Friday, September 29, 2006

Dump Blair Now!

NCP comrades and supporters from Manchester, London and Bristol gathered in Manchester last Saturday to march with the Central Committee banner with many thousands of other protesters to demand an end to the war in Iraq. The demonstration of the eve of Labour Party conference in Manchester centred around the call for Troops Out of Iraq, Don't Attack Iran and No Trident Replacement. Whether the Labour Party leadership will take any notice remains to be seen. Hundreds of NCP leaflets were given out and a large number of New Workers sold during the march.

The latest issue of the NCP's London bulletin, the London Worker (September 2007) is out now and costs just 20p. For your copy just send your name and address together with a first class postage stamp to: London Worker, NCP, PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The legacy of Grunwick


by Rob Laurie

LAST SUNDAY Brent Trades Union Council organised a commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the epic two year Grunwick strike. In August 1976 a small group of unorganised Asian workers walked out of their low paid jobs at a north London film processing factory in protest at being denied union recognition by their ruthless boss, George Ward.
The workers soon joined APEX (now part of GMB) and were greatly assisted by Brent Trades Council, then chaired by the late Tom Durkin, the legendary building workers’ leader and whose secretary was Jack Dromey, who is now deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.
Grunwick’s was a postal business, so it was badly damaged by the boycott of its mail by the postal workers, who supported the strike.
The misnamed National Association For Freedom took legal action to force the postal union to drop the boycott in return for negotiations with the conciliation service ACAS.
It soon became clear that George Ward merely saw this as a stalling tactic and continued to oppose recognition. The pickets remained at the factory gates their numbers increasing.
In June 1977 the 250-odd pickets were attacked by police and 84 arrested.This did not deter the trade union movement, but only served to multiply the number of pickets to 3,000 by the end of the week.
These pickets included miners from South Wales and Yorkshire, the latter lead by Arthur Scargill. The bourgeois media took fright at this wave of support for the workers and the leadership of the unions began to get cold feet.
The leadership of postal workers forced the local postmen to abandon their boycott. The Labour government launched a Court of Inquiry which would divert the struggle from the streets to the courts.
This did dot deter the Strike Committee from holding a 12,000 strong mass picket on the 11th July, but this proved to be the high water mark of the dispute.
The Court of Inquiry, which reported in late August, largely supported the strikers but Grunwick’s boss, supported by the Tory Party, repudiated it.
The national union leaderships made every effort to prevent mass action but the local strike committee organised mass pickets in November.
The strikers held a hunger strike outside the TUC on the day the GeneralCouncil met. War weariness set in among even the most militant supporters.Legal procedures proved ineffective in forcing George Ward to recognise unions.
The lessons of the dispute are clear: the workers can never depend on the courts to secure their rights. The legal environment was much friendlier into trade unions in 1976 than it is in 2006, but still the battle was lost.
While the workers ultimately failed to achieve their objectives they were not defeated in any meaningful sense. The workers speedily learned a great deal about trade union organisation and they have served as an inspiration to countless other black workers.
The dispute was a turning point for the trade union movement in that it developed a militant unity between black and white workers.
Sunday’s commemoration brought together a number of veterans of that dispute. Prominent personalities such as former miners’ leader Arthur Scargill and Jack Dromey shared the platform with local postal workers’leader Derek Walsh, but the star turn was however the original leader of the walkout, Jayaben Desai.
The event did not focus entirely on the historical aspects of the dispute.After a delicious Indian lunch there were two separate workshops focused on the continuing struggle trade union rights and those on migrant workers.
John Hendy QC, the author of the present Trade Union Freedom Bill, recalled being on the Grunwick picket line, in particular the sight of the famous labour lawyer John Platt-Mills turning up in pinstripes and bowler hat.
Hendy stressed the limited aims of the Trade Union Freedom Bill which he saw as an essential first step in restoring the rights of British workers tothose required by the United Nations charter.
In the latter session two women involved in the recent Gate Gourmet dispute at London Airport accused the TGWU of betrayal. This brought a sharp rebuke from Jack Dromey who described the considerable resources devoted by his union to organising migrant workers, including employing a large number of ethnic organisers who deal with migrant workers in their own language.

Brent Trades Council has produced two lasting souvenirs of these events.They have reprinted a pamphlet first published in 1978 by Tom Durkin aptly entitled Grunwick: bravery and betrayal; it costs £2.00. They have also given fresh life to two contemporary films of the strike by putting them out on a single DVD entitled The Grunwick Strike 1976-1978 which retails for a bargain £6.00. Both these can be obtained from Brent Trades Union Council,375 High Street, Willesden, London NW2 2JR, who will doubtless welcome acontribution towards postage and packing.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

McDonnell calls for TU freedom Bill

LEFT-WING London Labour MP John McDonnell, who chairs the Labour Representation Committee, last week called for the restoration of full trade union rights in Britain. McDonnell is challenging Gordon Brown’s succession to Tony Blair when Blair finally steps down from the premiership. This challenge will force a debate and a vote, involving the whole Labour Party: MPs, constituency members and individual members of all unions affiliated to the party.

