VSC Statement On Venezuela’s Presidential Elections

Venezuela’s Presidential elections on Sunday May 20th saw Nicolas Maduro re-elected. With 92.6 percent of the votes counted, Maduro had 5.8 million votes (nearly 68%), with his closest rival, former governor Henri Falcón getting 1.8 million votes.  Two other candidates also competed.

The election was observed by 150 international observers who confirmed the free and fair nature of the vote, including former Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa who said “No one can question the Venezuelan elections… in the world there is no election as monitored as Venezuelan elections.”

Despite pressure from the Trump administration not to do so, international leaders have started to recognise the results and all governments should follow suit.

Following his victory President Maduro called for a permanent dialogue process and former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who monitored the election, has offered to mediate dialogue between Venezuela’s government and opposition.

Governments internationally should do all they can to facilitate and support such a process.

It is to be hoped that dialogue prevails. Any attempt to use violence to overturn constitutional mandates, including that of the democratically re-elected president, must be opposed.

However, the Trump administration does not support dialogue. Instead, it is continuing to seek ‘regime change’ by various means including harsh sanctions aimed at starving the country of financing, military threats and invoking the possibility of a coup.  These will only exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions, not facilitate dialogue.

  • VSC CC Statement, May 21 2018.
Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Solidarity, Trade Unions | Leave a comment

Speech at Labour Party State of the Economy Conference, May 19th

Jeremy Corby at British Steel

Tony Burke – ‘Brexit and the post Brexit economy and Labour’s Industrial Strategy’

Intro – Brexit

Thank you for the invite to speak today. I would like to start by saying something very briefly about ‘Brexit’.

The main objectives for Unite – and the wider Labour movement – is to work to protect and defend jobs, employment and trade union rights, investment, access to skills, in the EU withdrawal negotiating process and as the outcomes of political and legal processes that are unfolding domestically.

Specifically for us means the defence of workers’ rights and protections underpinned by EU legislation and their retention in primary legislation, alongside wider social and environmental protections.

And it means securing tariff-free access to a single market – and membership of a customs union, which for all sectors of our economy offers the best chance of protecting decent, well paid jobs particularly in manufacturing that could move out of the UK.

That is why Unite supports the ‘Six tests’ set out by Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership on any final Brexit deal.

But that is not the total extent of Unite’s vision – and it is not the limit to our analysis of what is necessary in this country to ensure the future security of, and better living standards for, our members and wider society.

We need to place Brexit in its proper context if we are having a discussion about the economy and industrial strategy.

So what led to Brexit and long term problems?

Firstly, let’s be clear about what has happened in this country over decades.

Chronic under-investment over decades stunted the overall level of economic growth.

Our country languishes near the bottom of nearly every OECD table giving investment levels on transport, communications, energy and housing.

This overarching macro-economic really policy matters – because it determines the jobs we will keep or lose, the jobs we do or don’t create as a society, and the living standards of us all.

The contours of our industrial landscape have been re-shaped as the free market was allowed to rip through our manufacturing base, local communities and public services.

Jobs growth over the past 30 plus years has been in low-paid, low-skilled, low job security occupations – with a raw focus on transition into ‘any job’ – with ‘quantity over quality’.

This has been combined with political policies to strangle trade unions and weaken employment rights that have led to a fall in collective bargaining, accelerating pay and wealth inequality and the growth in low paid and insecure work.

All of this has left us with an economy that is sectorally and geographically unbalanced, with low productivity, and a deeply unequal society.

And of course then we experienced the deepest financial crash on record.

Never ones to let a ‘crisis go to waste’, the Conservatives began their project of ‘austerity’ – directly leading to the slowest recovery on record.

Wages have still not recovered their pre-crisis levels – as highlighted by last weeks TUC march for a ‘New Deal for Working People’.

The current weakness in the UK economy has been widely acknowledged, and although it remains politically expedient for the government to repeatedly blame external events the weakness is a result of government policies.

This history is worth remembering because we still have a government’s whose plan appears to be simply to ‘dig in and carry on’ with the very policies that helped to further entrench the anxiety and powerlessness felt by many as public services and benefits have been needlessly and ruthlessly cut, and saw employment and collective trade union rights further weakened – and which expressed themselves in the ‘Leave’ vote.

The concerns felt by millions of ordinary working people were expressed in the EU referendum – a result that was as much a rebuke to an out-of-touch political and economic elite as it was about the EU itself.

Those concerns pre-dated the referendum and they will continue to exist after a deal is negotiated.

It also highlights that there is now more than ever the need for an industrial and economic policy – such as Labour is putting forward – based on sustained public investment in our infrastructure to generate sustainable economic growth, that can crowd in private investment, enable an industrial strategy to flourish, to develop the industries of the future and for us to transition to a high pay, high-skill, low carbon economy with decent work for all – with stronger employment and trade union rights.

Britain needs to carve out a role for itself in the world as a competitive, cutting edge, high-skill economy – and Brexit and the coming fourth industrial revolution makes this even more necessary.

And a central part of that is an active industrial and manufacturing strategy.

