Year 2000 No. 187, November 3, 2000
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :
Will Consultation Guarantee the Livelihoods of the Welsh Workers?
Jaguar Workers Vote to Reject Pay Deal
Conversation with a Construction Worker
Hackney Council Financial Crisis
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A delegation from the Transport & General Workers Union in Wales recently held meetings with the European Commissioners. According to a T&G press release of October 25, the delegation highlighted the need to strengthen the position of the 200,000 workers employed in the Welsh manufacturing industry. Threats to Welsh workers livelihoods have been jeopardised by recent job loss announcements at Corus, Calsonic, Sony and Panasonic, all based in Wales.
The T&G called for a four-point plan of changes required in Britain in this connection. The gist and common thread of these points was that full and proper consultation between unions and employers should take place well in advance of any decisions being taken on such issues as restructuring, mergers, take-overs and collective redundancies.
These proposals will do nothing to guarantee the livelihood of the Welsh workers. They are based on two illusions. One is that social partnership on behalf of the workers with the aim of making companies successful on the international market will be of benefit to the workers. The other is that fighting for improvements in European Union directives will also strengthen the workers positions.
In fact, the whole proposals of the T&G miss the point that Wales as a whole has been exploited by the English bourgeoisie, its people subjugated and the country impoverished. The Welsh workers must oppose this agenda head on, and fight to constitute themselves the nation in Wales, so as to establish a modern Welsh state with its own sovereignty. Clearly they will do so in unity also with the English and Scottish workers who are fighting for their own class interests, as well as in unity with the workers of all lands.
The workers of Wales have a proud tradition of struggle, and this will not be upheld by the sort of conciliation that the TGWU is advocating on this occasion.
Workers at Jaguar cars have voted to reject a two-year pay deal, which is so poor even the union leaders are not recommending its acceptance. The rise would only be worth 4.24 percent over the next 12 months. In the second year it drops to 3.5 percent (or inflation plus 0.25 percent). The management has tried to sell the package with promises on pensions, maternity pay and holiday improvements but this won't wash with the workers.
Workers at Jaguar know that huge profits are being made by the luxury car firm. The owners, Ford, are making cutbacks at present to boost their profitability and competitiveness and are due to close their Dagenham plant without a care for the workforce. Ford have been trying to isolate Jaguar from the rest of Ford workers and have kept the Halewood section of Jaguar out of the negotiations. The success of luxury car making at Coventry and Birmingham is well known but the workers have not been able to benefit from this over recent years and are now saying that they do not see why all of the lucrative profits should go into the back pockets of the super-rich transnational.
Workers at the firm's Birmingham Castle Bromwich and Coventry plants have rejected the deal by 2,094 votes to 1,462. This represents another active response from car workers in the area following Peugeot, Rover Solihull and Longbridge who are making their voices known.
The company is shocked by the workers response and has called for urgent talks with the trade unions. The Transport and General Workers Union has said that the rejection by hourly paid workers was not unexpected.
A construction worker in the water industry talked to us about the situation in his industry. He said:
Since the water industry was privatised, similar problems occur as are happening in the railways. The sewers are now not maintained on a regular basis. This used to happen, for example, on a Sunday when disruption to traffic could be minimised. Now, it is done in an emergency, such as when a water main bursts. As much as 45% of water flowing through the pipes is lost by leakage. One major problem is that the drainage system dates from the Victorian era and was designed for family houses. Now there can be several families in a house divided into flats, and of course there are the large blocks of flats themselves. Therefore the system just cannot cope. Before privatisation, if there were leaks or other problems, they would be dealt with the same or the next day. Now, these same problems will be left for weeks or months before being seen to.
This has also had a serious effect on our take home pay and working conditions. The privatised water industries employ contractors to do the work, and no overtime or rest day working is allowed. This has meant a big reduction in our wages, and is part of the situation in society where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. It has also meant that workers are under pressure not to complain for fear of losing their job, and it means that workers cannot build up any savings for if they would like to leave one job and look for another. If a worker was to leave and try to find work with another contractor, the companies have an agreement that they will probe into the workers background and he can be blacklisted. So the contractors have the workers in a bind.
Everything is done on the basis of making profit and not providing a service. This can be seen on the railways, in London Underground and with the coal mines, for example. It is the service that suffers, and workers lose their jobs as cheap goods are imported from abroad.
It is the same in the health service. In some ways, Tony Blair has taken what Margaret Thatcher started even further. My daughter trained as a nurse at Barts, and worked in the oncology unit. But she was also employed by an agency, work which she took because of the low pay in the NHS. This could mean that she would stay on in the same ward looking after the same patients but receive agency pay rather than the lower NHS pay! Then she was offered a job in a Harley Street clinic at a salary that was half as much again as what she was being paid by the NHS. She could not afford to refuse. Then the health service spends money on buying services from the private sector. Why couldnt they spend the money on improving pay, conditions and care in the NHS?
Hackney in East London is one of the poorest boroughs in Britain. Education, child care provision and other social services, housing and other essential services used by residents and tenants have faced the sharp edge of the anti-social offensive for many years.
In October, the Councils Chief Executive proclaimed a ban on all council expenditure other than that which the council is "legally obliged to incur". Budget cuts of between £8 million and £33 million are said to be necessary. The Chief Executive has reportedly said that its legal obligations could be met even if the Council closed all but one library. A local representative of UNISON, the union of the local government workers, commented: "The Council has declared war on the people of Hackney who desperately need its services."
Ranges of drastic measures, which severely hinder the Councils ability to provide many vital services, have also been imposed. Further attacks on jobs, and workers terms and conditions are also expected. Immediate consequences have been summary dismissals of workers on short-term contracts; threatened dismissal of workers on fixed-term contracts; and a forecast of 1000 redundancies. The unions expect local and national redundancy agreements to be scrapped and warn that Hackney Council will be the benchmark against which other employers operate if nationally agreed redundancy schemes are broken.
Unions and local people have demand that the councillors reject the cuts package and that central government provide adequate resources to the Council. They have also discussed a strategy for industrial action, organised a parents occupation of two local nurseries, and held a rally at the historic Hackney Empire theatre attended by over 300 people. The rally was addressed by the local MP, journalist Paul Foot and local trade union and community activists. A picket is to be held at Hackney Town Hall on Monday, November 6, between 5.30 pm 7 pm, when councillors are due to vote on the cuts. Everyone is urged to support the demonstration.
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