Robot report has ‘forgotten the humans’

A new report on the automation of work in the public sector overlooks the threat to jobs, the Unite union warned yesterday.

Unite said that Artificial Intelligence & Public Standards, a governmental advisory committee’s analysis of how robot techology could change the public sector, “has forgotten about the humans.”

Executive officer Sharon Graham said: “It’s astounding that an in-depth report on artificial intelligence and ethics in the public sector has been produced without any consideration of the risk new technologies could have on public-sector workers’ livelihoods.

“There are over five million workers employed in the public sector, including the NHS and local authorities, where many jobs are at a high risk of automation.”

Ms Graham pledged that Unite would fight to ensure that new technology was “used to do things that help public-sector workers and their families, such as reducing working time without loss of pay.”

This news item originally appeared in the Morning Star on February 12th

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Trade Agreements Will Impact On Wages And Working Conditions

By Sharon Graham, Unite Executive Officer,  January 31st, 2020 :

The ‘cost of living crisis’ is showing no sign of coming to an end. Only now, over ten years after the financial crisis are wages in real terms returning to levels last seen in 2007. In fact, wages would have been 27 per cent higher by now if the pre-crisis trend had continued.

And it’s not just wages that have been impacted. Our recent report on insecure and non-permanent employment showed that our labour market is becoming increasingly fragmented through outsourcing, agency working and other forms of “flexibility”. Job security remains a critical issue. It is in this challenging context that we find ourselves now facing a changed environment on trade.

Through Work, Voice & Pay, our Union’s Broad Industrial Strategy we have developed  our plan for the “Top 10” – to methodically target the most powerful employers in each of our sectors.

We must generate industrial power in the workplace to deliver practical campaigns to drive up wages and conditions. But we must now also incorporate trade into our industrial strategy.

Why? Because as our analysis of major employers has shown the majority are multinational companies, often headquartered overseas and with global customers and competitors. This matters to us. Where decisions are made, where products and services are bought and sold and the culture of competitors all have an impact on the future of our workplaces.

It is clear that what happens next on trade will impact wages, working conditions and jobs. But wherever possible we must look to take practical, positive action. Many of our workplaces will be impacted – for good or bad – by trade deals with countries like the USA and China as well as the EU.

But as well as defining overarching principles, things that we broadly want to see, or perhaps more importantly want to avoid! We also need to look at the specific characteristics of each industry and look to develop very specific micro demands at the industry level that help secure jobs and rights.

For example, we need to examine how we believe intellectual property or specific supply chains could be anchored domestically – things that are common pull factors for jobs. Starting with the “Top 10” strategy we will begin to work with our Shop Stewards to help make this happen.

 

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Automation And Closures Are Challenges – But Failure Does Not Have To Be Inevitable

 

Sharon Graham, Unite Executive Officer

By Sharon Graham,  Executive Officer of Unite the Union.

Morning Star, July 18th 2019

Sharon Graham explains how rebuilding the shop stewards’ movement will help develop meaningful industrial power in an age of growing  jobs uncertainty

Today as trade unionists our most significant, long-term challenges arguably have very little to do with the political circus surrounding Brexit.

The continued crisis in wages, the rise of contingent and outsourced work that so badly fragments our labour market, the job threat from the dawn of industry 4.0 and the corresponding decline of collective bargaining that has helped underpin this all. We face many serious problems but they are not insurmountable and managed decline does not have to be inevitable.

Among all of this, one thing is for certain. If we want to drive up living standards, we will face a fight for jobs and possibly for the future of work itself.

The evidence is mounting. Autonomous buses have been trialled in London, Las Vegas and Helsinki. A Chinese factory has replaced 90 per cent of its workforce with robots.

And it is clear that not only manual occupations are at risk. White-collar workers will share the brunt of technological change. From the introduction of digital therapeutics in health, to the development of algorithms in the legal sector, automation is likely to present an enormous challenge across the global economy.

