Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.
In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.
He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.
McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.
The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest post by Mick Rice
A CUNNING PLAN?
|McCluskey: ultra left?|
In 1968 I became a socialist. In 1969 I joined the trade union movement. In 1970 I got a job as a Research Officer for my union, the AEU.
One of my tasks was to prepare a report on what had happened to the union’s policies. In 1969 the union had sent a motion to the Labour party requesting an incoming Labour Government to nationalise the British chemical industry. I phoned the Labour party to find out what had happened. I was put through to Margaret Jackson (subsequently Margaret Beckett ) in the Research Department. Now I have a bit of a soft spot for Margaret Beckett as any politician who admits to ordinary enjoyments (she is a caravan holiday enthusiast) cannot, in my book, be all bad.
She told me – one researcher to another as it were – that the Labour party conference arrangements committee would have merged all such motions into a great big composite. The composite motion would have been written to sound as radical as possible whilst committing the Labour party to nothing whatsoever. The motion would have been rendered meaningless. I was shocked – I was still quite young – that I actually asked why the Labour party would do such a thing. She told me that an incoming Labour Government always sought maximum freedom to do as it pleased. The Labour leadership didn’t want to be saddled with policies decided by members and the unions. She was just telling me how it was and I do not believe that she was a supporter of such behaviour.
I had suspected that the Labour party was not quite “what you see is what you get”, but I was now made privy to the dark arts of political chicanery and double-dealing. Labour, then as now, was a top-down organisation where the members do the work to maintain a “Westminster elite”.
If anything it has become worse. Shortly before the 1997 election how we all ached for a Labour Government. Eighteen years of Tory rule had almost been too much – immigration or Dignitas beckoned if the Tories won a fifth term!
After a hard day’s campaigning one of my mates opined: “You know after 6 months of a Labour Government we are going to feel terribly let down”. The tragedy was that we all knew that it would be true.
In government, the Labour leadership maintained a vice like grip over the party machine and ensured that only its supporters were selected as parliamentary candidates. Some of us thought that things would loosen up a bit once we were in opposition – but not a bit of it. In Falkirk the disgraced Labour MP announced that he would not stand again following his arrest for a punch up in a House of Commons bar. My trade union, Unite, sought to secure the nomination for a union friendly candidate.
The Chair of the constituency Labour party, Steven Deans, who was also a union convenor at Ineos, campaigned to recruit more trade union members into the party. The right wing leadership was horrified as this would mean that their favoured candidate would probably lose. In consequence Ed Milliband called in the Police to investigate Steven Deans for potential fraudulent recruitment! The Police found “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution (basically he had done nothing wrong). By this time his employer had sacked him. Clearly Ineos were encouraged in their anti union victimization by the way the Ed Milliband treated Comrade Deans.
As far as I am aware the Labour party never apologised for its treatment of Steven Deans!
Political bodies are never willing to amend their constitutions when they are winning elections. After all there can be no justification for improving internal democracy when the electors support you! But next year in Scotland the SNP are likely to do very well – some polls indicate that Labour will lose 37 of its 41 Westminster MPs!
Len McCluskey, forced a fresh general secretary election last year because he believed that the union should not be distracted by an internal election campaign around the time of the general election. His re-election means he has a further 2 years as general secretary. He also said that if Labour loses that Unite could disaffiliate and support a new Workers’ Party. It is not often that union general secretaries can be criticised for ultra-leftism, but McCluskey is wrong, a thousand times wrong! Instead of asking union members to disaffiliate he should ask Unite’s Scottish levy payers the simple question:
Do you want the Scottish Labour party to be an independent body?
With the “vested interests” significantly cut back through electoral defeat in Scotland the trade union component of the party must have greater weight! Accordingly, most affiliated unions in Scotland would follow Unite’s lead and do likewise.
Even if Labour doesn’t lose the election and forms a coalition with the LibDems, or has a confidence and supply deal with the SNP, who have vowed never to support a Tory government, Unite should still raise this with its Scottish members.
Of course, an independent Scottish Labour party must also mean that the English and Welsh parties would become independent also. At one stroke the Westminster elite of careerists, ne’er-do-wells and apparatchiks that has dominated the party for so long would be dealt a death blow! Of course there is nothing to stop the new independent Scottish Labour party seeking electoral packs with its sister parties in the UK but control would be in Scotland and the leadership would be in Edinburgh! It will be somewhat easier to ensure leadership accountability on a more local basis and it will also mean that power right across the party will become regional.
Just at a time when Labour becomes more amenable to trade union interests, McCluskey is suggesting abandoning the historic party of the labour movement and setting up a new Workers’ Party.
Members of Unite should force him to see sense.
Affiliated unions in Scotland can change the party for good
Given the present state of British politics, and the present state of the Labour Party, it’s safe to say that Labour was never going to win the Rochester and Strood byelection.
