Tommy Campbell: The trade unionist who stood up to be counted

Scotland regional union Tommy Campbell who is retiring from Unite as a regional officer speaks to the Morning Star’s Conrad Landin about a life of political and trade union struggle

Tommy Campbell has reached a crescendo as he speaks with pride of his work organising oil and gas workers over the last five years.

Today, labour movement activists from Aberdeen and across Scotland will gather to celebrate Campbell’s 50 years of campaigning for a better world, as he retires as an official of trade union Unite.

But fighting injustice was never alien to this man who cuts a serious if unassuming figure. Growing up in Enniskillen in the north of Ireland in the 1960s, it was hard to get away from it, after all.

And though this wasn’t confined to the region’s political conflict, protests took their lead from the civil rights demonstrations of the day.

Campbell organised a demonstration against corporal punishment at his Christian Brothers’ school, where “if you stepped out of line you always got six of the belt.”

The thousands-strong civil rights demos against anti-Catholic gerrymandering had the slogan “one man, one vote.” For Campbell and his teenage comrades, it was “one boy, one slap.”

I met Campbell and his partner Alison for a curry in Aberdeen a few weeks before he clocked off for the final time. He told me his life could have taken a very different direction — had he fulfilled his grandmother’s wish for him to become a priest.

“I’d been an altar boy for three years. My granny wanted me to be the first Irish pope. But by that time I was beginning to feel the violence of the priests. I organised a protest to refuse to hold out your hand for the strap, and of course I got a battering for that too.”

He and fellow school students also joined factory workers at the civil rights protests. When he was finally transferring to a mixed-faith education, his headmaster told him: “You’ll not do well at that den of iniquity called the technical college.”

What Campbell witnessed and experienced — both antagonism and solidarity — would serve him well over his decades to come in the trade union movement.

“All those acts of defiance taught me about standing up for yourself, but also standing up for others.”

It was some years yet when he would have his first experience of workplace conflict. He’d been employed by Enterprise Ulster, a public-sector organisation set up to provide work for young people on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Campbell started a job working on building sites in 1978, on the same day workman Patrick Fee, a Catholic civilian, was shot by a Provisional IRA sniper.

It is thought Fee’s assassin had intended to kill the van’s driver, an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment volunteer.

Like Fee, Campbell was expected to travel in an unmarked van at a time when it was known that such vehicles were being used by SAS operatives in Northern Ireland.

The young worker told his gaffer: “I don’t want a bullet up my arse and I don’t want you to have a bullet up yours.”

He was initially met with resistance, but when it became clear the workforce could resist collectively, “by Thursday those vans were getting sprayed.”

Campbell ended up unemployed and blacklisted a few years later. But in a path that will be familiar to many in the movement, it was this which led him to a period of intense activity as secretary of the Fermanagh Trades Council.

Some comrades were not just taken aback by his youth, but by the fact that a man from Enniskillen was taking a leading role in the trade union movement across the north of Ireland.

“I used to say: ‘You’re street-wise in Belfast, but we’re country lane-wise in Fermanagh,” Campbell chuckles. He was also responsible for the only trades council newspaper in the six counties.

“All those acts of defiance taught me about standing up for yourself, but also standing up for others”

Before long, however, he was back in work — now as a development officer for the Ulster People’s College, a community project which put him at the heart of early efforts towards peace.

He was still active in the trade union movement, and now secretary of Northern Ireland Trade Union CND, and a key player locally in Medical Aid for Vietnam and the Communist Party.

But two brothers had moved to Aberdeen to work offshore. This was both a symptom of how hard Thatcher’s austerity had hit Ulster, and an embodiment of the latest chapter in Scotland’s social history.

After successfully applying to be a development officer at an unemployed workers’ rights centre in Aberdeen, he too made the move across the Irish Sea.

It was a four-year contract, and under Campbell’s stewardship saw huge growth in staffing levels and, more importantly, in the number of unemployed workers that it serviced.

He continued his union activity and threw himself into organising the anti-apartheid movement in Aberdeen, co-ordinating the first march for awarding the Freedom of the City to Nelson Mandela.

