Obituary: Ken Cameron

Ken Cameron : "A Socialist And Comrade"

Ken Cameron : “A Socialist And Comrade”

By Peta Steel

Ken Cameron, the stalwart socialist General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union who has just died at the age of 75 was one of the most charismatic and effective figures in the trade union movement as it came under attack from the Tory Government during the 1980s.

Cameron was a constant supporter to the Mineworkers, print workers and ambulance workers as they faced action from Thatcher and her Ministers as they tried to dismantle the welfare system and strip workers of their rights.

Cameron was General Secretary of the Fire Brigades’ Union from 1980 to 2000, and during that time led the fight to stop the fire brigade from being privatised and to protect their pay and conditions. At the same time he did much to support other trade unionists and in particular the National Union of Mineworkers raising money to help them and liaise with other organisations.

Cameron was born in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands in 1941, his mother who was Irish worked in the local big houses as a cleaner taught him about socialism. He was to remain immensely proud of her and of his background for the rest of his life. His clear Highland’s accent though later tempered through years of living in England would demand immediate attention as he spoke.

Like many Scots he received an education that gave him a fundamental understanding of international relations and an abiding hatred of apartheid and injustice.

He left school determined to make a difference. A brief span training as a journalist on the Aberdeen Press and Journal came to an end when he was sacked after falling into a swimming pool whilst covering an international swimming competition.  Jobs in those days were less easy to come by as the exploration of the local oil fields was only just beginning.

Cameron who had also worked as a special constable moved to Birmingham where he trained to be a policeman, before joining the fire brigade service.

It was no surprise that he became increasingly involved with the Fire Brigade’s Union; gradually rising through its’ ranks, becoming one of its most progressive and charismatic leaders. He was to lead the protest following the strikes of 1977-78 as the fire brigade were threatened with cut backs under a Labour Government. In 1980 he became General Secretary of the FBU a role he was to hold for the next 20 years.

His appointment came as Thatcher with her hard views at taking on the trade unions and dismantling the nationalised industries was elected in to Government. He was one of the first to warn of the impending struggle and to try and unite the unions so that they could defend themselves.

But it was during the miners strike to protect jobs during 1984/1985 that Cameron came to the fore playing a leading part in raising money to help the union. Even travelling to the USA to raise funds; And at one time taking money from his own union’s funds to help them, the £20,000 was paid back six years later.

Ken Cameron marching with his members in the FBU.

Ken Cameron marching with his members in the FBU.

Cameron became a familiar face on the picket lines and at meetings constantly giving support. He was to do the same during the Ambulance Workers Strike. He never turned down calls for help and earned a reputation for being approachable and supportive.

He was also a champion of international causes giving strong support to the ANC and Mandela in the fight against apartheid, which was in those days being undermined by Thatcher who looked on Mandela as a terrorist and in raising awareness of the problems and the injustice suffered by the Palestinians.

He was to move the first pro Palestinian motion at Congress in 1982.   On his retirement he was to receive a personal letter from Nelson Mandela who by that time had become a friend, becoming an honorary member of the FBU in 1990.

He was both sanguine and pragmatic when Blair became leader of the Labour Party, resisting measures that would see the jettisoning of Clause Four. But on the day the motion to get rid of it passed, mourned its loss and made reference that Labour would come into government but would lose some of its soul in doing so.

On his retirement he served on the Central Arbitration Committee. He was chair of the PPPS management committee which runs the Morning Star for several years.

Paying tribute to him Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU said ‘Ken was a forward thinking, socialist union leader who devoted many years of his life to protect Fireworkers pay and conditions. Ken defended everything that was good about the work of firefighters.

Asked how he would describe himself Cameron said: ‘a socialist and a comrade’.

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Len McCluskey: Labour’s fresh thinking on investment will lead to a stronger economy

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey

Labour must put the brakes on the `Sports Direct economy’ caused by a discredited political dogma which has down-graded industrial strategy, rejected the investment that is vital to growth and has assisted the inequality now raging through the UK, the leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, said today (Saturday 21 May).

Len McCluskey was speaking at the Labour Party’s `State of the Economy’ conference in London, held as part of shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s pledge to build a new consensus on economic policy.

Addressing the audience, Len McCluskey echoed the calls of Nobel-winner and McDonnell advisor Joseph Stiglitz who has called for action “rewrite the rules” of how our economy operates, saying:

“This is a very welcome initiative from John and his team.  This country urgently needs a Labour government that will chart a new course because this is no longer an issue of tinkering at the edges; it’s about rewriting the relationship between capital and the communities and people it is there to serve.
 
