Friday, 10 November 2017

EQUAL PAY DAY - MIND THE GAP!

Women work for nothing from 10 November to 31 December this year!!


Today is Equal Pay Day.

In my book Break the Chains, I wrote:

"The Fawcett Society's August 2014 research claimed that by 2013 shortfall [the gender pay gap -RV] had risen again for the first time in five years, to a staggering 19.1%. That's the equivalent of a workplace where full-time male workers are paid all year round, but female workers work for free from about 22 October!"

Since that was published, the Fawcett Society calculates the annual date equivalent to when women cease to be paid for the rest of the calendar year, due to the gender gap in pay.
This year it is today, 10th November - which has remained unchanged since 2015. It's due to their calculation that for every £1 men earn, women get just 86p.

So alongside fighting for an immediate, legally enforced £10-an-hour minimum wage for all from the age of 16, I and the SSP are proud to persistently demand equal pay for women. And to unite with the women battling for equality, as for example described in this blog I wrote recently - Women Workers Demand Equality.



Wednesday, 8 November 2017

1917 RUSSIAN REVOLUTION: WALLS COME TUMBLING DOWN




This week is the centenary of the October 1917 Russian Revolution.

The 100th anniversary of the event I and many others regard as the greatest act of human liberation so far witnessed. When the 1,000 years of Tsarist dictatorship was overthrown - a semi-feudal regime that left over 70% of the Russian people illiterate; over 80% scraping out a miserable existence on tiny strips of land; soldiers starving and slaughtered to uphold the interests and imperialist ambitions of the monarchy, landowners and western capitalists; women queuing endlessly in the freezing cold for bread rations slashed to famine levels; and national minorities mercilessly persecuted.

The 100th anniversary of this momentous, multi-millioned human drama has been mostly ignored by the West's media - or distorted.
I watched that vile reactionary, Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens, spew out on TV the well-worn lie that the October Revolution was a putsch, a coup, orchestrated by German militarism. Carried out by German agents like Lenin; by a violent, isolated, unrepresentative Bolshevik conspiracy that led to disaster.

And of course for many decades, the same capitalist politicians, professors and press poured out the scaremongering lie that the subsequent Stalinist tyranny in Russia was the fate awaiting all of us if there was ever a socialist society established here, or anywhere else.

The gangster capitalist, Vladimir Putin - head of the capitalist system that was restored in Russia 25 years ago - is equally keen to bury the truth about what the 1917 Bolshevik-led socialist revolution actually involved.
He especially wants nobody knowing anything about the dramatic gains ushered in, during the first years of the new socialist government, for the millions of workers and peasants who took power in 1917. People comparing those advances would be all the more likely to challenge the tyranny and chaos that capitalism has now imposed on the land of Red October 1917.

1917: Walls Come Tumbling Down

So what did happen in 1917? What's the truth about the Russian revolution? Was the Bolshevik government an example we can learn from in the struggle against the police tyrannies, obscene inequality and exploitation that capitalism means in the 21st century - as underlined by the Paradise Papers revelations? How did Stalinism come about, and how does it differ from the socialist democracy many of us have spent a lifetime fighting for?

I've just written a 72-page book addressing these and other key questions. It tries to introduce today's generations to issues, theories, events and struggles largely - and quite deliberately - hidden from our eyes.
It's hopefully a good introduction to the Russian Revolution, its relevance today, and the subsequent rise of Stalinism. It aspires to be a source of discussion, debate and clarification for workers and socialists.
Anyone seeking a socialist future cannot dodge these issues, and we can learn an awful lot from the one fully successful socialist revolution so far in history.

I'd encourage you to order a copy of my book(let), 1917:Walls Come Tumbling Down. 

Get your own copy; consider getting a copy for an interested friend; maybe ask your union branch to order a few to encourage discussion around the issues it raises; likewise in colleges or school Modern Studies classes.
The size of the book, and the price - £4.99, or £5.99 if posted out - should both help to make it accessible. You can order it by clicking on the link here - or by contacting me through Messenger on my Facebook page.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

WOMEN WORKERS DEMAND EQUALITY




Women workers are battling for equality at work on several fronts.

A succession of protest demos have been staged by members of Unison and GMB unions at Glasgow city council, demanding immediate action on Pay Justice by the new SNP council. 

Women working for the council and its arms-length offshoots (ALEOs) have fought for equal pay for equal work for the past 12 years. They are demanding an end to the outrageous pay gap, mostly derived from some occupations being treated as 'women's work' - such as homecare, cleaning, administration, schools, libraries and catering. With this gendered branding comes lower grades and lower pay.

Decade of Delay 

A Single Status Agreement was signed between Scottish councils and unions about 11 years ago, supposedly guaranteeing an end to this discrimination, by unifying grades for equal skills, regardless of gender.
Disgracefully, over a decade of union struggle has been required to force councils to implement this. 

Many workers due compensation have since died, or moved out of jobs with the council, as the lawyers rake in fees from legal wrangling by councils. 

There are still over 27,000 Scottish council workers with unresolved claims for equal pay, and compensation for historic daylight robbery. The outstanding bill is estimated to be £750million. 90% of the workers involved are women.
Glasgow city council makes up a huge share of this pay gap: 11,000 workers still owed a total of about £500million! 
The previous Labour council scandalously dragged its feet, dodged paying up, using countless legal delaying tactics. 

Labour - now SNP - Delaying Tactics

In last May's council elections, the SNP made a big play of their promises to immediately implement equal pay, and won considerable voters' support through this. 

The Unison and GMB demos have been demanding 'No Delay, Equal Pay', now the SNP have been in charge a clear six months. 