During the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Campbell co-ordinated solidarity exchanges between pitmen in Ayrshire and workers in Northern Ireland.

“Most of them were Orangemen,” he recalls of the colliers, “and I had to ask them to wear long-sleeve shirts.”

With paramilitary tattoos on both sides of the meeting — and the Troubles — it made sense to not begin on a note of antagonism. But then Campbell asked the men to roll up their sleeves.

“Once in conflict [with the boss class], people can realise actually we have so much in common,” he comments now.

When his contract finished at the centre, Campbell moved to the Transport and General Workers’ Union, where his primary responsibility, until five years ago, was representing council officers.

“One senior officer referred to me as ‘that Irish nightmare’,” he recalls, saying it was a moniker he adopted as a badge of honour.

In almost 20 years in this role, he has overseen dozens upon dozens of disputes, from the profound, such as winning significant equal pay settlements, to the truly bizarre, like the council’s issuing of “diddymen hats” to female city wardens.

But Campbell is clear that it’s the shop stewards who are the “real heroes” of Aberdeen’s labour movement, “and the workers who support them in that role.”

He thinks it’s crucial that the movement shows young workers it is there for them, even if that means being open to workers in dispute who may not have previously even been aware of unions.

“There’s no point giving them a lecture saying: ‘You should have been in the union in the past few years’.”

That he himself started so young has also taught him the importance of mentoring others. Aberdeen has Britain’s youngest trade council president, Sasha Brydon, and Campbell is proud of this.

All the while through his time in the movement, Campbell has been a daily reader of the Morning Star — and in recent years, a prime contact for me, first as the paper’s industrial reporter and Scotland editor.

“There’s not a lot in that paper,” Campbell recalls various newsagents saying over the years as he puts it on the counter. He always replies: “But it’s good quality news in here.”

I first made contact with Campbell at the tail end of 2014, my first year working at the Star, when a collapse in the global oil price was leading to attacks on terms and conditions in the North Sea.

After 14 years working in local government, the retirement of Unite colleagues led his seniors to ask him to take up the offshore brief.

Relations between Unite and the other unions which represent oil and gas workers — the GMB and the RMT (since the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee merged into the transport union) — have not always been easy.

Campbell was crucial to the establishment of the Offshore Co-ordinating Group of trade unions, which includes the main trio, along with maritime union Nautilus and Balpa, which represents helicopter pilots flying workers out to the platforms.

“I’m very proud of the legacy I’ll leave behind,” Campbell says. “Over the last five years, I along with others have worked very hard to create unity between the unions working offshore. The reason membership has increased is workers see us working together for the common good of the offshore worker.”

Tommy also was instrumental in helping build trade union solidarity with the Norwegian oil union Industry Energi who organise oil and gas workers on the Norwegian shelf on the North Sea. In 2018 Tommy was key in generating support for and getting media coverage in Scotland for the 700 day long strike at Exonn Mobi/UGL/Cimic  in Longford, Australia.

Cross-union activity will also keep Campbell busy in retirement: he intends to stay active in the Aberdeen Trades Union Council.

But he also plans to devote more time to two long-standing interests: photography and writing poetry. And with Alison, he plans to learn to salsa dance ahead of a holiday in Cuba.

Campbell can head into retirement, however, knowing he stood up to be counted. “I knew what side of the fence I was on — the workers’ side, I always was, and I always would be.”

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Labour – Palestine

Please click here to read a model on Palestine for consideration for CLPs to submit to Labour Party Conference this year.

The focus of the motion is on how Labour should respond not only to the proposals in Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century.’ but also to the everyday actions by the Israeli Government in breach of international law.

The 2019 Conference will have more scope for discussion of motions. Instead of the contemporary motions procedure, both unions and CLP’s will be able to vote on 10 motions for discussion – although each CLP can still only put forward one motion. For this reason, wards and CLPs will start discussing shortly what motion to submit to Conference this year.

If you wish to try and take forward this motion in your CLP, it would be very helpful if you could keep L&P in touch with how you plan to use the motion, when meetings are taking place and the outcome of any discussions by replying to this email. The intention is to offer support and help to delegates from CLPs who submit – or are considering submitting – the motion.