“The next Labour government will be one that understands that the economy must work for the people, not the other way round.
 
“That means rejecting outright the failed consensus of the past 40 years – the free market dogmas that crash-landed eight years ago – and walking away from the tired thinking that dominates today’s policy prescriptions.
 
“Our country needs an industrial strategy supported by long-term, public-led investment in our country’s infrastructure: in transport, energy, housing and communications. Without this infrastructure, industry cannot flourish.
 
“It requires a new approach to job-destroying takeovers which may work for big shareholders but damage everyone else.  It requires particular attention to those key sectors which underpin broader economic development, from steel to communications technology.  And yes, a successful industrial strategy requires us to ‘re-write the rules’ and restructure our economy, rebalancing it away from an over-reliance on financial services.
 
“That, of course, means investment supported by a reformed banking system oriented to helping build the real economy and away from the present day short-termism that inhibits investment.
 
“It’s not about central government making every decision – it is about government ensuring that the interests of the community and long-term development are put first.
 
“On the steel crisis, this Conservative government has had to be dragged to the table just to engage with stakeholders and workers in order to save one of our key foundation industries.  On the major economic decisions of our times, its only answer has been deepening austerity and further cuts to the public services and investment that would grow our economy.
 
Calling for Labour to submit its policies to an ‘equality audit’, Len McCluskey added:

“It seems that everyone is against widening inequality but no-one wants to do much about it.  I would suggest that if there is one single factor which propelled Jeremy and John to the leadership of the party last year, it was the desperate desire to see Labour get back to its roots in tackling rampant inequality.
 
“Let’s be clear, there is no free-market based answer to inequality. It is the out of control market that has caused incomes at the top and bottom to hurtle apart at warp speed and put many basics – like having your own home – out of reach for millions.
 
“We need to put the brakes on this race towards the Sports Direct economy.  Everything Labour proposes should have to face an “equality audit” – is this going to make society fairer, is it going to redistribute power and wealth?
 
“That means tackling low pay, liberating trade unions to do their job, and making employers compete on quality and service, not on cost-cutting at workers’ expense.”
 
Len McCluskey was speaking at Labour’s The State of the Economy conference, where he was part of a panel that included Professor Linda Yueh, Sue Himmelweit of the Women’s Budget Group, the author and broadcaster Paul Mason and the acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall.
 
The conference took place at London’s Imperial College university.

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Why The EU Must Not Grant China Market Economy Status

14.03-china-coils1The decision by the European Parliament recently to oppose granting Market Economic Status (MES) to China is very welome. It follows extensive lobbying by Unite and our global union with the US Steelworkers, Workers Uning (read statement) along with the Brtish TUC and the European TUC.

The decision is a blow to China and those governments who support granting China MES — the Tories in the UK so far have been prepared to accept MES for China  as part of their strategy to seemingly give everything they can to China in exchange for investment.

The EU vote was cast amid fears that market economic status for China would leave the UK and the rest of the European Union unable to impose anti-dumping tariffs on steel and other products such as ceramics, paper and tyres to defend decent UK jobs and industry.

The EU Commission and the Tory Government will now be well advised to listen to the MEPs as would the Government in the UK.

Over the coming months the EU Commission is due to decide whether to grant MES to China. The move has been triggered by the fact provisions written into China’s protocol, when it acceded to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) 15 years ago, kick in on 11 December 2016.

Currently China is not considered a market economy in EU anti-dumping proceedings, meaning the EU uses data from another market economy to calculate anti-dumping duties when it imposes fines on China.

As a number of UK trade associations such as the British Ceramics Confederation have express total opposition pointing out that China does not even meet the and does not meet the five technical criteria for granting MES.

These are:

  • Decisions by firms regarding prices, costs and inputs are made in response to market signals, without significant state intervention.
  • There are no significant legacy distortions in the economy from the previous non-market period.
  • Firms in the economy operate under transparency, bankruptcy, property ownership and corporate governances.
  • Firms in the economy operate under a single set of accounting standards based on international norms, applied in all circumstances.
  • Exchange rate conversions are carried out at a market rate.

On all counts China does not meet the criteria.

Granting China market economic status would be the death knell for key industries including steel which are already fighting for survival in the face of the dumping of cheap imports.

