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Download the lastest Newsletter from the United Steelworkers for Chemical Workers by clicking here. December 20106. Issue number 6
Thanks to Kent Holsing.
We need a new approach to the vexed subject of immigration – and at the core of this must be the reassertion of collective bargaining and trade union strength, writes Len McCluskey.
There is no doubt that concerns about the impact of the free movement of labour in Europe played a large part in the referendum result, particularly in working-class communities.
It is those same communities — traditionally Labour-supporting — where our party is now struggling.
It would be easy to simply say: “Let’s pull up the drawbridge.” However, that would be entirely impractical in today’s world, as well as being undesirable.
Let’s not forget the many economic and cultural benefits Britain has secured from migration.
But we are well past the point where the issue of free movement can be ignored. As long ago as 2009 private surveys of Unite membership opinion were showing that even then our members were more concerned about immigration than any other political issue.
And we are also, I would argue, past the point where working people can be convinced that the free movement of labour has worked for them, their families, their industries and their communities.
Moral arguments may be fine for the middle distance, but if it comes up against the reality of people’s daily experience, these arguments will fail.
Let’s have no doubt: the free movement of labour is a class question.
Karl Marx identified that fact a long time ago. “A study of the struggle waged by the British working class,” he wrote in 1867, “reveals that in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labour force.”
So it is today. Anyone who has had to negotiate for workers, in manufacturing in particular, knows the huge difficulties that have been caused by the ability of capital to move production around the world — often to China and the Far East or eastern Europe — in search of far lower labour costs and higher profits.
Likewise, the elite’s use of immigration to this country is not motivated by a love of diversity or a devotion to multiculturalism.
It is instead all part of the flexible labour market model, ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap labour here for those jobs that can’t be exported elsewhere.
The benefits of this are easier to see in Muswell Hill than they are in Middlesbrough.
Of course, all socialists must ultimately look forward to a day when people can move freely across the world and live or work where they will.
But that is a utopia removed from the world of today, and would require international economic planning and public ownership to make a reality.
Argument that wage rates are not affected does not stand up to scrutiny either.
Put simply, if all you have to sell is your capacity to work, then its value is going to be affected by an influx of people willing to work for less money and put up with a lower standard of living because it nevertheless improves their own lives.
Supply and demand affects the sale of labour too, pitting worker against worker.
Of course, there is a straightforward trade union response — we need to do everything necessary to organise all workers here into trade unions, wherever they may have been born and whatever their history, and fight for decent pay, proper working conditions and full rights at work.
And we should join the Labour Party in demanding that this country — the sixth richest in the world — provides every worker, wherever they are from, with a decent job and every family with a decent home.
And unions here need to unite with trade unions in other countries to end the playing off of workers in one part of the world against each other, to oppose the power of global capital with the power of a renewed international labour movement.
And let’s not pretend that free movement is a straightforward benefit to the countries workers are leaving behind, being denuded of young people and skilled labour.
Yes, more labour contributes to growth here, but that is growth foregone in poorer countries by that logic.
There is another more immediate argument for the free movement of labour — it is the price for keeping access to the single market, which is essential for so many British jobs.
That problem needs to be frankly acknowledged — fixed barriers to free movement will hardly be acceptable to the European Union if access to the single market is to be retained.
So we need a new approach.
I believe it is time to change the language around this issue and to speak instead of safeguards for communities, for workers, and for industries needing labour.
At the core of this must be the reassertion of collective bargaining and trade union strength.
Unite has proposed that any employer wishing to recruit labour abroad can only do so if they are either covered by a proper trade union agreement, or by sectoral collective bargaining.
Put together with trade unions’ own organising efforts this would change the race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate-for-the-job society.
It would end the fatal attraction of ever cheaper workers for employers without the requirement for formal quotas or restrictions.
Add to this proposal Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to fair rules and reasonable management of migration, as well as Labour’s pledge to restore the Migrant Impact Fund for communities suddenly affected by large-scale migration, and there is the basis for giving real reassurance to working people in towns and cities abandoned by globalisation.