Unite believes there is an active role for government to play in supporting our industries – state intervention shouldn’t just come as crisis intervention – such as we saw in steel two years ago – but an active industrial policy, as part of investing to create a stronger economy, is about government taking responsibility to make sure that things go right.

As Ha-Joon Chang argued two years ago at this conference – there is a need to ‘reindustrialise’ our economy, pointing out that ‘making things matters – this is what Britain forgot’. And government has a role in making this happen.

One thing Labour gets is that Manufacturing matters.

Labour’s industrial strategy is what Unite, business, industry, academics and many others had called for – for a long time – and we welcome its recognition of the need for an industrial strategy that covers not just rebuilding our manufacturing base but the whole economy.

But until we are successful in our fight to get Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10, John McDonnell as Chancellor and Becky Long-Bailey as our BEIS Secretary of State, we are left with this sorry, worn out, divided, do nothing government.

We have a government that is ideologically wedded to a failed economic model that would have stifled a coherent industrial strategy at birth.

And it was the Tories industrial strategy? Well, it was months late and not worth the wait.

A bumper document – an inch thick – bereft of ideas – that didn’t mention trade union participation and sees no role for the workforce in sector deals.

It is document that was long on words, big on typeface, and short on detail – and certainly no underpinning resources. Just a plethora of platitudes.

Unite is clear in our demands to this government – their mishandling of Brexit is magnifying their failure for a coherent industrial strategy and it is our members and all of us, working people in our millions, who will pay the price.

This country urgently needs;

  • investment in our infrastructure to remove the barriers to businesses basing themselves here,
  • investment in new technologies such as our car industry and electric vehicles, our shipbuilding industry – including the three new frigates that Jeremy Corbyn has said that under Labour – WILL be built in our shipyards with UK made steel and technology – our science and bio science industries, our aerospace and auto industry
  • support and defence for strategic and foundation industries like steel and engineering and defending and support for our companies like Bombardier GKN and DeLaRue
  • skills and training: access to skills and including the new skills we will need in this digital age and retraining in new skills
  • public procurement and a strategic investment bank
  • a revision of the UK legislation on takeovers, mergers and acquisitions
  • strong trade union and employment rights and sectoral collective bargaining so we all share in the rewards of economic growth.

Having worked with the leadership on an industrial strategy – with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Becky Long Bailey, and their teams we in Unite know that they get it – they get that we need an industrial strategy that works for the many not the few.

This is also why the country and UK industry urgently needs a Labour government to make sure manufacturing really does matter.

Panel: Tony Burke, Unite; Laurie Macfarlane, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose; Lee Hopley, Engineering Employers Federation

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, Economics, Employment Rights, Labour Party, Media, Politics, The Digital Economy and Unions, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union | Leave a comment

Guide To Venezuelan Elections This Weekend

With much of the printed media in the UK and USA already describing the Venezuelan elections being held this weekend as being ‘flawed’, or worse, and stating that even if elected by popular mandate Maduro’s government will be under siege I thought it would be useful for as chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign to set out how the elections actually work and the forces being lined up to denounce the elections without even a vote being cast.

The following article appeared this week in the Morning Star.

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela this weekend on May 20th at the same time as municipal and regional elections.

Contrary to claims from some who support Donald Trump’s “regime change” agenda in the oil-rich country that Venezuela is a dictatorship, these elections will be the 25th national election or referendum since 1998.

Current President Nicolas Maduro is standing, along with opposition candidates. The most prominent of these is Henri Falcon.

Falcon is a former mayor and governor and, although originally a government supporter, he joined the right-wing opposition in 2012.

He twice backed Henrique Capriles as presidential candidate — against Hugo Chavez in 2012 and against Nicolas Maduro last time.

Five candidates were participating in the election, but this has now dropped down to four with one candidate pulling out to back Falcon.

Seventeen political parties are participating in all the elections, although absent from the contest due to their own decision is any formal candidate from the coalition of right-wing opposition parties known as Mud (Democratic Unity Roundtable), which has decided not to stand.

This is not a unique development. Some right-wing opposition parties have boycotted previous elections when they are likely to lose, including the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Nonetheless, it has been widely reported that a number of Mud-supporting individuals and organisations are breaking ranks and actively backing Falcon.

Jesus Chuo Torrealba, who led Mud for two-and-a-half years, has expressed support.

National Assembly (AN) member Timoteo Zambrano, has created a parliamentary platform called Let’s Change in support of the candidacy, which is also backed by representatives Teodoro Campos and the first vice-president of the AN, Julio Cesar Reyes.

Some Western media have reported opposition parties being banned, but this is simply not true.

What is the case is that, historically, parties are required to register and meet a set of basic requirements to run in an election.

To apply to run in an election, a party needs to show it has the support of at least 0.5 per cent of voters in 12 out of Venezuela’s 24 states.

The validation process is not onerous, compared for example with Florida’s requirement of support from 5 per cent of registered voters.

Other countries, including Germany and Estonia, also have electoral law provisions for parties losing their right to contest an election for non-participation.