Alarmingly, after their manifesto promises to the contrary, the SNP council has still not taken any concrete steps to speed up payment of this scandalous debt to workers. In fact, the one and only step so far by the SNP administration has been to seek 'leave to appeal' against the Supreme Court ruling in favour of equal pay settlements, in the case pursued by Unison on behalf of their 6,000 members amongst the 11,000 city council and ALEOs staff involved. Different political party, more delaying tactics!

Some of the key messages from the women leading the lobbies of the council recently are that equal pay should mean equalizing upwards, not downwards - raising the pay of women-dominated jobs, not cutting the pay of male-dominated sectors. 

Likewise, that equal pay should not be funded out of job losses or cuts to services - including to the (often vulnerable) clients many of them provide lifeline services to. 

Demand No Cuts Budgets 

This raises the issue consistently fought for by the SSP: the demand that both the Scottish government and all 32 local councils should refuse to pass on funding cuts issued by Westminster or Holyrood. To instead set No Cuts Budgets and join workers and communities in a massive campaign to win back some of the £billions stolen off Scotland and local communities by successive central governments, to fund equal pay, expanded services, and job security. 


March of the Mummies

Meantime, on Halloween, a set of women workers used a humorous means to deliver a deadly serious message. The March of the Mummies, in several UK cities including Glasgow, saw women marching in bloody bandages like the 'walking dead' version of mummies, demanding an end to the discrimination and mistreatment at work suffered by pregnant women and new mothers. 

The 2015 Report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission discovered one in nine new mothers said they had been forced out of their job due to pregnancy; an appalling total of 54,000 a year. 
An astonishing 77% of working mothers reported negative or discriminatory treatment by their employers. 
A full 40% of employers had the gall to admit they would avoid hiring a woman of childbearing age. All this in the 21st century!

Pregnant then Screwed 

The March of the Mummies was organised by campaign group 'Pregnant then Screwed', which helps women tell their stories of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and campaigns for a package of measures currently being pushed as an Early Day Motion at Westminster. 

These demands include extension of the time limit for raising Employment Tribunal discrimination cases from 3 months to at least 6 months. A demand entirely justified by the fact only 1% of women facing such discrimination have pursued Tribunal cases - in part, no doubt, because 80% of women in a survey by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists admitted to having had at least one mental health episode during or immediately after pregnancy.   

The campaigners are also demanding 6 weeks paternity leave for Dads, on 90% salary; a requirement that employers report how many Flexible Working requests were made and how many granted; extension of statutory shared parental pay to the self-employed; and state subsidies for childcare from the age of 6 months, instead of the current 3 years. 

SSP Demand Equality

The SSP has a proud record of demanding and campaigning for equal pay for women; at least 12 months' maternity and one month's paternity leave, on 100% of pay; and a massive investment in free pre-school nurseries and workplace crèches. 

The trade unions should take up these issues vigorously, and demand changes to the feeble employment laws that guarantee the right to apply for flexible working, but with absolutely no guarantee of getting it, when employers merely have to say 'No' on the flimsiest grounds of 'business needs'. 




Thursday, 12 October 2017

HIGH COURT OF INJUSTICE: stand by your posties!



In a class-ridden fashion that was all too predictable, a High Court judge has granted Royal Mail bosses an interim injunction against the Communication Workers' Union strike action going ahead next week (19-21 October).

The mass democracy of a 9:1 majority for strike action amongst 110,000 CWU members has been trampled underfoot by an unelected judge on behalf of the unelected Royal Mail Group bosses.


After the resounding Yes vote was won - despite all the threats and obstruction thrown up by Royal Mail bosses - they tried to get a legal crushing of the subsequent action by absurdly claiming the union had not taken sufficient steps to inform its members of the planned strikes. Only those posties on a trip to Mars, with all communication channels to ground control cut off, could have been unaware of the planned action! 
These scared, desperate, but brutal bosses had to drop that crude nonsense, but then pursued the line of seeking an interim injunction on grounds of financial damage to the company. 

Court of Class Injustice

In stark confirmation of the role of the judicial arm of the state in the struggle between workers and big business employers, the judge had to decide who would suffer the greater financial damage, depending on whether he allowed the democratically decided industrial action to go ahead, or not. So his decision was to financially protect the Royal Mail bosses, at the expense of stalling the fightback by posties. At the expense of democracy. He instructed the CWU to suspend all industrial action "until external mediation had been concluded". 

The Issues Remain

But in reality this judicial setback only defers rather than defeats the struggle by Royal Mail workers. 
The issues remain. 
Nothing has been solved in the struggle to defend workers' pensions from a cut of up to 30%. 
Nothing has been conceded on the CWU's demands for a decent wage on retirement; or for a 35-hour working week without loss of pay, inclusive of breaks, to protect jobs, reduce drudgery and harness the advantages of new technology; or for defence of the right of union reps to properly function; or to withdraw plans for a two-tier workforce, with lower pay for new starters. 


The 9:1 Ballot Remains 

The ballot result remains.
As CWU General secretary Dave Ward declared outside the High Court of (In-)Justice:

"We walked into the Court with a 90% Yes vote, and we walked out still with a 90% Yes vote. This ballot is still live and kicking." 

The ruling merely delays the likelihood of strike action by 7 weeks, because the judge issued that as a deadline for the warring sides to reach an agreement through 'external mediation'.
This is an entirely bogus proposal; a fig leaf for a naked, class-driven offensive against workers and their ability to defend both their own conditions and the public services they provide. 
Negotiations on these issues have been dragged out by Royal Mail for 18 months already - including external mediation! 
Workers and their union reached the end of their collective tether, and only then balloted for strike action to force the out-of-touch bosses to sit up and listen. 

