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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Jerry Hicks, candidate for Unite union leadership, backs wildcat strikes

Jerry Hicks is the only challenger to incumbent general secretary, Derek Simpson, in the contest to lead Unite-Amicus.

Having worked for years at Rolls Royce before being sacked in 2005 for his strong defence of workers’ rights as a trade union activist, he is in touch with the concerns of ordinary members and wants democratic control of the union.

He says, “I believe in elections by the members with officers answerable and accountable to the members. As proof of my commitment to the principle of election of officers I was offered a Full Time Officers Job with the Union in 2003 by Derek Simpson but declined his offer as this would have been an appointment and so against my belief in elections.”

Whilst not backing a break from the Labour party, he promises to ensure support is only given to Labour MPs who back workers’ rights and will scrap the anti-union laws, brought in by the Tories, which criminalise people who fight for their jobs.

He says: “Unite is not only the country’s biggest trade union it’s also the biggest single donator to the Labour Party, having given £11 million of members’ money since 2005. But despite all this and with 100 sponsored MPs, anti trade union legislation is unchanged. Even the most basic right to re-instatement when unfairly dismissed has not been achieved under Derek Simpson’s leadership. Slavish support for the Brown government from our union has to end.”

Whereas Simpson is paid £126,939 with a host of privileges, Jerry promises that if he’s elected he’ll follow the socialist tradition of only being paid the wage of the average skilled worker, not a City fat cat.

Here’s the latest post from Jerry’s blog in which he gives his full support to the striking construction workers who are defying the anti-union laws:

An emergency meeting of the national construction shop stewards forum took place in London as long ago as the 8th January. The meeting discussed the escalating crisis in construction following a series of protests in November and December of last year, over employment rights and also the proposed exclusion of UK workers by foreign companies on power stations and other major UK contracts.

The meeting was originally called for at Newark on the 3rd December following a series of protests at the gates of Staythope Power Station. At the meeting shop stewards voted overwhelmingly to organise a programme of demonstrations toward targeted construction projects within the UK power generation sector.

Shop stewards and trade union activists find it is hard enough as it is to get a job in the industry because of the black listing by the employers. It is a way of reducing their costs and attempting to break union organisation on the major projects.

Rank and file members are preparing for mass disruption on projects throughout the country that refuse to recognise union national agreements. There will be organised demonstrations strikes and mass disruption. We are preparing for a battle to defend our jobs.

Jerry Hicks a candidate in the coming election for General Secretary in the UK’s biggest union Unite-Amicus is supporting the action. He was present at a recent protest at Staythorpe power station where he sustained a fractured leg, having been assaulted by the police.

He said “This should come as no surprise to anyone. The employers have deliberately and actively been looking for ways to exploit cheap labour while covering their eyes and ears to the growing rage of discontent and ignoring all the warning signs, it’s outrageous”,

He went on to say, “To its shame the union leadership failed miserably to grasp the nettle months ago when the dispute was a crisis in the making. The union needs to confront the employers and organise a national campaign for industrial action.”

The employers watch and listen to everything we say and do. If the union does little and says even less they drive the boot in harder and our situation gets worse.

This is not about race or prejudice it is about the exploitation of labour, playing one worker against another. It is about the employers trying to break nationally agreed arrangements and in doing so it is an attack on the union.

Gordon Brown, who at the last Labour party conference said ‘British jobs for British workers’, has created a huge problem all of his own making. He can no longer simply sit on his hands waiting on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, other energy companies are observing what happens next as they seek to further exploit the cheap foreign labour market.

This issue is as a result of the Employers deliberately exploiting a situation, the union leaderships woeful lack of response and Browns pronouncement, Now they act like the like the three monkeys. Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.