Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Archive for the ‘Workers’ struggles’ Category

Leading the fight back?

Posted by Left Luggage on July 10, 2009

In the first of what we hope will be a series of profiles and interviews with groups and activists, we interviewed Ben Robinson of Youth Fight for Jobs about the campaign’s aims and tactics, as well as the challenges it will face. Ben is writing here in a personal capacity, and his opinions do not necessarily reflect those of YFfJ as a whole.

Please tell us the main aims of Youth Fight for Jobs and how it is seeking to achieve those aims?

The Youth Fight for Jobs campaign was launched in January 2009. As we saw it, youth unemployment was set to continue rising, with the situation of mass youth unemployment becoming the norm for a whole number of years. Not only that, but the main parliamentary parties were still committed to an agenda of privatising and attacks on the working class. Education privatisation and a lack of decent services were also set to be a feature of young peoples future. After a general election university fees will almost certainly be raised, cutting out many working class youth from education. So the campaign was launched, not only to combat youth unemployment, but also to fight for a future for young people. So the headline aims of the campaign are for the right to a decent job with a living wage, for apprenticeships with jobs at the end, and against university fees. There is also a broader set of demands that appear on the website and on the leaflets.

Those aims can only be achieved through mass action of young people and workers. Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems will not introduce these measures if just asked for it. It will be a question of building a mass movement in order to make it clear that this is what the majority of people want. I think the example of the French youth movement against the CPE is the best recent example of how that strategy can win victories, but also the anti-poll tax campaign in the early nineties, the school student strikes in the mid eighties in Britain, but also in france and spain. These show very clearly that it is possible to fight and to win.

YFfJ seems to be a campaign with very ambitious goals. What would constitute a success for the campaign?

This campaign is going to be around as long as mass youth unemployment is! I think there are a number of battles which will take place over specific issues. In September, many universities and colleges face savage cuts in their budgets, with whole courses going in a lot of cases. In addition, tens of thousands of young people will be excluded from university because of a government miscalculation. In January, the government are introducing compulsory working for some unemployed young people – there will have to be a battle to ensure that young people are not used to drive down workers wages and conditions. There is clearly going to be a massive battle over pay in the public sector. I’ve already mentioned the prospect of university fees going up as well. I think that activists from the campaign will be involved in all of these struggles, and clearly a victory on any of them would be a success. Local groups are getting together and forming demands locally for the campaign on the question of youth unemployment and lack of opportunities in those areas as well. But those examples are defending young people and workers from attacks on our present conditions. The stated aim of the campaign is to win a decent future for young people, and we will fight until we achieve it.

There is also a question over whether capitalism can achieve our demands. From the point of view of those in power, the vastly wealthy ruling class, unemployment is good as competition for jobs can help drive down wages. The recent news that ‘bonuses are back’ shows just how little the rich have had to pay for the present crisis. But for a programme of socially useful job creation, to end unemployment and provide decent jobs and education for young people, and the population as a whole, would take a massive struggle. I think that some of the demands can be won under capitalism. After all, the NHS and other reforms were won on the basis of a mass movement. But I also think that there’s a fundamental divide in society between the interests of the tiny rich elite and of the mass of the population. If capitalism cannot afford to implement and maintain a decent future for young people, I think young people can’t afford capitalism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Posted in Class, Interviews / features, Recession, Strategy, Workers' struggles | 6 Comments »

A reason to be cheerful

Posted by Left Luggage on July 2, 2009

As we’ve previously commented, the state of working class industrial organisation in Britain does not compare favourably to our European neighbours. A detailed article in the International Socialism journal in March highlighted the slow disintegration of independent networks of militant shop stewards as a major factor contributing to the decline of industrial militancy. The number of workers per shop steward has risen, and there seems to be some degree of stagnation. The majority of shop stewards are over 40 and have held their position for 8 years or more.

The National Shop Stewards Network was set up to attempt to reverse this decline, and to build links between trade union activists in different industries. NSSN is now three years old, and had its third annual conference last Saturday. While there is no formal membership structure at present, the conference was open to unpaid shop stewards from any union in Britain. Full time union officials could attend in an “observer” capacity only.

