Total victory as sacked strikers return to work

How outrageous! Workers voting by show of hands to withdraw their labour – no postal ballot, cooling-off period, or legal injunctions.

Democracy in action! For which hundreds of working men were sacked. But no more. The Morning Star reports on this historic victory for working people in this country:

Workers have voted to return to work at a jubilant mass meeting outside the Lindsey oil refinery.

Workers voted to return to work after union officials recommended they accept an agreement thrashed out during the marathon talks last week.

Addressing the hundreds of strikers gathered outside the refinery, GMB shop steward Kenny Ward described the deal as an “unprecedented victory” for trade unions.

The agreement was a “smack in the face for the employers, a realisation that they need to take a step back,” he added.

Yesterday’s vote marked the last act in a bitter dispute embroiling contract workers that led to unofficial strikes at power stations refineries across the country.

The men had taken unofficial action after complaining that 51 employees were being laid off at Lindsey, owned by energy giant Total, while other contractors on the site were hiring staff.

Thousands of workers across Britain came out in sympathy, with as many as 15 sites nationwide taking solidarity action.

Unions involved in the dispute said that their members’ objectives of finding other jobs for the sacked 51 workers, as well as rescinding the dismissal notices sent to 647 employees at the site who were on strike, had been met.

A guarantee of no victimisation against workers across the country who took sympathy action was also secured.

Welcoming the outcome, Unite assistant general secretary Les Bayliss said: “We hope that the lessons learned at Lindsey are not forgotten.

“We look forward to a new chapter of industrial relations in construction.”

The agreement also means that a Unite official has been appointed to represent Lindsey workers on a full-time basis until the end of the project, Mr Bayliss pointed out.

Within minutes of the vote, police had temporarily halted traffic as the workers carrying union banners and flags marched across the road and back on to the site.

Why the energy giants fail to pass on savings

The Campaign for Public Ownership has issued the following press release explaining why we shouldn’t be too surprised:

Here we go again. A newly published report by the watchdog Consumer Focus says that Britain’s privatised energy companies are over-charging customers and failing to pass on billions of pounds of savings made from the falling price of gas and electricity, it is reported. Consumer Focus states the fall in wholesale prices has saved energy companies around £1.6 billion, but this has not been reflected in average domestic bills.

Energy bills rose by 42% last year, with the average household paying £1,293 for the year.

The Campaign for Public Ownership believes that the only long-term solution to the problem of energy company profiteering is to restore the energy companies to public ownership.

The problem lies in the ownership structure of the energy companies. All of them are Public Limited Companies, whose overriding aim is to maximise profits for shareholders. That’s what PLCs do. Instead of reacting with horror to the entirely predictable news that PLCs are putting the interests of shareholders before Britain’s long-suffering energy consumers, we should instead be calling for the government to take the one step that will lead to lower energy prices in the long term. Restoring the energy companies to public ownership will mean that prices can be lowered, as there will be no shareholder dividends to pay.

Interviews and all media enquiries:

The Campaign for Public Ownership is a newly formed cross-party organisation which aims to harness public dissatisfaction with privatisation and campaign for a reversal of the disastrous policies of the last twenty-nine years. The Campaign seeks to expose the cost to the public of privatisation, and highlight the inefficiencies and profiteering of the privatised companies. We also strongly urge that the British government does not give a penny of taxpayers money to a privately owned company without the public receiving equity in that company. The Campaign will seek to counter the negative propaganda about public ownership put about by those with a vested financial interest in privatisation. It’s time to bring to an end to the Great Privatisation Rip-Off.

Total unity – sympathy strikes spread

When fifty of their colleagues were sacked last week, hundreds of Lindsay Oil Refinery workers walked out in sympathy.

Transnational energy giant Total responded to their display of solidarity by refusing to recognise their grievance – and then by sacking all of them.

Up and down the land, construction workers in the energy industry have taken unofficial action.

As the Morning Star says in its editorial:

The Lindsey workers and tens of thousands of construction workers on similar big sites have been quietly working away for subcontractors for years and have only in the last year started to run out of patience with bosses who will duck and dive, lay them off, switch subcontractors, go abroad for cheaper contractors who are prepared to import temporary staff, in short, do anything to cut their costs at the expense of the employees.

The reports of the solidarity strikes demonstrate how working people can stand up for their rights against the might of big business and the anti-union laws:

Nine hundred contract workers walked out in sympathy at Sellafield and over 1,000 at the Ensus biofuel site in Wilton, Teesside. Five hundred downed tools at the massive Drax power station in North Yorkshire, while hundreds of others ignored their bosses’ insistence that sympathy action was “illegal” to strike at Aberthaw power station in south Wales and South Hook gas terminal in west Wales.

