Irish workers show the way to save jobs – Waterford Crystal is occupied

The bad joke about Ireland is that it’s six months and one letter away from Iceland…

But as in Iceland, where the government has been replaced by a coalition of social democrats and green socialists, people are fighting back.

Socialist Worker reports:

Waterford Crystal: ‘We’re occupying this plant to save our jobs’

by Simon Basketter

Workers at the Waterford Crystal factory in Ireland have delivered a powerful example of how to take on the recession – they are occupying their plant to keep it open.

The factory is owned by Waterford Wedgewood, which went into receivership on 5 January. The receiver suggested that the plant move to a three-day week.

Workers were reluctant to go along with this and were suspicious of the motives behind it. Many believed that the factory would close as soon as they were out the door. It turned out the receiver had the same idea.

Last Friday afternoon the receiver declared that manufacturing would cease immediately at the Waterford factory – with the loss of 480 jobs out of a 700-strong workforce.

News that the plant was closing was greeted with anger by workers. The union was only told of the immediate sackings when it directly asked if the rumours were true.

Tony Kelly is the Unite union’s chief shop steward for Waterford Crystal. He told Socialist Worker, “The plant is on a three day week – so they chose Friday afternoon because it isn’t a production day.

“I was driving home when I heard the news and drove back to the plant. Over the phone we agreed we had to get inside.”

Workers texted and rang round each other, urging as many as possible to get to the factory. The receivers had already hired in private security guards to secure the site.

“The security tried to stop us getting in – but they failed,” one worker told Socialist Worker. “They closed the doors, but there were too many people. We stormed our way in – some 400 workers entered the plant.

Support

“We’ve been in occupation since 2pm on Friday. Food, money and support have been flowing in.”

The occupation is on six-hour rotating shifts with up to 100 workers on each one. The Starry Plough – the flag of James Connolly and the Irish labour movement – was raised over the plant.

A rally was held outside the plant last Saturday. Over 3,000 people turned up to show their support despite torrential rain.

Across Waterford taxis stopped running, while shops and businesses closed for an hour in solidarity.

A van was touring the area to hand-deliver letters telling the Waterford Wedgewood workers that they had been sacked.

It was spotted on one estate and chased away – so many workers have yet to receive official notice of their dismissal.

Tom Hogan is a former Waterford glass worker and president of Waterford trades council. He told Socialist Worker, “People are just saying, ‘Thank fuck somebody is doing something!’ They used to go home to their fires at night and contemplate which window in the dole office they were going to line up at. But the occupation has turned that mood around.”

A worker from the occupation added, “The bosses thought people wouldn’t fight because they were too fearful. People are fearful – but they are also very angry.”

John joined the company in 1962 and worked at the factory for 46 years before being made redundant just before Christmas.

Long haul

He told us he had received the statutory portion of his 55,000 euro redundancy package – but was still owed 30,000 euro from the company. “We’re going to stay here for the long haul. We have nothing to lose,” he said.

One of the workers’ demands is that the Irish government guarantees that all previously agreed redundancy payments are made.

Joe, another worker in the occupation, told Socialist Worker, “We’re staying until we get the receiver’s decision to close the plant reversed.

“We want there to be an opportunity for someone to come in and buy this company and save jobs. And we want reasonable conditions for any that have to leave.

“Most of us have put in between 20 and 40 years of service. We are not being thrown on to the scrapheap by a receiver appointed by some accountant.”

Within 24 hours there were talks between the unions, the government and the receivers. As Socialist Worker went to press a number of firms were looking to buy the company and at least one is promising to keep 300 of the jobs.

As one worker told Socialist Worker, “They are private equity companies, which isn’t good – but we can fight them over conditions if we keep the manufacturing plant open.

“At the very least we want money from the government to guarantee pensions and redundancy money. If the private sector won’t keep open the plant, then it should be nationalised.”

People across the trade union movement – and in particular, workers at the Wedgewood plant in Stoke-on-Trent which is owned by the same company – should draw two lessons from the Waterford occupation.

They should be wary of what little promises to look after workers really mean when a company goes bust.

And they should be inspired by the example of Waterford workers, who have shown that you can fight back and turn the situation around.

Send messages of support and donations to Unite Hall, Keyzer Street, Waterford County, Waterford, Republic of Ireland, phone +353 5187 5438, or send an email to walter.cullen@unitetheunion.com

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BBC dishonours armed forces – fails to report majority opinion against Afghan war

Talk about state television…

Each week, more young men are coming home from the Middle East in coffins or with missing limbs and mental scars.

The BBC’s idea of a debate on the role of UK forces in occupied Afghanistan is a feeble one-sided radio “debate”.

