Unions Furious As Obama Gets Approval For ‘Fast Track’

tpp-not-againPresident Obama may have got his way on ‘fast track’, the legislation he needs to drive through approval of a new generation of free trade agreements but US unions have vowed to continue to fight on against the deals.

‘Fast track’ will allow Obama to drive through the Transatlantic Trade Agreement known as TPP between the USA and twelve Pacific Rim countries and also the controversial proposed agreement between the EU and the USA, TTIP, by limiting debate in the US legislatures on the controversial process.

The US Senate voted 62-37 on May 22nd to cut short debate on ‘Fast Track’ allowing him to drive through new trade deals without line-by-line scrutiny by US lawmakers a victory for Obama and Republicans in Congress.

The vote marked a defeat for Democrat senator Elizabeth Warren who had clashed with Obama in recent weeks criticising the secrecy of trade negotiations as well as the lack of guaranteed labour rights in the trade deals.

US unions are furious. Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers said: “Senators who voted to stifle debate and approve fast track so quickly have undermined rights of working Americans. With less than one full day of debate, and refusing to consider hundreds of important amendments, the Senate essentially took a big step to provide this and future presidents with the authority to negotiate trade agreements any way they choose. In addition, Congress abdicated its responsibility to fully engage in the process.

“Republicans in so many areas have criticised the President but, when it comes to trade, the majority of them are beholden to corporate backers who are salivating at the prospect of increased profits at the expense of workers here in America and around the globe.

“Trade deals like NAFTA (the previous North American Treaty) have constricted economic growth, contributing to stagnating and declining wages, while fueling off shoring and outsourcing of production. All of this contributes to our country’s rising income inequality. But, rather than fully debate those issues and provide effective measures to reform and update our trade policies, the Republican-led Senate shoved fast track through the Senate.

“Unfortunately, a handful of Democrats joined with Republicans in this effort. The majority of their Democratic colleagues voted on behalf of U.S. workers. Those who voted for cloture and for final passage fully share the blame.

“The approach taken by the Senate will damage U.S. production and jobs. No one voting for fast track should laud this bill. More than 150 objectives were included in fast track, but the administration has already said that they do not intend to pursue all of them. Senators who voted yes may try and take cover behind the lofty rhetoric, but the substance gives them nowhere to hide. Workers want good jobs and wages, not more false promises”.

1tppfasttrack-620xauto-1Jimmy Hoffa President of the Teamasters union described the vote as a “legislative setback”, and that “The war is far from over. We will continue this battle in the House of Representatives, where we know opposition to fast track is strong. A bipartisan collection of lawmakers in the House understand it makes no sense to give a quick up-or-down vote to bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will only ship jobs overseas and lower wages in the U.S.”

The Communications Workers Union (CWA) said: “The limited discussion just this week in the Senate showed the serious concerns that surround Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Senators should not give away their right to amend a trade deal that has been negotiated in secrecy and is virtually complete.”

“There is strong opposition in the House to moving forward on Fast Track. Currently, the Democratic opposition in the House is overwhelming, and rejection there remains a real possibility.”

US and European unions (including the German trade union confederation the DGB and the powerful metalworkers union IG Metall, along with the British TUC and unions such as Unite, Unison, GMB and others) argue the new generation of trade agreements such as TTIP, CETA (the EU deal with Canada) and TPP will benefit multi-national corporations and the expense of working people, undermine employment rights, and allow for the take over of public assets by multi-national corporations, without any possibility of them being returned to public ownership.

Download the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom notes on all things TTIP, TPP, CETA & Fast Track by clicking here.

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Morning Star Appoints Youngest Ever Editor

Ben Chacko, aged 31, the new editor of the Morning Star.

Ben Chacko, aged 31, the new editor of the Morning Star.

Ben Chacko has been appointed the editor of the Morning Star making him the youngest editor of the co-operatively owned socialist daily newspaper since the legendary William Rust in 1930.

Ben, who 31, has been active on the left since his teenage years — when he edited Young Communist League magazine Challenge and later represented fellow students on the student union council at Oxford, where he studied Chinese. He lived in China for several years before joining the daily paper of the left in 2010.

Bob Oram, chair of the People’s Press Printing Society management committee which appoints the editor, said he was “Proud to have been part of such a historic announcement. The future of our paper is in great hands.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady stressed the unique role of the paper in the labour movement.

“The Morning Star has consistently championed the cause of working people and has done a terrific job in exposing the devastating impact of cuts and inequality,” she said.

“The paper is essential reading for many union activists, breaking stories often not covered by the corporate media.

“Congratulations to Ben on his appointment. He is taking over at a critical time for workers and their unions but I’m sure it is a job he will relish.”