The motion has been drawn up in consultation with sponsoring unions and others campaigning for Palestine within the Party, and a briefing for speakers to use to introduce and answer questions about the motion should be available before the end of May.

With Donald Trump’s proposed ‘deal of the century’ proposing that Palestine will literally be carved up and distributed in an imposed ‘deal’ above the heads of the Palestinian people, it is particularly important that Palestine is a key issue within Labour’s ethical foreign policy, and that support for Palestine is shown at Conference.

Thank you for your support in helping make this happen,

Hugh Lanning, Labour & Palestine

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Unite launches advertising campaign to boost turnout and stop the far right in EU elections

A major advertising campaign aimed at boosting voter turnout to stop the far right in this Thursday’s (23 May) European elections is being launched today (Monday 20 May) across towns and cities in the North West of England.

The campaign by Unite, will see billboards in 44 locations across Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Liverpool, in addition to full page advertisements in the Liverpool Echo, Manchester Evening News and Metro newspapers.

A major national Facebook campaign potentially reaching millions of voters will also be launched.

The union fears that a low turnout on in the EU elections could allow the likes of far right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka as Tommy Robinson, to sneak in and get elected to the European Parliament.

Turnout in the last European elections in the North West was 33 per cent and in 2009, with turnout just below 32 per cent, Nick Griffin, the former leader of the far right BNP was elected with little more than 8 per cent of the vote.

The ‘Keep Them Out. Get Out And Vote Labour,’ adverts feature various slogans, including “We will fight them at the ballot box” which invokes Winston Churchill’s famous “We will fight them on beaches” quote.

The adverts can be viewed online by clicking here.

There will be a photo opportunity at Unite’s Liverpool office, Jack Jones House, 2 Churchill Way, L3 8EF at 10:30 today (Monday 20 May), where the adverts will be unveiled on a giant ad van.

Commenting Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The only winners of a low turnout in this week’s European elections will be the likes of Yaxley-Lennon and those that seek to divide our communities.

“Don’t wonder ‘if only I had voted’ when the results are in. Make sure the tolerance and respect that runs through the communities of the North West is the winner by using your vote.  

“Stop those seeking to use these elections to gain a platform to spread their message of fear and hate by getting out to vote to stop the far right and voting Labour this Thursday.”

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Brexit: The WTO option would devastate jobs and tear up our rights


By Rosa Crawford First published by the TUC, May 16th

Trading with the EU only on the WTO’s terms would have serious repercussions for the economy, public services and the Good Friday Agreement.

Brexiteers like to promote the idea that the UK leaving the EU single market and customs union, ditching any trade deals, and trading with the EU only on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would be a viable alternative to a Brexit deal with the EU.

But trading on these terms would pose serious risks to jobs, workers’ rights, state aid, public services and the Good Friday Agreement.

Threats to jobs

If the UK wants to trade independently outside of the EU customs union, it will be required to lay its own set of ‘schedules’ at the WTO. These schedules are a list of commitments setting the terms of the UK’s tariffs, quotas and limits on subsidies.

In February, the government announced plans to lay schedules that would mean that in a no deal situation, tariffs would be lowered to zero on many imports.

The plans would allow cheap imports of goodssuch as ceramics, cement, glass, tyres and steel to flood the market, particularly from countries such as China that are already overproducing goods and dumping them in the EU and UK markets at artificially low prices. Further dumping would decimate the UK’s manufacturing base, putting thousands of jobs at risk.

The TUC condemned these plans for zero tariffs with Unite, GMB, Community and a number of manufacturing employers in February.

Customs delays

Operating outside a customs union with the EU, and trading only on WTO terms, would also make things a lot trickier for UK companies exporting goods to the EU. Exporters would need to complete customs paperwork and undergo ‘rules of origin’ testing to establish where components in products were made. The Institute for Government estimates that custom checks would affect 180,000 traders, potentially imposing £4 billion in extra costs on businesses.

Dangers to jobs in services

Unlike the single market, WTO rules do not provide a guarantee that trading partners will have the same standards for trade in services (like banking, insurance and shipping) that are needed to allow barrier-free trade in services.