It’s also important to understand that it is the National Electoral Council (CNE) that oversees elections and that elections are routinely and widely audited.

Each polling station has a number of stand-alone DRE voting machines. Each citizen is identified by their fingerprints. The touch-screen voting machine, activated only if the fingerprint matches the voter’s ID on the database, provides a printed receipt that is checked by the voter before being placed in the ballot box.

This rigorous system prevents fraudulent behaviour and provides an audit trail to check the results. Since there are two records of every vote it is virtually impossible to stuff or destroy ballot boxes without producing a mismatch between manual and electronic counts.

After the poll closes, the total number of votes cast is checked for consistency with the paper record, the machines are connected to the network to count the votes for each candidate and a number of machines are selected at random for a 54 per cent audit of both paper and electronic results. Finally, an audit report is produced and signed by staff and observers, officially sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE, with copies to the two candidates with the highest votes.

These systems were termed by former US president Jimmy Carter as “the best in the world.”

As well as the usual protocols for conducting elections, discussions between the CNE and all presidential candidates have resulted in agreeing additional guarantees for this vote.

The elections will also be widely monitored by international observers and Venezuelan elections are normally monitored by as many as 150 international observers, drawn since 1998 from organisations such as the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), the Carter Centre, the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Inter American Union of Electoral Councils (UNIORE).

A delegation of Venezuela’s UN ambassador Samuel Moncada and Henri Falcon jointly requested the UN to send a mission to observe. President Maduro has also invited the EU to send a delegation to observe the elections.

Significantly, former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who recently mediated the talks between the Venezuelan government and the Mud, has confirmed he will observe the process.

While Zapatero’s commitment to supporting democracy and dialogue is welcome, the attitude of the Trump administration is quite the opposite.

The State Department, having from March to June 2017 called for immediate elections, has changed its position following some successes for the Venezuelan government in elections last year and is now calling for the vote to be delayed and saying it will not, in any event, recognise the results.

Falcon himself has dismissed these calls by Trump administration, saying: “The postponement of the elections is not on the table. It’s a soundbite designed to create confusion.”

The US appears to have abandoned belief in the right-wing opposition being able to win electorally, instead favouring intervention and “regime change” and it is considering even more drastic measures than the existing severe economic sanctions.

In light of the US history of intervention, including backing the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez, it is hardly surprising that polling suggests the majority of both opposition and government supporters in Venezuela oppose the US widening sanctions and support dialogue.

Maduro has said that, if he wins the elections, he “will call a national dialogue for peace with all Venezuelan political forces.”

Whoever wins, it is to be hoped that dialogue prevails and violence to overturn constitutional mandates, including that of the democratically elected president whoever that may be, should be opposed.

Governments internationally should do all they can to facilitate and support dialogue and help peacefully resolve the country’s difficulties. In contrast, Trump’s threats will exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions.

You can sign a petition against Trump’s sanctions on Venezuela at vsc.eaction.org.uk/petition/notrumpsanctions.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in International Trade Unions, Solidarity | Leave a comment

Speech at the launch of ‘A Trade Governance Model That Works For Everyone’ – London May 10th

Good evening and thanks for the inviation to speak this evening.

Unite and the TUC has worked with all of the bodies who took part in the work of publishing the document A Trade Governance Model Thats Works For Everyone and agreed a text that covers the main points we would wish to make on trade and it is important to make clear that as Unite we are not against trade or trade agreements.

Hundreds of thousands of our members’ jobs notably in manufacturing are directly linked to trade within Europe and across the world.

Trade has the potential to deliver not just economic benefits. It should also be a tool to raise everyone up to the highest possible standards.

But. And it is a big BUT.

Trade can only do this if it is organised and controlled in a way that reflects our values.And this is not happening at the moment.

That is why we were active in the campaigns against TTIP, CETA and are now concenred about the EU and Mexico trade deal and other recently proposed agreements including TiSA and the TPP deal in the South Asian and Pacific countries.

The Uk, when we leave the EU has to negotiate a significiant number of trade agreements. No matter what Dr. Liam Fox says, they will not be rolled over or ‘cut and pasted’ but what is clear is that if, following whatever form of Brexit we finally end up with, the UK is negotiating and signing its own trade agreements, there will have to be a fundamental change in approach if there is not going to be major public opposition.

That is why we were very pleased to collaborate on the document that is being launched today.

The first step to developing a trade policy that works for all is transparency. It is not good enough for trade agreements that will affect millions of people to be agreed in closed rooms.

Transparency in the development of negotiating mandates and in the negotiation process itself will not only build trust and confidence in the process but will deliver better agreements.

If we just look at the expertise contained within the organisations that are supporting this document – why would any government want to exclude them, and other members of civil society, in the process?

Another issue that Unite, and indeed the whole trade union movement have been arguing for many years, is that we need to take a much broader view of the impact of potential trade agreements before we decide whether or not they are in the best interests of the country.

Trade agreements that in a perfect economic model suggest a small economic benefit – but that in real life threaten public services, lead to reductions in environmental and labour rights, cost jobs or lead to heightened regional or gender inequalities- are not good trade agreements.