Left Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn called the paper “the most precious and only voice we have in the daily media”.

Ben Chacko said it was an “enormous privilege to be appointed editor of the Morning Star in its 85th year.

“This is a make or break moment — how the labour movement responds to a Tory government determined to permanently abolish the welfare state and cripple trade unions for good will be crucial.

“Already we’re seeing some really exciting developments in terms of community resistance and renewed industrial activism.

“I want to put the Star at the heart of the debate about how our class can start winning.”

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Keith Ewing: Where Do We Go Now?

timthumb-1.phpTrade unions face a crisis like no other as 5 years of Tory rule beckon. We need a new vision — and we need it now, by Keith Ewing.

 Shortly after the general election in 2010, I wrote in these columns that David Cameron would win the 2015 general election (Morning Star June 18 2010).

The reason for this was largely historical. In this country Tory governments typically get at least two terms.

Indeed since the end of the second world war only one Tory government — that elected in 1970 — has failed to do so.

But history was not the only factor that led me to this pessimistic view. The concern I expressed then was that the 2015 election would be fought on territory chosen by the Tories and the right-wing press.

This was an agenda that would be misinformed by selective memories of the deficit in 2010 and claims about Labour’s alleged economic mismanagement.

What I did not anticipate of course was the eruption in Scotland, which provides an opportunity for a different explanation of the defeat.

Nobody could have anticipated Labour’s grave mistake in swallowing the Cameron agenda during the independence referendum.

It may have won the referendum vote, but Scottish Labour died on September 18 2014.

Nor could anyone have foreseen the impact of the Scottish Question on the English electorate.

Terror stalked the land about the danger of Scottish influence in a British government, stoked by voices since curiously mute about the fact that a Tory Party now governs Scotland with only one MP at Westminster. The Scots, it seems, just have to put up with it.

Trade unions will now pay a heavy price for Labour’s defeat. Tory plans are set out clearly enough in their election manifesto, including the much-trumpeted proposals for yet more restrictions on strike ballots, most notably a requirement that strikes in certain sectors will need the support of 40 per cent of those eligible to vote, as well as a majority of those voting.

As has been said many times before, this is a requirement that offends democratic principle, and it has been rightly condemned.

At the 2015 general election the Tories won about 37 per cent of the vote nationally, representing only about 25 per cent of those eligible to vote.

The legitimacy of the Tory mandate will of course make no difference — but the hypocrisy is clear and complete.

Nor will a lack of legitimacy stop the proposed attack on trade union facility time or the use of the check-off to collect trade union dues.

The attack spearheaded by the coalition against PCS seems about to go viral. Nor will the lack of legitimacy stop the proposed attack on the trade union political levy and the right of unions to an effective political voice.

Yet it will get worse — much worse — before it ever gets better, if only because of the European Question.

Whatever happens in the forthcoming EU referendum, the referendum will split the movement.

Just as importantly, whether we are in or out, it will lead to further erosion of employment rights — paid holidays, Tupe and redundancy consultation.

For trade unions, this is a crisis like no other, and it is one that catches us ill-prepared.

Membership is in decline, leading to a loss of authority and income; collective bargaining coverage is at historically low levels, so that we are touching the lives of fewer and fewer workers; and we are about to have zero political influence, as civil war breaks out in the Labour Party.

Yet my fear now is that the present government is embedded for another 10 years and that we will have at least a three or four-term Tory hegemony, as in 1951-64 and 1979-97.

Labour will not be ready for government in 2020 and in any event there are about to be boundary changes and fewer MPs, handing another 20 parliamentary seats to the Tories in the process.

But even if Labour is ready for government, Scotland will almost certainly not be ready for Labour.

The corpse of Scottish Labour will still be decomposing in 2020. Indeed, Scotland may be a sovereign state by then. At least for now, the SNP — and some of its impressive candidates who speak about workers’ rights — are the authentic voice of the working class, whether sceptics like it or not.

In this bleak political landscape, the challenge for trade unionism is huge, now facing a challenge of leadership, a challenge of purpose and a challenge for survival.

How are trade unions to deal with the ideological onslaught about to overwhelm their members and their organisations? And how are we to deal with the fresh legal onslaught that is about to hit us?

The movement is about to be tested like never before. It would be a serious mistake to baton down the hatches until the next general election and hope for a Labour government.

We need a new, clear vision to lead the movement not for the next five years but for the next generation — a vision that questions organisational activity, as well as industrial and political strategies.

We will need it soon.

  • Keith Ewing is professor of public law at King’s College London and president of the Institute of Employment Rights.
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Support Unite Engineers At Finnish Company Kone – On Strike Next Week

images300 Unite engineering staff employed by the Finnish company Kone across the UK will be taking strike action over the next two week. Unite engineers at Kone service lifts, doors and escalators across the UK, including at Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The dispute is related to the use of a ‘spy in the cab’ tracker system known as VAMS which Unite members say is an unreliable method for measuring workloads.

