IndustriALL Europe makes the case for collective bargaining in new campaign

The giant European trade union federation IndustriAll Europe, which covers 7m manufacturing, mining and energy workers has launched a campaign which aims to demonstrate the positive impact of collective bargaining in delivering a better life for working people.

The campaign is seen as a major step for European trade unions in co-ordination and co-operating on the issue of collective bargaining.

The campaign will run under the slogan ‘Together At Work’ through to March 2020 and is aimed at all workers with a focus on women, young people and workers in precarious employment.

Amongst the reasons for the campaign, are the fact that collective bargaining is under attack by employers  and some governments in Europe. IndustriALL Europe says that collective bargaining is a key to higher pay and better working conditions.

Luc Triangle, IndustriAll Europe’s General Secretary told a media launch on September 26, “Over the past decades, collective bargaining has been eroded throughout Europe. Following the 2008 crisis collective bargaining was attacked by both national governments and European institutions, as a means to lower wages and restore profitability.

“The increase in individual contracts has left many workers unable to stand up for themselves and led to a rise in precarious work and in-work poverty,” he added. “This has led to a vicious cycle where lower bargaining coverage undermines the power to act collectively and to improve conditions for all workers in society. This also erodes social cohesion and now threatens the future of our social security systems, as workers can no longer afford, and employers no longer have to, contribute sufficient to ensure adequate protection.”

“Our campaign will clearly demonstrate the advantages for workers, employers and society of a model of workplace relations with collective bargaining at its heart. This means strong trade unions and employers willing to sit around the table. Together at Work will show the way forward and identify the measures needed to support collective bargaining.”

Unite is backing the campaign, and Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said, “The fact is that collective bargaining has been under attack by employers and the UK government for four decades.

“Back in 1979. 71% of UK workers were covered by collective agreements including national sectoral agreements and company-wide agreements covering pay, working hours, holidays, overtime and shift arrangements, apprentices pay and many other issues. 11% of workers were also covered by wages councils which protected some of our lowest paid workers in sectors such as agriculture and box making.

“UK Government statistics today suggest that collective bargaining has been pushed back and that just 26% of UK workers are covered by collective agreements with only 14.7% of workers in the private sector covered by collective bargaining, with 58.9% of the public sector now covered by collective bargaining,” Burke explained.

“This has been bad news for UK workers. There is massive inequity in terms of pay and conditions between the wealthy and ordinary working people, zero hours contracts have taken hold, low pay is endemic with people having to work two or three jobs just to make a living.

“However, the Labour Party’s announcement of its  plans to roll out sectoral collective bargaining and ban zero hours contracts when it takes office is great news,” he added.

“Shadow Minister for Employment Laura Pidcock MP announced  to both the TUC and Labour Party conferences in September an ambitious programme of minimum and legally binding pay, terms and conditions for every employers and every work in a sector.”

Each month, IndustriALL Europe will focus on a different set of messages aimed at workers, employers, women, young people and others, telling real stories about working people, their struggles and their jobs and highlighting the concrete benefits that trade unions bring through collective negotiations with employers through a combination of video and printed material for use in the workplace and social media.

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UK Unions Warn: ‘This Is A No Deal Coup’

”The claim that the government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false.’’ Government statement to the Observer newspaper.’

British trade unions reacted furiously and condemned the Johnson government’s actions in suspending parliament yesterday as a ‘No Deal Brexit Coup’ which will damage jobs and working class communities while Johnson and his cronies will be ‘sitting pretty’.

Unite’s Len McCluskey accused prime minister Boris Johnson of a ‘no deal Brexit coup saying:“Johnson’s plan to shut parliament is nothing short of a no deal Brexit coup which imperils the livelihoods of millions of workers and the future prosperity of communities across our nations.

“With the future of places such as Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port plant hanging by a thread, wrapping the suspension of parliament up with empty promises on education, police and the NHS is an insult to voters desperate for decent public services and a reversal of austerity. 

“Johnson knows full well that a no deal Brexit will devastate our public finances and whole swathes of the economy. Have no doubt it will be Johnson and his friends in the wealthy elite who will be sitting pretty in the event of a catastrophic no deal Brexit, while working class communities pay the price.

McCluskey called for a General Election: “Whichever way people voted in the Brexit referendum, they did not vote for our democracy to be shut down and to lose their jobs. The prime minister should call a general election rather than silencing parliament to push through a disastrous no deal Brexit. I urge all sensible politicians from all parties to stand up and come together behind Jeremy Corbyn to block this no deal Brexit coup.”

Unison’s Dave Prentis said that the government actions smacked of a dictatorship with the government treating the UK’s future like a political plot: “This outrageous manoeuvre has been made to silence all opposition in the most dictatorial way. Our parliamentary democracy is the envy of the world, but it’s being stamped upon and disregarded by a Prime Minister who’s not gone near a public vote.

“Boris Johnson is treating the future of the UK like the plot of a far-fetched political TV drama. The country must be asked for its view on Brexit right now. That’s the only way.”

The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:  “This is a deliberate ploy by the prime minister to duck basic democratic scrutiny, at a time when people’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line. By denying parliament a voice, this government is treating the people with contempt.

“The effects of crashing out of the European Union without a deal would be felt for a generation. People and parliament together can stop this.

“We’ll support any democratic initiative to stop a disastrous no-deal whether through legislation, a general election or a popular vote.”