Given that services make up 80% of UK GDP and 37% of total UK exports of services go to the EU, barriers to trade in services would threaten millions of jobs across the country.

This risk is increased by the fact that in today’s integrated economy, it’s difficult to separate goods from services. For example, for every car manufactured in the UK there are a myriad of related services from logistics to sales.

Workers’ rights

Trading only on WTO terms would also severely threaten workers’ rights. Unlike the EU single market, which requires members to adhere to EU social and employment standards enforced by the European Court of Justice, there are no obligations for WTO members to respect labour standards. There are also no penalties if rights are abused. Thus, there have been no consequences when WTO members such as China or the Gulf States abuse workers’ rights.

Dangers to Good Friday Agreement

Leaving the EU customs union and trading only on WTO terms would require customs checks and collection of tariffs between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Additionally, leaving the single market would require checks on regulatory standards of goods travelling between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The TUC has been clear that such a situation is unacceptable as it would mean the establishment of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This would violate the Good Friday agreement that is essential for peace and economic and stability.

State aid

Trade unions have long campaigned for WTO rules to be reformed to allow governments more policy space to provide financial support to key industries and agriculture.

WTO members are bound by the obligations in the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. These rules also allow WTO members to challenge other members if they can demonstrate that a member’s financial support for certain sectors unfairly disadvantages them. This could limit the UK government’s ability to support, regulate or renationalise key industries.

Public services

Trading only on WTO terms would also expose public services in the UK to the threat of further privatisation. WTO rules contain an exemption that ‘services undertaken in the excise of government authority’ will not be bound by commitments members take to liberalise other sectors. However, legal experts have established that this exemption does not prevent part-privatised services such as the NHS being opened up to further privatisation through trade arrangements.

In a no deal scenario, the government has also signed up to follow the WTO’s General Procurement Agreement (GPA), the key aim of which is to open government procurement markets covering goods, services and workers to the bidder that can provide the cheapest services, regardless of the cost to workers or conditions. By contrast, EU single market public procurement rules allow for public procurement to promote social objectives such as decent jobs and living wages.

A good Brexit deal

Instead of trading on WTO terms that would be disastrous for workers, manufacturing and public services, the government must guarantee a Brexit deal that guarantees rights, jobs and upholds the Good Friday agreement. At this stage in negotiations, we believe that membership of the single market and a customs union is the best way to achieve this.

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A STATEMENT BY ABDULLAH ÖCALAN’S LAWYERS

Asrin Law Office lawyers held a press conference today on the meeting Kurdish People’s Leader Abdullah Öcalan held with his lawyers on May 2. Lawyers Faik Özgür Erol, Newroz Uysal and Rezan Sarica were present in the conference.

Faik Özgür Erol said:

“Esteemed journalists, the press statement we are about to release today is on the lawyers’ visit to the Imrali Island to meet with Mr. Abdullah Öcalan on May 2. Four lawyers applied to visit the client, but only two of the lawyers were allowed and those two lawyers were the ones to hold the meeting.

The two lawyers who held the consultation were Newroz Uysal and Rezan Sarica. They will read two texts to you, one of them is the Asrin Law Office statement in relation to the consultation and the other is a public announcement and a call by Mr. Öcalan and 3 other clients of ours who are also held in the Imrali island prison.

It took until the weekend for the statement of our clients to reach us, so the announcement had to be postponed until today.

With that said, it is significant to share these statements on May 6, an important day for the struggle for democracy in Turkey. Now I leave the microphone to my colleagues.”

The statement read by Öcalan’s lawyer Rezan Sarica on behalf of the lawyers is as follows:

A lawyer-client consultation was held with our client, Mr. Abdullah Öcalan, who is held in İmralı F Type High Security Prison on 02 May 2019. This is the first lawyer-client consultation held since 27 July 2011, after 810 applications. The Bursa Assize Court, which decided on an application made by the lawyers about two weeks before this consultation took place, has notified us that the ban on lawyer-client consultations for all our clients at İmralı has been lifted.