Lindsey pickets marched down the road to the giant ConocoPhillips oil refinery on Humberside, where hundreds of fellow contractors held a hasty meeting in which they agreed to join the Lindsey contingent in blockading the site.

There were reports that engineering construction workers on sites owned by BP at Saltend, near Hull, and BOC at Scunthorpe had also walked out in solidarity with their colleagues at the Total refinery in Lincolnshire.

GMB union rep and construction worker Keith Gibson emphasised that most of the strikes had begun after mass meetings voted to defy the law – and bosses’ attempts to undermine the industry agreement on wages and conditions.

“This is probably the most important dispute the construction industry has seen for 30 years to defend the agreement and we will not tolerate any victimisation of any of the workers who have taken action,” he warned.

Sellafield Unite rep Gary Stockton said that welders, electricians and pipe-fitters on a construction site at the nuclear power station had held a mass meeting and voted for a 48-hour strike in solidarity with the workers at Lindsey.

“We are in the campaign together, we work together,” he pointed out, while at Lindsey, Unite rep Kenny Ward revealed that the refinery’s shop stewards’ committee had received news of similar walkouts at 19 different sites across Britain that involved at least 13,000 workers.

Mr Ward criticised Total bosses for refusing to talk to the unions, declaring: “Would Total do the same thing in France? Absolutely not, because there wouldn’t be a tanker on its four wheels.

“They’d all be turned over on their sides, blockading every road to this refinery, because the French wouldn’t put up with it,” he stressed.

As the strikes escalated, Unite national officer Tom Hardacre called for a “positive response” from Total to the unions’ call to get back into talks.

He called the Lindsey sackings “one the most aggressive acts I’ve witnessed as a trade union official.

“We were attempting to get a resolution to this unofficial dispute and, although Total have allowed it to escalate without any strategy to resolve the problem, Unite is available to join the employers at the table,” he stated.

But one of the Lindsey strikers, GMB rep Phil Whitehurst, insisted that, should Total bosses insist on tearing up national agreements, the workers would remain resolute. “We came out together, we go back together.”

Truly this is a heroic struggle – in the worst economic conditions for decades, workers are sticking by one another in the face of injustice.

The government cannot insist, as it has done in the past, that the energy giants are behaving themselves.

When the super-rich give money to Labour, they get favours in return. Yet unions like GMB and Unite have ploughed millions into Labour, and still working people are denied their rights.

If Brown wants to win the next election, he’d better listen to the thousands of construction workers and get tough with Total.

Banksters Paradise – govt allows bonus culture to continue at our expense

Let’s now consider decency. Or rather, the lack of it.

UKFI, which owns 70% of RBS on our behalf, has approved an obscene pay package for the bank’s boss.

Truly, Fred the Shred will be proud of his replacement.

Stephen Hester will be paid almost ten million pounds for his work – which will include sacking thousands of bank workers whose taxes are invested in RBS.

The govt could have acted to limit bankers’ greed, just listen to what the other shareholders think of this:

Roger Lawson of the RBS Shareholders Action Group said: “It is absolutely outrageous that the government does not use its power to bring the remuneration of bankers in these companies down to a reasonable level.

“Do they need to pay him this much to make him work harder?”

Mr Lawson warned that basing a bonus on share price would “just encourage risky behaviour.”

So, who runs UKFI then?

Richard Murphy lists the people that Chancellor Darling picked to manage our investments:

Glen Moreno – Acting Chairman – ex Citigroup and Liechtenstein banker
John Kingman – Chief Executive – civil servant ex private sector, formerly in charge of financial stability in the banking sector for the Treasury (which he clearly did not get right)
Peter Gibbs – ex Merril Lynch
Michael Kirkwood – ex Citigroup
Lucinda Riches – ex UBS
Philip Remnant – ex Credit Suisse
Louise Tulett – career civil servant

All the bankers are from organisations that failed.

And Darling expects to effect change?

Not a hope – not with this lot.

They’ll do all they can to promote banking – and that’s just not good enough when the real economy needs less banking and more real jobs.

That a Labour government – a Labour government! – is allowing the banks to keep their gravy train going at the taxpayers’ expense should give trade unionists pause for thought. Especially since the banks are cutting thousands of jobs and turfing people out of their homes.

Even the Tories had to criticise the obscene pay-out to Hester.

This will be a major embarrassment for New Labour. It will not be allowed to stand.

Dirty tricks against assertive workers

First, at Lindsay Oil Refinery an unofficial strike is ongoing as it’s revealed the Engineering Construction Industry Association, the employers’ organisation, is trying to stop a ballot of construction workers for a national strike:

A confidential letter obtained by the Morning Star, sent to by ECIA employment relations officers to bosses at construction firms throughout Britain, brazenly states that “it is in employer’s interests to not act in a way which aids and abets the unions to run a successful ballot.”

