Trade Union & Current News
It wasn't feminism that shut the coal mines, Mr Willetts
By Suzanne Moore
Sometimes the Tory mask of reasoned modernity slips and a simple truth is revealed. That truth is this: the place of women in the recession is prone.
For Tories, women are funny chaps. You can have a sprinkling of them in the Cabinet, ignore the increasing pay gap, point to the lovely outfits of the leaders wife and simply pay lip service to any notion of equality.
The Tories see equality between the sexes as a quasi-communist plot, essentially a non-Conservative idea.
Most women didn't even identify themselves as feminists. What actually happened was that the jobs many working-class men had in manufacturing simply disappeared
The code words they use are family values which mean man as breadwinner and woman as wife and mother. The economic reality that most women need to work is politely ignored.
David Willettss remarks about feminism being the single biggest factor to blame for the struggles of working-class men are a bizarre form of denial.
Willetts is indeed clever and I dont think, if you read what he actually said, that he is virulently anti-feminist. He is just plain wrong.
The idea that in the Seventies and Eighties middle-class women took jobs and university places that would formerly have gone to working-class men is not what really changed employment patterns.
Women didnt wake up en masse and think: Right, forget marriage and kids, I am going out to work. Stuff all you poor men.
Most women didnt even identify themselves as feminists. What actually happened was that the jobs many working-class men had in manufacturing simply disappeared.
David Willetts is indeed clever, but he is just plain wrong
Has Willetts ever been to any of the heroin-saturated former industrial communities that Thatcherite policies eviscerated? The service jobs that were created were often refused by men and taken up by desperate women.
This was the impact of globalisation, not womens liberation. If we want to actually examine how high levels of social mobility are achieved, then look at Scandinavia, which also happens to have high levels of gender equality.
Willetts describes his view that feminism trumped egalitarianism as delicate territory. Why be so delicate? The myth that feminism has gone too far is part of our daily diet.
The terrifying figure of the working mother or the career woman is, we are told, responsible for most of societys ills having a job if you also have ovaries will give you cancer, turn you into an alcoholic, make your partner impotent or adulterous and your children drug addicts.
The idea that most women work not because they are lesbian separatists strange as it may seem but because they need the money is lost on these Tory millionaires whose wives have interesting little pretend jobs.
Party-planning? Posh stationery? Managing my husbands galas? Such fun! Where Willetts really trips up, though, is in his confusion between class and gender.
Middle-class girls got more opportunities and then these darned women went on to do assortative mating (yes, he really talks like this). That means well-educated women married well-educated men. Social division occurs then because we are left with a batch of unemployed working-class men.
Actually, figures show that the 11-plus was rigged in favour of boys and once that stopped, girls began doing as well, and often better, in schools. Yet the educational achievements of women are still not reflected in any way in public life, in boardrooms or in politics.
What has triumphed here is not feminism or egalitarianism, far from it. What has triumphed is free-market capitalism that pushes both partners to work, as one wage is not enough to keep a family.
The poorest women are now to be persuaded to stay with unsuitable men and the squeezed middle pushed back into the home. Deprivation and youth unemployment have as much to do with feminism as they with stamp collecting.
Did Pfizer decide to devastate parts of Kent by shutting down its plant just because of feminism?
Pitting middle-class women against working-class men and saying this is what is blocking social mobility is a shameless move. It is huge inequalities of income that produce lack of opportunities for both working- class men and women.
It has long been obvious that the Tories decided that growing inequality was a price worth paying for what they call fairness. And what I delicately call utter economic failure for many men. And many women.
Zambia probes China mine shooting
Zambian miners at the Collum Coal Mine are furious with their Chinese bosses.
Working down there it is very difficult because there is dust, but we don't even have things to protect us
Miner Ngula Simukuka
At least 11 miners were allegedly shot by two Chinese managers during a protest about poor conditions in October.
The long road leading up to the mine in the southern rural district of Sinazongwe is covered in black coal dust, but otherwise there is not a hint that the 21st Century has reached the area.
And this is what has angered the miners.
They feel that while the Chinese benefit from the mine and live comfortably, they remain in poverty often renting mud-walled huts lacking basic facilities.
"The salaries are a problem - we get 500,000 kwacha ($100; £63) a month but our rentals cost about 100,000 kwacha ($20; £13)," says miner Ngula Simukuka, who has a wife and four children to support in nearby Sinazeze township.
He says that there is also perception that the Chinese management has little concern for their workers' safety.
They lack face masks, safety shoes and in many instances wear their own clothes in the course of duty.
"The way we are working down there, it is very difficult because there is dust, but we don't even have things to protect us," Mr Simukuka says.
A Collum Mine official, however, dismisses these allegations.
"Every year we provide two sets of uniforms for workers but the problem is they go and give the uniforms to wives, uncles and other members of their families," the mine official says.
Your investment is important but our labour is more important
Minister Elijah Muchima
The nearby Sikalima stream is another cause of friction between the Chinese-run mine and the cattle-herding community in the area, who rely on it as a source of drinking water.
The stream now carries black sediment of waste coal which eventually flows into Lake Kariba.
One of the miners, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Chinese managers were in the habit of bragging that they could get away with anything because they were in the government's good books.
Such has been the hostility between the two sides that the government has stepped in to negotiate better conditions as well as compensation for the miners who were shot.
When Elijah Muchima, minister for the area, recently visited the mine, the workers turned out in force to greet him.
As he went in to hold a meeting with the mine management, they waited outside.
The minister put on a show of talking tough.
"We are sick and tired of this mine," Mr Muchima said. "Why should it be the only mine that is troublesome?"
The area around the mine looks as if it has stood still for 50 years
Inside, there were heated exchanges as he sat down opposite Collum Coal Mine Director Xu Jian Rui.
Mr Xu and his delegation looked uncomfortable.
"You are using labour and you should pay for it adequately," Mr Muchima said.
Our clients are mainly Zambian copper mines but sometimes they import coal from Zimbabwe
Director Xu Jian Rui
"Your investment is important but our labour is more important.
"If you find that business is not profitable, close it down. Other people will come.
"If it's not profitable, go away. If it's not profitable, you would not have been here for nine years."
He may not have minced his words, but the beaded sweat on Mr Muchima's brow conveyed the awkwardness of his situation.
Last year China invested more than $400m (£250m) in Zambia's mining industry, which is one of the major employers in the private sector.
So a balance needs to be struck between attracting investment and protecting the interests of the locals.
Mr Xu and his team could have responded angrily to Mr Muchima, but instead they adopted apologetic expressions - seeming to understand his position.
The mine director attributed his company's poor pay to problems it faces in marketing its coal.
"Our clients are mainly Zambian copper mines but sometimes they import coal from Zimbabwe," Mr Xu said, speaking through an interpreter.
Collum currently produces an average of 150,000 metric tonnes of coal, which earns the mine up to $6m (£4m) a year.
The atmosphere was tense as the miners waited outside the meeting
Under the government's brokerage, a temporary wage deal was struck until negotiations between the mine and the workers' union conclude.
Miners will now get a minimum of $90 (£57) a month, but will also be entitled to monthly housing and transport allowances totalling $57 (£36).
When the minister emerged from the meeting to tell the gathered workers of the agreement, there was applause and clapping.
This and the trial of the two Chinese managers for attempted murder, which has been adjourned until January, may go some way to improving the situation.
And as one miner, Chipo Gandula, told me, the families of the victims of the shooting may be willing to forgive - if the right amount of compensation is paid.
A battle for heart and coal
Nov 7 2010
by Josie Ensor, Wales On Sunday
IT WAS a pivotal moment in Welsh history, leading to a national minimum wage and scarring for life the nations relationship with Churchill.
And today the centenary of Tonypandy Riots one of Wales most significant industrial upheavals will be marked.
The riots, which took place in the winter of 1910, saw violent disputes between police officers and miners determined to stand up for their rights to fair pay.
It began with 70 Ely Pit miners at nearby Penygraig protesting at the rate of pay for working a difficult seam.
Management responded by locking out all 950 workers on September 1, 1910.
In early November, the South Wales Miners Federation called a strike of all 12,000 men working in pits around Tonypandy, shutting down all but one in Llwynypia.
On November 6, the miners became aware of the intentions of mine owners Cambrian Combine a business network of mining companies formed to regulate prices and wages to deploy strikebreakers.
Early on the cold Monday morning of November 7, 1910, a trumpeter took to the streets to summon miners to demonstrate and anyone attempting to get to work was blocked.
Hand-to-hand fighting soon broke out between officers of the Glamorgan Constabulary and striking miners, who took to the streets and smashed the windows of mining officials homes in protest.
Army reinforcements were requested, with Winston Churchill, then Home Secretary, ultimately holding them back but threatening their use.
Instead, he sent 200 constables and 70 mounted members of the Metropolitan Police.
The next day, miners gathered at the Glamorgan Colliery, where violence quickly broke out.
For two hours, strikers fought with police. Some miners were chased to Llwynypia but others flooded into Tonypandy, where the windows of shops and houses were shattered.
Churchill then instructed his troops to enter the district but only if requested by the chief constable or the local authority.
He also agreed to send another 200 men from the Met. But by the time these reinforcements arrived the worst of the fighting was over.
Troops did later take up residence at Llwynypias colliery.
Churchills handling of the conflict caused ill feeling towards him in South Wales which has lingered ever since.
The riots left one man, Samuel Rhys, dead from head injuries after reportedly being hit with a policemans baton, and more than 580 injured, including 80 policemen.
Next August, a pay deal was agreed for miners, with the riots forever etched into the Welsh psyche as a watershed moment in which the miners power as a collective was established.
Within two years, the first minimum wage for miners was agreed.
The 100th anniversary is being marked this weekend with a day of events in Tonypandy.
The events, funded by Rhondda Cynon Taf council, are the first to officially commemorate the strikes and their breakthrough.
Hywel Francis, co-author of The Fed: A History of the South Wales Miners in the Twentieth Century, said the impact of the riots and the miners strikes have had a huge impact on South Wales.
The riots were pivotal in achieving a minimum national wage for Wales, and Tonypandy was a vanguard, he said.
People at the time felt alienated and felt striking was their only recourse. They took to the streets because they had no other choice. It had effects beyond Wales and served to frighten the government and bring about changes to the national minimum wage that took more than 100 years to establish.
We in Wales stand on their shoulders, they are pioneers both economically and politically in achieving something that is remembered to this day.
Welsh author and historian Lord Kenneth Morgan said Tonypandy had itself become a symbol.
The name itself is now associated with great popular uprising brought on by social injustice and state brutality, he said.
Those actions at Tonypandy not only left a local legacy but a wider one.
It is a very, very important moment in Welsh history.
The great nephew of one of Rhonddas most famous trade unionists and politicians William Henry Mainwaring is returning to the borough to commemorate the event.
Mainwaring, who died in 1971, wrote The Miners Next Step, a syndicalist manifesto suggesting how ownership and control of the coal pits should change. In it, he demanded the minimum wage and a seven-hour working day.
His great nephew, Ivor Davies, 48, who lives in Paisley, said: My chest swelled with pride when I realised I was related to WH.
Unfortunately, by the time most of us are interested in family history, many of the older generations have passed away, as was the case with WH.
Id like to have met him and can just imagine what sort of figure he was.
My own Dad was just two years old when the riots took place, but I expect the Mainwaring household was a hive of activity during those days.
Just think of the striking miners and officials turning up at the door while this crying baby was somewhere in the background. It really is amazing.
The Tonypandy commemoration starts today at 3pm at De Winton Street Car Park.
BT ruling could open pension claim floodgates
BT ruling could open pension claim floodgates
Taxpayers could be on the hook for tens of billions of pounds to cover a string of privatised companies' pension schemes after the precedent set by BT's landmark "crown guarantee" victory.
By Rupert Neate
Published: 11:08PM BST 22 Oct 2010
BT ruling could open pension claim floodgates Photo: A former senior lawyer at the Pensions Regulator told The Daily Telegraph that "there are a good number of [pension] schemes that have promises from the state that could be crown guarantees".
Clive Pugh, formerly trustee services manager at the Pensions Regulator and now a partner at Burges Salmon law practice, said he expected a "flood" of claims for recognition of government protection from other formerly state-owned companies.
Taxpayers face £22bn bill if BT goes bust
"With this [the High Court's ruling upholding BT's crown guarantee on Thursday] and many other potential crown guarantees being clarified, it seems as though the Government is now subject to billions of pounds of potential liabilities just as it is trying to reduce its deficit," he added.
Mr Pugh said other privatised companies have been closely watching BT's battle with the Government over the guarantee, over the guarantee which will force the state to cover retirement scheme deficits in the event of insolvency.
He added they are likely to bring similar claims if the telecoms group emerges victorious from an expected appeal. "I would be very, very surprised if there are not follow-up court cases," Mr Pugh said.
It means the taxpayer could, theoretically, be forced to pay out up to £100bn to cover pension liabilities in the unlikely event that several of the companies grant guarantees go bust.
The High Court ruling on BT's crown guarantee means the taxpayer must ensure the pensions of almost all the 344,000 members of BT's pension scheme. A payout in the event that BT goes bust could be as much as £22.8bn.
However, Mr Pugh cautioned that other privatised companies are unlikely to have as strong a case for state protection as BT. It is understood BT's case hung on the interpretation of two sentences among reams of legal documents written when BT was privatised in 1984.
It is difficult to discover which companies have a strong case as the information is only readily available to the pension schemes' trustees. However, John Ralfe, an independent pensions expert, said Railway Pensions, the scheme for rail industry employees, UK Coal and Trinity House, which runs the UK's lighthouses, are thought to have the best cases for claims. Others mentioned include British Gas and National Grid.
A spokesman for the Pensions Regulator confirmed some other companies do have crown guarantees, but refused to name them,
Ros Altmann, a former government pensions adviser, said the taxpayer could be left with a "terrible burden".
"If BT wins [the expected appeal], other companies could certainly challenge their case in court," she said. "It could all get quite messy.
"This could be a huge blow for the taxpayer. We are saving £5bn a year on the state pension, yet at the same time the state could be made responsible for billions [of private sector pensions]. The poor taxpayer is suffering from the inability of politicians and policy-makers to understands the long-term financial realities of pensions."
France walks out to save pensions
Tuesday 07 September 2010
Women holding a banner reading "Retirement" during a protest in Marseille
French unions have launched a massive strike over President Nicolas Sarkozy's deeply unpopular plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 by 2018.
Two million public and private sector workers, students and pensioners took part in over 200 street demonstrations across the country against the pension "reform," which would also lift the age at which employees would be eligible for full pension payments from 65 to 67.
In Paris over 100,000 marched behind their union banners and placards reading "Liberty but more importantly, equality" for the one-day event.
Protesters tore into the Sarkozy administration, nicknaming it the ''bling bling'' regime for its bias towards the well-heeled elite.
The general strike hit the transport, education, justice, hospital, media and banking sectors.
At midday on Tuesday the labour ministry said that 25 per cent of civil servants were on strike, while state-owned rail operator SNCF said that nearly 45 per cent of staff there had stayed away.
Around 30 per cent of secondary school teachers took part in the strike.
Civil aviation authorities asked airlines to cut a quarter of flights at Paris airports and only two out of five fast trains ran.
Traffic ran at a snail's pace on the city's subway and suburban transport lines, travel to Germany was curtailed while Spain and Italy were completely cut off, but Eurostar trains between Paris and London ran as normal.
