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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Trade Unions, ASLEF & The Globalised Workplace

(This article is from the archive, and was originally published by The ASLEF Journal) ASLEF has a long and proud tradition of working in support of sister unions across the globe. To examine, in the briefest of terms, the issues in Colombia for example, there are trade union representatives being executed by government and industry funded militia, in front of colleagues, and in some cases their children, simply for having the bravery and guts to stand up for their industries, their right to fair pay and safe conditions, and their way of life. Whilst detractors are correct in that these tragic events do not influence directly the settlement of pay deals, they do influence our ability to function as a free and democratic trade union within a globalised marketplace. Many household brands are operating, sometimes in partnerships under different names, and via subsidiaries, in countries all over the world where the very worst abuses of trade unionists take place routinely. The workers at subsidiaries of Coca Cola in Mexico, India and elsewhere have suffered numerous attacks and incidents, and they are not alone in suffering from virulently anti-union stances. The Virgin group in the US has aggressively circumvented collective bargaining by derecognising trade unions representing flight crew. Richard Branson actively lobbied employees to vote against union recognition, instead promoting a system whereby employees essentially represent themselves in negotiations over pay and conditions. Poor industrial practices are like hurricanes; they occur far more regularly than the press would have us believe, they strike harshly at unprepared communities, and they travel the globe, bouncing from coast to coast. The stark difference is that, unlike hurricanes, these practices and aggressive managerial strategies do not peter out by natural process. They have to be confronted, their objectives exposed, their practitioners challenged and defeated by good, solid debate, negotiation, and where necessary, industrial action. What many fail to understand is, the old adage really is true; United we stand, Divided we fall. Under the coalition, we should be bracing ourselves for the most sustained and ideological attack on trade unions since Thatcher. The Tories, via the Trade Union Reform Committee, are bankrolling propaganda campaigns via the printed press to discredit and campaign against unions, their aim to remove all entitlement to paid time off for your representatives, and dilute the power of every union to stand up for workers. The public sector, welfare state, education and social care are being recklessly hacked at by zealous government ministers basking in the afterglow of praise from the Murdoch press and their right wing bedfellows. Communities are being destroyed, and the aspirations of generations shredded callously. If ever there was a time for free, viable, robust and democratic trade unions to stand up for the workers, the economy, and lead the Labour party by example in spelling out the true alternatives to blind austerity, it is now. We are at our most free, most viable, most robust and most democratic when we are strong partners in a global movement. On PNB I hear talk of “Who cares about Palestine?” and “ASLEF should concentrate on its own back yard” Yes, it is vital ASLEF safeguards its primary industrial role in defending our grade, but the struggles of the Palestinian people, those within Israel campaigning for lasting peace, the Colombian, Mexican and Indian trade unionists fearing execution are our struggles. They impinge explicitly on our ability to stand up for workers in a globalised commercial world, within that much vaunted back yard of ours. Let us apply the same principle to the dispute between ASLEF and East Midlands Trains. I fully support my EMT colleagues, and their elected representatives in efforts to prevent Stagecoach from plundering the company pension pot for the benefit of the share price. I feel the same solidarity for the Coca Cola workers in Mexico, India, trade unionists in Colombia, and the US flight crews being bullied into sacrificing human rights in the name of conglomerated profit. Most of us work for multi-national bus companies who would de-recognise unions, slash wages and scrap working safeguards in a heartbeat were it not for our strength in industrial power, conviction, and organisation. In the modern age, our back yard stretches as far as our employers’ interests, spanning cultures, oceans and time zones. We cannot afford to look inwards and ignore the struggles and issues of other workers, be they in other industries, or hailing from foreign shores. We all want a strong, vibrant and effective union movement. Our nation needs it. Our movement is fuelled by solidarity. Solidarity does not respect borders or sovereignty. It is the most powerful weapon we have, one we should treasure. The day it starts needing a passport to spread global unity is the day that we have all failed in our duty, a failure we will surely pay dearly for.