Train drivers union ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan warned of civil unrest: “Whatever your views on Brexit, the democratic process must underpin what is done in all our names — or civil unrest will be the result.

“It is disturbing that a Prime Minister, who only has a mandate from the Conservative Party and not from the electorate, is trying to undermine the foundations of our democracy.”


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Brazil Solidarity Initiative Statement : Bolsonaro & The Destruction Of The Amazon

We condemn Bolsonaro’s destructive plans for the Amazon, and the huge increase in illegal logging and mining since his inauguration. At the time of the rise of the far-right in Brazil, Bolsonaro’s close links to Brazil’s huge agricultural lobby were well known. The levels of destruction that we are witnessing today are a direct result of his presidency.

The Amazon rainforest is a vital environmental resource, it’s destruction will not only have hugely damaging ramifications in Brazil, but around the globe as we look to Governments to tackle the climate emergency.

We call on the international community to challenge Bolsoanro’s agenda and to recognise that without the coup against the elected president Dilma Rousseff in 2016, and the political persecution and jailing of Lula da Silva, the far-right would not be in power today.

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union and the Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative

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How To Save Harland & Wolff

The future of Belfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard could be guaranteed if the Government were to award the contract to build aircraft carrier support vessels to a UK Consortium.

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (CSEU), has been campaigning hard to get the government to award the Fleet Solid Support Ship (FSS) contract, which is worth £1.5bn, to a UK consortium. Instead, the work has been put out to international tender by the MoD who have invited shipyards from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea to bid for the work.

The UK consortium will use the same manufacturing process and skills base to build the support ships as was used for the Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, which utilised shipyards in every part of the country. Placing the contract in the UK will safeguard not just the jobs in Belfast but tens of thousands of shipbuilding jobs in every part of the UK. The alternative will be shipyards falling like dominoes. The question is who will be next?

The decision to put the FSS competition out to international tender has attracted controversy and has been criticised by unions and MPs of all the main parties in Northern Ireland and the UK as well as the Defence Select Committee. Bids closed last month and the British based Team UK consortium, which includes BAE Systems, Babcock, Cammel Laird and Rolls-Royce is facing competition from Fincantieri (Italy), Navantia (Spain), Japan Marine United Corporation, and Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (South Korea).

The contract will provide up to three ships designed to supply dry stores such as ammunition, explosives and food to Royal Navy ships at sea, whilst potentially under fire in war zones.

Ian Waddell, General Secretary of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, has written to both Boris Johnson and Ben Wallace and said:

“We have been warning for some time that the UK shipbuilding industry is facing a crisis as workload subsides following the Carrier project. Appledore has already closed, now the iconic Harland & Wolff is going into administration.”

“Other sites will follow if the government does nothing.”

“We fully support the campaign being run by the workforce and local unions to keep the site open and for it to be nationalised in order in order to allow it to bid for commercial work we know is out there.”

“All that workers are asking for is support to allow them to bid for and win work in the short term so that skills can be maintained for the long term in a yard vital to the FSS project.”

“Awarding FSS to Team UK would provide long-term stability for the industry and Harland & Wolff could play an important role in that and other future projects, such as Type 31 frigates.”

“Failure to do so will see up to 40,000 jobs be put at risk throughout the supply chain and the closure of other iconic shipyards.”

If you believe in the British shipbuilding industry – then sign the letter and tell ministers to build our ships in Britain

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Brexit, Productivity And Competitiveness

Professor David Bailey, professor of economics and Birmingham Business School.

By Professor David Bailey, Professor of Business Economics at Birmingham Business School at University of Birmingham, Visiting Professor at Centre for Brexit Studies and Senior Fellow at UK in a Changing Europe.

Re published from original blog on July 29th and used with permission.

From the 1980s through to the early 2000s, UK productivity grew reasonably well. The measure of economic output per hour of work rose by about 2% a year, on average, before the 2008 financial crisis.  Since then, productivity growth has been dismal; for example in 2018, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures showed labour productivity growing by only 0.5%.

The UK’s poor record in productivity growth since the financial crisis stands in contrast to its recovery from previous downturns, when productivity initially fell, but subsequently recovered to the previous growth trend.  The Office of Budget Responsibility thought the same would happen this time and has repeatedly forecast returns to more robust levels of productivity growth. This hasn’t materialised, however.

Productivity is seen as an important driver of improved living standards over the long term, enabling companies to pay higher wages as they are can produce higher revenues with the same or fewer resources.

As Paul Krugman once famously puts it in his 1994 book The Age of Diminished Expectations,“Productivity isn’t everything, but, in the long run, it is almost everything.  A country’s ability to improve its standard of living over time depends almost entirely on its ability to raise its output per worker” (page 11).  The UK government has made increasing the productivity of British workers a priority of its industrial strategy.

But the UK’s poor productivity performance doesn’t appear to be improving. Recent labour market data and GDP 2019 first quarter estimates indicate that output per hour – the main ONS measure of labour productivity – decreased for the third consecutive quarter by 0.2% in Quarter 1 of 2019, compared with the same quarter in the previous year. Business investment declined throughout 2018 as noted in an earlier CBS blog, with fears that it is being damaged by Brexit uncertainty, hence affecting productivity growth.