The strike coincided with the start of parliamentary debates over the Sarkozy government's pension reforms, which have been endorsed by the International Monetary Fund and credit ratings agencies.
French Prime Minister François Fillon reportedly ruled out any change to the fundamentals of the plan - but he intimated that some concessions could be made at the end of the week.
Mr Fillon echoed embattled Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who had said that the government would press ahead with the reform no matter how strong the protest turnout was.
The Sarkozy administration has assured EU commissioners that it is committed to cutting the public deficit from a projected 8 per cent of gross domestic product this year to 6 per cent next year, 4.6 per cent in 2012 and 3 per cent in 2013, the maximum allowed under EU diktat.
Lobby of Parliament: Wednesday 13 October 2010. Assemble 1230, opposite the House of Commons
RMT members are urged to support the lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 13th October to persuade MPs to back the Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Private Members Bill, which has been lodged by RMT Parliamentary Group convenor, John McDonnell MP.
John McDonnell has introduced the Bill to prevent employers blocking the democratic wishes of trade union members who have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. Employers constantly challenge democratic RMT ballots on minor technical grounds which would have had no affect on the outcome of the ballot.
The Bill is already gaining broad support and to progress to its next stage 100 MPs need to attend Parliament for its "Second Reading on Friday 22nd October.
Support the lawful industrial action (minor errors) private members Bill
John McDonnell MP is campaigning to repeal part of the anti-trade union laws and make it impossible for employers to take trade unions to court to block strike action on minor technicalities that would have had no effect on the outcome of the ballot.
John, chair of the PCS parliamentary group, came top in the private members bill ballot earlier this year. This means he is able to present a bill of his choosing in parliament.
The current legislation puts a massive burden on trade unions and means trade union ballots are subject to far tighter regulations than general elections.
The lawful industrial action (minor errors) bill will be debated by MPs on Friday 22 October. Please lobby your MP today to ask them to attend the debate and vote for the bill.
Government attacks civil service compensation scheme
Date: 7 July 2010
The coalition government has launched a savage attack on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS) which has major implications for jobs and terms and conditions.
The government has informed the Council of Civil Service Unions (CCSU) of their intention to introduce a bill to Parliament, most likely on Thursday 8th July.
This Bill will include capping all compulsory redundancies at a maximum of 12 months pay and limiting payments for voluntary exits to 15 months salary.
In addition they are seeking to make changes to the 1972 Superannuation Act to remove the basis on which we were able to win the judicial review on the compensation scheme.
This is worse than the previous proposals that we successfully secured a legal ruling over and is a further attempt to remove accrued rights which members are entitled to. They were wrong to try to do this under the previous government and they are wrong now.
The government justification for these actions is not simply about saving money. In a dishonest attack on PCS, they state that their action to limit the excesses of the current prohibitively expensive terms is because of (the PCS) unilateral action in contesting the previous governments scheme.
It is simply scandalous that the government should seek to blame, openly, directly and unashamedly, PCS for challenging an illegal action by the previous government.
If our legal action had created the need for the government to introduce new legislation, then the Bill would have simply brought in the previous governments amendments to the scheme. In fact, the government is throwing up a smokescreen to hide its intentions to make severe cuts.
We went to court twice to prove that the attacks on the CSCS were illegal. We were right to do so to defend members terms and conditions. We were vindicated by the court ruling that the government had acted illegally.
Refusal to negotiate with us
Following that legal victory, on 23 June we wrote to Sir. Gus ODonnell, the Head of the Civil Service offering to return to the negotiating table. That offer was not taken up.
Now the government says it wishes to negotiate protections for the low paid, but with the threat of legislation hanging over any such talks it is hard to see they can be meaningful.
Creating division, paving the way for job cuts
We should be under no illusions that the governments actions now are about paving the way to a huge swathe of redundancies in order to save money to reduce the budget deficit.
In the Governments announcement and press release they have stated that the Civil Service must play its part in reducing the budget deficit.
But we know that the deficit has not been caused by the public sector or ordinary workers or the unemployed. £175bn of public funds has been used to prop up private financial institutions the banks and the tax gap stands at over£120bn. This alone more than accounts for the £164bn budget deficit.
There is no need for that deficit to be halved in five years as the Government asserts.
Indeed it is economic madness to even consider public spending cuts during a recession this will simply lead to a worsening of the economic crisis with more people unemployed.
The government is intent on making ordinary workers pay for the crisis via cuts in services and jobs, which will impact disproportionately on the low paid, and the most vulnerable and poor in our society.
They hope therefore to create division in the movement to make it easier to push through their cuts at a time when we know unity is crucial.
By trying to scapegoat one union as being the reason for their bringing forward legislation on the CSCS they hope to undermine any unity we may seek to create to make their cuts easier.
The National Executive Committee will meet on 14 July to agree a wide ranging campaign strategy including a response to the governments attack on the CSCS.
We are seeking urgent legal advice over the Governments actions. We are seeking support from opposition MPs and also Assembly Members and the Scottish office. We are in discussions with the other trade unions over unity in response to this unprecedented attack. The PCS website will be updated regularly with information and resources for branches, reps and members. A Q&A for members will be posted on the PCS website.
Branches are urged to:
Encourage members to write to their MPs asking them to lobby on our behalf against the new legislation that is proposed
Sign up to the e-action on the and continue to use social networking and the local media to protest at these proposals
Keep updated on the latest news and resources on the PCS website.
Mark Serwotka Janice Godrich
General Secretary President
Privatisation fears grow for NHS
Monday 21 June 2010by John Millington
Tory Health Minister Andrew Lansley has raised fears that more privately run NHS hospitals could be on the way as he unveiled a raft of efficiency savings aimed at reducing hospital "management costs."
A revision to the 2010/11 NHS Operating Framework, published yesterday, sets out changes to key priorities for the NHS - including plans to reverse the rise in management costs seen in the last year.
Reacting to the suggestion that the newest cuts herald the coming of more privately run NHS hospitals, Health Emergency chairman Geoff Martin said: "Absolutely. There is a drive to throw more NHS hospitals into the waiting arms of the private sector."
Last February Hinchingbrooke General in Cambridgeshire became the first NHS hospital to only have private contractors bidding to run it.
The latest cuts include axing targets so that GPs will no longer have to see patients within 48 hours, while the four-hour target for A&E patients to be seen, treated, admitted or discharged is being relaxed.
Central scrutiny of the 18-week referral to treatment target will also be ended.
Mr Lansley (pictured) said the changes would help drive down the management bill for Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities from the current level of £1.85 billion to £1 billion by 2013-14.
He claimed that the measures were aimed at freeing the "NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification."
But a spokeswoman for Unison said that spiralling costs were down to "the internal market."
"When you bring the market into the NHS, the costs of running that kind of system go up and up," she said.
Mr Martin pointed out that the new cuts were because the government ran the NHS like "a commercial entity."
Proposing an alternative approach, Mr Martin said: "If they kicked out all the PFI companies, support service contractors, all the management consultants, all the waste, then there would be plenty of money to go round.
"The problem is that this government has already shown that it is wedded to the commercialisation of health with the Lib Dems more gung ho than the Tories.
"Mark my words, management consultants will be brought in to get rid of management consultants. That will be the next story to break."
The Heresy of the Greeks offers Hope
20 May 2010
As Britains political class pretends that its arranged marriage of Tweedledee to Tweedledum is democracy, the inspiration for the rest of us is Greece. It is hardly surprising that Greece is presented not as a beacon but as a junk country getting its comeuppance for its bloated public sector and culture of cutting corners (the Observer). The heresy of Greece is that the uprising of its ordinary people provides an authentic hope unlike that lavished upon the warlord in the White House.
The crisis that has led to the rescue of Greece by the European banks and the International Monetary Fund is the product of a grotesque financial system which itself is in crisis. Greece is a microcosm of a modern class war that is rarely reported as such and is waged with all the urgency of panic among the imperial rich.
What makes Greece different is that within its living memory is invasion, foreign occupation, betrayal by the West, military dictatorship and popular resistance. Ordinary people are not cowed by the corrupt corporatism that dominates the European Union. The right-wing government of Kostas Karamanlis, which preceded the present Pasok (Labour) government of George Papandreou, was described by the French sociologist Jean Ziegler as a machine for systematic pillaging the countrys resources.
The machine had infamous friends. The US Federal reserve Board is investigating the role of Goldman Sachs and other American hedge fund operators which gambled on the bankruptcy of Greece as public assets were sold off and its tax-evading rich deposited 360 billion euros in Swiss banks. The largest Greek ship-owners transferred their companies abroad. This haemorrhage of capital continues with the approval of the European central banks and governments.
At 11 per cent, Greeces deficit is no higher than Americas. However, when the Papandreou government tried to borrow on the international capital market, it was effectively blocked by the American corporate ratings agencies, which downgraded Greece to junk. These same agencies gave triple-A ratings to billions of dollars in so-called sub-prime mortgage securities and so precipitated the economic collapse in 2008.
What has happened in Greece is theft on an epic, though not unfamiliar scale. In Britain, the rescue of banks like Northern Rock and the Royal Bank of Scotland has cost billions of pounds. Thanks to the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, and his passion for the avaricious instincts of the City of London, these gifts of public money were unconditional, and the bankers have continued to pay each other the booty they call bonuses. Under Britains political monoculture, they can do as they wish. In the United States, the situation is even more remarkable, reports investigative journalist David DeGraw, [as the principal Wall Street banks] that destroyed the economy pay zero in taxes and get billion in refunds.
In Greece, as in America and Britain, the ordinary people have been told they must repay the debts of the rich and powerful who incurred the debts. Jobs, pensions and public services are to be slashed and burned, with privateers in charge. For the European Union and the IMF, the opportunity presents to change the culture and dismantle the social welfare of Greece, just as the IMF and the World Bank have structurally adjusted (impoverished and controlled) countries across the developing world.
Greece is hated for the same reason Yugoslavia had to be physically destroyed behind a pretence of protecting the people of Kosovo. Most Greeks are employed by the state, and the young and the unions comprise a popular alliance that has not been pacified; the colonels tanks on the campus of Athens University remain a political spectre. Such resistance is anathema to Europes central bankers and regarded as an obstruction to German capitals need to capture markets in the aftermath of Germanys troubled reunification.
In Britain, such has been the 30-year propaganda of an extreme economic theory known first as monetarism then as neo-liberalism, that the new prime minister can, like his predecessor, describe his demands that ordinary people pay the debts of crooks as fiscally responsible. The unmentionables are poverty and class. Almost a third of British children remain below the breadline. In working class Kentish Town in London, male life expectancy is 70. Two miles away, in Hampstead, it is 80. When Russia was subjected to similar shock therapy in the 1990s, life expectancy nosedived. A record 40 million impoverished Americans are currently receiving food stamps: that is, they cannot afford to feed themselves.
In the developing world, a system of triage imposed by the World Bank and the IMF has long determined whether people live or die. Whenever tariffs and food and fuel subsidies are eliminated by IMF diktat, small farmers know they have been declared expendable. The World Resources Institute estimates that the toll reaches 13-18 million child deaths every year. This, wrote the economist Lester C. Thurow, is neither metaphor nor simile of war, but war itself.
The same imperial forces have used horrific military weapons against stricken countries whose majorities are children, and approved torture as an instrument of foreign policy. It is a phenomenon of denial that none of these assaults on humanity, in which Britain is actively engaged, was allowed to intrude on the British election.
The people on the streets of Athens do not suffer this malaise. They are clear who the enemy is and they regard themselves as once again under foreign occupation. And once again, they are rising up, with courage. When David Cameron begins to cleave £6 billion from public services in Britain, he will be bargaining that Greece will not happen in Britain. We should prove him wrong
The right to strike under threat a European Taff Vale?
April 26, 2010 by solidaritymagazine
SOLIDARITY Editor Martin Wicks examines the implications of two recent injunctions against strike action by UNITE and the RMT.
The recent injunctions issued against strike action by UNITE and the RMT have grave implications for the whole trade union movement. They place a question mark over the right to strike. There were two main parts to these judgements: irregularities in the balloting process and a new concept of proportionality (which has no precedent in UK law) based on European Union law and judgements by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) relating to the Laval and Viking cases.
One of the changes in employment law which Thatcher introduced in 1993 was the obligation to carry out a postal ballot for industrial action, to render it legal. Under this legislation the unions had to provide to the employer a list of members they were balloting, in order that they (the employer) could prepare for strike action. Whilst a union might not necessarily want to give an employer a list of members, checkoff (or paybill deduction of union subs) was the most common means of paying them. It was a simple process. A union had to hand over a list of names and NI numbers.
When New Labour came to power in 1997 they amended the balloting regulations. Most unions considered the ending of the obligation to provide the names of their members to an employer as a gain. However, in its place a union had to provide a list of grades and numbers being balloted, as well as workplace locations with the numbers of staff in each grade at each location. This was a real sting in the tail. New Labours amendment of employment law has worsened the situation and opened unions to the increasing threat of injunctions to prevent strike action because of balloting irregularities.
If your membership is on checkoff (paying subs from their wages) then a union can simply provide a list of members and NI numbers. Today, however, it is more common for unions to offer the choice for their members to pay either by checkoff or by Direct Debit. These means there is more scope for irregularities.
In the recent case of UNITE at British Airways, the injunction was issued, in part because they had balloted members who had been made redundant. The regulations say that only those who qualify to be balloted should be.
Redundant staff do not. However, the judgement did not take any account of the fact that the numbers involved could not have had any material impact on the outcome of the ballot since over 90% of staff voted for strike action.
Section 232B of the 1992 Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act says that when a union makes accidental mistakes in terms of those who are balloted, on a scale unlikely to affect the outcome, this will not invalidate the procedure.
In the case of the RMT, the injunction, again, was in part issued because of irregularities in balloting. Network Rail said that because the RMT had provided inaccurate information on workplaces and grade numbers then people had been balloted who should not have been. Since the ballot result was close there was more scope for Network Rail to suggest that irregularities could have produced a No vote.
The rail operator (Network Rail) argued that the closeness of the vote meant that the votes of just 112 of 4,556 signallers balloted could have changed the result. The company presented a string of alleged irregularities including 11 phantom signal boxes that should not have featured in the ballot.
In addition 23 workplaces were supposedly excluded from the vote, 12 were included where there are no RMT members, and at 67 locations the RMT balloted more members than there are employees. This was patently absurd. The inaccurate information could have no bearing on the outcome of the ballot since the union balloted members at their home addresses. It cannot ballot people who arent members. Moreover, Network Rail does not know which of their staff pay union subs by Direct Debit, so how it could have known there were no RMT members at 12 locations is a mystery.
Hence, whatever the motivation behind the change in the balloting regulations they have made it more difficult to take strike action without falling foul of the law, even when the information a union has to provide does not impact on the outcome of the ballot.
In real life some members who should get a vote do not, and some who should not do. All it requires is for a member to fail to inform a union of a change of grade, or a change of address. In the case of the RMT the locations and numbers are irrelevant to the conduct of a ballot, accept insofar as the provision of this information is a hoop through which the union has to jump.
Of course the difficulties that a union may face in overcoming these hurdles will depend on the industry their members work in and whether it is a local or national dispute. What is clear now is that a national strike is more and more difficult because the information that a union has to provide is more complicated. In the case of Network Rail, signal boxes are small workplaces, around 1,000 of them (according to its 2007 Business Plan), usually with a small numbers of workers in each of them. To keep accurate information up to date is, as Bob Crow has said, like painting proverbial the Forth Bridge; the job is never finished.
