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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Patriotic, pro-Tory Morning Star obliged to publish anti-Brexit views … to keep afloat

September 10, 2017 at 8:57 pm (Anti-Racism, CPB, Europe, immigration, Migrants, nationalism, posted by JD, unions, workers)


The lineup’s changed a bit since 1975, but the Morning Star/CPB remain staunchly little-England

After having backed the Tories against Labour over Brexit, and siding with David Davis against the foreign menace, it must have come hard for the loyal, patriotic and thoroughly nationalist Morning Star (second only to the Daily Mail in anti-European fervour), to have to publish some pieces opposing Brexit.

But the Morning Star’s difficulty is that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it depends upon the union bureaucracy to keep afloat: and that means publishing what they say, even when it goes against the patriotic stance of the Morning Star‘s political masters, the Communist Party of Britain, which hates Europe and all things European.

So, in Saturday’s Morning Star there were four pieces by union leaders (Horace Trubridge of the MU, Larry Flanagan of the EIS, Manuel Cortes of the TSSA, and Gail Cartmail of Unite), all of which oppose Brexit.

I’m sure the Morning Star won’t mind us republishing their articles, starting with Manual Cortes‘s:

If we on the left don’t take a united front position against Tory Brexit, it’ll help sink our people, says MANUEL CORTES


BREXIT ain’t the route to socialism in one country. Still less to world revolution. Disagreements over the best option for our class has split sections of the left since the referendum was announced.

Sadly, many have been slow to get to grips with the realpolitik, continuing to rehash the 1970s anti-joining positions without much regard for how 30 years of neoliberalism have changed the balance of forces for our side.

Those who thought that the referendum outcome would be Remain weren’t the only ones who failed to anticipate the Leave vote.

Neither did Nigel Farage or the three muppeteers Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox, who are committing political hara-kiri on Britain’s behalf on a daily basis.

The trouble is, if we on the left don’t take a united front position against Tory Brexit, it’ll help sink our people.

Just like when Labour helped to prosecute the war with Iraq, we must oppose Tory Brexit because it’s “not in our name.”

Our union was resolutely in favour of remaining. Not because the EU offers any road to a socialist nirvana. But because we feared, rightly, that in Tory hands, Brexit would do more harm than good to working people.

Handing the Tories carte blanche for Brexit and subsequent trade deals is like TTIP on steroids, which ain’t good class politics. Not for ours, anyway.

From the perspective of TSSA members working on Eurostar, acquiescing to Tory plans to restrict free movement is to conspire with those in the boss class who seek to divide worker from worker by accident of birth.

Socialists shouldn’t be resurrecting borders that lock workers out of Britain or, for that matter, confine ours to our soil. Never mind one that could reignite a volatile situation in Ireland where our union organises workers from Cork to Belfast.

Looking at restricting free movement is already damaging our living standards and public services as EU citizen workers head elsewhere.

It is a sad fact that some of the people most concerned about immigration — those left behind by globalisation — are the first to be impacted by the flight of EU workers.

In less than a year the rate of EU nurses coming to work in the UK has fallen from 1,304 to just 46 this April.

The Health Foundation said there was a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone, adding that the NHS could not afford such a drop.

Last year we hosted some 85,000 seasonal workers through the autumn but now fruit is already withering on the vine and the price of homegrown produce is rising because 26,000 fewer agricultural workers are coming from eastern Europe.

Recruitment agencies report being hard-pressed to come up with half that number for this coming season.

The University and College Union is worried about the impact in education. Short-term employment contracts already make higher education a precarious employer so EU nationals, uncertain about their settlement rights, are now choosing to work elsewhere in Europe. Care homes are also in recruitment crisis and unable to access the labour force needed for our old folk.

Brexit is an economic disaster in the making as inflation is already rising and real wages are falling.

Worse is yet to come if we end up having to import even more food if there aren’t enough workers to pick and process food on our shores. And a Tory dog-eat-dog immigration policy will simply let the forces of reaction triumph. Building on the For The Many pledges in Labour’s 2017 manifesto we must continue to signal Labour’s route map to a new economic settlement which ensures noone is left behind.

