Tony Benn demands EU consti-treaty referendum

[Monday]

I think if Brown is to call a general election within the next year he’ll need to kick the issue into the long grass, so Benn is right that a promise of a referendum can again be won from New Labour.

The full article is from Auntie:

Tony Benn has made an impassioned plea to Gordon Brown to give the British people a referendum on the EU treaty.

The veteran left-winger said it was the “most bureaucratic, terrifying system in the world and it’s being imposed on us on the grounds it’s tidying-up”.

“If tidying up involves tearing up the British constitution, it’s a very interesting definition,” he added.

Mr Benn told a Labour conference fringe meeting he thought Mr Brown would eventually cave in to calls for a vote.

“I think we have a good chance of winning this because the public are with us and you cannot deny the public forever”, said the former Labour MP.

The prime minister has repeatedly rejected calls for a referendum on the EU treaty, arguing it is not the same as the constitution rejected by voters in France and Holland, on which a vote was promised in Labour’s 2005 manifesto.

Earlier this month, the trade unions joined calls by the Conservatives and UKIP for a referendum.

‘Hitler’

Two national newspapers have also launched campaigns for a vote, with The Sun earlier devoting its first four pages to the subject, claiming Mr Brown would gain a 17% advantage at the polls if he agreed to hold one.

Speaking at a Labour Euro-safeguards campaign fringe meeting, Mr Benn said he did not want to retreat into the “old nationalism” as it led to too much bloodshed.

But he said the “absolutely undemocratic” EU should be reformed and power handed back to nation states and elected politicians.

“Even if I believed in it, I think this system will end up with the break-up of the European Union and I do not want that to happen either,” said Mr Benn.

“It terrifies me that Germany did not allow its own people to have a referendum on whether Germany should enter the European Union and have a treaty.

“And, you know, before the war, Hitler wasn’t exactly a democrat. And that practice of everything being decided at the top has been carried on.

“France had a referendum, defeated it, and now Sarkozy is trying to bypass it. We live in a continent where increasingly power has gone to a group of people who are not elected, cannot be removed and don’t have to listen to us.

“I mean [European trade commissioner Peter] Mandelson is a very powerful man. He wasn’t even elected by the House of Commons.”

‘Death of democracy’

Mr Benn warned: “If this goes through Gordon Brown will not be the prime minister of Great Britain, he will be the mayor of the Greater British Authority”.

He said power should be restored to nation states to opt out of the treaty if their people wanted it.

He said he feared the “death of democracy” in a wider sense – with the increasing dominance of unelected bodies such as the World Trade Organisation and multinational corporations.

Even Labour’s own conference, which has voted to end emergency motions proposed by delegates and trade unions, had stifled democracy, he added.

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Another union to join in postal strikes?

[Monday]

Last week we learned that the postal dispute was back on.

Today, news that another union, is warning that it may ballot its members this week:

Unite said as well as scrapping final salary pensions, it feared Royal Mail would increase its retirement age. […]

A Royal Mail spokesman said it would consult with staff before any pension changes came into effect. […]

CWU members are due to walk out again for 48 hours from 5 October and 8 October.

At the centre of the CWU’s dispute is Royal Mail’s 2.5% pay offer and modernisation plans.

The union claims the shake-up plans will put about 40,000 jobs at risk.

Royal Mail counters that without dramatic reforms it will not to able to survive in a liberalised mail market.

As always, the bosses are given the last word.

And their claims are rendered absurd when you consider some of the changes Royal Mail has made and plans to make are to enable a “liberalised market” – that is to say it is helping competitors by making it easier for private companies to compete. One example of this is later delivery times.

The logic of competition is that you try and beat your rival, not give him a helping hand!

But of course, what’s happening at Royal Mail isn’t about “greater competition” or “consumer choice”, but reducing workers’ living standards to profit the ruling class…

Unite’s fears that the management might be about to carry out “the great mail robbery” stem from proposals for pension reform contained in a letter sent to senior representatives:

It has been estimated that Royal Mail could reap £1.5bn from just one of the proposed changes.

Unite will meet with Royal Mail on Moday 24th September to discuss Royal Mail’s proposals to change the scheme. The union anticipates that during next week Royal Mail will inform employee’s of the changes to their pension scheme.

One of the expected proposals is to ‘bank” the current benefits, which could cost the members of the scheme up to £1.5 billion. That’s £1.5 billion that would have been paid out in the future to members and their dependants.

The union believes the proposals could include;

* Closing the scheme to new employees.

* Raising the normal retirement age to 65 in 2010.

* From 1 April 2008 replace the current final salary pension schemes with career average schemes.

* “Banking” current benefits (past service benefits) and indexing them to RPI or 5%.

Unite National Officer, Paul Reuter says, “We call upon Royal Mail to honour their commitment to preserve the past service benefits that have been built up and paid for by our members. We also call upon Adam Crozier to honour his commitment given on 7 February 2007 to safeguard the final salary schemes going forward.”

“Failure by Royal Mail to respond positively will leave Unite with no option other than to ballot its’ members for strike action.”