It is high time that the unions recognised that the change in balloting regulations by the New Labour government has presented a big problem for us; one which has to be addressed. Notwithstanding the labour movement campaign for the repeal of the antiunion legislation as a whole, there is an urgent need for an amendment to these balloting regulations so that trades unions do not have to provide such detail. It should be sufficient that they inform a company of the grades/categories of staff they are balloting. Any management knows who these are. Moreover, a trade union should not have to provide information in order to assist a management in undermining a strike.
If the balloting regulations constitute a major problem, especially in relation to strikes on a national scale, the two judgements lost by UNITE and RMT, indicate an even greater obstacle to the organisation of industrial action. The judgement in relation to BA, as far as I am aware, marks the first time that a British judge has issued an injunction in part because the action proposed by a union (it had said it would organise a 12 day strike) was deemed to be disproportionate. Mrs Justice Cox said:
A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year.
Likewise in the judgement on Network Rails application for an injunction against the RMTs strike, the question of proportionality was one of the grounds on which the injunction was granted.
Charles Bear QC, the lawyer for Network Rail, convinced the High Court to intervene with the injunction by saying that the industrial action would cause a lot of damage to the already stricken economy. He explained that it was needed to prevent unlawful action, which would have the same effect as cancelling 80% of Britains rail services. Bear continued that this would damage businesses that depend on rail services for transport and freight, adding that it would also damage the claimant itself and train operating companies.
In fact in British law there is no precedent for a judge to rule on the legality of industrial action on anything other than whether it constitutes a trade dispute (a very narrow definition introduced by Thatcher) and whether a union has followed the balloting regulations. However, as a result of the Lisbon treaty the Charter of Fundamental Rights has to be applied in Britain. Any contradictions within the Charter, or questions of interpretation are subject to determination by the ECJ. The British government, it should be remembered, opposed the right to strike being a fundamental right! Readers may recall the ECJ judgements known as the Laval and Viking cases (see box). In these, the ECJ was considering the apparent contradiction between two Articles in the Charter.
Article 15 reads:
Every citizen of the Union has the freedom to seek employment, to work, to exercise the right of establishment and to provide services in any Member State.
Article 28 refers to the right of collective bargaining and action.
Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.
It is the apparent conflict between the right to strike and the right of establishment and to provide services which the ECJ considered.
The focus in the media and in the trades unions on these cases was on the implications for the employment of foreign labour as a means of undermining national agreements. Imported contract labour was being paid at rates lower than other workers in the country in question. Obviously the trades unions were concerned to ensure that the rate for the job should be paid regardless of the nationality of the workers. However, the Posted Worker Directive offers no more protection than the minimum wage rate of the country into which a worker is posted.
What did not receive much attention, however, was the fact that in the Laval judgement the question of the proportionality of the strike action was one of the reasons for the action being ruled as illegal. Whilst it is more general in European countries to have the legal right to strike, enshrined in law, this right is dependent upon whether the proposed action is judged to be proportionate or not. The ECJ has held that unions have a fundamental right to strike under European law, but industrial action may have to be justified by balancing it against employers rights to the freedom of movement and goods.
British judges are now taking into account ECJ judgements in determining whether or not to grant injunctions to stop industrial action .
The BALPA case
Prior to the BA and RMT injunctions, in March 2008 BALPA members voted for strike action against British Airways decision to set up a subsidiary based in Europe. BALPA sought to prevent the company undermining wages by employing pilots on lower wages that BA paid their staff in the UK. BA sought an injunction based on the argument that the action would be illegal as a result of the Laval and Viking judgements. BA claimed that, should the work stoppage take place, it would claim damages estimated at £100 million. Under these circumstances, BALPA did not follow through with the strike, stating that it would risk bankruptcy if it were required to pay the damages claimed by BA. So the threat from BA was not tested in court, but it was sufficient to make BALPA back down.
As a result BALPA submitted an application to the International Labour Organisation concerning the British governments failure to meet the requirements of ILO Convention 87, which covers the right to freedom of association and the right of unions to organise workers.
The UK Government response to BALPAs application said that it was misdirected and misconceived because any adverse impact of Viking and Laval would be a consequence of the European Union law, to which the United Kingdom is obliged to give effect, rather than of any unilateral action by the United Kingdom itself. The Government also said that that BALPAs application was premature because it remains unclear what, if any, impact the Viking and Laval judgements would have on the application of trade union legislation in the United Kingdom. The Government added that these judgements were not likely to have much effect on trade union rights because they were only applicable where the freedom of establishment and free movement of services between Member States were at issue. This has proved to be false.
The ILO committee of Experts had this to say in considering BALPAs application:
The Committee observes with serious concern practical limitations on the effective exercise of the right to strike of the BALPA workers in this case. The Committee takes the view that the omnipresent threat of an action for damages that could bankrupt the union, possible now in the light of the Viking Laval , creates a situation where the rights under the Convention cannot be exercised. While taking due note of the Governments statement that it is premature at this stage to presume what the impact would have been had the court been able to render its judgement in this case given that BALPA withdrew its application, the Committee considers, to the contrary, that there was indeed a real threat to the unions existence and that the request for the injunction and the delays that would necessarily ensue throughout the legal process would likely render the action irrelevant and meaningless. Finally, the Committee notes the Governments statement that the impact of the ECJ judgements is limited as it would only concern cases where freedom of establishment and free movement of services between Member States are at issue, whereas the vast majority of trade disputes in the United Kingdom are purely domestic and do not raise any cross-border issues. The Committee would observe in this regard that, in the current context of globalization, such cases are likely to be ever more common, particularly with respect to certain sectors of employment, like the airline sector, and thus the impact upon the possibility of the workers in these sectors of being able to meaningfully negotiate with their employers on matters affecting the terms and conditions of employment may indeed be devastating. The Committee thus considers that the doctrine that is being articulated in these ECJ judgements is likely to have a significant restrictive effect on the exercise of the right to strike in practice in a manner contrary to the Convention.
It therefore recommended to the UK government that:
In light of the observations that it has been making for many years concerning the need to ensure fuller protection of the right of workers to exercise legitimate industrial action in practice, and bearing in mind the new challenges to this protection as analysed above, the Committee requests the Government to review the TULRA and consider appropriate measures for the protection of workers and their organizations to engage in industrial action and to indicate the steps taken in this regard.
The British government, of course, is a signatory to the ILO Conventions.
Whilst the British unions have been forward in praising and relying on European legislation as progressive, and a means of pressuring a British government to carry out legislation in line with European law (especially in relation to social rights), what we have here is European law being imposed in such a way that the very right to strike is under threat. Daniel Ornstein and Herbert Smith (Employment Lawyers Association), in line with the ILO assessment, are right when they say:
These two rulings impose substantive new restrictions on the lawfulness of industrial action and require the UK courts to adopt a new approach to the grant of injunctive relief, at least where there is a direct international element. Moreover, they may also apply where there is very little or even no direct international element. There is therefore every reason to conclude that Viking Line and Laval have provided employers with a potent new weapon with which to oppose industrial action. (Our emphasis)
Those unions that supported the Lisbon treaty will see their members now paying the price in relation to employment law. Underlying the Laval and Viking judgements is the fact that the Lisbon treaty enshrines in law the predominance of the market, and open competition. Industrial action can be deemed a restraint on trade, on the right of establishment. The UK government, as we know, refused to allow its people to vote on whether or not to accept the Lisbon treaty. So fundamental changes in law were pushed through without any democratic mandate.
The defence of the right to strike, therefore, requires that we campaign against any determination by judges of the economic impact of the action taken by workers. Strike action is a means of economic pressure on a company. To accept the institutional and ideological concept of balance means to accept perpetual interference by judges when workers have balloted for industrial action. An application for an injunction, once not very common, would become a usual occurrence.
At the TUC Congress in 2008 a composite resolution on the ECJ judgements expressed the view that with these judgements EU law was subjugating fundamental collective rights, including collective bargaining and to take industrial action, to the rights of employers and business.
Derek Simpson, moving a Composite resolution on this issue, was certainly right when he said at the 2008 TUC Congress, referring to the Laval and Viking judgements:
It now transpires that the most recent judgements by the European Court of Justice cause, perhaps, the biggest challenge to the trade union movement in a century, far worse than Thatchers laws, striking at the very heart of collective bargaining, damaging unions abilities to fight for improvements in working conditions and making it not only preferable for employers but giving them legal protection to introduce cheap labour into any sphere, any sector and any corner of the economy.
unless we reverse the European Court of Justices decisions, we are back in the dark days.
In the same debate Bob Oram from UNISON said:
UNISON believes that the ECJ is unaccountable. We believe it is politically driven. Its recent decisions undermine our collective ability and collective rights even further than the disgraceful Thatcher attacks which are still on the statute books.
The situation is quite simple, comrades. The EU is committed to extending the internal market. That is privatisation to you and me. The Court, through these rulings, has seriously undermined our ability to defend our members against further attacks. The employers right to freedom of establishment trumps the right to strike leaving us defenceless against the EUs drive to liberalise markets and institutionalise social dumping.
The Composite resolution called on the General Council to:
i) develop a strategy and take action to counter the impact of these decisions;
ii) take urgent steps to meet with UK government ministers to obtain their support for legislative changes which
ensure more comprehensive protection for social rights in Europe;
iii) work with the ETUC to maintain pressure on the EU to bring about legislative change; and
iv) organise a mass lobby of MEPs to secure support for legislative change.
At the 2009 Congress reaffirmed its opposition to the ECJ rulings and reiterated that the Lisbon Treaty exacerbates attacks on trades unions by handing greater power to the ECJ to interpret disputes concerning the Charter of Fundamental Rights. But there was nothing in the General Council report on this, or on the implementation of the 2008 resolution. If indeed we are back in the dark days and collective trade union rights have been subjugated
to the rights of employers and business, what happened to the campaign?
The European TUC response
In the wake of the Laval and Viking judgements the ETUC has called for changes in European law to overcome the impact of the Laval and Viking judgements. In a speech to the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, ETUC General Secretary John Monks said:
We are now left with not knowing what is proportionate action and what is not. Presumably a court will define proportionality in the context of each case, so creating intolerable uncertainty for unions involved in virtually any case of industrial action over migration and free movement, a naturally growing area for disputes as Europe integrates its labour and services markets. In some member states, the right to strike is a first rank constitutional right and this is now at risk. So, generally, is trade union autonomy.
So we are being told that the right to strike is a fundamental right but not so fundamental as the EUs free movement provisions.
In response to these judgement the ETUC has called for A social protocol confirming that the single market exists to serve social progress, that fundamental social rights have priority, that enterprises cannot circumvent national laws and practices in order to engage in unfair competition on pay and working conditions
In October 2008 the European parliament voted through by a large majority, a report drafted by Jan Andersson (European Socialist Party) on challenges to collective agreements in the European Union. With this report the EP expressed deep concerns about the rulings of the ECJ in the Viking, Laval, Rüffert and Luxembourg cases.
The EP said that economic freedoms, such as the freedom to provide services, are not superior to fundamental rights, such as the right of trade unions to take collective action. Furthermore, it emphasised the right of the social partners to ensure non-discrimination, equal treatment, and the improvement of living and working conditions of workers. The EP called on the Commission to prepare the necessary legislative proposals which would assist in preventing conflicting interpretation in the future and for a re-assertion in primary law of the balance between
fundamental rights and economic freedoms, in order to help avoiding a race to lower social standards.
John Monks said:
This vote shows clearly that the EP has succeeded in finding a compromise that allows for safeguarding the European Social Model and for protecting the industrial relations systems in the Member States, and I thank all those Members of the EP that understood the importance of this issue for the future of Europe and worked hard to get this report adopted. Fair competition between companies and respect for collective bargaining is an interest and concern that all trade unions share in Europe, be it in the old or the new Member States. I particularly welcome the fact that the EP is looking at ways to reestablish an adequate balance between fundamental social rights and economic freedoms. The ETUC renews its call to the EU institutions to give serious and urgent consideration to the adoption of a social progress protocol to be attached to the EU treaties. (Our emphases)
There is, however, a fundamental problem with this approach. The single market was conceived as a means of Capital in Europe competing in the global market place. Moreover, the free market foundation of the EU leads in the direction of turning public services into commodities, for they restrict the right of private businesses to enter these markets. (The Blair/Brown government, of course, has sought to remedy this by creating a health market, where none existed, to invite private companies in.)
Since Monks and the ETUCs position is coloured by the illusion that the single market can serve social progress, it is no surprise that they views the purpose of such a protocol, which the ETUC wants to be legally binding, to be to restore balance between economic market freedoms and fundamental rights.
What exactly does balance between social rights and economic freedom mean? The very idea of balance is a recipe for judicial intervention in the determination of whether a strike is legal or not. What right has a judge to determine whether or not workers who have voted for strike action should take it? The unelected judiciary is overriding the democratic decision of workers, who in any case have the cards stacked against them.
The EU and the ETUC accept that unions and employers have interests in common. The European social model is based on the idea of social partnership. Trades unions that support such an outlook accept that the unions have an interest in helping their employers to compete successfully in the single market and the global market. The concept of balance between social rights and economic freedoms has a similar foundation. Support for social partnership marked an abandonment of the idea of class struggle and the fundamental conflict of interests between unions and the employers. For trades unions to call for balance means accepting the right of judges to determine the legality or otherwise of industrial action on criteria which is rooted in a free market outlook.
A European Taff Vale?
As a result of the criteria of proportionality and the threat of being liable for damages, we have potentially been thrown back to the Taff Vale judgement; a potential European Taff Vale. The Taff Vale judgement of 1903 involved the fining of the ASRS rail union for striking against the Taff Vale Railway Company. The fine was to recompense for the cost of the strike to the company. Whilst the judgement did not dispense with the right to strike it meant that the formal right to strike was worthless because unions could be prosecuted for executing that right, and fined for the cost of their action to the employer. They could potentially be bankrupted for taking any strike action.
In 1906 the Liberal government introduced legislation which created immunity from prosecution which meant that the right to strike could be used without fear of a union being bankrupted. The legislation was implemented as a means of the Liberal Party fending off the electoral threat of the young Labour Party, whose growth was given impetus by the Taff Vale judgement. The judgement had deepened the break of the unions with the Liberal Party.
The legislation was a concession to the electoral base of support which the Liberals had had amongst sections of the working class. Since then immunity from prosecution has remained the historic protection of the right to strike in Britain, whilst there has been no positive legal right to strike.
The parallel with Taff Vale is this. Then the formal right to strike was of little use if a union could be bankrupted for taking advantage of this right. Now, the right to strike is threatened because the concept of proportionality enables employers to seek injunctions on such grounds when a group of workers has voted for strike action. Truly a potent new weapon against the unions.
What use is the right to strike if you cannot exercise it because a judge determines that your action would be illegal because of the impact it would have on the employer and the economy and consumers of goods and services? Mr Beard for Network Rail said that the action of the RMT was disproportionate because of the impact of the action in the context of a recession. What about the impact of a strike by UNISON on patients in the health service, or by the FBU, given the risk of fires? What of the threat of BA to sue BALPA for £100 million? There has been talk of the Tories bringing in legislation to ban strikes in essential services. In fact they would not need to, for an effective ban could be implemented on the basis of proportionality.
