CPGB-ML » Posts for tag 'unite the union'

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.

The Miliband-McCluskey spat

Unite’s support for Ed Miliband in the Labour leadership contest has backfired in spectacular fashion, as ‘Red Ed’ calls in the rozzers to investigate allegations of malpractice against the union in regard to the choice of Labour candidate in the Falkirk by-election.

That election was itself precipitated by the conviction of the incumbent Labour MP, the self-described ‘New Labour’ man Eric Joyce, on a charge of common brawling in the Westminster bar. This paragon of law-abiding virtue has now availed himself of the columns of the Guardian to berate Unite for its “amateur, hubristic and irresponsible actions” in allegedly rigging the candidate selection process, whilst Miliband himself repays Unite’s unflagging support by unveiling plans to scrap the right of unions to automatically sign up union members as Labour party members, instead requiring that aspiring party members actively opt in to membership.

So it is that Miliband, whose own elevation to a leading position in any large organisation could only conceivably be explained by a prevailing culture of degeneracy and bureaucratic sclerosis, is now posing as a champion of transparency and accountability!

If Miliband’s craven eagerness to demonstrate his party’s immunity to influence from the organised working class actually translates into a weakening of the bonds that mutually sustain the labour-aristocratic union leaderships and the Labour imperialists, this can only be heartily welcomed by class-conscious workers.

The real scandal in Falkirk is not whether or not Unite packs Labour wards in order to lever its chums onto the parliamentary gravy train. The real scandal is the fact that Unite has squandered getting on for £9m of its members’ hard-earned subs on propping up the Labour party – and that’s just in the period since Miliband took over.

Unite’s response to Rigby death

Unite statement fails to point out the racism spread by imperialism's wars or the connection between imperialist war crimes abroad and attacks such as the one on Lee Rigby at home.

Unite statement fails to point out the racism spread by imperialism's wars or the connection between imperialist war crimes abroad and attacks such as the one on Lee Rigby at home.

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In the course of a public statement commenting on the death of British soldier Lee Rigby, issued by the Greenwich branch of Unite with the stated intention of promoting “unity in the fight against racism, division and terror”, the union includes the following intriguing health warning:

We … recognise that there will be many other groups and organisations who will wish to seek to organise against the forces of racism and division. While welcome, there will be those who may not have roots in the area.

Our request as a large, representative trade union that organises working people in this area is that there is a recognition that the trade unions based in the borough will along with others play a lead role. Therefore, let us unite and work together against those who seek to terrorise and divide.

What can this mean? Who are these mysterious folk without ‘roots in the area’ whose ‘welcome’ must be tempered with caution? What are the mysterious ‘other groups and organisations’ which, it is hinted, might disrupt the even flow of Unite’s campaign against racism? This we are not told.

Is the worry perhaps that someone, anyone, might actually stand up and point out the elephant in the room: the obvious connection between Rigby’s death and the death of so many millions of Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans and others at the hands of imperialism?

Or that someone, anyone, may point out that the union’s chief beneficiary, the Labour party, has itself been the architect of much of this slaughter, and now actively supports the attempted subversion of independent Syria from the opposition benches?

The absence of even the slightest reference anywhere to imperialism’s global racism – played out in an endless string of criminal wars and assassinations – is indeed remarkable in a statement intending to unite workers in a struggle against racism, and can only be explained by the pernicious influence of Labour on the union.

After scurrying in the first paragraph to “totally and without any reservation condemn the senseless and barbaric murder” of Rigby, not a peep of condemnation is to be heard of the innumerable war crimes that bloody the hands of British imperialism, and which inevitably bring in their train such individual acts of terror.

The truth is that the biggest obstacle to working-class unity in the struggle against racism is the way that social democracy keeps the proletariat tied to the war chariot of imperialism. If anything can be said to undermine Unite’s efforts to push back the tide of racist panic, it is above all the influence of the Labour party.

If ‘large, representative trade unions that organise working people’ like Unite are serious about fighting racist divisions in the working class, let them take the bold step of initiating a campaign of active non-cooperation with British imperialist war crimes. Let them instruct their own members to refuse to shift war supplies, print war propaganda or assist in any way with the imperialist war effort, and support them when they are penalised for taking this principled stand.

And let them thereby demonstrate in practice, by their own actions the superiority of collective class struggle over individual acts of revenge.