Strike Before Christmas 

As the CWU's Dave Ward declared, unless mediation leads to an acceptable offer in defence of workers and the great public service they provide, Royal Mail bosses are still staring down the barrel of a gun. The company either protects workers' pensions, pay, jobs, union rights and the service to the public, or they'll still encounter strikes before the peak Christmas period. 

And that's a key detail: the union is absolutely right to declare they will not allow the Royal Mail Board to string out mediation beyond the timescale specified by the High Court. 
The danger is that the employers want to stretch out 'external mediation' until the enhanced impact of a strike in December is dead and gone. They must not succeed. Either they concede to the demands of a workforce they are blatantly out of touch with during the mediation,  or they should be forced into doing so by decisive strike action before Christmas. 

Stand by Your Posties 

The war to defend Royal Mail services and it's workers is far from over. The use of the High Courts to tramp workers' democratic decisions into the dirt will only harden the resolve of these 110,000 men and women - and the determination of fellow trade unionists and socialists to build solidarity with them. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

HELP ELECT A SOCIALIST TO THE USDAW NEC

I know this isn't in keeping with the blogs I normally write, but in case some of you are either members of an USDAW union branch in Scotland - or you know somebody who is - I'm posting this letter appealing for branch nominations for the Usdaw National Executive Council elections.



Several Usdaw activists asked me to stand for one of the two positions on the NEC elected by Usdaw's 45,000 members. I eventually made my mind up and agreed to be a candidate!

I want to bring decades of experience as a trade union activist, campaigner and socialist to the deliberations of my union's NEC. Hopefully, the letter briefly explains some of my priority policies and aims.

Retail and related jobs are polluted by poverty pay and job insecurity.

I want to help push our union into a far more urgent approach to actively implementing policies agreed at its own conferences (ADMs - Annual Delegate Meetings), on issues like an IMMEDIATE £10 minimum wage... before inflation makes this a redundant demand!

I want to pursue policies like a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all workers who want it, instead of the abomination of zero hours contracts.

And I want to combine with others to make our union more transparently democratic, with far greater membership control.

I have energetically built up the union membership during my 10 years in Usdaw, and spoken out for what I believe in at conferences of the union - both Scottish and UK-wide.

Please consider what you can do to help me get nominations at Usdaw branches.
Nominations started last week, and the deadline for receipt of all branch nominations at the Usdaw HQ is 13th November. Get in touch if your Usdaw branch needs more of my details for the nomination procedures.

Apologies to those NOT in Usdaw who read this - but have a think if you know anyone in the union who you can share this with, and encourage them to support a socialist candidate for the Usdaw NEC.


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

END AUSTERITY: RELY ON WORKERS' UNITED ACTION




Something major must be happening when you get a senior Tory party conference delegate declaring on TV: "We need to rename our party to the Conservative Workers Party"! 

The proposed launch of the CWP isn't just a sick joke, when compared with the Tories' obnoxious track record on slashing wages, slaughtering public services and aiming to wipe out workers' rights - all in the name of turbocharged profit for the few. 

It's also a half-acknowledged reflection of the latent power of working class people to change the society we live in, and the sheer dread of the Tories and their millionaire cohort at the mounting anger and opposition of workers - including the growing outbreaks of protests and strike actions.



Age of Austerity 


We live in the infamous Age of Austerity. Since the bankers brought the economy to the brink of collapse in 2008, working class people have paid the terrible price of capitalist profiteering - twice! 

First, through the £1.3trillion bailout of the bankers from public funds in 2008. Since then, through the systematic theft of wages under the seven-year public sector pay cap; robbery of wages and conditions in the private sector; and savagery against public services and the benefits of society's most vulnerable people, including the sick and disabled. 



The Tories are panic-stricken at the potential of the lid blowing off the pressure cooker of plummeting pay and rising inflation, with outbreaks of strike action over recent months - and unanimous backing for a Motion at the recent TUC conference for coordinated demonstrations and strike action against the pay cap. They dread a winter of discontent. 


Savage Pay Cuts


TUC research has shown five million public sector workers have lost between £2,000 to £5,000 in wages from the zero and 1% pay cap of the last seven years.
Recent official inflation figures of 3.9% have added to workers' fury. 

Trade unions in the civil service and local authorities have lodged pay claims of 5% to stop the ongoing annual pay cuts; and at least the current RPI inflation rate of 3.9% in the case of NHS unions. 


Tens of thousands joined the demo outside Tory conference. The civil service PCS union held pay-day protests in over 100 places on 29 September, and is starting a consultative ballot of 160,000 members on strike action on pay from 9 October. 

At the TUC, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka rightly called on other public sector unions to do likewise, to seriously prepare the grounds for actual strike ballots, building up the readiness of members, in order to overcome the high-hurdles obstructions to action imposed by the 2016 Tory (anti-) Trade Union Act, with its 50% threshold. 


PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka

Divided Tories Seek to Divide Workers 

As we warned in articles back in early July, the Tories are divided on how to respond, but determined to divide and defeat workers as they beat a retreat on their brutal pay cap.
They know a total, across-the-board climb-down would embolden millions of workers - including in the private sector - who are struggling to survive the planned poverty that is austerity.
But they also know the pay cap is unsustainable, a recipe for explosions that could even threaten the downfall of the enfeebled Theresa May regime. 

