Reprinted from Monday 24th Jan edition of Morning Star
“Traitor” “Scab!” and “Shame on you” are all insults that any union member will be familiar with.
Traditionally they were reserved for those miners who crossed picket lines in ’84 and for the police who assaulted striking NUM members with wooden batons.
Today the terms have been directed at the officers policing the G20 and student fees protests.
How odd then to find these words being hurled with extra venom at the unfortunate Islington Labour Councillor Charlynne Pullen during the recent Labour Representation Committee AGM.
Her crime? She had the audacity to stand up and declare that due to budgetary restrictions from central government, the Labour-run council on which she sits will have to implement cuts.
Despite assurances that the Labour group would do everything it could to minimise the impact, the cries of sell-out continued.
However, her timely intervention posed one of the most serious tactical questions for the labour movement at this time – how do trades union councils engage effectively with local Labour councils in resisting the cuts implemented by central government at the behest of the EU big-business club?
Some people at the conference were calling on Labour councils to openly defy the Con-Dem government by refusing to abide by central government budgetary constraints, set an illegal budget and ultimately risk prison.
As heroic as this may sound in the abstract, there are a number of problems with this approach.
Despite the best efforts of lay reps and union national executive committees, we have not yet built a mass movement capable of defending our communities from the coalition beast.
It is not realistic to expect Labour councillors who in many cases only see trade unions as a “special interest group” to suddenly behave like revolutionaries who are prepared to go to prison for their stand.
What many councillors are correctly pointing out is that if they set an illegal budget, central government would simply suspend the local authority and implement the harshest possible interpretation of budgetary restrictions on local people.
Some on the ultra-left assume that local people will spontaneously rise up in indignation at this and “do something about it.”
As it stands it doesn’t take a genius to work out the likely reaction of ordinary people in this and it certainly wouldn’t be the above.
However, the situation is not hopeless and simply directing focus nationally at the Con-Dem assault, although important, is not solely what is required.
A positive step already being tried by several trades councils is to call on Labour councils to set a “needs” budget – showing what the local community needs from services and the actual “best” budget that they could actually implement.
This would expose the cuts and help to draw together councillors, trade unionists and local people into a campaigning coalition to take the message out to the wider public.
Dependent on the success of this strategy, local campaigners would be in a better position to assess the next steps. But it needs a sustained effort.
Many individual Labour councillors have already been influenced by this strategy, such as Cllr Pullen who ended her contribution saying she would be helping to mobilise local people for the critical March 26 TUC demonstration.
Senior people in the trade union movement have quietly suggested that as the anti-cuts movement gathers momentum and broadens appeal among the general public beyond the TUC demo, councillors could end up in prison for resisting the cuts.
A thorough discussion between trades councils up and down the country in the letters pages of the Morning Star would be a welcome development.
But one thing is for certain – the working-class movement doesn’t need martyrs. It needs dogged, principled, long-term fighters whose sole interest is that of the working people they represent.
Engagement with all potential allies in creating effective opposition to the cuts should be our priority.
By John Millington – Campaigns reporter – Morning Star
(originally front page 14th January 2011)
Trade unionists refused to accept privatisation of the Royal Mail today after the Postal Services Bill was passed in Parliament.
Paving the way for privatisation and foreign capital ownership of Royal Mail assets, MPs in the House of Commons passed the Bill by 319 votes to 238.
But it will still need to be passed in the Lords to become law.
Under the government’s plan, private and potentially overseas buyers will be allowed to own up to 90 per cent of Royal Mail, with around 10 per cent of shares going to employees.
But with the dominance of private capital ownership of Royal Mail, any potential share holdings held by staff members will be practically worthless.
The business will be split up with the Post Office remaining under public ownership.
An amendment tabled by Conservative MP Brian Binley and Lib Dem Bob Russell which would have ensured that Royal Mail agree a 10-year deal with the Post Office to guarantee its custom was defeated by 58 votes.
CWU general secretary Billy Hayes said: “We’re very disappointed that MPs didn’t take the opportunity to safeguard Post Offices.
“However, six MPs did recognise the importance of amending the Bill to safeguard Post Offices and voted against the government.”