Let’s put down those shameful “immigration control” mugs and refuse to let migrants be the scapegoats for the many ills we are facing.

The Tories’ “post-Brexit” plans for immigration will make our country poorer and even more divided. Wages will go further down because as the TUC has already warned, “illegal immigration” will rise, leaving more workers with no rights and no minimum wage.

Tory Brexit cheerleaders want to create a US-style labour market, where millions of so-called “illegals” toil hard to keep the biggest economy in the world motoring.

They have no rights and the fear of deportation means they can’t take on their bosses. The authorities pretend to clamp down, but in effect they turn a blind eye as the US economy will collapse without them. This is illegality by design which only benefits the bosses.

Morning Star readers know that the Tories really don’t give a monkey’s about immigration provided it gives capital a pool of cheap labour to boost their profits.

So far they have partly achieved this through deregulating our labour market. Brexit is them seizing their opportunity to create an underground economy in which workers don’t stand up to bosses because the penalty is deportation.

It’s time to call the Tories out on their intentions. Their leaked immigration policy, though a dogwhistle for xenophobes, is clearly in the economic interests of capital. Time now to stop shadow boxing and get stuck in.

The antidote to the Tories’ freemarket craziness is not restriction of free movement but an end to workers’ exploitation through labour market regulation, a living wage of at least £10 an hour and a trade union in every workplace.

The Tories seek to divide us. Our job is to create unity and build on Marx’s original vision of a world without borders where workers of all lands unite!

  • Manuel Cortes is general secretary of transport union TSSA.

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Defend Reza Shahabi and all detained Iranian trade unionists

September 10, 2017 at 2:46 pm (Human rights, Iran, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, thuggery, unions, workers)

The following report is based upon information received from the Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign, dating from 31 August 2017. Presumably, the situation will now be even worse:

After 24 days on hunger strike Reza Shahabi’s health is deteriorating. His condition is now said to be serious.

Reza Shahabi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company, was ordered to return to prison on August 8th. According to a report by this trade union, Mr Shahabi began his hunger strike protest on August 8th as he entered Rejai Shahr prison in Karaj. He is protesting about the legality of his case and prison conditions.

On August 12th the Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company issued a statement regarding the return of Reza Shahabi to prison, saying that the Tehran Prosecutor’s Office acted against the law in not considering Reza’s medical leave as part of serving his sentence and also building a made-up case against him while he was in prison. As a result this labour activist has been sentenced to a further year in prison: “Even though medical leave is counted as part of a prison term, the Prosecutor’s Office is considering this jailed toiling worker’s five months’ medical leave, which had been approved by the medical authorities previously, as absence. In addition, while serving his prison term, through building a made-up case, the court sentenced Shahabi to a further year’s imprisonment to follow immediately after the previous conviction and Shahabi must be held in prison for another year and five months, until January 8th 2019.”

Reza Shahabi is now said to be suffering from numbness in various parts of his body. According to reports, in recent days, due to the increased physical and psychological pressures of the hunger strike, he is losing, or has lost, sensitivity in his left side. This problem is more pronounced in the fingers of his left hand.

According to the prison infirmary, where Mr Shahabi was examined during recent days, his loss of sensitivity needs to be examined by a specialist. Rejai Shahr prison neither has any doctor with this specialism nor have any steps been taken to take him to a health centre outside the prison.

Reza Shahabi is part of a large number of political prisoners in Rejai Shahr who are on hunger strike as a protest against conditions inside this notorious jail. Other hunger strikes whose health is deteriorating include: Saeed Masouri, Saeed Shirzad, Shahin Zoghitabar, Reza Akbari Mofared, Abolghasem Fouladvand, Hassan Sadeghi, Mohammad Nazari, Payam Shakiba, Mohammad Banazadeh, Amir Khizi and Mohammad Ali (Pirouz) Mansouri.

Already many labour organisations have supported Reza Shahabi and demanded his release. These include five French trade unions and confederations: Confédération générale du travail (CGT), Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT), Union Nationale des Syndicats Autonomes (UNSA), Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques (SUD) and Fédération Syndicale Unitaire (FSU).

The International Federation of Transport Workers (ITF) has also demanded that Reza Shahabi and Ebrahim Madadi, a fellow Vahed activist, be released.