The conference was more of a rally than a policy-making forum, but it was one of the better rallies I have attended. In the morning we heard some rousing speeches from Keith Gibson and Owen Morris – both members of the victorious Lindsey Oil Refinery Strike Committee. Gibson explained how stewards used mobile phone networks and held mass meetings every morning to communicate with members. Morris was at pains to defend the action Lindsey workers took in February over the use of non-union foreign contractors. He said:

My members might be working in Aberdeen one week and Cornwall the next. According to our national agreement, no matter where they’re working they get paid £14 per hour plus expenses, plus bonuses, plus lunch. Companies have been using Polish workers and paying them £4 per hour. We, as working class people, can’t accept that.

Also on the platform was newly elected Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins. He gave inspiring accounts of community campaigns that built public support for the SP in Dublin, including the campaign against water charges in the mid-90s and the exposure of the shocking treatment of Turkish migrant workers by Turkish multinational GAMA in 2005.

After lunch there was a choice of workshops on different topics related to trade union struggles. I attended the talk on the crisis in the Post Office. Activists seemed united in seeing the national office of their union – the CWU – as an obstacle to their attempts to organise resistance.

The day ended with a closing rally, the highlight of which was an address by the RMT rep for the London Underground cleaners, Clara Osagiede, who recounted the successful campaign to get cleaners the London Living Wage. Pretty much the last act of the conference was to elect a steering committee of 50 shop stewards to decide policy for the organisation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | 4 Comments »

Total victory?

Posted by Left Luggage on June 26, 2009

Striking workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, in Lincolnshire, and those construction workers at sites around the country appear to have won a stunning victory. News reports suggest that energy giant Total has backed down after its sub-contracting firms sacked 647 of the Lindsey workers on last Friday. According to the reports, unions Unite and the GMB have also secured assurances that the 51 workers who were made redundant, sparking the wave of wildcat strikes across the country, “will also be offered the chance to return to work”. Furthermore:

Unions have also won assurances that thousands of contract workers at power plants, refineries and gas terminals across Britain who also walked out in sympathy will not be victimised for their actions.

The proposed deal will be put to workers on Monday and while we haven’t seen the finer details, this appears to be a massive victory for the workers and a humbling climbdown by Total. The two-week long wildcat strike at Lindsey alone is estimated to have cost Total €100m (£85m) and, according to the company, “had put major investment into the building of its HDS-3 desulphurisation unit at risk.

Additionally, as Left Luggage has previously written, the initial laying-off of 51 workers seemed a clear-cut attempt by Total to force out militant workers and to kill-off the solidarity strike as an effective tool, possibly by deliberately provoking a walkout. Gregor Gall has pointed out that Total seemed to have selected for redundancy those workers who played a key role in the February strikes over the use of sub-contractors bringing in foreign workforces. Apparently, bosses at the site said the 51 workers would not be redepolyed because they were “an unruly workforce who had taken part in unofficial disputes and who won’t work weekends.” Phil Davies, GMB National Secretary, said: “This is a clear case of victimisation on a par with the notorious industry blacklists.”

Right now, this looks like a huge victory for the Lindsey workers. What’s more it demonstrates once again – to workers at Lindsey, the others sites that took action, and to the wider labour movement – the effectiveness of solidarity strikes and the use of flying pickets. Both very important lessons.

Some of the workers have now lost two weeks wages through the solidarity strike, and contributions to the hardship fund are still necessary.