The Tories resort to divide-and-conquer trickery, with talk of responding to the Pay Review Bodies' Reports - hiding the fact these bodies only cover less than 45% of public sector workers - and offer piddling pay rises to prison officers and police that don't even match half the 3.9% inflation rate.

The warnings we've made of their divisive tactics have materialized: after seven long years of draconian pay cuts, they might offer token rises a bit above the 1% cap to prison officers, police, firefighters and nurses - but exclude civil service and council staff, in the hope they don't enjoy the same levels of public sympathy.

On top of which, any pay concessions are poised to be paid for by job cuts and slashed services. Already, the GMB union has calculated the loss of nearly a million public sector jobs since 2010 - driving down that sector to 17% of all workers, the lowest proportion since the year before the NHS was founded! 


Scrap the Cap - by how much? 


Workers will all welcome the promises of both Jeremy Corbyn and the current SNP government to end the Tory pay cap. But what remains unanswered from both is what level of pay rise is on offer when they 'scrap the cap'. Neither has openly backed the modest demands of 5% demanded by civil service and council unions. 

In the most immediate situation, will any pay rise from the Scottish government be funded by taxing the rich, and mounting a serious struggle to win back some of the £billions robbed from Scottish budgets by successive Tory and Labour Westminster governments?
Or just from a reshuffling of the block grant budget between pay, jobs and public services? Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

In the private sector - such as retail - any recent concessions on paltry pay have been accompanied by savage attacks on other terms and conditions, such as premium payments for working Sundays, bank holidays, nightshifts or other antisocial hours. Robbing Peter to pay Peter! 


Don't Trade Jobs or Services for Pay 


The real danger is that unless the unions take united, decisive action to prevent it, the Scottish and UK governments - and alongside this, local councils - will try to trade off pay rises for cuts to jobs, conditions and public services.

The anti-austerity message from Jeremy Corbyn has emboldened workers in England that something radically different is available. The brutal realities of pay cuts and other assaults on conditions has led to outbursts of small strikes - such as BA cabin crews, and the courageous group of McDonald's workers - which, in my own experience, has encouraged some other workers to talk about the role of the unions. 



Posties on the picket line


Stand by Your Post! 


Royal Mail workers in the CWU - 110,000 of them - have voted for strikes against the loss of up to 30% of their pensions; for a decent wage on retirement; against the introduction of lower pay for new starters - a two-tier workforce; against assaults on union reps; and for reduction of the working week to 35 hours, without loss of pay, inclusive of paid breaks. 

In the first national ballot to be held since the 2016 Tory Trade Union Act threw up barriers against winning a vote for action that would make Aintree's Becher's Brook look like a molehill, CWU members smashed through the Tory blockades to democracy with an astonishing majority. In a 73.3% turnout, a whopping 89.1% voted for strike action.


Their anger has been fuelled by the handout of £770million in dividends to shareholders, and the payment of up to £200,000 a year to top Royal Mail bosses' separate pension pots, which remain untouched. 

The CWU's call for a shorter working week without loss of earnings, to tackle workload, protect full-time jobs, and prepare for the impact of 'the fourth technological revolution', exactly matches workers' needs in general - and matches the polices of the SSP. 


RMT members across several profiteering rail companies are striking against the safety- threatening Driver Only Operated trains being imposed as government policy. They are showing admirable courage in the face of government-sponsored brutality by the rail companies and a vicious media onslaught. They deserve the solidarity of other unions. 



For Coordinated Action  


The time is increasingly ripening for coordinated action on pay and related conditions.
Not at the expense of jobs, or public services, but at the expense of the obscenely rich and profiteering corporations. 

The TUC has a horrible history of doing little or literally nothing to implement their own agreed policies and actions. Rather than simply sit and wait for them to implement the agreed demos and coordinated strikes to scrap the pay cap, socialists and other union activists need to bombard their own union leaderships with demands for action. 


The welcome pledge by PCS leader Mark Serwotka to initiate meetings of all public sector unions could help mobilize millions of public sector workers. 

Those of us in private sector workplaces should build solidarity with workers in Royal Mail, the railways, and the public sector, making demands on our own employers for pay rises to compensate for years of eye-watering pay cuts, but without loss of jobs or other terms and conditions. 





Demand No Cuts Budgets - and £10 Now! 


The season of budgets from the Westminster, Holyrood and local authority governments is upon us, and the unions should unite with community groups and socialists in demanding real and concrete actions to reverse the tsunami of austerity. 


The SSP is calling on unions to mount a battle to demand the funding for a (voluntary, non-statutory) £10 Living Wage for all 500,000 Scottish workers employed directly or indirectly by the Scottish government and the 32 Scottish local authorities. 

This would help combat poverty pay. It would set a benchmark for the other 80% of workers employed in the private sector.
It would be a serious step by the unions to implement the "£10 minimum wage for all workers" that they agreed - unanimously - a long, excruciating 3 years ago, at the September 2014 TUC conference! 

But Scottish and council politicians should be bombarded to set No Cuts budgets, demanding the funding off Westminster and Holyrood to at least protect existing jobs and services, with the £10 minimum included, and equal pay for women - not rob Peter to pay Pauline (or Peter!). 



The Acid Test for Labour and SNP 


SNP Councillors, MSPs and MPs won mandates by claiming to be anti-austerity. 

In England, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour won massively increased support with its anti-austerity message. Now in Scottish Labour, Richard Leonard is seeking votes as leader by association with Corbyn.

All these political forces need to be put to the test with demands to turn grand words into meaningful action. 

Instead of passing on nearly £3billion of Westminster cuts since 2010, the SNP government needs to face a movement - led by unions and community organisations - demanding they defy all Tory cuts and win back some of our stolen £billions through mass action. 


