Obama halts ‘tax inversions’

5e608b1d-9eff-4e4f-a1e6-86c51ae3e1df-460x276US President Barak Obama has halted so-called ‘tax inversion’ takeovers which hit the headlines when US drug giant Pfizer attempted an acrimonious takeover over Astra Zeneca in May this year.

The US company tried to take over AstraZeneca partly to shift its headquarters to the UK to take advantage of the UKs lower corporation tax rate.

The deal was being waved through by the government, but a sustained campaign by Labour MPs and unions and unions in Sweden saw Pfizer having to withdraw following a grilling by MPs and unions  in the House of Commons and a clear admittance by the company that they wanted to take advantage of lower UK tax rates.

US Democratic Senetors and unions also lobbied Obama to intervene, highlighting the tax inversion scam.

Although Pfizer eventually withdrew, AZ and unions had expected a further attempt by Pfizer to launch another bid.

The US rate of corporate tax is 35% whereas the UK, under the Coalition Government it is 21%, falling to 20% next year.

The measures, stop US companies taking variety of tax-reducing steps, including loading up the US company with debt and shifting profit overseas.

They come into immediate effect with the Obama administration ruling that that companies would not escape tax on US earnings by using internal loans, dividends, share swaps to restructure their companies under foreign ownership and are intended to deter further deals.

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Europe’s car market continues to edge upwards as Eurozone stagnates

273214-157By Professor David Bailey, Professor Of Industry, Aston University

Europe’s auto industry has been badly damaged by the ongoing fallout from the global financial crisis and credit crunch (including misguided austerity measures across the EU).

The European car market collapsed after 2008, falling from 15.7 million units in 2008 to 12 million in 2013, taking the market back to levels not since the mid-1990s and down by a quarter from the peak years in the late noughties.

As a result, most European mass car makers have bled red ink over the last few years. The exceptions have been the German makers and Jaguar Land Rover, and amongst the mass producers only Renault has broken even thanks to its budget Dacia brand.

Partly as a result of growing sales in so-called ‘emerging’ economies, the impact on actual output in Europe has been cushioned slightly, with production falling by ‘only’ 2.5m to 14.3m as against a 3.7m drop in sales. The difference, of course, is the growth in exports from Europe in recent years.

The ‘carmaggedon’ in car markets in Europe has led to significant over-capacity issues. This self-inflicted problem anyway pre-dated the financial crash given the rush by the car makers into setting up huge amounts of capacity in central and Eastern Europe after 2000 in a quest to tap cheap labour costs (often at the expense of workers here).

This over-capacity problem was made all the worse by the crash itself, and in response there has been significant job cuts and plant closures in several countries. Overall, since the unfolding of the financial crisis, the European auto industry has shed nearly 125,000 assembly jobs, and many more in the supply chain.

But after the worst crisis in 20 years, European car sales are now finally picking up, even if from a very low level. So far this year, registrations have been up by nearly 6%. August saw slower growth but was still the 12th consecutive month of sales growth.

Partly that has been driven by heavy discounting as car firms have slashed prices, with such discounts adding up to 20% off car prices in Germany and 18% in France on average, according to Barclays.

Ford and VW were among those carmakers widening discounts in August in markets such as the UK, Germany and France. Sales have been led by small cars, with the Polo and Fiesta models boosting sales for VW and Ford respectively by around 14%. So while sales figures have started to recover from very low levels, car firms are discounting heavily to entice customers into showrooms.

Firms in the middle of the market which have had a torrid time over the last few years are now seeing sales growth. Peugeot Citroen, bailed out by the French state over the last few years, saw sales rise 1.6%, while General Motors Europe saw growth of 7.5% in large part driven by its successful B-SUV Mokka model and small Corsa.

So far, this has not been a very robust recovery, which is not surprising given the ongoing wider weaknesses of the Eurozone.  In the big five car markets, August sales were up 9% in the UK and 14% in Spain. Meanwhile, sales fell in Germany, France and Italy.  The latter remains mired in recession and growth in France is again flatlining.

Ongoing Eurozone weakness prompted the European Central Bank to cut interest rates earlier this month. This economic weakness makes prospects for a more robust recovery in the car market more remote, and means that car makers may cut prices further.

The Eurozone weakness is also starting to impact on UK manufacturing, with export orders this month falling to their weakest levels since the start of 2013, according to a new CBI survey.

One bright spot has again been the performance of Midlands-based Jaguar Land Rover. It sold 19% more cars in August year on year in Europe, thanks to new models like the new Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. That should get even better as new models like the Jaguar XE come to market.

