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But as in Iceland, where the government has been replaced by a coalition of social democrats and green socialists, people are fighting back.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

Private companies to be rewarded for welfare failure

Ah, those welfare “reforms” that neoliberal Mr Purnell is pushing – you know, the plans to cut benefits and provide cheap labour for big business get the long term sick and unemployed back into work?

As my comrade Robert will attest, it’s not easy for people with disabilities to get back into work even when the economic climate is supposed to be good – never mind in a full-blown recession.

Will workfare make things better?

The FT reports on the preliminary results:

A flagship £1bn government programme to find jobs for people on sickness benefit is running 73 per cent short of its target, an unexpectedly bad outcome that will test political consensus about expanding private welfare provision.

The poor performance data, measured before the big increase in unemployment caused by the recession, has wide implications for direction of welfare reform, the price of existing contracts and the terms of future negotiations with private providers.

Ministers in recent years have been fighting to outdo the Conservatives in their support for welfare-to-work schemes, advocating the reforms as a relatively cost-free way to slash welfare rolls and to save the exchequer billions.

The disappointing early results from the Pathways to Work scheme provide a reality check, suggesting to cut the 2.6m incapacity benefit roll is harder and more expensive than expected.

James Purnell, welfare secretary, has proposed extending similar “payment by results” schemes to all those on sickness benefit deemed fit for work. Pathways’ performance record will make it harder for providers to raise private finance to invest in advance, especially in recession.

Almost all companies are losing money on Pathways contracts. One executive described it as “cash crunch” that could push some groups over the edge. “It is getting to the stage where they’ll be handing back the contracts,” said another industry insider.
[…]
Pathways was rolled out nationwide last year, the government’s first concerted attempt to tackle stubbornly high incapacity benefit rolls. But between April and September providers achieved only 27 per cent of the target to place people in “sustained jobs” for 13 weeks, according to figures published by website Indus Delta.

So, what’s the deal then? What now?

Why, bail-out the private companies, of course!

Give them the cash up front! Payment before results!

From Tribune:

As the Government’s welfare reform bill was debated by MPs for the first time, Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb asked him if he intended to change the contracts “so that more of what the providers get is a lump sum and less is related to performance?”

Mr Purnell replied: “We are happy to consider whether we can ‘front-load’ the payments for taking people on,” and added that there had been “very good interest” among companies for him to do just that.

The Department for Work and Pensions has already received bids from companies seeking the contracts, and is preparing to choose the successful bidders.

Now, I know what you are thinking. The government already has job centres and employs many professional and hard-working people to assist the unemployed in finding employment.

But that’s no good for the super-rich, is it? Where’s the profit in that?

Wildcat strikes at oil refineries

Let’s be clear, this is not a racist or xenophobic protest – though, no doubt the fascists will try and jump on the bandwagon. The strikers are not motivated by hatred, but by a fear that they might be lose their jobs in the future.

The contention is not that Italian or Portugese nationals living locally should be barred from employment, but that it is crazy that bosses would bring in workers from overseas before first seeking to take on unemployed people who live near the refinery.

These workers should be praised for defying the anti-union laws which criminalise wildcat action, for breaking the law to defend their living standards.

The BBC reports on the growing protests:

Hundreds of energy industry contractors have walked out at sites in northern England and Scotland in an escalating protest over the use of foreign labour.

The dispute began at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, North Lincolnshire, on Wednesday after a construction contract was awarded to an Italian firm.

Unions said the contract should have been given to British workers.

In a second day of action, 800 people protested outside the refinery as workers from other sites joined them.

Hundreds of contract workers at the neighbouring Conoco Phillips oil refinery took part in Thursday’s action.

Employees at BP’s Dimlington gas terminal in East Yorkshire and its chemical manufacturing plant in Saltend, Hull, also walked out in support of the Lindsey refinery workers.

Unofficial strike action was also taken by workers at Scottish Power’s Longannet power station in Fife.

Total, which owns the Lindsey refinery, said its main refining operations on the 500-acre site remained unaffected by the action.

It also stressed that there would be no direct redundancies as a result of the construction contract being awarded to Italian-based contractor IREM.

Unite union regional officer Bernard McAuley said workers at the refinery had been joined by hundreds of trade unionists and other supporters from around the UK.

He said: “They’ve come from all over the country. We reckon there were almost 1,000 people here today.

“We’ve also had huge numbers of messages of support from people who are incensed by this decision. It’s a total mockery.

“There are men here whose fathers and uncles have worked at this refinery, built this refinery from scratch. It’s outrageous.”

Lame Academy

The title being a pun on the erstwhile BBC talent show… (Yes, I miss it too.)

The News Line editorial today is on the calamities facing recently-privatised schools:

THE Academy school project – to replace state owned schools, with ‘independent’, millionaire sponsored, and privately run schools, who hire the staff that they want, decide on the syllabus, and decide on rates of pay – is crashing down around the Labour government which created it.

The millionaire sponsors, now hard hit by the capitalist crisis, are no longer keen to splash their cash, and the system is proving to be grossly inferior to the local authority run state schools that they are meant to supplant.

Just where the Academy system is right now, can be seen by the crisis being undergone by the Richard Rose Academy, in Carlisle.

It was formed from a school and a college and opened just five months ago, at the gallop so to speak, with its ‘trademark’ modern buildings not even having planning permission.

It has just been put under a ‘special measures’ regime after parents complained to the schools inspectors, Ofsted.