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Lindsey and the Left’s priorities

Posted by Left Luggage on June 22, 2009

For those who follow such matters, the dispute over the sackings of 647 workers at the Lindsay Oil Refinery escalated today when more than 3,000 workers at construction sites elsewhere in the country walked out in solidarity. Many of these sites had already come out either last week or earlier this year, but we also see in the Lindsey dispute how crucial is the tactic of the flying picket, which is being used by workers at the refinery. In a remarkable showing, according to the BBC, the walkouts included:

• 900 contract workers at Sellafield in Cumbria
• 400 workers at two LNG plants in west Wales – South Hook and Dragon
• 200 contractors at Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales
• 200 contractors at Drax and Eggborough power stations near Selby, North Yorkshire
• Workers at Fiddlers Ferry power station in Widnes, Cheshire
• Contract maintenance workers at the Shell Stanlow Refinery in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
• 60 contract maintenance workers at Didcot A power station in Oxfordshire
• More than 1,000 workers at the Ensus biofuel site in Wilton, Teesside

The dispute centres upon the laying off of 51 contract workers who had been at the forefront of unofficial walkouts at the Linconshire refinery in January and February this year that spread throughout the country. The redundancies came as 61 other jobs were handed out to other workers. This led to hundreds of construction workers at the site walking out to defend their sacked colleagues. After a week of wildcat strikes throughout the country,energy giant Total on Friday sacked the entire striking workforce and gave them until 5pm today to reapply for their jobs. A BBC news reporter described the protest at Lindsey this morning:

The first wave of workers marched for nearly a mile from a neighbouring refinery. Police had to close the road as hundreds of protestors paraded through the centre of this industrial estate. As they gathered in the company car park, union officials called for unity – for a show of defiance.

The workers responded. Led by Phil Whitehurst from the GMB, they queued to set their dismissal letters alight. Dozens of them threw the papers into a blazing dustbin to cheers from the crowd. As the bucket smouldered behind us, I asked some of them if they were really prepared to put their principles before their job. The answer was always a resounding yes. I asked again, would they be re applying for their jobs. No, they said resolutely. Some even sounded disgusted at the suggestion.

-Keep reading>

Posted in News, Strategy, Unions, Workers' struggles | 2 Comments »

Sackings an attempt to kill off solidarity strikes

Posted by Left Luggage on June 18, 2009

Although they have hardly been picked up in the left blogosphere, and have barely got a mention in the mainstream media, wildcat strikes have hit the UK’s construction industry once again in recent days. The dispute is focussed on the Lindsey Oil Refinery site, the centre of the nationwide unofficial walkouts in February this year which became synonymous with the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan and were criticised by much of the left.

The latest round of action began on June 11, after 51 workers at subcontracting company Shaw UK were made redundant without proper consultation while another company on site, RBC, had recruited 61 workers. Apparently, workers at Shaw UK were at the forefront of the wildcat action earlier this year. Workers say “most of the 51 redundancies were stewards, activists or union members.”

While the British left’s focus is on events on the streets of Tehran, there have been solidarity walkouts at industrial sites across the country, including at Drax and Eggborough power stations in North Yorkshire, at the Fiddler’s Ferry power station at Widnes in Cheshire, at Ratcliffe power station in Nottinghamshire, at the BOC oxygen plant at Scunthorpe, at BP’s Saltend refinery near Hull, and at Aberthaw in south Wales.

Around 1,200 contract workers at the Lindsey refinery, owned by Total, struck this week over the redundancies. The latest news is that bosses have sacked 900 workers for taking unofficial industrial action. Following the redundancies which appear to have been an attempt to force out trade unionists, this move must be seen as an effort to blunt the tool of the solidarity walkouts for good. They have undoubtedly been costly for Total and the subcontractors and with these sackings they clearly to kill them off.

The scale of the walkouts, mostly in solidarity and at risk to workers in other sites, has been hugely impressive and the left’s coolness towards them has been remarkable. Both the GMB and Unite unions are looking into the possibility of a national ballot of construction workers and leaked documents show planning is underway by the Engineering Construction Industry Association to undermine the ballot.

In that light, the sackings take on even greater significance. The stakes have been raised considerably and the response from workers at Lindsey and at sites across the country over the coming days will have a major impact on the balance of forces in the industry and the future of solidarity strikes in general.