All Labour MPs voted against the Bill with four Tories, two Liberal Democrats and several nationalist MPs also opposing the Con-Dem plans.
Liberal Democrat whips were out in force with several MPs making statements against the Bill but voting with the government.
Despite the parliamentary setback, the CWU vowed to intensify its campaign, with a national demonstration on January 22 in Postal Affairs Minister Ed Davey’s constituency Kingston upon Thames.
CWU deputy general secretary Dave Ward called for a mass mobilisation on January 22 and said: “This vote strengthens our determination to fight the government’s Bill.
“In its current form it threatens the ongoing modernisation of Royal Mail and will destabilise the progress made to date. It also threatens the jobs, terms and conditions of our members and we’ll do whatever it takes to fight against the damaging effects of privatisation.”
Communist Party of Britain general secretary Rob Griffiths pointed out that EU directives to liberalise European postal services were at the root of the policy of privatisation.
“As with gas, electricity, water and steel there will be mass redundancies together in the services followed soon afterwards by rampant profiteering and big price increases,” he said.
“This is a continuation of the EU agenda to break up public-sector monopolies in postal and other vital public services.
“Furthermore an inevitable consequence will be foreign ownership which will place the service even further beyond the control of democratically elected bodies.”
And Labour MP John McDonnell said the privatisation was the first of many to come.
He said: “Cameron’s latest threat to trade union rights also demonstrates the need for co-ordinated mobilisation of the labour and trade union movement.”
FINANCE union Unite blasted bankers for their “culture of greed and excess” yesterday after record bonuses were paid out despite government assurances they would be curbed.
7 billion pounds of bonuses to top executives are still being paid despite many of Britain’s leading financiers being bailed out by the taxpayer.
According to the latest research the profits of the UK’s top five banks soared to £37 billion in 2010 and are predicted to rise to £51.7 billion this year.
The profits of taxpayer-owned Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland are likely to more than double to £6.5 billion and £5 billion in the coming year.
Previously RBS paid more than 100 bankers at the group’s investment banking wing were £1 million last year, even though the Edinburgh-based giant racked up £27.9bn of losses during 2008 and 2009.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been accused of “surrendering” to the banks despite new European wide rules supposedly designed to curb the bonus culture.
Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary elect said: “News that the government is allowing the investment bankers to again award themselves colossal bonuses demonstrates the lame nature of this coalition.
“It is intolerable that within taxpayer funded institutions these undeserving rich bankers have not been forced to change their culture of greed and excess. The self-indulgence of these bankers has brought our economy to its knees and yet this government refuses to veto their unjustifiable bonuses.
The news that bankers are continuing to cash in on the taxpayer bailout comes after it was revealed that Wall Street bank’s third most senior executive Colm Kelleher moved to London receiving thousands of pounds in expenses and re-location costs at the end of last year.
Mr McCluskey added: “The actions of these bankers over the last three years have laid bare their inability to grasp the public disgust at their behaviour as they continue to line their pockets with inappropriate and excessive bonuses.’
Andrew Fisher, LEAP co-ordinator, said: “As the banks return to business as usual with a bonus bonanza, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers face a two year pay freeze.
“It was the taxpayer that bailed out the entire banking system, and is still owed hundreds of billions by these banks
“While working people suffer cuts to services, a VAT hike and pay freezes, the government has allowed the very people who caused the crisis to continue to award themselves seven figure bonuses.”
And RMT general secretary Bob Crow added: “My advice to any worker told they should take a pay freeze or a pay cut this year is to point to the bankers, stand firm and demand a fair deal. That is exactly what RMT will be doing. Our members didn’t create this crisis and those that did are laughing all the way to the bank.
UNISON Hull claimed 25% of the city’s council jobs could be lost after the local authority announced £40 million budget cut today.
The Liberal Democrat run administration admitted that 1,400 jobs would go as part of cuts adding that 1,100 workers had asked for voluntary redundancy.
Launching the budget proposals, the council said: “The proposals show how the council will become a smaller and more efficient organisation, with up to 1,400 less people.”