It would leave the UK and Europe unable to impose anti-dumping tariffs on cheap Chinese goods including car tyres, ceramics and paper –  and leave workers in the UK competing with both arms tied behind their backs.

If key industries like our steel industry are to have a future in the UK, government must drop its veto to the EU invoking the ‘lesser duty rule’ and allow higher tariffs on Chinese steel.

The Government should listen to the voices of MEPs and Labour who will I am sure echo the decision and once again make it clear that Labour’s policy is to oppose MES – no ifs or buts.

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Len McCluskey On Why Unite Supports EU Remain

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Uber Recognises New York Drivers – But Not Full Unionisation.

File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi signUber the platform based ride hailing – taxi company announced an agreement with International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to create an association for drivers in New York that would establish a forum for regular dialogue and afford them some limited benefits and protections — but that would stop short of unionisation.

The association, will be known as the Independent Drivers Guild and will be affiliated with a regional branch of Machinists union, and is the first of its kind that Uber has officially blessed, although Uber drivers have formed a number of unsanctioned groups in cities across the country.

“We’re happy to announce that we’ve successfully come to agreement with Uber to represent the 35,000 drivers using Uber in New York City to enhance their earning ability and benefits,” said James Conigliaro Jr., the ‘guild’ founder and assistant director and general counsel at the International Association of Machinists District 15, which represents workers in the Northeast.

The agreement is Uber’s latest attempt to assuage mounting concerns from regulators and drivers’ groups about the company’s labour model, which treats drivers as independent contractors. That model helps Uber keep its labour costs low, but it excludes drivers from coverage by most labour and employment laws, such as those that require a minimum wage and overtime.

That has spurred public disagreements, and many drivers have organized in unofficial unions to gain more rights. The prospect of unionisation has loomed at times; lawmakers in Seattle voted last year to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber and other ride-hailing apps to form unions.

In response, Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has been striking deals to tamp down the problems — with the proviso that the company be able to continue classifying its drivers as contractors and stop short of allowing drivers to unionize.

Last month, Uber reached a settlement in a prominent class-action lawsuit with drivers who had contested their contractor status. Under the settlement, the company agreed to pay as much as $100 million and put less pressure on drivers to a

Uber faces other labour-related hurdles. Along with Lyft, a competing ride-hailing service, the company this week withdrew operations from Austin, Tex., after losing a battle with the City Council over the nature of its background checks for drivers.

Under the terms of the deal in New York, which will be in effect for five years, a group of drivers who are guild members will hold monthly meetings with Uber management in the city, where they can raise issues of concern.

The drivers will be able to appeal decisions by Uber to bar them from its platform, and can have guild officials represent them in their appeals. In addition, they will be able to buy discounted legal services, discounted life and disability insurance and discounted roadside help for problems they encounter while driving.

Yet unlike a traditional union, which contractors typically cannot form, guild members will not be able to bargain over a contract with the company that would stipulate fares, benefits and protections. Uber will continue to determine most of these elements unilaterally, albeit with more input from drivers.

The Machinists union has also indicated that for the duration of the five-year agreement, it will refrain from trying to unionise drivers, from encouraging them to strike and from waging campaigns to have them recognized as employees rather than independent contractors.

“It’s important to have immediate assistance in the industry and this is the structure that provides that,” said Mr. Conigliaro.

He emphasized, however, that drivers did not waive any labor rights by joining the guild, and that if Uber drivers were found to be employees at any point during the agreement, the union could try to unionize the drivers at their request.

Uber said the agreement would help smooth relationships with drivers, whose frustrations have grown with recent fare cuts and policy changes .

“Communication is important,” said David Plouffe, Uber’s chief adviser. “On price cuts, we haven’t always had the best forum to discuss and share data — how price cuts work, what we see afterward.”

Mr. Plouffe said that as a result of discussions with drivers in certain parts of the country, Uber had adopted a number of changes, like a pilot program to charge riders when a driver has to wait for more than two minutes.

With the agreement, Uber also wins an ally in its effort to change the New York State law that levies a nearly 9 percent tax on black car rides but that does not apply to taxis. (There is a 50-cent surcharge on yellow taxi trips.) Uber says the law unfairly singles out parts of its service. Under the terms of the deal, the machinists union will help Uber lobby the State Legislature to treat all hired vehicles equally.

Mr. Plouffe said the money likely to be saved from changing the law would flow to drivers’ bottom lines, and some of it would be used to help set up a benefits fund that the guild would administer and whose scope it would determine. Among the potential new benefits is paid time off for drivers.