In an article in The New Statesman last week McDonnell wrote: “It is perhaps not surprising that Government ministers have shown little or no interest in marking the 80th anniversary of the General Strike, let alone this year’s 100th anniversary of the Trades Disputes Act, which made it legal for trade unions to take strike action.

“In many ways, the trade unionists who won that victory in 1906, and those who walked out in 1926, enjoyed greater rights and freedoms than their counterparts in 2006. Today, not only do trade unionists risk losing their jobs if they take industrial action, but their union faces the sequestration of its assets and, possibly, total demise if associated with action in solidarity with others, which has been outlawed since the days of Thatcher.

“These harsh industrial conditions were clearly exposed last summer, when a group of Asian women working for the airline catering company Gate Gourmet, many of whom were my constituents, were herded into a shed at Heathrow airport and told by megaphone that they were sacked.

“These women were the victims of the modern industrial process of outsourcing and contracting out of services to reduce costs and maximise profits, following a takeover by a venture capitalist company.

“Despite being heavily unionised the Gate Gourmet workers were virtually defenceless against the ruthless power of a former employer whose sole interest was to offload a contract to cut costs and a new owner well versed in the technique of “sweating the assets” for short-term profit.

“The employer was only forced to negotiate a settlement when, in outrage, workers from across the airport operation threatened industrial action in solidarity with the Gate Gourmet workers, which would have brought Heathrow to a standstill at a peak period. It was a threat that put the whole future of the TGWU at risk.

“Trade union reps will tell you that the Gate Gourmet experience is replicated across every sector of industry, as contractualisation, outsourcing and privatisation gather pace. In smaller firms especially, in which more than six million of Britain’s workforce are employed and which are excluded from the Government’s trade union recognition legislation, the result is low pay, long hours, bullying and unprecedented levels of work-related stress.

“With such weak trade union rights laws and a lack of effective sanctions against rogue bosses, employers can act with impunity.
“Meanwhile, employees increasingly question the need to join a trade union, if it has no power to protect them.
“For two decades, trade unions and the Labour Party have campaigned for the abolition of the draconian anti-trade union legislation introduced under Thatcher. This campaign has consolidated into the development of a single, relatively modest piece of proposed legislation called the Trade Union Freedom Bill.
“An early day motion in Parliament expressing support for this Bill has secured the backing of the largest number of back-bench Labour MPs ever for this type of reform. The Bill would go some way to remedy the lack of trade union rights in this country, in particular restoring the right to strike in support of others in certain situations – of vital importance in this age of globalisation.
“So far, not a single Cabinet minister has expressed support for the Bill. Indeed, I was warned by one senior TUC official that it had no support anywhere in the Government. This may be the case at present, but the real world is moving on.
“More and more people are questioning why, in the fifth-richest country in the world, they endure insecurity and stress at home and at work, and they are increasingly willing to stand up for their rights.
“The Government could make up for a lot of lost ground by getting behind the Trade Union Freedom Bill.”

Turnham Green Peace Market

TURNHAM Green Peace Market made history in 2006 with two markets instead of the single market held since the West London Peace Council set up the market in 1979.
Maybe it was the weather last weekend but the second market had the Green covered in stalls and a good attendance.
Once again Southall New Communist Party put up its stall with a good stock of home-made marmalade and a variety of jams made from lush fruit from the Vale of Evesham in Hereford-Worcester.
But a display of Marxist-Leninist literature on display competed for public attention with the jams.
Comrades working at the stall watched with interest as customers bought copies of Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism and his famous Dialectical and Historical Materialism.
Ernie Trory’s booklets on Hungary and Poland and Churchill and the Atom Bomb also drew a lot of public interest.
And people came to talk to us. Labour Party comrades spoke rather apologetically about the failure to run stalls in 2005 and 2006 but they hoped to do better in 2007. “See you next year,” they said.
Ten copies of the New Worker were sold, helping to give an overall profit of £55.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Dagenham BNP councillor evicted for unpaid rent

CLAIRE Doncaster, one of the British National Party’s successful candidates in last May’s local elections in Dagenham, was evicted from her council home last week for failing to pay her rent.
Now Councillor Doncaster’s position as an elected member of the council is in jeopardy. She owes more than £2,000 in rent.
After bailiffs evicted her last week Councillor Doncaster from her flat, she moved in with her parents. Her mother, Sandra Doncaster, is also a BNP councillor – and she is also under threat of eviction for unpaid council tax.
The council members’ code of conduct says: “A member must not in his/her official capacity, or in any other circumstance, conduct themselves in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing their office or authority into disrepute.”

South West Trains strike solid

by Caroline Colebrook

TRAIN drivers employed by South West Trains walked out on a 24-hour strike last Tuesday, crippling commuter services on some of the busiest routes into London.
Keith Norman, general secretary of the train drivers’ union Aslef thanked all his members who had taken part in the strike but put the blame for the dispute firmly on the employer, who, he said, “preferred a punch-up to a settlement”.
The dispute is the result of a number of issues, which include the high-handedness of SWT management.
The conflict began with a small, local dispute in Waterloo, where there was a disagreement over the company providing taxis for drivers on early and late duties.
Aslef says this could have been easily settled, “but we believe management engineered a dispute”. During the resulting action, SWT drafted in managers to drive trains.
This was in direct contravention of an existing agreement which says managers will only drive trains in cases of health, safety or the possibility of civil unrest.
The union was also concerned at the safety risks: one manager, although technically competent, had not driven a train alone for a decade. The union accused the company of being more concerned with scoring industrial relations points than with the safety of passengers.
The dispute was then inflamed when it was shown that SWT was bringing in managers to drive trains from as far away as Bournemouth – and, to add insult to injury fetched them in by taxi!
Aslef accordingly held a ballot of all its members in SWT which overwhelmingly supported the industrial action. Keith Norman said it was astonishing that since he had informed the company of the intention to strike, SWT had only approached the union at national level to make legal threats – and not to seek discussions aimed at reaching an agreement.
SWT management claimed to be running one train in 10 but the union described this as “wishful thinking” and dismissed it as propaganda.
Speaking on most national radio stations on Tuesday morning, Keith Norman accused management of “wanting a punch-up and using the public as its boxing-gloves”.
He said SWT had spent masses of money on legal threats and newspaper adverts – but had made no attempts to sit down and negotiate a settlement.
“I have been in London all weekend prepared to speak to the company,” he said, “but they have been too busy making excuses to do anything positive. The union has shown its organising abilities today – but I’m sure the public would prefer us to be demonstrating our negotiating skills.
“Unfortunately, this would involve management coming to the table – which it is reluctant to do.”
Keith Norman said the union cannot allow management to disregard agreements it has entered into. “When we shake hands, we deliver. When they make an agreement they apply it if its convenient.
“Industrial relations cannot function like that. Today we were forced to make a stand.”
The union’s national organiser Andy Reed said the strike was solid in the areas around Portsmouth and Basingstoke which he visited this morning.
“None of our members wanted this,” he said, “but they are not the sort of people who can be threatened or intimidated.”
A guard on one service told the union one 12-coach train, driven by a manager, had pulled into a nine-coach platform at Waterloo –endorsing the union’s safety arguments.

East London hospital strike

PORTERS, cleaners and switchboard staff employed by Rentokil Initial, based at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London, have been on strike since 21st July.
An agreement over pay and conditions was made in 2003, due to come into force in April 2006; several other East London hospitals agreed to the deal, only Rentokil at Whipps Cross has failed to honour it.
The pay award is roughly equivalent to a £2 per hour raise, for staff who in some cases earn as little as £5.52 per hour, the agreement also included increases in leave entitlement.
Staff are on strike for the full award with pay backdated to April. Over 300 staff are employed by Rentokil Initial at Whipps Cross, and around 270 are members of the public sector union Unison.
So far there have been four days of strike action, with the strike days increasing from one to two days every other week over the past month. Rentokil has refused to discuss the deal with either the workers directly or with Unison, although some negotiations are planned with the hospital trust itself.
In light of this, strike days were increased from two to three in the next round of action on 29th August, and there is likely to be all out indefinite strike action during September if no deal is made.
The dispute is restricted to Whipps Cross at the moment, since it’s a local deal, which only Rentokil Initial has not met.
However a Unison member at the hospital told me that a national agreement is due to come into force in October, which Rentokil is unlikely to meet. This could lead to the dispute spreading nationally to all Rentokil Initial hospital staff during October.
One picket line worker said: “Everyone’s been out here every day, we don’t expect to have an offer at all, but we’ll be here again tomorrow and keep doing it as long as necessary, it’s been a really good atmosphere out here.”
The turn out on the picket line has been consistently over 200 people per day, starting at 6am and finishing around 5 or 6pm.
Only five Initial Rentokil workers employed at the hospital have crossed the line since the first day of the strike, many workers who were not members of Unison have joined the action unofficially or joined since it started.
But company has been shipping in employees from all over London and even Brighton as scab labour, in some cases putting them up in hospital accommodation.