And let’s not forget what unites all of us:
Anger at the government’s disgraceful treatment of refugees, who deserve safety and protection;
Shame at the Tory attempts to use EU citizens already living and working here as a sort of negotiating card — they must have the right to remain;
And a determination to resist the rise in racist attacks and invective which has blighted our society since the referendum.
Those are the anti-racist priorities of today. Let’s not let pandering to Ukip on the one hand or a utopian ultra-leftism on the other divide us.
- Len McCluskey is standing for re-election as general secretary of Unite. From the Morning Star, December 24th.
In a move which commenced earlier this year four of Finland’s main industrial unions are planning to merge to create one powerful 260,00 strong union whose focus will be on Finland’s exporting industries.
The ruling bodies of the four unions met in November and gave the go-ahead for the merger.
The unions involved include behind the industrial union TEAM; the Metal Workers’ Union; Paperlitto, the Paper Workers’ Union and the Woodworkers’ Union.
There are still issues to resolve – but reasoning behind the move makes sense and is widely is understood by Finnish unions.
Firstly collective bargaining is being conducted more at union level. Secondly, following the approach from the Finnish Government to develop a ‘the Finnish model’ where export industry unions play a major role in setting pay rises in collective agreements which would be followed by other unions proved a major attraction.
While there is still some uncertainty as to how ‘the Finnish model’ would work the industrial unions – who are all financially sound – decided to grasp the opportunity.
To push the merger the unions have set up eleven working groups covering areas such as the economy, statutes, education, advocacy, politics, technology and the unemployment fund.
Union subscriptions will be one per cent a member’s gross income. The union unemployment fund contribution will come on top of this.
All the existing 42 collective agreements will be retained with three sectors of collective bargaining: the technology sector will have 5 collective agreements; the chemical industry 18 agreements and the forest industry 19 agreements.
The final report on the merger project and proposals to proceed will be made until the end of January 2017. After discussion with the members the unions will make final decisions on the amalgamation in May 2017.
The first joint Congress of the new union is planned for November 2017 and the new union would begin its work from the beginning of 2018.
Trade unionism matters more than ever. With the economy still in a slump, the Tories in power and the shadow of Brexit hanging over millions of jobs, unions are the only line of defence for working families.
So the future direction of Unite, the biggest trade union in Britain and Ireland, is vital. It is far too important to be reduced to an extension of the rows in the Labour Party.
I am standing for re-election as Unite’s General Secretary for two reasons: My record – and my vision.
Bad employers have come to fear Unite. Just ask Mike Ashley, after we shone the spotlight on atrocious working practices at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook facility.
Or ask the mean restaurant chains which have had to pay up after our Fair Tips campaign stopped them docking gratuities meant for waiting staff.
And we have secured justice for blacklisted building workers, challenging the scourge of employer victimisation.
Unite now has a dispute fund of over £35million, ready to take on scrooge bosses wherever and whenever members want.
We have campaigned to protect our NHS from the consequences of secretive trade deals geared to business interests. And we have saved jobs in the beleaguered steel industry.
‘Members first’ has always been my philosophy. That is why I have committed to supporting workers in the defence industry, including those making nuclear submarines, despite political pressure, and why I launched this year the ‘Work Voice Pay’ campaign to focus on the industrial sharp end.
And I have campaigned in support of investment in our infrastructure, whether it is HS2 or a new runway at Heathrow.
Unite has changed too. We have more than 15,000 unwaged members, connecting us to communities that the elite forget. And there are more women than ever before in leading roles in the union.
But there is much more to do. We face three great challenges in particular.
First, Brexit. In all the talk of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, of market access and so on, workers need to know that someone is looking out for them. We are putting protecting jobs, as at Nissan, and workers’ rights at the top of the agenda – but that work is just starting. We can’t let the City and the CBI settle our economic future without hearing from working people.
Second, the emergence of the ‘gig economy’. That is a trendy term for the age-old problem of a casual labour market, now reaching epic proportions in Britain. That millions of workers have no security and few rights is a blight on British society.