Unite work closely with sister unions and Canada, USA and Mexico in our global union Workers Uniting.

All of them will tell you the stories of the cost that working people have had to pay for NAFTA. I was in mexico last week and the effect of NAFTA on working people and there communities has been a disaster – the same for the uS and Canadian workers.

The UK can and must do better. We often hear statements being made about how the UK will play a leading role in global trade.

Our view is that a leading role cannot just be about signing more and more agreements – but should be about setting an example that trade can, and must be done differently.

Unite will continue to campaign for trade to be a force for good for the many and not the few.

But where trade agreements do not uphold these values then we cannot and will not support them.

Unfortunately we have yet to see anything from the government that gives us confidence that any vision they have for the UK’s future trade policy matches our own.

Although they have published so little detail about what their future trade policy will look like that it is sometimes hard to make conclusions!

But we are clear.

Unite will continue to campaign for bad agreements to be stopped.

But there is a chance to start again.

To build a democratic sustainable framework for global trade where the needs of people and communities are put first.

Then we can have trade that we really can support!

I am sure that there will be some aspects of trade policy where we will disagree with colleagues who have been involved with this paper.

But it is hugely encouraging that so many organisations are willing to support these fundamental principles and we hope that government takes notice.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Economics, Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign : Forthcoming Presidential Elections In Venezuela Explained.

Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on 20th May. Venezuela Solidarity Campaign has produced a short executive summary of an earlier Q&A document outlining the truth about the vote and rebutting some key myths and misrepresentations peddled by Trump and some parts of the UK media. 

You can read the detailed Q&A this is based a PDF – FINAL-Elections-Q-A

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
VENEZUELA’s 2018 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS – Q&A

Who is contesting the Presidential election on May 20th?
Presidential elections will be held in Venezuela on May 20th, at the same time as municipal and regional elections. The President of Venezuela is elected for a six-year term by direct election plurality voting.
Five candidates have been confirmed by the National Electoral Council for the vote.

The current President, Nicolás Maduro, is standing for the Great Patriotic Pole alliance, along with four opposition candidates:
Henri Falcón for the Progressive Advance (AP), Movement for Socialism (MAS) and the Copei (Social Christian) parties. Falcón is a former Mayor and regional governor. Originally a government supporter, he joined the right-wing opposition in 2012.  He twice backed Henrique Capriles as presidential candidate, against Hugo Chávez in 2012 and against Nicolás Maduro in the last presidential election.
Javier Bertucci, of Hope for Change and leader of the Maranatha Pentecostal Church.
Alejandro Ratti, an independent candidate and an evangelical pastor.
Reinaldo Quijada for Popular Political Unity, who claims to oppose Maduro but not the revolution.

How many parties are participating in the elections?
Seventeen political parties are participating in total in all the elections that are taking place in May.
Absent from the contest due to their own decision is any formal candidate from the coalition of right-wing opposition parties known as MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) who have decided not to stand. The MUD has expelled Henri Falcón from its ranks after he registered with national electoral authorities as a presidential candidate, and is currently boycotting the elections, but it has been reported that a number of MUD-supporting individuals and organisations are breaking ranks and actively backing Falcón.
This is not a unique development. Some right-wing opposition parties have boycotted previous elections in Venezuela when they are likely to lose, including the 2005 parliamentary elections for example.

Are opposition parties barred from standing?
Some western media have reported opposition parties being banned in Venezuela, but this is simply untrue. What is the case is that historically in Venezuela parties are required to register and meet a set of basic requirements to run in an election. This is also common practice internationally.
To apply to run in an election, a party needs to show it has the support of at least 0.5% of voters in 12 out of Venezuela’s 24 states (Law of Political Parties, Public Meetings and Demonstrations, Chapter II, Article 10). The validation process is not onerous, compared for example with Florida’s requirement of support from 5% of registered voters. Other countries (e.g. Germany and Estonia) also have electoral law provisions for parties losing their right to contest an election for non-participation.

Who oversees elections in Venezuela and how does voting take place?
The National Electoral Council (CNE) oversees elections. This non-partisan body is responsible for all aspects of the electoral process, including the date, registering voters, facilitating and monitoring campaigns, organising voting equipment and auditing the vote together with party representatives.
Contrary to claims Venezuela is a dictatorship, these elections will be the 25th national election or referendum since 1998, more than any other comparable country. Elections in Venezuela are routinely and widely audited and a number of measures are in place to ensure against fraudulent behaviour. Each polling station has a number of stand-alone DRE voting machines. Each citizen is identified by their fingerprints. The touch-screen voting machine, activated only if the fingerprint matches the voter’s ID on the database, provides a printed receipt that is checked by the voter before being placed in the ballot box.
This rigorous system prevents fraudulent behaviour, such as double voting or identity theft, and provides an audit trail to check the results. Since there are two records of every vote it is virtually impossible to stuff or destroy ballot boxes without producing a mismatch between manual and electronic counts.
After the poll closes, the total number of votes cast is checked for consistency with the paper record, the machines are connected to the network to count the votes for each candidate, and a number of machines are selected at random for a 54% audit of both paper and electronic results at each polling station. Finally, an audit report is produced and signed by staff and observers, officially sealed and handed to the military for delivery to the CNE, with copies to the two candidates with the highest number of votes.
Fifteen audits have been scheduled for the May 20th presidential election.
Venezuela’s rigorous systems of registration, voting and auditing elections has been praised by observers, with Nobel prize-winner former President Jimmy Carter describing it in 2012 as “the best in the world”