Last Friday the academy was closed for a day as pupils staged a protest, which was supported by their parents, on the grounds that the gross understaffing of the Academy made it an unsafe place for children. Well, necessary staffing levels cost money!

Ofsted’s report, released on Wednesday evening, says that 90 per cent of parents had ‘serious concerns’ about their child’s welfare, safety and education.

The report found that the school failed to give pupils ‘an acceptable standard of education’ and that those leading it were not ‘demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement’.

It added that ‘The academy’s senior leaders’ hired by employees of the sponsor, ‘underestimated the levels of challenge presented by the amalgamation of the two schools serving different communities’.

Parents said the main problem was an acute shortage of teaching staff which completely undermined what education programme there was.

It turns out that the children were being taught in temporary classrooms with no heating and no toilets, and that the most proficient teachers had left, leaving the teaching to relatively inexperienced supply teachers.

Such a situation would never be tolerated at a state run school.

Schools Minister Jim Knight, whose department had allowed this anarchic situation to develop, said last week that he would do all he could to turn the school around.

This statement has been greeted by parents with understandable scepticism since it is Knight’s Ministry that allowed the ‘academy’ to start without the necessary permanent buildings in the first place.

The Academy was ‘fast tracked’ by the government in its stampede to eradicate the state education system.

It did not seem to matter to the Ministry that pupils were being taught in temporary accommodation, and that this would continue to be so for a considerable period ahead. Even if the permanent buildings got planning permission, they would take some time to be built – that is if they were going to be built at all.

Christine Blower, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The Richard Rose Academy is a victim of the government’s fixation with private providers for education. The fast track to opening this Academy has left pupils, parents and the local community without a well functioning school.

‘Richard Rose Academy should return to the local authority which can provide support and back-up.’
Academies must be scrapped, and free state education restored with proper funding.

This means that all students’ fees must be scrapped and full living grants restored to every student to restore the right of free state education to every young person.

Banksters are tax-dodgers

The TUC is calling on the govt to make the banks it owns come clean on their tax dodging activities.

(Come clean! What chance the new Met Commissioner floods the City with cops to nab the corporate crooks who have plunged us into recession?)

Richard Murphy, tax expert and blogger, carried out the research…

Lloyds TSB, RBS, HSBC and Barclays have between them well over a thousand subsidiary companies (1,207) incorporated in tax havens. The most popular location is the notorious tax haven of the Cayman Islands with 262 companies, Jersey is second, with 170 companies. HBOS is not included as it has not published a list of its subsidiary companies for 2006, 2007 or 2008 in either its annual report or its Companies House return, in apparent breach of company law.

Not every subsidiary located in a tax haven or financial secrecy jurisdiction will necessarily be used for tax avoidance, says the TUC analysis. Some may be simply providing banking services to the local population and business community of countries such as Ireland – or have particular commercial links to countries such as HSBC’s ties to Hong Kong.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘The taxpayer is now propping up Britain’s banks, either directly or indirectly. Even those who have not had direct bail-outs now trade with an implicit guarantee from the Government. The irresponsible behaviour of banks here and abroad is the biggest cause of the recession.

‘Yet even those who come cap in hand to the taxpayer and Bank of England, continue to do business in tax havens. This raises questions about whether part of the objective is avoiding paying a fair rate of tax to the UK – a tax gap that has to be made up by the rest of us.

‘We cannot know the extent of these activities. Indeed one of the main attractions of tax havens is their secrecy. There is no suggestion that anyone has broken any tax laws, but now banks have public stakes or trade with the knowledge that the taxpayer stands ready to bail them out, the taxpayer has a right to know the full extent of bank activities and liabilities across the world.

‘We should know where banks undertake their activities, where they record their profits and where they pay their taxes. Country-by-country reporting of their activities is essential if we, the UK taxpayers, are to know the risk we are under-writing.

‘Voters are increasingly angry at the banks, who they rightly think must take a large share of the blame for the jobs and homes that will be lost in this recession. The Government should set up a tough public inquiry into why our financial system came so close to collapse – and it should investigate the full extent of their tax avoidance.’

Myners strike – words of wisdom from City insider turned govt advisor

Yet another reject from the square mile has made it into government, take note!

Says Paul, who joined Labour because it was more “left wing” than the Liberals:

The capacity for soundly managed banks and markets to support the generation of wealth in the economy could never be matched by the public sector. That is why the government has a policy of supporting a return to an effective commercial banking sector, rather than nationalisation.

Ah, no comrade. The reason is that New Labour is committed to securing the power and wealth of the super-rich, as opposed to using the country’s wealth to re-invest in productive activities…

If Gordon Brown had really wanted to abolish the boom and bust of the capitalist economic cycle, he would have expropriated the banks years ago – not merely part-nationalise them by buying worthless shares.

As it stands, turbo-capitalism of the sort backed by New Labour has destroyed the manufacturing base of this country and damaged the social fabric of the country with mass unemployment. Many were bought off with the promise of a “housing ladder” to climb out of the working class, but now this bubble has burst along with the dream of a “popular capitalism”

The relentless pursuit of profit for the few has brought misery for the many. Now it has brought chaos for those who benefit the most – and they’ve called in the government, which has stepped in with wads of borrowed money which we will have to pay back in years to come (with interest!).

But never fear, we have utopians like Paul Myners in government. Men who can imagine a time when capitalism serves the many not the few. How fortunate he is to have such dreams – the rest of us must bear the reality of the recession: indebtedness, mass unemployment, and a rise in homelessness and crime.