This is the most readable part of the story on Auntie’s website:

More than two-thirds of Britons think UK troops should leave Afghanistan within a year, a BBC poll has found.

Of 1,013 people polled, 68% said troops should withdraw within 12 months, with 59% of men agreeing and 75% of women.

One assumes that the Stop the War Coalition were not even asked to put someone up, as the only panelist expressing doubts is Simon Jenkins:

“I think the government should always pay attention to public opinion, particularly in matters of war and peace. It has never received a popular mandate for this war in any realistic sense.

“It was done at the bidding of the Americans – there’s a new American president we might be able to capture something from that but he’s equally in favour of it. I just think we should pull out.”

The rest of the article is just lies about the threat of international terrorism increasing. If anything, I imagine it would decrease.

As far as I see it, only good can come of troop withdrawals.

If it were not for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and the occupation of six counties in Ireland):

* There would be a quicker response to floods and other natural disasters as the armed forces could be deployed for civil defence. More people would be saved, fewer homes would be damaged.

* Muslim people would be more willing to give information to the police on terrorist activities.

* The corporate newspapers would be less inclined to print Islamophobic drivel. Although, the capitalists would still use religious and ethnic differences in an attempt to divide working people…

* In both Iraq and Afghanistan, reconstruction and development could start in earnest.

It’s typical of the BBC to deny an open debate on the merits of the Afghan war – it’s the state broadcaster and was given something of a punishment beating over the Kelly affair.

The survey it conducted delivered no surprise verdict. The poll result was similar to others that have already been taken.

What’s galling is that the BBC has been through days of Remembrance broadcasting and a special season of programmes on the First World War, but has kept quiet about the pro-peace majority.

If only it would keep quiet about John fucking Hutton.

English students taken for granted?

From the Socialist Students:

New Labour caps new university places at 10,000 for next year
When Gordon Brown took over as prime minister in July 2007 part of his fanfare was that he increased the grants available for students.

Now the government has capped university places to 10,000, due to a budgeting crisis and the cost of borrowing to bail out the banks.

An expansion of grants came into effect with this year’s intake of students. Students from families with incomes of up to £25,000 are supposed to be entitled to the maximum grant of £2,825 a year (in reality bureaucratic, unfair means testing means many students miss out on money they are entitled to). The previous threshold was a family income of £17,500.

This year a third of students (showing what a low wage economy we live in) were entitled to the full grant. A further third of students with family incomes up to £60,000 a year receive a partial grant on a sliding scale, although this is has been cut to £50,020.

It appears New Labour have drastically underestimated the amount of poorer students who need to claim grants.

The money made available for these grants isn’t enough to meet the demand of by rising admissions which were up by 9.7% this year (for the first time this year UCAS figures included nursing students).

The government claims it is short of £100 million and that with a national debt piled up to £685 billion it can’t borrow anymore for public spending.

John Denham the Universities minister has devoted whole sections of his department’s website to lecturing students about managing their finances, perhaps some of his minions should take a look.

The admissions rise clearly reflects the aspirations of young people from poorer backgrounds to have the benefits of higher education. Many of whom will have had their fears about the cost of university and debt eased this year by New Labour’s promises of grants that may now prove to be empty.

Socialist Students has consistently warned that while we supported any increase in grants for students that these limited reforms would not be enough to meet the demand that exists, and that what New Labour promise or give to gain popularity for election purposes they soon try to take away.

If the number of university places is cut, or students find out they can’t get the money they were promised they were entitled to the government can expect huge anger.

Students will be asking what right the government has to take away the money that it promised them or stop them going to a university they want to go to because the government has bailed out rich bankers?

The NUS has stated its opposition to any cuts in grants or university places.

Good, but lets have some action! The NUS should follow the example of the USI (students union in Ireland) and the pensioners in Dublin who met the Irish governments budget cuts with a national demonstration.

Socialist Students says No to cuts in student grants and university places, For an immediate increase in public spending to meet levels of demand, Scrap all university fees and write off all student debt, for the introduction of a living grant for all and for a free, publicly funded good quality education system.

Tory Story: stop me if you’ve heard this one

Turns out some of these short-sellers that have been speculating against banks are donors to the Tories. As well as those hedge fund types

As Bradford & Bingley, the last of the independent former building societies, is shared between Santander and the state, the Tories have been attacking New Labour – whose economic policies (light-touch regulation, privatisation of public services) they have supported.

[On that B&B bail-out, the BBC’s economic correspondent Robert Peston notes that “For taxpayers to lose a penny Bradford and Bingley’s future losses would have to be unthinkably huge.” That doesn’t mean that it’s a good move, mind…]

Why it’s conference season, and the Tories are in Birmigham – and they’re not complacent, honest.