Are there any additional safeguarding arrangements being made for these elections?
As well as the usual protocols for conducting elections, discussions between the CNE and all presidential candidates have resulted in agreeing additional guarantees for this vote. These include that the CNE:
* re-opened the electoral register for further voter registration
* has agreed to safeguard equal access to media
* agreed that voting centres which had been relocated following violent outbreaks in 2017’s Constituent Assembly elections are to be moved back to their original location
* will keep political party kiosks 200m away from voting centres to avoid voter intimidation or pressurising.

Will Venezuela’s elections be internationally observed?
The CNE has committed to creating a delegation to observe “all phases of the electoral process” with participants from United Nations and “other mutually agreed upon international bodies and organisations”.
A delegation of Samuel Moncada, Venezuela’s UN ambassador, and Henri Falcón jointly requested the UN send a mission to observe. President Maduro has also invited the EU to send a delegation to observe the elections. Former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who recently mediated the talks between the Venezuelan government and MUD, has confirmed he will observe the process.
Venezuelan elections are normally monitored by as many as 150 international observers, drawn since 1998 from organisations such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Carter Centre, the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts (CEELA) and the Inter American Union of Electoral Councils (UNIORE).

What is the United States’ position on the Presidential election in Venezuela?
This has altered substantially in the last year. From March to June 2017 the State Department called for immediate elections. However, after government successes in elections last year, the US position changed. When these elections were announced, the State Department declared the contest was illegitimate and its results would not be recognised. It has been reported they threatened to sanction Henri Falcón for running.
The US appears to have abandoned belief in the right-wing opposition being able to win electorally, instead favouring ‘regime change’ through military means or by facilitating the conditions for a coup. In line with this, the Trump administration is considering even more drastic measures than the existing severe economic sanctions in place against Venezuela.

* The full document on which this Executive Summary is based can be read here

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in International Trade Unions, Politics | Leave a comment

Pay the Rate: how the EU is closing the loopholes used to exploit migrant workers – but is it too late for us?

By Jude Kirton-Darling Labour MEP – North East England

Concerns about free movement and EU migration were amongst the top reasons why many voted to leave in June 2016. Periodically, a dispute has erupted whether wildcat strikes at the Lindsey Total refinery in 2009 or the ‘Pay the Rate’ protests in my native Teesside on the Wilton site ahead of the EU referendum, which captured the public attention, exposed the flaws in our rules and has allowed xenophobes the oxygen they constantly crave. While UKIP and the extreme Right unashamed stoked people’s fears about labour migration, increasing the xenophobic and racist character of the referendum, through fake news, it would be wrong to dismiss all concerns.

There are legitimate grievances about free movement and a lack of adequate legal protection has allowed the undercutting of workers’ rights when equal terms and conditions have not been guaranteed. Sadly, this has been a reality in the UK’s flexible employment market for many years. That’s why the news this week, that the EU’s rules have finally been tightened up after years of campaigning from construction sector unions and their confederations is such welcome if sad news – is it too late for us?

It has become standard practice to blame the EU. However, far from being the EU’s responsibility, this is in large part a home-grown problem, There has been a political consensus in Westminster and successive UK governments to maintain a deregulated flexible UK workforce. For 30 years, politicians and business trumpeted that flexibility was key to UK economic success. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader broke that consensus but there are still many advocates in influential roles. Part of the political consensus was that EU worker rights should be implemented at a minimal level of protection if at all, with limited powers and investment for labour market inspection authorities, whether the Health and Safety Executive, Gang Masters Licensing Authority or HMRC. Fraud – and even crime in the case of modern slavery – has flourished in the context of a lack of adequate control. Since 2010, labour inspectorates have borne the full brunt of Tory austerity, today the UK is at the bottom of the ranking of comparable EU countries. There’s fewer than 1 labour inspector per 100,000 persons in the UK, compared to close to 20 in France.

That said, poor implementation of labour market legislation has also led to loopholes being exploited by unscrupulous employers. Some of these could be easily fixed in Westminster, for instance with respect to the infamous ‘Swedish derogation’ in temporary agency workers’ rights. Equally if we don’t want UK jobs to be only advertised in Poland or elsewhere with little chance for the local population to apply, we don’t need to leave the EU: a bill in Parliament would do.