Mind you, it’s worth remembering that maverick Labour leftist Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituency from 1997 until the last election, and though there have been boundary changes, Rochester is a solidly working class constituency.
But this time Labour knew that the predominantly white electors, with their concerns about immigration and misinformed scepticism towards Europe, were not going to vote Labour in sufficient numbers for the party to regain the seat. UKIP were always favourites to win, but at least Labour could comfort itself with the thought that the Tories were going to be the main losers and suffer the biggest humiliation.
That was until Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, and Labour MP for Islington South, tweeted the picture above, accompanied by the words “Image from Rochester”: the accompanying sneer could not be seen, but was all too obvious.
The wise and perceptive Anne Perkins commented in the Graun:
“It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years. It’s already being described as the party’s “47%” moment – a reference to the observation that nailed shut the lid on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, when he dismissed the 47% of American voters who wouldn’t ever back the Republicans.
“It is really quite hard to come up with a more lethal tweet to send out to the party’s core vote on polling day.”
Mark Reckless’s comments on deporting EU migrants have shown that he is, essentially, a racist and (Farage’s half-hearted denial of this being UKIP true policy, notwithstanding) so is UKIP as a whole. But not all – or even most – of the people who vote UKIP are hardened racists.
To sneer at working class people who choose to display the St George flag and happen to own a white van, is to display a degree of patronising, middle class arrogance that only a particularly stupid New Labour career politician could possibly come out with.
As Ms Perkins notes, “One click, just one click, that’s all it takes. Ed Miliband’s Labour is once again the party of the metropolitan elite.”
P.S: At least Skinner’s back on form as he denounces Reckless and Carswell in the Commons: here
Let’s make this the start of a real fightback on pay
Local Government and School workers’ unofficial blog (GMB, Unison, Unite), here
Cross-posted from Local Government Worker Activists , a new unoffical blog for Local Government and School workers (whether in GMB, Unison and Unite) to organise to defend members terms and conditions and coordinate a rank and file network against cuts, for decent pay and conditions and against privatisation and the break up of local government.
The pay proposals from the local government employers are rubbish now and rubbish in the future.
In the current year the new pay proposals from the local government employers offer;
- No more money in 2014/15 than if we had accepted the employers’ first offer for everyone who earns more than £430.41 gross a week;
- A pittance extra in 2014/15 for those earning less – barely enough to buy a round of drinks and much less than has been lost by those who took strike action on 10 July;
- Coming nowhere near our objective of a flat rate increase of at least one pound an hour;
- Failing to achieve the living wage for workers up to spine point 10.
Comparing the proposals to the original offer in 2014/15 (national pay spine) at various points demonstrates just how trivial the “gain” for the lowest paid is in these proposals compared to the previous offer;
|Spine point||Value of previous offer £pa||Value of “proposal” £pa||Gain £pa||Equivalent gain per month||Equivalent gain per week|
Even for those who make some gain in 2014/15, this is far less then the cost of having taken a day’s strike action on 10 July (based on the national pay spine);
|Spine point||Gain||Deduction at 1/365th||Deduction at 1/260th|
Rubbish in the future
The proposal doesn’t achieve the living wage or anything like it.
For the low paid, we sought to achieve the living wage of £7.65 per hour (£14,759 a year, for a full-time worker based upon a 37 hour week). The “proposal” leaves everyone on spine point 10 and below earning less than the living wage (set in October 2014) until at least April 2016.
The proposal does nothing to make up for the decline in our earnings.
The UNISON online pay calculator shows how much worse off we are as a result of the pay freeze. A worker earning £12,435 (well below the living wage) is £2,248 a year worse off but is being offered only £1,065 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016. A worker earning £24,982 is £4,905 a year worse off but is being offered only £547.62 to make up for this, with nothing more until April 2016.
The proposal does not break the Government’s 1% pay policy.
The appearance of a 2.2% increase in 2015/16 can only be achieved by sleight of hand, ignoring the fact that this is a two year deal (paid nine months late) and that the very worst we could have expected anyway, without any campaign or industrial action, would have been two successive 1% pay awards, which together would have been worth a combined 2.01% anyway. A settlement on the basis of this “proposal” would be gambling away our opportunity to fight for a decent pay rise in 2015 (a year in which a General Election will be fought in large part on the issue of living standards) in return for an increase 0.19% larger than the worst we could otherwise have expected.
|Spine point (national pay spine)||Annual salary in 2015/16 under the “proposal” £pa||Annual salary in 2015/16 based upon two 1% increases £pa||Benefit of the “proposal” £pa in 2015/16||Monthly benefit of the “proposal” in 2015/16||Weekly benefit of the “proposal” in 2015/16|
* facebook group – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Local-Government-workers-deserve-a-decent-pay-rise/590019704361076?fref=ts from which people can download placard covers, leaflets for the TUC demo, etc.