Council leader, Liberal Democrat Carl Minns, introduced the plan by stressing the budget problems inherited by central Government and said: “In response, the Government is requiring every arm of the public sector to make substantial savings.
“In Hull this will amount to around £40 million (plus redundancy costs) this year.”
But local union representatives have challenged the accuracy of the figures saying that 1 in 4 of the 7,500 work forces faces the axe within the next 18 months.
Unison Hull branch secretary Mike Adamson: “Hull can’t cope with 200 more people out of work, never mind this many,”
Commenting on the union’s response to “ideologically driven” cuts, Mr Adamson said further meetings would be held within the union to “take direction from the members concerned.”
“The broad campaigning by all local trade unions to oppose the cuts is being done under the banner of Hull Against the cuts,” he said.
““All the unions are totally opposed to the cuts agenda.”
“An emergency meeting will be held next week to decide how to coordinate our response.”
“We are already working with the Labour group to try and remove the Lib Dems from council control.
Labour Group Leader Cllr Stephen Brady predicted deep cuts to frontline services, especially social services.
He said the proposals meant residential homes and day centres would be closed.
Mr Brady said: “Hull is in total disarray.
“One in every five council staff to go and they say frontline service won’t be affected. It’s a fairy story. It’s going to deeply affect a place like Hull.”
GMB regional officer Les Dobbs emphasised the important role of the local anti cuts campaign in “coordinating organising strategy between different unions” against the austerity drive.
“We had a hundred strong demonstration so far and more is to come,” he added.
CONNEXIONS workers called off their half-day strike action today after council bosses offered to take immediate compulsory redundancies off the table.
Scoring a partial victory in their on going struggle against the imposition of 24 percent cuts to the Connexions service, Unison negotiators welcomed the concession but insisted industrial action remained a possibility if talks failed.
Local authority employers will now sit down for 28 days with Unison negotiators to resolve the dispute.
Connexions workers had been due to take part in a demonstration outside Connexions HQ as part of half a day’s strike action – the first time in the ever at the youth advice service.
In a statement, the union said: “Unison postpones Connexions industrial action and welcomes Birmingham City Council movement on compulsory redundancies.”
Instead both sides agreed that negotiations would continue and that the Council will endeavour to examine the budget settlement to try and avoid any compulsory redundancies.
The industrial action ballot remains live and the industrial action mandate remains insisted the union.
Commenting on the breakthrough, Unison West Midlands Regional Secretary and new assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie said he believed the council been reasonable due to the pressure applied by Connexions staff and local refuse collectors, who go on strike next week.
“We are hoping the employer enters into these negotiations in the same spirits as us and will avoid any further talk of compulsory redundancies,” said Mr McKenzie.
“The next 28 days of discussions are really important.”
“Whilst the strike action is merely suspended and could yet be called again in due course, we are hopeful that the further negotiations over the coming few weeks could result in a positive settlement being reached with no compulsory redundancies.
“The Connexions campaign, which has been running since the Autumn, has been very successful. Inch by inch, the Council have moved from their original proposals and we are in sight of securing a viable careers service for Birmingham’s young people . This would be a crucial success given the high level of youth unemployment in the West Midlands.”
He added: “Today just shows the progress that can be made when the Council sits down and talk to us with an open mind.”
My final article of 2010. It’s been a tough year for people throughout Britain. Gone are any certainties about our futures.
All we have is our labour power and eachother. The battle is on to protect our class and to usher in a new kind of society.
2011 will be an important landmark in our continuing struggle.
At the beginning of 2010 the capitalist class thought they had everything sewn up. No matter which party won the election, the EU-inspired cuts agenda would be firmly on the political programme for the next five years.
The only difference would be the speed at which they were implemented with a small possibility that if Labour had won the election, the trade unions could have exerted political and financial pressure to ameliorate the worst excesses of the cuts.
Despite no one party winning an overall mandate and the need for a PR drive to justify the coalition stitch-up, the Tory cuts agenda could now proceed without a hitch.
Or so they thought.
The student protests against the tuition fee rise to £9,000 a year represented an almost spontaneous outpouring of anger at the injustice – both of the policy and hypocrisy of the Lib Dems.
