Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald: My Plea To Save SSI Redcar

mcdonaldAs As the Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough with many, many thousands of constituents devastated by the SSI collapse, I plead with the Government to consider my analysis.

Now that the liquidation order has been made, I am of the view that this presents some major opportunities for a positive outcome and future at Redcar.

Government is in pole position to turn this situation around.

My understanding is that the Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills has the power to give direction to the official receiver as to how the liquidation is to proceed.

If that is so, then I propose the direction that the BIS Secretary should give is the preservation of the assets in this way:

Firstly, the coke ovens and power plant represent a viable business in their own right. There is coal sitting out in the bay in ships waiting to be unloaded. That power plant feeds into the national grid and can make money. That money could be utilised to pay the creditors – many of them in the local supply chain – at least in part for some of the debts they are owed.

Secondly, the blast furnace itself is a nationally and strategically important asset and it is imperative that it is made safe and preserved.

That at the very least should be the direction from the BIS Secretary through to the Official Receiver and that same direction onto the administrator Price Waterhouse Coopers.

If there are insufficiently available funds generated from the coke oven and power plant operation to fund a full mothballing, then Government should provide those funds directly.

My understanding is that a full mothballing is not as costly as some had previously suggested. I’m not an expert but I’m relying on the information the Government has when it says that it would cost a mere £2m to mothball and something similar on an annual maintenance basis.

These are small sums in the grand scheme of things.

The mothballing would avoid an environmental disaster and provide a breathing space to find a buyer as well as the opportunity for a full strategic review of, not only the steel industry, but of all our core industries that underpin our manufacturing base and capability to enable us to put together a coherent and integrated industrial strategy.

Industry is crying out for a national strategy. There are considerable gaps in the UK steel operation. For example, the slab from Redcar is all exported. We don’t have an internal UK market for the very steel we produce. Government should be looking to not only identify the gaps, but to settle a strategy that would facilitate the filling of those gaps in the UK steel chain.

If I am wrong about this, let the Secretary of State tell me why I’m wrong.

On the other hand, if there is merit in what I am saying, he should crack on with implementation as a matter of urgency or otherwise provide an explanation as to why he chooses not to.

Ultimately, we cannot let the Redcar plant disappear. I could set out vast tracts as to the damage it will cause to the Teesside economy but we’ll learn the full horror of the impact in very early course.

I have to say, in the final analysis, Government should undoubtedly intervene in any event.

Let me make it clear, I am not proposing the full scale nationalisation of the entire UK steel industry. I am concentrating solely on the Redcar operation. But what I am saying is that Government stepping in to take this operation off the hands of the liquidators, lock stock and barrel, should not be ruled out.

Let’s face it, when the East Coast mainline fell over some years ago, Government did the right thing and stepped in and took over, albeit temporarily, despite the arguments for it to remain in state hands given the success of the operation. Government stepped in there because the East Coast mainline was far too strategically important for Government to sit on its hands and do nothing.

The same is true of Teesside Steel. And please let’s not have the “state aid” argument. If the state was to step in and take on the ownership, it could so economically. The money needed to get it away from the administrator has to be small fry.

What are we talking about? As a non-operational plant with no one wanting to buy it currently, the coke ovens and power plant apart, we must looking at scrap value. There can be no state aid complications in terms of the blast furnace itself whilst the purpose is to secure and preserve the plant. There is no steel production or trading involved. No one can plead “state aid” in those circumstances. And if they do, then so be it. Let’s resolve that through the necessary channels in the years ahead. In the meantime the country’s biggest blast furnace can be saved.

And as for the coke ovens and blast furnace, I can’t accept that any intervention there could contravene state aid provisions. For goodness sake, it’s EDF the French state owned energy company which has supplied Redcar with electricity and has been hovering about to literally pull the plug on the plant for the last many weeks because of the unpaid bill.

State owned companies provide energy throughout Europe and we simply could not be penalised for our Government owning and operating the Redcar power plant.

Ultimately this is all a matter of political will. I urge the Government to intervene before it is simply too late.