The application we made to hold the lawyer-client consultation also included requests for meeting with our other clients, Mr. Veysi Aktaş, Mr Hamili Yıldırım and Mr. Ömer Hayri Konar, who are also in the İmralı Prison. But we were not allowed to hold consultations with them. In addition, the application was made on behalf of four lawyers as per usual but only two lawyers were allowed to hold the lawyer-client consultation. Exchange of notes and documents were not allowed during the consultation. In the aftermath of this consultation, the family / guardian application for Monday (May 6th) was not accepted although there were no legal obstacles.

In İmralı Prison, Mr. Öcalan has not been able to hold a lawyer-client consultation with his lawyers for almost the last 8 years. We have not held a single lawyer-client consultation with the other three clients. In addition, the fact that the request for consultation of some of the lawyers making the application were rejected raises concerns in relation to the continuity of the right to lawyer-client consultations and family visits, and the attainment of related legal security. Neither we nor our client have any information or foresight in relation to whether the lawyer-client consultations will continue periodically.

In addition, during the consultation we learned from Mr. Öcalan that he does not receive the daily press delivered to the administration to be given to him. The fact that the correspondence, such as communication with his lawyers, has been blocked confirms the limitations placed on the right to communication. We invite the authorities to duty and the public to awareness so that the legal rights of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan are established immediately, who insists on his peaceful position despite all the impossibilities under absolute isolation conditions.

The duration of consultation on 02.05.2019 was approximately one hour. Mr Öcalan requested a document signed by him and the other three clients to be given to his lawyers; the document was delivered to us on the weekend. The document, which is like an announcement to the public, is as follows;

There is a need for a deep social reconciliation in this historic process we are experiencing.

There is an urgent need for a method of democratic negotiations, away from all kinds of polarization and culture of conflict in the solution of problems.

We can solve the problems in Turkey, and even in the region — first and foremost the war — with soft power; that is with intelligence, political and cultural power instead of tools of physical violence.

We believe that within the scope of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the culture of conflict should be avoided in relation to the problems in Syria; they should aim to convey their own position and situation to a solution based on a local democracy perspective that has constitutional guarantee within the framework of Syria’s unity. In this context, there should also be awareness of Turkey’s sensibilities.

While we respect the resistance of friends inside and outside of prisons, we would like to emphasize that they should not take it to the level where they will endanger their health or result in death. For us, their mental, physical and spiritual health is paramount. We also believe that the most meaningful approach is related to the development of mental and spiritual stance.

Our stance in Imrali has the determination to continue what we expressed in the 2013 Newroz Declaration by further deepening and clarifying it.

For us, a dignified peace and democratic political solution are essential.

We pay tribute to all those who have been concerned and took a stand in response to our stance in İmralı, and we would like to convey our immense gratitude.

A.ÖCALAN         

H.YILDIRIM                         

Ö. H.KONAR                        

V.AKTAŞ

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Politcal prisoner Adullah Ocalan meets his lawyers

The Turkish-imprisoned political prisoner and founder and leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, received a visit by his lawyers on May 2nd, for the first time since 2011, a law bureau representing him said in a statement today.

Ocalan lawyers’ visit to the Imrali Island in the inland Marmara Sea, where the Turkish government holds the high-profile prisoner, comes as hundreds of politically-jailed Kurds are on a hunger strike to break a policy of isolation on the PKK leader.

The Istanbul-based Asrin law bureau did not provide further details regarding the visitation, nor did it explain why they informed the public almost four days later, as the hunger strike goes on.

The visit also comes at a time of rising death toll in recent Turkish army-PKK clashes, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s pressure on the country’s supreme electoral board to renew the March 31 local elections in Istanbul, where the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) urged its voters, roughly 12 percent of the population in the megalopolis, to vote for the opposition candidate, triggering an end to Islamist-rooted rule in the city.

“A statement regarding this meeting [with Ocalan] is to be made at Taksim Hill Hotel at 15:00 [GMT 13:00]. All the media workers are invited. Please take note no questions will be taken after the statement,” the Asrin bureau said.

It will be seen if Ocalan has called for an end to the hunger strike, led by the HDP lawmaker, Leyla Guven.