The teachers' union, EIS, is currently in tripartite talks where the Scottish government and COSLA (councils) have offered 1.5% pay rise for new teachers and those at the top end of the pay scale, and only 1% for other teachers. That hardly matches Nicola Sturgeon's bold public promises of ending the pay cap! 

Labour and SNP councillors need to be pounded with pressure to reverse their sorry record of cutting jobs, pay and public services. 


Birmingham bin collectors strike against Labour council axe-wielders



Labour and the Brummie Bin Strike 


The acid test for Corbyn's Labour has been their baleful role in the battle between Birmingham bin workers and the city's Labour council.
There, Labour has acted to 'delete' 113 safety critical bin collectors' jobs, with a £5,000 pay cut; employed agency workers to undermine the resultant strike action; and then reneged on a deal brokered through ACAS - issuing real, live redundancy notices to their own workers. This was only halted by the resumed strike action of the bin workers, which helped Unite the union win a court ruling that outlawed Labour's redundancy notices. 


Here's the crunch; the warning to anyone falling for the idea that workers should "wait for a Corbyn government" rather than fight back now, with strikes where necessary.
Not once has Jeremy condemned the role of Birmingham's Labour councillors. Not once has the massively popular, anti-austerity, left-wing Corbyn leadership issued a call to its own Labour councillors, anywhere, to defy Tory funding cuts, to set No Cuts budgets. Instead, as well as the savagery suffered at the hands of years of Labour councils in Scotland, their counterparts in Durham and Derby have provoked strikes by teaching assistants, against Labour council pay cuts of 23%; with no condemnation, let alone expulsion, of these Labour axe-wielders by the national, Corbyn Labour leadership.

Waiting for Godot? 


Workers have been undoubtedly enthused and encouraged to fight back by the inspiring speeches of Jeremy Corbyn, with their core message of standing up 'for the many, not the few'. And the Corbyn surge in England has seriously weakened the May Tory regime.

But it would be fatal to rely on 'waiting for Godot'. How are workers and their families meant to live whilst waiting for the election of Corbyn as Prime Minister? How can workers topple the enfeebled Tory regime without taking action on pay, pensions, jobs and public services, here and now? And can we believe there will be an outright end to austerity under Labour - even when led by Jeremy Corbyn - given their failure when the chips are down in several local authorities, and the absence of any sanctions against right-wing Labour councillors from the left-wing UK leadership? 


Workers' Potential Power

The Tories, in their own perverse fashion, recognize the potential power of the organised trade union movement, and its potential allies amongst students and other young people. 


In battling against austerity, pay cuts, attacks on pensions, jobs and services, we need to rely on that potential and help mobilize it - not wait for some future salvation by politicians, no matter how decent or well-intentioned. 

Those who rule the roost, making profit out of working people, are past masters at divide-and-rule tactics. Trade unionists, community campaigners, young people and socialists need to help build the campaign for coordinated demos and strike action to reverse the tide of cuts to our share of the wealth which we created in the first place. 


SSP is Battle-Ready 


The SSP is ready and willing to play its part (in our unions, communities and colleges) in the struggle for a £10 minimum wage here and now, with no loss of other conditions; to scrap the cap, with pay rises to compensate for seven years of wage cuts; No Cuts council and Scottish budgets, with a struggle to win back some of the £billions stolen off Scotland by Tory and Labour governments; for an immediate 35-hour maximum working week without loss of earnings, to share out the workload and take advantage of new technology; and ultimately for a socialist society run by the many millions, not the few millionaires. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

BIRMINGHAM BIN STRIKE: AN ACID TEST FOR LABOUR



In an important victory for all workers fighting austerity, the High Court has ruled (on 20 September) in favour of Unite the union and ordered Birmingham Labour city council to withdraw the compulsory redundancy notices they’d issued to 113 safety critical refuse collection workers.

As part of the legal ruling, the union has agreed to suspend industrial action until a full Court hearing. This is, at the very least, a temporary victory for workers who faced the options of the sack or a £5,000 pay cut within weeks – from a Labour council, yes, a LABOUR council!

The battle of the Birmingham bin workers is an acid test of the readiness of trade union leaders to lead decisive action against the slaughter of jobs, wages and safety standards in the Age of Austerity. But it’s also a critically important object lesson and acid test of the role of the Corbyn-led Labour Party.

Workers angry at constant attacks on our conditions – including by local councils – should be greatly emboldened by the courageous action of the Brummie bin workers.
But the hundreds of thousands of people who have invested their hopes of something entirely different from Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – or indeed those who now hope Richard Leonard will win the Scottish Labour leadership against the millionaire, poverty-paying, non-union employer, Anas Sarwar – have a lot of soul-searching and harsh questions to face up to from the experience of the Birmingham showdown.

Background to the Strike

Back on 16 June, Unite the union won a 90% majority for strike action by the Brummie bin workers against the Labour council’s plans – in their cynically genteel phrase – to “delete” all 122 Grade 3, supervisory jobs; the leading hands on the teams collecting household rubbish.
These safety-critical workers, on as little as £21,000, faced being fired, then offered jobs as bin collectors on £5,000 lower wages!

In a drive to save £5m a year, the Labour worthies and council officials – whose chief executive Stella Manzie is on £180,000, plus almost as much again in expenses! – also plan to turn the 4-day working week into a 5-day system. They are demanding collection from an extra 50-70 households per (shorter) day – on top of the frequently unmanageable current daily target of 1,500 households. All with the false claim of “a more effective, efficient and modern refuse service.”