Originally posted on Andy’s Blog. October 3rd, 15:21

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

Unite Cab Driver Mike Hedges on Uber “We want a level playing field”

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

Workers Uniting statement on breakthrough in Colombian peace talks

Santos-Timochenko2Workers Uniting, the 2 million member global union formed by UNITE the union and the United Steelworkers (USW), congratulates all parties in the Colombia peace process for the efforts that led to the historic handshake between Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC Commander Timoleon Jimenez ‘Timochenko’ on Wednesday 23 September 2015.

The commitment to sign a final deal by March 2016 and to bring to an end the tragic conflict that has lasted five decades offers hope for a better future for millions of ordinary Colombians.

During the conflict hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been displaced, threatened, imprisoned and killed, including human rights workers, Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders, and of course our fellow trade unionists.

There is no doubt that years of international campaigning have played a key role in helping to create the conditions for peace, and in this respect Workers Uniting  pays tribute to the trade union campaign Justice for Colombia for all the path breaking initiatives it undertook to help the process reach this point.

Workers Uniting also salutes  all the MPs and trade unionists involved in the Northern Irish peace process who also repeatedly travelled to Colombia and Havana to share their experiences and aid the process,  there is no doubt their assistance was invaluable.

Workers Uniting calls on the international community to remain fully involved and ensure that the agreements are respected and adhered to. There must be no repeat of the 1980s when those who laid down their arms and entered the political process were systematically murdered alongside thousands of other opposition members. We call on the government to confront the existing paramilitary groups and encourage the parties to agree a bilateral ceasefire as soon as possible.

Workers Uniting recognises there is still a huge amount of work to do in building a civil society which can operate free from persecution.  We will continue to remain fully involved in supporting and developing the Colombian trade union movement.

In the meantime Workers Uniting calls on the Colombian government to immediately release political prisoners such as Huber Ballesteros – the falsely accused leading member of our sister union Fensuagro.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Solidarity, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

Tribune Article On Productivity


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

We Need an Approach to Manufacturing That Is Less ‘Arthur Daley’


Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader and Angela Eagle’s appointment as the new shadow secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills heralds in new political times.

Up against Sajid Javid, her opposite number in government, during the debate on its draconian Trade Union bill, Angela has already shown her mettle.

With recent figures showing industrial output diving sharply, a widening trade deficit and a nine per cent fall in the export of goods, especially in the chemicals and manufacturing sectors, she put him right on where government priorities should lie:

“I am dismayed that we have a government which believes in attacking trade unions rather than working with them in the spirit of social partnership to improve economic efficiency and productivity in our country.”

We have a government and a chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, who devotes too much time on political tactics and point scoring instead of coming to grips in formulating a coherent industrial and manufacturing strategy.

Our message remains that for the UK economy to prosper there has to be a rebalancing of the economy away from an over reliance on the service and finance sectors – to a strong manufacturing base.

‘Going all in’ and ‘betting the house’ on China, to coin a poker phrase, will not on its own deliver the much vaunted rebalancing of the economy, especially given the Chinese stock market’s recent volatility.

While Osborne woos the Chinese for investment his ‘march of the makers’ has been in full reverse for a number of years, there is confusion about the Apprenticeship Levy – and Mr. Javid in his proposals to improve productivity tells the world it takes UK workers five days to produce what German workers produce in four without any explanation as to why!

Germany is seen not only as a powerhouse of European manufacturing activity it is rightly held up as a global force.

What Mr. Javid doesn’t get is that German productivity is high because employers and the government respect and works with trade unions. Companies inform and consult with workers and unions. Chancellor Angela Merkel has no problems in sitting down and talking to German unions, they have a stable and quality apprenticeship and training culture alongside support for the ‘Mittelstand’ – the small and medium sized businesses in the all important supply chain.

Plus German manufacturing companies didn’t break up their skilled workforces in the bad times – they worked with unions to take the tough decisions.

In a fast moving globalised world the current trading system in the UK is complex and fragmented. Germany pulls the relevant bodies, including government, business and the unions, together. They have an export strategy that is lacking in the UK.

article-0-1A660BD900000578-232_634x553Compare all this with Cameron, Osborne, Javid and business minister Nick Boles: The board of directors of Union Bashers Inc. with no industrial strategy, running the economy on the back of a fag packet skimming the bottom line like latter day Arthur Daley’s.

As Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary said: “Raising the productivity of UK manufacturing and commerce is one of the big economic challenges of the next decade. One way that this can be achieved is if ministers stopped attacking trade unions as the enemy within.

“Instead of regarding the trade unions, which have more than six million members, as a stumbling block for productivity progress, they should see unions as partners in productivity.”

On the eve of the Labour conference Unite will be arguing that investment and an end to austerity economics will boost productivity. Jeremy Corbyn along with Angela Eagle’s new shadow team in Business, Innovation and Skills now need to develop a manufacturing and industrial strategy based on decent, stable work; the ability for the workforce and unions to have a say in their companies and industries, a gold standard apprenticeship system and support for SMEs.

Germany does not lead the rest of the world by bashing unions, cutting pay and developing an army of agency and zero hours contracts workers. It does it by having a high skills, high pay economy, with protection for workers.

We need to win back those workers who walked away from us in May this year. Jeremy and Angela can do that by being clear that by working together the UK will prosper and thrive. By having policies that means growth is fairly shared, that there will be decent, stable jobs and apprenticeships for their families.

That is how we will begin the process of a fight back from the general election defeat and forward to Labour wins in those elections to come next year.

This blog first appears on the HuffPost website. September 23rd.

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

TUC Statement On EU Referendum & Statement to PLP by Jeremy Corbyn and Hilary Benn.

imagesCongress notes that there will be a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union at some time in the next two years, possibly before the 2016 Congress.

Over the years, Congress has consistently expressed support for a European Union that delivers economic prosperity based on social justice, civil and human rights, equality for all and rights at work. However, two developments in the recent period have called the achievements of the EU into question:

i. The part played by the institutions of the EU in intensifying the crisis in Greece, in demanding the imposition of further neo-liberal measures including extensive privatisation and cuts to welfare and social provisions on that country, and in undermining the policies of its democratically elected government.

ii. The EU’s advocacy of CETA, TTIP and similar agreements designed to advance the interests of transnational capital across Europe, opening up public services to marketisation and privatisation and over-riding the policies of elected governments.

These factors reflect the increasing domination of neo-liberal ideology within the European Union and inevitably prejudice the EU’s historic high standing within the labour movement.  There is a danger that these factors can only be exacerbated by David Cameron’s renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership. He has made it clear that these include the possibility of a further dilution or even disappearance of EU wide social protections as they apply in Britain.

These protections have included rights for women, part-time, temporary and agency workers, rights in situations of redundancy and information and consultation, rights for working parents and a range of health and safety rights, including limitations on excessive hours and the creation of a work-life balance. The positive benefits that the EU has delivered for working people are recognised – rights which are essential in any modern economy –  and those rights should be  both promoted and strengthened. Congress strongly rejects the attempts being made by the Prime Minister to use the renegotiation process to undermine workers’ rights, to foster divisions around migration, and to promote a Europe for financial and business elites only.

Congress believes that Conservative attempts to obtain an ‘opt-out’ from EU wide protections for UK workers, seeking to water down rights – especially the Working Time Directive and the Temporary Agency Workers Directive – and to impose a moratorium on future employment rights is wrong and counter-productive. Working people, faced with the prospect of a Europe based on insecurity at work and flexibility on employers’ terms, will have little enthusiasm to vote and be even less likely if they do, to vote to stay in the European Union.

We have also consistently argued that Government attempts to restrict benefits for migrants coming from other parts of Europe would herald an attack on everyone’s in-work benefits – a view justified by reports this summer. Some employers will always try to use new entrants to the labour market – women, young workers or migrants – to drive down wages, and we believe the EU has a positive role to play in preventing this exploitation by providing a floor of EU wide fundamental rights and labour standards, including the right to collective bargaining and the protection and enforcement of national level collective agreements. Congress believes that the only effective and acceptable ways to address concerns about free movement are to provide working people with the security against exploitation and undercutting that strong unions and decent rights at work, robustly enforced, would provide; and to expand access to public services and housing, using EU funding that follows migrants so that they can adapt to population changes.