The letter continues: “Don’t give names and addresses of your workforce to the unions or shop stewards. Don’t allow full-time officers access to your workforce – unless their intentions are made clear in advance and they are not related to the ballot.”

GMB legal officer Maria Ludkin lost no time in slamming the letter as “one of the most blatant attempts to interfere in an industrial action ballot that I’ve ever seen.”

“The employers’ letter also states that the ECIA ‘will closely monitor the legality of the strike ballot,’ so there is no doubt what their intentions are.”

“But the advice that the ECIA is giving to its members is clearly illegal under the 1999 Employment Relations Act,” she said.

“No employer can deny unions the right to consult with their members and should any construction worker or union rep encounter this kind of obstruction, the GMB will definitely take action,” Ms Ludkin insisted.

Second, James Tweedie reports for the Morning Star on the shocking raid at SOAS:

Students have occupied the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in support of detained and deported cleaning staff.

Nine migrant workers were arrested on Friday at a meeting called by transnational cleaning contractor ISS. Five were deported to their home countries over the weekend and the rest face deportation within days.

One of the detained cleaners said: “We’re honest people, not animals. We are just here to earn an honest living for our families. SOAS management are being unfair.”

The staff were called to the meeting to discuss shift times, sick leave and immigration papers. Staff said that immigration officers had been waiting for them at the venue.

They said that staff were locked in the room for hours and refused water, medical attention or access to their trade union representative.

The arrests came on the heels of a recent victory by cleaning staff organised by public sector union UNISON, in winning a wage rise and four of those detained are members.

The cleaners recently took strike action on May 28 to protest at the sacking of SOAS UNISON branch chairman Jose Stalin Bermudez.

Cleaners and protesters accused the university of collusion with immigration authorities and of victimising the workers taking industrial action.

Graham Dyer, lecturer in Economics of Developing Countries and Universities and Colleges Union SOAS branch chairman, said: “Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. Those managers are now lashing out.

“It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. This is their underhand revenge.”

Labour MP John McDonnell said: “The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages but, if you complain, they will send you back home. It is shameful.”

Labour’s recession is far from over

The big story of the past week, along with the preceeding resignations by Blairite ministers trying to topple Brown?

Millions of Labour supporters stayed home; two fascists won seats in the European parliament on a reduced turnout. Yes, their vote fell, but they won seats because of the low turnout.

I won’t give you the obligatory post dedicated to how and why they made a breakthrough. Oxygen of publicity and whatnot.

So, Brown’s clinging on, having ceded more power to Lord Mandelson, who is now virtually deputy Prime Minister – and unelected, like many in the reshuffled Labour cabinet. Having faced down the parliamentary party in a stage-managed meeting, Brown’s hoping that an economic recovery will save his premiership.

Darling, in situ as Chancellor, despite rumours the PM wanted to replace him with Ed Balls, warns against complacency in seeing “green shoots” of recovery. As well he might, he knows how much government spending will have to be directed towards those made unemployed. Oh, and the banks – mostly owned by the public these days – they aren’t lending to our manufacturing base…

Mandelson, negotiating with the new owner of Vauxhall, is unable to guarantee jobs will stay in the UK. So much has been devoted to bailing out the banks, there’s not much room for manuoevre – not unless there’s another radical change in approach.

A senior Tory let slip that they intend to cut spending by 10% on all but health, education, and international aid, if they win the next election. To Labour’s cries of “Tory cuts!” – the nearest they get to a class analysis of Her Majesty’s Opposition – the reply comes, from both the Tories and the corporate press, that Labour is committed to 7% spending cuts across the board.

As Ann Pettifor has pointed out, to cut spending in the next few years will be a disaster for an economic recovery:

As things stand, any fragile signs of economic recovery will quickly be crushed by the failure of government to intervene and spend at an appropriate level. Instead, government cutbacks will impact with considerable force on the fragile economy, and will hurt the middle and working classes. As the year proceeds many will discover the true, and often pitiful value of their pensions, and will be hurt by cuts in services and job losses in the public sector. This will hamper recovery and deepen, if that is possible, the alienation of British voters from the Labour government.

And don’t forget, this is the woman who was writing about the debtonation before it began.

She continues in the same article to outline the blades which may slice through any “green shoots”:

Foreign direct investment could fall globally by 45% this year, according to the same report, and corporate profits will decline by 20-25%. Global trade is down 25%, and the EIU predicts trade will be down by 10-15% by year end – the worst figure since 1945.