But when it comes to the posting of workers within the EU – when an employee from another member state is sent by their employer to carry out a service in the UK on a temporary basis – the fix had to come from Brussels as these are single market rules.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive has long been criticised for failing to guarantee equal pay for equal work at the same place. A deal reached this week between the European Parliament and Council means that this will no longer be the case. Posted workers will have to be paid the same wages and allowances as their British colleagues. Importantly for construction sector campaigners, the legislation will allow the universal application of the so-called ‘Blue Book’ NAECI national agreement for the first time. The deduction of travel and accommodation costs from salaries, a practice all too widespread, will no longer be allowed. Most local terms and conditions will apply from day one to posted workers, and posting will be limited to 12 months.

This a major victory for the European labour movement, with the European TUC welcoming “a fair deal”. Of course, as with anything when you’re trying to negotiate amongst 28 countries (most of which are governed by conservative or liberal parties), the new rules are a compromise and we did not get everything we’ve asked for. One key omission is that transport sector workers will remain unprotected until sectoral legislation is agreed. But overall the new rules will vastly improve the situation, and allow co-workers to be colleagues again whether in the construction, manufacturing or social care sectors, which represent 8 out of 10 posted worker jobs.

Brexit makes it all the more important that we get these rules right – these improvements can’t become another victim of those who want to deregulate our labour market by leaving the single market. The bottom line is that we will continue to need European workers in the UK. Without them, today the NHS could collapse. Industries in my own region of the North East, with its ageing population, can only thrive with a sustained supply of workers whether from Slough or Stockholm. But this isn’t just economic – we also need foreign workers for everything else that ‘fresh blood’ brings to our communities beyond work. Cultural diversity and new ideas are the bedrock of great industrial nations. With the strengthening of these vital EU employment rights, today staying in the EU single market allows us to respond to those legitimate grievances about labour market exploitation without putting EU citizens or jobs in our local manufacturing and service industries under the bus of a hard Brexit. I just hope that this agreement has not come too late.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Trade Unions | Leave a comment

Unite Women’s Letter Takes Observer To Task Over Sexist Cohen Article

Last weekend, the Observer’s dreary Nick Cohen varied his usual anti-Corbyn bile by launching a misogynist attack against the Unite union’s Jennie Formby, who is one of two women on the final shortlist for the position of Labour Party General Secretary. The NEC will make its final decision when it meets on Monday between Ms Formby and the NUT’s Christine Blower.

Several senior Unite women were so outraged by Cohen’s article that they have written an excoriating letter to the Observer’s editor to challenge the Observer’s continuing platform for Cohen’s ‘backward’ views ‘limiting sexism’.

Will the Observer have the courage and decency to print their letter – let alone to eliminate such ‘backward prejudice’ from its pages?

“Dear Editor
Nick Cohen never misses an opportunity to take aim at the one civil society sector – the trade unions – that has stood firm to defend the working class from the decades of attacks rained upon them by the business and political classes (The Observer, 11 March, 2018)

Another edition, another run out for his prejudiced hobby-horse.

But last Sunday, he crossed the line – and he took the reputation of the Observer with him, climbing head first into the gutter by launching a sexist assault on Jennie Formby, our colleague.

A highly-respected trade union member of forty years, thirty of which have been spent representing workers, Jennie has devoted her life to the labour movement, to defending working people and to the return of a Labour government. For many women in our movement, she is an inspiration.

To dismiss her deserved and hard-fought achievements up to this date and in the future as resulting not from her own talent and endeavours but as a consequence of a relationship that ended over a quarter of a century ago is misogyny, plain and simple.

Women are able to achieve by means other than those envisaged by the limiting sexism of Mr Cohen.

Despite the hopes of International Women’s Day, Nick Cohen is a reminder that #everydaysexism is alive and well.

The bigger question remains, however: why have these backward views been given a prominent home on the pages of what was once a leading paper in this country?

Yours sincerely

Gail Cartmail, Assistant general secretary, Unite
Sharon Graham, Executive officer, Unite
Annmarie Kilkline, Regional secretary, East Midlands, Unite
Karen Reay, Regional secretary, North East & Yorkshire, Unite
On behalf of the women Executive members and officers of Unite the union”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Labour Party, Media, Politics, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

Nick Cohen’s Attack On Unions and Unite in The Observer

Nick Cohen’s astonishing and unprecedented attack in The Observer today on trade unions and in particular Unite cannot go unanswered. His assertion that Unite is at the root of the ‘intrigue’ which is creating the trade union movement’s troubles and membership loss is laughable.

Unite is a union that covers every sector of the economy. Of course there are areas where union membership has shrunk – largely due job losses in the economy or loss of jobs in the sector.

Add to that in off shoring such has happened in the IT sector and massive technological change such as in the graphical industries have taken their toll.

There are also areas where Unite and trade unions have grown – including the health sector and prior to the current downturn caused by the uncertainty of Brexit – in the automotive industry.

There is not a union in the UK that has not suffered membership loss, for many if not most of these reasons  – with the exception of a number of specialist unions.

In Unite we have a sophisticated organizing strategy which involves organizing in ‘greenfield’ sites, supply chains and growing membership in companies where we already have union members – aimed at securing 100% membership. If these plans had not been in place, union member loss would have been far worse.