Britain’s ‘productivity puzzle’ in fact actually contains number of elements.[1] One is a ‘productivity level puzzle’ focused on why UK productivity did not move back to its pre-financial crisis level after a short interval, while the ‘productivity growth puzzle’ focuses on why  the  productivity  growth  trend  appears  to  have  fallen  so much since the financial crisis.

A third element has been highlighted of late in terms of the UK’s ‘regional productivity puzzle’ or why UK interregional productivity differences are so great over such short  distances  when the UK’s relatively institutional  set-up  ought  to  allow  for  technology diffusion across regions.[2]

The UK does have high-performing and high productivity firms in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automotive sector and the creative industries.  It also has some high-performing cities and regions, notably London.

But the overall picture is one of weakness. Investment – both public and private – is low. The UK’s dysfunctional housing market inhibits labour mobility. There are ongoing weakness in education, training and skills provision for much of the population which will be exacerbated as the economy enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is an over-reliance on the financial sector and there has been weak management with a long tail of lowly performing firms[3], along with lower levels of advanced capital, R&D and skills-training.[4]

These factors are long standing in nature, of course, and cannot explain the post 2008 productivity slowdown.  It might be that aggressive fiscal consolidation, involving sharp cuts in public investment, from 2010, may have led to a permanent fall in the sustainable level of output in the UK economy.[5]

Similarly, Wren-Lewis (2017) suggests that the macroeconomic story is consistent with the notion that both the 2010 budget followed by uncertainty around the EU Referendum from 2015 onwards reduced the appetite for investors to engage in capital deepening (where the capital per worker increases) for almost a decade,[6] with a knock-on effect on productivity.

Economists’ estimates on the long-term direct impact of Brexit on UK productivity – via effects on trade and FDI as trade costs rise and EU market access falls – range from an adverse effect on the level of GDP per worker of 4 to 8%, depending on various modelling assumptions and of course the form of Brexit.[7]  Overall, what this suggests is that Brexit will make relative UK productivity performance worse not better.

Recently, Crafts (2019) has asked whether Brexit might allow the UK more freedom to reform supply-side policy free of constraints imposed by EU membership and by being part of the Single Market.[8]

His response was negative. Like others, he highlights UK policy weaknesses in a range of areas including education and skills, infrastructure, innovation, regulation and taxation. But as noted by others, these are largely ‘home grown’ issues, already under UK policy control.

Brexit itself will not do anything directly to improve the education system, training, or infrastructure, for example. In a broader context, might Brexit provide the opportunity for a policy ‘reset’ moment’ that could enable policy makers to begin to address the underlying issues of Britain’s various productivity puzzles?

That’s not at all clear when policy makers may anyway be trying to minimise the downside effects of Brexit on UK competitiveness. And as Jonathan Portes notes in the Brexit Scorecard, so far, this ‘reset opportunity’ has been missed; “whether that can change will determine the long run success of Brexit.”


Competitiveness can of course be defined in a number of ways. In understanding how Brexit might impact on productivity in the UK, the definition used by The World Economic Forum (WEF) is useful here. It defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country”.

Given both the complexity of the UK’s economic relationship with the European Union built up over decades, and the fact that the form of the future trading relationship is not clear, it is of course difficult to forecast how Brexit will affect competitiveness (and hence productivity) in the future.

Of the 112 individual indicators that make up its Global Competitiveness Index, the WEF suggest that 14 could be directly negatively impacted by Brexit, while three (and potentially six) of the 112 indicators have the potential to positively impacted.[9]

In this regard, this measure of the UK’s competitiveness will depend on how successful the UK is in minimising the potential downside on the 14 indicators while maximizing any upside from those that might have a positive impact.

The WEF notes that there aren’t really any precedents but looking at other non-EU nations that have a close trading relationship with the EU suggests that on many of the indicators that are directly influenced by Brexit, the UK currently fares better than non-EU peers such as Switzerland and Norway, such as on: the prevalence of non-tariff barriers; trade tariffs; the prevalence of foreign ownership; and the business impact of rules on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

At the same time, aspects of competitiveness where peers like Switzerland and Norway do really well are not directly influenced by EU membership, such as Norway’s good score on the macroeconomic environment (thanks largely to its oil wealth) or Switzerland’s world leading status on innovation (based on a long-standing collaboration between business and academia).

It isn’t likely that the UK would be able to match the latter, for example, without a much greater effort in various policy areas going forward (again requiring a ‘reset’ moment). What this suggests is a clear downside risk for UK competitiveness from Brexit with only limited upside potential, at least in the short term.[10]

So the big question remains as to whether Brexit could offer the opportunity for a ‘reset’ that could enable policymakers to really start to tackle the root causes of the UK’s productivity puzzles. So far, though, Brexit has had the opposite effect, effectively paralysing policy action in a range of areas. As the Brexit Scorecard concluded, perhaps post Brexit this could change, and policymakers could focus on such issues, “but at present it is hard to be optimistic”.

[1] Schneider, P. (2016), “There are Two Productivity Puzzles”, Bank  Underground,


[3] Although recent  analyses  suggest  that  the  under-performance of the more productive firms and larger firms may have in fact dominated the UK’s productivity downturn (


[5] Portes (2019)

[6] Wren-Lewis,  S.,  2017,  “Disentangling  the  UK  Productivity  Problem” (

[7] Crafts, N. (2019). Persistent Productivity Failure in the UK: Is the EU Really to Blame? National Institute Economic Review, 247(1), R10–R18.

[8] Crafts, N. (2019). Persistent Productivity Failure in the UK: Is the EU Really to Blame? National Institute Economic Review, 247(1), R10–R18.



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Great cartoon from USA – 10 Reasons Why We Are Against Unions

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Long Read: Defeating Boris Johnson Means Not Underestimating Him

By Simon Fletcher and republished with permission

Simon Fletcher is a left wing political strategist and campaigner who has held senior positions working for socialist politicians including the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and organising Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership election. He has fought against Boris Johnson on a number of occasions and knows a thing or two about how Johnson will operate aLabout can go about defeating him.

These notes consider some of the questions facing the Labour Party as Boris Johnson prepares to become Prime Minister, in part based on my own experiences. They are intended to be a contribution to how Labour operates in this new political environment.

I am in the somewhat unusual situation of having been the director of campaigns both against Boris Johnson and for Jeremy Corbyn.

I was the then-mayor’s chief of staff when Boris Johnson declared his ultimately successful candidacy for mayor of London in 2007 and we headed into a bruising electoral battle. I was then London Labour’s director of campaigns and research for the general election of 2010, in a role that worked up Tory attack lines in London and aimed to reduce Johnson’s role as an electoral asset for the Tories. I ran Ken Livingstone’s selection campaign to once again be Labour’s candidate for mayor, and was his campaign’s chief of staff for the 2012 London mayoral election. That is quite a few years studying — and fighting — Boris Johnson.

There are a number of lessons from all the time in the trenches against Boris Johnson. One crystal clear lesson is that far too many people underestimate him.

Many good people inadvertently participate in the creation of Boris Johnson’s political persona, laughing along with one tousle-haired stunt and gaffe after another, believing that these things are damaging to him. They are not. Johnson thrives on being a figure of fun because people like fun. His antics shield him from the reality of his Tory politics and his multiple failures as a political administrator. Far from ‘buffoon’ being a term that causes him trouble, it is an asset, a smile-inducing diversionary construct.

As recently as this leadership election he demonstrated that he is still very much at it. Just as serious questions were being asked about his character following reports of a startling row with his partner, he embarked on a bizarre discourse about painting buses on the side of cardboard boxes. His ramblings elbowed aside other stories and softened perceptions once again. Only this week he was waving kippers around to make fatuous points about the European Union. Still at it.

No one on the left should assume a Johnson-led government would automatically deliver a Labour victory. One, because Labour will not win only through negatives. It must galvanise on positives, which themselves contain the dividing lines with the Tories. But two, because to beat Johnson it is first necessary not to underestimate him. Boris Johnson has always fought brutally hard in his self-interest and he is not going to stop now.

It was reported this week that Johnson is gearing up the Conservative Party for a general election. “There’s a desire to get this done while Corbyn is still around,” the Times reports of one senior member of Johnson’s team. “Labour is utterly divided — Brexit is killing them. Labour is in no fit state to fight a general election.” Another member of Johnson’s team is reported to have said: “Jeremy Corbyn being opposition leader is a positive for us.”

Labour supporters will conclude from this that some in the Conservative Party learned very little from Theresa May’s disastrous 2017 miscalculation in calling a snap election. Certainly, Jeremy Corbyn’s critics and opponents have regularly fallen foul of not taking him seriously enough, very often at their direct cost.

Nonetheless, it is necessary to be sober about the challenges we will face in the coming period and — in turn — not to make the mistake our opponents have made about us: underestimation of the other side.

Boris Johnson’s incoming administration will come to power with a precarious majority. MPs have already tied his hands by stopping any attempt to prorogue Parliament. The new Cabinet will have to turn its attention immediately to Brexit, which has now seen off two Tory Prime Ministers. Bubbling underneath are all the problems of an increasingly fragile-looking economy.

The objective situation he inherits presents very clear opportunities for the broad progressive left of British society to strike hard and to speak for the majority of the country in doing so.

All of these factors may have contributed to one view currently doing the rounds in Westminster that Johnson’s elevation to Prime Minister is a net positive for the Labour Party. One New Statesman cover story this summer reported figures from very different strands of opinion within the party who believe that “someone is running to save them: Boris Johnson.” The Statesman’s Stephen Bush reported the remarks of one Labour leadership ally who believes that a Johnson-led Conservative government would “put things into perspective” for disaffected Remainers. The view is not confined to supporters of Jeremy. “Jess Phillips,” Stephen reports, “the outspoken backbencher, has described a Johnson leadership as ‘a gift’ to Jeremy Corbyn.”

It is absolutely right for Labour to relish any opportunity to fight the Tories in an election. That does not diminish the task of defeating the incoming PM. There is no inevitability that Boris Johnson will defeat himself for us; or that there is an inevitable electoral backlash to him that in all circumstances will fall into Labour’s hands.

If we look again at the reports this week that the Tories are preparing for an election, they may well favour an election before 2022, but they also certainly prefer a general election after Brexit has been imposed, not before. The Times reports that Johnson “has made clear that holding an election before Brexit has been delivered would be an ‘absolute folly’. Senior allies said, however, that planning was under way to go to the polls by the summer of next year.” Johnson’s team are reported as planning for the eventuality of being forced into an election earlier, but their preference is for something later, and there are very sound reasons from their point of view for such thinking. Including one rather big reason, the Brexit Party.

Tory MPs do not have any desire to go back to the electors with the threat of the Brexit Party hanging over them. Hence a preference for a post-Brexit election. By removing the Brexit Party’s threat, the Tories will feel emboldened to press ahead with an election. While Farage’s party is a firing squad aiming directly at Tory MPs, it can be removed, if a hard Brexit is delivered.

Johnson will have an early ally in the US president for a hard Brexit. Trumpwants a hard Brexit as a means to weaken the European Union, to strengthen the USA in Europe, and to pursue his own trade deals. Trump’s political assassination of the British ambassador in Washington, Kim Darroch, was in large part a warning sign about his impatience with Britain and May over Brexit. Nigel Farage is Trump’s principal British minion. He is considerably less likely to cause the Tory party mayhem if Trump’s ally Boris Johnson has successfully delivered the hard Brexit each of them wants. Clearing the Brexit Party out of the way would remove a major electoral headache for Johnson.

It is not only with regard to his ruthlessness towards Brexit, the British economy or a general election that Johnson must not be underestimated. His style and brand and his willingness to switch to any and all positions in order to protect himself and advance will also present a change from Theresa May.

Boris Johnson’s methods cannot be considered without recognising his long-term alliance with the political strategist Lynton Crosby. Amongst the many things Crosby has brought to Johnson’s campaigns and activities, he has imposed message discipline — or rather, Johnson has submitted himself to discipline in pursuit of his own self-interest. After Johnson was first selected as the Tories’ London mayoral campaign he initially ran an underwhelming campaign. As Sonia Purnell noted in her biography of Johnson:

One of the ways in which his 2007/08 campaign was put on a more serious footing was the introduction of Crosby. Much of Johnson’s subsequent record as a campaigner was established in this period.

Let us take the matter of debates. Boris Johnson has been heavily criticised for refusing to participate in leadership debates. For Johnson, evasion is not new: as a mayoral candidate he was equally willing to take brick bats for not taking part in debates, in order to secure what he saw as other benefits. Once he became mayor he ducked the accountability of mayoral press conferences, once a weekly event but quickly downgraded. Any general election campaign assumptions must be based on the fact that Johnson will play hardball over formats and timings or simply refuse altogether, and he will obviously not be the first Prime Minister to do so. But Johnson will surely apply the same avoidance tactics to general matters of accountability outside elections.

Johnson’s campaign teams under Lynton Crosby have pursued front-runner tactics in this regard for a long time. Rationing debates can help dictate the terms of when and if debates take place. If debates go ahead without him he is able to cement the sense that he is ahead of the rest of the pack and does not demean himself with free-for-alls — and he is able to sit back whilst his opponents inflict blows on each other. Through his refusal to debate, he sets his own agenda on his own terms, heightening interest in his personal appearances. And of course this all has the added advantage of minimising scope for errors.

As a debater, when he does finally appear, he goes on the offensive, speaking over his opponents to totally impose himself on the proceedings and avoid probing questions.

Johnson’s persona is of a free-wheeling figure but he is more than willing to submit himself to campaign discipline in order to extract advantage over his rivals. Labour will have to work hard to find imaginative ways to make him accountable. And the party will have to ensure that when Johnson does refuse to debate, Labour can make him pay so heavily in the minds of the voters that it outweighs any of the benefit he believes he can amass.

Parliament provides many more opportunities to hold Johnson to account than were available in the London Assembly. The dogged scrutiny of Johnson by Assembly members was highly creditable. Nonetheless we know that the Assembly’s position within the Greater London Authority arrangements is weak in relation to the mayor’s powers. Crucially, the opportunity of a weekly PMQs and all the other mechanisms that parliament provides — from votes to statements and urgent questions — can make it harder for him to evade his critics. It is easy to see the appeal of proroguing Parliament to this particular politician. If he sticks to his established game-plan, Parliament would provide one of the biggest challenges to the way he likes to govern.

As PM Johnson will not be a fool when it comes to seeking ways to weaken Labour’s position. He is quite barefaced about it. This is the man who famously composed opposing articles on Brexit before opting to go for Leave. On one occasion, in the 2012 mayoral election, his team got wind of Ken Livingstone’s forthcoming campaign slogan and bus logo and adapted them themselves — rushing out Better Off With Boris, morphed from Better Off With Ken. While that might have showed a lack of clarity and thinking on their own side, it also exemplified the pure brazenness of their method.

In the capital his team did not simply develop attack lines on the perceived weakest points for both Ken Livingstone and Labour. They also tried to muscle-in on stronger cards, in order to seek to reduce them as strengths. Thus the promise of a ‘new routemaster’ bus was a way to get onto terrain that was seen as a massive strong point for Ken Livingstone, create an attack line, and to insert something to say on the matter that actually sidetracked from bigger issues.

Downing Street’s new occupant will want to open up big, understandable dividing lines but he will also want to shut down any effective Labour attacks on him. Free travel for under-18s was a flagship Labour policy in London which the Tories on the London Assembly helpfully opposed and gave us a solid difference to go after. Year after year they walked into it. Yet Johnson rapidly ditched Tory opposition to the concessionary scheme so that he could was not tarred with the same brush. What he learned in London will not be forgotten — a Tory general election campaign under Johnson and Crosby will be less susceptible to a Nick Timothy-style dementia tax fiasco this time round. He will be the extreme opposite of the inflexible leaden-footed Maybot.

It is not yet fully clear how Johnson will position himself: whether he will seek to pose as socially liberal but fiscally prudent, for example. Some of his recent announcements do not imply a great deal of fiscal prudence — but whether that is carried over into office will be interesting to see. The new Tory Prime Minister might well consider that his own party is a threat to his own brand. If he seeks to escape the image of his party, Labour will have to try relentlessly to tie him back to the Tory Party. We know from his time as London mayor that his party was a problem for him: Labour had to seek to ‘Toryise’ his brand wherever possible. This was distinct from calling him a ‘toff’, which the voters will see as name-calling and is unlikely to work. Better to lash him together with the wider Tory party in all its awfulness and demonstrate the extent to which they are all out of touch.

Labour is going to need to be alert to Johnson’s team willingness to say anything, including openly stealing our clothes, and we will need to hold to clear, galvanising policy dividing lines that are impossible for Johnson to nullify.

There is no question that Johnson has a rich seam to be mined for attack stories and which can be used to define him very clearly away from the ‘buffoon’ and in more negative terms. His writings are one source of this. From inflammatory language about Picanninnes and letter boxes to very clearly homophobic terminology and wildly pro-war arguments the next Prime Minister has accumulated a big dossier of negatives for Labour to pursue.

To deploy these however we must be aware that Johnson has advanced all the way to Downing Street with many of these statements already widely reported. He has calculated that they are not doing him a great deal of damage. Of course the appalling views in his writings must be held to account. They undoubtedly harden and galvanise opposition to him in many quarters. To some they are already ‘priced-in’ as part of the package, and they are even appealing to many voters as an example of someone who speaks his mind.

Johnson’s provocative oeuvre is most likely to be salient when linked to wider questions of character, ability to lead and to a sense of being out of touch.

Aside from his writings, Boris Johnson has another type of record: as an elected politician holding high office. Again, by the time he becomes Prime Minister most of the negative aspects of his time as mayor and as government ministers will have been aired — although of course anyone with such a long time in public office may well have further revelations to be exposed. Johnson’s scandalous profligacy over the garden bridge, his other hare-brained schemes such as the Thames Estuary Airport or the failings of his ‘new routemaster’ are all quite rightly now being revisited and should continue to be part of the armoury as he becomes Prime Minister. They are at the very least a reminder that his record in London is not at all as his Tory supporters would have us believe.

Yet Johnson’s bigger failures as mayor are what he did not do, as opposed to what he did badly. It is in this territory that we find a sign of where he is most likely to fail the country.

London, a huge metropolis, is constantly shifting and changing. It must be led or it will go backwards. It felt scratchy, dirty and hard to get around in by the time the Labour government created the mayoralty in 2000 because colossal cities of this nature require intervention. Left to the market, things started to fall behind. London needs planning ahead — ten, twenty, thirty years ahead and more. It is a treadmill that you cannot afford to get off. Thus it has been the left, not the right, that has always been the modernising force in London politics.

A requirement to intervene and plan explains why the first phase of the mayoralty was such a blizzard of activity: a massive expansion of buses, congestion charging, record police numbers and neighbourhood policing, bidding for the Olympics, the development of the London Overground, securing Crossrail and so on.

The city had to get in front of what it needed in order to continue to be a decent place to live and work. But, as a Tory, Boris Johnson does not particularly see the virtue of planning, intervention and investment. Johnson preferred showy, wild and largely undelivered new schemes, rather than initiate ones that would ensure that the city was in good shape in the future. He did not take the long term decisions London needed. In addition to making the wrong decisions, such as a hard Brexit, it is in this failure that Johnson’s politics contain major weaknesses and can unravel. It will be necessary to define him on that question early on.

Most importantly, Labour’s approach will need to separate Johnson from the public on the question of who stands most in the material interests of the overwhelming majority of people. That will be difficult given the current climate but it will be essential not to be deterred from it.

Boris Johnson does not like being challenged with popular positions that starkly demonstrate that his rivals stand more for the material interests of the majority than he does. He was on the back foot being pressed over the question of soaring transport fares. Indeed, he himself said that Labour’s policy platform to reduce the cost of living to Londoners in the 2012 campaign “was a very tough thing to fight against.” So it was — constant pressure on that weak point gave Johnson poll scares in which he slipped behind.

Boris Johnson is a Tory who will always find ways to help the richest. In London he most defensive when he found himself having to defend his own actions that cost people more — such as the rising cost of living — or which undercut his own appeal as a Tory, such as reducing to the number of police officers. This also becomes toxic for him where it can be tied to the sense that he is out of touch with real people.

Labour will do best with a clear, simple, easily understandable offer to the public that contains the sharpest possible dividing lines, drawing out the truth that Labour, not Boris Johnson will ensure you and your loved ones will have a higher standard of living — and that Labour will take the long term decisions that will benefit you; whereas Boris Johnson and the Tories are out of touch and will not act to protect your prospects and those of the country.

Underestimate him at your peril. What we may think of as his weaknesses can be strengths. His established way of working predicts future behaviour. He will obfuscate, avoid accountability, brazenly steal policies, play to the gallery and close down as many attack lines as he can. But once these characteristics are absorbed and factored in it will be possible to defeat him.

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Victory At ExxonMobil In Aussie After Two Year Picket

Oil and gas workers in Longford, Victoria, Australia, have dismantled their picket line after a mammouth 742 days, following an agreement ending a long-running dispute with ExxonMobil and its maintenance subcontractor, UGL.

The victory against the world’s sixth biggest company, ExxonMobil, by workers who refused to give in, has had a global and nation-wide impact.

The union campaign has exposed billions of dollars of tax evasion by the energy giant and played a major role in pressuring the government to increase taxation on resource companies. It will see the Australian public receive an extra US$4 billion in revenue, with more to come.

The picket line at Esso Longford in Victoria, Australia.

The protest, which is one of the longest in Australian modern history, began on 22nd June 2017, when a number of the 230 maintenance workers at ExxonMobil’s Esso subsidiary in Longford refused to accept a new contract from UGL. The agreement slashed wages by 40 per cent, proposed gruelling anti-family rotas and left workers unpaid if they had to stop work due to technical problems.

The new sham contract had been signed by five people thousands of miles away in Western Australia, without any knowledge of local workers or unions.

Workers belonging to the Australian Workers Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Electricians Union  have reached an agreement with ExxonMobil and UGL which will ensure that the sham contract is not used on any other site in Australia.

Furthermore, unions have forced UGL into agreeing to re-negotiate for a union-ratified collective agreement where the sham agreement has been used to date.

The campaign has received solidarity support from unions across Australia and all over the world, including Unite, the United Steelworkers, Workers Uniting and IndustriALL Global union

Troy Carter, a leading union rep at the dispute, visited Unite in 2018 and met members and officials in England and Scotland and did a a number of press and media interviews to highlight the dispute and one of the nine remaining workers on the picket line, said:

“The power of the union is strongest when it is up against the biggest. ExxonMobil is one of the biggest companies in the world, yet it couldn’t get rid of a picket line of nine trade unionists. This is a very important moment for unionists worldwide in demonstrating that we are ready to stand up and fight multinational companies against union busting.”

The rat campaign mascot passes an ExxonMobil rig off  Western Australia

As the campaign grew, unions successfully lobbied the government into re-opening a Senate enquiry into corporate tax avoidance, during which ExxonMobil were forced into admitting they are owned by a shell company in the Netherlands. The Dutch company is in turn owned by another company in the Bahamas (a known tax haven) where ExxonMobil has a further 575 registered shell companies.

Unite officials are proud to have worked with Troy when he visited the UK. He did a fantastic job for his members giving interviews to the media and on TV notably in Scotland where he met oil workers and officials with retired Unite officer Tommy Campbell in Aberdeen. When the dispute reached 700 days the Morning Star did a major piece on the long running dispute. We also reached out to companies connected with the dispute.

International solidarity works! This small group of members are a credit to the global trade union movement and we can be proud we stood shoulder to shoulder with them.

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This Is What Democracy Looks Like Event

The Electoral Reform Society and Politics for the Many are launching a major conference on the 31st August in Manchester to inspire the next generation of trade union campaigners for a fuller democracy in the UK, 200 years on from the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.

The day will cover topics such as how poverty locks people out of power, missing voices, empowering our regions and towns and energising local democracy.

This is what democracy looks like will bring campaigners together to discuss the battle for a better democracy and set out a vision to build upon for the many. As for too long, Westminster’s political system has been for the few, and by the few.

Tickets are available here and find out more about the Politics for the Many campaign here

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Tommy Campbell: The trade unionist who stood up to be counted

Scotland regional union Tommy Campbell who is retiring from Unite as a regional officer speaks to the Morning Star’s Conrad Landin about a life of political and trade union struggle

Tommy Campbell has reached a crescendo as he speaks with pride of his work organising oil and gas workers over the last five years.

Today, labour movement activists from Aberdeen and across Scotland will gather to celebrate Campbell’s 50 years of campaigning for a better world, as he retires as an official of trade union Unite.

But fighting injustice was never alien to this man who cuts a serious if unassuming figure. Growing up in Enniskillen in the north of Ireland in the 1960s, it was hard to get away from it, after all.

And though this wasn’t confined to the region’s political conflict, protests took their lead from the civil rights demonstrations of the day.

Campbell organised a demonstration against corporal punishment at his Christian Brothers’ school, where “if you stepped out of line you always got six of the belt.”

The thousands-strong civil rights demos against anti-Catholic gerrymandering had the slogan “one man, one vote.” For Campbell and his teenage comrades, it was “one boy, one slap.”

I met Campbell and his partner Alison for a curry in Aberdeen a few weeks before he clocked off for the final time. He told me his life could have taken a very different direction — had he fulfilled his grandmother’s wish for him to become a priest.

“I’d been an altar boy for three years. My granny wanted me to be the first Irish pope. But by that time I was beginning to feel the violence of the priests. I organised a protest to refuse to hold out your hand for the strap, and of course I got a battering for that too.”

He and fellow school students also joined factory workers at the civil rights protests. When he was finally transferring to a mixed-faith education, his headmaster told him: “You’ll not do well at that den of iniquity called the technical college.”

What Campbell witnessed and experienced — both antagonism and solidarity — would serve him well over his decades to come in the trade union movement.

“All those acts of defiance taught me about standing up for yourself, but also standing up for others.”

It was some years yet when he would have his first experience of workplace conflict. He’d been employed by Enterprise Ulster, a public-sector organisation set up to provide work for young people on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Campbell started a job working on building sites in 1978, on the same day workman Patrick Fee, a Catholic civilian, was shot by a Provisional IRA sniper.

It is thought Fee’s assassin had intended to kill the van’s driver, an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment volunteer.

Like Fee, Campbell was expected to travel in an unmarked van at a time when it was known that such vehicles were being used by SAS operatives in Northern Ireland.

The young worker told his gaffer: “I don’t want a bullet up my arse and I don’t want you to have a bullet up yours.”

He was initially met with resistance, but when it became clear the workforce could resist collectively, “by Thursday those vans were getting sprayed.”

Campbell ended up unemployed and blacklisted a few years later. But in a path that will be familiar to many in the movement, it was this which led him to a period of intense activity as secretary of the Fermanagh Trades Council.

Some comrades were not just taken aback by his youth, but by the fact that a man from Enniskillen was taking a leading role in the trade union movement across the north of Ireland.

“I used to say: ‘You’re street-wise in Belfast, but we’re country lane-wise in Fermanagh,” Campbell chuckles. He was also responsible for the only trades council newspaper in the six counties.

“All those acts of defiance taught me about standing up for yourself, but also standing up for others”

Before long, however, he was back in work — now as a development officer for the Ulster People’s College, a community project which put him at the heart of early efforts towards peace.

He was still active in the trade union movement, and now secretary of Northern Ireland Trade Union CND, and a key player locally in Medical Aid for Vietnam and the Communist Party.

But two brothers had moved to Aberdeen to work offshore. This was both a symptom of how hard Thatcher’s austerity had hit Ulster, and an embodiment of the latest chapter in Scotland’s social history.

After successfully applying to be a development officer at an unemployed workers’ rights centre in Aberdeen, he too made the move across the Irish Sea.

It was a four-year contract, and under Campbell’s stewardship saw huge growth in staffing levels and, more importantly, in the number of unemployed workers that it serviced.

He continued his union activity and threw himself into organising the anti-apartheid movement in Aberdeen, co-ordinating the first march for awarding the Freedom of the City to Nelson Mandela.

During the 1984-85 miners’ strike, Campbell co-ordinated solidarity exchanges between pitmen in Ayrshire and workers in Northern Ireland.

“Most of them were Orangemen,” he recalls of the colliers, “and I had to ask them to wear long-sleeve shirts.”

With paramilitary tattoos on both sides of the meeting — and the Troubles — it made sense to not begin on a note of antagonism. But then Campbell asked the men to roll up their sleeves.

“Once in conflict [with the boss class], people can realise actually we have so much in common,” he comments now.

When his contract finished at the centre, Campbell moved to the Transport and General Workers’ Union, where his primary responsibility, until five years ago, was representing council officers.

“One senior officer referred to me as ‘that Irish nightmare’,” he recalls, saying it was a moniker he adopted as a badge of honour.

In almost 20 years in this role, he has overseen dozens upon dozens of disputes, from the profound, such as winning significant equal pay settlements, to the truly bizarre, like the council’s issuing of “diddymen hats” to female city wardens.

But Campbell is clear that it’s the shop stewards who are the “real heroes” of Aberdeen’s labour movement, “and the workers who support them in that role.”

He thinks it’s crucial that the movement shows young workers it is there for them, even if that means being open to workers in dispute who may not have previously even been aware of unions.

“There’s no point giving them a lecture saying: ‘You should have been in the union in the past few years’.”

That he himself started so young has also taught him the importance of mentoring others. Aberdeen has Britain’s youngest trade council president, Sasha Brydon, and Campbell is proud of this.

All the while through his time in the movement, Campbell has been a daily reader of the Morning Star — and in recent years, a prime contact for me, first as the paper’s industrial reporter and Scotland editor.

“There’s not a lot in that paper,” Campbell recalls various newsagents saying over the years as he puts it on the counter. He always replies: “But it’s good quality news in here.”

I first made contact with Campbell at the tail end of 2014, my first year working at the Star, when a collapse in the global oil price was leading to attacks on terms and conditions in the North Sea.

After 14 years working in local government, the retirement of Unite colleagues led his seniors to ask him to take up the offshore brief.

Relations between Unite and the other unions which represent oil and gas workers — the GMB and the RMT (since the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee merged into the transport union) — have not always been easy.

Campbell was crucial to the establishment of the Offshore Co-ordinating Group of trade unions, which includes the main trio, along with maritime union Nautilus and Balpa, which represents helicopter pilots flying workers out to the platforms.

“I’m very proud of the legacy I’ll leave behind,” Campbell says. “Over the last five years, I along with others have worked very hard to create unity between the unions working offshore. The reason membership has increased is workers see us working together for the common good of the offshore worker.”

Tommy also was instrumental in helping build trade union solidarity with the Norwegian oil union Industry Energi who organise oil and gas workers on the Norwegian shelf on the North Sea. In 2018 Tommy was key in generating support for and getting media coverage in Scotland for the 700 day long strike at Exonn Mobi/UGL/Cimic  in Longford, Australia.

Cross-union activity will also keep Campbell busy in retirement: he intends to stay active in the Aberdeen Trades Union Council.

But he also plans to devote more time to two long-standing interests: photography and writing poetry. And with Alison, he plans to learn to salsa dance ahead of a holiday in Cuba.

Campbell can head into retirement, however, knowing he stood up to be counted. “I knew what side of the fence I was on — the workers’ side, I always was, and I always would be.”

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