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Leftovers #9

Posted by Left Luggage on June 3, 2009

As we reported previously, the entry of No2EU into the political arena has ignited a lively debate on the Left. One positive result of the establishment of the union-backed electoral platform is the way it has raised the question of what the Left’s approach to the European Union should be. Last week, the debate reached the pages of Red Pepper, where European Union expert Leigh Phillips explained in great detail why “it’s hard to claim the EU is a continental-scale democracy”. On the record low turnout expected for this week’s European elections, she writes:

East and west, this is clearly not the apathy of the contented. Rather, it is the rational decision of those who may have little knowledge of the snakes-and-ladders hierarchy of the European institutions – but sense that however they vote, it will make little difference.

As a Brussels journalist, I can confirm that their hunch is mostly correct. The real power in the EU lies not with elected MEPs, but with a clatch of committeemen, civil servants and diplomats.

Phillips goes on to cite an estimate that the European Parliament has a substantive say in only 15% of EU legislation, with the unelected European Commission accounting for 70%.

Given these claims, it is perhaps surprising that Phillips argues against “the blinkered defence of national sovereignty” she attributes to No2EU, advocating instead “another version of European politics, one that is internationalist and democratic, not intergovernmental and technocratic.” The reader is not enlightened as to what that might mean in concrete terms. -Keep reading>

Posted in Elections, European Union, Leftovers, New workers' party, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Workers’ ‘flexibility’ saluted by bosses’ campaign

Posted by Left Luggage on June 2, 2009

A survey published yesterday shows just how deep and extensive the attacks on workers’ pay and conditions have been so far during the recession. The figures should also draw our attention to the lack of resistance, apart from a few notable examples, to these attempts to make workers pay the cost of the crisis.

The study, commissioned by the Keep Britain Working website (founded by the boss of recruitment company Reed and supported by the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry) shows that more than a quarter of workers in Britain have suffered a pay cut, and many others have experienced further cuts in their conditions:

Over the past nine months, 27 per cent of UK workers have had their pay cut, 24 per cent have had their hours reduced and 24 per cent have lost benefits, according to the survey.

It found that 37 per cent had experienced only one of these changes, while another 12 per cent had experienced two of them and a further 5 per cent all three.

Two in five workers had been given extra responsibilities, while a fifth had seen the nature of their role within their organisation change. Two per cent had been offered a semi-paid sabbatical and 6 per cent an unpaid sabbatical since the recession began.

With unemployment having so far risen as fast as during the 1980s recession, and faster than that of the 1990s, the Office for National Statistics predicts the number out of work will reach 3 million – 10% of the working population – by the end of the year.

Understandably, the survey finds that 54% of workers are more pessimistic about the job market than a month ago. But Keep Britain Working finds reason to cheer because workers are “making common cause” with bosses. The campaign’s James Reed, chief executive officer of Reed recruitment group, says:

British workers are increasingly pessimistic about job prospects in the immediate future. But – and in contrast to parts of continental Europe – workers appear overall to be making common cause with their managers to help keep people working.

The contrast with Europe, where workers have shown less “flexibility” and greater resistance, should lead to some difficult questions about the Left in Britain and the chronic condition in which we find ourselves. Of course, radicalism is by no means an inevitable outcome of recession; in fact the opposite is often true as workers are made fearful for their jobs. Nevertheless, it is the job of the Left to promote resistance and it is a sign of our weakness that there has been so little thus far and that bosses can salute our “flexibility” in losing jobs and working longer for less pay.

Posted in Recession, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Leftovers #8

Posted by Left Luggage on May 27, 2009

In this week’s Leftovers, we feature the latest developments around the RMT-backed No2EU platform, strategic differences around combatting the BNP, as well as some analysis on trade union militancy, the latest unofficial walkouts, and student occupations.

Plenty has been written about the forthcoming European elections on June 4, though much of it either regarding the failings of No2EU or the possibility of the BNP winning seats.

First, regarding No2EU, an interview with the platform’s Dave Hill (also of Socialist Resistance, which garnered a mention on Left Luggage last week) on Liam MacUaid’s blog has some interesting points and deals with some of the biggest questions that have been raised about No2EU. (It is from the Weekly Worker, however, so does contain some utterly barmy questions.) Regarding the platform’s attitude towards British capitalism and the accusation of Left nationalism, he says:

in my view the enemy is capitalism, based in both the European Union and in Britain. They are the same. What I have been arguing for in the meetings I’ve been involved in is workers’ internationalism with no illusions in the sanctity of British capital. We’re a movement seeking to replace capitalism with socialism – and I’m not just talking about neoliberalism, which is simply the current version of the class war from above.