Aside from promises to stand Tory candidates in the six counties (AKA Northern Ireland), carry on state harrassment and demonisation of Muslims, and cut council services, we have an overture to Blue Labour ministers:

Senior Blairites could be offered jobs under a David Cameron government in the ‘national interest’ […] in a bid to poach some of Labour’s brightest talents and split the party.

Michael Gove, the shadow children’s secretary, singled out Schools Minister Lord Adonis, but also warmly praised current cabinet ministers James Purnell and the ‘outstanding’ Hazel Blears.

As for the Tories economic proposals, Green leader Caroline Lucas says we need more people power, not quangoes:

“We are in the middle of a financial crisis caused by a lack of democratic control of the economy, and the Tory response is to marginalise democracy even further. It’s what they call ‘disaster capitalism’ – seizing on an emergency as an excuse to drive through a hard-right ideological agenda.

“The Tories want to outsource oversight of government fiances to a quango they call the Office of Budget Responsibility. But we already have an Office of Budget Responsibility. It’s called Parliament.

“We don’t need another quango, filled with the same corporate bosses that got us into this mess, with a few Tory donors and ultra-right think-tank wonks for good measure. We need real democratic control of the economy, with power returned from multinationals to parliament and, most importantly, to ordinary people.

“The Tories want to outsource the handling of failed banks, too. When a bank has to be nationalised, it should be dealt with for the benefit of ordinary savers and borrowers, but George Osbourne wants banks handed over to the Bank of England for another dose of the insular City thinking that caused the problem in the first place.

“Under a Green New Deal, banks that failed would be restructured into more, smaller companies, so that any problems they have in the future can be contained without putting the whole economy at risk. High-street banking would be separated from high finance to improve the security of people’s savings and mortgages. We would restore some of our lost building societies, which added much-needed stability to the market. We would get finance, and the economy as a whole, working for people rather than distant corporations.

“The Tories want to cut public investment just at the time we need it most. Their attitude is ‘you’re on your own’. A Green New Deal means government doing its job: investing in keeping our economy healthy and building a sustainable economy for the future.

“By borrowing from the people through local bonds, government can create a secure investment for savers. That would allow us to revamp our public transport, energy supplies and housing, generating jobs, revitalising money flows, loosening ties to unreliable oil markets and cutting carbon emissions.”

On your bike, Cameron

He’s had his bike nicked, of course, but that’s beside the point.

Here’s the point(s).

Dave’s trying to convince us he cares about working class families by promising to fund a 100,000 apprenticeships if he wins the next election. ‘Cause, like, they’ve done a lot for the unemployed in the past… (Cameron and his “New” Tories were on the scene when the Old Tories were in office. The economic policies haven’t changed, and won’t change under another Tory administration.)

He’s so committed to saving the discredited centralised British state that he’s working on a merger with the Ulster Unionists – well, it’s not as if the Tories are having any luck in Scotland or Wales. Since the UUP is the second-largest unionist party in the North of Ireland, it would appear the Tories are not having much luck in Ireland, either.

And despite his talk of empowering people, Cameron is said to have overruled the Welsh Conservatives‘ support for a petition on the Welsh Assembly becoming a full parliamentary body.

And don’t worry, I’ll give Gordon Brown a literary kicking on the morrow.

Mark Steel on the media’s made-up Muslim stories

The attacks indured by Muslims in the UK are no laughing matter – and the extent of such violence and intimidation has been highlighted by the conservative journalist Peter Oborne, who links it to sensationalist (and usually false) media reportage of Muslims.

The reason the tabloid press is full of made-up stories about the Muslim community? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need legitimising and by linking a domestic threat of terrorism to a foreign war of occupation, opposition to these unpopular wars can be diluted. In the seventies and eighties it was the Irish, now it is the Muslims.

Here’s Mark’s hilarious Indie column in full:

Wife-beating? That’s fine – unless you’re a Muslim

The Sun newspaper has come over a bit modest. Following a Channel 4 documentary about media reporting of Muslims, the paper accepts some of its stories were “distorted”. But they’re not doing themselves justice. They weren’t distorted – they were entirely made up. For example, a story about a Muslim bus driver who ordered his passengers off the bus so he could pray was pure fabrication.

But if reporters are allowed to make up what they like, that one should be disciplined for displaying a shocking lack of imagination. He could have continued, “The driver has now won a case at the Court of Human Rights that his bus route should be altered so it only goes east. This means the 37A from Sutton Coldfield will no longer stop at Selly Oak library, but go the wrong way up a one-way street and carry on to Mecca. Local depot manager Stan Tubworth said, ‘I suggested he only take it as far as Athens but he threatened a Jihad, and a holy war is just the sort of thing that could put a service like the Selly Oak Clipper out of business’.”