Ocalan was last visited in January this year by his younger brother, Mehmet, a farmer from the Sanliurfa province.

“Mr. Ocalan’s health condition is fine, and we will be informing the public in more detail in the coming days,” HDP’s Co-chair Pervin Buldan said in a brief online statement about the brother’s visit.

The family visit Ocalan had was the first since September 2016 as the PKK and HDP call Turkey’s limitations on his rights as a political prisoner “total isolation.”

The PKK is locked in a nearly four-decades-long, on-and-off war over Turkey’s suppression of Kurds’ culture, language, and demands for self-rule as Ankara and its Western allies label the latter a “terrorist group.”

Although convicted of charges of “high treason” by Turkey after his kidnapping with the help of CIA in Kenya in 1999, Ocalan was instrumental in initiating 2013-2015 peace talks between the PKK and the government of the then-Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Unnamed Turkish state officials and HDP lawmakers, including the now-jailed Selahattin Demirtas, regularly sat down with him dozens of times to end the cycle of violence between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish army and come up with a political solution.

The negotiations and a period of ceasefire eventually collapsed when the HDP emerged with a sweeping victory in the Kurdish-majority provinces in the June 2015 general elections to deny Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a single party government for the first time since 2003.

Despite his imprisonment for two decades now by the very state it is fighting against, the leftist PKK continues to highly revere Ocalan as a central and unifying figure for the movement.

Editing by Nadia Riva

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No Coup or war in Venezuela

After last weeks Trump – Bolton backed coup attempt your help in supporting the Venezeula Solidarity Campaign it is more important than ever before

Please donate to the VSC special appeal.

As you know, this is a very difficult time for Venezuela, with the Trump administration threatening military action and  this week backing a failed right-wing coup attempt – if such a coup was ever succesful, it would lead to a new Pinochet in Venezuela, with disastrous consequences for the country and region.

In response, VSC is campaigning harder than ever. Our work has been attacked by right-wing media and right-wing MPs, but we are determined to keep going and expand.

But to keep this going VSC needs your support and more resources.

Our work has included:

  • Getting over 5000 people to sign our petition against ‘regime change’ and any coup
  • Our Guardian letter signed by John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and others (and attacked by the Tories in Parliament)
  • Our picket of the Bank of England, which got widespread international media coverage
  • Our emergency rally, which was widely covered in Venezuela itself
  • Over 30 events across the country, with more to come, plus speaking at over 70 union, Labour and other meetings
  • Our social media is reaching 10,000s of people every week and growing by the day
  • Our successful #NoWaronVenezuelaprotest.

We now need your support to further step up campaigning.Please chip in £20 or what you can afford here– we have set a £10,000 target for this appeal, which we need to organise more activity against Trump’s war agenda. We are already over 2/3 of the way there, and your donations make a real difference, so please chip in today:

  • £20 pays for an office volunteer’s travel & lunch expenses for a day
  • £30 pays for 1000 VSC flyers
  • £50 pays for a night in a B&B or guest house for a stall volunteer at a union conference
  • £100 pays for a month’s office network, e-mailing, telephone and website domain provisions
  • £250 pays for room hire for a public meeting or film showing.

Don’t let Trump get away with his military threats and sanctions, please donateto our vital work today and help us loudly say No More Pinochets in Latin America !

Many thanks for your support,

Dr. Francisco Dominguez Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.

PS: Please help us keep up this level of activity by chipping in £20 or what you can afford here.

 

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Mexico to recover bodies of miners killed in 2006 blast

Mock coffins, symbolising the 65 miners who died in an explosion at Grupo Mexico’s Pasta de Conchos coal mine, are displayed at the Angel of the Independence monument during a protest to mark the 12th anniversary of the disaster, in Mexico City, Mexico February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme/File PhotoFrom Reuters

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged on Wednesday (May 1st) to recover the more than 60 remaining bodies of miners killed in a massive coal shaft explosion in 2006, a mission he described as a humanitarian promise made to victims’ families.

The announcement came on Mexico’s Labor Day holiday, and Lopez Obrador said he did not expect the company that operated the mine to oppose him.

“This is an act of justice and it’s a commitment we made going back a long time,” the president told reporters at his regular morning news conference.