Since the Government announced its plans for the EU Referendum, the TUC has campaigned and lobbied to expose the Government’s anti-worker rights agenda; to press employers to accept the need for a high level of workers’ rights as the quid pro quo for access to the single market; and to persuade other European Governments to reject the agenda of worse rights for working people, including freedom of movement, that the Prime Minister is more or less openly advocating. We have worked closely with other trade unions across Europe in seeking to ensure that their politicians understand that no concessions will satisfy the Prime Minister’s Eurosceptic backbenchers or UKIP, and that such concessions would also undermine support for the European Union in their own countries.

The European Union is Britain’s biggest trading partner, and millions of jobs in Britain aligned to that trade and could be put at risk if the UK left the EU. But we deplore the way in which European political leaders have put narrow sectional interests and the economics of austerity ahead of solidarity with countries facing economic crises – in particular Greece, but also Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain – as well as refugees like those fleeing oppression and war on Europe’s southern borders. We reject the European Union’s support for liberalisation and deregulation, including in trade deals like CETA with Canada and TTIP with the USA, both of which the TUC opposes, measures undermining collective bargaining in Eastern and Southern Europe and judgements of European courts that undermine negotiated sector level agreements providing minimum labour protections.

The TUC will continue to advocate a positive vision of a people’s Europe and reforms that would promote investment for sustainable growth, decent work with good wages and a greater say for people at work. Investment in public infrastructure like social housing, transport, telecommunications and energy efficiency could create 11 million highly skilled and well-paid jobs across Europe. Europe needs a pay rise and an adequate floor of enforceable minimum wages to protect the most vulnerable.

In the run up to the EU Referendum, we will continue to campaign and lobby against the Government’s attempts to further water down Social Europe.  The government and industry needs to understand that neither the TUC position nor the votes of millions of trade unionists can be taken for granted. Workers will not back or support a Europe that fails to protect and enhance the position of working people, citizens and civil society or one that solely works in the narrow interests of global corporations and finance capital. We hope that the Prime Minister’s efforts to weaken workers’ rights will fail but if they do not, we are issuing a warning to the Prime Minister: you will lose our members votes to stay in the EU by worsening workers’ rights. Once the full results of the renegotiation and timetable for the referendum are known the TUC will take stock of our position. However, both the Prime Minister and CBI should note that should he succeed in further undermining British workers rights pressure to put TUC resources and support in the referendum behind a vote to leave the European Union will intensify dramatically.

1-ff74a5b8c4Statement to the PLP, 17th September by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and Hilary Benn, Shadow Foreign Secretary.


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

Protect The Right To Strike!

Pages from Kill the Bill Final-2Download ‘Protect The Right To Strike’ by John Hendy QC and Prof. Keith Ewing published by CTUF and IER at 

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

IG Metall: Statement On Refugees

xa4yrtvm7hr7ueok3lvoThe giant German metalworkers union IG Metal have issued this statement on the refugee crisis now engulfing the EU. It is certainly well worth reading and an impressive statement of solidarity with those in dire need.

Click here to download the pdf of the statement. 

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

UK car output up – and down

Inside the JLR Engine pant.

Inside the JLR Engine pant.

By David Bailey, Professor of Industry at  Aston Business School

After its best first half year in ages, UK car and engine manufacturing took something of a hit last month, as annual summer shutdowns kicked in and as demand from emerging markets like China faltered.

A total of 793,642 cars were built in the first six months of 2015, up by 0.3 per cent on a year ago, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

This was the best first half year in seven years, since the onset of the global financial crisis.

UK automotive production volumes are up by more than 50 per cent since 2009 and further big investments are planned, with new models set to start production in the coming months.

The SMMT was right to stress that this recent success of the industry was built not only on “significant industry investment” (over £7 billion worth in the last three years) but also a “positive relationship with government, essential if the industry is to maintain its international competitiveness”.

The latter means an intelligent industrial policy – something that the new Business Secretary Sajid Javid needs to take note of.