Then there was a story about “Muslim thugs” in Windsor who attacked a house used by soldiers, except it was another invention. But with this tale the reporter still claims it’s true, despite a complete absence of evidence, because, “The police are too politically correct to admit it.” This must be the solution to all unsolved crimes. With Jack the Ripper it’s obvious – he was facing the East End of London, his victims were infidels and he’d have access to a burqua which would give him vital camouflage in the smog. But do the pro-Muslim police even bother to investigate? Of course not, because it’s just “Allah Allah Allah” down at the stations these days.

Maybe Muslim newspapers should retaliate by publishing their own made-up stories. So it will be reported that “Barmy PC teachers in Leicester have banned children from playing Noughts and Crosses, claiming the cross reminds Church of England kiddies of the suffering undertaken by Lord Jesus. A spokesman for the Board of Education said, ‘We have to be sensitive. Which is why we’ve replaced the game with ‘Noughts and Hexagons’. We did look into calling it ‘Noughts and Crowns of Thorns’ but decided Hexagons was more appropriate.”

Or, “Doctors have been told that patients are no longer to be referred to as ‘stable’, as this is offensive to followers of Jesus, who was said to have been born in one. So medical staff have been informed they must use an alternative word, or if they can’t think of one just let the patient die.”

The most common justification for ridiculing Islam is that the religion is “backward”, particularly towards women, as a fundamental part of its beliefs. The Sun’s old political editor suggests this as a defence of his newspaper’s stance, saying that under Islam, “women are treated as chattels”. And it’s true that religious scriptures can command this, such as the insistence that, “a man may sell his daughter as a slave, but she will not be freed at the end of six years as men are.” Except that comes from the Bible – Exodus, Chapter 21, verse 7.

The Bible is packed with justifications for slavery, including killing your slaves. So presumably the Sun, along with others who regard Islam as a threat to our civilisation, will soon be campaigning against “Sunday Schools of Hate” where children as young as seven are taught to read this grisly book. And next Easter they’ll report how, “I saw a small child smile with glee as he opened a Cadbury’s egg filled with chocolate buttons. But behind his grin I couldn’t help but wonder whether he wanted to turn me into a pillar of salt, then maybe sprinkle me on his menacing confectionary treat.”

In his defence of making stuff up, the Sun’s ex-political editor spoke about the amount of domestic violence suffered by Muslim women. But there’s just as much chance of suffering domestic violence if you’re not a Muslim, as one of the 10 million such incidents a year that take place in Britain. Presumably the anti-Islam lobby would say, “Ah yes, but those other ones involve secular wife-beating, which is not founded on archaic religious customs, but rational reasoning such as not letting him watch the snooker.”

And finally the Sun’s man defends the line of his paper by saying that, after all, these Muslims “are trying to bomb our country”. So it’s their civic duty to make stuff up – the same as keeping a look-out for spies during the Second World War.

So we should all do our bit, and every day send in something, until the press is full of stories like “Muslims in Darlington have been raising money for semtex by organising panda fights.” Or “In Bradford all nurseries have been ordered to convert their dolls’ houses into miniature mosques so that Muslim teddies have somewhere to pray.”

More local govt workers vote to strike against low pay

They will Unite with Unison, so to speak…

Unite members in local government vote 3 to 1 for strike action

26 June 2008

Thousands of workers working in local government have voted by three to one in favour of strike action, rejecting the employer’s below inflation pay offer.

Workers voted to reject an offer of 2.45 percent, which with inflation now at 4.3 percent represents a real terms pay cut.

Nearly 40,000 council workers providing services in school catering, social care, refuse and environmental services in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will now strike on Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th July, 2008.

Peter Allenson, Unite National Secretary for the Public Sector, said: “Our members work very hard providing essential public services and they will not carry the can for inflation by taking pay cuts. They have voted for sustained action to defend their living standards which should send a clear message to employers: get round the negotiating table as soon as possible and make an offer that will not result in a serious cut in living standards to our members.

“It is simply unfair and untrue to accuse public sector workers of stimulating price rises. Low paid local government workers are more likely to be the victims, rather than the cause of, rising inflation.

“The recent rise in living costs has meant that the average household has had to find an extra £1537 from the family budget in 2008, compared to 2007, to cover basic costs such as food and petrol.”

Dave Mathieson, a Unite member and council worker from Humberside, said: “I will be out on strike with my workmates on the 16th and 17th. The people making these decisions over our pay do not realise that for us it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul when our bills come in. We are getting further and further into debt each month. I don’t think what we are asking for is unreasonable. Our bosses should try living on what we earn – they’d soon find it doesn’t go very far.”

Unite will have members out on picket lines across the country on both Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th July.