Such challenges require a twin-track industrial strategy. It is important to remember that our ability to sustain political influence will ultimately be determined by the strength of our industrial positon.

We need an industrial strategy that allows us to effectively combat threats like automation. We need a credible approach to delivering practical results such as a shorter working week, with no loss of pay. We need a plan to both grow powerful collective bargaining and deliver comprehensive, credible campaigns to fight hostile employers.

Our union has deployed Unite Leverage sparingly but where it has been fully executed we have delivered. Whether against the violation of human rights that is blacklisting or securing justice for workers faced with illegal closures, Unite has shown that it is possible to win against the odds against global employers.

When confronted by crisis situations involving hard-nosed corporations it is often no longer enough to mount the picket line or publically shame, for example in the media.

Leverage can never replace collective organisation at the place of work but strategic planning and campaigns involving both domestic and global escalation are essential characteristics of the modern, progressive trade union.

It is absolutely legitimate for decision-makers, shareholders and customers to be made aware of the behaviour of those they are associated with and be tasked with taking action.

But you don’t move employers by just chucking bodies at a one-off protest — as much as that can help boost morale. The truly hostile employer must face a campaign of escalation that creates uncertainty in the minds of decision-makers.

This is delivered by research, planning and the execution of tactical activity within a strategic framework. Unite Leverage is not an emotional outburst, it is a plan designed to level the uneven playing field. This is why we now need to develop our Leverage as part of a wider industrial response and become proactive, not just defensive.

The failed models of business unionism and phony partnership have not grown our movement or delivered for ordinary working people. But to most shop stewards who advocate a far more assertive approach to industrial relations, it is also obvious that the fragmented, localised nature of our collective bargaining is holding us back.

It allows employers to divide us and weaken our negotiating power. To confront this reality we need a credible but ambitious plan rooted in the workplace. We need to develop meaningful industrial power.

In each sector of the British and Irish economies there are key employers, those that set standards and hold the most resources, together they occupy a central role as “pace-setters.”

If we are to develop real co-ordination of our collective bargaining so that we can start to negotiate agreements across our sectors once again, and if we are to really drive up living standards, then the top employers in each sector must be union. This is why we are now developing our “Top 10” strategy.

To build power throughout each sector we need to be strong at the top. We need to ensure that where we have existing agreements that have real organisation and where we don’t, that we deliver dedicated organising campaigns to make sure that no major employer is left to undercut our agreements.

As part of our series of reports into key industrial issues — Unite Investigates — we have already identified the top employers across each Unite sector and have begun to work with stewards and reps to develop specific programmes of work.

Key to all of this will be industrial co-ordination, whether that is within our own union or working with sister unions across Britain and Ireland and throughout the world.

If we don’t commit to joint working and remain fragmented in silos then frankly we can forget about driving up standards across sectors.

On issues like automation, to be effective there really will be very little choice other than to maximise our power through industrial co-ordination.

We must be prepared to work internationally. Many of our employers are global and we must renew attempts to deliver meaningful industrial solidarity.

To do this we must build combines of shop stewards. First, we will bring together activists within the “Top 10” of each sector but in the end we need to co-ordinate across all relevant employers — including “under-cutters.”

The development of layers of confident shop stewards with a global outlook will define our work going forward, it will be upon this rock that our politics will be shaped and where strike-ready workplaces will be prepared.

It is this proactive approach that will also see the development of Unite Leverage. If we commit to this and further build power, we can begin to really push back against hostile employers.

In the future we want our shop stewards to feel confident that they can fight for jobs, that they have options on the table when faced with a crisis.

More than that, we want an industrial strategy that delivers real solidarity. We need it to drive success and deliver an engine room of ideas that travels from the workplace up, not from the “experts” down.

We need more than warm words from politicians, we need an army of activists in the workplace that can drive their own destiny, on the poverty of ambition, on falling living standards, on joblessness, on undercutting and underemployment.