As one of the strikers (of 22 years service) explained, he gets up at 4.45am, to start at 6am. Others start at 5am. They get a 15-minute concession break at 9am, during which they are obliged to eat in the bin wagon “with only wipes and hand sanitizers because of the regular management intimidation over our productivity”.
Birmingham seems to be the only council that insists on refuse collectors getting bins from the side of the house and returning them there, rather than the kerbside, closed-lid collection everywhere else. This slows down the job, but then workers are berated and bullied by management for their productivity.

Safety Critical Workers to be ‘Deleted’

The job of the Grade 3 workers the Labour council wants to ‘delete’ is safety critical.
The council want to dump their safety tasks on the drivers. But the drivers’ vision is restricted, as they operate 12-tonne trucks, twice that weight when full.

Kids run out from behind cars. Residents risk life and limb throwing rubbish in the back, where the lifting mechanism operates by sensors and can crush you to death. Motorists rushing to work are abusive on a daily basis, get too close, and in one case drove into the back of the wagon and nearly killed the loader.
Birmingham is the only council not to have a route risk assessment, despite demands by the union for years.

As well as the physical safety of the public, the Grade 3 leading hands look out for other loaders, 40-50 per cent of whom are hired as agency workers on zero hours contracts, replaced daily on routes, continually forced to waive the right to permanent jobs – in at least one case for 9 years!

This dispute echoes some of the issues around Driver Only Trains. But it’s a Labour council that’s acting like a bunch of dictatorial, Tory-backed bosses.

Labour Council Renege on Deal

Strikes began on 30 June. Through the conciliation service, ACAS, a deal was reached between the Labour council and Unite on 15 August, including:
“The council agreed in principle that Grade 3 posts will be maintained. Consequently, there are no redundancy steps in place.”
In return, the union called off the strikes and agreed “to recommend to their members work pattern changes, including consideration of a 5-day week.”

By 30 August, the council reneged on the deal, issued 113 redundancy notices to Grade 3 bin loaders, with the Labour council leader denying a deal had ever been reached – which ACAS took the unprecedented step of publicly contradicting – and claiming it was “unaffordable”.
Aside from the appalling failure to uphold an agreement, the council’s claims don’t match the £269million increase in ‘useable reserves’ in 2016 – to a total of £895million.
The same Labour council spent a fortune hiring agency workers and contractors to try and undermine the strike action.

Their betrayal of all trust in the deal they agreed through ACAS provoked the resumption of strike action from 1st September, when the Labour council handed out very real redundancy notices.

Labour Victimisation of Strikers

The Labour council’s actions suggest they are not only hell-bent on slashing wages and conditions but breaking the union too, perhaps as the prelude to privatisation.

They threatened disciplinary action again bin workers who not only took daily strike action for 3 hours, but also dared work to proper health and safety standards by returning to the depot for their breaks – instead of eating in a germ-infested bin wagon with no wash facilities.
The council threatened to withdraw all pay, not just for the 3 hours on strike, but for the entire day.
A blatant case of victimisation of workers engaged in legal strike action.

The council pumped out propaganda about the threat of future equal pay claims making the deal agreed at ACAS unaffordable. But this has since been exposed as a complete sham; cover for their cost-cutting, safety-threatening plans to ‘delete’ the Grade 3 jobs and slash wages. In the High Court case taken by Unite the union against the redundancy notices, the council’s legal team never once raised this claim of unaffordable equal pay claims.

The bin workers refused to be cowed. They voted by 92% in a 72% turnout to extend strike action by another 12 weeks. They won local support in rallies at the council buildings. They won unanimous support at last week’s TUC conference, which supported the bin workers and condemned the Labour council for reneging on the ACAS-facilitated deal.

In an appalling indictment of a Labour council, Unite initiated a food bank for the strikers this week! Now, their firm stance has helped win the High Court ruling that has forced the council to withdraw the redundancy notices.




Broader Lessons for Labour Supporters

These bin workers need and deserve our solidarity until they win an outright victory. In defence of safety, wages and conditions. But there’s also a broader issue, especially for those who’ve placed their hopes for workers’ rights and livelihoods in the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome elections as leader.
For all the talk of Corbyn’s Labour being anti-austerity – and winning mass support with that message in England – here we have a Labour council acting like the worst, anti-union Tories, carrying out austerity at a local level.

And just as we’ve written elsewhere, not once has the Corbyn leadership issued a clarion call on their own Labour councillors to resist Tory cuts.
Where has there been a word of criticism of Birmingham Labour council from the same national Labour leadership?


Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary 


Labour Left's Silence

A very telling contrast in speeches at the TUC should be grounds for serious thought for all those pinning their hopes in Labour. Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett moved the Motion supporting the bin workers in a barnstorming speech, declaring:
“If Labour councillors act like Tories, we will call them Tories and treat them like Tories.”
In stark contrast, Jeremy Corbyn told the same TUC conference:
“We have a duty as a labour movement to find a resolution to this dispute as soon as possible.”
There’s not been a word of condemnation of the Birmingham Labour councillors from Jeremy that I can trace.
There’s certainly been no withdrawal of the Labour whip, nor outright expulsion, of these anti-worker, anti-union, austerity-wielding Labour councillors by the Corbyn leadership.
And many bin workers are increasingly asking where the national Labour leadership have been during the strikes and rallies; they’ve not attended any.

SSP Solidarity with Brummie Bin Workers

And at a local level, when I politely asked left-wing Labour activists about the Brummie bin strike at the recent launch of Richard Leonard’s campaign to become Scottish Labour leader, they hung their heads, and shuffled into the rally in silence.

