Nationalise Vauxhall!

Car production in the UK is efficient, let no one fool you about this. Plants which produce cars are linked to plants which produce parts – there’s a supply chain to consider. Also, many work in other services which are dependent upon skilled workers spending their wages.

We need to have cars which are energy efficient – though effective demand has slumped globally, we all know this is due to our chaotic economic system, not to the car being made obsolete.

It’s not Rover!

Four years ago Rover went under – the government could have nationalised the company and set up a joint-venture with the Chinese, the company ended up in China selling to their domestic market.

Instead the government let Rover go, and now many of the skilled workers formerly employed by the company are in lower skilled and lower paid jobs.

The same mistake cannot be made again – the government has bailed out the banks which have failed to get lending again.

There’s no doubt that if Vauxhall is bailed out, we’ll see a return – with new energy efficient cars being made at UK plants for sale across the world as demand recovers.

Protected?

Whilst other EU govts get their checquebooks out, the UK govt is nowhere to be seen. At the negotiations, there’s no one to represent car workers in Luton and Ellesmere Port – remember, UK workers are easiest for big businesses to sack in the EU.

It’s a sickening sight – “Lord” Peter Mandelson pretending he’s got a guarantee against mass lay-offs and blaming unions for scaring workers when he knows that’s what will happen.

At least he’s the sense to stop wittering on about protectionism – we all know that when the rich cry poverty the money flows from the government to protect their corrupt system.

But when thousands of skilled workers face uncertainty, New Labour are too spineless to step up to defend them, fearful of a backlash from the super-rich. Mandelson and co. are so eager to please them that they will allow no concessions to working people – look at his actions over Royal Mail where most people oppose privatisation, even within New Labour.

The threat of a good example!

Car workers at Luton and Ellesmere Port can follow the example of the Visteon workers who occupied their plants to demand justice.

There would be no shortage of support, no limit to the solidarity that others would demonstrate.

We own the banks now – we can get them to invest in the car industry.

Don’t despair – organise, occupy, nationalise!

The Mini jobs cull, Acas, and the rights of working people

Recall the statements by Lord Mandelson after the outbreak of wildcat strikes in the construction industry centred on the Lindsay oil refinery dispute.

Don’t worry, he told us, no laws have been broken by any of the multinational companies concerned

And, no doubt, he was telling the truth.

He told us he was sending Acas, the conciliation service, to investigate. He was sure of their results: the companies would be cleared

Who wasn’t certain of this outcome?

In this upside-down England it is against the law for workers to take strike action without a convoluted process (involving warning the employer!) – even though they have made a decision to down tools – and against the law for others to join them in solidarity.

But it is perfectly legal for big businesses to drive down terms and conditions, to undercut wages, and to exclude local jobseekers from applying for work.

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, responds:

‘It is hardly surprising that the ACAS enquiry has found that no laws have been broken, as the major union complaint is that the law does not properly protect UK based workers – wherever they were born.

‘The EU’s Posted Workers Directive has been implemented in the UK in a way that fails to guarantee UK agreements, and recent EU court judgements have raised even more worries that the law favours employers that try to undermine existing standards.’

On a similar theme: where are the rights of all workers to receive consultation in advance of redundancy? Why are temporary workers denied the rights that their co-workers enjoy?

I’m sure Lord Mandelson would be willing to instruct Acas to investigate BMW to see if their disgraceful sacking of 850 workers with one hour’s warning was in breach of the law…

Struggle continues for fair access to jobs

From The Morning Star:

UNEMPLOYED construction workers turned out in force at the Grain Power Station in Kent on Wednesday to demand fair access to jobs as the row over the use of foreign labour reignited.

Around 70 protesters gathered at the station waving banners and placards stating: “Alstom give us a chance,” “Alstom stop excluding British workers” and “GMB says no to discrimination and calls for equal opportunities for workers to work.”

Alstom has been contracted by power privateer E.On to build a power station at Grain.

However, demonstrators said that skilled workers were being denied the chance to apply for work at the site.

They claimed that its Polish subcontractors Remak and ZRE were refusing to consider applications from British labourers for the estimated 450 jobs that will be available over the course of the project.

Unite union member Phil Willis, an unemployed steel erector, said: “We want a level playing field for all workers, not just British workers in Europe.

“The bosses are using the cheaper foreign labour against the engineering and construction workers, who work under the national agreements.

“People are here today because they believe they are being excluded from jobs on this site. Given the economic situation, why should we be excluded?

Mr Willis, a father of two who has been out of work for 14 months, said: “People feel let down. They feel they are being discriminated against.