I would also add in another factor for the industry’s success – the flexibility and hard work of workers and unions in pulling out all the stops to help make the UK a competitive place in which to assemble cars and source components (something the media all too often fails to recognise).

But, after a strong first half year, car production fell 11 per cent July, according to data published by the SMMT this week.

The auto industry trade body put a positive spin on things in putting this fall down to seasonal factory stoppages being taken earlier in the summer than last year.

That’s correct to an extent. Annual shutdowns are indeed taking place earlier than last year.

At JLR, the usual August shutdown was brought forward to late July and early August.

Nissan’s Sunderland plant (which produces one-in-three of all cars made in the UK), was also shut in late July.

On top of that, several plants are undertaking retooling to get ready to produce brand new cars, including the GM Vauxhall plant in Ellesmere Port, which will assemble the new generation Astra (won after a bidding war with other GM Europe plants).

But there’s another factor in the slowdown. Faltering demand from emerging markets like Russia and China is also now taking a toll.

Indeed, despite the recovery now under way in European car markets, last month exports were down seven per cent year-on-year.

That emerging market slowdown has a particular impact on the UK’s premium car sector (which is the second largest in the world), including JLR, Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Aston Martin.

As I noted in a recent Birmingham Post blog, JLR’s recent remarkable growth stalled in the last quarter as sales in China slipped and China became more like a ‘normal’ car market.

JLR’s revenue fell 6.6 per cent to £5 billion but it was the firm’s pre-tax profit and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) which took the biggest hit, with profit down over 30 per cent to £638 million and EBITDA down 24 per cent to £821 million.

But, as China and Russia slow, the ongoing pick-up in the European market should help the volume producers in the UK – comprising Nissan, Toyota, Vauxhall and Honda (the latter has had a torrid time in Europe in recent years having misjudged the European market).

That may mean something of more balanced growth in the UK car industry.

Growth over the last few years has been driven mainly by JLR and Nissan. Expect the other volume producers to play a bigger role over the next few years.

That means output growth is still likely going forward over the next few years unless the strength of sterling damages the competitiveness of the industry too much.

The strength of the pound is already holding back UK exports in other areas of manufacturing, with factory output barely above recession levels.

As a result, overall manufacturing is virtually stagnant and acts as a drag on UK economic growth (so much for the march of the makers).

Recent CIPS/Markit data showed export order books shrinking for the fourth month in succession, with the rising value of sterling making UK goods more expensive in the Eurozone (which accounts for almost half the British manufactured goods sold overseas).

This is one reason why I’d prefer to see interest rate rises to come later rather than sooner and to be modest in scale.

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

Steelworkers Gear Up For Lock Out

Rallies and marches have been planned from 19 to 21 August at ArcelorMittal facilities in four states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana as the United Steelworkers prepare for a major dispute in the US steel industry.

At the same time, USW members are also participating in a series of events targeting 12 plants in six states belonging to Allegheny Technologies (ATI).

In June, the Steelworkers entered into negotiations of new master agreements at both ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel, which employ around 30,000 USW members combined. Both contracts are scheduled to expire on 1 September.

The USW reports that both ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel persist in their proposals to drive down compensation and force union members to pay significantly more for active and retired health benefits that are unlikely to provide the coverage of the current plans.

We recognize that this is a difficult time for the steel industry,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard, “but we also recognize that for generations, these have been good, middle-class jobs that have allowed workers to care for their families and support their communities.

“It is important that we make sure that remains true for our generation and for those who come after us,” Leo W. Gerard added.

Steelworkers at U.S. Steel have been organizing strike and lockout preparation sessions at local unions across the country.  Local union activists at each site are coming together to make plans to organizing picket lines, mobilize community support, and administer strike or lockout assistance in the event of a work stoppage.

Elsewhere, steelmaker Allegheny Technologies announced on 14 August the lockout of 2,200 Steelworkers at 12 sites around the country. The lockout is the culmination of a months-long campaign by ATI management to force workers to accept draconian and unnecessary concessions.

The United Steelworkers say ATI is spending millions of dollars on bringing outsiders to replace skilled and experienced union members even though the union has never threatened to strike or even conducted a strike authorization vote.

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