Regarding immigration and the “no borders” position:

My view is that this is not a time to have completely open borders. On the other hand, I think that the current controls are racist and that people who are in this country should be treated with full human rights and have full workers’ rights. The conditions under which many refugees and asylum-seekers live are horrendous.

He also suggests the platform should become something more permanent rather than disbanding on June 5, as is its stated intention. He also advocated the idea of a “workers’ MP on a workers’ wage”, which is an advance on No2EU’s intention of not taking up seats in the European parliament if elected.
-Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Elections, European Union, Leftovers, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Rebuilding working class consciousness

Posted by Left Luggage on May 21, 2009

Some arguments just seem to keep on reappearing, no matter how many times their contentions are shown to be folly. Such is the case with the “search for a revolutionary subject” by the Left, or “why has the working class failed us”. Over time this has seen various sections of the Left transferring their revolutionary aspirations to, variously, anti-colonial movements, students, peasants, the lumpen-proletariat, and international movements of a number of shades.

The concern over the working class as revolutionary subject was raised on the UK Left Network discussion group this week. As usual in such forums, the level of debate was variable at best. On poster argues “the working class no longer exists” and that the key is to oppose illegal wars, imperialism and privatisation. The writer goes on: “Once they have a good pay they will only be concerned when their own jobs are at risk. In the meantime they are engaged in a rat race, not realizing that they are losing in the end”. Another poster suggets the decline of manufacturing has put paid to the working class in the “Western imperialist countries” and argues that this class was identified as:

the agent of change not because it was the most oppressed class historically but because of the circumstances of its creation, it was able to effect change. That clearly isn’t the case today.

Another highly optimistic poster argues regarding the increasing support for the BNP, that:

To most workers nationalism is a bit of a joke- at best. barring a real socialist alternative they may vote for it but without any real enthusiasm.

The prompt for this discussion was an article on the International Viewpoint website. Now, I hadn’t come across IV before, but apparently this is the magazine of the reunified Trotskyist Fourth International, linked to the organisation Socialist Resistance. (Apologies to those readers who are more au fait with small far-left sects.) The article, in which Phil Hearse asks whether working class consciousness is dead, actually covers some very interesting ground although it reaches some worrying conclusions. -Keep reading>

Posted in Class, Socialism, Strategy, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Leftovers #7

Posted by Left Luggage on May 20, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion recently of the role of unions in any potential rebuilding of a leftwing political culture in the UK. The RMT’s entry into the political arena through the No2EU platform for the European elections has stimulated some heated debate, and a number of trade unionists are involved in the promotion of the People’s Charter campaign. The latter initiative was the subject of a piece by former Morning Star editor John Haylett on Socialist Unity last week. Haylett was at pains to stress that the Charter is designed to gain the support of the trade union movement:

The entire charter can be read on the website http://www.thepeoplescharter.com and it reads a little like the roll call of motions carried at any trade union conference, which is certainly no coincidence.

Those who drew up the charter wanted to base the call for action not on a collection of left policies worked out among a small group of like-minded comrades, which could then be presented to the labour movement like biblical tablets of stone as the one true path to salvation, but on decisions that have already been taken by trade unionists themselves.

As with the many other Charter campaigns in the last two decades, the demands are broad, social-democratic and calculated to appeal to disillusioned former Labour voters. Many of the Left will have doubts about the campaign’s strategy, revealed in the concluding passage of Haylett’s article:

There is no political difference between Brown and Milburn, Clarke, Blunkett or the rest of yesterday’s windbags.

There is, however, a political choice to be made between Brown’s steady-as-she-sinks approach, which guarantees a trouncing in next month’s Euro election and next year’s general election, and a unifying, campaigning document that could enthuse the mass of alienated previous Labour voters by attracting a million signatures and serving notice on the government that an alternative way exists and must be tried.