We need to develop thousands of leaders, not just one. We need our heroes to be collective. We need to rebuild our shop stewards’ movement.

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Assessing UK Trade Policy Readiness By David Henig

This is an excellent research/article by David Henig (@davidhenigUK) UK director of the European Centre For International Political Economy an independent policy think tank dedicated to trade and international economic policy issues (@ecipe) sets out the difficulties ahead for the UK government and the realties the we are likely to face in negotiations any trade agreements, notably with the EU and USA and other other countries.

My comment: The UK government continues to paint a ‘rosy and optimistic’ picture for future trade deals with EU, USA, TPP, and countries like New Zealand, Australia and Japan and relying on media headlines that amount to sabre rattling and tough talking but with no big stick.

The government has no wish to make the UK public aware that negotiating trade agreements and making trade policy is very complex and difficult preferring to peddle myths about ‘easy wins’, other countries ‘rolling over’ and a ‘swashbuckling’ future for UK industry and business thus keeping pro-Brexit MPs happy whilst dismissing any difficulties, for UK industry, the supply chain, investment and long term economic policy.

Click on the link below and download the pdf and have yourself an interesting read!

 

 

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Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist

Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in the labour movement, McCluskey looks at the history of the trade unions, what they do and how they give a voice to working people, as democratic organisations.

He considers the changing world of work, the challenges and opportunities of automation and why being trade unionists can enable us to help shape the future.

McCluskey sets out why being a trade unionist is a political role that compliments an industrial one and why the historic links between the labour movement and the Labour Party matter.

Ultimately, McCluskey explains how being a trade unionist means putting equality at work and in society front and centre, fighting for an end to discrimination, and to inequality in wages and power.

Commenting on ‘Why You Should Be A Trade Unionist’, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: A brilliant, accessible and thought-provoking book – and a reminder that unions will always be the best way for working-class people to win justice. 

 “Featuring a wealth of historical material, this lively and personal account shows how organised labour can thrive in the future. A must-read for trade unionists, activists and anybody who wants to build a more equal society.”

Kevin Maguire, the Daily Mirror’s associate editor, said: Len McCluskey is Britain’s best known, and arguably most powerful, trade union leader for good reason. He engagingly mixes personal experiences with unflinching conviction to present a compelling argument for the value of organised labour – whichever political party is in Government.”

Why You Should be a Trade Unionist’ is published by Verso Books and is available to order here.

For book related enquiries please contact Maya Osborne on 0207 437 3546. Email: Maya@verso.co.uk

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It’s The Media, Stupid! Policies For Media Reform Conference

It’s The Media, Stupid!
Post Election Policies For  Media Reform

Henry Moore Room, Leeds Art Gallery, The Headrow, Leeds LS1 3AA
Saturday 8 February, 11.00am – 5.00pm

PROGRAMME

10.15-11.00 – Registration Coffee, tea and biscuits

11.00-12.00 – The Media and the Election
Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs Channel 4
Professor Dominic Wring,
Co-Director Loughborough University 2019 Election Survey

12.00-1.00 – The Press: Ownership, Regulation and Ethics
Louisa Bull, National Officer, Unite’s Graphical, Paper, Media and IT Sector
Nicholas Jones, author and former BBC Industrial and Political Correspondent.

1.00-2.00 – Lunch Break
We will not be providing lunch. There are a number of places to eat close to the conference venue.We will provide a list of them on the day for conference participants.

2.00-3.00 – Broadcasting: Regulation and Impartiality
Dr Tom Mills, Vice Chair Media Reform Coalition and author of
“The BBC: Myth of a Public Service” (Verso, 2016)

Sian Jones
(President, National Union of Journalists)

3.00-4.00 – Policing Propaganda: Democracy and the Internet
James Mitchinson, Editor, The Yorkshire Post (tbc)
Peter Geoghegan, Open Democracy speaker (tbc)

4.00-5.00 – Looking Forward: Policies for Media Reform
Dr Justin Schlosberg, Media Reform Coalition
Granville Williams, Editor MediaNorth


HOW TO BOOK AND WHERE TO PAY

If you want to book your place (£10.00, conc £5.00) for the Leeds conference on 8th February send a cheque, payable to CPBF(North), with your name, address and email to:
CPBF(North), 24 Tower Avenue, Upton, nr Pontefract, West Yorks WF9 1EE.