What the trade union movement faces, therefore, is the biggest challenge since Taff Vale. It needs to mobilise a campaign to defend the right to strike, to change the balloting regulations so they are not onerous for the unions, and to seek to build a European campaign to challenge the concept of proportionality in law.
Neo-liberalism was marked by the attempt to subordinate society to the imperatives of the market. Proportionality is nothing other than attempt to subordinate employment rights to the market. At stake is the democratic right of workers and trades unions to defend their interests and to challenge the tyranny of their subjugation to the rights of employers and business.
The Viking Case
The Viking Line shipping company tried to reflag the ferry Rosella to replace its Finnish crew which cheaper Estonians. The Finnish seafarers union and the ITF organised a boycott of Viking. The company claimed it was a breach of its right to the freedom of movement of goods and service. The ECJ held that although the right to take collective action is a fundamental right it can constitute a restriction on the freedom of goods and services so must be justified.
The Laval case
A Latvian building company won a contract to build a school in Sweden and brought in Latvian workers. The Swedish union blockaded the firm in order to get them to sign up an agreement to bring their wages up to Swedish levels. The ECJ said that the right to take collective action is a fundamental right but it must not go beyond what is suitable for attaining objectives. Furthermore, it held that action to give workers rights beyond those already given by the Posted Workers Directive cannot be justified. The PWD means that workers can be employed for the minimum wage in a country, even if this is in breach of local agreements negotiated by unions and employers.
The Ruffert case
In the Ruffert v Land Niedersachsen, a German company won the contract to build a prison. The contract specified that wages were to be paid at the level collectively agreed for the region. However, the German company sub -contracted the work to a Polish company which paid their workers less than half of the German workers on the site.
On discovering this, the company terminated the contract and imposed financial penalties. The ECJ decided that the requirement for a minimum salary level was capable of constituting a restriction on trade and was not justified on the grounds of protecting workers or protecting the independence of trade unions. In addition to Article 49 (freedom of establishment) the Posted Workers Directive prevented the requirement for higher wages on contracts for public work where there was no corresponding requirement for private sector contracts.
The Luxembourg case
In July 2006, the unelected Commission of the EU brought an enforcement action against Luxembourg in which it claimed that Luxembourg had failed to fulfil its obligations under the PWD and under Article 49 and 50 concerning the freedom to provide services. Luxembourg sought to impose better conditions than the minimum level under the Posted Worker Directive. This was declared illegal.
All three main parties intend on slash and burn policies
REGULATOR WARNS OF POWER CUTS
3 Feb 2010
The UK could face power shortages in less than three years according to the energy Regulator OFGEM. The dire warning from the Regulator also warned that a significant number of consumers may not be able to afford the higher energy prices they could have to face.
Ofgem said that there was reasonable doubt about whether the UKs energy market would be able to deliver sustainable supplies in the coming decade.Surely a case for re-nationalisation.
Energy Secretary Ed Miliband expressed confidence in supplies being met.
There is a clear consensus among the main political parties. The solution to the national deficit is to cut public services.
Yet we have a national deficit because the banking sector collapsed, sparking a recession.
Bailing out the banks cost billions, and the recession hit tax revenues and increased unemployment. Public services did not cause this crisis, and we should not have to pay for the crisis through cuts in our services.
What runs through all the attacks on the terms and conditions of public-sector workers is a brutal logic that wages and pensions should be forced down to the lowest level.
The benchmark for this is the private sector, where wages are compared to non-unionised workers.
This global race to the bottom is central to the economic collapse we have seen around the world. Squeezed consumers are defaulting on mortgages and personal debts, and are less able to spend in the economy.
This is not a theory, but a fact - the share of Britain's national income going to wages has declined from 65 per cent in the 1970s to 53 per cent today. The same phenomenon has been witnessed around the world. Neoliberal economic practice is devouring itself, and with it ruining millions of lives.
There are alternatives, but they won't be found in the main parties' manifestos. This is because they require a redistribution of wealth and power in the other direction - from rich to poor.
Research by the Tax Justice Network and PCS estimates that £70 billion is lost every year through tax evasion and a further £25 billion is lost through avoidance, by big business and wealthy individuals. Much of this could be recovered if more tax inspectors were hired and the legal loopholes were closed.
But the government is cutting the number of tax staff every year. Last year this meant that another £27.7bn of tax went uncollected by HM Revenue & Customs.
By just collecting the tax that is rightfully ours, including from the wealthy and big business, we could avoid public service cuts.
The organisers of the Robin Hood Tax campaign estimate that introducing a mere 0.05 per cent tax on financial speculation could raise $400bn globally.
We own several banks. They were bailed out with taxpayers' money, having done massive damage to our economy, so it seems reasonable that they should be run in the public interest - with their profits used to invest in public services. If other services collapse and need to be bailed out, let's run them to make a profit for the people who bailed them out - taxpayers.
Thirty years ago, gas, electricity, water, buses, trains, and telecommunications were all publicly owned, with prices set by government and all profits reinvested not given away on fat-cat bonuses and dividends. In recent years, utility bills and rail fares have risen way above the level of inflation for little or no discernible service improvements. These price rises for essential services have hit the poorest hardest and contributed to the growth in inequality to its current unprecedented level.
But there are places where cuts make sense.
There are several large government projects that are worthy of being scrapped. Polls indicate that axing these projects would be popular and would allow public money to be better spent elsewhere.
Stopping the replacement of Trident nuclear weapons would save an estimated £78bn over 30 years. Abandoning ID card proposals would save at least £6bn. Bringing our troops home from the pointless war in Afghanistan would save £2.6bn per year, and save countless young lives - British and Afghani.
The cross-party consensus on cuts is not just stifling debate about alternatives. The consensus itself is economically illiterate and socially unjust.
The three main parties are particularly targeting cuts to public services, welfare costs and to public-sector and state pensions.
Public services are vital in reducing inequality, by making cuts or increasing charges we will damage the service and ultimately damage our society - taking opportunities away from people.
Cuts to university budgets will deny higher education places to people and encourage calls for higher fees, which would exclude even more. A less skilled workforce is also less attractive to foreign investment, something all three parties regularly declare is vital for the economy.
Cutting public-sector jobs will increase unemployment, which in turn will increase the costs to government, as more people claim unemployment benefit and fewer people pay income tax. If people's incomes are taken away or cut through pay freezes then they spend less, also hitting VAT revenues. This hurts the economy as there is less consumer spending. It will also result in the private sector cutting back because there is less demand.
Instead, we should be creating jobs to boost employment and tax revenue. We have plenty of work to be done. We could invest in renewable energy, high speed rail links and building new housing for the 1.8m families on council house waiting lists.
Britain currently has the lowest level of unemployment benefit in western Europe - just £64 per week or £51 for under-25s. If unemployment benefit had risen at the same rate as wages since 1979, it would be over £110 per week today. Even if a link between benefits and earnings had been introduced by Labour in 1997, the unemployment benefit would be £75 per week today.
Despite all the horror stories in the press, three times as much is lost through mistakes in benefit payments as is lost through benefit fraud. Benefit fraud last year was about £0.8bn, tax evasion by big business and wealthy individuals was £70bn - nearly 100 times as much. Yet where are the posters at bus stops to shop a tax evader?
The basic state pension is still under £100 per week, one of the lowest in Europe. The official poverty level is £165 per week. Proposing to increase the state pension age to 66 immediately and gradually up to 70 would hit the poorest hardest. They earn less and so are less able to take early retirement. Because of this and a lifetime of lower standards of living, they die younger. With the current unprecedented levels of inequality, raising the pension age is grossly unjust.
The main pensions target for the stale Westminster party consensus is public-sector pensions. Currently, the average public-sector pension is about £4,000 a year, or about £80 per week - hardly the "gold-plated," "feather-bedded" lap of luxury that the tabloids would have us believe.
In fact, two and a half times as much public-sector money is spent subsidising private-sector pensions through tax relief - and 60 per cent of this relief goes to higher rate earners at the higher rate.
A recent IPSOS/MORI opinion poll revealed that only 24 per cent of the British public thought there was a need to cut spending on public services. The same poll found that people were most in favour of tax rises on business, closely followed by inheritance tax.
Despite the cross-party consensus, it is clear that people know there are alternatives to public service cuts, and there is a clear belief that those who gained the most from the boom should pay for the bust.
Andrew Fisher is co-ordinator of the Left Economics Advisory Panel.
The right to strike
Right to strike RMT UNION
3rd April 2010
LRC Chair John McDonnell MP today has a letter in The Guardian regarding the injunction against the RMT ballot, which derailed the planned national rail strike next week:
The media treatment of RMT and Bob Crow over the last 48 hours over the Network Rail strike ballot has been the worst example of a concerted campaign of media bias against a trade union that we have seen since the 1980s miners strike. John Humphryss interview of Bob Crow, with his references to ballot-rigging, and the BBCs subsequent headline of RMTs Bob Crow denies ballot rigging, was that disgusting classic of the old hack lawyers tactic of asking the defendant: When did you stop beating your wife?
Even the Guardians editorial (2 April) ignorantly weighed in with No union that conducts its ballots properly according to the reasonable requirements of the law
would be in danger of being injuncted. This reference to reasonable requirements of the law is patent rubbish. To hold a ballot the union must construct and supply the employer with a detailed and complex matrix of information setting out which members it is balloting, their job titles, grades, departments and work locations. The employer is under no obligation to co-operate with the union to ensure this is accurate. If there is the slightest inaccuracy, even where it did not affect the result, the ballot is open to being challenged by the employer and quashed by the courts.
There can be no question of the union ballot-rigging or interfering in the balloting process because it is undertaken by an independent scrutineer, usually the Electoral Reform Society, and all ballot papers are sent by post to the homes of the members being balloted, and returned to the ERS for counting. The union at no time handles the ballot papers.
On at least four occasions in the last three years I have tried in parliament on behalf of RMT and other TUC-affiliated unions to amend employment law to require employers to co-operate with unions in the balloting process so these problems can be overcome. Employers organisations, the Conservatives and the government have all opposed this reform.
The result is not fewer strikes but a deteriorating industrial relations climate as people become increasingly angry that their democratic wishes are frustrated by one-sided anti-trade-union laws.
John McDonnell MP
Union says government plans to deny compensation to poisoned workers
Below is a press release from UCATT which I thought worth putting out. I've subbed it down a little but otherwise it is their words and their interpretation of what sounds liks a shocking situation.
Construction union UCATT have described proposals, which would deny compensation to pleural plaques victims as disgraceful.
The decision not to compensate pleural plaques victims is due to the Governments unwillingness to pay compensation to public sector workers exposed to asbestos whilst employed in former nationalised heavy industries, such as shipbuilding.
The Governments liability is claimed to be £35 million per annum, but this is a diminishing liability due to the historic nature of the exposure.
Alan Ritchie, General Secretary of UCATT, said: The State employed these workers and exposed them to asbestos now the State must pay their compensation. A failure to do so is morally indefensible.
The Government is only planning to compensate plaques victims who had already lodged a legal case before the Law Lords banned compensation for pleural plaques in October 2007.
There are £30 million worth of legally stayed pleural plaques cases. These include many cases where insurance companies would have been liable to pay compensation. Instead the Government is proposing to use public funds to pay compensation.
Mr Ritchie added: The Government is intending to pay compensation, from an already severely overstretched public purse, to pleural plaques victims when it is the insurers who are liable. Why on earth are the insurers not being made to pay?
The Governments decision is in stark contrast to that of the Scottish Parliament, who last year passed a law allowing pleural plaques victims in Scotland to receive full compensation.
A formal announcement on the Governments pleural plaques plans is expected to be made by Jack Straw the Justice Secretary shortly.
In an attempt to head off widespread criticism of its plans the Government is proposing funding of a National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease (NCARD), a register for pleural plaques sufferers and faster payments for mesothelioma victims. The Government are also considering establishing an Employer Liability Insurance Bureau, to compensate victims of fatal asbestos conditions such as mesothelioma, if no insurer can be identified.
Mr Ritchie, said: This is the opposite of social justice, which Labour was founded on.
The Government is basing their evidence that pleural plaques victims should not be compensated on a report commissioned by the Chief Medical Officer and written by Professor Robert Maynard, an expert in air pollution who had never met a pleural plaques sufferer.
Note: In October 2007 the Law Lords overturned over 20 years of civil law and ruled that pleural plaques could no longer be compensated. In July 2008 the Government launched a consultation exercise to examine whether the Law Lords ruling should be overturned. Despite repeated promises that the Government would respond to the consultation, no announcement has yet been made.
Funding boost for colliery restoration
Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 07:30
A PROJECT to restore buildings at one of Derbyshire's oldest collieries has been awarded £800,000.
The money will go towards restoration work on a number of listed buildings at the redeveloped Pleasley Colliery in Bolsover.
Work will involve restoration of the sites' key features including the remaining colliery engine houses and iconic and striking head gears along with other listed buildings.
It has been funded by East Midlands Development Agency (Emda) and the Homes and Communities Agency through the National Coalfields Programme.
Diana Gilhespy, Emda's executive director of regeneration, said: "The restoration of Pleasley Colliery is key in retaining the region's history for the future."
Mandelson fails to win Cadbury jobs guarantee
3 Feb 2010
Lord Mandelson said he was "disappointed" after Cadbury's new US owner was unable to confirm the chocolate maker's brands would still be run from the UK. Mandelson The Business Secretary met Kraft chairman Irene Rosenfeld on Tuesday night, a few hours after the US food giant won its battle for control of Cadbury.
Lord Mandelson said: "I was disappointed that she was unable to confirm that Cadbury's confectionery brands will continue to be managed and operated globally out of the UK.
"On the other hand she said that she expects Britain to be a net gainer in manufacturing output and employment so that was encouraging, but what we've got to do now is to remain in close touch."
He added: "I'm glad now to be in personal touch but what I will be looking for are much harder, more specific commitments in the next three to six months."
Kraft's successful battle for Cadbury shareholder approval heralds the end of the iconic British firm's 186-year history as an independent company
IMF chief in U-turn as Venezuela cancels Haiti debt
Wednesday 27 January 2010
International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has made a U-turn on the US-dominated financial institution's attempt to burden earthquake-devastated Haiti with another $100 million (£61.7m) of debt.
Mr Strauss-Kahn declared that he now supported efforts to "delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan," following criticism from leaders such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who announced his own country's immediate cancellation of a $295m (£182m) debt on Monday.
Haiti's debt to Venezuela was run up under the Petrocaribe initiative which offers member countries the chance to purchase Venezuelan oil on preferential terms.
Mr Chavez declared: "Haiti has no debt with Venezuela - on the contrary, it is Venezuela that has a historic debt with Haiti thanks to the support that Haiti gave to Simon Bolivar," and the struggle for independence from Spain in the 19th century.
Tony Blair is to earn a six-figure sum from top hedge fund Lansdowne Partners
Tony Blair is to earn a six-figure sum from top hedge fund Lansdowne Partners giving its executives talks on his geopolitical insights.
The former prime minister will give four staff-only presentations to Mayfair-based Lansdowne in the coming months. He is already special adviser to investment bank JPMorgan and to Zurich Financial.
Lansdowne reportedly made £100 million last year betting on the collapse in Barclays bank share price, and a similar amount on the failure of Northern Rock in 2007.