He did not put a price tag on the mission, saying that “whatever is necessary” would be spent.

The Pasta de Conchos mine blast took place in northern Coahuila state.

The mine was operated by Grupo Mexico, one of Latin America’s largest miners. The company has maintained that the blast was an unfortunate accident and said it has compensated families, spending some $30 million on trying to find the 63 remaining miners.

Grupo Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shortly after the explosion, just two bodies were recovered.

A special prosecutor for the case blamed Grupo Mexico for allowing a deadly mix of methane, heat and oxygen to build up in the mine, failing to build proper ventilation shafts or to neutralize explosive coal dust. Government inspectors who failed to enforce the necessary safety precautions were also implicated.

Lopez Obrador said the recovery effort would begin soon, and that German Larrea, the head of Grupo Mexico and one of Mexico’s richest billionaires, had been sought out but that this was a government decision.

In the moments following the blast, the workers were likely buried by thousands of tons of rock.

Investigators also said it was possible that many of the men were incinerated.

In the years since the incident, concerns have been raised about the danger to potential rescue workers in any further recovery efforts.

The leftist president and reclusive tycoon have a history of clashes.

About a month before Lopez Obrador’s landslide election victory last year, Larrea wrote an open letter warning of a “populist” risk that would imperil investment, but without referencing him by name.

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USW Lock Out At Dow Deer Park, Texas

Here are details of the Dow Deer Park, TX Lock Out of the members of United Steelworkers Local 13-1 which is going on the 5th day. 

PLEASE SEND MESSAGES OF SUPPORT AND SOLIDARITY TO:

blilienfeld@usw.org

By Ben Lilienfeld, USW District 13 Sub-District Director.

On Monday, April 22nd at 2pm, all 235 bargaining unit employees were locked out by Dow Chemicals. This includes the 228 dues paying members of Local 13-1. There are several issues keeping the parties from reaching agreement including Wages, Overtime Distribution, and Arbitration provisions. The membership has twice rejected the company’s Last, Best, and Final offers. First by 96% and last time by 98% with heavy membership turnout both times.

While this should have sent a strong message to the company that their proposals were unacceptable and needed to be improved, the company took it as an opportunity to lockout its hard working employees and their families in an effort to cause them economic harm. This was done despite the fact that the Union had offered to keep working while bargaining continued.

 The company’s wage proposal amounts to a 1.8% wage increase each year for 5 years. This wage proposal doesn’t keep pace with other petrochemical plants in the area, is nowhere near the National Oil Bargaining package and most likely won’t keep up with the cost of living. We have proposed a wage package that is more in line with the area and the industry.

The company’s overtime distribution proposal would radically alter the system that has been in place for years and eliminates any remedy in the event that someone is bypassed for overtime. It also requires that instead of there being a uniform policy for the plant, each unit would have a different process and the process could be changed yearly at the company’s whim. The company has admitted that currently all the overtime is being filled without issues and being done so without violating the company’s fatigue policy.

We have pointed out that understaffing has led to the large amounts of overtime being worked and that addressing that issue would go a long way to addressing this issue.

 We have proposed that we return to a normal arbitration process. One that allows all grievances that can’t be resolved between the parties to be heard by an Arbitrator. The company proposes to continue a process that allows them to discipline employees up to the point that they are on the verge of termination without any recourse through the arbitration process.

The members are walking the picket line 24/7 and doing a great job. We have a pantry set up to assist members with food, diapers, and other essentials.

The Local is accepting donations large and small from other Locals or members.

Donations should be brought to the Union Hall located at 311 Pasadena Blvd., Pasadena, TX 77506.

Financial donations should be made out to USW Local 13-1 and put Dow Lockout on the memo line and send them to the Union Hall address. Anyone wishing to walk picket with these sisters and brothers is welcome to do so, they just need to check in at the Union Hall first and we will drive them out to the picket lines.

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John Mitchell – Former Sogat and GPMU National Officer

by Ann Field 11th April 2019

It is a great privilege to make this tribute to John, it has been drawn up with respect, with sadness and love by several of his old comrades as well as myself. The London GPMU Retired Members’ Association and the trustees of the GPMU Charitable Fund also wish to be associated with it.