And while China will of course be hugely important for JLR, so too will its traditional core markets like Europe and the United States. That’s one big reason for staying in Europe, for our car industry at least.

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American Airlines Staff Vote For Union – In US Southern States.

American-Airways_Webf-690x388After a nineteen year battle 9,000 American Airlines passenger service agents have voted with the members of the US Airways CWA-IBT Association to form a new bargaining unit of 14,500 agents at American Airlines and it is the largest union organizing victory in the the southern USA in decades.

Three-quarters of the agents work in Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona and 2,300 are home-based reservations agents.

By an 86%, airport and reservations agents chose representation by the Communications Workers of America-Teamsters Association in the National Mediation Board election.

The vote clearly shows that workers who can make a fair choice about union representation want bargaining rights. New American agents are concentrated in southern states, and work at diverse locations, including large and smaller airports, call centers and at home. Across every group, they voted for bargaining rights and union representation.

Richard Shaughnessy has been an agent at Miami International Airport for 27 years and has been a leader of the American agents’ fight for a voice and bargaining rights.

“The merger between American Airlines and USAirways is an exciting time for all of us. But even more exciting is our victory today,” he said. “We’re the front line employees who interact with our customers every day, and we are looking forward to a positive relationship with management to make this merger ‘work’ for all of us. We are anxious to get to the bargaining table.”

Carroll Locklear is a home based reservations agent in Texas. “I’ve been with American Airlines for 18 years and through all of those years I have been praying for this day. We have been the odd employees out for so long, because we were the only employees without union representation. Gone are the days that management can take what they want when they want. This will be a win-win for all of us,” Locklear said.

“We feel stronger now with this vote,” Eula Smith, a customer service agent in Charlotte, said. “I’m a 60-year-old woman with 42 years with this employer. You can’t live in the South and make a decent wage unless you are in senior management in a corporation or belong to a union. We need this.” 

Ken Grunwald is a 23-year-reservations agent, working at the call center in North Carolina. “I’m proud to remember everyone over the years who worked so hard for our union voice, who never gave up in the face of adversity, and who gave their blood, sweat and tears so that we would have the opportunity to celebrate this victory today. It’s a victory for all American Airlines employees! I’m so excited to think that we will finally be able to negotiate a legally binding contract. We now all have each other’s ‘back,’“ Grunwald said.

Vickey Hoots has been a US Airways reservations agent at the Winston-Salem N.C., cell center for 29 years. “This win was a long time in coming, at American Airlines, just as it was at US Airways. I’m so proud of all our members and we’re excited that we will be able to negotiate the industry leading contract that our members deserve,” Hoots said.

US Airways agents have been CWA members since 2000. US Airways merged with America West in 2005; passenger service agents at the former America West had organized with the IBT in 2004. After the merger, the CWA and the IBT formed the Airline Customer Service Employee Association, CWA-IBT.CWA represents 700,000 workers in telecommunications, media, airlines, health care, education and manufacturing.

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Volkswagen Union Reps Back UAW In Tennessee

Workers at the VW Plant in Chatanooga have formed a UAW local to push for union recognition.

Workers at the VW Plant in Chatanooga have formed a UAW local to push for union recognition.

Volkswagen global works council is backing renewed efforts by the United Auto Workers in the United States to secure union recognition for US workers at the German car makers Chatanooga, Tennessee plant.

In a statement this week Germany’s giant IG Metall union, the Global union federation for manufacturing IndustriALL and other international VW labour representatives backed the UAW bid to secure union rights at the plant..

Frank Patta, general secretary of Volkswagen’s global works council, said the UAW was best placed to establish the “time-proven practice of co-determination at Volkswagen”.

The UAW lost an organising vote in February at the Chattanooga, Tennessee plant, following the intervention of right wing politicians who ran a campaign to persuade workers not to agree to a German style works council structure, which the company had agreed with the USW with the help of the German union.

The USW says it had nearly enough members in its newly formed local (union branch) for the automaker to recognise it as exclusive bargaining agent for the plant.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s secretary-treasurer, said 750 Volkswagen workers have joined a recently formed union local branch in Chattanooga. The plant has around 1,500 hourly workers.

Casteel said the UAW is asking VW to accept it as a representative for those workers who joined the UAW local.

In July this year it formed Local 42 after talks with Volkswagen, UAW officials said.

In another twist a ‘stooge union’ has emerged at the plant called American Council of Employees as a counter to the UAW’s local’s organisation. Setting up ‘stooge’ or ‘yellow union’ is part of the anti-union playbook.

According to Reuters, a worker named Mike Burton, an anti-UAW campaigner at the VW Chattanooga said at the time he hoped the new union would force VW to hold another vote to determine which one is favored by hourly employees.

UAW’s Gary Casteel said ACE isn’t a union and it doesn’t have a governance structure. “They’re not a labor organization,” Casteel said. “If they were, they’d be subject to federal reporting.”

VW has made it clear that it wants to have Chattanooga representation on its global works council.

Works council representation is in place at every major VW plant in the world except Chattanooga. In order for the Chattanooga workers to have works council representation, they must first be represented by a U.S. union.


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New Aussie Employment Laws – Fight Back!

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Mexican Appeals Court Cancels Charges Against Napoleón Gómez; Union Lauds Definitive Decision Absolving Union

The United Steelworkers (USW) in the USA and Canada has praised a Mexican appeals court decision that definitively quashes criminal charges against Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, President and General Secretary of the National Mine and Metal Workers Union, aka Los Mineros.

In a unanimous decision issued in open court on August 28th, the Fourth Collegiate Tribunal for Criminal Matters of the First Circuit in the Federal District ruled that the government’s criminal charge against Gómez, based on the dissolution of a union trust fund in 2005, was baseless and unconstitutional.

This is the eleventh time that the Mexican government charged Gómez with the same offense and the eleventh time that the appellate courts have ruled in his favor.

Because of the accusations, Gómez has lived in exile in Canada since 2006. He was granted Canadian citizenship in June of this year.

“This is a triumph for the USW-Mineros alliance and for the international trade union solidarity campaign spearheaded by Workers Uniting the global union formed by Unite in the UK and Ireland and the USW in the USA and Canada and the IndustriALL Global Union,” said USW International President Leo Gerard.

Since 2005, the USW and Los Mineros have constructed a North American solidarity alliance based on joint bargaining, organizing and political action.

“This court decision should finally end the political persecution of Napoleón Gómez,” Gerard said. “Since 2005 Gómez and Los Mineros have been attacked by the Mexican government and giant mining companies like Grupo Mexico.

“Los Mineros has been targeted for winning the highest wage increases of any workers in Mexico and for organizing thousands of new members in a democratic labor organization, as well as denouncing corruption and industrial homicide in the mining industry.

“Now it is time for justice. Mexico must immediately tell Interpol to withdraw its Red Notice so that Gómez can travel freely outside of Canada.  In addition, Grupo Mexico and the other Mexican mining interests must sit down with Los Mineros to negotiate an end to the existing labor conflicts. Canadian mining companies such as Excellon that have flouted the rights of Mexican workers and landowners should also come to the table.”

The ruling of the Fourth Collegiate Tribunal, like the ten previous appellate court decisions, found that the dissolution of the trust – established for the benefit of the union – was lawful.  The Mexican Attorney General’s office announced that it would respect the decision, which cannot be appealed.

The government and the mining company Grupo Mexicohad alleged that by dissolving the trust, Gómez and other union leaders “stole” $55 million that should have been distributed to workers.

In fact, an audit conducted by the Swiss accounting firm Horwath Berney Audit S.A. in 2007 accounted for all of the funds in the trust. The audit report pointed out that over $21 million was paid out to former workers, and another $20 million has been frozen by the Mexican government since 2005.

“The persecution of Napoleón Gómez is a case study in impunity,” Gerard said. “The United States and Canada should not even think of expanding Mexico’s trade benefits under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or any other trade agreement, until it is clear that Mexico is going to respect its own law and deal fairly with Los Mineros.”

Wall Street Journal report – click here.

Read Napoleon’s book, ‘The Collapse of Dignity” a New York Times Top Ten Bestseller. Click here.

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VSC Solidarity Reception & Fringe At TUC Congress 2014


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ETUC Warns EU Risks Losing Support Of Europeans

austerity_is_not_working_-_ictu_2The European TUC has warned EU leaders that the EU needs to tackle unemployment or risk losing the support of the European people.

Speaking at the ‘Conférence des Ambassadeurs’ in Paris with Laurent Fabius the French Foreign Minister and Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, Bernadette Ségol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation warned Europe risked establishing a European Union which does not have the support of ordinary Europeans.

Attacking EU policies that included cuts in public spending, wages and benefits, and policies which undermine collective bargaining and job security she said: “Social progress seems to have become an obstacle to Economic and Monetary Union rather than its objective”.

So told the conference: “The EU and its member states have put enormous resources into saving the financial sector from its own mistakes. Do the EU and its member states consider employment, social protection and democracy to be just as important? If so, it is necessary to make the same effort to overcome the social crisis and jobs crisis.”

“The danger today is to build a Europe without the support of Europeans or worse, against the wishes of Europeans.”

She urged the EU to adopt ETUC proposals for a large-scale investment plan to boost manufactuting, industry and employment, as part of a transition to a more sustainable economy.

Ségol noted that the new President of the Commission, the ECB President, and the French Government have all recently supported the idea of a large public investment programme.

Full speech – in French only.

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Steelworkers and Brazilian Union Picket Huhtamaki

Huhtamaki photo 8By Ben Davis, United Steelworkers, Pittsburgh

Union members and employees of Huhtamaki North America picketed outside the company’s Waterville plant today (Wednesday) in an effort to draw attention to their inability to come to terms with the paper goods manufacturer on a new contract.

A dozen members of the Steelworkers Local 449 United Steelworkers Union picketed between shifts beginning Wednesday morning. Wearing shirts bearing the word “solidarity” and other pro-union logos, the pickets displayed signs demanding a “fair contract.”

Rank and file union members say they have been without a contract for about two years. Lynne Hancock, a Pittsburgh-based spokeswoman for the Steelworkers, said the issues in the dispute are wages, health benefits and whether employees would receive retroactive pay for the period that began when the previous contract expired.

“An agreement was reached in July on most language issues with the contract,” Hancock said.

Huhtamaki employs about 360 union workers at its sprawling complex on the Waterville-Fairfield municipal boundary.

The Waterville plant is one of 15 manufacturing plants operated by the Finland-based company in the United States. Five of the company’s installations are represented by the United Steelworkers, Hancock said.

Best known for its Chinet brand of disposable tableware, Huhtamaki manufactures a variety of disposable paper products at its Waterville plant. The company began operations in Waterville as Keyes Fiber in 1908.

The firm was sold to a Dutch concern, which was later acquired by Huhtamaki.

Huhtamaki photo 4Meanwhile in Brazil, workers in Sindiquimica, Bahia, affiliated to the CNQ union in Brazil  stopped work at Huhtamaki for three hours in solidarity with workers in the Huhtamaki workers in the USA this morning.

Their banner reads: “Solidarity and Support for the Struggle Against Precarious Work at Huhtamaki in the USA”

A Huhtamaki spokesman could not be reached for comment on the labour dispute.

The supportive action reflects other recent actions by unions with members in Huhtamaki, the Finnish paper products company. The company in in its home country works with unions – as it does in other EU countries – but is taking an increasingly hard line with the United Steelworkers in the USA, which is now proving the norm with many European companies who oppose union organisation and collective bargaining in their US plants.

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Selective Strikes, Work-To-Rule KOs EDF In UK

UnknownBy Dick Blin
For the Utility Workers Of America

Unite the Union and 500 meter fitters and meter engineers won respect and handsome pay gains in a highly coordinated campaign that forced big French energy company EDF to ante up at the table. The French energy giant also operates more than 100 renewable energy plants in the U.S., plus a 49% stake in three nuclear plants in Maryland and New York.

From May to July this year, unionized staff at over 20 worksites across the southern part of Great Britain, including London, used escalating and rolling strikes, as well as job-protected actions short of striking to secure adequate backdated 2013 pay gains.

The agreement also holds EDF accountable over changes to the 2012 collective agreement, changes meant to bridge the pay differential gap between southeast utility workers and those in London. EDF had been ducking that issue.

The workers install and repair meters, and they are front-line EDF theft detection employees. In city after city – from Plymouth to Bristol to Exeter to Bexleyheath in Kent (and London) – they received sympathy and support from the public due to EDF’s inflation-beating electric rate hikes.

The company’s early summer pay offer, however, fell far short of inflation. EDF sought a consolidated 2013-14 pay offer of 2% plus a miniscule £20 one-off payment to each worker. The company’s rejected offer also would have short changed staff of the eastern revenue protection team.

Following the job actions, EDF increased the offer significantly and a mediated resolve came in early August. The 2% increase becomes retroactive to April 2013.

The one-off payment was increased to £480 per worker, and EDF agreed to begin bargaining on a 2014 pay deal immediately. A vastly improved deal was also given the eastern revenue team that means full earnings count as salary, and not a proportion of “additional payments.”

A Unite the Union representative said the disciplined job actions translate to a wake-up call for EDF, one that most definitely will extend into 2014 talks.

See Unite’s ‘Great Pay Victory’ article here.

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