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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.

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