Free all jailed workers and labour activists now!

Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign
31 August 2017

Source: Harana News Agency and Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company

Add your name to Labourstart‘s campaign, here

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Labour must help McDonalds workers win!

September 4, 2017 at 2:11 pm (campaigning, Human rights, labour party, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers, youth)

By Maisie Sanders (Lewisham Young Labour) and Gareth Lane (Bakers’ Union) at The Clarion

On 4 September, McDonalds’s workers in the UK will go on strike for the first time.They are striking for £10 an hour, secure contracts with guaranteed hours and union recognition.

Forty members of the Bakers’, Food and Allied Workers’ Union at McDonald’s branches in Cambridge and Crayford in South East London have voted to strike for these demands, as well as grievances over bullying of union activists by management — with over 95% in favour.

Labour, committed to scrap zero hours contracts and a £10 an hour minimum wage, must rally round the strike and help spread its example.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have both said they support the strike and will be there on 4 September. Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner has pledged to join the picket line and other MPs have stated support, including former McDonald’s worker Laura Pidcock of North West Durham. But we need more, from the whole party and labour movement.

According to Cambridge McDonald’s workers, a third of workers there have recently had their hours cut without warning, leaving many unable to pay their rent. As Tom Halliday, a Cambridge worker, put it: “McDonald’s is a multinational corporation with unacceptable working conditions. We are asking to be treated with dignity and to be paid a decent wage, and for our right to form a union to be recognized by our employer. We believe it is our right to ask for a fair treatment for the hard work we perform”.

Fast food workers are terribly treated all over the world – but their fight is global too. BFAWU activists have taken inspiration from the ‘Fight for $15’ strike campaign in the US, as well as New Zealand fast food workers’struggles. Strikes in New Zealand doubled the minimum wage and forced the government to ban zero hour contracts, and won $64 billion in pay rises for three million workers. Global capital can move from country to country quickly, and trade unions need to do the same: workers’ solidarity must be international, and we are more likely to win against multinational corporations like McDonald’s when we coordinate action across borders.The first strike date coincides with Labor Day in the US, and a Fight for $15 national day of action.

Workers in the fast food industry, and in precarious private sector jobs generally, are often seen as impossible to organise. There is a high turnover of staff, workers are often young, significant numbers are migrants, and many live in poverty due to low wages and precarious contracts, working irregular shift patterns and faced with bullying by management.The struggles described above, as well as the recent victories by outsourced, mainly migrant cleaners at SOAS and LSE, prove that precarious, low paid workers can organise themselves into a force that can fight and win.

These workers are the force that, organised and mobilised, can revive the labour movement. These struggles also provide a huge opportunity for organising among the millions of young people who were inspired by Labour’s election campaign, drawing them into the unions, into Labour activism and into socialist politics, and and giving them the confidence and tools to fight back at work.

Young Labour groups and activists, local Labour Parties and Momentum groups should do everything they can to support the strike. Organise fundraisers, invite speakers, put motions for support and donations, go to your local McDonald’s and start to talk to workers so we can spread the strike, and discuss organising in your own workplaces too.

Clarion supporters are raising the issue with motions to both the Labour and Young Labour conferences, but the most important thing is to get activity and links on the ground in as many places possible.

We must build links and solidarity between this dispute and the Picturehouse strikes, cleaners’strikes and as many others as possible.

Meanwhile the Labour left must double down on pushing the party to campaign for repeal of not just the Trade Union Act, but all the antiunion laws, and to restore our right to strike and picket effectively, including in solidarity with others workers. This issue cannot be allowed to drift any longer.

Unless the labour movement wages a serious campaign for free trade unions and a strong right to strike, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back.

• To contact the Bakers’ Food and Allied Workers Union: phone 01707 260 150 or email info@bfawu

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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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Macron launches labour “reforms” – protests already planned

September 2, 2017 at 4:13 pm (Andrew Coates, France, protest, solidarity, unions, workers)

Andrew Coates, who follows French politics very closely, reports at his blog Tendence Coatesy:

First Demo Against Macron’s ‘Reforms’, 12th of September.