The task is to build a tidal wave of public opinion that will either force Labour to change direction and save its electoral bacon or lay the basis for a united labour movement fightback to frustrate the Tories and work to deliver a government that would put principles and people before private profit.

The aim – at least for Haylett – appears to be to use the Charter to lobby the Labour leadership in the hope that this will push the Party leftwards and save it from itself. Judging from the article, it appears that the campaign is concentrating at present on getting union leaders to sign the Charter, rather than -Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Community, Labour Party, Leftovers, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Leftovers #6

Posted by Left Luggage on May 10, 2009

In this week’s digest, we feature debate on the Left over the outcome of the Visteon dispute, critical thoughts on union bureaucracies, differing reports on a demonstration calling for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and an article blaming the media for knife crime.

In the aftermath of the Visteon dispute there has been some debate around the Left blogosphere as to what extent the outcome was a victory for the workers. We mentioned previously The Commune‘s analysis which, through speaking to some of the workers, questions the role of the Unite union bureaucracy, argues ending the Enfield occuaption was a tactical error, and raising the issue of pensions, which has not been resolved. Blogger Liam McUaid argues the outcome was a “partial victory” and posts an abrasive article by Socialist Democracy’s John McAnulty that focuses on the loss of pensions and jobs. In response, Andy Newman at Socialist Unity argues that the outcome was a clear-cut victory, and with a close analysis of the factors at play argues that the workers won the best deal possible:

It was an heroic and inspirational fight, that blew away the cobwebs of inertia that had greeted the closure of Woolworths, and other job losses.

But before we get too carried away with our assesment of the workforces’ bargaining position, let us consider that Visteon were seeking to close the factories, so the occupations were an interruption to cash flow stopping the selling the assets, but were not hitting their production; and secondly that through the use of threats of courts, police and bailiffs, only Belfast was still in occupation at the time a deal was reached.

That is, the leverage that the workforce had over Visteon and Ford was potentially peaking when the deal was agreed, and there was a substantial risk that if the deal was turned down, the bailiffs would have gone into the Belfast plant, and the pickets at Enfliend and Basildon would boil down to a hard core of last-standers, like the tragic defeat at Gate Gourmet, while the rest of the workforce melted away.

Now it is possible to construct other scenarios, but experience of the British labour movement over the last few years suggests that this would be a likely enough scenario to base calculations upon it.
-Keep reading>

Posted in Leftovers, News, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Militant trade unionist sacked

Posted by Left Luggage on May 7, 2009

As we reported previously, Rob Williams, Unite trade union convenor at Linamar Swansea and vice-chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, was sacked by the company’s management last week, and then temporarily re-instated following militant action by the Linamar workforce. This update comes from The Commune:

Disgracefully, however, Rob yesterday had his sacking confirmed. Negotiations between Linamar management and [Unite joint general secretary] Tony Woodley took place all day in London, but Linamar did not shift.

Meanwhile at the Swansea plant Linamar revealed their brutality. Massive intimidation of the workforce took place – including foremen going around the shop floor threatening workers with the sack if they dared walk out in support of Rob. The bosses even went to the ludicrous lengths of removing the door from Rob’s trade union office.

This brutal action by Linamar is an attempt to return to the nineteenth century. What Linamar do not realise, however, is that all hell is going to break loose when workers, both in the Swansea and the wider labour movement, hear how Rob and his members have been treated.
-Keep reading>

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Insightful reflections on the Visteon dispute

Posted by Left Luggage on May 5, 2009

The outcome and internal dynamics of the Visteon dispute is the subject of a detailed and insightful analysis over at The Commune. It is a useful contribution because it is easy at the end of a dispute not to raise questions that cast doubt on the success of the action. On the other hand, there are vital lessons to be learned from every dispute and we need to consider these.