Uber was not seeking to replicate the guild idea outside New York, which differs from other cities in that a much higher fraction of Uber drivers use the platform full time or close to full time, Mr. Plouffe added.

Also , Uber said the Freelancers Union, which supports independent workers, will advise the company on how to create portable benefits for its drivers and other gig economy workers.

Sara Horowitz, the group’s founder and executive director, praised the agreement as a bold step that would become “part of a larger strategy for this new work force.”

The agreement drew a mixed reaction from drivers. Eric Grant, a veteran Uber driver who recently served on a panel in Seattle that heard appeals from fellow drivers who had been deactivated — part of a special pilot program in that city — said Uber’s new appeals program was a much-needed change.

“One of the issues they have had in the past is that they deactivate people willy-nilly, without any appeals process,” Mr. Grant said.

Others, particularly those involved in competing attempts to organize Uber drivers in New York, were skeptical. Abdoul Diallo, who helped found an association of drivers in New York, which is called the Uber Drivers Network and claims about 5,000 members, said that the new organization sounded “bogus” and that the guild was no substitute for an actual union.

Mr. Diallo said deactivation was relatively far down the list of concerns for most drivers in his organization. “First and foremost, price cuts and commissions matter most to drivers,” he said.

The machinists union said no topic was off the table in the guild’s discussions with Uber, including fares and commissions.

Mr. Diallo’s group, meanwhile, is encouraging drivers to sign cards that will allow the Amalgamated Transit Union to represent them; more than 5,000 drivers have signed.

Edited from NY Times article.

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Brexit is not the answer to the new generation of free trade agreements

EU-US-flags-584x336

By Adrian Weir

The cat is out of the bag – the publication last week of the LSE report on the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions within the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) commissioned by the Government has concluded that there’s nothing in for the UK.

To quote from the report: “we conclude that an EU-US investment treaty that does contain ISDS is likely to have few or no benefits to the UK, while having meaningful economic and political costs.”

In their conclusion the LSE authors make four clear points:

  • there is little reason to think that an EU-US investment chapter will provide the UK with significant economic benefits
  • there is little reason to think that an EU-US investment chapter will provide the UK with significant political benefits
  • there is some reason to expect an EU-US investment chapter will impose meaningful economic costs on the UK
  • there is some reason to expect an EU-US investment chapter will impose meaningful political costs on the UK

But which side, if any, of the ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ argument does the report bolster?

Those who advocate ‘Leave’ often cite the ‘free trade’ treaties currently being negotiated between the EU and the US, the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the EU and Canada, the Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA), as reasons to leave. Specifically, the threat to public services posed by TTIP is often cited as the reason to go.

And yet in a recent Guardian article, Will Straw, of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign, attempted to rebut former Gang of Four member David Owen’s assertion that the NHS was at threat from TTIP: “Lord Owen’s claims about the proposed trade deal with the US are utterly untrue. The UK government … and the EU are crystal clear that there are specific protections to ensure that the NHS would be unaffected by TTIP, which has the potential to increase jobs and growth in Britain.”

On the same day Rachel Reeves MP claimed on Labour List that “… anyone who studies both the detail and political intention of this deal [TTIP] can see that it poses no threat at all to our health service.”

“Anyone” clearly doesn’t extend to Michael Bowsher QC; acting for the campaign group The People’s NHS who has stated that: “Our conclusion is that TTIP poses a real and serious risk to future UKG [UK Government] decision-making in respect of the NHS”.

Both Straw and Reeves are wrong. It is not the case that the Conservative Government has made the NHS ‘safe’ should the TTIP treaty ever be ratified. Nor have the European Commission’s negotiators made any special provision or protection for the NHS.

Essentially, TTIP is an issue that transcends ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ not least because TTIP is just one part of a network of new generation deregulatory free market/free trade deals being negotiated around the globe. For example, the treaty with Canada, CETA, may be signed very soon and would be equally as dangerous as TTIP, the ratification of which appears to be some way off.

President Obama’s assertion during his visit last month that the UK would be at “the back of the queue” for a free trade deal with the US if it left may be taken as not so subtle American support for the ‘Remain’ side as was the intervention of Lt-Gen Frederick ‘Ben’ Hodges, head of the US Army in Europe, who concluded that Brexit would apparently leave Europe weaker in the face of Russian expansionism.

The public views of Obama and Hodges are for a political purpose and not based on what will really happen.