In April this year, consumer prices turned negative in the US, the UK, Germany and Japan. This may be good news for consumers, and may help lower food prices for the poor, but it is not good for the economy as a whole. Businesses cannot profit from negative prices, so they are bankrupted and lay off employees. The rocketing numbers of unemployed (whose plight is seldom taken seriously by orthodox economists) will cut back on borrowing and shopping and may even default on loans. This is not good news for the productive sector of the economy, and it’s very bad news for the banking sector. Banks have still not fully de-leveraged the debts on their balance sheets. Now, thanks to rising unemployment, non-performing loans are “set to rise sharply around the world over the next 12-18 months” according to the EIU. This is very scary, if one considers that there are still $600tn of liabilities in the form of derivatives on balance sheets out there – backed up by a mere $38tn of so-called credit default swaps (in reality a form of insurance on derivatives).

More banking trouble, in other words…

Pettifor concludes:

Nothing has been done to restructure the global economy and limit financial imbalances – including Anglo-American deficits and the Chinese surplus. Indeed these matters were not even discussed at the last G20 summit. Big, reckless money continues to be made from currency speculation, just when the global economy requires currency stability.

We – employees, consumers, investors and borrowers – have been misled and fooled by the economics profession and finance sector for years before this crisis. As a result of our gullibility, we lost $60tn of wealth in the past year. We would be wise now to dismiss their vain efforts at confidence-boosting, and instead rest our judgments on the real world economic outlook.

Back to politics, word is that Balls and Darling are split on how to present the supposedly “inevitable” cuts in public spending.

Hardly confidence boosting!

As far as this modest blogger can tell, the debate isn’t on what to cut, but on when to admit the cuts are coming.

In the leadership challenge that never was, the unions didn’t bark – despite the looming cuts and failure to aid the car industry. For sure, a change of leader – even to someone more in touch with the needs of ordinary people – would bring forth a general election at the worst possible time. With MPs expenses hanging in the air, Labour voters are unlikely to show up at polling stations and register support for the party any time soon.

For the Labour grassroots, there’s no difficulty in choosing between Trident, PFIs, the Afghan war, ID cards – or investing in a new generation of social housing, a Green New Deal, and helping workers to stay in their jobs. However, there’s no means by which the party’s grassroots can influence policy; even the parliamentary party has a tough time defeating unpopular measures, like Royal Mail privatisation, which hasn’t yet been ditched.

According to opinion polling, most voters agree Labour has abandoned its traditional supporters and believe that the Tories are most interested in helping out the rich. So what gives with the BNP victories, then? Well, it’s worth remembering that the Green vote was up – they campaigned on job creation through a Green New Deal to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy industries, all very practical. But if your main themes are not echoed in the media, it’s difficult to get ahead. The upcoming by-election in Norwich could see the Greens win their first MP, should the support be forthcoming.

In the meantime, I’m wondering exactly where this announcement by John McDonnell will lead:

If we go beyond November without real change visibly under way, what hope is left of Labour not only remaining in government but also surviving as an effective political force at all?At that stage the only responsible act in the long-term interests of our movement would be to offer a real change in political direction by mounting a challenge to the political leadership of the party and letting the members of the party decide. Let me give notice now that this is the path I will take. If this route is blocked again by MPs failing to nominate, then the alternative is Labour MPs making it clear at the next election that they stand on a policy platform of real change as “change candidates”.

Of course, they will be standing as Labour candidates but binding together as a slate of candidates committed within Labour to advocating a change programme, setting out the policy programme they will be advocating as a group and supporting in parliament if elected. Only in this way can we demonstrate to the supporters that want to come home to Labour that there is the hope and prospect of change.

I can’t see a policy debate being tolerated, not without the capitalist media emptying another bucket of shit over the heads of New Labour and calling for a Cameron coronation. Hence the talk of the Blairites toppling Brown without recourse to either the PLP, the members, or the unions – with the Cabinet nominating one of its ranks to become party leader and PM.

So, the question is, will McDonnell and co. defect to form a new workers’ party? If not, will parties like the Greens back this new “change candidates”?

Don’t forget to vote!

I’ll be voting for the Greens in the Euro elections.

They’ve a good record on workers’ rights, consumer protection, and civil liberties; they have been consistent in supporting electoral reform and bank nationalisation, and in opposing privatisation and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…

Due to the proportional representation system of voting used in EU elections, smaller parties like UKIP and the Greens have a better chance of getting elected. This also means it’s easier for the fascists to bag seats, too.

Not only have the Greens got MEPs worth defending and candidates worth electing – a vote for the Greens in the North West could help stop the fascists getting a seat in the European parliament. Okay, there’s a certain irony in sending a racist to live and work with a load of foreigners… But I don’t want to see the fascists getting their hands on public money to spread their bigoted messages.

The platform the Greens have been running on has been variously greening the economy and creating jobs in the process, and then cleaning up MPs expenses and reforming the electoral system.

This won’t be happening in the EU parliament, of course, but this election is largely symbolic – though certainly, the current Green MEPs are very active in being “in and against” the undemocratic EU parliament.