There seems no doubt that the workers have won a significant victory in securing 52 weeks’ redundancy pay from the company. However, this article suggests workers at the Enfield plant do not themselves know the details of the deal. The issues of pensions and what rate of pay the redundancy money will be calculated on (whether shift rate or day rate) are still outstanding. It also questions the role of the union bureaucracy of Unite relating to a lack of information, a lack of support, and the exclusion of the local convenor from negotiations. The critique is incisive and flags up the problem of relying on union hierarchies, whose immediate interests in reality diverge from those of striking workers due to their structural role as negotiators between capital and labour.

The article also offers some analysis of the tactical merits of abandoning the factory occupation, a theme discussed in a previous article. Workers speaking to the writer said when they made the decision they were tired and susceptible to “Unite scaremongering” about prosecutions and eviction. The contrast with the Belfast occupation, which continued right through the dispute, is a useful one.

The most inspiring comments in the article concern the emergence of a new class consciousness among the workers as a result of their collective struggle, something which is commonly experienced during militant strikes where workers are in the driving seat. After speaking to workers at the plant, the writer reports:

They told how they have learned in the past month that laws are made by and for the owners, and against the workers. They explained to me that what was needed was for the workers themselves to organise society on a new basis, and make the laws directly, being quite specific that this did not mean getting other, “better” representatives to do so for us, but doing it ourselves. They told me that they’d discovered their own power as workers, and that they wanted to continue the struggle against the government and corporations. For them, the first step would be to organise for change in their own union, which they described as having been something between practically useless and an actual obstacle to them in their struggle. They told me that they’d known, in a way, that these things were true before, but the struggle had placed these things “in front of our face”.

Posted in Strategy, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Visteon workers’ victory

Posted by Left Luggage on May 4, 2009

Workers at Visteon factories in Enfield, Belfast and Basildon have won a major victory after forcing the company to offer redundancy payouts. The deal comes over a month since the 610 workers at the three plants were sacked with no notice, and told they would receive no redundancy pay or pensions. In response, they occupied the factories, mounted 24-hour pickets and protests across the country at Ford showrooms. The motor parts company was formerly owned by Ford but was “spun-out” in 2000, when workers were told they would retain the same terms and conditions. On the deal negotiated by Unite, which was accepted by the Basildon and Enfield workers on Friday and Belfast workers yesterday, the Morning Star is reporting:

Visteon, despite claiming that its British subsidiary had gone bankrupt, was now prepared to pay out an “enhanced redundancy package” that includes “special payments” of 52 weeks’ pay backdated to last November, which could be worth up to £50,000 for some of the longer-serving staff.

The offer also includes all the cash that the workers were owed for the redundancy notice that they were never given and, although the question of pensions remains unresolved, workers at all the Visteon plants were in no doubt that they had won a huge victory.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that this deal goes beyond the redundancy terms offered by Ford and will see the workers given preferential treatment if they apply for jobs at Ford’s UK plants.

Unite said a renewed deal, which goes beyond the Ford redundancy terms, had been accepted unanimously by the union’s convenors and shop stewards. The proposed settlement deal will see a considerable lift in the redundancy package offered to workers with long service and who previously worked for Ford.

Some 510 out of the 610-strong workforce are former Ford employees. Workers with shorter service can expect to receive 10 times what they would have received in statutory redundancy pay. Ford has also agreed to give preferential treatment to former Visteon workers who apply for work at Ford’s UK plants in the future.

There is some reaction from Visteon workers to the deal at the Socialist Worker website. The workers have said they will maintain the Belfast occupation and the pickets in Enfield and Basildon until the redundancy agreements are signed, sealed and the cash delivered to workers’ bank accounts.

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

May Day and the state of play

Posted by Left Luggage on May 1, 2009

May Day 2009 provides an opportunity to compare the state of working class organisation in Britain with that of other developed nations. In France, unions and the Left plan to stage almost 300 demonstrations across the country. Up to 3 million are expected to march in the third national demonstration over the Govermnent’s handling of the economic crisis. Polls show 70% of the population support the demonstrations, and a clear majority support more militant tactics such as “bossnapping“. By contrast, German unions have been relatively passive (although an upsurge is predicted by some as unemployment figures climb).