Should Britain vote ‘Leave,’ Cameron, or whoever is leading the Government at that point, will attempt to open negotiations with the US on a separate bi-lateral trade treaty which will be equally as bad, if not worse, than the likely impact of TTIP on public services, health and safety, food and environmental standards and labour rights.

Campaigners have exposed the fact that the TTIP and CETA treaties contain these special legal provisions – ISDS – enabling multinational corporations to sue nation states in secret quasi-courts if the nation tilts the terms of trade away from the interests of business in favour of its citizens.

These corporate courts operate to protect the interests of foreign investors, making both governments and public bodies risk averse when it comes to public provision of services or a return to public ownership of those parts of the NHS the Tories have already privatised.

Again, referring back to the report: “… the impact of an EU-US investment treaty on UK policy space can be understood as the extent to which the treaty prevents the government of the day from adopting policies that the government would have preferred to adopt in the absence of the treaty.”

The anti TTIP campaigning has got the European Commission worried, particularly public disquiet with ISDS. Commissioner Cecilia Malmström is urgently promoting her so-called reform of ISDS – the Investor Court System (ICS), with open courts, appointed judges and an appeal mechanism.

We should not be taken in by the proposed reform, the ICS will still give rights to corporations not enjoyed by citizens; it would still make governments risk adverse about regulation in favour of workers and citizens that may be at the expense of the corporations.

We should also not be led to believe that a vote to ‘Leave’ is a vote against this new generation of free trade treaties, that a ‘Leave’ vote would be a vote against TTIP – which it will not be.

TTIP and CETA transcend ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ which is probably why the LSE report has not been seized upon by either side (campaigning group 38 Degrees has given the report publicity but not in a ‘Remain or ‘Leave’ context).

We will need to maintain the campaign against TTIP and CETA if the Referendum outcome is ‘Remain’; we will need to campaign against new UK bilateral investment treaties (BITs) if it’s to ‘Leave’.

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Manufacturing is essential to the UK’s economy — and it depends on EU membership

BMW2The Brexiters’ alternative is a zero-hours, low-skill, low-paid economy

Economics professor Patrick Minford, who supports the Brexit campaign, said recently that ‘if we left the EU, it seems that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing.’

Minford – who was a major proponent of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies in the 1980s – says this wholesale elimination of manufacturing post-Brexit ‘shouldn’t scare us’. In fact, he said we should welcome it. He also went onto say that new imported BMWs and brie would be cheaper too.

But what if the Brexit Prof is right? What would happen if UK manufacturing eventually disappeared?

Firstly 2.6m jobs would be gone. Manufacturing accounts for nearly half of all our exports at 44 per cent. Business research and development in the UK would take a massive hit, as 69 per cent of R&D is spent on manufacturing. We would say goodbye to our position on global league table – we now stand seventh in the world in terms of manufacturing output.

Although the services industry dominates the present UK economy, manufacturing still represents 10 per cent of our GDP and is a major contributing factor in driving productivity – a key measure in the long-term health of the economy and working people’s living standards.

Unlike services, which Minford said we should embrace as we give up on the business of making things, manufacturing provides well-paid, highly skilled jobs. Average annual wages in manufacturing stand at nearly £31,000, compared to only £26,500 in services.

But the future health of manufacturing in the UK is, in Unite’s view, very much dependent on the UK’s continued membership in the European Union.

The Engineering Employers Federation, which represents the UK’s manufacturers, notes that the EU accounts for 18 per cent of global output – and the UK sells 50 per cent of all its exports to the EU. The EU is also a major driver of innovation in the UK – it invests £11bn each year on innovation programmes, of which 15 per cent is invested in the UK.

What’s more, the leading destination for foreign investment in the EU is the UK.

The future of the UK’s exports and imports of manufactured goods is inextricably linked to continued membership in the EU. In 2012, the value of imports of manufactured goods from the EU to the UK stood at £158bn, while the value of exports from the UK to the EU stood at £104bn.

Manufacturers are united in their belief that the UK is better off remaining in the EU.

A recent EEF survey says that 84 per cent of UK manufacturers believe being part of the EU is a positive aspect of the UK business environment.

The survey also showed that an astounding 50 per cent of manufacturing companies would be less likely to increase investment if the UK were to leave the EU.

Other important manufacturing trade bodies including the Society of Motor Manufacturers; the Chemical Industries Association; ADS – the body which represents the aerospace, defence, security and space industries; the Ceramic Federation of Great Britain and others support the remain campaign.

A some of the UK’s top manufacturing companies employing thousands of trade union members including Airbus, Siemens, Nissan, Ford, Rolls-Royce, Cummins Engineering,  BAE Systems, Unilever, Astra Zenca, BMW, JLR, BP, Pearson Publishing, GE, GKN among others, have publicly stated it is in the UK’s interest to remain in the EU.

An open letter signed by some of the UK’s top engineering companies said:

“British engineering is deeply integrated with global markets and companies. If Britain votes to leave the EU, the period of uncertainty about the terms on which access to these markets would be granted would be a threat to the sector. Brexit would be a loss of automatic access to the EU market.”

The UK’s main manufacturing unions, Unite, GMB, Community and USDAW have all come out in favour of remaining in the EU.

Of course Brexit supporters have dismissed this overwhelming support arguing we can go it alone and other countries would beat a path to our door. What nonsense. They say we can negotiate our own trade arrangements with EU countries, the USA and the rest of the world. This is naïve at best.

Big trade deals take years to negotiate. What do we do in those five or more years before new trade deals are agreed? Investment dries up, tarrfifs get imposed – chaos looms.

President Obama made it clear, much to the chagrin of the Brexit brigade that the UK would be at the back of the queue in any trade negotiations the with the USA if we were to leave the EU.

Outside of the EU, we won’t have the power of being in a market of 500 million people, we will be in a market of only 60 million. What do the Brexiters think the US and EU countries will do if they want a trade deal with us? It won’t be a negotiation – they will probably send a fax saying ‘sign here’.

No modern, developed country can exist without having a strong manufacturing base. What would happen is that the UK would have a perpetual zero-hours, low-skill, low-paid economy with a race to the bottom.

Once high-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs are gone, they will not come back come back and those UK workers looking for good jobs will move overseas and they’d take their skills with them – we would lose the best and the brightest.

The decision to stay in or leave the EU will have monumental consequences for the future shape of our economy. Do we want a world with better jobs for our children and protection in the workplace? Or one in which we’re in free fall in a race to the bottom? The latter is the Brexit option.

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary at Unite

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Steel Crisis: A Good First Step, But Government Must Steel Itself For Further Action

imagesBy Professor David Bailey

It’s great news that the government seems to at last ‘get it’ and is ready to part-nationalise Tata’s UK steel assets and offer debt financing if a private buyer can be found.

The business secretary, Sajid Javid, had previously said that the government was prepared to “co-invest” in British steel, having been caught on the hop by Tata announcing it was selling its UK operations.

Javid reminds me somewhat of the hapless former DTI Secretary Stephen Byers who was asleep at the wheel when BMW offloaded Rover back in 2000. Maybe the EU referendum has focused minds now, in that the government doesn’t want thousands of lay-offs if the steel industry goes down.

Of course, it’s better late than never… but it’s still not enough. Progress on the ‘5 Asks’ outlined in earlier blogs is still very much needed.

The government has said that it is prepared to take a minority equity stake of up to 25% in the steel plants, including Port Talbot in south Wales, in what is effectively part-nationalisation.

State Aid rules will have to be complied with, as Anna Soubry, the business minister said recently.  But let’s note that European governments have intervened in a range of ways to support their steel industries, including via part nationalisation, energy compensation schemes, part-time wage subsidies, solidarity compacts and more. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Government sources are already being cited saying that this was a commercial offer in the event of a sale and did not amount to ‘part-nationalisation’.

Fine; let’s avoid the loaded ‘N word’ if need be – especially as Javid had, of course, ruled it out a few weeks ago before backtracking under pressure and saying that all options were still on the table. The intervention may in fact be closer to our ‘conservatorship’ idea floated in Birmingham Post blogs a few weeks ago.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it would tailor its offer to a buyer’s needs. Much of the support could come through debt financing, but options include an equity stake or convertible debt.

As well as being ready to take a minority stake, the UK and Welsh governments said they would consider other support, for example to support R&D, training, the development of power plant infrastructure, energy efficiency and environmental protection measures. The government also said it was working with the pension scheme trustees of Tata Steel and British Steel to minimise any pension impact on a buyer.

Let’s be clear; this is a very welcome move.  As we have noted before in blogs, over the medium-term UK steel industry is commercially viable and over the longer-term it is economically essential.

But for any steel sector short term intervention to be successful, the government also needs to make progress on ‘5 Asks’ that we have highlighted at the Midlands Steel Task Group in recent months:  energy costs; emissions policy; business rates; procurement; and temporary trade defence. Removing large pension liabilities may also indeed be needed.