Mr. Cohen must have also been asleep when Unison won the fight against Employment Tribunal Fees giving all workers thr ight to go to a tribunal without have to pay an upfront frre; or when Unite won the long fight on the blacklisting of construction workers; or last year when Unite won average or pay for holidays again for all UK workers – union member or not; or when we fought unwanted take overs of successful companies such as Astra Zeneca by US giant Pfizer – and we are doing the same with the unwanted take over of engineering company GKN by ‘get rich quick’ company Melrose; or when we have fought back on cuts to pensions, and ensured that apprenticeships are now ‘gold standard’ and provide top quality skills, rather than 3 to 6 month schemes which lead nowhere.

Instead of knocking Unite Mr. Cohen should recognise our union leads the way on the key issues facing our workers and our country today:

  • On Brexit Unite has lead the campaign against the devastating hard Brexit the Brextremist’s really want, reducing the UK to an offshore low pay, low skills, de-regulated economy. We are working with our members and with employers in engineering, auto’s, chemcials, aerospace and defence, steel, ceramics and many others. We are working with those who care about our country and our future day in day out.
  • On automation and the digital economy – Unite has a thought through strategy and plan that is preparing our members for the digital future we face. Its not just about organising gig economy, self-employed and Deliveroo workers. It is about making sure all workers get protection and support and an opportunity to gain from the technological revolution.
  • On industry and manufacturing Unite’s strategy launched last year has been heralded as one of the most forward thinking plans ever produced by a trade union – not just by people in the movement but by the media, employers and politicians.
  • How many other trade unions have formal day-to-day links with other unions outside of the UK as Unite has with the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada (don’t be fooled by the name – they too are in many sectors of their economies) working together on the current steel crisis.
  • Next week Unite will launch our plan to handle the revolution that we are facing in the auto sector and transport industry with e-cars, autonomous vehicles and future mobility. It is generating plenty of interest.

These policies and plans were handed down ‘from the top’ or by ‘ordering people about’ – they were worked on by our union officials and lay union members, experts in their own field, who stand up and argue for our plans day in day out.

I could go on (as Mr. Cohen said!)

Unfortunately Nick Cohen is peddling the myths we saw last year when attempts were made to denigrate and rubbish our union.

I read with interest then the vague waffle (I couldn’t call them policies) that would actually see potential members, young people, and women asking why bother joining?

Attempts to turn a union that is on its members side into the equivalent of being a member of the AA without actually owning a car is not a popular idea with the people I represent.

I am certainly not going to be critical of the unions Mr. Cohen mentions. I have many good friends in Bectu (who are now part of a larger union Prospect with who we have good relations) and yes, they do a great job in organising media freelancers – or USDAW who represent workers in some of the toughest areas to organize such as retail.

Finally the idea that Len McCluskey spends his time on Labour Party in-fighting and ‘factionalism’ is a joke. In recent times he has dealt hands on and directly with issues in the car industry, in engineering, oil, IT, aerospace, shipbuilding, defence, airlines  and others too many to mention.

The comments about Jennie Formby are beneath contempt, despicable and not befitting a newspaper such as The Observer, more like the News of The World circa 1965.

As for Andrew Murray, Mr. Cohen might alo have added that among his ‘sins’ is that he is an ardent Manchester United fan and one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the history and recordings of the Grateful Dead.

As I said – I could go on, I won’t. I’ll go back to reading stuff by journalists who know what they are on about.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Labour Party, Media, Trade Unions, Unite The Union | Leave a comment

Betty Tebbs: 84 years of activism

Published on the TUC 150 website celebrating great women trade unionists – Betty was one of the best.

She was a teenage activist

In 1932, 14-year-old Betty turned up on the first day of her job at the East Lancashire Paper Mill. When she discovered that boys got 13 shillings while girls barely made 9, she was furious.

She immediately joined the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Works (later to become Sogat, GPMU, Amicus and now part of Unite). And she began to question everything. Why should the girls go to the foreman’s house to fetch tea and cake for his break? Why should she put up with being groped by some of the managers? Betty started organising – and by the time she left the mill 18 years later, she and her female colleagues were the best-paid paper mill women workers in Britain.

She was a tireless trade unionist

In the 1950s Betty researched the worst place to work in Warrington – a paper bag factory – and got herself a job there so that she could organise the female workers. “The conditions there were appalling,” Betty remembered. “The toilets had never been cleaned; there was glue all over the floor. By the time I left they were on twice the money.”

After years of organising on-the-job, in the 1970s Betty decided to make it official: she got a place on a trade union organising course at Middlesex Polytechnic (now Middlesex University). While she was studying in London, she joined the pickets at the Grunwick strike, supporting women from mainly south Asian backgrounds who faced terrible conditions at a photo processing plant.

 She fought for women

Despite being told by the council’s housing committee head that “We don’t have battered women in Warrington”, Betty established the town’s first women’s refuge. It was in a large, run-down terraced building and she used her union contacts to call in volunteer plumbers, electricians and joiners to restore it.