“This hasn’t been going on recently, this has been brewing for the last five years.

“Over the last week and a half, we have seen the defiance and the commitment of the British engineering and construction workers on seeing what is happening to their industry.

“They feel that if it doesn’t stop, it will be the demise of the construction and engineering industry altogether and the national agreements.”

GMB organiser Brian Skipper explained that it was a “genuine demonstration” by unemployed people to get work.

“We want the companies to demonstrate to us that they have given us a commitment that they will consider UK workers and give us evidence that they are going to employ UK people,” he said.

Construction workers at the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire also walked out on unofficial strike on Wednesday after being told that they faced disciplinary action if they joined a protest over foreign employees.

Royal Mail sell-off could cost New Labour a fortune

I think it’s a given that privatising Royal Mail will be a disaster for its workers and customers.

Now it’s clear that it will cost New Labour financial and political support from the Communication Workers Union – who last disaffiliated from Labour in 1927 after the general strike!

No doubt, other unions would be minded to follow the CWU like those in dispute with employers – and the government! – over social dumping in the construction industry.

Leaked plans reveal that Royal Mail’s millionaire bosses want to sack 10% of the workforce.

The Morning Star comments:

Wrecking Royal Mail
(Friday 06 February 2009)

WHOEVER invented the word “modernisation” has some serious explaining to do.

For starters, isn’t progress supposed to make things better? If so, why does modernisation, an idea so beloved of new Labour drones and incompetent businessmen, always seem to involve taking something that works and smashing it to pieces?

Royal Mail is far from the only example of such modernisation – tried taking a train recently? – but it’s one of the worst.

A public service that was among the finest in the world has been reduced to a pale shadow of its former self by a stream of “modernising” cuts. Two reliable and punctual deliveries a day have become one deeply unreliable delivery. Some 2,500 post offices are closing and thousands more could follow, with devastating effects on communities across Britain.

Staff are being burdened with ridiculous workloads as a result of 50,000 job losses in recent years.

And now Royal Mail bosses are planning another round of cutbacks, aiming to slash 10 per cent off costs despite the firm’s soaring profits.

The Communication Workers Union, whose members are working flat out to maintain standards at Royal Mail, calls the cuts “panic measures that will hit the quality of service.”

The union is right, but the cuts are not just about boosting profits in the current crisis.

They are part of plans to fatten up Royal Mail for private-sector consumption, doling out the profitable slices to big business while leaving the taxpayer to subsidise the loss-making parts such as the post office network.

This has long been a goal of new Labour and the privatisation-obsessed regulator Postcomm, starting when postal services were opened to private competition in 2006 – a measure which has benefited only big business at the expense of smaller firms and the public.

Lord Mandelson’s plan to privatise part of Royal Mail is a shove that will send the postal service tumbling down a very slippery slope.

Along that slope lies more and more cost-cutting and more and more “modernisation,” until Royal Mail lies in ruins at the bottom.

It’s an extreme threat that needs extreme measures to counter. So the CWU is right to take a bold stance in defence of this vital service by threatening to break its links with Labour if privatisation is pushed through. This is not a step that any union would take lightly. But what else is it to do, after so many betrayals by what is supposed to be the party of working people?

New Labour has allowed, even encouraged Royal Mail bosses to slash jobs and standards left, right and centre. It raised no objection when Postcomm ordered the “liberalisation” of mail delivery far quicker than required by the EU postal directive.

Now, ministers are backtracking on their 2005 manifesto commitment and defying their party’s own official policy by inviting the private sector to cash in on Royal Mail at everyone else’s expense.

New Labour has proved time and time again that it will not listen to the public, will not listen to its own members, will not listen to the unions which founded the party and which provide so much of its financial and campaigning muscle.

It will not listen to the overwhelming evidence that privatisation has been an utter failure across the public services and will be a disaster for Royal Mail.

We hope the CWU’s threat to disaffiliate is the shock therapy ministers need to jolt them back into reality.

Productivity or profitability – why are UK construction workers excluded from new projects?

I’ve just seen Pat McFadden, the New Labour employment minister, argue that “productivity” might be a reason why UK-based engineering construction contractors can’t win new contracts.

This is bollocks, frankly.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive, following decisions made by the European Court of (in)Justice, allows foreign firms that win contracts to import workers on the minimum wage, undercutting the going rate. Even if a similar rate is paid, the employers can claw this money back by deductions for accommodation and transport.

Construction workers based in the UK are being excluded not because they are lazy and lack skills – but because they would have to be paid the going rate. It’s known as “social dumping” and it’s all about squeezing profits out of workers.

