Pay the Rate: how the EU is closing the loopholes used to exploit migrant workers – but is it too late for us?

By Jude Kirton-Darling Labour MEP – North East England

Concerns about free movement and EU migration were amongst the top reasons why many voted to leave in June 2016. Periodically, a dispute has erupted whether wildcat strikes at the Lindsey Total refinery in 2009 or the ‘Pay the Rate’ protests in my native Teesside on the Wilton site ahead of the EU referendum, which captured the public attention, exposed the flaws in our rules and has allowed xenophobes the oxygen they constantly crave. While UKIP and the extreme Right unashamed stoked people’s fears about labour migration, increasing the xenophobic and racist character of the referendum, through fake news, it would be wrong to dismiss all concerns.

There are legitimate grievances about free movement and a lack of adequate legal protection has allowed the undercutting of workers’ rights when equal terms and conditions have not been guaranteed. Sadly, this has been a reality in the UK’s flexible employment market for many years. That’s why the news this week, that the EU’s rules have finally been tightened up after years of campaigning from construction sector unions and their confederations is such welcome if sad news – is it too late for us?

It has become standard practice to blame the EU. However, far from being the EU’s responsibility, this is in large part a home-grown problem, There has been a political consensus in Westminster and successive UK governments to maintain a deregulated flexible UK workforce. For 30 years, politicians and business trumpeted that flexibility was key to UK economic success. Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader broke that consensus but there are still many advocates in influential roles. Part of the political consensus was that EU worker rights should be implemented at a minimal level of protection if at all, with limited powers and investment for labour market inspection authorities, whether the Health and Safety Executive, Gang Masters Licensing Authority or HMRC. Fraud – and even crime in the case of modern slavery – has flourished in the context of a lack of adequate control. Since 2010, labour inspectorates have borne the full brunt of Tory austerity, today the UK is at the bottom of the ranking of comparable EU countries. There’s fewer than 1 labour inspector per 100,000 persons in the UK, compared to close to 20 in France.

That said, poor implementation of labour market legislation has also led to loopholes being exploited by unscrupulous employers. Some of these could be easily fixed in Westminster, for instance with respect to the infamous ‘Swedish derogation’ in temporary agency workers’ rights. Equally if we don’t want UK jobs to be only advertised in Poland or elsewhere with little chance for the local population to apply, we don’t need to leave the EU: a bill in Parliament would do.

But when it comes to the posting of workers within the EU – when an employee from another member state is sent by their employer to carry out a service in the UK on a temporary basis – the fix had to come from Brussels as these are single market rules.

The EU Posting of Workers Directive has long been criticised for failing to guarantee equal pay for equal work at the same place. A deal reached this week between the European Parliament and Council means that this will no longer be the case. Posted workers will have to be paid the same wages and allowances as their British colleagues. Importantly for construction sector campaigners, the legislation will allow the universal application of the so-called ‘Blue Book’ NAECI national agreement for the first time. The deduction of travel and accommodation costs from salaries, a practice all too widespread, will no longer be allowed. Most local terms and conditions will apply from day one to posted workers, and posting will be limited to 12 months.

This a major victory for the European labour movement, with the European TUC welcoming “a fair deal”. Of course, as with anything when you’re trying to negotiate amongst 28 countries (most of which are governed by conservative or liberal parties), the new rules are a compromise and we did not get everything we’ve asked for. One key omission is that transport sector workers will remain unprotected until sectoral legislation is agreed. But overall the new rules will vastly improve the situation, and allow co-workers to be colleagues again whether in the construction, manufacturing or social care sectors, which represent 8 out of 10 posted worker jobs.

Brexit makes it all the more important that we get these rules right – these improvements can’t become another victim of those who want to deregulate our labour market by leaving the single market. The bottom line is that we will continue to need European workers in the UK. Without them, today the NHS could collapse. Industries in my own region of the North East, with its ageing population, can only thrive with a sustained supply of workers whether from Slough or Stockholm. But this isn’t just economic – we also need foreign workers for everything else that ‘fresh blood’ brings to our communities beyond work. Cultural diversity and new ideas are the bedrock of great industrial nations. With the strengthening of these vital EU employment rights, today staying in the EU single market allows us to respond to those legitimate grievances about labour market exploitation without putting EU citizens or jobs in our local manufacturing and service industries under the bus of a hard Brexit. I just hope that this agreement has not come too late.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, Employment Rights, European Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Trade Unions | Leave a comment

Unite Women’s Letter Takes Observer To Task Over Sexist Cohen Article

Last weekend, the Observer’s dreary Nick Cohen varied his usual anti-Corbyn bile by launching a misogynist attack against the Unite union’s Jennie Formby, who is one of two women on the final shortlist for the position of Labour Party General Secretary. The NEC will make its final decision when it meets on Monday between Ms Formby and the NUT’s Christine Blower.

Several senior Unite women were so outraged by Cohen’s article that they have written an excoriating letter to the Observer’s editor to challenge the Observer’s continuing platform for Cohen’s ‘backward’ views ‘limiting sexism’.

Will the Observer have the courage and decency to print their letter – let alone to eliminate such ‘backward prejudice’ from its pages?

“Dear Editor
Nick Cohen never misses an opportunity to take aim at the one civil society sector – the trade unions – that has stood firm to defend the working class from the decades of attacks rained upon them by the business and political classes (The Observer, 11 March, 2018)

Another edition, another run out for his prejudiced hobby-horse.

But last Sunday, he crossed the line – and he took the reputation of the Observer with him, climbing head first into the gutter by launching a sexist assault on Jennie Formby, our colleague.

A highly-respected trade union member of forty years, thirty of which have been spent representing workers, Jennie has devoted her life to the labour movement, to defending working people and to the return of a Labour government. For many women in our movement, she is an inspiration.

To dismiss her deserved and hard-fought achievements up to this date and in the future as resulting not from her own talent and endeavours but as a consequence of a relationship that ended over a quarter of a century ago is misogyny, plain and simple.

Women are able to achieve by means other than those envisaged by the limiting sexism of Mr Cohen.

Despite the hopes of International Women’s Day, Nick Cohen is a reminder that #everydaysexism is alive and well.

The bigger question remains, however: why have these backward views been given a prominent home on the pages of what was once a leading paper in this country?

Yours sincerely

Gail Cartmail, Assistant general secretary, Unite
Sharon Graham, Executive officer, Unite
Annmarie Kilkline, Regional secretary, East Midlands, Unite
Karen Reay, Regional secretary, North East & Yorkshire, Unite
On behalf of the women Executive members and officers of Unite the union”

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

Nick Cohen’s Attack On Unions and Unite in The Observer

Nick Cohen’s astonishing and unprecedented attack in The Observer today on trade unions and in particular Unite cannot go unanswered. His assertion that Unite is at the root of the ‘intrigue’ which is creating the trade union movement’s troubles and membership loss is laughable.

Unite is a union that covers every sector of the economy. Of course there are areas where union membership has shrunk – largely due job losses in the economy or loss of jobs in the sector.

Add to that in off shoring such has happened in the IT sector and massive technological change such as in the graphical industries have taken their toll.

There are also areas where Unite and trade unions have grown – including the health sector and prior to the current downturn caused by the uncertainty of Brexit – in the automotive industry.

There is not a union in the UK that has not suffered membership loss, for many if not most of these reasons  – with the exception of a number of specialist unions.

In Unite we have a sophisticated organizing strategy which involves organizing in ‘greenfield’ sites, supply chains and growing membership in companies where we already have union members – aimed at securing 100% membership. If these plans had not been in place, union member loss would have been far worse.

Mr. Cohen must have also been asleep when Unison won the fight against Employment Tribunal Fees giving all workers thr ight to go to a tribunal without have to pay an upfront frre; or when Unite won the long fight on the blacklisting of construction workers; or last year when Unite won average or pay for holidays again for all UK workers – union member or not; or when we fought unwanted take overs of successful companies such as Astra Zeneca by US giant Pfizer – and we are doing the same with the unwanted take over of engineering company GKN by ‘get rich quick’ company Melrose; or when we have fought back on cuts to pensions, and ensured that apprenticeships are now ‘gold standard’ and provide top quality skills, rather than 3 to 6 month schemes which lead nowhere.

Instead of knocking Unite Mr. Cohen should recognise our union leads the way on the key issues facing our workers and our country today:

  • On Brexit Unite has lead the campaign against the devastating hard Brexit the Brextremist’s really want, reducing the UK to an offshore low pay, low skills, de-regulated economy. We are working with our members and with employers in engineering, auto’s, chemcials, aerospace and defence, steel, ceramics and many others. We are working with those who care about our country and our future day in day out.
  • On automation and the digital economy – Unite has a thought through strategy and plan that is preparing our members for the digital future we face. Its not just about organising gig economy, self-employed and Deliveroo workers. It is about making sure all workers get protection and support and an opportunity to gain from the technological revolution.
  • On industry and manufacturing Unite’s strategy launched last year has been heralded as one of the most forward thinking plans ever produced by a trade union – not just by people in the movement but by the media, employers and politicians.
  • How many other trade unions have formal day-to-day links with other unions outside of the UK as Unite has with the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada (don’t be fooled by the name – they too are in many sectors of their economies) working together on the current steel crisis.
  • Next week Unite will launch our plan to handle the revolution that we are facing in the auto sector and transport industry with e-cars, autonomous vehicles and future mobility. It is generating plenty of interest.

These policies and plans were handed down ‘from the top’ or by ‘ordering people about’ – they were worked on by our union officials and lay union members, experts in their own field, who stand up and argue for our plans day in day out.

I could go on (as Mr. Cohen said!)

Unfortunately Nick Cohen is peddling the myths we saw last year when attempts were made to denigrate and rubbish our union.

I read with interest then the vague waffle (I couldn’t call them policies) that would actually see potential members, young people, and women asking why bother joining?

Attempts to turn a union that is on its members side into the equivalent of being a member of the AA without actually owning a car is not a popular idea with the people I represent.

I am certainly not going to be critical of the unions Mr. Cohen mentions. I have many good friends in Bectu (who are now part of a larger union Prospect with who we have good relations) and yes, they do a great job in organising media freelancers – or USDAW who represent workers in some of the toughest areas to organize such as retail.

Finally the idea that Len McCluskey spends his time on Labour Party in-fighting and ‘factionalism’ is a joke. In recent times he has dealt hands on and directly with issues in the car industry, in engineering, oil, IT, aerospace, shipbuilding, defence, airlines  and others too many to mention.

The comments about Jennie Formby are beneath contempt, despicable and not befitting a newspaper such as The Observer, more like the News of The World circa 1965.

As for Andrew Murray, Mr. Cohen might alo have added that among his ‘sins’ is that he is an ardent Manchester United fan and one of the most knowledgeable people I know on the history and recordings of the Grateful Dead.

As I said – I could go on, I won’t. I’ll go back to reading stuff by journalists who know what they are on about.

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

Betty Tebbs: 84 years of activism

Published on the TUC 150 website celebrating great women trade unionists – Betty was one of the best.

She was a teenage activist

In 1932, 14-year-old Betty turned up on the first day of her job at the East Lancashire Paper Mill. When she discovered that boys got 13 shillings while girls barely made 9, she was furious.

She immediately joined the National Union of Printing, Bookbinding and Paper Works (later to become Sogat, GPMU, Amicus and now part of Unite). And she began to question everything. Why should the girls go to the foreman’s house to fetch tea and cake for his break? Why should she put up with being groped by some of the managers? Betty started organising – and by the time she left the mill 18 years later, she and her female colleagues were the best-paid paper mill women workers in Britain.

She was a tireless trade unionist

In the 1950s Betty researched the worst place to work in Warrington – a paper bag factory – and got herself a job there so that she could organise the female workers. “The conditions there were appalling,” Betty remembered. “The toilets had never been cleaned; there was glue all over the floor. By the time I left they were on twice the money.”

After years of organising on-the-job, in the 1970s Betty decided to make it official: she got a place on a trade union organising course at Middlesex Polytechnic (now Middlesex University). While she was studying in London, she joined the pickets at the Grunwick strike, supporting women from mainly south Asian backgrounds who faced terrible conditions at a photo processing plant.

 She fought for women

Despite being told by the council’s housing committee head that “We don’t have battered women in Warrington”, Betty established the town’s first women’s refuge. It was in a large, run-down terraced building and she used her union contacts to call in volunteer plumbers, electricians and joiners to restore it.

 She campaigned for peace

Betty lost her first husband Ernie in the Second World War and she spent the rest of life campaigning for peace. In the 1960s she and her daughter Pat cut through the wire at Greenham Common and got access to the US cruise missile base, where thousands of women were gathered in permanent protest. Betty kept and treasured that bit of wire. In 1978 she became chair of the National Assembly of Women, meeting with world leaders to urge them to scrap atomic weapons.

And in 2007, 89-year-old Betty was arrested for lying in the road during an anti-Trident demonstration in Faslane, Scotland.

Betty died on 23 January 2017, aged 98. A poster at the end of her coffin had a message for her many mourners: “Scrap Trident, save £100bn.”


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

Tech companies should stop pretending AI won’t destroy jobs

The following blog is from MIT Technology Review and puts an alternative view on the current trend by some politicians and techies who argue that automation will  create more and new jobs. Of course there will be ‘new’ jobs – but at what price? I have often stated that unions will have to harness automation, robotics etc and like electricity these developments cannot not be univented. One view is that there will be a shift in employment away from the West to the East and I think this blog sets out the reasons why China will become the AI superpower.

 A View from Kai-Fu Lee, February 21, 2018

No matter what anyone tells you, we’re not ready for the massive societal upheavals on the way.

“I took an Uber to an artificial-­intelligence conference at MIT one recent morning, and the driver asked me how long it would take for autonomous vehicles to take away his job. I told him it would happen in about 15 to 20 years. He breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I’ll be retired by then,” he said.

Good thing we weren’t in China. If a driver there had asked, I would have had to tell him he’d lose his job in about 10 years – maybe 15 if he was lucky.

That might sound surprising, given that the US is, and has been, in the lead in AI research. But China is catching up—if it hasn’t already—and that rivalry, with one nation playing off the other, guarantees that AI is coming.

It will soon be obvious that half our tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we’re not ready for it.

China will have at least a 50/50 chance of winning the race, and there are several reasons for that.

  • First, China has a huge army of young people coming into AI. Over the past decade, the number of AI publications by Chinese authors has doubled. Young AI engineers from Face++, a Chinese face-recognition start up, recently won first place in three computer-vision challenges – ahead of teams from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Second, China has more data than the US- way more. Data is what makes AI go. A very good scientist with a ton of data will beat a super scientist with a modest amount of data. China has the most mobile phones and internet users in the world- triple the number in the United States. But the gap is even bigger than that because of the way people in China use their devices. People there carry no cash.

They pay all their utility bills with their phones. They can do all their shopping on their phones. You get off work and open an app to order food. By the time you reach home, the food is right there, hot off the electric motorbike. In China, shared bicycles generate 30 terabytes of sensor data in their 50 million paid rides per day– that’s roughly 300 times the data being generated in the US.

  • Third, Chinese AI companies have passed the copycat phase. Fifteen years ago almost every decent start up in China was simply copying the functionality, look, and feel of products offered in the US. But all that copying taught eager Chinese entrepreneurs how to become good product managers, and now they’re on to the next stage: exceeding their overseas counterparts. Even today, Weibo is better than Twitter. WeChat delivers a way better experience than Facebook Messenger.
  • And fourth, government policies are accelerating AI in China. The Chinese government’s stated plan is to catch up with the US on AI technology and applications by 2020 and to become a global AI innovation hub by 2030. In a speech in October, President Xi Jinping encouraged further integration of the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence with the real-world economy. And in case you’re wondering, these things tend not to be all talk in China—as demonstrated with its past policies promoting high-speed rail and the mass entrepreneurship and innovation movement. In comparison, things get bogged down in the US. Consider the way President Barack Obama’s loan guarantee to solar-panel maker Solyndra was hammered as crony capitalism. Truckers are now appealing to President Donald Trump and Congress to stop testing of autonomous trucks.

The rise of China as an AI superpower isn’t a big deal just for China. The competition between the US and China has sparked intense advances in AI that will be impossible to stop anywhere. The change will be massive, and not all of it good. Inequality will widen. As my Uber driver in Cambridge has already intuited, AI will displace a large number of jobs, which will cause social discontent. Consider the progress of Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo software, which beat the best human players of the board game Go in early 2016.

It was subsequently bested by AlphaGo Zero, introduced in 2017, which learned by playing games against itself and within 40 days was superior to all the earlier versions. Now imagine those improvements transferring to areas like customer service, telemarketing, assembly lines, reception desks, truck driving, and other routine blue-collar and white-­collar work. It will soon be obvious that half of our job tasks can be done better at almost no cost by AI and robots. This will be the fastest transition humankind has experienced, and we’re not ready for it.

Not everyone agrees with my view. Some people argue that it will take longer than we think before jobs disappear, since many jobs will be only partially replaced, and companies will try to redeploy those displaced internally. But even if true, that won’t stop the inevitable. Others remind us that every technology revolution has created new jobs as it displaced old ones. But it’s dangerous to assume this will be the case again.

Then there are the symbiotic optimists, who think that AI combined with humans should be better than either one alone. This will be true for certain professions—doctors, lawyers—but most jobs won’t fall in that category. Instead they are routine, single-domain jobs where AI excels over the human by a large margin.

Others think we’ll be saved by a universal basic income. “Take the extra money made by AI and distribute it to the people who lost their jobs,” they say. “This additional income will help people find their new path, and replace other types of social welfare.”

But UBI doesn’t address people’s loss of dignity or meet their need to feel useful. It’s just a convenient way for a beneficiary of the AI revolution to sit back and do nothing.

And finally, there are those who deny that AI has any downside at all – which is the position taken by many of the largest AI companies. It’s unfortunate that AI experts aren’t trying to solve the problem. What’s worse, and unbelievably selfish, is that they actually refuse to acknowledge the problem exists in the first place.

These changes are coming, and we need to tell the truth and the whole truth. We need to find the jobs that AI can’t do and train people to do them. We need to reinvent education. These will be the best of times and the worst of times. If we act rationally and quickly, we can bask in what’s  best rather than wallow in what’s  worst.”


Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, Economics, Employment Rights, Politics, The Digital Economy and Unions, Unite The Union, Workers Uniting | Leave a comment

Corbyn To Slam Tories On Short Termism, GKN Takeover Bid and Brexit

Speaking at the EEF – The Manufacturers’ Organisation Conference today, 20th February Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, will pledge to stand up to bankers to rebalance the economy in favour of jobs and industry.

He will declare that finance needs “a fundamental rethink” and the next Labour government will make it “the servant of industry not the masters of us all.”

Jeremy Corbyn will also raise the case of Melrose’s attempted takeover of GKN, a manufacturer that employs 6,000 workers in the UK, pledging to “broaden the scope of the ‘public interest test’, allowing Government to intervene to prevent hostile takeovers which destroy our industrial base.”

He will also say that Government is failing business by not providing clarity on Brexit, saying that “with two out of six of the Government’s “Road to Brexit” speeches already delivered, the Tories approach to Brexit is, if anything, less clear.”

On tackling the power of finance to support industry, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

We need a fundamental rethink of whom finance should serve and how it should be regulated. There can be no rebalancing of our distorted, sluggish and unequal economy without taking on the power finance.

For forty years, deregulated finance has progressively become more powerful. Its dominance over industry, obvious and destructive; its control of politics, pernicious and undemocratic.

The size and power of finance created a generation of politicians who thought the City of London could power the whole economy. Out of control financial wizardry and gambling were left barely regulated, while the real economies in once strong industrial areas were put into managed decline.

The welfare state was left to pick up the slack with sticking plaster redistribution to the people and places held back by the finance-led boom in the South East of England.

For a generation, instead of finance serving industry, politicians have served finance. We’ve seen where that ends: the productive economy, our public services and people’s lives being held hostage by a small number of too big to fail banks and casino financial institutions.

No more. The next Labour Government will be the first in 40 years to stand up for the real economy. We will take decisive action to make finance the servant of industry not the masters of us all.

On protecting manufacturers from debt-fuelled takeovers, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

The reign of finance doesn’t stop at the gates of the City of London. Its extractive logic has spread into all areas of life with short-term performance and narrow shareholder value prioritised over long-run growth and broader economic benefit.

Take GKN, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious engineering firms, which employs 6,000 workers across the UK, contributes an estimated £1.3 billion to the economy, pays a healthy £174 million in tax each year and invested £561 million in R&D in the UK alone.

And yet GKN is currently facing a hostile, allegedly debt-fuelled takeover bid by Melrose, a company with a history of opportunistic asset-stripping.

It’s an all too familiar story, like when Kraft took over Cadburys. A valuable company could be sacrificed so that a few can make a quick buck.

We rightly praise the growth of companies like GKN and their location in the UK. And yet when we are facing the possible destruction of that company, we are powerless to act.

That’s why the next Labour government will broaden the scope of the ‘public interest test’, allowing Government to intervene to prevent hostile takeovers which destroy our industrial base.

On business’ desire for clarity on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

The Tories’ approach to Brexit is threatening to turn our skills crisis into a catastrophe, especially for manufacturers that rely on recruiting skilled workers from overseas.
Brexit is for many an emotive subject, but for business, it is first and foremost a practical matter.
To make decisions about where, when, perhaps even whether to invest, you need to know what markets you will have access to, what regulations and product standards you will be subject to, who you will be able to recruit, what will happen to our supply chains, which we all know are currently integrated across borders.

That’s why Labour has from the start taken the practical position of accepting the result of the referendum and insisting the economy must come first. We are leaving the EU but our businesses must not withdraw from European markets. Business needs clarity and with two out of six of the Government’s “Road to Brexit” speeches already delivered, the Tories’ approach to Brexit is, if anything, less clear.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Economics, Labour Party, Politics, Trade Unions | Leave a comment

IG Metall secures far reaching pay and conditions deal in Germany

“Workers’ priorities have shifted. Instead of higher wages, work-life balance is now in focus”

On 5th February the giant German metal and engineering workers union IG Metall reached a ‘ground-breaking’ national sectoral pay and conditions agreement with engineering employers in the region of Baden-Württemberg.

The agreement will apply across Germany – eventually covering 3.9 million workers.

Under the German system of sectoral collective bargainng, negotiations begin in one region (Baden-Württemberg is one of the manufacturing heartlands of Germany with companies such as Daimler, Volkswagen’s Porsche and auto parts firm Bosch) and if no progress is made, unions stages ‘warning strikes’.

Strikes did take place at of high profile companies in the region including Daimler, Siemens and Airbus this year after the employers organisation Suedwestmetall, offered only a 2% pay increase.

The deal is seen as testament to the growing influence of German unions against a backdrop of the country’s strong economic performance and low unemployment.

The series of warning strikes cost carmakers, automotive suppliers and engineering firms almost 200 million euros ($249 million) in lost revenues, affecting big firms like Daimler, BMW and Airbus and dozens of smaller suppliers in the German ‘Mittlestand’, privately owned SME’s in the supply chain.

The details of IG Metall’s wage deal are highly complex. (Click here to read the full details of the agreement)

The agreement includes:

  • A 4.3% plus increase from 01.04.2018, a €100 lump-sum for the months January to March 2018 (apprentices will receive €70), and a collectively agreed supplement of 27.5% of a monthly salary and a fixed amount of €400 from 2019.
  • The right to a limited reduction in working hours up to 28 hours for up to 24 months.
  • Additional days off for parenting and nursing as well as relief for shift work.

German industrial relations experts say the deal reflected a “new mindset among younger workers”. “More and more people have periods in their lives when they want to work less, for example to look after elderly relatives, or to take a sabbatical or unpaid leave,” said Hanna Schwander, professor of public policy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

The days when employees joined a company at an early age, worked full time most of their lives and retired early were “long gone” – and it was becoming “increasingly important for people to reconcile their personal and professional lives”, she said.

The business daily newspaper Handelsblatt said the deal reflected “the credo of the new age: that time is more valuable than money.”

“The wage settlement is a milestone on the path to a modern, self-determined world of work,” said Jörg Hofmann, IG Metall’s chairman.

Germany’s collective bargaining talks have been watched closely by the European Central Bank, which would be better able to hit its inflation target if wages in the Eurozone’s largest economy rose.

Mario Draghi, the ECB chief, has said wages need to grow before the bank can unwind its crisis-era stimulus measures.

But Mr Hofmann said the deal would have a “positive effect” across the economy, with the “significant increase in incomes strengthening domestic demand”.

Besides the pay settlement the groundbreaking deal includes the right of workers to reduce the working week from a standard 35 hours to 28 hours for two years, to care for relatives and dependents. Workers would switch from the present 35 hour week to 28 hours per week for up to two years before a return to full-time work.

Until now, those switching temporarily to shorter hours have enjoyed no guarantee they could reclaim their full-time post. Their salary will be adjusted to fall in line with shorter number of hours, but some beneficiaries such as young parents, those caring for elderly relatives or people doing shift work, will be able to take more paid holidays.

“Workers’ priorities have shifted. Instead of higher wages, work-life balance is now in focus,” BayernLB economist Christiane von Berg said.

Commenting on the deal (which has been sent to all manufacturing unions in Europe) Luc Triangle, General Secretary of industriAll Europe, the European wide manufacturing union federation said: “It is only fair that the German metalworkers get a good share of the wealth they have contributed to create. This is good for the economy as a whole since this pay rise will translate into more purchasing power. This is also a signal for all European workers for whom it is high time for a wage increase”. 

“After years of flexibility imposed by employers, this agreement is shifting the balance of power in introducing more self-determination for workers in their working time. This agreement is at the cutting edge of modern working time with more possibilities for workers to have working arrangements that fits their life and their health.

With this agreement, IG Metall has shown that strong trade unions combined with collective bargaining structures can deliver good living and working conditions for a large majority of workers.”

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

Unite South East Sponsor ‘Jazz For Labour’ With Courtney Pine Gig

Unite South East Region is sponsoring a unique ‘Jazz For Labour’ event on 3rd March when legendary jazz musician Courtney Pine will be playing in concert in the Leatherhead Theatre.

Pine will be playing a full set encompassing the 30 years he has towered over the UK jazz scene incorporating a wide range of his rich and deep repertoire.

The Voice newspaper stated: “There have been many pioneers in the black British community – people who have defined an era, changed societal perceptions and made it easier for those who follow to progress in their field.  Courtney Pine is such a trailblazer”

He has released 16 studio albums and continues to tour worldwide with his award winning band playing clubs, concert halls and festivals from Glastonbury to Fuji Rock, Montreux to Cape Town.

His numerous TV and radio presenting credits include “Mandela Living Legend” for the BBC and the Sony Award winning long running specialist jazz show – Courtney Pine’s Jazz Crusade for BBC Radio 2. He was most recently commissioned by The Tate to compose and perform a unique piece inspired by the work of artist Henri Matisse, as part of Tate’s ‘Matisse Live’ broadcast in cinemas across the UK.

In 1986 a 22 year old Courtney Pine appeared on the front cover of the iconic British music publication NME, he is the only Black British jazz artist to do so – the last quote in a two page interview read “You know I’m doing this for a reason” – some 30 years later he still is…

There will also be an appearance by a a ‘major’  Labour front bencher at a meet and greet drinks reception and a silent auction with some fabulous prizes.

This is an unmissable event; tickets are only £25.00 and are available either by calling the Box Office on 01372 365141 or by clicking the link here: The Leatherhead Theatre.

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

This corporate takeover will show whether May is really committed to an industrial strategy

The government must reject the buy-out of a key manufacturing firm if they are serious about protecting UK manufacturing.

When Theresa May first promised a new Industrial Strategy for UK manufacturing, she claimed to be following in the footsteps of her political hero Joseph Chamberlain. It’s ironic then that this strategy will be left in tatters if Mrs May and Business Secretary Greg Clarke allow this latest corporate takeover.  

GKN – a company Chamberlain helped establish in Birmingham –  is subject to a hostile takeover bid from Melrose, whose website boasts that it’s role is to ‘buy, improve, sell’ .

The ‘sell’ part usually comes after a few short years. Of course, it results in big profits for themselves and shareholders.

GKN is a major UK manufacturer of high-tech aerospace, defence and automotive components. So a risky takeover represents the opposite of May’s apparent long-term commitment to UK manufacturing needs.

This is get rich quick short termism – the sort we saw back in the days of red braces and mobile phones the size of a brick – the 1980’s.

For Unite, the share price comes in at a very distant last in the list of our priorities, compared to the 6,000 workers spread across 14 UK sites.

The financial media are reporting that the Melrose bid is worth £7 billion. But in reality they aren’t spending a penny.

Instead they plan on borrowing the cash, enticing shareholders with promise of an ‘exceptional dividend,’hen shouldering the company with the debt they’ll expect the workers to pay off.

If this ‘debt for dividend’ deal – which piles all the risk onto the workforce – is allowed to succeed, it’ll send UK manufacturing back decades.

Let’s be clear, just as the Carillion crisis has become a watershed moment for the public sector, raising long overdue questions about contracting – so the fight to save GKN is a watershed moment for UK manufacturing.

What can be done?

Along with the pioneering electric vehicle technology made by Unite members in the Driveshaft division, GKN’s aerospace operations produce military-grade technology for both the UK and US air forces.

Simply put, this takeover is also a matter of national security – and that allows Secretary of State Greg Clark to intervene and put a stop to it.

Lets end this fixation with short-term share prices. By every other measure GKN, is performing strongly – and that’s entirely thanks to a world-class workforce.

If GKN is broken up, business links which give UK manufacturing a vital competitive edge will be lost.

Instead of carving the industry up – either by Melrose or the current management – we need to see a long-term plan, backed up by investment.

In the coming weeks, Unite will be working with our members, who oppose the takeover, as well as MPs, industry and GKN’s European employees to say: this is a takeover too far.

Unite has not given up on the idea of having a Manufacturing and Industrial Strategy. The coming days will show if Theresa May and her government can say the same.

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

Ivan Beavis – A Legend & A Hero

Yesterday I was privilaged to attend the funeral of a friend and comrade, the legendary Ivan Beavis, former circulation manager at the Morning Star, trade unionist, music collector, Man United fan, gig goer, and socialist.

The ninety minute ‘event’ (Yes thats right – 90 minutes) had so many things – it is worthy of a report in the Morning Star itself! The packed room heard so many memories of Ivan – stories, poems, songs, humour, with speakers from his family and friends, former TUC President Rita Donaghy, comrades from far and wide, music buddies from Germany, Rob Griffiths General Secretary of the Communist Party and Star editor Ben Chacko.

I mean where else would you have heard music by Curtis Mayfield, the Red Army Choir, Joe Cocker and Muddy Waters with Johnny Winter?

Where else would you have heard about gigs at the 100 Club, the Flamingo and Joe Cocker concerts in Germany? Or Bruce Springsteen being turned down to play at the end of the People’s March For Jobs (not Ivan’s fault)? Booking Dr. Feelgood and bands for fund raisers? Record collecting and spending more that he should have on bootleg albums? His beloved Manchester United, Duncan Edwards and the Busby Babes? Poety by Leonard Cohen? Favourite bands such as the Graham Bond Organisation, jazz by Chet Baker and Miles Davis? The foibles and battles in the Communist Party and the founding of Unison?

I first met Ivan when I joined the board of the Star. We clicked straight away he was a passionate  Man United supporter, with an encylopaedic knowldge of the club and its history, he knew tons about music – almost anything – soul, blues, rock, jazz. He knew loads of obscure bands and got them to play fund raisers. He explained the problems of newspaper distribution of a small title and he used to ask me to tell him on which motorway and railway stations I saw or bought the paper, he used to moan to me when there were errors in the paper (he went nuts when the same back page was printed on consecutive days), he was the Unite Father of the Chapel at the Star, his humour was infectious and on leaving meetings or leaving saying goodbye at union conferences when he was running the Star stand he would end with a cheery “See you later dear!!”  He was a legend.

Below is John Haylett’s obituary from the Morning Star of January 17th – every word is true!

MANY Morning Star readers may know the name of Ivan Beavis from his personalised and witty columns publicising our paper’s Fighting Fund, but he was so much more than that.

Ivan, who has died just short of his 70th birthday, spent two decades working at the Star — mainly as circulation manager, then campaigns manager and, in recent years, an inimitable Fund columnist.

His children Naomi and Joseph have been struck by the breadth of tributes received by their mother and love of Ivan’s life Christiane Ohsan, asking how their dad was always able to be there for them with so much going on in his life.

He was involved at national and grassroots level in his trade union Nalgo/Unison, his Communist Party, anti-racism and anti-imperialism work and international solidarity, notably with the struggles of Cuba, Grenada, South Africa and many more.

Ivan was an avid collector of recorded music, especially on vinyl, and had an obsession — some termed it a perversion — with a football team called Manchester United.

Born in Ealing, he attended what his classmate John Hendy QC calls the “second rate” Walpole Grammar School in Northfields where “Ivan did even more miserably than I did at O-level and bailed out, I think, at 16.”

Hendy recalls being, with Ivan, “part of a significant grouping of young communists in the school,” where the Communist Party candidate was pipped by the Liberal in a school mock election.

He recalls “a very kind, warm, generous and funny — and rather ungainly — kid who detested anything to do with sport or exercise. I have clear memories of him skiving off during cross-country runs for a fag, only appearing again to join the pack as it finished the course.”

The labour movement lawyer only ran into Ivan years later when he became the fundraising face in the Morning Star and they continued where they had left off all those years before.

“He was one of the few redeeming features of a school education which ignored the potential of so many and out of which, for diverse reasons and circumstances, he and I managed to forge lives in which we had the great privilege of being able to do something to advance the cause.”

On leaving school, Ivan went to work at Middlesex County Council, later to become the Greater London Council, where he joined Nalgo.

Ivan got married at this time and this union produced children Natasha and Matthew, who tweeted: “So proud to call him my dad. RIP comrade xxxx” in response to earlier tributes to Ivan on our paper’s Twitter feed.

Despite his communist flirtation in school, Ivan’s first introduction to real politics was with Peter Hain’s Young Liberals in the direct action demonstrations against apartheid South Africa’s rugby team.

“That bastard Hain,” he would later roar in mock-serious recollection. “He was interviewed on TV and I got my head kicked in by Old Bill.”

However, it was Ivan’s growing contacts with communists in the Anti-Apartheid Movement and in his union that convinced him to join the Communist Party rather than any resentment over his rough treatment at the hands, or feet, of the Metropolitan Police.

He met Christiane, who was also active in Nalgo, in the late 1970s, supporting an alternative candidate for a seat she was contesting on Hackney branch’s executive committee.

“I was elected and he got over it,” Christiane remembers with a smile and the pair got together during preparations for a Greater London Association of Trades Councils solidarity delegation to the Soviet Union in 1980 in response to a US-orchestrated campaign to boycott the Moscow Olympics.

Christiane joined the CPGB shortly after that, just in time to witness Ivan’s expulsion as one of the “London 22” — members of the party’s London district banished for refusing to accept an EC edict to cancel the LDCP biennial congress.

Fellow expellee Mary Davis recalls Ivan being in the “belly of the beast” — her designation of the party’s Hackney borough organisation — where the Eurocommunist faction intent on ridding the party of people like Ivan had established itself.

“Ivan refused to buckle to threats and continued to support the right line,” she says.

Christiane’s CPGB card was not renewed and, although she attended meetings of the Communist Campaign Group, the forerunner to re-establishment of the party as the CPB in 1988, it was not until 2006 that she rejoined.

“It was a terrible time, full of vitriol. The party was tearing itself apart. It was such a mess.”

As dispiriting as this was for Ivan, he had plenty to do in Nalgo, being elected first as Hackney branch secretary, Met district region secretary and then to the national executive council (NEC).

“It is his time as Met district region secretary for 10 years when most of us got to know Ivan. It was a bit like white water rafting,” suggests former national president Rita Donaghy.

“Our fortunes often followed the same path both in elections to the NEC — we were elected and kicked off in the same years — and when we both got a mention in [former electricians’ union leader] Frank Chapple’s column in The Sun in July 1985.

“Ivan was described as ‘a hard-line supporter of the pro-Moscow Morning Star newspaper’ and I was ‘a left-wing Labour Party member’.”

Donaghy remembers Ivan’s waspish sense of humour in moving a motion urging Nalgo to defy anti-union laws, declaring: “Nalgo must also take its place in the fight against the anti-union laws even if it means the NEC has to go to prison temporarily.”