Mr Blair's role at the firm is bound to be controversial because among Lansdowne's executives is Arnab Banerji, whom Mr Blair recruited in 2002 as one of his advisers on City matters. At the time of Mr Banerji's appointment, Opposition leaders complained that he was a Labour donor and close friend of Mr Blair.
Reader views (11) Add your view
Why would any business signal up such an iffy red flag association around its name and brand with such an abysmal appointment.
- Mark, London
Well done Tony you deserve the job, after all you laid the foundations for creating a well balanced economy.......shame your banker mates mucked it up for everyone else.
PS - When does he become Chairman of The Conservative Party?
- Peter, Wandsworth, London
Does everyone remember Labour's outrage at bankers earning more than the PM?
- Ian, London
Is Bank reform possible at all in this environment?
- Ram2009, Reading
Perhaps he will give them an insight into how to ruin the economy of the UK. My God that shouldn't take long !! 1.Spend more than you earn on unproductive projects that will never come to fruition but make me lots of friends. 2. Start two wars and cost the lives of some of the finest people that we have in public service in the UK but fail to equip them with proper equipment. 3. Line the pockets of highly paid friends (lawyers/charlatans) with never ending enquiries i.e. the Savill enquiry (has been on the go longer than any DFS/SCS furniture sales) and has only cost £200,000,000 !! Need I say more.
- Nick Holland, glasgow
What does Landsdown and JP Morgan get by hiring Blair? Access to the sensitive and highly secret information Blair acquired whilst PM of this country. What does Blair get? A million dollars a year (plus bonus).
It is time for the UK to stop this individual selling us all short. His earnings from roles that rely on him being an ex PM should be taxed at 100% and he should be banned for life from exploiting knowledge gained whilst PM. It's called the Official Secrets Act, which should also apply to Bliar. He is a truly disgusting human being, but the establishment allows his disturbing money grab. Some are more equal than the rest of us, and I for one am left sick to the core!
- Bobby Smith, London
Hoons last stand
6 January 2010
HOON AND HEWITT IN DAMAING BALLOT CALL In an attempt to cause maximum damage to Gordon Brown and Labours election campaign, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt have called for a leadership election by secret ballot with the undisguised objective of ousting the Prime Minister and assisting the opposition. The Blairite faction has repeatedly tried to destabalise the Brown government.
New laws for agency workers must have no employer loopholes, says TUC
Tuesday 22 December 2009
The TUC is calling on the Government to give agency workers real protection from exploitation and genuine equal treatment on pay, holiday and hours, as it publishes its response to the draft Agency Worker Regulations consultation today (Tuesday). The draft Regulations seek to implement the EU Temporary Agency Worker Directive into UK law.
Agency workers are particularly vulnerable during times of recession, says the TUC, and the new rights should be introduced as a matter of urgency. The TUC wants the Agency Worker Regulations to be strengthened to guarantee that every agency worker receives the same rights on pay, holiday and working time as directly employed staff doing the same work, following a 12-week qualifying period.
Workers jobs at Cadburys chocolate are under threat!
US multinational Kraft has launched a hostile bid for the company which could lead to massive job losses in the UK and Ireland. And as Britains biggest union representing Cadbury workers throughout the UK and Ireland, Unite has joined forces with Cadbury to keep the company independent, and stop the threat of Kraft cuts.
How you can help
Sign the petition to keep Cadbury independent
Get your friends and family and anyone that likes Cadbury's chocolate to sign up to the campaign.
5 November 2009
Detailed plans outlining the timescale and strategy for the renationalising of the East Coast Main Line following the collapse of the National Express franchise have now been received by rail union RMT.
A new publicly owned company, trading under the brand name East Coast, is scheduled to take over the operation of the route from the 12th of December 2009.
Whilst welcoming the return to public ownership and control of the East Coast Main Line, RMT are demanding to know why National Expresss other two routes, East Anglia and C2C, have not been included in the plans under the cross-default clauses which should see them reclaimed from the company.
RMT are also raising questions over why the creation of the new publicly owned East Coast company, at massive cost to the taxpayer and creating huge upheaval for staff and passengers, is only seen as a short term measure with the Government planning a third gamble on privatisation in mid-2011 despite the failures of both GNER and National Express on this important section of the rail network.
RMT have also lodged formal demands that no member of staff transferring from National Express to East Coast should suffer any detriment to their current benefits or terms and conditions.
Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said:
"Now that the government have set out a clear timetable for renationalising the East Coast Main Line from the 12th of December RMT is demanding an absolute assurance that this will be a permanent move that recognises the chaotic failures of privatisation on this prestige route on the UK rail network. It would be a total waste of taxpayers money and staff time and energy to have a third gamble on privatisation in 18 months time.
"We are also demanding that the government get off the fence and strip National Express of their two other franchises - C2C and East Anglia - under the cross-default clause. Anything else would be a reward for failure on a massive scale.
"Finally, we want a clear recognition of the hard work and dedication of staff who have kept the East Coast Main Line running throughout the privatisation fiasco and an assurance that there will be no attacks on their benefits or working conditions."
Royal Mail Early day motion
National Postal Ballot
10th September 2009
National Postal Ballot
The Communication Workers Union has today (Wednesday) served notice to Royal Mail for a national ballot of postal workers for strike action.
Ballot papers will be posted to all 130,000 postal workers next week on the following timetable:
Ballot opens: 17th September
Ballot closes: 8th October
Strike action requires a seven day notice period after receiving the ballot result. CWU continues to pursue talks with Royal Mail in an attempt to avert the need for further strike action.
Public spending cuts
Friday 11 September 2009
Pensioners, children and students will be among the victims of public spending cuts
Commenting on the TaxPayers' Alliance and Institute of Directors joint report
How to Save £50 Billion published today (Friday), TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
'We should be grateful to the TaxPayers' Alliance and the Institute of Directors for spelling out exactly who the victims of public expenditure cuts will be.
'They explode the idea that cuts can be just painless efficiency savings and reveal that the victims will be pensioners, children, students, the poor and parents.
'Particularly striking is the absence of any cuts in the welfare state for the super-rich, such as tax relief on the huge pensions that top directors pay themselves.'
Top bosses can retire on nearly £250,000
Friday 11 September 2009
Top bosses can retire on nearly £250,000 a year
Directors of the UK's top companies can retire on pensions of nearly £250,000 a year, an increase of over 23 per cent since last year, according to the TUC PensionsWatch survey published today (Friday).
The TUC's seventh annual PensionsWatch survey, which analyses the pension arrangements of 373 directors from 103 of the UK's top companies, shows that top bosses have amassed pension pots worth an average of £3.4 million, providing an average annual pension of £247,785 a year.
The highest paid directors in each company have pension pots that would provide an average annual pension of £333,664, and a small number of directors can look forward to an annual pension of over a million pounds a year.
The TUC survey shows that the gap between the pensions of directors and those of ordinary workers continues to grow. The average directors' pension is now 30 times the amount of the average workplace pension (£8,320 a year), compared to 25 times last year.
According to the survey, top bosses also continue to buck the trend towards riskier and less generous pensions with 61 per cent of the directors surveyed still on defined benefit (DB) schemes. Just 13.5 per cent of private sector workers now have a DB scheme.
The survey found that directors in defined contribution (DC) schemes receive an average company contribution of £145,200 a year, with a contribution rate of 19 per cent.
While more ordinary workers are forced to work for longer due to retirement ages rising to 65, the majority of directors are still able to retire at 60. Of the 25 companies that provide information on the normal retirement age (NRA) for directors, 19 offered retirement at the age 60.
The TUC is calling for greater clarity in the reporting of pensions, in line with better disclosure on pay and bonuses for senior executives, so that shareholders are able to scrutinise directors' pension arrangements and ensure they are fair and reasonable.
The TUC believes that directors and employees should be members of the same pension schemes, and be offered the same terms. Companies should make clear any differential treatment for directors, which would make it easier for ordinary employees to see the pension arrangements of their bosses, says the report.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'With more and more people having their company pension schemes reduced, the lavish arrangements enjoyed by the UK's top bosses - now thirty times the value of ordinary workers pensions - are nothing short of scandalous.
'Top bosses justify their pensions, pay and bonuses on the grounds that they are rewards for success. But the stock market nose-dived in 2008 and yet the directors of these same companies have still managed to increase their pensions by over twenty per cent.
'If directors truly believe they are worth every last pound of their pensions, they should make their arrangements better known to both shareholders and their hard working staff, especially to those employees who are seeing their own company schemes slashed.'
RAIL UNION RMT
7 September 2009
RAIL UNION RMT today slammed reports that the government are considering accepting a £100 million sweetener from rail operator Stagecoach in return for a back door deal which would give the company control of National Expresss rail franchises at East Anglia and C2C. The public takeover of National Expresss failed East Coast Main Line operation is expected within the next few weeks when the company defaults on payments on the £1.4 billion franchise.
Stagecoach are seeking to mop up National Expresss rail operations as part of current takeover talks for the company involving the CVC-Cosmen consortium. Under cross default rules National Express would automatically lose their C2C and East Anglia franchises when they default on the East Coast Main Line and RMT are arguing that the default should apply equally to any company looking to take over National Express rail services.
Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said:
RMT is alarmed at reports that some sort of deal involving bundles of cash in sweeteners is under discussion with Stagecoach which would drive a coach and horses through the cross default conditions on rail franchises.
RMT is demanding clear assurances from government that when National Express East Coast defaults at some point over the next few weeks, both that franchise and C2C and East Anglia will be taken into public ownership. No delays, no back door deals, just immediate renationalisation.
For staff and passengers a Stagecoach takevover of National Express rail services would be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire. Stagecoach have previous as long as your arm when it comes to attacks on jobs, services and union organisation.
We will be raising this issue, along with the whole question of franchising and rail privatisation, at the TUC in Liverpool next week and we will be meeting Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to seek urgent clarification on the future of the National Express franchises and the regulations on the off-loading of services by the train operating companies.
25,000 posties in national walkout
Thursday 06 August 2009by Adrian Roberts Printable Email Unions have accused management of reneging on a 2007 agreement
Angry postal workers have warned Royal Mail's "incompetent management" that a series of rolling strikes over pay and jobs will hit deliveries across Britain.
The Communication Workers Union said the walkouts will affect postal services across the country, including the West Country, London, East Anglia, the Midlands and Scotland.
The strikes, involving 25,000 postal workers, will be the biggest outbreak of action since a national stoppage in 2007, with more disruption threatened in the coming months.
The union's executive has also decided to hold a national ballot of its 160,000 postal members next month, which could lead to nationwide strikes in the autumn.
Strikes have hit several areas of the country, notably London and parts of Scotland, in recent weeks in the dispute over pay, jobs and services.
The action is now spreading to other parts of the country and for the first time will involve drivers of Royal Mail's huge lorries.
Drivers based in Northampton, Birmingham, Coventry, London and Essex will be among workers striking for 24 hours tomorrow, while postal staff in Somerset, Bristol and Edinburgh will take action on Saturday.
The strike will spread to Ipswich and other parts of Suffolk on Monday, with further areas set to be hit later next week.
The union said it had been forced to strike because cuts were being made to pay, jobs and services without agreement.
Deputy general secretary Dave Ward said the "panic-driven" cuts were damaging postal services and accused the Royal Mail of imposing changes.
"Postal workers are sick and tired of an incompetent management running their business into the ground. Workers are busier than ever and being treated badly," he said.
"The current round of cuts in jobs and services is unacceptable.
"Royal Mail agreed in 2007 to work with the union on agreeing modernisation. Despite explicit commitments to negotiate, they are reneging on that agreement and imposing panic-driven cuts to jobs and services.
"This is downsizing, not modernisation."
Mr Ward added: "The company has failed to set out any clear or joined-up vision of what modernisation really means. They must stop imposing change and work with the union to agree the bigger picture of modernisation that the postal service badly needs."
The union said that strikes tomorrow will hit the Birmingham vehicle operation centre, Burslem, Coventry Parcelforce hub, Edinburgh mail centre, Essex regional distribution centre, Huntingdon, 146 offices in London, Northampton national distribution centre and Peterborough delivery office.
Saturday's action will affect Boston, Bristol delivery offices, Dalkeith, Edinburgh, Peterborough and Skegness.
On Monday, workers will strike at Ipswich mail centre, King's Lynn, Stanton, Bury St Edmonds and Thetford in Suffolk and, from Tuesday, CWU members at Stoke-on-Trent will be taking continuous strike action.
A Royal Mail spokesman claimed that the union's real agenda was to block change and modernisation at Royal Mail "and to absolutely oppose on the ground our goal of making Royal Mail a strong and innovative leader in the UK and international postal markets."
Tuesday 04 August 2009 by Daniel Coysh
Defiant Vestas workers have vowed to continue their battle for green jobs and energy after bosses at the threatened wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight won a possession order.
As workers prepared for the arrival of bailiffs, they urged the British people to stage a day of action this weekend and pledged to continue their campaign even if they were forcibly evicted.
"We are just waiting now to see what happens," said one of the activists from a factory balcony.
"But we will not stop our protest, we will merely move down the road until we get results."
Not far from the factory on a mini roundabout, green campaigners have established a climate camp, with colourful banners hung from nearby walls - including one condemning "Mandelson's green failure."
The group of 11 workers have barricaded themselves into the Newport factory since July 20.
So far, the occupation has prevented its closure - which was meant to take place last Friday - but Vestas bosses successfully applied for a possession order at Newport County Court yesterday morning.
Judge Graham White said he was satisfied that legal papers had been served on the occupying workers, as scores of RMT union members and green activists gathered outside in solidarity and jeered him for siding with the employers.
Many of them then marched to the Newport factory in a show of solidarity with the workers. Protesters gathered outside the plant and chanted: "We will fight back."
One of the occupying workers addressed them from a balcony, praising their solidarity and calling for a national day of action on Saturday and again next Wednesday.
"We are asking people to down tools or hold a rally to support us. We want the protest to continue but we also want it to remain peaceful," he said.
"We believe this place has a future and we shall not give up on that."
RMT general secretary Bob Crow was in court for the hearing and pledged his union's ongoing support for the workers.
He also slammed new Labour's hypocrisy.
"Although the company has won a technical legal victory, the workers have won a moral and industrial victory through their sheer determination to save 625 jobs in green manufacturing," he said.
"It is an absolute disgrace that, while the government preaches about greening the environment and creating jobs, not a single representative from Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband downwards have had the common courtesy to meet with workers involved in this important fight.
"Regardless of the court action today, the workers will continue to receive the full support of the RMT," Mr Crow insisted.
Earlier in the day, worker and climate camp activists occupied the roof of a nearby Vestas factory in Cowes and unveiled banners attacking ministers and bosses in a fresh show of solidarity with the Newport protesters.
They also hung a banner above the island's ferry port saying: "Vestas Workers - Solidarity in Occupation. Save Green Jobs."
Cowes worker Sean McDonagh told reporters that there was little chance of finding another skilled job on the island if the wind turbine business shut down.
He revealed that there were just 145 job vacancies on the Isle of Wight at the moment, with 60 people chasing each and every last one.
Mr McDonagh went on to accuse ministers of "lying" about creating green jobs, slating the Brown government as "a complete sham."
The Newport occupiers said that they were now waiting for bailiffs to arrive but there was no information about when any move might be made to end the sit-in.
For its part, the company claimed that it was in no hurry to end the occupation.