Dispersions cast by the right-wing media that those protesting were spoilt middle-class militants doesn’t hold water when thousands of comprehensive school pupils and sixth-formers made up a substantial contingent of the demonstration.
However, the anti-cuts campaign is still in its embryonic stage. It needs to be “escalated,” as union leaders have rightly put it, to meet head on the Con-Dem government.
The raw passion and bravery of the students on these demonstrations in the face of some brutal and unlawful treatment by the police is not in itself going to halt the cuts agenda or bring down the coalition.
Only organisation and co-ordination of the resistance to the cuts both locally and nationally from the democratic representatives of working people – trade unions through their local trades councils – can provide the appropriate framework for a successful campaign.
Of course unions and their lay activists will have their work cut out to mobilise members and public-service users to support strike action in defence of jobs and services.
With Britain still reeling from the deindustrialisation in the 1980s, the lack of investment in a viable manufacturing base in the ’90s and the draconian anti-trade union laws today, membership has shrunk from 11 million to just over six million.
Coupled with endless attacks from the hegemonic right-wing media, the image of trade unions as a “selfish interest group” rather than as a pillar defending communities predominates in the public consciousness.
Most of the students engaged in the protests are not members of trade unions and if they have jobs they will experience exploitation at work, but from an individual perspective.
Joining a union is not automatically the first place people will turn when they want protecting from an injustice.
But with the coalition axe swinging more viciously slashing jobs across all remaining industries, and with unemployment likely to hit 10 per cent midway through 2011, the public’s view of trade unions is likely to change.
The TUC-led demonstration on March 26 represents an important benchmark in winning over the public to the anti-cuts movement.
It is neither the event that will bring the government down nor a pointless exercise, because as some on the ultra-left have argued: “It’s just a march.”
It is a stepping-stone to heightened campaigning in communities and helping to build the confidence among workers to take successful industrial action.
Individual unions are launching their own campaigns early in the new year and are seeking to build on the mandate provided by TUC conference anti-cuts policies from last summer.
Unite, under the new leadership of Len McCluskey, will be launching the Don’t Break Britain campaign, while public-sector unions Unison and PCS will flesh out details of co-ordinated industrial action.
CWU is continuing the fight to save the post office following a successful lobby and roadblock outside parliament this month.
UCU will be playing its full part in the continuing protests against the fees rise with some suggesting this policy could become the coalition government’s “poll tax moment.”
And RMT and TSSA have pledged to co-ordinate industrial action to protect workers and oppose cuts to the country’s ailing privately run transport sector.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow’s call for peaceful civil disobedience and direct action against the cuts has struck a chord with young militants, and must be part of the overall strategy of resistance.
Despite differences in tactics and emphasis in different unions on how precisely to oppose the cuts, the trade union movement in Britain has a newfound unity and purpose.
A single enemy – the political representatives of the capitalist class, backed by the EU – hold the levers of power in this country.
They have no ear open to working people, no democratic mandate, no interest in compromise and will bring all manner of force to bear in implementing their big business cuts agenda.
The aim of the working-class movement must be to bring the government down.
As a young Friedrich Engels once said: “The sentimental little songs go unheard and the resounding hunting horn awaits a hunter to blow the rallying call for a hunt on tyrants.”
KIRKLESS council workers look set for a 5-day strike in the new year after a successful strike ballot concluded today.
Unison balloted members from across the council including the West Yorkshire Housing Association and Calderdale, Kirklees Careers Service Partnership, West Yorkshire Fire Service, and all the schools in the area.
With a 53 percent “Yes” vote for strike, 8,000 public sector workers are expected to walkout for 5 days in the middle of January.
The union which has an 84 percent density in the council, is concerned that the council’s plans to make 698 compulsory redundancies by April and their desire to take employees’ sickness records into account when interviewing staff for jobs.
Unison Branch Secretary Paul Holmes was in buoyant mood declaring complete confidence that the membership would heed the call of the union.
“Absolutely members will come out. When we go on strike nothing runs,” he said.
“This is a magnificent result given the current economic climate and our members are really frightened about their futures.”
“I think that the public realise that there’s a battle going on to save both jobs and frontline public services.”