Or you can pay by bank transfer to:
CPBF(North) at the Cooperative Bank,
sort code 08-92-99
account number 65796090
Ref ‘Leeds Conference’

but please post or email cpbfnorth@outlook.com with your details.

For further information, please contact CPBF(North) by phone at 01977 646580 or 07790958270, email: cpbfnorth@outlook.com or write to CPBF(North), 24 Tower Avenue, Upton, near Pontefract, West Yorks WF9 1EE

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Preserving The Future Of Aluminium In Quebec.

Major concerns about new  Canada, US, Mexico trade deal for Canadian aluminium industry.

From the @steelworkers in Quebec Canada, December 19th, 2019. 

Aluminum workers from the United Steelworkers joined elected officials from the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region, union members from CUPE and Unifor, and other socio-economic stakeholders to demonstrate their concern about the new free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico and fears that Quebec aluminum will emerge as the big loser in the new trade deal.

They demand concrete measures from the federal government to protect Quebec’s aluminum and secure the future of these good jobs in Quebec.

The CUSMA certainly stipulates that 70% of auto parts containing aluminum must come from the North American zone for a vehicle to be exempt from customs tariffs. But a wide gap remains: it will be enough for aluminum from another continent to be melted and processed in one of the three participating countries for it to comply with the treaty.

“To consider that a part made in North America with foreign aluminum fulfills the North American content requirements is to make fun of us! We do not understand why the rules that apply to steel do not apply to aluminum,” said the presidents of USW Local 9490 Alma refinery, Sylvain Maltais and of Local 9700 representing ABI in Bécancour, Éric Drolet.

Steelworkers representative Alexandre Fréchette is astonished at the flip-flop of the aluminum lobby, the Aluminum Association of Canada: “Are the big bosses of the multinationals happy with the status quo since they have interests all over the planet? Have they thrown cold water on the spokesperson for their lobby in Canada?,” he asked.

Refuse a slow death!

The Steelworkers have little doubt that the agreement will be adopted. However, they urge the government to take vigorous measures to support Quebec’s industry. “Vague statements about aluminum dumping monitoring mechanisms will not reassure us. It takes investments to keep our factories competitive, on the cutting edge,” said Sylvain Maltais.

Rio Tinto has put its modernization and expansion projects in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean on hold for the past few months. “The recent episode of the trade deal adds fuel to the fire. The federal government must show with concrete gestures that it is not abandoning Quebec aluminum and that it is ready to mobilize for its future,” said Sylvain Maltais.

Recalling that the government of Canada collected more than $1.2 billion in tariffs during the steel and aluminum dispute with the United States, these funds can serve as an incentive, the unionized aluminum workers believe. “The Canadian government’s reluctance to defend our aluminum in the CUSMA negotiations is distressing, as is the government’s disregard of deferred investment in the aluminum sector. Ottawa needs to correct this quickly!,” said the representatives of the unionized aluminum workers.

The United Steelworkers, affiliated with the FTQ, is the most important private sector union in Quebec. It brings together more than 60,000 workers from all economic sectors.

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Labour Will Be On The Side Of Workers – Laura Pidcock MP

By Laura Pidcock Shadow Secretary of State for Employment Rights

“So many people’s working lives are dominated by low pay, insecurity and powerlessness. It is a sign of this broken system that many people – and not just the lowest earners – are forced to top up their monthly wage with debt, just to cover their living costs. 

As our economy has flatlined under the Tories, wages have stagnated. People are, on average, paid less that they were 10 years ago. This is a scandal that must end. The Labour Party is the only party that is committed to eradicating in-work poverty within the next Parliament.