"We remain patiently optimistic, hoping for a peaceful solution in the interests of all parties, particularly the people inside," a spokesman asserted.
London Postal Workers Announce 24 Hour Strike
Ten thousand postal workers will take strike action on Friday 19th June as Royal Mail refuses to negotiate change and pushes ahead with arbitrary cuts which will damage services.
Following the 2007 postal dispute, an agreement was struck that ensured both the company and the union worked together to improve efficiency. This agreement has ensured that the company has built steady profits. The last part of that agreement is to agree modernisation of the business. Royal Mail are now ignoring that element of the agreement and implementing arbitrary cuts in costs without modernising.
Dave Ward, CWU deputy general secretary, said: "Royal Mail is blocking modernisation by refusing to negotiate change with the CWU.
"We have offered a moratorium on all strike action if Royal Mail will suspend executive action and enter into meaningful negotiations. We want to bring forward the successful transformation of the business by working together. They need to honour the 2007 national agreement and work with us to achieve that."
"There is growing unrest across the country as Royal Mail tries to impose damaging cuts and changes without the input of union reps. The future of the business must be safeguarded through careful planning, not shooting from the hip.
"Postal workers deliver a first class service but the current cuts and attitude of management threatens that and worsens services.
"Royal Mail can avert this strike action by pulling back from arbitrary cuts and negotiating modernisation with the CWU."
More than ten thousand postal workers in all areas of deliveries, collections and processing across London will take industrial action for 24 hours starting from the early shift on Friday 19th June. Further strike action will be announced if no progress is made.
Bob Crow: "Tube Action Rock Solid" (11.6.09)
I would like to congratulate members on the stand they have taken in supporting the strike action. You know its having a massive effect when the media take notice and start chasing their own tails.
On the one hand they are saying loads of trains are running but on the other we are inconveniencing 3 million commuters because they cant get on the tube. The reality is LUL are running a skeleton service at best, and it is LUL that are inconveniencing the public as they pulled the deal that could have sorted this dispute out at the last moment.
Management sat back for 8 days knowing that the strike was to go ahead and only agreed to meet last Friday, despite the Union pressing for direct discussions. At these talks some progress was made and we asked for the talks to continue over the weekend. Management were not interested. They finally got back round the negotiating table on Monday and Tuesday on Tuesday we were still talking at 6pm when someone was sending out anonymous texts to members and notices were being put up in some stations stating the action was off work out for yourself who that was, it certainly wasnt your Union.
And then came managements sting. We had signed an agreement with the Acting Managing Director, Richard Parry, and thought we had a deal that would have enabled us to call off the action. As I pointed out yesterday, either the Transport Commission or City Hall, stepped in and instructed the negotiators to pull the deal. The most disgraceful action I have ever experienced in all my years of negotiating on members behalf.
But at least we are making progress. Discussions are taking place without the Media glare as, despite what you may read in the papers, we do not want members going on strike for the sake of it - this is not a game. The personal attacks being made in the press and on TV do not bother the Union as we are above this pettiness we want to negotiate a settlement and will not get drawn into this type of behaviour. We made more progress in the 7 hours leading up to the strike than we did in the previous 9 months as management had been stalling for all this time so by going on strike you have forced them to negotiate seriously on these very important issues.
I know it can be frustrating that some services are running on a much reduced basis as a result of some members of other Unions crossing your picket lines. I would never ask a member to cross a picket line as this is a fundamental Trade Union principle.
Once again, the Council of Executives and myself would like to thank you for standing firm and supporting your union and colleagues in defending your pay, terms and conditions.
We are seeking a resolution to this dispute and hope to be able to do so as quickly as possible. I will keep you informed of developments.
John McDonnell MP
Saturday, June 06, 2009
John McDonnell MP
Labour Leadership Infighting: What do they think they are doing?
This is the full text of the article I wrote for Comment is Free on the current Labour leadership debacle, which is summarised in the main Guardian today.
What have they done to our party?Ambition and self-interest have become more important to many in the Labour hierarchy than the struggles of Britain's people
The Labour party was founded to transform our society. Men and women of ideals came together to give a voice to the large mass of ordinary people, who until then had no consistent or effective voice in the politics of this country. They had such ambition for their class and for the whole country. The party wasn't just about providing the jobs, homes, schools and health service our people so desperately needed. It was also about releasing the talents of so many who had been held back by class, gender and race-based inequality. They were inspired to create a new society.
Reading past Labour party manifestos you get a real feel for the idealism and commitment of the millions of Labour party members, who over generations worked selflessly, often in the most difficult circumstances, without thought of personal reward to advance this cause. Each generation held in trust the party and its ideals that it had inherited from the previous generation of activists. Undoubtedly, disputes broke out in each era and were often bitterly fought but they centred on the basic policies and political direction of the party. Personal ambitions were of course often present but overridden by the overall crusading ethos of the party.
Given this history of a party created and motivated by the highest ideals, founded and motivated by the self-sacrifice of generation after generation of its members and supporters, party members have looked on aghast, in disgust and anger at the self-interested, self-serving political faction fighting among ministers and MPs over the last week. Ambition and naked self-interest have taken over from any sense of political purpose. Saving seats and manoeuvring for cabinet or prime ministerial office seem to have become more important to many in the Labour hierarchy than the suffering being caused to so many of our people who are losing their jobs and homes in this recession.
Handing over power to the Tories, whether in local councils or national government, at a time when our communities need to be protected from Tory policies of public service cutbacks is just unforgivable. What could a Labour cabinet minister responsible for local government have been thinking of when she resigned 24 hours before council elections? No fit of personal pique is worth the sacrifice of a single Labour councillor's seat.
It says it all that as ministers has announced their resignations to the media, not a single policy difference has been mentioned. Typically, the response from Number 10 has not been about identifying and tackling any political issues dividing the party, but to resort to covert media briefing and counter-briefing.
Lacking in political purpose, the infighting within the Labour hierarchy is about personalities not politics, about who can save more of their seats from the potential disaster of the next general election. Candidates who are publicly declaring loyalty to the prime minister and an unwillingness to take on the role have recruited and mobilised their leadership campaign teams.
For the sake of the party we are all supposed to be members of, and more importantly for the sake of the people we are meant to represent, I appeal to this leading clique to stand back and look at what they are doing to the party and to the supporters who have stuck with us through thick and thin. If Labour is to continue in government and have any chance at the next election, the debate about how we use the next 12 months in office needs to be open to all our potential supporters in the party, the trade unions and beyond into the various progressive campaigns and it needs to be about the policies and political behaviour of our government, not the personalities. Bouncing through a cabinet reshuffle simply to tie down potential rivals or plotters can only be a temporary fix.
Over recent years people have been alienated by the policies of illegal and immoral wars, privatisation of public services, attacks on civil liberties, unfettered greed in the finance sector and among the political class, and above all else by being lied to and by being ignored by political leaders. A first step to at least restoring some confidence at least to our own members and supporters could be setting in train a recall Labour party conference one that is properly open to all our members, supporters and progressives at which we can debate the policies, democratically agree a new way forward and motivate our supporters once again with the high ideals that our party was founded upon.
Fred Goodwin and other sharks are the enemy within By Brian Reade 5/03/2009
Twenty-five years ago, the British government went to war against the enemy within.
You remember them. Burly, sideburned men who dug out coal to keep your lights on and stuck together like Bostik. Miners, they were called, and on March 5 1984 they started a strike to protect their communities from calculated destruction.
Margaret Thatcher smelt blood after a 1983 election landslide and went for her ultimate prize - the dismantling of organised labour she felt was stopping her millionaire friends from becoming billionaire friends.
Thatcher antagonised the strongest union of them all and threw the entire apparatus of the British state at them, knowing victory would allow her to emancipate the avaricious classes.
She changed the laws to stifle collective protest, stockpiled fuel, killed the case for coal, made MI5 unleash its darkest arts and ensured her media pals portrayed the striking miners as violent thugs and the police as knights with shining batons.
A year later, with 11,000 miners arrested, 8,000 charged with civil offences, 200 imprisoned, and 10 men and children killed, she'd finally won.
The miners were history.
As were the proud communities they came from. Sentenced to a life of benefits and heroin.
She demonised as traitors men whose ancestors had fired our nation's industrial power and fought our wars.
"They do not share our common values," she said. "They are the enemy within."
How those miners must feel now when they see the treatment handed out to the real enemy within. The reckless bankers who truly have brought the country to its knees. Men whose unchecked wealth was part of the prize awarded for crushing the unions a generation ago.
Arthur Scargill's crimes were failing to hold a secret ballot and trying to safeguard union funds for members whose families were living on handouts having been denied state benefits.
Were those crimes in the same league as Fred Goodwin's? Did Scargill cost the taxpayer £24billion and walk off with a £16million pension and a slightly rapped knuckle?
Thatcher destroyed our nationalised industries and many who worked in them, supposedly to liberate the economy. But all she did was let sharks like Goodwin destroy the economy through greed, putting nationalisation back on the agenda.
Instead of throwing out meaningless phrases like "being found guilty in the court of popular opinion" why haven't we made laws to sequestrate the assets of these criminals and sent in the police?
Why can't we force their families to scavenge on tips?
There are calls for Gordon Brown to apologise for the recession, but why not, on this 25th anniversary of the miners' strike, force every Thatcherite to admit that the enemy within is not those who organise labour but those who organise theft.
Then apologise to the tens of thousands of lives they happily threw on the slagheap.
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Don't blame us for our greedy bosses' errors
(Tuesday 10 February 2009)
by Louise Nousratpour
POINTING THE FINGER: Unite members and finance workers protesting outside Parliament's Portcullis House on Tuesday.
FURIOUS finance workers protested outside Parliament on Tuesday as four former top bankers were grilled over their role in the economic crisis.
Staff from across the sector donned T-shirts and brandished placards bearing the slogan: "Remember us? You've put our jobs at risk!"
The demonstration, organised by finance union Unite, added to the drama surrounding the Treasury select committee hearing, which began yesterday morning.
Former Royal Bank of Scotland bosses Sir Fred Goodwin and Sir Tom McKillop plus former HBOS supremos Andy Hornby and Lord Stevenson faced tough questioning about how their greed had led to both banks needing hefty public bail-outs to survive.
Outside, protesters demanded that finance fat cats fully apologise for the crisis in the industry and they pressed the case for bosses' bonuses to be culled. However, they stressed that staff should continue to receive their bonuses as many relied on the meagre sum to top up their salary.
Lloyds Group Unite secretary Bernadette Fisher explained: "There is a false impression that all bank workers earn huge amounts of money and get massive bonuses, but that is just not correct."
Rhianne Parsons, whose partner lost his job at Lloyds TSB due to cost-cutting even though the bank posted a 6 per cent rise in profits to £3.92 billion last year, added that the average bank worker was only paid between £11,000 and £12,000 a year and would be lucky to get a bonus of a few hundred pounds.
Ms Parsons, who works for Lloyds TSB in Newport, south Wales, said: "We don't get the huge bonuses earned by the chief executives who are responsible for the current crisis in banking.
"We have to work really hard for our bonus but the bosses seem to get theirs whatever happens."
HBOS worker Glenn Miller explained that, unlike executives, staff had to achieve targets before they were paid their bonus.
"A lot of staff received bonuses in shares and hoped that would be a bit of a nest egg for the future. But the value of the shares has collapsed, so staff are being hit with a double whammy."
Treasury committee chairman John McFall agreed that branch staff should still receive bonuses, but said that board-level pay needs reining in.
"The bonuses at the level where they get millions of millions of pounds for speculating and gambling - and bringing institutions down - are a work of failure and should not be allowed," he said.
Disgruntled workers at three banks have threatened legal action if they are denied bonuses.
City lawyer Ronnie Fox revealed on Tuesday that he is representing clients at three different banks who maintain that they are entitled to payouts despite the recent conditions.
The development came as a Downing Street spokesman admitted that the Prime Minister wants employees at banks which have received state handouts to waive their bonuses.
Why is it always the taxpayer who ends up paying?
By Tony Parsons 11/10/2008
Gluttonous, bonus-hungry spivs got us into this mess, and that big-hearted, mythical figure, the British taxpayer, is told to bail them out.
No other way, we are told. If the banks collapse, the country collapses.
So the ordinary working man and woman must suffer, and their families must suffer too because of the greed of the few.
The spivs of Wall Street and the City who dragged us this low are criminals. They are as guilty as a drunk driver or a mugger.
They are worse than most criminals, because the misery they have sown will be felt by millions. And I wonder at what point does the taxpayer collapse under the weight?
When do the men and women who actually work for a living get to the point where they have given all they have to give?
You do not need to be an economist to realise that as unemployment soars, there are fewer real people in real jobs paying real taxes.
The City spivs stand there with their hands out, asking for a compassion that was never shown to the miners, the printers, the ship-builders, the steel workers or the fishermen.
This was once a country where people built things, and made things. A country where you sold your skill or you provided a service.
Then Thatcher arrived and proclaimed that the jobs where people got their hands dirty were old-fashioned and that the financial sector would generate the money we needed to pay our way.
New Labour went along with it. It has not worked. That kind of casino capitalism, a culture of unfettered and unapologetic greed, has brought us to this wretched point.
And, personally, I cant tell the difference between the unemployed investment banker and that Afghan woman who is in the news because she receives £170,000 a year in benefits.
Toorpakai Saindi resides in a seven-bedroom, £1million Edwardian mansion in West London paid for by everyones favourite sucker, the British taxpayer.
To me this mother-of-seven looks exactly like the scalded fat cats who are being bailed out from Canary Wharf to Wall Street.
I mean, I honestly cant tell the difference between them.
They look identical to me. Both want someone with a real job, in the real world, paying real taxes to pay their way. Our country is on its knees because of leeches like these.
The old ways do not work. Capitalism was never meant to be a casino where the greedy gambled with someone elses money. The welfare state was never meant to be a lucky dip for anyone who wanted something for nothing.
Something has changed. It feels as profound as the Berlin Wall coming down, and the sudden acceptance that Communism was one of the dumbest ideas that human beings ever had.
Now unregulated capitalism looks as morally and intellectually bankrupt as any nuttiness cooked up by Karl Marx.
We need to get back to the country that some of us can still remember.
Where real people had real jobs. Where the safety net that the state provided for the poor and the vulnerable was a last resort, not a bouncy castle to be abused by all and sundry.
Above all, what we need is a realisation that the British taxpayer is made out of flesh and blood and bone. He or she does not ask for much. They want to provide for their family. They want to keep their job. They want to keep their home.
They want safe streets for their children, respect for their parents, and an old age that is not lived out in fear and poverty.
The freeloaders, the greedy, the abusers of the system all need to be asked something, and it is the same question whether they are a pin-striped fat cat wondering where his next Porsche is coming from, or that Afghan woman who says life in Britain is like winning the Lottery.
The British taxpayer has this question for them both. The free money is earned by real people. How long do you expect it to last?
Britain: Policing of climate camp a major attack on democratic rights
Saturday, August 16th, 2008
By Paul Bond | A week-long climate protest camp in north Kent has ended, amidst widespread claims of disproportionate and aggressive policing. Around 100 people were arrested over the course of the protest, 46 of whom have been charged, mostly with obstruction offences. The multimillion-pound policing of the camp marked a significant attack on democratic rights and civil liberties.