On energy costs, current UK energy policy is more ambitious in pursuing carbon-neutral aspirations than is the current practice in the EU.  As a result, high intensity users in the UK are paying considerably more than similar producers in Germany.  This places the manufacturing sector at a disadvantage not only to global competitors but also its EU partners.

While higher carbon prices and hence energy prices may well be required to meet global environmental needs, better forms of compensation for energy intensive industries like steel is required, as happens in Germany and Sweden for example.

On trade protection, Chinese firms have been accused of deliberately “dumping” steel on European markets, by selling at a loss to undercut prices. It is estimated China’s top state owned steelmakers are losing US$34 a tonne on crude steel. This comes on top of losing US$11 billion in the first ten months of 2015 alone.

All of this makes the UK government’s recent decision to block proposals to scrap “the lesser duty rate” that would have allowed the EU to significantly raise tariffs on imported Chinese steel, somewhat puzzling.

It is also fair to say the current EU tariffs and anti-dumping measures (tariffs of between 9% and 13% on imports of Chinese steel) lack the force of those imposed by the United States, which recently introduced tariffs of up to 266% on imported Chinese steel, to support its own steel producers.

In deciding to block proposals to scrap the “lesser duty rate” and impose higher tariffs, business secretary Sajid Javid emphasised the knock-on impact such tariffs would have on UK users of steel, who would then face higher steel prices.  But his fears are largely misplaced as we have noted before as prices are artifically low at present and anyway tariffs would affect steel users across Europe and not just in the UK.

In summary, not only should part-nationalisation be actively considered, it needs coupling with action on the ‘5 Asks’ if the UK steel industry is to be given the opportunity to recover.

Professor David Bailey works at the Aston Business School

Ends

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USA: Uber Settlement Designates Drivers As Contractors

ubercar42316_0First the good news: Uber the ‘ride sharing’ company has announced this week it had settled two class action lawsuits iand agreed to pay up to $100 million to workers in California and Massachusetts. The bad news: Uber gets to continue to classify its drivers as ‘independent contractors’

USA Today described the settlement which affects 385,000 workers in California and Massachusetts as “a big win for a company whose business model depends on keeping costs low by merely serving as a conduit between drivers and riders, rather than being an employer.”

As Uber drivers are classified as ‘independent contractors (described in the USA as 1099 workers) they do not qualify for health benefits, Social Security, unemployment or injury compensation, sick pay, holidays and holiday pay – or any other safety net benefits.”

Former US Labour Secretary Robert Reich says the designation means Uber drivers are “outside the labour laws – the most significant legal trend in the American workforce – contributing directly to low pay, irregular hours, and job insecurity”.

What makes them “independent contractors” is that Uber and other ‘ride’ companies say they work for say they are independent contractors who get their work via the Uber platform.  Companies such as Uber do no have any costs  of having full-time employees.

The settlement includes $84 million to the plaintiffs, and allows drivers to put signs in their cars saying ‘tips are not included’ in the price of a journey and would be appreciated”. There will be a second payment of $16 million if Uber goes public and the company valuation increases one and a half times from our December 2015 financing valuation within the first year of an IPO.

The Wall Street Journal described the amount as “a small concession relative to the larger triumph of preserving the high-margin business of connecting passengers to freelance drivers.”

However, as the Washington Post noted, “The settlement does not set any legal precedent and the company still faces other suits that remain unresolved.”

511kiLg3xQL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Earlier his month, Uber also released its first-ever transparency report which showed “that in the second half of 2015 alone, the ride-sharing app handed over information affecting more than 12 million riders and drivers to a number of U.S. regulators, and shared data about more than 400 users with federal and state law enforcement agencies.”

The Uberization of the economy ploughs on, wiping out decent jobs and underming employment rights. This issue will be a major issue for trade unions in the USA, the EU and the UK.

For more on Uberization and the digital revolution click on the book cover.

For more on the digital economy and its effect on trade unions click on the following links:

Trade Unions And The Coming Digital Revolution

Labour Needs To Get To Grips With The Digital Economy

Big Union Row Over Airbandb

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UPDATED: USA: Big Row Over Union Discussions With Airbandb

bnb_billboard_02-2000x1125-1Discussions between the US union SEIU (Service Employees) and the web based short term home rental – accomodation platform Airbnb have created a major row in the US trade union movement.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is said to be working to reach an agreement with Airbandb which would see housekeepers be represented by the union.