The trade union challenge is to offer these workers the same protections as we do to those in better-established industries.
I aim to use digital technology to revolutionise how we reach out to and support workers across the economy. Unite will also be in the forefront of legal and political campaigns to end the abuses of the “flexible” labour market.
Third, free movement of labour. Unions understand that workers have always done best when the labour supply is controlled and communities are stable. While we must reject any form of racism, and help refugees fleeing war, we must also listen to the concerns of working people.
They understand that the free movement of labour means downward pressure on wages, in some sectors at least.
That’s why I have called for new safeguards that would ensure any employer recruiting from abroad must be covered by a proper union or collective bargaining agreement, stopping companies cutting costs by slashing workers’ wages and transforming a race-to-the-bottom culture into a rate-for-the-job society.
From my days on the Liverpool docks, I have understood what ordinary workers look for from their trade union – a focus on pay, job security and health and safety; with guarantees against discrimination and victimisation.
That is as relevant and important in the 21st Century as it was in the twentieth. And as ever, unions require unity and clear leadership to deliver. The last thing we need is for Unite to become a political football for factions in the Parliamentary Labour Party. I think we heard maybe a little too much from them this summer.
For the last six years, Unite has started to deliver on its promise. In the years ahead, I promise to deliver still more.
Len McCluskey is running for re-election as the general secretary of Unite the Union
Follow Len McCluskey on Twitter: @UniteforLen
In a surprise turn around the German trade union umbrella organisation the DGB have come out against the EU-Canada Trade agreement known as CETA. A document available to download here spells out why tacit previous support has been over-turned.
The DGB has faced criticism of its previous stance, not just from some German unions but also from EU unions, who now see the opposition of the DGB as a step towards getting Angela Merkel to pull the plug on the who deal.
This remains to be seem as Merkel was instrumental in rescuing the deal after the Belguim regional parliament in Wallonia rejected the agreement and EU and Canadian officials were scrambled to save it by tinkering around the edges of the agreement.
The DGB document is clear that the revised document (described in some quarters as merely “putting lipstick on a pig”) does not satisfy them on a number of accounts including protection for workers. More soon……
“With the passing of another towering figure from the history of the twentieth century, this is the moment to remember what Fidel Castro achieved for the people of Cuba and Latin America.
“He saw off the corruption and brutality of the Batista regime and, despite the imposed poverty of the US illegal embargo, went on to create a country with the best health and education systems in the region.
“His Cuba inspired those seeking freedom around the world. This is the legacy for which he will be remembered.”
It seemed a fearsome task, challenging the powerful behemoth that is Wall Street, Big Pharma, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Big Ag, Big Oil, all their lobbyists, and all the Congress critters they’d “campaign-financed” to support their money-grubbing 12-country trade scheme.
The battle was engaged, though, for the sake of workers’ rights, clean air and water, food safety, reasonably priced pharmaceuticals, national sovereignty, internet freedom, financial regulation, public control of public lands, the right of governments to pass laws for the public good without corporations suing for so-called lost profits in secret tribunals adjudicated by hand-picked corporate jurists, and the freedom of local governments to buy American-made products for taxpayer financed projects to create American jobs. And, frankly, so much more. For a righteous, just and equitable society. That’s why there were so many ants.
Literally thousands of civil society groups coalesced to combat the TPP. These included labor unions, health care organizations, food safety advocates, environmentalists, churches, family farmers, social justice societies, indigenous rights organizations and allied groups in the 12 TPP partner countries. My union, the United Steelworkers, was among them. It was an overwhelming number of groups with an overwhelming number of members who conducted an overwhelming number of events over years to make it clear to lawmakers just how strongly citizens opposed the TPP.
It began slowly with warnings about the secret negotiation process itself. Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, which was instrumental in organizing the collaborative action against the TPP, said groups started telling politicians early on that they weren’t going to tolerate another NAFTA. No one listened. As a result, he wrote:
“. . .first thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and then literally millions of Americans signed letters and petitions urging the Obama administration and Congress to abandon TPP negotiations that gave corporate lobbyists a seat at the table, while keeping the public in the dark.”