The camp was held to protest the building of a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, on the Medway estuary. Energy company E.ON UK is proposing replacing the existing coal power station with a new one. This would be the first new coal power station built in Britain in more than 30 years. The proposal has yet to be agreed by John Hutton, whose portfolio as secretary of state for business, enterprise and regulatory reform includes energy security issues. The proposal has been passed to Huttons office following its agreement by the local authority, Medway Council.
Kingsnorth is the first of several new coal-fired power stations proposed for sites across the UK. The government has made these stations a key factor in ensuring energy supplies. Protestors argue that coal power stations, with their high CO2 emissions, are the most polluting means of producing electricity. Between 1,000 and 2,000 protestors came to the camp over the course of the week to protest at the development of Kingsnorth. Aside from their direct protest activities, the camp also staged workshop and discussion events.
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge of Kent Police acknowledged in a press conference that the police had been planning their response to the camp since April of this year. That response saw 1,400 officers, from 26 different forces across Britain, being brought into the area. They were supported by constant air surveillance. The Medway Ports Authority also authorised the police to enforce sections of their bylaws to prevent protestors approaching the power station from the river.
The final cost of the policing operation is not yet known, but has been estimated variously between £1 million and £8 million. It is understood the Kent Police are considering applying to the Home Office for financial support in footing the bill.
There has been a noticeable trend in recent years for the police to underreport numbers of demonstrators and protestors. In the case of Kingsnorth, the police set the attendance at 1,000. According to their own figures, therefore, they had provided a level of policing intended to overwhelm the protestors. The organisers own estimate of attendance was 1,500, giving a 1:1 ratio of police to protestors. Even the highest estimate only put attendance at 2,000.
That the police levels were aimed at discouraging protest was reinforced when Beautridge said he regarded the majority of the protestors as law-abiding people there for a legitimate reason. He justified the policing levels as a response to a small hard core of people
prepared to use criminal tactics and criminal activity. According to one report, this small hard core was set at just 150 people. As the camps legal spokesman Kevin Smith noted, Every year police use the supposed existence of a hardcore minority as justification for the heavy-handedness and every year this hardcore minority fails to materialise.
It is quite evident that the policing was aimed at deterring any form of protest. Protestors at the camp have described the constant attention of police helicopters, which served to disrupt meetings and speeches. There are also reports of police impounding vehicles being used by protestors to bring supplies into the camp.
In particular, protestors drew attention to the aggressive tactics of the riot police, who used batons and shields in making arrests. Several protestors were injured when police baton-charged them as they tried to enter a cornfield. Beautridge maintained that such a response was proportionate
. Because of the level of resistance, officers were authorised to carry batons during two days of the protest. There are strict legal standards for their use and we gave clear warnings when any specialist team was deployed.
Green MEP Caroline Lucas, who visited the camp, said she was horrified that [the] police
have used pepper spray, riot gear, [and] physical intimidation. The police controlled demonstrators with horses, dogs and trail bikes, as well as with constant helicopter coverage.
To sustain this level of intimidation and intrusion, the police sought extraordinary powers to stop and search protestors. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was implemented to authorise this. Initially, the Section 60 provisions were applied only to the immediate area of the camp. They were subsequently extended to cover the whole of the Hoo peninsula. The provision allows police to stop and search a suspect if an officer of superintendent rank or above believes there may be incidents of serious violence.
At Kingsnorth, Section 60 was used to monitor all visitors to the camp. One eyewitness describes joining a queue to be searched. The searching officer did not know who had authorised the searches. Having been frisked and had his bag searched, the witness was then issued with a pink slip. He had to show this to another three officers before he actually reached the camp. He was searched again when he tried to leave the camp. There were also reports of protestors being threatened with strip searches. Elsewhere there were reports of police attempting to use Section 60 to justify destruction of homemade rafts.
Lucas, along with Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker and Labour MP Colin Challen, wrote to Kent Police to express concern about such use of discretionary powers. Lucas warned that this was undermining our civil liberties.
Lucas, amongst others, has also drawn attention to a booklet apparently dropped by an officer policing the camp. The booklet, Policing Protest, is produced by the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit and offers tactical advice and guidance on policing single-issue domestic extremism.
Police mounted a systematic programme of confiscation from the protestors during the searches. The police told press that they had confiscated many knives, although demonstrators described this as a smear tactic. Police also showed journalists a satirical board game (War on Terror) they had confiscated. There seems to have been a policy of making life as uncomfortable and awkward as possible for protestors. Other items confiscated included glue, soap, a clown costume, bits of carpet, toilet paper, disabled ramps, marker pens, blackboard paint, nuts and bolts for toilet cubicles, and banners.
They also confiscated demonstrators emergency radios and lifejackets. One demonstrator involved in the river-borne protest described a meeting with a local coast guard crew. The coast guards were complimentary about the demonstrators attention to safety, but criticised the police confiscations of lifejackets, saying, It was irresponsible and could have put lives at risk.
Such tactics were clearly designed to stifle any form of dissent and deter any future protests. Of particular concern in this regard is the complaint by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) that its members were also subject to the same searches, manhandling, and observation. The NUJ is looking at legal challenges against this unwarranted conduct by the police. According to the NUJ, journalists were searched as they entered and left the camp. Searches continued after police were shown press cards. Journalists were also pushed and shoved by police, and filmed whilst using WiFi facilities at a local McDonalds.
Such developments indicate a determination to clamp down on any form of legitimate protest, and should be taken as a very serious attack on democratic rights.
Unison & Unite
2nd July 2008
800,000 Unison members are to strike nationally for two days 16 / 17 July 2008 Please respect picket lines,and make a stand with Unison members,Schools will also close as many unison members are now employed by the education authorities, an attack on one is an attack on all of us.
Workers voted to reject a wage offer of 2.45 percent, which with inflation now at 4.3 percent represents a real terms pay cut.
Unite are also on strike on the 18 July at Nottinghams Queens Medical Centre/Hospital, please support them.
6 May 2008
In what can only be described as overwheming the miners at Hatfield in Yorkshire have voted by postal ballot for NUM recogntion.
A total of 165 votes were cast for the NUM with only 7 against representing a resounding 95.76%.
A total of 235 members of the workforce were entitled to vote and the turnout was 73% a stunning turnout for a postal ballot. The 165 voting for the NUM represent just over 70% of the total workforce entitled to vote.
Fire Brigades Union Win Land Mark Case
Notts and Lincs fire authorities have failed in a landmark appeal case in which they had argued firefighters must attend medical emergencies ahead of ambulances.
The Court of Appeal today backed an earlier ruling that Fire Brigades Union members are under no contractual obligation to participate in 'co-responding' schemes.
This is where firefighters are trained to give medical support - including giving oxygen and heart defibrillators - when they are scrambled to an accident scene before an ambulance can arrive.
The fire authorities argued co-responding is a 'paradigm instance of a reasonable activity designed to save human life' and there was nothing unlawful about it.
But the FBU said that while its members had no problem offering first aid when called out to emergencies, they should not become a replacement for the ambulance service.
The ruling is of enormous significance to fire and rescue services all over the country.
However, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Anthony Clarke, rounded off the case with a plea that the FBU and fire authorities should get their heads together to make co-responding work.
He told the court in London: "Co-responding is of great benefit to the public and is likely to save lives. "
I can not believe that the firefighters and the FBU on the one hand, and the fire and rescue services on the other hand, do not wish to reach a voluntary agreement under which co-responding services can be provided to the public in future.
"I urge the parties to reach such an agreement as soon as possible".
Castro Phones Chavez
I'm gaining ground, Castro tells Chavez phone-in
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
Published: 01 March 2007
Fidel Castro chatted on the phone with the Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, for 30 minutes in a live broadcast early yesterday, the first time the ailing Cuban leader has spoken publicly since emergency surgery forced him from power in July.
"I'm gaining ground. I feel I have more energy, more strength and more time to study," President Castro said, speaking slowly but confidently during a relaxed conversation broadcast live on Venezuelan radio.
The conversation formed an apparently unscheduled highspot of President Chavez's regular chatshow, Aló Presidente, and was accompanied by video footage of the Venezuelan leader's last visit to Mr Castro's sickbed in Havana in January. Cuban television later interrupted its nightly news programme to broadcast the exchange.
The Venezuelan leader broke into English at one point to ask: "Fidel, how are you?" The Cuban leader, 80, barely missed a beat before replying "very well", to applause and laughter from the studio audience.
The telephone encounter was reported extensively on the websites of Spanish newspapers yesterday, complete with video and audio coverage.
It seems that the Cuban leader took the initiative to call President Chavez, who sounded surprised to receive an on-air call from Havana. "You don't know how happy we are to hear your voice and know that you are well," Mr Chavez said.
The veteran Cuban leader showed that he had been keeping up with the news, commenting that the plunge on the American and Chinese stock markets earlier that day showed that capitalism was in crisis.
The two old friends chatted for more than 30 minutes, although Mr Castro confessed he had been listening in to the programme for a while before he phoned. "Everything's OK and the country is running smoothly, that's the important thing," he said. The former leader handed power temporarily to his brother, Raul, on 31 July last year, following an emergency operation to stem intestinal bleeding. Since then, the Cubans have declared his medical condition "a state secret".
The Spanish doctor who treated Mr Castro in Havana in December, Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, dismissed speculation in the United States that he was suffering from cancer.
Medical sources at the Spanish hospital where Dr Sabrido is chief surgeon said in January that the Cuban leader had suffered complications from three botched operations, and was very ill.
Amid an official media blackout, President Chavez has become Mr Castro's de facto health spokesman - "a sort of emissary, a source", as the Venezuelan leader said with evident satisfaction during their conversation.
For seven months, President Chavez has maintained contact with Mr Castro by phone or visits, and has spoken frequently about his medical condition, state of mind, prospects for recovery and the future of Cuba and Venezuela - such snippets being virtually the only news available to Cubans, and the world.
Raul Castro said in a rare statement two weeks ago that his brother was "getting better every day". He said he had a telephone by him "that he uses a lot".
Burberry protests go global
Demonstrators are planning world-wide Valentine's Day protests against the closure of Burberry's south Wales factory.
The protests are planned for Burberry shops in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Boston, Houston and Paris. British workers will hold demonstrations outside London stores.
Campaigners are protesting against plans to shut the Burberry factory in Treorchy at the end of March, with the loss of 300 jobs.
It follows Burberry's announcement on Friday that it is pulling sponsorship of the Bafta nominees' reception after workers planned to demonstrate at the event to be held at the Natural History Museum in London.
Trade union GMB is co-ordinating the protests, with activists from sister unions across the world taking part.
GMB organiser Mervyn Burnett said: "The protests will be called 'Stop Burberry Breaking Our Hearts'.
"We know America accounted for £72 million in revenue for Burberry last year. Americans aren't going to be best pleased with their plans."
Protests were held at Burberry's flagship stores in New Bond Street and Regent Street last month. The campaign has attracted the backing of celebrities including Sir Alex Ferguson, Tom Jones and Emma Thompson.
Americans Take to the Streets in Anti War Protest
January 27th, 2007 4:32 pm
Tens of thousands in D.C. protest against Iraq war
By Deborah Charles / Reuters
WASHINGTON - Chanting "bring our troops home," tens of thousands of anti-war protesters rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol on Saturday to pressure the government to get out of Iraq.
Veterans and military families joined some lawmakers, peace groups and actors including Vietnam war protester Jane Fonda to urge Congress and President George W. Bush to stop funding the war and pull troops from Iraq.
"When I served in the war, I thought I was serving honorably. Instead, I was sent to war ... for causes that have proved fraudulent," said Iraq war veteran Garett Reppenhagen.
"We need to put pressure on our elected government and force them to ... bring the troops home," said the former sniper to cheers from the crowd at a rally held on the National Mall.
Tens of thousands of people attended the rally, according to a park police officer.
For more than two hours, speakers criticized Bush and the U.S. presence in Iraq before protesters marched around the Capitol.
A group of families of soldiers killed in Iraq stood holding pictures of their loved ones, including one photo of a soldier in full dress uniform lying in a coffin.
More than 3,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The protest was one of several expected around the country, including a large march scheduled in Los Angeles. Protesters planned coordinated efforts during the week to lobby lawmakers to take action against the war.
Bush's approval rating has dropped to some of the weakest of his presidency and polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of President George W. Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.
But Bush said he has no intention of backing off his plan.
Asked about the protests, White House national security adviser spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush "understands that Americans want to see a conclusion to the war in Iraq and the new strategy is designed to do just that."
The demonstrations come amid growing efforts by lawmakers to protest Bush's plans in Iraq. The Senate Foreign Relations committee passed a resolution on Wednesday opposing the plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Protesters said they hoped to send Bush and Congress a message that Americans did not support the war.
"I'm convinced this is Bush's war. He has his own agenda there," said Anne Chay, holding a sign with a picture of her 19-year-old son, John, who is serving in Iraq. "We're serving no purpose there."
Chay said her son, who has been in Baghdad since last July, said he was proud of her for traveling from Andover, Massachusetts, to take part in the anti-war rally.
Fonda, who was criticized for her opposition to the Vietnam war, drew huge cheers when she addressed the crowd. She noted that she had not spoken at an anti-war rally in 34 years.
"Silence is no longer an option," she said. "I'm so sad we have to do this -- that we did not learn from the lessons of the Vietnam war."
Democratic Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the November 7 election -- which gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress -- showed Americans want change.
"It takes the ... outrage of the American people to force Washington to do the right thing," he said. "We've got to hold more of these ... until our government gets the message -- Out if Iraq immediately. This year. We've got to go."
(additional reporting by Timothy Ryan)
A quarter century of anti-union laws
2007 MUST be the year in which trade unions begin to win their freedom from more than a quarter century of anti-union laws, Britain?s largest specialist transport union says today.
Exactly a century after parliament ruled that 'An action against a trade unionâ¦shall not be entertained in any court,' RMT has renewed its call for the restoration of the trade-union rights envisaged by the framers of the 1906 Trade Disputes Act.
"A century ago today even Tories accepted that the courts were no place to drag trade unionists involved in an industrial dispute," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"But today's employers have been handed so many legal traps that any union standing up for its members' rights and jobs is hauled in and out of court like a yo-yo.
"At the turn of the last century our forebears were sued by the Taff Vale Railway Company and fined Â£23,000 in damages simply for exercising their right to strike.
"It was the massive upsurge of protest and political organisation that followed the vicious Taff Vale judgement that forced parliament to accept that unions should have legal immunity from employers seeking damages from workers in dispute with them.
"The Trade Disputes Act is still theoretically there, but after nine lots of Tory anti-union laws chipped away at it there are now countless ways that employers can drag unions into court for daring to stand up for workers' rights.
"Today we need to build massive backing for the TUC's campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill, to help right the wrongs of the last 25 years and level the playing field.
"Sadly, the Blair government seems more interested in doing a state-funding deal with the Tories that would end the Labour-union link and keep union rule-books under legal seige, and is even egging the European Court of Justice to rule that there is no such thing as the right to strike.
"Nonetheless, most Labour back-benchers have signed up to the idea of a bill that would enshrine basic trade union rights into law, and publication of the bill by John McDonnell early next year should be the trigger for a mighty campaign behind it," Bob Crow said.
Notes to editors:The Trade Union Freedom Bill would establish as law basic trade union rights, including the right to strike and take solidarity action, better protection for striking workers, fairer balloting and industrial-action notice procedures, restricting the use of injunctions by employers, and preventing the use of replacement labour during strikes.
EDM 532 Trade Union Freedom Bill campaign
Tabled by John McDonnell and signed by 30 others to date
That this House recognises that free and independent trade unions are a force for good in UK society around the world and are vital to democracy; welcomes the positive role modern unions play in providing protection for working people and winning fairness at work; notes the 1906 Trades Disputes Act granted unions the legal freedom to take industrial action; regrets that successive anti-union legislation has meant that trade union rights are now weaker than those introduced by the 1906 Trades Disputes Act; therefore welcomes and supports the TUC campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill whose principles include better protection for workers, such as those sacked by Gate Gourmet in 2005, the simplification of ballot procedures and to allow limited supportive action, following a ballot, in specific circumstances; and therefore urges the Government to bring forward legislation to address these proposals.
2007 must be the year of trade-union freedom, says RMT on centenary of the 1906 Trade Disputes Act
Fury over 'Blair union plot'
Fury over 'Blair union plot'
By Rob Merrick
Angry: Kevan Jones
FURIOUS North-East MPs last night accused Tony Blair of plotting to break Labour's 100-year link with trade unions as one of his last acts as Prime Minister.
The MPs fear Mr Blair is preparing to back proposals - first aired by Tory leader David Cameron - to slap a £50,000 cap on all political donations, including those from unions.
The move would end the bankrolling of the Labour Party by the likes of Unison and the Transport and General Workers Union, which give about £1m each a year.
The Prime Minister is also thought to be sympathetic to a related proposal to require all 3.5m workers who pay an annual £3 levy to be registered as individual donors.
That would force unions to ask members each year if they wished to donate to Labour.
At present, unions have to ballot members on the issue every ten years.
The twin recommendations are made in a draft report by Sir Hayden Phillips, appointed by Mr Blair to clean up political funding in the wake of the cash-for- honours scandal.
North-East MPs were outraged to be told, at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party, that the Prime Minister may back the plans.
Kevan Jones, the Durham North MP and a former GMB national organiser, said: "This started out as a cash-for-honours issue, and it has now ended up being about the link to the trade unions.
"Even in the worst and darkest days of Thatcherism, there was never any suggestion of breaking that link - and that's what most concerns me."
Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: "The link between the party and the union movement is absolutely vital and very important for our renewal.
"I have a lot of sympathy with the unions, if we are saying that funding needs to be tightly restricted."
And Nick Brown, Newcastle East MP, warned Mr Blair: "We were all solid. We want to keep the trade union link and we write the rule book."
David Anderson, the Blaydon MP and former president of Unison, was understood to be "livid and incandescent" at No 10's behaviour.
There were rumblings that the row could bring forward the date of Mr Blair's departure from Downing Street unless tempers were swiftly cooled.
However, the Prime Minister will miss an emergency discussion today at Labour's National Executive Committee, because he is flying to Brussels for an EU summit.
Labour sources have said that nothing is decided and have denied that Mr Blair is trying to weaken the unions.
Mr Cameron has ruled out any deal with Labour on party funding unless a cap is imposed and applied to trade unions, as well as to individuals and corporations.
Construction not Destruction
THE TENS of billions of public pounds the government intends to spend on new weapons of mass destruction should be spent on public services, Britain?s specialist transport trade union says today.
As the government was due to publish its White Paper on Trident replacement, RMT called for the cash earmarked for it to be ploughed instead into helping Britain meet its climate challenge.
"We need to spend money on saving the planet, not on weapons that can help destroy it," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"The Â£25 billion the government wants to spend on replacing Trident - and it could be three times that - could go a long way to helping Britain reduce carbon emmissions, build some of the transport infrastructure we desperately need and to help bolster our public services.
"Blair took us into an illegal war over weapons of mass destruction that didn't even exist, and now he wants to tear up the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to build some new ones of his own - there is only one word for that, and it is hypocrisy.
"While there is starvation, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and a grave environmental threat hanging over our planet it would be nothing short of obscene to go ahead with replacing Trident, whether it's with 200 warheads, 100 or just one.
"The brave MPs who have come out against Trident are to be congratulated, but there are far too many, across the parties, are totally out of step with what people in the real world want.
"MPs are supposed to be there to represent the people, but it seems that we are going to need to take to the street again in huge numbers to make it clear that we want our money spent on peaceful construction, not on bloody destruction," Bob Crow said.
Note for editors: Below is the RMT motion on Trident adopted by this year's TUC Congress
Congress notes that the Prime Minister has stated adecision on whether or not to replace Britain's nuclear weapons system, Trident, will be taken this year.
Congress welcomes the demand of the Defence Select Committee for a full public and Parliamentary debate on this issue.
Congress believes that Britain's nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction, capable of killing millions of people and are tied into US military and foreign policy and that far from deterring nuclear threats, replacing Trident may increase the risk of nuclear conflict.
Congress is alarmed that a successor to Trident could cost tens of billions of pounds.
Congress believes that in the absence of any rational argument for Trident replacement such expenditure would not only be immoral but a scandalous waste of public funds that could otherwise be invested in health, education, pensions, transport and manufacturing.
Congress also notes that the UK is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has made 'an unequivocal undertaking' to accomplish the total elimination of its nuclear arsenal.
Congress callsupon the Government not to replace Trident and also requests that the General Council urgently explores how it can work with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to oppose the replacement of Trident.
Finally Congress urges the Government not to reach a final decision on Trident replacement before issuing a consultative Green Paper on all the options for replacement, including non-replacement and a policy of arms diversification, followed by a White Paper and a deciding vote in Parliament.
RMT Union Submits Eight Point Plan on the Environment
22 November 2006
STATUTORY TARGETS to get people out of cars and onto public transport must be a central plank of any strategy to combat climate change, Britain?s specialist transport union says today.
As MPs prepared to debate the environmental aspects of last week's Queen's Speech, RMT put forward for discussion an eight-point action plan aimed at harnessing public transport to help combat global warming. The eight points are:
Introduction of statutory targets for 'modal shift' in transport use from private car and air travel to trains, buses and trams
The Climate Change Bill to include statutory targets, averaged over three years, for the reduction of carbon emissions in the transport sector.
A statutory requirement for the Department for Transport to publish a strategy for reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector.
Regulated and simplified rail and bus fares structured to encourage modal shift, rather than dictated by commercial considerations.
Investment for significant increases in rail and bus capacity to be supported by ring-fenced revenues from road pricing.
Increased investment and research into the production of carbon-efficient buses, trains cars and aeroplanes.
An immediate review of the government's road-building and airport-expansion plans.
Amendment of the ACAS Code of Practice and legislation to give trade-union environmental representatives the same rights as industrial and health and safety reps.
"A climate-change bill is an important first step, but Britain will only be able to meet its climate-change challenge if policy measures are introduced that will get people out of cars and planes and onto trains, buses and trams," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"To do that public transport has to be made attractive, available and affordable for all.
"Ring-fencing revenue raised from road-pricing would be a welcome step towards making sufficient funds available to invest in the public transport Britainneeds.
"The joined-up transport network the environment needs must also mean an end to the damaging fragmentation brought about by bus deregulation and rail privatisation," Bob Crow said.
Notes to editors: Carbon emissions from transport account for around a quarter of all UKcarbon emissions, the vast majority from road transport, and transport is also currently the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases.
A recent Universityof Oxfordreport said that forecasted aviation growth would mean all other sectors of the economy would have to cut their emissions by between 71 per cent and 87 per cent by 2050, rather than the 60 per cent proposed by the government.
Public transport role central to climate challenge, says RMT
Clean coal for Oz
Union calls for investment in clean coal technologies
PM - Thursday, 16 November , 2006 18:50:00
Reporter: Alison Caldwell
MARK COLVIN: The Australian Coal Association has welcomed union calls for greater investment in so-called clean coal technology, and called on electricity companies to do the same.
The Coal Miners' Union is worried about possible future job losses.
It's adopted a novel approach, by buying up significant parcels of shares in the industry and making plans to flex shareholder muscle.
The union wants mining companies to invest six times as much in clean coal technology.
Environmental groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF see it as a major development.
Alison Caldwell reports.
ALISON CALDWELL: Australia's 20,000 coal miners believe they're being demonised in the ongoing debate about how this country should deal with climate change.
So their union has decided to seize the agenda, calling for their employers to boost their investment in clean coal technology.
National Secretary Tony Maher.
TONY MAHER: We need to solve the climate change problem and the coal companies have got a big role to play. They make a fortune out of it and they've got to position themselves, or be positioned by others into part of the solution instead of the problem.
ALISON CALDWELL: Australian coal companies are spending $300 million on clean coal research. It's a fair whack of money, isn't it?
TONY MAHER: I mean, it's a good start but it's 15 cents a tonne. It's $300 million over five years. There's no reason why it can't be $1 a tonne.
ALISON CALDWELL: Tony Maher says ultimately his members' jobs are at stake, unless the industry can clean up its act.
TONY MAHER: I'm honest with our members. I say look, if we don't solve this climate change thing we don't have any job security so we've got to fight really hard to get it solved.
ALISON CALDWELL: The Union has been congratulated by the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF.
Wednesday 18 October RMT opens ?1.5m National Education Centre in Doncaster
BRITAIN?S FASTEST-GROWING trade union today opens a new ?1.5 million residential National Education Centre in Doncaster.
The centre will be used to train RMT workplace and health-and-safety reps as well as branch, regional and national officers and staff.
It will be opened this afternoon by Marine Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin and Women Against Pit Closures co-founder Anne Scargill.
"This is an exciting moment for a growing union and enables us to offer state-of-the-art IT training and other education facilities in a comfortable residential centre" said RMT general secretary Bob Crow today.
"With a growing membership and more and more new reps to train, opening a new national education facility was rightly identified by the RMT executive as a priority for the union.
"The labour movement has always aimed to educate as well as to agitate and organise, and this splendid new centre gives a tremendous boost to an essential function.
"It is fitting too that we the guests we have opening the centre today represent both the internationalism of the trade union movement and the best traditions of trade-union struggle in Britain," Bob Crow said.
Centrally located and less than a mile from Doncaster station, the former nursing home building was chosen with ease of access in mind for RMT transport workers from all over Britain.
The building has undergone six months of renovation and refitting and now boasts a fully equipped classroom suite with full IT facilities, 15 bedrooms, living and dining rooms, a kitchen, garages and a bar.
Arrangements for under-five child-care have also been made with a local nursery less than 500 yards from the centre.
TUC delegates angered by warmonger Blairs speech
Issues such as privatisation have enraged rail workers (Pic: Duncan Brown)
by Simon Basketter at the TUC
Delegates at TUC conference shook Tony Blair during his speech in Brighton on Tuesday. The anger at Blair for his policies of war and privatisation was clear.
Members of the RMT rail workers union delegation and others held up Time To Go posters when Blair came into the hall. They then walked out when he began his speech.
Other delegates heckled when he spoke about defending democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many wore Troops Out T-shirts and held up similar placards.
Many of the posters advertised the anti-war demonstration at Labours conference on Saturday of next week.
Blair, rocked by the response and the continuing crisis over his prime ministership, felt the need to shout at those opposing him. His defence of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan triggered sustained heckling.
Blair received only polite applause from the rest of the conference when he finished his speech.
Peter Skelly of the RMT union told the BBC, The walk-out was unanimously voted on by the RMT delegation.
We are walking out in protest to show how he and his government have betrayed us and the trade union movement over the last ten years.
After his speech Blair was forced for once to answer questions about the issues which affect workers such as privatisation and union rights.
He was flustered and stuttery. His responses received absolutely no applause. His praise for academies and private operators angered many delegates.
The crisis in the Labour party dominated the conference. TUC leader Brendan Barber tried to call for a toning down of the debate and even attempted to organise a standing ovation for Blair - to no avail.
Union leader after union leader criticised the government harshly. Any mention of opposition to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was met with applause. Any criticism of the governments policies of privatisation was met with acclaim.
Opposition to Blair ran through the conference.
The underlying mood - that the TUC leaders were trying to dampen down - could be seen when the delegates cheered Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, when he announced the successful strike vote of the workers in NHS Logistics.
Many union leaders are cautiously backing Gordon Brown to be the next leader of the Labour Party.
Derek Simpson, the Amicus union leader, said, If we dont have Labour, then we will get the Tories.
In a limited sense Labour havent brought in any worse legislation. But its not good enough. The membership of the Labour Party has halved.
The local government elections were a disaster, the by-elections have been a disaster. The Welsh and Scottish elections will be a disaster. It doesnt matter which leader we have if we are going in the wrong direction.
While his support for Brown may go down well among some union leaders, the real mood among many workers against Labours policies was seen on the floor of conference.
The following should be read alongside this article:
» Demanding action to defend workers pensions
» Protest on the farewell tour, says Mark Serwotka
» Fighting NHS privatisation
» TUC voices
» Photos of Blair's reception by TUC
© Copyright Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original and leave this notice in place.
BLAIR BASKING IN A PITIFUL TORY LEGACY
14 July 2006 The Daily Mirror
NYE Bevan said "this island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish".
We've eaten most of the but the coal is still there, great wealth underground.
You wouldn't know that from the government's latest energy review, which is a bonanza for the nuclear power industry.
North Sea gas is running out but there are 300 years of coal reserves under our feet. Yet coal rates hardly a mention in the government's plans for the future.
I wonder why. And so do the many thousands skilled miners prematurely thrown on the scrapheap the "dash for gas", begun by the Tories and brought to today's sad conclusion by New Labour.
"Tony Blair has finished off the job that Maggie Thatcher started," was the verdict I heard in the Brookside working men's club in South Elmsall, where the Frickley pit closed a decade ago.
Only six deep mines operate in Britain today and the once-mighty National Union Of Mineworkers has fewer than 3,000 members.
These men and their fami lies were the mainstay of the Labour Party in the locust years of Thatcherism. Their loyalty has been shamefully King Coal. The Industry Secretary wants a coal forum to secure "the long-term future of coal fired generation and UK coal production".
If this initiative is merely a talking shop to massage the feelings of core voters, then New Labour should be damned to hell. But coal producers and mining unions are taking the government at its word.
Yet modern, clean coal technology promises a bright future. Why else would a Russian businessman want to buy mothballed Hatfield colliery, near Doncaster, and build a state-of-the-art ^ power station alongside?
Alistair Darling's energy review offers a i slim chance of reviving King Coal. The Industry Secretary wants a coal forum to secure "the long-term future of coal fired generation and UK coal production".
If this initiative is merely a talking shop to massage the feelings of core voters, then New Labour should be damned to hell. But coal producers and mining unions are taking the government at its word.
The market is clearly there. In Britain last year, we burned 57million tonnes of coal. Absurdly, 36 million tonnes of this was imported.
Yet British coal can deliver on price.
And the Clean Coal Task Force, a joint industry/union/ government body, has produced a blueprint for the next generation of low carbon emission, environmentally friendly power stations - an encouraging start for the forum.
Last Saturday, 50,000 people attended the Durham Miners' Gala. The county's pits may have gone but this festival of working people shows just how much spirit still survives in the old coalfields.
Perhaps that's the real problem. Blair has never replied to invitations to attend the gala, even though it's near his constituency.
New Labour doesn't like miners. They don't always do as they are told and their unions put the fear of God up Middle England (where it belongs).
Destroying the NUM was Maggie's greatest pleasure and Blair continues to bask in her cruel legacy.