Socialists cannot remain silent on such a critical confrontation between workers and their union on one side, and an axe-wielding Labour council on the other, with jobs, wages and safety at stake.

Political parties should be judged by their deeds, not just their words.

The dirty deeds of Labour on the Brummie bins battle should be a powerful lesson to all trade unionists looking for a socialist alternative.
And for all the Scottish Labour left’s talk of independence being a threat to working class unity and solidarity, they appear disappointingly silent on offering solidarity to Birmingham workers in brutal conflict with a Labour council – whereas the pro-independence Scottish Socialist Party hasn’t hesitated to take sides with these trade unionists in England’s second city.

Friday, 8 September 2017

LABOUR'S DIRTY TRICKS IN BRUMMIE BIN STRIKE



Alongside the history-making strike by the brave, pioneering McDonald's workers, the other big conflict currently in the headlines is the battle of the Birmingham bin workers with the Labour city council. 

The media are quick to depict the mountains of rotting rubbish, but rarely expose the root causes of this long-running conflict. 


Back on 16 June, Unite the union won a 90% majority for strike action by the Brummie bin workers against the Labour council's plans - in their genteel phrase - to "delete" all 122 Grade 3, supervisory jobs; the leading hands on the teams collecting household rubbish. 

Under Labour council plans, safety-critical workers, on as little as £21,000, would be expected to continue their current roles - but after being fired, then offered jobs as bin collectors... on up to £5,000 less wages!

In a drive to save £5million a year, the Labour worthies and council officials also plan to turn the 4-day working week into a 5-day system, whilst keeping the same 37 hours; demanding collection from an extra 50-70 households per (shorter) day - on top of the frequently unmanageable current daily target of 1,500 households. All with the false claim of "a more effective, efficient and modern refuse service." 





Eating in The Bin Wagon

As one of the strikers (of 22 years' service) explained, he gets up at 4.45am, to start at 6am; others start at 5am. 


"We get a 15-minute concession break at 9am, during which we are obliged to eat in the bin wagon, with only wipes and hand sanitizers, because of the regular management intimidation over our productivity levels."



Birmingham appears to be the only council that insists on refuse collectors getting bins from the side of the house and returning them there, rather than the kerbside, closed-lid collection everywhere else. This slows down the job, but then workers are berated and bullied by management for their productivity. 


The job of the Grade 3 workers the Labour council wants to 'delete' is safety critical.
The drivers' vision is restricted, as they operate 12-tonne trucks, twice that weight when full. Kids run out from behind cars. Residents risk life and limb throwing rubbish in the back, where the lifting mechanism operates by sensors, and can crush you to death. Motorists rushing to work are abusive on a daily basis, get too close, and in one case drove into the back of the wagon and nearly killed the loader. Birmingham is the only council not to have a route risk assessment, despite demands by the union for years. 

As well as the physical safety of the public, the Grade 3 leading hands look out for other loaders, 40-50 per cent of whom (250-280) are hired as agency workers, on zero hours contracts, replaced daily on routes, continually forced to waive the right to permanent jobs - in one case for 9 years


Labour Redundancy Notices 

This dispute echoes some of the issues around Driver Only Trains; the crusade to eliminate safety critical jobs. But it's a Labour council that's acting like a bunch of dictatorial, Tory-backed bosses. 


Strikes began on 30 June. Through the conciliation service, ACAS, a deal was reached between the Labour council and Unite on 15 August, including:

"The council agreed in principle that Grade 3 posts will be maintained. Consequently there are no redundancy steps in place." 

In return, the union called off the strikes and agreed "to recommend to their members work pattern changes, including consideration of a 5-day week." 


By 30 August, the council reneged on the deal, issued 106 redundancy notices to Grade 3 supervisory bin loaders, with the Labour council leader denying a deal had ever been reached - which ACAS took the unusual step of publicly contradicting - and claiming it was "unaffordable". 


Aside from the appalling failure to uphold an agreement, the council's claims don't match the £269million increase in their 'useable reserves' in 2016 - to a total of £895million. The same Labour council spent a fortune hiring agency and contractors to try and undermine the strike action - which they've now provoked resumption of, since 1st September, by handing out very real redundancy notices. 

It would appear they are not only hell-bent on slashing wages and conditions, but breaking the union too, perhaps as the prelude to privatisation. 



Labour: Saviours from Austerity?! 

These bin workers need and deserve our solidarity. In defence of safety, wages and conditions.

But there's also a broader issue, especially for those (including in Scotland) who've placed their hopes for workers' rights and  workers' livelihoods in the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn's welcome, twice-over election as leader. 

For all the talk of Corbyn's Labour being anti-austerity, and winning mass support - especially in England - with that message, here we have a Labour council acting like the worst, anti-union Tories, carrying out austerity at local level. 

And just as we've said elsewhere, not once has the Corbyn leadership issued a clarion call on their own Labour councillors to resist and refuse Tory cuts.
Where has there been a word of criticism - let alone expulsion - of Birmingham Labour councillors from the same national Labour leadership? None that I can trace at the time of writing.



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

McSTRIKE! - build the fight for £10now and a union




September 4th 2017 should go down in the history books as the start of a fight by a new generation of workers against poverty pay, insecure jobs, bullying, intimidation and lack of union rights. 

A very brave group of 40 McDonald's workers in Cambridge and Crayford, south east London, voted by a whopping 96% to strike, in the ballot conducted by their union, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU). 