Unite argues that VAMS should not be used to verify time sheets, and site arrival and leaving times as it is unreliable – for example, one driver was alleged have driven 1,000 miles in one day without refuelling. Unite is not against the principle of VAMS when used for health and safety purposes.

Unite has put forward proposals to resolve the dispute via Acas but talks broke down after 10 hours when the Kone UK based management walked out.

The strike action commencing is due to start at 06:00 hours on Wednesday May 27th and ending at 06:00 hours on Tuesday 9th June.

Unite National Officer for general engineering Linda McCulloch said: “The Acas talks with the UK management of Kone have proved to be fruitless, after they walked out after 10 hours. Due to this unreasonable behaviour, Unite is calling on the top executives of this Finnish-owned company to intervene and sort out the intransigent stance of their local UK management.

“Evidence has shown the mileage recorded by VAMS for business or private use is not accurate and exaggerates the amount of mileage being completed. It is ‘a spy in the cab’ that does not function properly, so it is understandable that our members are angry. “Unite members by 81 per cent for strike action and by 91 per cent for industrial action short of a strike.

The main Kone sites are at Chertsey, Gateshead, Glasgow, Keighley in Yorkshire and Warrington.

Please send messages of support to our members in dispute via Linda McCulloch.

All messages of support are appreciated.

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Turkish Car Industry Hit By Stoppages

n_82576_1A wave of stoppages across the Turkish car industry is taking place as workers demand better pay and conditions – as well as demanding to join a union of their choice and elect their own union reps.

Over 7,000 workers are taking part in strikes and demonstrations against poor working conditions and are abandoning the ‘yellow’ trade union known as the Metal Workers Trade Union of Turkey (Türk Metal) a union many workers were forced to join and be registered with. Türk Metal is seen as a stooge union.

The protest started last week at Turkey’s largest car factory, a plant in the northwestern city of Bursa run by Oyak Renault. The factory is a joint venture between France’s Renault and the Turkish army pension fund.

On Friday last the stoppages had spread to the neighboring Tofaş plant. Tofaş, owned by Italy’s Fiat and local conglomerate Koç Holding, said it had halted production until the dispute was resolved.

Workers are outraged by failures of the Türk Metal union to negotiate decent pay rises and represent workers properly.

In response to major strikes at the Renault and Tofaş plants, workers at the Mako, Coşkunöz and Delphi auto factories followed suit and the Ford Otosan plant was stopped. Ford said this was the temporary stoppage due to a lack of parts caused by the strikes at other firms.

Each day that workers are absent from their factories means a decline in the number of cars produced. Renault was expected to suffer a decline of 5,220 units on the sixth day of the strike, while the loss in production estimated for the Tofaş plant was 3,248.

Together the two automakers, Tofaş and Renault, account for more than 40 percent of Turkey’s annual car output, according to industry data.

The protests highlight the problems in Turkey’s economy. Rapid growth has not been accompanied by improvements in pay and working conditions. Around 40% of Turkish employees still work 50 plus hours a week and the Türk Metal union has done little to persue workers demands on pay and working conditions.

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June 4th : Rally For Venezuela


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Analysis of the impact of and policy response to MG Rover in Birmingham

Well worth reading. An interesting paper produced by David Bailey, Gill Bentley, Alex de Ruyter and Stephen Hall.

Click here to download the pdf.

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Manufacturing in the balance?

philip-pearsonBy Philip Pearson of the TUC

At the very time when manufacturing should be expanding its share of UK GDP, its contribution is now lower than in 2010. Evidence suggests that our ‘foundation industries’, the industrial heartland of UK manufacturing, are facing a steeper decline than manufacturing as a whole.


Our ‘foundation industries’ – iron and steel making, chemicals, petroleum products, pulp and paper, ceramics, brick, glass, cement, basic and precious metals and related products – are shedding jobs and business capacity at a disturbing rate, with a net loss of over 1,000 enterprises and 36,000 jobs (one in seven of their workforce) between 2008-2013.

EIIs-enterprisesThe UK’s Foundation Industries currently comprise a group of over 5,000 businesses with 210,000 employees across the UK – and more than four times this number in their extensive national supply chains.There appears to be an emerging consensus that ‘unprotected’ government departments face major cuts in the new Parliament.

But this is exactly at the time when a new era of government-led investment should be driving investment in low carbon technologies. In March 2015, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills published eight sector ‘Roadmaps to 2050′ for energy intensive industries. They show that a multibillion technology investment programme is required for their transition to a low carbon economy. Three issues for government stand out:  support for industrial carbon capture & storage; innovation clusters focussed on energy efficiency and recovering heat from industrial processes, not wasting it; and where industries have technology and investment needs in common, creating new regional strategies in our industrial heartlands.

