CPGB-ML » Archive of 'May, 2015'

Blacklisting — the union-busters’ war on the working class

Evidence that blacklisting is alive and kicking in the construction industry abounds. John Kelly, after working for three years in Runcorn as a rigger for Interserve Industrial Services, was sacked in April 2014.

When the construction team he was working on transferred to another job in Capenhurst, construction manager Trevor Collins saw to it that Kelly was blacked from the new project, with no explanation.

However, Kelly knew exactly why Collins had fired him, and after a long battle he managed to convince a Liverpool employment tribunal that he was right.

In furtherance of a union-busting campaign, Collins had waged a hate campaign on social media against what he called ‘Scousers’, with their “Scouse hard luck stories” (presumably referring to workers’ irritating habit of resisting crap conditions and pointing out workplace hazards). Admiring email responses from Collins’s kindred spirits described him as “the big man up there, sorting out them Scousers”.

Kelly, sickened to read his boss’s endless poisonous drivel on Facebook about Liverpudlian “shirkers and thieves”, finally took out a complaint against Collins. Surprise, surprise: this complaint was soon followed by Kelly getting the sack.

After lengthy wrangling, this was recognised by the tribunal, which ruled that Kelly, “a good worker with considerable experience”, was blacked from the Capenhurst site because he was a Unite rep. The judge concluded that “Trevor Collins did not want the claimant (an employee representative for Unite and activist) working on the Capenhurst project under his management. He was motivated by the claimant’s membership of Unite and his known activities in that capacity.”

John Kelly only won his case thanks to his own grit and determination (Scouse or otherwise). As he says, “I was a quite active steward and didn’t want them to get away with it. Other people just back down but I’m not that type of person – I believe in my rights.”

The reality is that cases like Kelly’s are the rule, not the exception, and most such cases just sink without trace. Blacklisting is not a scandal of the past, but mainstream union-busting practice in the here and now. (All above quotes from ‘Union rep blacklisted after complaining about manager’s anti-Scouse jibes on Facebook wins employment tribunal’, Liverpool Echo, 4 May 2015)

Nor is blacklisting confined to the building sector. It has now been revealed, as long suspected, that the blacklisting outfit exposed and closed down in 2009, the so-called ‘Consulting Association’, not only kept secret files on over 3,200 unwitting construction workers, but also spread its reach to include teachers, posties and firemen.

Dave Smith, doughty campaigner against the blacklist and co-author of a recent book on the subject, was doubtless right to tell delegates at the recent Communications Workers Union conference that “People in this hall will definitely have been spied on by undercover police”. (‘Postal staff urged to find out if they were included on blacklist’, Guardian, 26 April 2015)

Struggling for safety at Sellafield

The one ‘offence’ guaranteed to get union members blacklisted fastest is the ‘crime’ of drawing attention to unsafe practices in the workplace.

In no industry are health and safety issues more grave than in the nuclear industry. Yet, astoundingly, construction workers at the nuclear power plant in Sellafield (Cumbria) are being denied the right even to have a full-time Unite rep responsible for health and safety issues at the plant.

The National Audit Office recently bemoaned the fact that the estimated cost of decommissioning and cleaning up the heavily-polluted Sellafield nuclear site has jumped from £48bn to £53bn as the enormity of the task became apparent – and this estimated total for the 120-year job is expected to keep climbing.

The cowboy outfit hired in 2008 by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to implement the clean-up – Nuclear Management Partners – was sacked for incompetence … yet received £430,000 of public money for breach of contract! Now ‘control’ is supposedly back in the hands of the NDA itself.

None of this spectacle of feckless private interests scrambling to secure lucrative public contracts (contracts to clean up the god-awful mess left by a previous generation of monopoly-capitalist shysters) inspires any great confidence in Sellafield as a safe place to work.

Indeed, it is described by the National Audit Office as the “UK’s largest and most hazardous nuclear site”, including as it does two nuclear fuel reprocessing plants, storage plants, ponds and silos containing radioactive material dating back to the inception of the nuclear industry.

Not only is the site used to store nuclear material from across the country; it was also the host of a facility that secretly produced nuclear materials for Britain’s Cold War arms programme, and which was finally demolished in 2014. (‘Cost of nuclear clean up at Sellafield increased an extra £5bn in the past year’, Chronicle Live, 15 March 2015)

The refusal by Sellafield Contractor Group Ltd to allow a full-time union shop steward and unhindered operation of the site’s health and safety committee was therefore greeted with justifiable rage by the 1,200 plus Unite members, 98 percent of whom have voted in support of industrial action. (‘Sellafield workers back strike action’, unitetheunion.org, 16 April 2015)

Doubtless, if and when a health and safety rep wins recognition, he will enjoy pride of place on every blacklisting database in the land.

Resisting victimisation

Members of the public services union PCS have engaged in a series of strikes against the privatisation of 400 visitor service jobs at the National Gallery in London.

Twenty-two sporadic strike days culminated in a strike and rally on May Day. As well as fighting against the privatisation plans, staff are also acting against the victimisation of a local rep, who was suspended just before the first strike in February. (’No privatisation at the national gallery’, pcs.org.uk)

Another victimised union rep was supported in a protest by the RMT, also on May Day.