People spend so much of their time at work and that time should not be characterised by worry and fear. As a government,  Labour will be on the side of workers the good employer and the trade unionist, while putting exploitative employers on notice. 

Labour’s transformative ransformative programme for workers would give them real power, real respect and dignity, while changing the culture of work in this nation. By breathing hope into workplaces across Britain, we can achieve real change.

Click on the links above to download Labour’s Workers Rights Manifesto.

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Posted in Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

For A Europe With A Future – by Wolfgang Lemb

Excellent book edited by my comrade Wolfgang Lemb of the IG Metall trade union in Germany. Available on some book sellers sites.

“One thing is increasingly obvious since the European Elections of May 2019: The centrifugal forces within the EU are becoming stronger and stronger. Nationalism, far right populism, increasing inequality and democratic deficits all present the project of European integration with ever greater challenges. If Europe wants any future at all, it must be strong in solidarity, commit its full weight as a powerful global actor to the fight for a fairer version of globalisation, delineate social standards in the transformation now under way, stand up for a climate-neutral economy and society and improve people’s living and working conditions. But these challenges can be overcome. The authors – from the worlds of politics, research and the trade unions – show with their contributions published here in this anthology how this can and must happen.”

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Posted in Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, Labour Party, Politics, Trade Unions, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

The system is rigged against working people – this election we can put it right

The system is rigged against working people. This was shown very clearly recently when Asda threatened to sack workers who did not agree to a new contract.

The new contract would allow managers to change everything about their job – from their shift rotas to their job titles.

The rigged system was also shown when a high court judge granted an injunction against the Communication Workers Union for ‘infringing’ balloting rules.

Millions of workers are trapped in low pay, zero hours contracts, bogus self-employment and unending agency work.

Workers’ wages still haven’t recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and inequality is sky high.

This is no accident. It’s the result of deliberate choices by the current government and the previous Conservative-Lib Dem coalition to dismantle the employment rights that working people rely on for protection at work, to drive down wages and create a climate of insecurity in the workplace.

Over the last decade, these governments have doubled the qualifying period for unfair dismissal, passed the 2016 Trade Union Act to limit workers’ right to organise and join unions, and shamefully refused to ban zero-hours contracts.

The general election is a chance to put things right.

We know that when workers join together they can make their working lives better.

Workplaces with collective agreements negotiated by trade unions have higher pay, shorter working hours, better holiday and sick pay, more family-friendly measures, better policies to promote equality at work, and better health and safety.

Labour is proposing that workers will have the right to organise and win union rights at work. Workers will have the right to collectively bargain with their employers through trade unions to secure decent pay and better working conditions in their workplace and across industries; employment rights from day one and four new public holidays.

We desperately need new laws to end exploitation and to protect insecure workers from bogus self employment and a ban on zero-hours contracts as is being proposed by Labour’s manifesto.

Other countries such Ireland and New Zealand have banned zero hours contacts – so why not the UK?

And we don’t just need to fight for new rights. We need to defend the ones we still have including those derived from the European Union such as the working time regulations, protection for agency and temporary workers and workers whose jobs could be effected by takeovers and mergers, rights to information and consultation.

Trade unions have been clear that the Brexit deal Boris Johnson has negotiated – or a no-deal Brexit – would be a disaster for working people.

Leaked documents suggest the Johnson government is deliberately manoeuvring to downgrade UK workers’ rights in any post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

That could open the door to those politicians who want to turn the UK into a low wage, protection-free ‘Singapore on Thames’ style economy.

And it would allow bad bosses to slash workers’ rights that are currently protected by EU legislation such as paid holidays, work breaks, parental rights, protections for part-time and agency workers and protection for workers when companies are subject to take overs and mergers.

It’s time to stand up for what trade unionists believe in, to protect our hard-won rights at work and to fight for Labour’s new deal for workers, in Labour’s excellent manifesto.

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