John Mitchell, a fondly remembered comrade and friend who stood to defend workers in print, in British industry and everywhere when workers were under attack.

His first stint as FOC (Father of the Chapel, or lead union rep) was at Barclay & Fry in London in the early 1960s, then at Thomson Publications and later at the Daily and the Sunday Express.

As FOC at the Express according to one of his former members “John was a bloody good FOC, he negotiated the Pension Scheme and was responsible for implementing the three day week”  – that’s full time hours to you and me, and the pension deal came at a time when very few production workers in Fleet Street had no such comparable conditions!!

From the start, John was a true internationalist, supporting and participating in initiatives for political prisoners held in Franco’s fascist regime, and became the Secretary of the Printers’ Movement for Peace in Vietnam.

He was elected  Assistant Secretary of the London Machine Branch of NATSOPA in 1974, and Secretary in 1976 polling more votes than all the other candidates put together.

John was elected just as the political climate was beginning to turn in favour of an employers’ offensive, determined to roll back the so-called frontiers of socialism.  He gave up smoking when Thatcher’s government was elected – the only positive feature of that fateful day.

As Branch Secretary he headed up, ensured or encouraged support for many struggles with employers, on a variety of issues, including right of reply support for chapels’ protests over lies and distortions printed by newspapers and, notably, engagement of women in the heavy duty jobs in Fleet Street machine rooms.  He led the first hot metal to photopolymer negotiation at a local newspaper.

There were numerous print struggles during John’s period as the Joint Branches’ Secretary in London on jobs, pay, conditions. The Times Newspapers lockout 1978 – 1979 was the most prominent. It lasted 11 months but John oversaw his Branch’s clampdown and re-organization of the allocation of casual work which enabled people to have some work to help keep them going and the outcome was restoration of jobs and rights.  He also promoted good relations with the other print unions to facilitate joint activities during the dispute.

With John’s encouragement and support during the 1970s and 1980s there were many solidarity actions: the imprisonment of the dockers in 1972, when John and others toured Fleet Street calling on chapels to stop work; the Grunwick dispute in 1977 when lies printed in newspapers about the dispute were challenged by chapels, and print union members were urged to attend the picket line; solidarity with NHS workers in 1982 which was the last time Fleet Street was brought to a complete halt.

Relations with the miners during their struggles were strong especially with the Kent NUM. John’s members provided support for most NUM areas, but sometimes a bit of creativity was called for such as when 500 turkeys somehow flew out of Smithfield for the turkeys and toys Christmas appeal.

But his organizational skills were found to be lacking when, on the much publicized food convoy John’s van broke down, only to be subsequently diagnosed as lacking petrol!

Seriously though, John’s organizational abilities were well known, together with his meticulous approach to everything he did. He was well-respected by everyone  even, and I dare say especially, by those who often disagreed with him.

He was kind, considerate and brave, and supportive of colleagues and comrades alike, the only downside was his tendency to use five paragraphs in his many letters and memos when one might have been sufficient.

In 1985 John was elected as national Organizing Secretary of SOGAT. Among his many achievements he initiated a complete reappraisal of the union’s organizing model supporting new recruiting activities, and was also responsible for the creation of the union’s equal opportunities policies, supporting a series of key and ultimately successful equal pay struggles. He remained as a National Officer in the Graphical Paper & Media Union until he retired in 1998.

During those last 13 years in office he helped to steer the union through the sticky problems of achieving amalgamation at all levels of the new union, finding time to organize the fight for justice as a consequence of the Maxwell pension crimes, and several other cases of pension fund swindles.

Let me quote a veteran London Machine Branch member, a NATSOPA: “Last time I saw him, a couple of years ago, at the LMB Christmas Reunion, he was his usual happy self, telling everybody, as he always did ‘that the Express Night Machine Chapel was the best in Fleet Street.” 

On a personal level he persuaded me to take more of an interest in Chapel and Union affairs, and I also counted him as a friend.”

This man speaks for us all of us who worked with John.He was indeed a man of warmth, courage and commitment.

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