Sodexo, the giant international outsourcing company, brags on its website that “Our employees personify our values and are our greatest asset. Their talent, skills and commitment have made us the leader in delivery of Quality of Life services.

This does not square with the experience of Petrit Mihaj. After contributing his ‘talent and skills’ to Sodexo’s catering services for ten years as part of the company’s London Underground operation, Mihaj found himself up on disciplinary charges then dismissal. His crime? Running a campaign to improve the ‘quality of life’ of his fellow workers by getting them unionised. (‘Support Petrit Mihaj’, rmtlondoncalling.org.uk, 23 April 2015)

Despite the RMT winning the case at tribunal, proving that Mihaj had been unfairly dismissed for his union activities, Sodexo refused to reinstate or re-engage him.

This union-busting pattern is repeated in the United States.

The massive food distribution corporation Sysco, following on from years of eroding the pay and conditions of its workforce, is now trying to impose so-called ‘incentive programmes’ for its Michigan drivers and warehouse employees. In reality, these programmes are simply ways to target and fire workers for minor infractions.

Needless to say, first in the line of fire is anyone daring to organise for a union. FightBack! News quoted one bemused young trucker as saying: “You know the funny thing is they never told me why I was fired. We all know why: for organising!”

Over 160 drivers and warehouse workers are now demanding that Sysco recognise their affiliation to the Teamsters Union. (‘Michigan truck drivers, warehouse workers rally for union at Sysco’, FightBack! News, 30 April 2015)

Workers in Michigan are up against not only the might of Sysco and the like, but also special state-enforced union-bashing ‘Right-to-Work’ laws.

Yet the reality is that the very scale of monopoly-capitalist exploiters like Sysco, and the complexity of the division of labour, renders these companies’ operations ever more vulnerable to targeted industrial action by workers.

Sysco supplies food to hotels, restaurants, hospitals, Michigan State University and numerous other large institutions. The potential for effective industrial action is just waiting to be realised.

‘Lest we forget’ – the 70th anniversary of the victory over Hitlerite fascism

Captured Nazi standards are thrown down at the foot of Lenin's mausoleum by Red Army officers during the victory parade in Red Square, Moscow, 1945

Captured Nazi standards are thrown down at the foot of Lenin's mausoleum by Red Army officers during the victory parade in Red Square, Moscow, 1945

9 May 2015 marks the seventieth anniversary of the defeat of Hitlerite fascism and the liberation of the peoples of Europe –the culmination of a titanic struggle in which the heroic Soviet Red Army, brilliantly commanded and led by JV Stalin, played the main and decisive role.

Twenty-seven million Soviet soldiers and citizens died in the battle to throw off the fascist jackboot – a power that had been brought into being and nurtured by the imperialists of Germany and elsewhere in order to crush the forces for socialist revolution that were rising across the continent.

On this momentous occasion, the CPGB-ML remembers and extends its gratitude to all those heroic men and women who fought against the most dangerous threat to the working classes and oppressed peoples of the world.

As communists, we celebrate the actions of Marxist revolutionaries and national-liberation fighters from Germany to north Africa, who led the underground resistance against the forces of reaction. Above all, we salute the courage of the Red Army – without whom the liberation of Europe would have been unthinkable.

As members of the British working class, we remember with pride our forbears, who travelled to far-off lands to fight the fascist ascendancy – starting with volunteers in the International Brigades who fought so bravely in Spain – and those who, at home, blocked at every turn the attempts by elements of our domestic ruling class to form a mass fascist organisation in Britain – at the Battle of Cable Street and elsewhere.

We also remember with pride and gratitude the earth-shaking contribution of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese popular forces, who made such great sacrifices in the battle to defeat Japanese imperialism and fascism in the East. The Chinese progressive forces lost between 20 and 25 million people in that epic struggle, and yet their contribution is hardly ever mentioned in our euro-centric narratives.

Yet, despite the decisive, unquestionable defeat of fascism in Europe and Asia in the 20th century, we must still temper our celebrations of this momentous occasion with a note of warning. While fascism in its most traditional and recognisable form might presently appear to be a marginal force in world politics, the capitalist economic crisis is creating once more the conditions for its reappearance.

And, as the imperialist powers attempt to drive east and conquer the former territories of the Soviet Union, we are seeing once again the utilisation of reactionary street forces, as well as the ideological rehabilitation of former fascist movements, along with the rewriting of history to deny both the brutality of fascism and the progressive nature of the communist and liberation forces that fought against and destroyed it.

The new drive to war against Russia and China

As the peoples of the former Soviet Union gather today to remember the tremendous sacrifices made by their forbears, it is important for us to recognise that the next war that the imperialists are planning will be aimed at just those peoples who saved us from the fascist jackboot last time around.

In their bid to save their dying and crisis-ridden system, the imperialists have identified two major obstacles to their domination of the world – anti-imperialist Russia and socialist China.