If the deal is successful, it would mark the first-ever formal arrangment  between a major company in the new ‘gig economy’ and a trade union.

Critics of the deal say that concerned that Airbnb has exacerbated housing crises in cities across the US, including in San Francisco, where Airbnb is headquartered.

The Washington Post has published documents that set out the terms of a possible agreement which would include Airbnb endorsing a $15-an-hour minimum wage a deal ensuring cleaners are paid at least $15 an hour and are trained and certified in providing “green home cleaning services”.

The agreement is said to be modeled on an agreement between Airbnb and Cooperative Cleaning, a worker owned cleaning agency in New York. The Washington Post described the deal as one that “allows the Airbnb to make the claim that it is creating good jobs for local residents”.

The backlash has come from the Unite Here union which organises hotel and hospitality workers and community and housing groups.

“We are appalled by reports that SEIU is partnering with Airbnb, a company that has destroyed communities by driving up housing costs and killing good hotel jobs in urban markets across North America,” said Annemarie Strassel, of Unite Here.

“Airbnb has shown a blatant disregard for city and state laws, has refused to cooperate with government agencies, and turns a blind eye to the fact that its business model exacerbates the affordable housing crisis.” She added: “A partnership with SEIU does little more than give political cover to Airbnb.”

“We have been engaged in conversations with organizations and community leaders about how to best help working families find solutions to economic inequality, including creating specific ways we could leverage the Airbnb platform to help create quality union jobs that pay a livable wage,” Christopher McNulty of the company has said.

The SEIU said: “We actively and regularly engage in conversations with companies who are committed to doing right by their workforce by paying better wages and giving them a voice at work through their union. Airbnb is one such company, however, there is no formal relationship or agreement between SEIU and Airbnb.”

New York politicians lead by the Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer have sent a letter to the SEIU expressing concern with the deal. “We find it troubling that SEIU is exploring entering into an agreement with Airbnb – a company whose business model displaces the very people you are seeking to represent and protect from their homes and communities,” the letter states. “Such a partnership would lend credence to Airbnb’s illegal manipulation of the housing market, and give the worst actors a legitimate platform to conduct their illegitimate and harmful business activities.”

Airbnb is part of the fast growing digital economy sometimes described as ‘Uberization’, companies working from a web based platform who employ directly few workers such taxi companies Uber and Lyft who consider their drivers as self employed  and have vigorously opposed unionisation. Delivery companies in the USA such as DoorDash and Postmates say their workers are self employed or contractors – with few employment rights.

Opposition to Airbnb goes back to 2014 when the company approached New York local of Unite Here, to try to agree a similar deal but the union descibed the company as advertising ‘illegal hotels’.

The union said that they refused to work with Airbnb because it allows people to illegally turn their homes into hotels, taking permanent housing off the market and worsens affordable housing shortages.

There is animosity between Unite Here and Airbnb as the union said the company told them they intended to ‘remove them from the field’ – something the company deny.

Unite Here says that if SEIU signs a contract with Airbnb they will be providing cover for the company afor a few members going against trade union principles.

Opponents of the deal also say that Airbnb, which is worth an estimated $25.5bn, do not pay their fair share of taxes and groups in San Francisco are pres restrictions on Airbnb users in the company’s home city.

To add fuel to the fire it has also emerged that SEIU former president Andy Stern, now a consultant, is representing Airbnb in the negotiations.

UPDATE: Airbandb talks with SEIU collapse.

In a statement SEIU has now said it does not have an agreement or deal with Airbnb and that it plans to work with Unite Here, the US union that represents hotel workers.

“Representatives from SEIU and Unite Here met and have agreed to find a common approach to protect and expand the stock of affordable housing in all communities across the country and to protect and preserve standards for workers in residential and hotel cleaning while also growing opportunities for these cleaners to improve their lives,” SEIU’s statement said.

Unite Here welcomed SEIU’s decision to back away from a deal with Airbnb. “It is our clear understanding that SEIU will not have a deal with Airbnb to represent housekeeping services,” said Unite Here spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel.

Strassel continued: “Unite Here will continue to vigorously oppose any efforts by Airbnb to expand and push for commonsense laws to mitigate the devastating impact this company has had on our communities.”

For more on the digtial economy read the following:

Labour Needs To get To Grips With The Digial Economy

Trade Unions And The Coming Digital Revolution

We Need To Be Ready For The Next Revolution

 

 

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