) that will see that money cease with very little chance of the shortfall being picked up by local authorities or central government.

During 2014-2020, the ESF and European Regional Development Fund were due to invest around €11.8 billion across the UK. How much of that money we will still receive remains to be seen.

The MU was vehemently against Brexit right from the start, not just for the reasons I have listed so far, but because Brexit threatens the whole culture of our country.

Music, and the performing arts more generally, rely on exchange of ideas and interaction between performers of different nationalities. Music flourishes in an open world with no borders — not a closed-off island that looks inward on itself.

Many of our members are themselves European citizens who have chosen to base themselves in Britain. They contribute massively to the culture and the economic success of our country. What does the future hold for them?

I haven’t even touched on the more general concerns about workers’ rights that we share with our brothers and sisters from other unions; concerns which I am sure will be discussed at length over the course of this conference.

The future looks bleak. And at the MU we would dearly love to see more MPs fighting against what most seem to have accepted as an inevitability. But musicians have faced many great challenges in the past, and we will meet this one just the same. My only hope is that we are able to reach an agreement that does not leave musicians, and the culture of our country, poorer.

  • Horace Trubridge is general secretary of the Musicians’ Union.

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