 She campaigned for peace

Betty lost her first husband Ernie in the Second World War and she spent the rest of life campaigning for peace. In the 1960s she and her daughter Pat cut through the wire at Greenham Common and got access to the US cruise missile base, where thousands of women were gathered in permanent protest. Betty kept and treasured that bit of wire. In 1978 she became chair of the National Assembly of Women, meeting with world leaders to urge them to scrap atomic weapons.

And in 2007, 89-year-old Betty was arrested for lying in the road during an anti-Trident demonstration in Faslane, Scotland.

Betty died on 23 January 2017, aged 98. A poster at the end of her coffin had a message for her many mourners: “Scrap Trident, save £100bn.”

 

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, International Trade Unions, Politics, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union | Leave a comment

Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs

The following blog is from MIT Technology Review and puts an alternative view on the current trend by some politicians and techies who argue that automation will  create more and new jobs. Of course there will be ‘new’ jobs – but at what price? I have often stated that unions will have to harness automation, robotics etc and like electricity these developments cannot not be univented. One view is that there will be a shift in employment away from the West to the East and I think this blog sets out the reasons why China will become the AI superpower.

 A View from Kai-Fu Lee, February 21, 2018

No matter what anyone tells you, we’re not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way.

“I took an Uber to an artificial-­intelligence conference at MIT one recent morning, and the driver asked me how long it would take for autonomous vehicles to take away his job. I told him it would happen in about 15 to 20 years. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’ll be retired by then,” he said.

Good thing we weren’t in China. If a driver there had asked, I would have had to tell him he’d lose his job in about 10 years – maybe 15 if he was lucky.

That might sound surprising, given that the US is, and has been, in the lead in AI research. But China is catching up—if it hasn’t already—and that rivalry, with one nation playing off the other, guarantees that AI is coming.

It will soon be obvious that half our tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we’re not ready for it.

China will have at least a 50/50 chance of winning the race, and there are several reasons for that.

  • First, China has a huge army of young people coming into AI. Over the past decade, the number of AI publications by Chinese authors has doubled. Young AI engineers from Face++, a Chinese face-recognition start up, recently won first place in three computer-vision challenges – ahead of teams from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Second, China has more data than the US- way more. Data is what makes AI go. A very good scientist with a ton of data will beat a super scientist with a modest amount of data. China has the most mobile phones and internet users in the world- triple the number in the United States. But the gap is even bigger than that because of the way people in China use their devices. People there carry no cash.

They pay all their utility bills with their phones. They can do all their shopping on their phones. You get off work and open an app to order food. By the time you reach home, the food is right there, hot off the electric motorbike. In China, shared bicycles generate 30 terabytes of sensor data in their 50 million paid rides per day– that’s roughly 300 times the data being generated in the US.

  • Third, Chinese AI companies have passed the copycat phase. Fifteen years ago almost every decent start up in China was simply copying the functionality, look, and feel of products offered in the US. But all that copying taught eager Chinese entrepreneurs how to become good product managers, and now they’re on to the next stage: exceeding their overseas counterparts. Even today, Weibo is better than Twitter. WeChat delivers a way better experience than Facebook Messenger.
  • And fourth, government policies are accelerating AI in China. The Chinese government’s stated plan is to catch up with the US on AI technology and applications by 2020 and to become a global AI innovation hub by 2030. In a speech in October, President Xi Jinping encouraged further integration of the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real-world economy. And in case you’re wondering, these things tend not to be all talk in China—as demonstrated with its past policies promoting high-speed rail and the mass entrepreneurship and innovation movement. In comparison, things get bogged down in the US. Consider the way President Barack Obama’s loan guarantee to solar-panel maker Solyndra was hammered as crony capitalism. Truckers are now appealing to President Donald Trump and Congress to stop testing of autonomous trucks.

The rise of China as an AI superpower isn’t a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016.

It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-­collar work. It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we’re not ready for it.

Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won’t stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it’s dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

Then there are the symbiotic optimists, who think that AI combined with humans should be better than either one alone. This will be true for certain professions—doctors, lawyers—but most jobs won’t fall in that category. Instead they are routine, single-domain jobs where AI excels over the human by a large margin.

Others think we’ll be saved by a universal basic income. “Take the extra money made by AI and distribute it to the people who lost their jobs,” they say. “This additional income will help people find their new path, and replace other types of social welfare.”

But UBI doesn’t address people’s loss of dignity or meet their need to feel useful. It’s just a convenient way for a beneficiary of the AI revolution to sit back and do nothing.

And finally, there are those who deny that AI has any downside at all – which is the position taken by many of the largest AI companies. It’s unfortunate that AI experts aren’t trying to solve the problem. What’s worse, and unbelievably selfish, is that they actually refuse to acknowledge the problem exists in the first place.

These changes are coming, and we need to tell the truth and the whole truth. We need to find the jobs that AI can’t do and train people to do them. We need to reinvent education. These will be the best of times and the worst of times. If we act rationally and quickly, we can bask in what’s  best rather than wallow in what’s  worst.”

 

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, Economics, Employment Rights, Politics, The Digital Economy and Unions, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment