Unite’s Len McCluskey On Manufacturing, German Engineering, Europe, Collective Bargaining, Labour and Liverpool FC

mccluskey_house_2Republished from The House Magazine; Words: Paul Waugh; Photos: Paul Heartfield.

The Reds are back, and Len McCluskey is delighted. In fact, by May 2015 they could come out on top. “If Liverpool could sort their defence out, perhaps next season we could be genuine prospects…” he says, smiling.

The Liverpudlian General Secretary of Unite is, of course, talking about his beloved football club and their recent renaissance. But as the general election countdown continues apace, it’s his other team, Labour, that he wants to bounce back from years of underachievement to deliver a “level playing field” for his members.

Yet with the May elections and Scottish independence referendum looming, it’s clear that the man dubbed ‘Red Len’ by the media is worried that Ed Miliband’s party are not red enough, radical enough or in touch enough with the working class voters it needs for victory.

And although Unite has just cut £1.5m from its affiliation fees to Labour, Britain’s biggest union remains a crucial donor and McCluskey has been given authority to pump in cash should it need it for the 2015 campaign.

In his office in Holborn, McCluskey’s other passion outside politics is rapidly obvious as a giant chess set sits proudly on his coffee table (“a Christmas present, a family gift, my children clubbed together”). With UKIP on the rise and the SNP a real force, he’s already assessing the political tactics and strategy needed for the next 14 months.

Today, his immediate focus is on the Budget. Apart from urging the Chancellor to ‘stop the cuts’, Unite would call for a new British Investment Bank, a big expansion of housebuilding, a new general anti-avoidance rule on tax and an increase of the minimum wage of £1.50 an hour, taking it close to the Living Wage. Just as importantly, he wants British workers’ rights to be restored to match those of the rest of Europe.

He wants to see the procurement rules changed in particular. “It’s so frustrating and annoying. Over £200bn a year our Government spends on services and what we would like to see is British companies given the inside track…Everything the German and French governments do gives their companies an inside track.”

In the UK, ambulances, police vehicles and even ministerial cars are all non-British makes. “All at the moment are foreign, it’s an outrage. You go to Germany of course and they will all be Mercedes.”

McCluskey says there is a wider problem with a lack of investment in British manfacturing. And the way unions are treated. “In Germany, 90% of German workers are covered by collective bargaining. In this country it used to be as high as 80%, it’s now down to 22%. What that means is workers are exposed to the abuses that come from bad employers.”

But what should a Government do to change that? “It can introduce statutory collective bargaining rights so it effectively enforces employers together. Good employers would welcome it, because they’re the ones that don’t particularly like getting caught up in a race to the bottom but very often find themselves sucked into that.”

He points to an example in the car industry. “In one day, I visited the Goodwood factory that makes the Rolls Royce car down on the south coast and then I drove up to Cowley [in Oxford] where they make the Mini. You couldn’t get two more iconic British cars, the Mini and the Rolls Royce – both owned of course by BMW.  I asked the managing directors in both of the companies, who were both German, ‘tell me the difference between Germany and the UK?’ And they both looked at me slightly hesitantly and said ‘well, we wouldn’t want to be offensive but you don’t seem to take manufacturing seriously in the UK’.

“I was on the shop floor and the managing director said to me ‘here’s an iconic British car made by British workers in a British plant and yet look here’. And he pointed to a huge big warehouse with 600 robots working away. He said ‘all of those robots are made in Germany. I can’t get them made here. If I could there would be 600 British robots.’

One reason for the Germans’ engineering success is their strong links between schools, colleges, universities and industry, he adds. McCluskey points to the example of his own son. “He was going into university and I asked him had he considered going into manufacturing. He looked at me as though I’d landed from planet Mars,” he says. “I asked him about engineering and design and he was more interested in finance and advertising and the sexy stuff.”

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Maduro Is Calling for Peace and Dialogue – It’s Opposition Extremists That Want Violence

332245032_640By ; Charge d’Affaires a.i. at the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the UK and Ireland

Once again Venezuelans face violent and unconstitutional attempts to destabilize the country and oust the elected government.

Sadly, this fits a pattern witnessed time and again since Hugo Chavez first came to power in a landslide victory in 1998. An extremist minority has demonstrated constant disregard for the numerous electoral results reaffirming the majority support for the government through undemocratic attempts to oust first President Hugo Chavez and now President Nicolas Maduro.

Most infamously this includes the failed coup d’etat in 2002. Then, members of the opposition hired snipers to fire on government and opposition marches and the deliberate media misrepresentation and exploitation of this by international opponents of Venezuela’s elected Government was used to create the conditions to justify a military coup.

When this failed, a business lockout with the stated aim of forcing the government out was launched in 2002-2003 caused huge economic damage and human suffering during.

Later, in 2004, a wave of “guarimbas” – violent protests and roadblocks closely echoing the current events – sought “anarchistic chaos on the national level” to prompt the military ousting of the government which saw at least nine people lose their lives and hundreds injured.

More recently came the killing of 11 Venezuelans in April 2013 after the main opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, called on his followers to “discharge their rage” after Nicolas Maduro defeated him in a free and fair election.

The pattern of opposition political violence is clear. But what explains the latest wave?

The narrative being pushed by politicians from the right-wing opposition coalition that this is a popular rising against a failing government omits some basic facts.

Firstly, the current protests are highly unpopular. A poll conducted by the Venezuelan company ICS shows 86% of Venezuelans disagree with the violent protests. Secondly, it is estimated that fewer than 2000 people out of 30 million are taking part in the violent protests”. Thirdly, the government won a national set of elections just two months ago with a margin of 10%. The right-wing opposition coalition had labelled those elections a referendum on the government.

This meant a total of four electoral defeats for the opposition in the past 18 months, two of which have been under President Maduro. Following yet another electoral defeat, minority elements in the opposition coalition appears to have lost patience, having initially thought that, with the death of Hugo Chavez, they would soon sweep back into office.

This triggered a switch of tactics with extreme right-wing leaders of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado, declaring a strategy for the ousting – “La Salida”- of President Maduro and his government. They are explicit that their aim is regime change which will come about by “getting the people into the streets“.

The subsequent wave of violence has left 20 dead and 260 injured so far. The stepping up of opposition violence unleashed on 12 February clearly appears pre-planned. A leaked recording of Ivan Carratu Molina, a former Vice Admiral and Fernando Gerbasi, former Venezuelan Ambassador to Colombia discusses how events the next day would be “very similar to April 11th [2002 coup]“.

The picture on the ground is far from the simple media narrative of state forces targeting peaceful protesters in a wave of government sanctioned killings.The government has condemned the minority of the deaths, 4 of the 20, resulting from opposition supporter clashes with security forces. It has taken tough action including sacking the head of the military police and ensuring the arrest of officers involved. But the death toll also includes government supporters being shot dead and at least eight people killed at deliberately dangerous opposition barricades including police officers and civilians fatally shot whilst trying to remove these barriers.

There is no hierarchy of victims and each of these deaths is a tragedy for Venezuela. The critical task for all supporters of democracy is to support the calls President Maduro has made time and again for peace and dialogue. A National Peace Conference on 26 February, attended by opposition politicians, private business leaders, religious and civil society groups, underlined Maduro’s push for a solution. Another important regional peace conferences is currently underway.

In contrast opposition leaders backing “La Salida” have not taken up this invitation nor condemned the violence protests. In fact they demand more “protests“.

As we seek to find solutions, it’s clear that United States’ official funding to these opposition leaders and its recent interventions into Venezuelan politics, do not encourage extremists to move towards a process of peace. In contrast, President Maduro’s call for peace and dialogue has had strong regional backing including from the United Nations of South America (UNASUR).

Such a process is essential to isolating a violent minority and ensuring that the democratic will of the Venezuelan people is respected once again.

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Visteon Pensioners Demo!


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UPDATED: Mark Lyon Tribunal: Ineos’ case was “chaotic and contradictory”

Unite Convenor Mark Lyon

Unite Convenor Mark Lyon

Presiding judge Stewart Watt says: “There was no material evidence that Mr. Lyon had been guilty of any wrong doing”.

Ineos’ case “chaotic and contradictory” says Unite legal team.

Ineos needs to start treating its workforce with respect and ensure no trade union officials are victimised said Unite, as an interim employment tribunal ruled today (Friday 7th March) in favour of the Grangemouth convenor Mark Lyon.

In a blow to the petro-chemical company, the tribunal ruled that it was ‘likely’ that Mr Lyon will win his case for unfair dismissal when it goes to a full tribunal and ordered Ineos to pay his wages until the full hearing in a number of months.

The convenor, with 25 years of service to the company, was tried and dismissed in his absence by Ineos managers for not stopping the union commenting on media reports about fears of job losses at the plant.

The tribunal was asked to make an interim finding in Mr Lyon’s favour in order to avoid the financial hardship he will face between now and the final hearing over his unfair dismissal for trade union activity.

Commenting, Unite legal director Howard Beckett said: “We welcome this interim finding which gives Mr Lyon some financial security until the full tribunal where all the evidence will be heard.

“It is a shot in the arm for workers across the country and sends out a clear message that they can be a member of trade union and represent other workers without fear of victimisation.

“Ineos needs to drop its hostility to the workforce and ensure there is no victimisation of workplace representatives before the brain drain of skills at the site becomes a flood that threatens the site’s survival. 

“Ineos should be in no doubt that we will continue to fight for our members at Grangemouth and pay heed to the interim finding by starting to work with the representatives the workforce has chosen.”

Congratulations to Mark, you deserve this win and all our support.

Read all the press cuttings here – feel free to email on to your contacts. 

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Why The UK Needs Gold Standard Apprenticeships

ApprenticeshipsjThis week is National Apprenticeship Week (March 3rd to 7th), which again provides Unite with an opportunity to promote our union’s policies in regards to skills, training and apprenticeships.

Over the past few months, Unite has been promoting our Made In Britain manufacturing strategy, which includes an important section on skills and apprenticeships and the need for the UK to look to develop a new ‘skills eco system’.

This will provide the quality skilled apprenticeships UK manufacturing is going to need to help the economy recover, improve productivity, bring down the age profile and avoid damaging skills shortages in the future.

Unite has also been working with the Labour Party on promoting a news skills agenda. Labour’s shadow B#business minister Chuka Umunna is promoting the need to revamp the skills structure stating that: “Reforming the skills system and boosting high-quality apprenticeships are key pillars of Labour’s plan. We will build on the last Labour government’s use of public procurement to boost apprenticeships, meaning the money which government spends goes further by requiring that all firms winning major contracts provide new apprenticeships as part of the deal. The cross-party Business, Innovation and Skills select committee has endorsed this approach and suggested that at least one new apprenticeship could be created for each £1 million spent – meaning that a major project such as HS2 could lead to the creation of 33,000 under Labour’s plans”.

Unite has made it clear in Made In Britain that that the future growth of manufacturing sector in the UK will be “predicated on maintaining and improving the education, apprenticeships, skills and training opportunities for the workforce”.

Unite’s have long argued for a ‘German style’ vocational training system where apprentices in skilled sectors get top class training and transportable skills and where schools, employers and unions work towards providing young people with excellent careers opportunities.

One of the problems Unite has been highlighting is the lack of professional careers advice in schools, with young people often pushed into academia rather than a career in manufacturing.

For many young people (and their parents) the image of manufacturing is one of blokes in overalls, working in an ‘oily rag’ environment. That image now belongs to history.

Unite has been promoting skilled apprenticeships through our work with the Technical Apprenticeship Service run by the science sector skills council Cogent which has helped over 200 young people find worthwhile careers in the science sector.

Unite recently promoted a ‘Women Into Science and Engineering’ event in Manchester with Cogent and the TUC; and later this month on March 27 we will be promoting a further event ‘Women Into Engineering And Manufacturing’ jointly with the engineering sector skills council Semta and the TUC.

It is also important to recognise that some companies are doing great work in attracting young people into their businesses to service a skilled apprenticeship.

Recent visits to BMW’s apprenticeship school at Cowley, Rolls Royce’s fantastic facility at Derby and electrical engineering company Brush at Loughborough have proved that some UK companies are leading the way.

The devaluation of apprenticeships by the coalition government – it has allowed companies to set up short-term  ‘apprenticeships’ just to get the numbers up – did significant damage to the apprenticeship ‘brand’. Many of the so-called apprenticeship schemes were in-work short-term training rebranded as apprenticeships to boost the numbers.

What Unite will continue to argue for are skilled apprenticeships to gold standard; an end to poor quality, low-level apprenticeships; apprenticeships for young women with, as a senior engineering director – a woman – said “none of the pink and fluffy stuff”. We want equality of opportunity and support for a specialised careers service to guide young people and parents to look at skilled manufacturing apprenticeships rather than academia.

One thing is interesting – that in speaking to employers and their organisations – there is little difference of opinion between us on these key issues.

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Unite’s Len McCluskey on Newsnight – February 25th

Watch Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey in a five minute interview with Jeremy Paxman.

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FAQ’s : What is really going on in Venezuela?

headerBy the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign

In recent weeks, a wave of violence has left 13 dead and 150 injured in Venezuela. Many misleading reports and images have been recycled in the international media, without verification, giving the impression of state-organised violence against peaceful protesters.

Here the VSC answers some frequently asked questions with facts, revealing a very different picture.

Click here to download the pdf and please repost on your blogsites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.

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VSC Update : Condemnation Of Violence In Venezeula

headerLeading British Figures Condemn the Wave of Violence Unleashed as a Consequence of the Objective of “the Ousting” of the Elected Government & Support Calls for Dialogue and Peace/

The newspaper The Guardian has published a statement signed by a range of figures from across British society (see full text & signatories below) initiated by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign deploring “the wave of violence from minority & extremist sections of Venezuela’s opposition.” Commenting on the continuing destabilization efforts of anti-democratic elements of the right-wing opposition, the statement notes that the “wave of violence” was unleashed as a consequence of the proclaimed objective of the “recently launched campaign by Venezuela’s extreme right for the La Salida (‘The Ousting’) of the government of President Maduro before his constitutional mandate ends in 2019.” It concludes by “supporting the Government’s call for peace and dialogue to resolve differences” which has been echoed by UNASUR (the Union of South American Nations.) Prominent signatories include Grahame Morris MP of Labour Friends of Venezuela; Colin Burgon, VSC Chair; former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, former Minister Peter Hain MP, a wide range of prominent figures in the academic & cultural sectors including filmmaker John Pilger, musician Dave Lee, poet Linton Kwesi Johnson & writer Tariq Ali; alongside an array of others.

In the political field, further members of Parliament Dave Anderson, Michael Connarty, Paul Flynn, Roger Godsiff, Ian Lavery, Elfyn Llwyd, John McDonnell, Chris Williamson & Mike Wood added their support, alongside Baroness Anne Gibson (Vice-chair, All-Party Parliamentary British-Latin America Group,) plus Members of the Scottish Parliament Elaine Smith & Sandra White. Other people to add their support include director Ken Loach, actor Andy De La Tour, Professor Bill Bowring, Director of the LLM/MA in Human Rights at the School of Law of Birkbeck University, progressive barristers Liz Davies &Tim Potter of the Haldane Society, plus a range of academics & writers including Richard Gott, Ernesto Laclau, Professor Doreen Massey & Dr. Julia Buxton.

An impressive selection of further supporters in the labour movement include the general secretaries Billy Hayes (CWU,) Bob Crow (RMT,) Manuel Cortes (TSSA,) Mick Whelan (ASLEF,) Doug Nicholls (General Federation of Trade Unions) & John Smith (Musicians’ Union) plus Unite Assistant General Secretary Tony Burke. Prominent campaigners for peace and social justice include Bruce Kent, Zita Holbourne (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts,) Salma Yaqoob, Kate Hudson (General Secretary of CND,) Lindsey German (Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition) & student leader Aaron Kiely (NUS Black Students’ Officer.)


We deplore the wave of violence from minority and extremist sections of Venezuela’s opposition, that left 3 dead, 60 injured and saw physical assaults on government institutions including shots and Molotov cocktails attacks on the state TV channel and a state governor’s residency.
We note that this followed a recently launched campaign by Venezuela’s extreme right for the La Salida (The Ousting) of the government of President Maduro before his constitutional mandate ends in 2019.
La Salida is led by extremists politicians Leopoldo Lopez and María Corina Machado who were both implicated in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, with Lopez claiming that it will only “be over when we manage to remove those who govern us,” an irresponsible attitude that can only lead to inflame the situation further.
We note that this is not the first time that the sections of the opposition have sought to oust the elected government by unconstitutional means having lost at the ballot box. Most infamously there was the military coup in 2002 but also includes an oil lock-out designed to wreck the economy, economic sabotage and refusal to recognise electoral results declared free and fair.
These unconstitutional attempts have intensified in the aftermath of the death of President Chavez and include the violence unleashed in 2013 in the aftermath of the Presidential election that left 12 people dead.
We further note that Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has expelled three US consular officials from the country, accusing them of meeting people involved in anti- government protests.
We believe that whilst people in Venezuela have the right to protest – and that the Venezuelan constitution guarantees these and other democratic rights – this must be done peacefully. There is no justification for violent opposition to the elected government in Venezuela.
We support the Government’s call for peace and dialogue to resolve differences rather than violence and welcome the huge rally it organized for Peace and Life. We also oppose any external intervention in Venezuela.
We strongly support the statement of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) that violence to seek to overthrow the elected, constitutional government is unacceptable. We join them in both condemning the wave of violence unleashed as a consequence of the proclaimed objective of “the ousting” of the elected government and in supporting calls for dialogue and peace.


Grahame Morris Member of Parliament, Chair, Labour Friends of Venezuela
Colin Burgon, Chair, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign
Ken Livingstone, former Mayor of London
Dave Anderson, Member of Parliament, Labour
Michael Connarty, Member of Parliament, Labour
Paul Flynn, Member of Parliament, Labour
Roger Godsiff, Member of Parliament, Labour
Peter Hain, Member of Parliament, Labour
Ian Lavery, Member of Parliament, Labour
Elfyn Llwyd, Member of Parliament, Plaid Cymru
John McDonnell, Member of Parliament, Labour
Chris Williamson, Member of Parliament, Labour
Mike Wood, Member of Parliament, Labour
Elaine Smith, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Labour
Sandra White, Member of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish National Party
Murad Qureshi, London Assembly Member, Labour
Baroness Anne Gibson, Vice-chair, All-Party Parliamentary British-Latin America Group
Tariq Ali, writer & filmmaker
Richard Gott, writer & journalist
Andy De La Tour, actor
Linton Kwesi Johnson, Poet
Dave Lee, musician (daveleehorn.com)
Ken Loach, Film Director
Susie Meszaros, music professor, Royal College of Music & a member of the quartet Chilingiria
John Pilger, journalist & filmmaker
Professor Julia Buxton, academic & consultant
Dr. Francisco Dominguez Head of Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies, Middlesex University
Ernesto Laclau, writer
Professor Doreen Massey
Istvan Meszaros, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sussex
Bruce Kent, peace campaigner
Professor Bill Bowring, School of Law, Birkbeck University, Director of the LLM/MA in Human Rights
Liz Davies, Barrister & Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Tim Potter, Barrister & Haldane Society
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association)
Bob Crow, General Secretary, RMT (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers)
Billy Hayes, General Secretary, Communication Workers’ Union
Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions
Johh Smith, General Secretary, Musicians Union & President, International Federation Musicians (FIM)
Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen)
Tony Burke, Assistant General Secretary, Unite the Union & Venezuela Solidarity Campaign Vice-Chair
Tony Woodhouse, Chair, EC, Unite the Union
Bill Adams, Regional Secretary, Yorkshire & Humber Trade Union Congress
Richard Bagley, Editor, ‘Morning Star’
Andy Bain, National Treasurer, TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association)
Lee Brown, researcher
Stephen Brown, Musicians Union, Midlands Regional Organiser
Richard Burgon, Labour Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, East Leeds constituency
Michael Burke, economist
Stephen Cavalier, Chief Executive, Thompsons Solictiors
Professor Mike Cole, Centre for Educational Development and Research, Bishop Grosseteste University
Luke Daniels, President, Caribbean Labour Solidarity
Dr. Michael Derham, Programme Leader for Spanish Studies, Senior Lecturer in Spanish, Northumbia University, Newcastle (UNN)
Simon Dubbins, Director of Research & International, Unite the Union
Siobhan Endean, National Officer for Equalities, Unite the Union
Jennie Formby, Political Director, Unite the Union / Labour Party National Executive Committee member
John Fray, President, General Federation of Trade Unions
Lindsey German, Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
John Gledhill, Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Manchester
Moz Greenshields, Former NEC member, UNISON trade union
Dr. Peter Hallward, Professor of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London
John Haylett, Political Editor, Morning Star
Dr. Julie Hearn, Department of Politics, Philosophy & Religion, Lancaster University
Terry Hoad, Past President, UCU (University & College Union)
Ian Hodson, President, BFAWU (Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union)
Zita Holbourne, National Co-Chair, BARAC UK, PCS NEC, Poet& Artist
Kate Hudson, General Secretary, CND
Joy Johnson
Jim Kennedy, UCATT (UCATT Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technician) & National Executive Committee member, Labour Party
Aaron Kiely, National Union of Students, Black Students’ Officer
Mariela Kohon, Director, Justice for Colombia
Gerry Looker, UNISON East Midlands Regional Officer
Dr Steve Ludlam, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Sheffield
Dominic MacAskill, Head of Local Government, UNISON Wales
Simon Macfarlane, UNISON Scotland Regional Officer
Carl Maden, NEC member, Communication Workers’ Union
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Party Councillor & Leader, Medway Labour Group
Hazel Marsh, Lecturer in Spanish, School of Language & Communication studies, University of East Anglia
Martin Mayer, Unite the Union Executive council member for passenger transport & Labour Party NEC member
Phil McGarry, Political Officer, RMT Scotland & Scotland VSC Chair
Dr Bevis Miller, University of Bristol
Rob Miller, Director, Cuba Solidarity Campaign
Dr. Thomas Muhr, University of Bristol
Pablo Navarrete, filmmaker
Dr. Diana Raby, University of Liverpool
Bernard Regan, Chair, International Committee SERTUC (South East Region Trade Union Congress)
Louise Richards, Trade Union & Communications Co-ordinator, Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG)
Bert Schouwenburg, International Officer, GMB union
Jackie Simpkins, Trades Union Officer, War on Want
Matt Stanley, National Union of Students NEC
Enrico Tortolano, Researcher & Latin American correspondent, ‘Tribune’
Howard Turner, EC Member, Unite the Union
Jose Vallejo Villa, Latin American workers uniting & Unite the Union London & Eastern Region
Jeni Vine, filmmaker
Derek Wall, International Co-ordinator, Green Party of England and Wales
Adrian Weir, Assistant Chief of Staff, Unite the Union
Alan Whitaker, Past President, UCU
Salma Yaqoob
Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group (NSCAG)
Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and over thirty others.

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Mexico Set To Become Number One Auto Exporter To USA

Honda_B_04052013Mexico is on track to become the United States’ No. 1 source of imported cars by the end of next year, overtaking Japan and Canada in a manufacturing boom that’s turning the auto industry into a bigger source of dollars than money sent home by migrants.

The boom is raising hopes that Mexico can create enough new jobs to pull millions out of poverty as northbound migration slows sharply, but critics caution that most of the new car jobs are low-skill and pay too little. Mexico’s low and stagnant wages have kept the poverty rate between 40% and 50% since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) two decades ago.

An $800 million Honda plant that opened February 21st in the central state of Guanajuato will produce more than 200,000 Fit hatchbacks and compact SUVs a year, helping push total Mexican car exports to the U.S. to 1.7 million in 2014, roughly 200,000 more than Japan, consulting firm IHS Automotive says. And with another big plant starting next week, Mexico is expected to surpass Canada for the top spot by the end of 2015.

“It’s a safe bet,” said Eduardo Solis, president of the Mexican Automotive Industry Association. “Mexico is now one of the major global players in car manufacturing.”

When NAFTA was signed two decades ago, Mexico produced 6% of the cars built in North America. It now provides 19%. Total Mexican car production has risen 39% from 2007, to nearly 3 million cars a year. The total value of Mexico’s car exports surged from $40 billion to $70.6 billion over that span.

Manufacturing in Mexico is now cheaper than in many places in China, though the vast majority of the cars and trucks made in North America are still produced in the U.S. for domestic consumption and export to other countries.

And many of the vehicles built in Mexico are assembled with parts that are produced in the United States and Canada and cross the border without tariffs under NAFTA.

Mexico’s government and the car industry say the automotive industry has become the primary source of foreign currency for Mexico, surpassing oil exports and remittances from immigrants in the United States.

Migration to the U.S. has slowed dramatically in recent years, though experts attribute that mostly to tougher enforcement and a slower U.S. economy. Despite successes such as the car-making boom, Mexico still isn’t creating nearly enough formal jobs for the hundreds of thousands of people entering the workforce each year.

 While Mexico’s official unemployment rate dropped to 4.62 % in the last quarter of 2013, nearly 7% of working-age people work less than 15 hours a week and nearly 60% scrape by in ‘off-the-books jobs’ such as street vendors or day labourers, whose benefits are virtually nonexistent and whose wages are often below the legal minimum.

 The Mexican government announced that the economy grew a meager 1.1% in 2013, its worst performance since 2009. The government is hoping to see 3.5% growth this year.

 Mexico has roughly 580,000 auto workers, whose numbers have risen by 100,000 since 2008. They are paid about $16 a day, more than $4 less than what the average U.S. autoworker is paid every hour. More than half of all Mexican workers earn less than $15 a day, according to Mexico’s census agency.

Honda workers at a Mexican factory wear bags over their faces to ward off reprisals from management as they announce an independent new union.

Honda workers at a Mexican factory wear bags over their faces to ward off reprisals from management as they announce an independent new union.

Many car factories in Mexico operate with pro-company (“yellow”) unions and some workers have fought without success to form independent unions that could bargain for higher pay and better pensions.

“It’s one of the most modern industries that is generating the most money for the country,” said Huberto Juarez, an auto industry expert at the Autonomous University of Puebla. “It’s not right that these workers are making so little.”

“It’s not only about lower salaries. That’s short-sighted. It is a component of a larger equation that has to do with the expertise we are developing,” Eduardo Solis said.

Much of the new production is by Japanese companies drawn by the ability to move parts into and out of Mexico without tariffs. Local governments have been competing for new plants by offering tax exemptions, employee training and improved highways connecting the plants to the U.S. border and Mexican ports.

Just 25 miles from the new Honda plant, Mazda is set to open a factory next week to produce 230,000 cars a year. Nissan is expected to turn out 175,000 cars annually at a $2 billion plant it opened late last year in the nearby state of Aguascalientes. And Audi will be producing luxury models at a plant in the state of Puebla that is slated to open in 2016.

 Edited from an article by Adriana Gomez Licon via the 
Associated Press.

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UAW To Appeal VW Vote Citing Republican Interference

BN-BM625_1vw_G_20140212172347The United Auto Workers have filed an objection with the U.S. NLRB yesterday asking it to set aside the results of a ballot last week in which workers at a Tennessee Volkswagen plant voted against union recognition in Chattanooga.

The appeal cites “interference by politicians and outside special interest groups.” The  U.S. National Labour Relations Board will investigate the election and decide if there are grounds to scrap it and hold a new one.

The move now ramps up a battle with anti-union right wing Republican groups that intensified as the UAW, has tried hard to organise workers at EU and Japanese auto plants across the Southern “right to work’ states.

The UAW will have seven days to provide evidence to its claim. An NLRB regional director will investigate and a hearing will likely follow.

The UAW said in a statement that its appeal details “a coordinated and widely publicised coercive campaign conducted by politicians and outside organisations to deprive Volkswagen workers of their federally protected right to join a union.”

The election loss at the plant in Chattanooga was a blow to the UAW, which had agreed a German style ‘works council structure’ with the VW management after working closely with the giant German union IG Metall. The vote went 712-626 (53% to 47%) vote – the UAW only needed a further 44 more votes in favour of the union to win.

Right wing Republicans ran a campaign consisting of misleading statements, anti-union advertising and scare mongering against the UAW in the final days of balloting.

The most vocal critics of the union was Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga who’s conduct the UAW said was “shameful and undertaken with utter disregard for the rights of the citizens of Tennessee and surrounding states that work at Volkswagen.” 

Corker had said publicly that he had learned Volkswagen would bring an additional production line for SUVs to the plant, creating more jobs, if workers rejected the UAW.

However, VW officials contradicted Corker saying a decision on the additional line was unrelated to the election.

The UAW believes Corker’s misleading statement about the SUV production spooked workers at the plant. The UAW ran a ‘phone-bank’ during the ballot – and and following Corker’s statement they heard from VW workers who once in favour of a union moving to  neutral or to opposition to the UAW.

Posters paid for by ‘right wing causes’, depicting the UAW as being responsible for the collapse of the auto industry in Detroit were prominent in Chattanooga and staff who would not have been part of the UAWs area of representation took part in the anti-UAW campaign.

President Barack Obama, accused politicians in Chattanooga of being “more concerned about German shareholders than American workers,” according to a Democratic aide who heard the remarks at a closed meeting with lawmakers.

UAW President Bob King blasted what he called “extraordinary interference in the private decision of workers to have a U.S. senator, a governor and leaders of the state legislature threaten the company with the denial of economic incentives and workers with a loss of product.”

Click on the link win the first paragraph or the photo to read the UAW case to the NLRB.

Also worth reading is this New York Times blog – click here.

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