The dispute at Lindsay oil refinery has been won – by both the strikers there and those across the UK who walked out in solidarity, defying the anti-union laws – but the practice continues in the sector. And so, protests continue at Staythorpe power station, and at other sites where UK workers are excluded for applying for new jobs.

As the Morning Star reports, the Lindsay strikers have been pledging their support:

Lindsey workers join Staythorpe strikers
(Friday 06 February 2009)
by PAUL HASTE Industrial Reporter

CONSTRUCTION workers on strike at Staythorpe power station near Nottingham were joined on Friday by hundreds of flying pickets from the Lindsey oil refinery.

The 300 Staythorpe workers walked out on unofficial strike last Monday after months of protests against construction firm Alstom’s decision to contract out work to non-union companies.

Alstom is building a gas-fired power station that engineering union Unite estimates needs 850 workers to complete. The union accused the huge corporation, which raked in more than £462 million in profits last year, of trying to undercut employees’ wages by bringing in two subcontractors.

Unite branch secretary David Smeeton explained that the subcontractors “planned to bring in 800 foreign workers and refuse to even consider local workers for the job.

“Yet there are hundreds of local people who could work. We built the last two power stations here,” he said.

The flying pickets from Lindsey, in nearby Lincolnshire, had walked out on unofficial strike in their own dispute over a contractor’s unfair hiring practices last week.

The 400 workers are set to return to work on Monday after winning the creation of more than 100 new jobs at the oil refinery, but many of them descended on Staythorpe on Friday, braving freezing weather conditions to show solidarity with the power station workers.

Joining the solidarity picket, Unite shop steward Kenny Ward, who was one of the leading protestors in the Lindsey dispute, pointed out that “these problems at Staythorpe and at Lindsey are caused by judges and bosses, not foreign workers.”

He added that the government’s acceptance of European laws that allow employers to use workers from one country to undercut the wages of workers in another was a “disgrace.

“If the Labour Party doesn’t want to fight for workers anymore, then workers will have to fight for themselves,” he stressed.

“Our wildcat strike at the refinery and the solidarity that workers all over Britain gave us has shown that it is possible to fight back,” he insisted.

Lindsey strike committee member Tony Ryan added that the Staythorpe workers could count on the same solidarity that had helped win the fight for the refinery workers.

“This will continue. This is only the start of the fight for us lads,” he declared.

The Lindsay Oil Refinery dispute is about the rights of all – Polish workers strike in solidarity

Polish nationals were among the six hundred workers at Langage power station walked out on Monday, reports the Plymouth Herald:

Jerry Pickford, South West regional officer for UNITE, said the workers had walked out in “general sympathy with what’s happening in the construction industry”. He said Polish workers were among the 600-strong group.

Mr Pickford said: “All the Polish workers have walked out as well, because this is not an issue against foreign workers.

“This is an issue against foreign employers using foreign workers to stop British workers getting jobs.

“Once they do that they will try and undermine the terms and conditions of employment in this country.” [My emphasis]

Here are the demands of the Lindsay Oil Refinery contract workers as were agreed on February 2, and prove that the dispute is for fair access, not the exclusion of migrant workers:

* No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.

* All workers in UK to be covered by NAECI Agreement.

* Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members, with nominating rights as work becomes available.

* Government and employer investment in proper training/apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers – fight for a future for young people.

* All Immigrant labour to be unionised.

* Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers – including interpreters – and access to Trade Union advice – to promote active integrated Trade Union Members.

* Build links with construction trade unions on the continent.

* Re-instatement of [victimised worker] John McKewan

Protectionism for the rich, unemployment for the rest of us

Protectionism is bad, says unelected business minister Mandelson, with regards to the striking construction workers and their demands for employment.

Now wait a minute! Is this not a little inconsistent? Having bailed out the UK car industry and the UK banking sector the Lord of Darkness has decided that protectionism will lead us unto Depression!

Mandelson has nothing to worry about, he will be protected by the big business interests that he serves.

The super-rich look after their servants: he will have his protection from the Russian oligarchs who let them holiday on their yachts, from the non-jobs he will get from big businesses seeking little legal changes here and there. He’s been given a job for life in the House of Lords – he doesn’t need protecting from being sacked!

After borrowing billions of pounds to hand to the banks and car companies Mandelson has the cheek to say that protecting workers will damage the economy!

Brown is saying that the bravery of the strikers – fighting for their jobs and their living conditions – is indefensible. This from the coward who wept whilst begging MPs to vote for Heathrow extension, who was too scared to oust Blair, too scared to call an election, too scared to give us the promised referendum on the EU constitutional treaty.

This man, who sends the armed forces to Afghanistan to die for big business interests, has no guts at all. He would never risk being made a criminal to defend other people, he would never fight for justice.

He tells us his promise two years ago of “British jobs for British workers”, a slogan stolen from the fascists, was supposed to be understood as “skills for British workers”.

But most people took this at face value – that it meant UK companies would have to first offer jobs locally before going overseas to find workers. No-one thought that it meant firms could deny jobs to unemployed locals and bring replacements in on ships!

But in truth, EU laws allow firms to undercut wages by importing migrants who they are obliged to pay only the minimum wage.

If big business can now import labour as well as export jobs, what hope is there for workers residing in the UK?

What of Brown’s drive to get the long-term unemployed into work? Why would firms employ people who have disabilities or who have been out of work for long periods when they can easily import healthy workers from overseas?

There will inevitably be massive reductions in wages for those fortunate to keep their jobs – employers will use the threat of wholesale importation of labour to drive down wages and break up union agreements.

Brian Denny, writing in the Morning Star, highlights the role that EU law is playing in undermining workers’ terms and conditions:

THE use of Italian contract workers at Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire is the latest example of employers across Europe going on the offensive and undermining organised labour.

Refinery owner French oil giant Total gave the £200 million contract to Italian company IREM as it was the cheapest tender.

More than 300 of its employees are today being kept on barges berthed at the docks in nearby Grimsby and are being ferried to the refinery to work.

The company claims that the Italian workers are on the same wages as their British counterparts, but, even if this was true, sleeping on containers in the freezing seas on the Humber estuary constitutes a lower social wage for these workers.

The fact that British energy workers do not know the conditions that these contractors are employed on is enough in itself to set alarm bells ringing.

This process undermines the very idea of collective bargaining, a concept which is under attack in a number of ways by employers and the European Union.

Total is exploiting EU law which demands the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour, a neoliberal model which facilitates a race to the bottom in wages and conditions.

This process began back in 1987 with Margaret Thatcher’s Single European Act, which Tory MP John Bercow later boasted was about imposing a single market to achieve the “Thatcherisation of Europe.”

This internal market was designed to slowly remove barriers to the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour, the so-called “four freedoms,” until capital could move anywhere and any time regardless of the consequences.

Rather than liberate workers, it has enslaved them by turning people into commodities, with very few collective rights, to be exploited and dumped without regard to social models built up over generations in the member states.

We saw this process at work in the Irish Ferries dispute in 2006, when Irish seafarers were displaced by sweated Latvian and Polish labour being paid a third of the wages.

The Gate Gourmet strike of 2005 also saw low-paid Polish workers displace local staff, mainly British Asian women.

Four recent judgements by the European Court of Justice, known as Laval, Viking, Ruffert and Luxembourg, have also enshrined this race to the bottom in ECJ case law and gives huge new powers to employers to bring in contract labour anywhere within the EU.

The ECJ and the European Commission are effectively implementing a programme to narrow the scope for member states to preside over their different social models and labour markets in the context of foreign companies posting workers to their territory.

In the Luxembourg case, the ECJ does not even recognise Luxembourg’s right to decide which national public policy provisions should apply to both national and foreign service providers on an equal footing.

This process is also being played out at Staythorpe power station near Newark, where employers in the energy sector are also refusing to employ local unionised labour.

French engineering group Alstom has been contracted by energy privateer RWE to build the power station and two companies, Montpressa and FMM, have since been subcontracted to carry out construction work.

It is clear that the the employers’ response to the growing economic crisis is to exploit neoliberal EU rules on “free movement” and drive down wages, exclude organised labour and maintain their profits.

A stark illustration of this is the fact that the spontaneous strike action came a day after Shell reported the biggest annual profit in British corporate history of £21.9 billion, leading to renewed calls for a windfall tax on energy companies.

But the use of cheap foreign workers as a battering ram against organised labour is not a new concept.

In 1934, as European countries followed the United States into the Great Depression, French writer Antoine de St Exupéry described Polish miners expelled from French coalfields once they had fulfilled their usefulness as “half-human shadows, shunted from one end of Europe to the other by economic forces.”

This is the European reality for more and more workers as Brussels imposes its increasingly discredited neoliberal economic model that treats labour like a tin of beans.

Even Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has said that angry energy workers were “entitled to an answer.”

Yet while new Labour remains wedded to the creation of a pseudo-state called Europe, where democracy and workers’ right only exist in the past tense, then more and more workers will be asking the same questions.

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