Foundation industries in 2013:

  • Employed 210,000 people in 5,100 enterprises.
  • Provided high skill, high wage employment: £7.8 billion in wages, salaries and other employment costs in 2013.
  • Generated average employment costs of £37,000 per employee, 15% above the £32K manufacturing average.
  • Generated £102 billion of combined turnover in 2013 – one-fifth (19.5%) of manufacturing’s gross output.
  • Produced £16.3 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2013, or about 10.4% of the value of goods and services produced by UK manufacturing.
  • Spent £78 billion in sustaining their supply chains through the purchase of goods, materials and services in 2013, or one-fifth (21.8%) of all supply chains purchases in the UK manufacturing sector.

Our energy intensive industries have been at a sustained competitive disadvantage due to the relatively high cost of the UK’s energy and its climate change policies compared with our EU and non-EU competitors. In Walking the carbon tightrope, the TUC suggested that ‘the government has not struck the right balance’ between industrial competitiveness and energy policies. The loss of jobs and manufacturing capacity among our foundation industries is slipping towards a new phase of industrial decline which will require a new vision for manufacturing in a low carbon world in order to be reversed.

Between 2008-2013:

  • Over 1,000 foundation sector manufacturers closed down (16.5%).
  • Manufacturing as a whole lost 3,876 enterprises (2.9%) over the same period.
  • A quarter of the net loss of UK manufacturers (26%) were energy intensive industries.The UK’s manufacturing workforce fell by 10% (a loss of 283,000 jobs).
  • The foundation industries workforce fell by 14.6% (36,000 jobs) over the same period.
  • Net capital expenditure by energy intensive firms fell by £343 million (14.1%).Gross output fell by £7.9 billion (7.2%), with the steepest declines in the basic chemicals and iron and steel sectors.

As we argued in ‘Building our low carbon industries’, it remains the case that an ambitious government-led strategy is required, combining green innovation with measures to support these industries’ commitments to decarbonisation in the transition to a low carbon economy.

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USW Chemical Solutions Number 2

ChemsDownload at the link below the excellent United Steelworkers Newsletter for Chemical Workers : Chemical Solutions Issue 2 with articles on Health & Safety, Dow, BSAF etc

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Union organising In Kenya: Support ITF Campaign

The International Transport Federation are requesting support in a serious disputeconcerning their affiliate the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers and Allied Workers’ Union and Agility Logistics.

The company says it will recognise the union in Kenya if it gains 50%+1 of the workforce. However at local management level seem to be determined to ensure the union does not reach this level.

An ITF Monitoring Team, has been sent to Kenya and have noted a planned and concerted attack on union organising.

The local company management has so far:

  •         Pressured workers to resign from the union
  •         Ended contracts of casual workers who join the union
  •         Penalised union activists with short notice transfers
  •         Initiated company loyalty pledges
  •         Interfered with union recruitment efforts
  •         Blamed the union for the delayed payment of wages
  •         Placed armed police in the cabs next to drivers against possible strike action
  •         Used the police to bar workers from the workplace

On 1st April, the ITF Team met with the top management of Agility Kenya, led by its CEO, Ali Saibaba Kola who was accompanied by his HR, transport operations and finance managers. Regrettably, however, the ITF’s offer to assist developing productive industrial relations which did not involve both parties becoming embroiled in a series of court cases was not taken up, and a constructive way forward was not found.

They insisted that the union must reach the threshold of recruiting 50%+1 of the employees as prescribed in Kenyan labour law.

It is clear that as the union is getting close to the 50%+1 mark, the company is becoming more desperate in their attempts to prevent this level being reached.

Recent reports say that truck drivers in Kenya working for Agility global integrated logistics were beaten, abducted at gunpoint and forced to drive their trucks to a company workshop. One driver stated: “I knew they wanted us dead”.

This police brutality follows protests by some 80 Kenyan truckers forced to work shifts of up to 24 hours in Maungu, near Voi and Mai Mahiu. The truckers’ strike action has paralysed Kenya’s northern corridor. All they want is for Agility to recognise their union and treat them with respect.

ITF affiliates (including Unite in the UK) are supporting the campaign and was part of the ITF team who visited Kenya. Belgian ITF affiliate BTB is sending a delegation to Kenya during the last week of April.

Please support the ITF and the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers and Allied Workers’ Union and the workers in Agility, as they seek to establish union recognition, collective bargaining and decent working conditions in the industry.

Join the LabourStart campaign by clicking here and send your protest messages to the management.


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