Let me tell you about the fire ant. They mostly live in mounds. If an animal steps on the mound, the ants will attack. A few ants are irritating. A bunch are annoying. Half a million fierce fire ants with tiny venomous stingers working together can kill a 10-pound animal. That’s what happened to the TPP.
The anti-TPP forces conducted call-in days that resulted in hundreds of thousands of calls to Congressmen and women. When Congress was weighing whether to fast track the TPP, in other words to approve it without even bothering to amend it to fix it, the anti-TPP forces conducted an encampment on Capitol Hill for three weeks. This, and many other anti-TPP demonstrations, occurred a year before either party chose its presidential nominee.
The USW Rapid Response, Legislative and Political departments worked with USW members to send to Congress more than 350,000 postcards protesting the TPP. USW members met with their Senators and Congressmen 1,500 times this year to oppose the deal. They held rallies, demonstrations, town hall meetings and even rock concerts to inform their communities about the problems with the TPP. They conducted large rallies and other events in Washington, D.C. They built support with their state legislatures and local governments, persuading cities and towns across the country to pass resolutions officially opposing the TPP.
And that’s only what the USW did. The AFL-CIO was an important leader on this issue. And many other unions were just as active, and so were groups like the Sierra Club and the BlueGreen Alliance. The effort was relentless and concerted. And that’s why it was successful.
For the USW, this win was a long time coming. It began 22 years ago when the USW took on NAFTA. The union filed a federal lawsuit trying to overturn that scheme. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court refused to hear it, and the USW lost. Workers continue to suffer devastation from NAFTA today, as manufacturers close profit-making American factories and re-open them across the border in Mexico where greedy corporations can make even more profit by destroying the environment and paying slave wages then shipping the goods duty free back to the United States.
For example, Carrier announced in February that it would close two profit-making factories in Indiana and reopen them in Mexico. The result is 2,100 workers, members of the USW, will lose their good, family-supporting jobs.
That’s NAFTA. That’s a trade deal negotiated by corporations for corporations. After that came Permanent Normalized Trade Relations with China in 2000. The USW strongly protested that as well, because the union believed none of the hype about how China was a huge market, and the United States was going to do all of the selling there.
As it turns out, the USW was right. China has relentlessly dumped government-subsidized products on the American market, baldly defying the international trade laws it agreed to abide by when it signed that agreement in 2000. That has devastated companies that want to manufacture in America, including steel, aluminum, paper and tires producers. These manufacturers have repeatedly had to pay untold millions to file trade cases to obtain limited relief in the form of tariffs, and tens of thousands of workers have paid in the terrible form of lost jobs.
The USW has protested virtually every so-called free trade scheme proposed since NAFTA, most particularly those with Korea and Colombia. In the case of Colombia, where more trade unionists were murdered than in any other country in the world, we asked for a delay in approval of the deal at least until safety for collective bargaining could be assured. We were ignored. And more trade unionists have been murdered every year since the deal took effect.
Then came the massive, hulking dragon of a TPP, the likes and size of which had never been seen before. This time, the corporatists really stepped in it. This time it wasn’t just a few angry trade unionists stinging their ankles. This time the self-dealing free traders had pissed off far too many civil society groups. And they were organized. And they weren’t going to take it anymore.
It’s not over, though. None of us oppose trade. We just want trade deals that, as economist Jared Bernstein and trade law expert Lori Wallach put it, are “written for all the cars on the road, not just the Lamborghinis.” For that to happen, all the groups that protested this deal must be at the table to negotiate the next deal – not just the corporations. The Lamborghinis are one interest group. We are many.
When I was a kid, Frank Sinatra sang a song called High Hopes, and the most famous verse was this:
No ant can move a rubber tree plant. But let me tell you, a couple million ants just killed a TPP monster. There’s high hope in concerted action.
Originally published on the Huffington Post blog, republished with permission of Leo Gerard.