So how does the British response to the recession compare? The Left’s focus so far has been on the factory occupations in Dundee, Derry, Belfast, Basildon and Enfield. Some commentators, like Gregor Gall, suggest that occupations as a tactic do not generate as much publicity as bossnappings and are therefore deficient. Such analyses miss the central point: that the isolated protests in the UK show no signs of broadening into the kind of mass campaigns seen in France and elsewhere. The Government’s budget, unveiled last week, cut public spending to a level lower than under Thatcher, further restricted the right to claim benefits and failed to close tax loopholes that cost the treasury billions of pounds each year. The most significant response from the Left was a protest organised by the Labour Representation Committee. The lunchtime demo was banned by police, although a small protest was held in the early evening. The Unite union has belatedly called a “March for Jobs” in Birmingham on May 16, but clearly any union action on the scale of what is taking place in France is unforseeable.

Any mass industrial or political response to the recession would have to be built on elements that are currently absent in Britain. As even the Socialist Workers’ Party now admits, the network of militant shop stewards, the culture of resistance in workplaces and the community and political organisations capable of sustaining such a campaign no longer exist.

It is easy to see why some believe the best course of action for the Left in the immediate future is to engage in campaigns that build solidarity in communities rather than workplaces. A recent post from the Thurrock branch of the Independent Working Class Association links the recession with the Budget and local spending cuts and attempts to launch a campaign to fight for working class people  in the area. Meanwhile Left Luggage has become aware of a new group called Action Eastend, who seek to bring together community campaigns in East London. There are dozens of local campaign groups in operation now, from Wigan to Lewes in Sussex, and a huge number have been set up in the last few years. Though many of these groups are formally apolitical, most are active in fighting for the interests of working class people. At the moment, they’re also operating in isolation, but some kind of federation of community campaign groups would surely be possible as a way to make contacts, share experiences, discuss strategies, and also develop a more overtly political approach. We are planning to publish features on some of these groups in the near future, and in doing so we hope to assist in establishing such links.

Posted in Community, Strategy, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »

Shop steward who supported Visteon occupations sacked

Posted by Left Luggage on April 28, 2009

Rob Williams, the Unite convenor of the Linamar car parts factory in Swansea and vice chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, was called into the directors’ office of the plant on Tuesday 28 April and told that he was being sacked for “irretrievable breakdown of trust”.

This blatant victimisation of one of the leading left-wing shop steward activists in the car industry was met by an immediate production line walk-off by the day shift. They surrounded Rob’s union office after management called in police to forcibly remove Rob from the building. Rob has been very active in the campaign of the sacked Visteon car parts workers and has recently visited all three of their plants. His sacking is likely to be linked to his role in this struggle. The Visteon Unite convenors are demanding that Rob be reinstated and they, alongside many others, are calling on Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley to also back the immediate reinstatement of Rob.

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Prisme workers save their jobs

Posted by Left Luggage on April 24, 2009

Workers who occupied the Prisme Packaging factory in Dundee for 51 days will end their occupation today, after saving their jobs. They anticipate they will sign a deal with a backer to allow them to set up a workers’ co-operative. A new company, Discovery Packaging and Design Ltd will be launched on May 1.

A statement from the workers said: “Our occupation began to secure our redundancy payments and other monies that were denied to us by our employer when we were sacked. However, during the occupation we also decided to fight to safeguard our jobs because we believed there was a viable business, even if our predecessors did not.

“This victory would not have been possible if it had not been for the support we have had from the general public, trade unionists, socialists and many others. This support and solidarity has been overwhelming and has helped give us the energy and determination to carry on for more than seven weeks.

“We said at the beginning of this that we were little people who had refused to be little anymore. We are proud of what we have achieved and our dignity is intact. We showed we would not be walked over by an uncaring employer. We want to thank all those who have supported our struggle over the last 51 days, your support has been invaluable. Thanks once again to you all.”

The Prisme workers will be leaving the factory together and united at 5pm today.

Posted in News, Unions, Workers' struggles | Leave a Comment »