The martial rhetoric, military threats and economic warfare against both these countries is continuously emanating from the centres of imperialism, particularly from the US and Britain, and is constantly escalating in brinkmanship and hysteria. Make no mistake: we are being prepared by this avalanche of propaganda to hate these enemies of our rulers in order that we will fight in wars against them at some point in the future – or so that we will at the very least not act in any meaningful way to stop such wars taking place.

In their bid to create the conditions for a new war in Europe, our rulers are resuscitating (funding, arming, training and promoting in a myriad ways) the very forces that they pretend to abhor – the various Nazi-aligned fascist forces of eastern Europe that were vanquished by the Red Army and the popular resistance forces 70 years ago.

Moreover, in a bid to deny the pivotal role played by the communist-led forces of the Soviet Union – and to deny present-day Russians and others their share of the reflected glory – imperialism’s journalists and historians have been busy rewriting the history of WW2. So successful have they been in filling western media with such lies that the majority of respondents in a recent survey believed that the war had in fact been won by the USA!

Nothing more perfectly illustrates this phenomenon than the fact that no major newspaper raised a murmur at the exclusion of President Vladimir Putin of Russia from the 70th anniversary commemorations at the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp. Gone was any reference to the fact that the camp was liberated by the Red Army, and instead we were greeted with fables about a ‘Ukrainian regiment’.

But the only ‘Ukrainian regiments’ that were put together in the war (as opposed to those Red Army regiments that happened to contain Ukrainians) were the militias of Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian fascist leader, who put his anti-communist death squads at the disposal of the Nazi occupiers.

Today, hand in hand with the resuscitation of such evil men as ‘national heroes’ in the imperialist-controlled media and throughout those former Soviet territories where the imperialists are trying to gain control, has come the demonisation and even criminalisation of communist organisations and ideas.

Once again, we are living in exceedingly dangerous times, as the latest and worst-ever economic crisis of capitalism is leading our imperialist rulers to ever-more desperate measures to maintain profitability and to contain the people’s anger against poverty, privatisation and war.

Fascism and imperialism: a partnership born out of crisis

By ‘fascism’ we do not simply mean political movements that have ultra-reactionary policies or beliefs. There have been many attempts by bourgeois scholars to define fascism by certain approaches to race, nationalism, corporatism and civil rights – all of which have failed to give even a minimal working definition of fascism in a scientific sense.

This is partly due to the ideological promiscuity, eclecticism and cynical duplicity of the fascist movements in the twentieth century, which, despite their fundamental alignment, were forced to abandon their only real international conference (held in 1934 in Montreux) due to a lack of consensus on all but one issue.

In fact, the parties in attendance were unable to construct any shared policies on economics, race, national integration, women’s suffrage or labour laws. There was one thing on which they were all agreed, however – their opposition to communism and to the communist Third International.

And this is no accident. As Marxists, we understand that we need to look beyond what the fascists say about themselves and find a definition that explains objectively what are the conditions that give rise to fascism and what is the objective role that it plays – what class is serves and how it does so.

The revolutionary anti-fascist and General Secretary of the Communist International Georgi Dimitrov put it very well when he said that fascism is “the power of finance capital itself. It is the organisation of terrorist vengeance against the working class and the revolutionary section of the peasantry and intelligentsia. In foreign policy, fascism is jingoism in its most brutal form, fomenting bestial hatred of other nations.” (The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism, 1935)

Fascism is the response of the ruling class to the revolutionary upsurge in the working-class movement that is brought about by economic crisis. It is the naked dictatorship to which the bourgeoisie resorts when its ‘democratic’ veneer can no longer hold the people’s anger in check.

Only this definition can account for the shared international, and divergent national, policies of 20th-century fascism, and for its development out of the inter-imperialist crisis following the first world war.

Ukraine: the hydra of modern fascism

For many onlookers, routinely misinformed by the imperialist corporate media, the trajectory between what was portrayed as the Maidan ‘revolution’ in Kiev and the new government’s assaults on the civilians and militants of the Donbass seems very confusing.

It all becomes much clearer, however, once one understands that the ‘government’ now in power is, in fact, the culmination of 25 years of imperialist meddling in Ukraine. In its attempt to divide the peoples and conquer the territory of the former USSR, the imperialists have been happy to create, nurture and resuscitate nationalist and fascist forces of all stripes, providing them with funding and access to the media in order to sow confusion in the minds of impoverished Ukrainians and to encourage them to blame each other for the problems and poverty that the reinstated capitalist system has brought into their lives.

Whatever the precise shape of its previous current and future incarnations, one thing is sure: fascism is dependent on imperialism for its genesis, dependent on imperialism for its development and, ultimately, dependent on the fall of finance capital as a political force for its complete destruction. In the final analysis, there can be no defeat of fascism without a dismantling of the imperialist system and the building of socialism, and we call on all progressives and anti-fascists to join us in this world-historic task.

Once again, we pay our deepest homage and offer a red salute to those millions of brave Soviet soldiers and citizens who fought so heroically and paid so dearly to defeat the greatest army imperialism has yet assembled. Let us learn from their selfless example and join the struggle to end fascism and imperialism for good.