monarchy is not the main obstacle to a better tomorrow

(This article is from the archive and was published by the London Progressive Journal) The concept of constitutional monarchy does not sit well with me; it is universally unfair, arbitrary and perpetually exclusive, in that its aim is to consolidate financial, social and religious supremacy over ordinary people by those who have not earned it. Those who rail against the inequity of royalty miss the point. Queen Elizabeth II, and her role as Supreme Governor of the church is not the main priority of the progressive left . Our most pressing targets are the leaders of our political parties. As I think about our political system and the need for seismic change, I cast my eye across the English Channel. Francois Hollande took the French presidency on a tide of promises. He’s made a promising start. He has taken a 30% salary cut, ended the private jet culture of Sarkozy, and has pledged to use scheduled train services to discharge his duties when travelling. The optimism of the French is familiar. After all, didn’t most of us throb with the same optimism in 1997? Monsieur Hollande clearly has an advantage over Tony Blair. He sought election in a nation where it is no insult to be a proud socialist, something which, to an extent, may explain Tony Blair’s revulsion at the politics of the organised left. I can only hope that Hollande learns from the mistakes of New Labour. This weekend presents a plethora of comparisons and diametric differences between us and our Gallic neighbours. The Jubilee has thrust British monarchism under the spotlight. France’s eternal love for secular republicanism aside, their recent presidential election highlighted the stark, passionate, ideological difference between left and right. UK politics has been homogenised by media moguls, multi-national corporations, and millionaire donors. If we are all honest, and step away from the flags of our political tribalism, the main leaders all sound the same. They are products of the same upbringing, the same privilege, the same life experiences. Cameron is a multi-millionaire graduate of Eton who has never experienced the toils of meaningful employment. Milliband is the offspring of university professors whose affluence has insulated him from the ravages of true working struggle. Clegg is a cushioned, wealthy product of private education, whose inevitable destination was a lubricated entry into Eurocracy. To promote true change, you must feel anger, an emotion that our political leaders do not possess. They have not struggled. Injustice has not shared their childhood. They know nothing of the real impact of poverty upon our nation’s poorest children. Their life experience has been sanitised by their upbringing, and the commercialised, Murdoch-friendly agendas of their predecessors. Hollande too, is the product of wealth. However, he exists within a political system whereby left and right passionately advocate massively different agendas for running the country, and solving the deficit. Hollande has seen the arrogance of the French right, the ineptitude of Sarkozy, and the inherent unfairness of his policies. In France, they have clear electoral choices. We can only choose between slightly altered versions of the same dogmatic subservience to financial services, and engrained distrust of organised workers. The Tories will forever be the party of the rich. Labour used to be the natural home of those wanting more equitable ways of running this country of hard working, talented people whose jobs, savings, pensions and aspirations are being dissolved by the caustic advances of this blind coalition. We are the party of workers, and we should be as proud to say that, as Monsieur Hollande is to call himself socialist. It’s time to inspire people to throw off the shackles of homogenised politics by setting out radical, economically robust, progressive policies, advocated by candidates drawn from ordinary industry and the communities Labour is privileged to serve. We need the voting reform that will make parliament representative again, and we need to smash the grip of big business and millionaires in buying policy. The union funding formula needs updating too, in order to make the voice of workers more relevant and unified. I urge my fellow agitators and republican friends to amend their aim. Regarding those who have packed London to celebrate the Jubilee, I say ‘Let them eat cake’. Targets of the political crosshairs should be the elite who have implanted themselves at the top of our democracy. We need reform, and the will for the grassroots to reclaim its voice. We need a true alternative, and we need the Labour party to throw its arms around those who gave it life, rather than hold its nose in disgust. It would be a mistake to use the current media glare of the Jubilee to push for a republic. The country will be best served if the progressive left unite instead behind a campaign against the bigger injustice that is the ‘Camero-Milliarchy’. I can imagine the placards now.