They defied management threats and victimisation - including slashed hours and sexual harassment - for daring to be in the union; walked out to form pickets, were joined by big crowds of supporters on rallies, plus 14 solidarity demos across the UK. 

Their core demand was for £10-an-hour and a union. 

They chose to strike on 4 September to coincide with US Labor Day, where fast food workers involved in the sweeping mass movement in the Fight for $15 went on strike, as did McDonald's workers in Belgium and elsewhere.
It was the start of global workers' action against global capitalism's totemic symbol - McD's - global casualisation and cheap labour. 

Starvation Wages 

The conditions these workers suffer, and are striking back against, are symptomatic of not just one of the world's biggest multinational corporations, but of the modern serfdom that 21st century capitalism relies on to turbocharge their profits. 

Tyrone is one of the Cambridge strikers. Aged 17, he's on £4.75 an hour. He describes working with the unbearable kitchen heat, the impatient queues, the aggro - but still forced to skimp meals through poverty pay; still unable to get a home of his own, sleeping on a punctured air bed in his mate's bedroom, wakening several times to pump it up again. 

His dream of winning £10-an-hour through the union and strike action is humbling in its modesty: "I could get a proper bed. I could get out of my mate's house. That's all I want, a place and a bed."

Tom, one of the union reps, is 24, and therefore on £7.55.  But he often skimps meals to save enough to visit his 4-year-old son, making do with the one free meal McD's allows him. This is the same corporation with the company line: "We have committed to investing in our people, to competitive rates of pay."

That's the problem; the government's paltry levels of minimum wage means they are often all too 'competitive' - in particular for younger workers, whom McDonald's and their ilk prey on for profit, because they're legally cheaper to hire, due to the lower legal youth minimum wages. 





Them and Us 

McDonald's methods encapsulate the whole system perfectly, grotesquely. 

Their own investment calculator reckons if you'd been able to buy 1,000 shares last December - when young Tyrone started with them - you'd have made £34,025 profit by now... whereas even if Tyrone had slaved in a hot kitchen full-time since he'd have earned only £7,410. 

Tom can barely afford to travel to see his toddler son, but McDonald's Chief Executive, Steve Easterbrook, has use of the company's private aircraft, and enjoys a package equivalent to £5,684 an hour!! 

They use zero hours contracts to wring maximum profit out of their 80,000 UK workers - and almost zero-rated corporation tax; well, a rate of 1.49%, to be accurate! They only promised to offer secure contracts, with guaranteed hours, in a state of panic after the strike ballot. And they've yet to put anything acceptable in writing. 

"I'll Tell You What It's All About!" 

As BFAWU Scottish Organiser Mark McHugh told the recent SSP public meeting in Govanhill, McDonald's were the first to introduce zero hours contracts to the UK, back in 1974! 

"It's taken this long to take them to task. I'll tell you what this strike is all about. It's about respect and dignity at work; the right to join a union; proper health and safety - not suffering burns and being told to take your break now, instead of getting treatment. It's about the right to join a union. About having the same right to go on holiday as anyone else. To actually get a shift when you turn up, not be sent home because it's quiet. 

We owe it to young people to win decent rights, because these retail park jobs are not stop gap jobs, they're what thousands face long-term. The food industry is booming, so they should be treated as serious jobs." 

From Acorns to Mighty Oaks 

It's to the eternal credit of these strikers, and their union, that they've taken serious, courageous action. For £10 and a union. For abolition of zero hours contracts and secure jobs. For an end to bullying and sexual harassment, both of which are rampant in these sectors: fast food, hospitality, retail. 

These are sectors bedeviled by the poverty pay and job insecurity that go with zero hours contracts like burgers go with chips. 

The strikes were a tiny proportion of the total workforce. But a similarity small section of McDonald's workers went on strike in New York City in November 2012, starting the Fight for $15, which through strikes and mass actions in the communities has now won big wage hikes for 22 million workers in the USA. 


£10 Now! 

The trade union movement needs a leadership that is serious about its own grand words and wishes. A long, torturous 3 years ago - September 2014 - the TUC congress voted unanimously for the BFAWU Motion for "a £10 minimum wage for all workers." 

Since then most union leaderships have done little - or literally nothing - to implement that demand. The BFAWU and some other union branches have campaigned for it - as has the Scottish Socialist Party, on the streets, in our unions, and as a demand we put to councils and the Scottish government to immediately introduce. 

And unlike even Labour's best, Jeremy Corbyn, the SSP wants £10 immediately, not three years hence, in 2020; in fact £10 is rapidly approaching its sell-by-date, given the inflation on daily necessities. 

Defend the Strikers

These McDonald's workers deserve a medal, but above all deserve the protection and solidarity of other workers and other unions. As the BFAWU President, Ian Hodson, told a strike rally,
"If even one striker is victimised for going on strike, we demand that others come to the McDonald's branch and occupy it." 

That's the militant spirit of defiance and class solidarity that pioneered the creation of the trade unions, especially amongst the most exploited sections of workers nearly 150 years ago. 

We owe it to the next generation to build on the courage of the first ever McStrikers in the UK, to fan the spark they lit into a flame that helps burn out the casualisation and super-exploitation faced by millions. 

The SSP pledges to play its part, alongside the BFAWU and others, for £10 now and a union; for a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract instead of the serfdom and insecurity of zero hours contracts; for full union rights and full employment rights from the first day in a job. 

Ultimately, for a society based on workers' solidarity and sharing out the collective wealth workers produce. As a Guardian columnist put it, "The problem isn't one company, but the system of which it is part." 

.............................................................................................................................................................

Here's the video the SSP did to build solidarity as the McStrikers prepared their brave action: