Power In A Union is a website edited by Tony Burke designed to provide information, news, views and comment on UK, European and Worldwide trade union and political issues, and to provide a forum for debate and discussion.
VSC E-UPDATE, MARCH 2019.
► Standing up to Trump and May’s interventions in – and hypocrisy on – Latin America ►
1. Help us get to 4,000 signatories our petition against Trump’s ‘regime change’ agenda.
We are within touching distance of getting 4000 people to sign up against Trump’s interventions in Venezuela. Help us reach this target by signing here, sharing on Facebook here and retweeting here.
2. Solidarity with Bolivia – next in Trump’s firing line?
As a number of speakers said at the recent Latin America event, there is growing concern amongst the region’s Left that the progressive government of Evo Morales in Bolivia may be the next target for US ‘regime change.’
You can find out more at this event on April 30 with Dan Carden MP, Bolivian trade unionist Manuel Bueno and others (on Facebook here) and show solidarity by signing this statement here plus sharing on Facebook here and Twitter here.
3. EVENT: Brazil- Stand with the Resistance Against Far-Right Bolsonaro, March 28, 18.30, Hamilton House, WC1H.
With an eyewitness report back from Julia Felmanas of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, who recently returned from the country, CND’s Kate Hudson and Danielle Rowley MP. You can share on Facebook here and get tickets here.
4. Say no to Trump and May’s hypocrisy on Honduras – sign the petition against spyware sales!
It is nearly ten years since the right-wing coup in Honduras (an issue we led the campaign about at the time) and people there are still suffering from both vicious neo-liberalism and severe repression of progressive movements.
Whilst the Trump and May governments are keen to intervene in Venezuela, they continue to prop up this reactionary regime in Honduras, including in Britain’s case through spyware sales. You can sign a petition here, share on Facebook here and Tweet here.
We are the workers from Honda Swindon. We urgently need your help.
Honda has said that in 2021 it will close the plant in which we work. 3500 direct jobs and possibly 12,000 jobs or more across the country will be lost as a result.
The fallout will be felt in jobs and communities across the south west and the UK.
But we believe that this economic and social catastrophe can be averted.
Our workforce at Honda are skilled, dedicated and efficient and together with the supply chain we are dedicated to making this company succeed.
Yes, these are challenging times for this industry but with vision and commitment, the UK can be the world leader in the new technology car manufacturing needs to thrive. Honda is well positioned to benefit.
So we are urging Honda to think again.
Honda, do not turn your back on a world-class, loyal workforce determined to bring you continued success.
We have dedicated our working lives to Honda Swindon. Through our hard work this company has thrived – all we ask now is the chance to make our case for the future we deserve.
Please help us fight for – and win – a brighter future.
He told the nation, business and working people that 40 deals would be ready for ‘one second after midnight’ on Brexit day.
In March 2018 he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:
“We will have arrangements that we will be able to roll over from the European Union’s agreements, we hope to have around 40 of those. We hope we will have all of those in place by the time we go.
“There are about 70 countries and 40 agreements. We hope all of those ones will be ready because they are extensions of what we have at the moment. Of course we require the agreement of the countries involved. We have spoken to all 70 countries involved. They have all given agreement that they’d like to see that in place.”
He went onto say that he wanted the UK to take advantage of ‘being able to negotiate beyond the European Union’s borders’.
“We’ve got 14 working groups in place with 21 countries at the present time I’d hope to make as much progress as possible because we need to have a confident and optimistic agenda for Britain’s future,” he said. He told the BBC trade talks had begun with Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
Of course it was total hogwash. While Fox was busy racking up air miles and getting nowhere fast in negotiating these phantom trade deals, others were warning that the 40 countries would not just be rolled over – and why should they?
The UK was leaving the EU – and they would squeeze the UK for everything they could get. These countries would also want to see what sort of deal the UK struck with the EU.
Dr. Fox was given regular reminders by industry and unions that it took the EU over seven years to negotiate the EU-Canada deal (CETA). But he carried on ‘grandstanding’, to quote Labour’s shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner.
That was until last week, when he was forced to admit it was not going as well as expected. Fox had to admit that the government was significantly behind in securing the 40 free trade deals with only a handful agreed so far.
It appears only six of the 40 deals are likely to be in place by Brexit day: 30 deals that need to be ready are now considered ‘off-track’.
The Department for International Trade is using a system of ‘traffic lights’. The green section includes those that are ‘on track’ and to be implemented by Brexit day – Switzerland, Chile, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, the Eastern and Southern African block and the Faroe Islands (the latter worth £360 million). Yet the document states that ‘risks remain’ even with these deals.
There are nine agreements in the ‘yellow’ section, described as ‘off track’, and 19 agreements are in the ‘red’ section, which are ‘significantly off-track’ in terms of deliverability by March 2019 . The countries listed under these sections include Canada, South Korea, Egypt and Jordan. Further agreements are in a list with the heading “not possible to be completed by March 2019” and include Turkey, Japan and Algeria.
Dr Simon Usherwood, a reader in politics at the University of Surrey, said the apparent status of the trade deals was unsurprising:
“The problems with the promises made by Liam Fox have long been evident: renegotiating trade deals is long and difficult work at the best of times, let alone when the UK’s relationship with the EU (its main trading partner) remains unclear.
“In an effort to steady the ship one unnamed minister said they hoped to sign ‘letters of understanding with all the remaining countries, will go some way to reassuring business.”
The progress in replicating the EU free trade deals so far amounts to just £16bn of the possible £117bn the 40 agreements cover.
Further blows to the government came in the shape of defence minister Gavin Williamson’s foolish announcement that he would be (at some point) be sending our new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth 2 to the South China Sea (for what purpose other than sabre rattling and to be a sitting duck – we don’t know).
The comments by Gavin Williamson (now dubbed ‘Private Pike’ after the ‘Dad’s Army’ character) were held responsible for killing off (for a while) Chancellor Phiilip Hammond’s immanent visit to China, which was abruptly cancelled by the latter. As Captain Mainwaring would have said: “Stupid Boy!”
Hammond’s visit was seen as a precursor to the very long road in negotiating a trade deal with China, which will take many years. The Chinese will prove to be just as hard bargainers as Barnier and Tusk.
Then came UK’s attempt to persuade Japan to agree a a fast track post-Brexit trade deal. Tokyo reacted to a letter from the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, which told their Japanese counterparts that ‘time is of the essence’ and said flexibility would be required on both sides.
The letter, sent on February 8th, did the job in winding up Japanese officials who believed that the letter (which said that “we are committed to speed and flexibility and hope that Japan is too”) accused Tokyo of ‘foot-dragging’.
It forced Japan to consider calling off trade talks. The UK needs a deal in place of the EU-Japan trade agreement, which came into force on February 1st, but it had given up hope it coming into force by March 29th. Japan had agreed to extend existing trade terms for the duration of Britain’s planned transition period with the EU. But in case of a no-deal Brexit, the EU-Japan agreement would no longer apply to the UK.
Over 18 months of negotiations Japan and the UK have failed to make significant breakthroughs on a trade deal as Japan will not accept a cut and paste job on the terms of the EU-Japan agreement. Instead Japan wants a better deal from the UK than it got from the much larger EU.
Then last week Australia, having said they would consider a ‘fast track’ deal poured a bucket of cold water on any UK ambition to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
Australia’s trade minister Simon Birmingham said that it was unlikely the UK would be joining the CPTPP deal largely because ‘it is not in the Pacific’. Fox has frequently stated his desire for Britain to join CPTPP, an agreement that includes Australia, Japan, Canada, and several other nations.
Birmingham also joined voices urging British politicians to provide clarity on the country’s future trading relationship with the rest of the world.
Fox has even managed to damage relationships with industry here in the UK. His department is responsible for setting up the Trade Remedies Authority, which will over see and handle the important issue of tariffs and the dumping of goods on the UK market.
A number of manufacturing groups are working with unions including the TUC and Unite to ensure the UK has in place a trade remedies structure to stop dumping of imports of steel, tyres, ceramics, glass, chemicals etc – but this is some way off.
Fox has refused to give trade unions a place on the authority – despite employers involved agreeing unions need to be represented.
A hapless Fox raised the spectre of zero-tariffs on imported goods with a group manufacturing employers which received a frosty response: “I would urge Liam Fox to think again and think about the damage this plan would do to our industry,” said Dr. Laura Cohen, chief executive of the Ceramics Confederation and chair of the Manufacturing Trade Remedies Alliance.
So not a good week for the DIT and the government. Its policy of securing trade agreements to replace our agreement with the EU is in tatters and the UK is staring disaster in the face.
Employers are exasperated, jobs are at risk, and other countries are either flexing their muscles or waiting to see what happens. The idea that we can ‘swash-buckle’ our way around the world using gun boat diplomacy is dead.
But not to worry: Donald Trump says he is ready to do a ‘great trade deal’ with the UK.
We know what that means from a man who claims to be the greatest deal maker on the planet. Meanwhile Dr. Fox pretends all is well.
First published on Left Foot Forward, 19th February
AN URGENT APPEAL TO THE GOVERNEMENT OF TURKEY AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Abdullah Öcalan’s unlawful and inhumane isolation must be ended immediately. Otherwise hundreds of people who are on hunger strike in Turkish prisons and outside Turkey face certain death in the coming days and weeks. Today, 15 February 2019, marks both the 20th anniversary of Öcalan’s abduction and the 100th day of HDP MP Leyla Güven´s hunger strike. The situation now for Ms. Güven and the more than 330 others on hunger strike around the world is beyond critical. By failing to exert pressure on the Turkish authorities to abide by their own laws and constitution and the most basic international human rights standards, the international community must be regarded as complicit in serious human rights abuses committed by the Turkish government. We therefore urge the international community to break its silence.
We the undersigned appeal to the government of Turkey to immediately break the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, and thus open up the way for peace negotiations. Öcalan has been held in a state of aggravated isolation since 2015, and has not been allowed to contact a lawyer since 2011, in violation of the most basic human rights. The policy of isolation that has been imposed upon Öcalan, and the three others imprisoned on İmralı Island, is not only in violation of International Law and the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey is obliged to uphold as a member of the Council of Europe, but is also a violation of Turkey´s own domestic laws and constitution. We regret not having been granted a meeting with the Turkish Minister of Justice in accordance with the request in our letter dated the 21st of January, where we raised our concern for the state of human rights in Turkey, and the systematic practice of imprisonment on political premises. In this meeting, we hoped for the opportunity to voice our concerns and hear the minister’s reactions.
We, the undersigned, echo the call of the Council of Europe urging Turkey to authorize immediate publication of the CPT´s findings on Turkey. Furthermore, we would like to call attention to the resolution passed recently by the Council of Europe regarding the worsening situation of human rights in Turkey. The Council expressed their deep concern, calling on Turkey to, among other things, abide by the basic human rights principles adopted by the Council of Europe concerning the imprisonment of Öcalan, release the members of parliament that have been imprisoned, and implement reforms to ensure an independent judiciary.
During our visit, we have met with various groups, including the Human Rights Association, the BAR Association, the Democratic Societies Congress, trade unions, the Women´s Movement, the Peace Mothers, and the lawyers of Abdullah Öcalan. We have also met with HDP MP Leyla Güven, then on her 98th day of hunger strike. She said to us that her hunger strike is not an act of suicide, but rather an act of love for life; to be able to live with human dignity.
We wish to amplify this message, and make it echo throughout parliament halls and congress chambers around the world. The sole demand of Ms. Güven, the 313 individuals on hunger strike in prisons across Turkey, and the other hunger strikers in Hewler, Strasbourg and Wales, is to end the isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan. This demand is ultimately a very simple one; that Turkey comply with and enforce its own laws. It is our firm belief that this critical situation could be changed for the better in a very short time, depending on the actions of the Turkish authorities.
The ultimate reason for the hunger strikes, and the point we have heard repeated continuously by every group we have met with, is a just peace. It is ubiquitously believed that the first step to restart the peace process and realize a lasting peace is to end the policy of isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan and the other prisoners of İmralı Island. This is because Öcalan is recognized as the political representative of the people of Kurdistan, he has been a consistent and convincing voice calling for peace, and he has provided a detailed roadmap to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question and a democratic settlement of the Middle Eastern conflict.
The situation of the hunger strikers is at a dangerous point, and it is imperative that the government of Turkey acts to end the isolation now, before there is further violence and bloodshed. During our visit, many people have asked us how it could be that the world has remained so silent on the obvious human rights abuses in Turkey for so long. We share their astonishment and outrage, and moreover, we agree with them that the key to the solution of this critical and worsening situation lies in the hands of the Turkish government; all they must do is turn it.
SIGNED, 17th February in Istanbul, Turkey
Beverley Ann Keene – Human rights activist, Dialogue 2000-Jubilee South, Argentina
Connor Hayes – Student of Philosophy
Manuel Cortes – General Secretary, Transport Salary Staff Association, UK and Ireland
Maxine Peake – Actress and playwright
Paul Scholey – Senior Partner, Morrish Solicitors; trade union rights lawyer
Tony Burke – Assistant General Secretary, Unite the union, UK and Ireland
Ögmundur Jónasson – Former Minister of Justice, Iceland
Left to right: Doug Nichols, Tariq Ali, Kate Hudson, Huda Elmi, Colin Burgeon – Sue Gray in the chair and platform was joined by Christine Blower. Photo: Adrian Weir.
Good evening and thanks for coming out on such a bitterly cold evening here in London.
I am Tony Burke, Chair of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign who called today’s event and I am also speaking on behalf of Unite the Union and Worker’s Uniting, our Global Union.
Workers Uniting is the global union – representing more than two million workers in Canada, Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States – formed by UNITE, the United Steelworkers of the US and Canada and the Mexican metals and mining union (Los Mineros), and I bring you the support of Len McCluskey of Unite, Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers and Napoleon Gomez of Los Minero’s in Mexico.
Our statement issued last week is clear in “condemning the US-led recognition of an unelected opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, as president of Venezuela.”
It “also condemns the actions of the governments of the UK, Canada and other countries that have slavishly followed the US lead.“
It also argues that “Over the past 20 years the US has endeavoured to destabilise Venezuela with economic warfare and a financial blockade in their attempt to assert its influence and control over the oil, gold and mineral-rich country. These actions, which clearly violate international law, now culminate in the recognition of an unelected opposition leader as president of the country – effectively a right wing coup attempt.”
It also states that “Workers Uniting strongly condemns the US threat of military action and its attempt to add Venezuela to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in order to justify such action.”
Let’s be clear. Such US-led ‘regime changes’ have been a disaster in other countries in recent years and there’s no reason to believe it would help the people of Venezuela.
This is not about democracy or human rights –its about gaining control of the world’s largest proven oil and petroleum reserves.
Nor is it about helping the people of Venezuela.
Polling suggests the majority of Venezuelans – both pro and anti government – are against tighter US sanctions, which damage the private sector and living standards of ordinary Venezuelans, including the poorest. Extending these further will only make things worse.
What is needed in such a situation is dialogue as a way for Venezuela to peacefully resolve its current difficulties as suggested by Mexico, Uruguay and others. Governments internationally should do all they can to support such a dialogue, but instead the Trump administration is introducing sanctions, threatening military intervention and trying for a coup.
These actions will not facilitate dialogue, but exacerbate difficulties and divisions.
Friends and comrades the last few years have seen a worrying return of the Right-Wing in Latin America with the gains made by progressive leaders across the continent coming under fire, as most exemplified by the far-right winning the Presidency in Brazil.
In light of this it’s important to keep up our solidarity and be clear that whatever problems countries like Venezuela face, neo-liberalism and US intervention is not the answer.
Indeed, with the right-wing in power, Argentina and Brazil are facing massive public sector layoffs and spending freezes, plus repression of trade unions and social movements.
Finally, I’d like to offer some hope in our discussions on Latin America and that is the victory of the left in Mexico, which has led to that government having a pro-dialogue position in Venezuela.
The victory in Mexico has the potential to greatly change the landscape not just in that vast country but also in the continent, and it has the potential to make real differences to working people’s lives and in terms of advances in trade union rights, as symbolised by the appointment of the President of Los Mineros Napoleon Gomez as a Labour Minister – a formerly repressed Trade Union leader who was exiled in Canada but now is rightfully back in Mexico
What a symbol of change!
We stand with the Left and Unions across Latin America, from celebrating victory in Mexico to fighting fascism in Brazil, to working together against illegal ‘regime change’ and for dialogue in Venezuela.
Let’s not let there be anymore Pinochet’s in Latin America – and stand clearly with social progress, and self-determination, against Trump’s intervention.
Leaders of two of Norway’s largest labour unions have merged. Together they will represent around 160,000 workers in the transport, construction, hotel, restaurant and automobile sectors.
Fellesforbundet was already Norway’s second-largest trade union federation, with around 140,000 members.
It was established in 1988 when the Norwegian iron and metalworkers’ union merged with the construction industry union and three other organizations.
Now it will merge again, this time with the Transportarbeiderforbundet (NTF), which was founded in 1896 and currently has around 20,000 members in the land transport and scheduled bus service sector, along with dock, harbor workers and truck owners.
It has been involved in one of Norway’s longest-running labour conflicts over whether its members had exclusive rights to load and unload ships in Norwegian harbours. Norway’s Supreme Court ultimately decided they did not, in 2016.
Now they’re teaming up with Fellesforbundet, whose leader Jørn Eggum welomed the dockers and other transport workers.
“This merger will give strength to 160,000 normal working folks,” Eggum told news bureau NTB. The two federations’ agreement to join forces is expected to be approved by each federation’s board next year.
Unite calls on MPs to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal tomorrow when it is brought to Parliament.
The deal utterly fails to protect the jobs and working rights of our members. At best it offers us all – from manufacturing to transport and services – another 21 months of uncertainty with no promise of the deal we need at the end of it.
The deal fails every test Unite has set.
We demanded a deal to defend jobs, a deal which protects and enhances union-won working rights and a deal which prevents a hard land or sea border for Northern Ireland.
Instead we are offered a deal with no job security, no protections for our rights at work and drags the UK out of safety bodies such as EASA, EURATOM and pharmaceutical protections.
After two years of failed Tory negotiations with the EU, the document the government has published – with no guarantees or detail – is as uncertain for Britain as a no deal scenario. No wonder the Tories won’t publish their impact assessments of the deal – they know there’s absolutely no good news to share.
Many of you have been in touch with me to ask what the deal means specifically for our members in the automotive sector. Please see below for the latest statement from our Automotive National Industrial Sector Committee.
“Be in no doubt that a no deal Brexit would be a disaster for our industry. The experiment in chaos on the motorways of Kent proved exactly what would happen. Our sector relies on 1,100 trucks crossing the channel every day, yet even the 89 lorries which took part in the government’s trial experienced the sort of delays which would bring production to a halt in car plants across the country. If that’s the dress rehearsal, the real thing would mean the immediate severing of Just In Time supply chains and the sudden imposition of barriers with our largest export market. The cost would be measured in millions and we know exactly how employers would act to recoup that loss.
Many thousands of automotive jobs rely on Britain’s exit from the EU being orderly, with concrete plans in place to mitigate any damage and prevent any new barriers. Neither Theresa May’s deal or the Government’s farcical no deal plans provide for that.”
Sadly, all the sectors we represent as a union have similar concerns.
As a result, we utterly reject the deal and I am calling on you to stand with us, vote it down and fight for a Brexit that works for the many and not the few.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party, responding to the Prime Minister’s statement on the Brexit deal in the House today, said:
Mr Speaker, I would link to thank the Prime Minister for advance copy of her statement.
In December, the government shamefully pulled the meaningful vote on her deal with the promise that the Prime Minister would secure legal assurances from the EU that the backstop would be temporary.
The Leader of the House confirmed this saying: “The Prime Minister is determined to get the legal reassurances that Members want to see”.
While the Foreign Secretary told us the Prime Minister would ‘find a way’ to win tomorrow’s Commons vote by getting assurances with ‘legal force’ that the Irish border backstop is only temporary.
On receiving this letter today to the Prime Minister from the President of the EU Commission and Council it must now be clear to all Members across this House yet again the Prime Minister has completely and utterly failed!
Today’s letter is nothing more than a repetition of exactly the same position that was pulled more than a month ago.
It categorically does not give the legal assurances this House was promised and contains nothing but warm words and aspirations.
Mr Speaker, isn’t it the case that absolutely nothing has changed from the Attorney General’s letter of advice to the Cabinet?
His advice which the government tried to hide explained with great clarity the reasons why the UK could find itself locked in to the Northern Ireland “backstop” Protocol with no legal escape route.
Today’s letter means nothing. The truth remains that by the end of 2020 the UK will face a choice of either extending the transition period, which comes at a unknown financial cost or we will fall into the backstop which the Attorney General has said, “endures indefinitely” until such time as an agreement supersedes it.
He has himself updated his legal advice today and he clearly says and I quote, “they do not alter the fundamental meanings”, as he advised them in November.
If there were legally binding assurances on the temporary nature of the backstop then surely they would be written into the withdrawal agreement itself?
The letter published this morning is clear this is not possible, saying: “We are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement”.
Mr Speaker, this morning’s joint letter does say, “negotiations can start as soon as possible after the withdrawal of the UK”.
But my question to the Prime Minister is how is that possible when the Cabinet cannot agree among themselves?
That is why the Political Declaration is so vague. Actually, Mr Speaker, I believe the right word is “nebulous”.
Given the Prime Minister has failed to secure the promised changes, there can be no question of once again ducking accountability and avoiding tomorrow’s vote.
No more playing for time; no more running down the clock to scare people into backing this damaging shambles of a deal.
I am sure Honourable members across the House will not be fooled by what has been produced today.
It is clear what we are voting on this week is exactly the same deal we should have voted on in December.
I am sure the Prime Minister knows this – that is why today she is trying to blame others for this chaos.
Given the lack of support for the Prime Minister’s deal, you might have thought she would try to reach out to MPs. Instead the Prime Minister is claiming that by failing to support her botched deal. Honourable members are threatening to undermine the faith of the British people in our democracy.
Mr Speaker, the only people who are undermining faith in our democracy is the government itself!
Mr Speaker, I can think of no greater example of democracy in action than for this House to reject a deal that is clearly a bad for Britain.
During the past 2 years of these shambolic negotiations the Prime Minister has failed to listen.
She hasn’t once tried to work with Parliament to construct a Brexit deal this House and the country can support. And now she is left facing a humiliating defeat. She is blaming everybody else but herself.
Mr Speaker, if this deal is rejected tomorrow and I hope it is the blame will lie firmly with this government and firmly at the feet of the Prime Minister.
There is a deal that could command the support of this House: a deal which includes a new and comprehensive customs union; a strong single market relationship; and a guarantee to keep pace with EU rights and standards.
Instead the Prime Minister still chooses to take the most reckless path.
Mr Speaker, as we enter the week of the ‘meaningful vote’, let us remember the incompetence we have been forced to endure.
We have seen two years of shambolic negotiations. Red lines announced and then cast aside. We are now on the third Brexit Secretary, all of whom have been largely excluded from vital stages of the negotiations.
We were promised the easiest trade deal in history, yet have seen a divided government deliver a botched withdrawal deal with nothing more than a vague outline for what our future relationship with the EU will be.
Meanwhile, conditions in this country for millions of people continue to get worse.
The government is in disarray. It is clear if the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected tomorrow – it is time for a General Election – it is time for a new government.