Tom Windsor; The Future of Policing

(This article is from the archive, and was originally published in an abridged form by Liberal Conspiracy) As a Train Driver, I never thought I would be talking about parallels between railways and policing. Of course, both fulfil vital social functions, and without either, the economy would plunge into crisis, but the two sectors are not natural bedfellows. Today though, the government have decided Tom Winsor, professional bureaucrat, corporate lawyer, and self-crafted enemy of the rank and file is the best possible choice for the post of Chief Inspector of Constabulary, despite the fact that, under the guiding force of their own hand, the government are overseeing a period of unparalleled instability, with root and branch reform of police pay and allowances, 20% cuts, and the operational car crash that is the Police & Crime Commissioner, whilst the nearest Windsor has ever come to police service is swinging his corporate axe at the pay packet of the nearest constable. As well as being an astonishing gesture of governmental ignorance to the real concerns of those policing our streets, this is also indicative of the Tory viewpoint of public services as a whole. Of course, Windsor is responsible for the controversial report into Police pay and conditions, whereby he essentially labelled the majority of officers ‘overpaid and underproductive’, attacking the custom of protecting Police from redundancy, choosing to ignore the effects that their vital and dangerous job has on their personal lives and their families. Windsor does have form in the area of favouring labyrinthine road maps of institutionalised bureaucracy at the expense of shaping regulatory framework to serve the human interest. As rail regulator, he presided over one of the most ridiculous systems of penalty and fine attribution, whereby rail operators ended up having to employ more people to deal with arguing over who was responsible for delays to trains than they did to actually oversee the delivery of the service to the passenger! Windsor’s time as rail regulator was a display of inflexibility, undying servitude to the letter of an almost incomprehensible regulatory framework, and a missed opportunity to promote positive change in an industry massively in need of re-focussing towards the customers it serves, rather than the private fortunes it bankrolls. The Windsor report was a display of dogmatic bobby bashing conducted for the benefit of the right wing gutter press and Tory faithful, and was another missed opportunity. Even the most short-sighted veteran of policing couldn’t deny that that the service would benefit from reform, provided that reform is concentrated on necessary areas, in a considered way that works, and that it is implemented in an atmosphere of consensus. The way in which the Windsor report essentially wagged a lecturing finger at our brave Police clearly exposed the government’s thirst for confrontation with the Police Federation. Legislation prevents the police from taking industrial action. The vast majority of officers readily embraced this restriction as a condition of serving their communities. In return, it has been long since been the case that, as warranted servants of the crown, serving Police Officers cannot be made redundant. On balance, it seems a fair enough trade off to me. However, if the government follow through with the Windsor report, and make it possible to lay off Police Officers, will our police be afforded the right to strike in return for giving up their protection from redundancy? The inflammatory approach of government to the Police is an extension of their disdain for organised labour across the public sector. Thatcher had the acumen to identify the benefits of garnering the support of rank and file officers during her time in office by ensuring that pay, conditions and equipment were improved markedly. Theresa May and David Cameron are once again showing that, whilst they share Thatcher’s hatred for ordinary working people, they can only dream of having the ability to transform that hatred into the kind of dogmatic policies that still stain our communities to this day. Appointing Windsor will not give independence to governmental scrutiny of police operations. After all, Windsor has already shown contempt for serving officers in his report. It will equip the government with a statistical baton with which to attack the Police Federation, and Chief Constables who oppose this lunacy on the grounds of principle. Unions and the public have a duty to support disgruntled Police Officers on this. Whilst there is nothing wrong per se in utilising the innovative ideas of outsiders to improve any service or industry, those changes must be implemented democratically. After all, if we do not object when the government ignore the principles of consent and cooperation when fundamentally changing the working lives of our police, how can we then protest if those rank and file officers police us without the obligation that comes with applying those same values to their everyday work?