“Typical of Ivan that he always tried to soften the blow,” she says.

Union conferences are, of course, important for more than simply the cut and thrust of debate. Delegates must be entertained in the evenings and Nalgo was blessed with imaginative organisers of social events.

“Ivan was the only man I know who could sell 600 tickets for a 300-person venue,” says Donaghy, who remembers that delegates knew not to clash with the Morning Star night he and other comrades organised.

Liam Chalmers from Dumfries and Galloway recalls the close alliance between the left-inclined London and Scottish delegations at annual conference, pointing out that Ivan had two major qualities that endeared him to his “many friends and followers from North of Carlisle and Berwick.”

“He was plain-spoken and able to explain political theory and strategy in the simplest terms without resorting to non-comprehensible and boring dialogue. In doing so, he demonstrated an infectious sense of humour — a quality he retained over the years in his role as fundraiser for the Morning Star.

“As a true socialist, Ivan scorned the annual Honours Lists, but I’m sure he would have welcomed the award of an Honorary Scot title.”

And what a godsend to the Morning Star’s coffers were those fundraisers that Ivan and his Haringey comrades Steve Powell and John Marsh took the lead in organising, with top-notch acts so delegates knew that they wouldn’t be fleeced at the Star social. It was literally unmissable.

“Many decades ago at a packed Morning Star social at Nalgo conference with the band Dr Feelgood that I’d helped organise, Ivan approached me, somewhat unsteadily having ‘had a drink taken,’ as the Irish say,” Powell recalls.

“‘Darling,’ Ivan announced, ‘I’m rolling in money.’ I pulled him into the venue manager’s office where Ivan produced wads of bank notes and cheques from every pocket.

“When it was all counted and locked securely in the manager’s safe overnight, I’d relieved him of over £4,000. The profits were paid into the Morning Star account the next day.”

Mancunian Marsh was suspicious of Londoner Ivan’s footballing affiliation until he recounted quality time spent with his estranged father, who had moved back up north, at Old Trafford watching the Busby Babes before they tragically died at Munich Airport.

His roll call of the musicians of all genres that Ivan persuaded to play for the Morning Star, the African National Congress, the National Union of Mineworkers during the 1984-5 national strike and other causes reads like an A-Z of popular music.

“Ivan raised all the funding and monies for these events. All the profits went to respective causes,” Marsh stresses.

Highlighting the way Ivan used humour to make political points, Marsh recounts his response to harassment by “anarcho-liberals” seeking to impose supposed emergency motions on him by submitting his own.

It “deplored the behaviour of a plethora of incandescent, ultra colleagues who will not permit the London District Secretary to have a minute’s peace; bombarding him with all kinds of nonsensical, idiotic emergency motions that do not fit the criteria required.”

He proposed in consequence that the colleagues in question be denied chairs for five years, that “Comrade Beavis” be rewarded, “with substantial reparations from trust funds, and declare that in the evenings he must be allowed to drink his Guinness in peace.”

Ivan acceded to a withdrawal request by the standing orders committee, who feared that, as it was technically in order, conference might well pass it.

South African Abdul Bham, who was working for the ANC in London at the time, “immediately recognised [Ivan] as an internationalist and committed anti-racist.”

He pays tribute to Ivan and team for organising the South Africa Women’s Day celebration in Finsbury Park in August 1987, when US communist Angela Davis and ANC chief rep Ruth Mompati headed the bill and drew thousands of people to the park and into solidarity action behind the South African liberation movement.

“It was comrades like Ivan who assisted us in many ways to gain freedom in South Africa,” says Bham.

“That freedom came at a price. Today the struggle has taken a different form, fighting corruption and nepotism. We owe it to people like Ivan to also succeed in this struggle.”

He bids farewell to his comrade in traditional South African manner. “Hamba Kahle, Ivan. Amanda Ngawethu” (Go well, Ivan. Power to the People).

To try to list the countries for whose people Ivan worked in solidarity would be to risk missing some out, but Grenadian Jacqui McKenzie remembers Ivan’s role in winning Nalgo support for her island’s brief revolutionary experiment from 1979 – 1983.

His work escalated, however, when, using the pretext of the killing of revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop in October 1983, US president Ronald Reagan ordered 10,000 US marines to invade the island of fewer than 100,000 people.

“Ivan was instrumental in getting Nalgo to pass resolutions to condemn the invasion and could often be seen at the many meetings and marches organised in defence of the revolution and at the many pickets of the US embassy,” McKenzie recollects.

His work was largely responsible for Nalgo national conference passing a resolution in June 1988, condemning the unconstitutionality of the Grenada 17 political trial.

Ivan didn’t know how to wage a half-hearted struggle. He gave his all and was widely loved for it.

While the movement mourns, Christiane and family behold what she calls “a huge, massive hole” where once he stood.

His tendency to call everyone ‘darling’ avoided the possible embarrassment of forgetting comrades’ names, but it also reflected Ivan’s unchallenged status — just as Lenin once once called Bukharin the darling of Russian Bolsheviks — as the darling of not just Britain’s Communist Party or the Morning Star but much further afield too.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Linkedin Pinterest Email
Posted in Blogs, European Trade Unions, International Trade Unions, Labour Party, Media, Politics, Solidarity, Trade Unions, Trades Union Congress, Unite The Union | 1 Comment