Macron’s government unveils controversial labour reforms.

France 24.

After meeting with trade unions on Thursday, the French government unveiled President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial labour reforms, vowing to “free up the energy of the workforce” by making it easier for employers to hire and fire.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud met with trade unionists on Thursday before publicly unveiling the labour reform measures, which are detailed on some 200 pages.

The highly anticipated and controversial labour reforms, a centerpiece of Macron’s election pledge, are aimed at creating jobs.

The changes will be implemented via executive order, allowing Macron to avoid a lengthy parliamentary debate. The overhaul will be adopted by the government in September and must then be ratified by parliament, where the president’s La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) party has a large majority.

Criticism from trade unions

Right after the announcement of the reforms, some unions voiced criticism, denouncing measures that they perceive to be more favourable to companies than to employees.

Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the CGT trade union, lashed out Thursday, saying, “All our fears have been confirmed and the additional fear is obvious and has been written: It’s the end of the working contract.” He qualified the reform as “old recipes which will not change the lot of the people.”

The communist-backed CGT has opposed the changes outright and is set to mobilise its supporters on September 12 for a street protest. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader of France Insoumise (Unbowed France) and a fierce opponent to Macron, is organising another protest on September 23.

France’s biggest private sector union, the CFDT, declared itself “disappointed” but said it would not be calling its members to join the CGT’s planned street protest on September 12.

Nevertheless, the CFDT is unhappy with the level at which dismissal awards in France’s labour courts will be capped, and unhappy with a section of the reforms in which employers will be allowed to negotiate directly with staff in companies with fewer than 20 workers.

The boss of the hard-left Force Ouvrière (FO) union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said he disagreed with some of the changes, but like Berger suggested he would not recommend his members join street protests.

Meanwhile, François Asselin, president of France’s confederation of small and medium-sized companies, the CPME, has praised the reform for being “particularly pragmatic”.

The CGT wants their Day of Action and Strikes  to be the occasion to begin a serious moblisation against Macron’s ‘reforms’. (La CGT veut faire du 12 septembre la journée « contre la réforme du code du travail »)

To the lack of support from the two other main union federations  there is also  this.

La France insoumise (LFI), 17 deputies strong, to repeat, is organising its own demonstration on the 23rd of September, without the unions and any other group on the leftJean-Luc Mélenchon appelle à un “rassemblement populaire” contre la réforme du travail le 23 septembre à Paris.

Macron has already seized on this to declare that Mélenchon   is claiming not just to be the only real opposition to the President but also to be a “rival to the trade unions”. (Mélenchon à la tête de l’opposition ? Une chance, selon Macron.  Le président de la République estime que le leader de la France insoumise se pose en “rival des syndicats” sur la réforme du Code du travail. RTL)

Whether this division exists, or whether the LFI march will have any impact, is not at all sure.

A few days ago the Parti communiste français PCF, which has 11 MPs, and close ties to the CGT,  expressed reservations about this division amongst left parties. Their  leader Pierre Laurent contented himself with noting a “lack of respect” (manque de respect) in the way LFI operates (le Monde. 26.8.17). A young member added, ” that for LFI “everything is built around his personality and his inner circle (tout est construit autour de sa personne et de sa garde rapprochée – literally his “bodyguard”).

One thing is clear: the serious campaign will be launched by the Unions.

By contrast LFI declares that they are leading the movement, ” «Nous proclamons en septembre la mobilisation générale contre le coup d’Etat social»” – we declare in September that there will be a mobilisation in September against the social coup d’Etat by Macron.. La France insoumise suggests that Mélenchon may soon be called for government if Macron is defeated, and they are ready to govern is need be. ” Jean-Luc Mélenchon affirmait ainsi : «Nous sommes prêts à gouverner demain s’il le faut” (Des «élections anticipées», nouveau credo de La France insoumise. Libération).

In the meantime…

For the best analysis of these reforms seems Gérard Filoche:  Leurs mensonges sont énormes, Ils font le pire, ils ont passé le code du travail à l’acide

VIDÉO – Besancenot met en garde Mélenchon : “Personne ne pourra jouer solo”

Nobody can play alone.

As Olivier says, 1) the claim that LFI are the “only” opposition to the government, however much they have wind in their sails, is not the case, and 2) He will not be at the LFI demo since he is not part of LFI and 3) a united social front is what is needed.

http://www.lci.fr/politique/video-besancenot-met-en-garde-melenchon-personne-ne-pourra-la-jouer-solo-2062929.html

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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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Labour Campaign for Free Movement launched

August 5, 2017 at 8:27 am (Anti-Racism, Europe, Human rights, labour party, Migrants, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

By  04/08/2017

MPs and union chiefs call on the party leadership to say it how it is – and to come out fighting for free movement:

A series of leading allies of Jeremy Corbyn, including former shadow cabinet minister Clive Lewis (pictured above) and the leaders of several trade unions, have joined forces to call on the Labour leadership to fight for free movement.

Lewis, the ex-shadow defence secretary, and the general secretaries of the TSSA and Bakers’ Union, as well as MPs David Lammy and Geraint Davies are among the backers of a new campaign which aims to resist the “scapegoating” of migrants by a “political and economic elite”.

The group, entitled Labour Campaign for Free Movement, accuses the Tories of responding to the refugee crisis with “brutality and detention centres” and demands Labour translates into policy its recent “celebration” of the contribution of migrants.

“Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services,” the group wrote in a statement today.

“These are the product of decades of under-investment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.”

The intervention is the latest salvo in Labour’s internal debate over the shape of Brexit. Last month, the party leadership performed a significant U-turn when senior figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott said they were keeping all options on the table.

EU leaders have repeatedly said the single market is tied to the issue of free movement but today’s launch of the free movement campaign makes no reference to the trading bloc, although many of the signatories have previously spoken out on the subject.

As well as Manuel Cortes, head of the TSSA, Ronnie Draper, leader of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, and Sally Hunt, of the University and College Union, the backers include Labour national executive members Ann Black and Darren Williams, and MEPs Julie Ward and Lucy Anderson.

The statement:

We are Labour members and supporters united in our commitment to defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.

To sign up to the campaign, scroll down to the bottom of this page.

The UK is at a crossroads in its relationship to the rest of the world, and so is our party. Immigrants and free movement are being scapegoated by a political and economic elite that is subjecting ordinary people to cuts and austerity. During the greatest refugee crisis in recent years, the Tories have responded with brutality and detention centres.

Labour should respond with clarity, humanity and solidarity. We fought the last General Election arguing against such scapegoating, and celebrating the contributions of migrants to our society. That tone must now translate into policy.

Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services. These are the product of decades of underinvestment, deregulation, privatisation, and the harshest anti-union laws in Europe. On the contrary, migrant workers have been on the front line of fighting for better pay and working conditions. Labour is the party of all working people – regardless of where they were born.

A system of free movement is the best way to protect and advance the interests of all workers, by giving everyone the right to work legally, join a union and stand up to their boss without fear of deportation or destitution. Curtailing those rights, or limiting migrants’ access to public services and benefits, will make it easier for unscrupulous employers to hyper-exploit migrant labour, which in turn undermines the rights and conditions of all workers.

Free movement enhances everyone’s rights. There are more than a million UK citizens living in the EU, and millions more who may enjoy the right to do so. UK workers in the EU have access to benefits, healthcare and other public services. Tens of thousands of UK students study abroad each year under ERASMUS schemes. UK and European citizens have the automatic right to family reunion.

Labour must build a society for the many, not the few. We need well-paid, secure jobs for all, with guaranteed hours, collective bargaining and stronger, freer trade unions. We need a policy of massive investment in council housing, public services and infrastructure. And we need to tell the truth about who and what is to blame for the crisis: an unaccountable elite who have run the economy in their own narrow interests. Ending free movement would be counterproductive to achieving all of this.

List of signatories

Sign the statement here

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Clancy Sigal: RIP

August 1, 2017 at 5:49 pm (culture, good people, Human rights, literature, mccarthyism, posted by JD, RIP, solidarity, workers)

Clancy Sigal, author of the mining classic Weekend in Dinlock. Born 6th September 1926. Died 16 July, 2017.

By John Cunningham

The author of possibly one of the best novels about British coalminers and their communities, Clancy Sigal, was a Chicago-born Jew who came to Britain during the McCarthy period having previously been an organiser for the United Automobile Workers. The author of numerous novels and a prodigious journalist Sigal travelled to South Yorkshire and made a number of visits to various pit villages particularly Thurcroft, about 10 miles north east of Sheffield. Here he befriended the miners and wrote about their lives and in 1960 his novel based on this experience, Weekend in Dinlock, appeared (published by Secker and Warburg).  He developed a close, if somewhat rough and ready, friendship with a miner called Len Doherty who became a source for ‘Davie’ the main character in the novel although Sigal insists both Davie and Dinlock were composites of people and places he had encountered while in South Yorkshire. Doherty, himself an accomplished writer and one-time member of the Communist Party, went on to work for the Sheffield Star and is best known for the novel The Man Beneath (published in 1957 by Lawrence and Wishart). Davie, by no means an idealised ‘hero’ is often cantankerous, drunk and never backs down from a punch-up. Yet he is also a brilliant painter and is torn between moving to London to establish himself as an artist or to stay with his community in Dinlock (in the end the latter wins out). Although the novel occasionally lapses into cliché – tough Chicago Jew shows he’s as hard and boozy as any Yorkshire miner – Weekend in Dinlock nevertheless shows a world which had been rarely expounded in literature, at least since a short-lived boom of writing about mining life in the 1930s with the novels of B. L. Coombes, Fred Boden, the poetry of Idris Davies and others.

Weekend in Dinlock was much-discussed at the time of its publication, particularly in the New Left Review where it received mixed comments but was clearly seen by all as an important publishing event at the time. Kim Howells, in his obituary of Sigal in the Guardian, states that that the British left pooh-poohed the novel dismissing it as exaggerated. Howells, the clapped out cultural ambassador of Blairite philistinism, doesn’t mention any names and in fact this, by and large, didn’t happen. Even those who had reservations about the novel took it seriously. Weekend in Dinlock appeared at the same time as the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ or ‘social realist’ novels such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Allan Sillitoe) and Room at the Top (John Braine) were shifting critical and cultural attention from London and the south east to the industrial north. Unlike both these novels however, Weekend in Dinlock was never adapted for the big screen, although it may have had some influence on Ken Loach’s film Kes and his TV drama The Price of Coal. Sigal went on to write a number of other novels, including Zone of the Interior (1976), The Secret Defector (1992) and a memoir of his mother A Woman of Uncertain Character (2006). Eventually, he returned to America and ended his life as a screenwriter in Hollywood, never abandoning his maverick, hard-hitting left-wing stance. It is highly likely, given the author’s death, that Weekend in Dinlock will be republished. If so go out and buy it; this is a classic. I re-read it just last year and despite some rough edges it has stood the test of time and although the novel describes people and places now receding into history, this is a history that did much to shape our world.

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100 years on: the hell that was Passchendaele

July 31, 2017 at 7:43 am (capitalism, Europe, hell, history, imperialism, posted by JD, war, workers)

More than 271,000 men from the ‘British and Dominion’ forces killed or wounded and German losses of 217,000. Many drowned in the mud or died in agony because stretcher-bearers could not reach them. The third and final battle of Ypres (Passchendael) began 100 years ago and went on for three months. The British and Dominion forces gained five miles in total.

Memorial Tablet
By Siegred Sassoon

Squire nagged and bullied till I went to fight,
(Under Lord Derby’s Scheme). I died in hell—
(They called it Passchendaele). My wound was slight,
And I was hobbling back; and then a shell
Burst slick upon the duck-boards: so I fell
Into the bottomless mud, and lost the light.

At sermon-time, while Squire is in his pew,
He gives my gilded name a thoughtful stare:
For, though low down upon the list, I’m there;
‘In proud and glorious memory’ … that’s my due.
Two bleeding years I fought in France, for Squire:
I suffered anguish that he’s never guessed.
Once I came home on leave: and then went west…
What greater glory could a man desire?

*****************

“We’ve had 70 years without major war. I hope we remember that we need to work together in Europe” – Mike Copeland, veteran’s son, yesterday.

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