We carried a piece honouring Comrade Tom shortly after his death in August. But this appreciation, which also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, is the best and most politically astute article about Tom I’ve yet seen. It is also very moving and the author, Mick O’Sullivan, was probably Tom’s oldest and closest political friend. I’m proud to be able to post it here at Shiraz, with the author’s unhesitating agreement:
I knew Tom as a friend and comrade since the early
Tom was someone who had a hinterland; his interests
spanned good whiskey, particle physics, a love of Sean
O’Casey’s plays, modernist architecture, and an encyclopaedic
knowledge of schisms in the Catholic Church,
which quite frankly bemused me. Tom was a very rounded
person and a very humorous one.
But I want to say something about Tom the public man.
Tom was a Marxist, an atheist and trade unionist who dedicated
his life to the working class and had an unwavering
conviction that socialism was the only hope of humanity.
Tom’s main arena of activity was within the unions and
in particular the T&G [later Unite].
Although he was active in the 1970s, his misfortune was
to come of age when the union movement was in decline.
That, however, was the movement’s gain. It meant much of
his activity was about holding the line; he did this by explaining
to those who had forgotten, and those who had
never known, what a trade union should do, and how a
trade unionist should conduct themselves.
He often made the point to me that there were no shortcuts,
no tricks to this, all we can do is talk and explain.
What I think gave his approach such a sharp edge was his
decision to consistently tell the truth. Now some may say
so what, what’s the big deal about telling the truth? Well,
all I can say is, you try it inside a trade union.
Talking, explaining and saying what needs to be done
next is what Tom did, and others will testify to his importance
within the T&G and its left.
However Tom was also vilified for his views. While we
often joked about this, the wellspring of this enmity towards
him arose from what he stood for.
If you think about it, there were always going to be those
who did not like the fact he was principled, that he fought
against Stalinist influence within the union, that he was incorruptible;
the idea that a trip to Cuba or America would
turn his head and him into someone’s creature was never
going to happen, although I have seen people try. On the
most mundane of levels there were those who resented
him because he always turned up to meetings having read
the paperwork, and they had not.
For all these reasons people kicked against Tom, yet in all
the years I knew him I never once heard him get angry
about such people; his duty was to explain. His political
enemies and comrades were a different matter. He was always
ready to have the argument.
Of course there are many trade unionists with similar
qualities. However no-one exhibited these qualities in quite
the same way or with quite the same mix as Tom.
In our world where we measure our actions and our victories
in a lower case, Tom played a huge role in holding
the movement together and provided real insights in how
we should rebuild it.
I cannot think of anyone who has acquitted themselves
in our cause with greater dedication. As for me
I have lost a dear friend and the staunchest of comrades
Support the online campaigns!
- International Union of Foodworkers – http://www.labourstart.org/go/hkiuf
- Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions – http://www.labourstart.org/go/hkctu
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) – the only independent union in China – has called for workers to strike in support of the democracy movement as mass civil disobedience actions come under heavy police attack. The Swire Beverages (Coca-Cola) union and the HKCTU unions of school teachers and dockers are striking and will be joined by other member unions.
Tensions have been building in Hong Kong since the August 31 government announcement that candidates for the position of Chief Executive would have to be vetted and approved by a pro-business, pro-Beijing committee.
The protests, originally organized by the students’ federation and the Occupy Central coalition, have drawn increasing numbers of supporters. The mainland government has harshly condemned the protestors’ demands and the “illegal” protests.
On September 28, the HKCTU declared “we cannot let the students fight alone”, and called for workers to strike in support of 4 demands: the immediate release of all the arrested, an end to the suppression of peaceful assembly, replacing the “fake universal suffrage” formula with the genuine political reform workers have been demanding, and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying.
The HKCTU has been the backbone of the democracy movement, before and following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. Their courageous action deserves the support of trade unions everywhere.
Show your support – click on the links above.
Then, spread the word – via facebook, tweets, etc.
(right: Marx addresses the inaugural meeting of the First International)
150 years ago today the First International (the ‘International Working Men’s Association’ ) was in founded in London by the likes of Marx, Engels and Bakunin. It earned establishment hatred for its support for the Paris Commune in 1871.
Today, in Kobanê, northern Syria, Kurdish women and men are heroically resisting the barbarous forces of ISIS – with almost no international support.
Don’t believe the media hype about US air strikes – in Syrian Kurdistan these have so far been minimal and ineffective, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan where US jets have protected Erbil, a city of Western consulates and oil companies.
ISIS in Syrian Kurdistan is using US tanks and heavy artillery seized when it captured Mosul in northern Iraq. It spreads inhuman terror: when these mercenaries captured one Syrian Kurd village last week they decapitated a disabled woman who had no legs.
The brave Kurds of the YPG/YPJ are resisting with AK47s and largely home-made armour. And with their hearts.
They draw courage from their national pride and their democratic, secular, egalitarian values. The same values that inspired those internationalists who gathered in London on 28 September 1864. And those who went to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
What about us, today?