Year 2000 No. 71, April 17, 2000

Vladimir Putin Visits Britain

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index : Discuss

Vladimir Putin Visits Britain

Foreign Ministers in Havana Call for Democratisation of United Nations and Enlargement of Security Council

Rover Workers Organise Second Demonstration in Birmingham

New Consortium Makes Rival Rover Offer

Small Businesses Denounce Rover Aid Package as a "Drop in the Ocean"

Unison Health Care Service Group Conference:
Debate on "Partnership Working"
For Your Reference: Motion 28 and Ammendment 28.1

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Vladimir Putin Visits Britain

Following his election as Russian President last month, Vladimir Putin arrived in Britain yesterday on his first foreign trip as President-elect. He called at Belarus, former republic of the Soviet Union, en route. He is to hold talks with Tony Blair today, and is also due to have an informal meeting with the Queen. It is also reported that he is to meet British industrialists, to promote inward investment from Britain. He then immediately flies back, via the Ukraine.

It is also reported that on Saturday, Putin agreed in a phone call with US President Bill Clinton that the two would hold their first summit sometime in the coming weeks. Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, herself visiting the Ukraine on Friday, hailed the Russian parliament's ratification of the arms reduction treaty START-2 on that day, saying it was an historic step in the arms control dialogue between US and Russia.

Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that the choice of London as the first "Western" capital to visit was a return gesture for Tony Blair's trip to St Petersburg in March. Tony Blair was the first big power leader to meet Putin after he became acting president, before the March 26 presidential election. Putin is quoted as saying, "We hope very much that this will not only be a visit for the sake of politeness, but that it will help us move ahead with work on a whole range of key questions of co-operation."

It is being seen as significant that Britain is the first big power that Vladimir Putin is visiting. One Kremlin source said that "London is the stepping stone to Washington". This is also an indication that Putin is putting more weight on relations with the US rather than a German dominated European Union. However, it also reflects the increasing influence of the "Third Way" as the direction which the capitalist agenda of neo-liberalism and globalisation is taking world-wide.

It should also be noted that the visit exposes and gives the lie to the Labour government's theme that for it, "human rights" are "universal values". While it pushes this position when criticised for its intervention as in Yugoslavia or its bombing of Iraq, for example, the government relies on economic and geo-political considerations, as well as basing itself on the values enshrined in the Paris Charter, when deciding on its relations with foreign states. In other words, it is fully pursuing the path of so-called "enlightened self-interest" enunciated by Robin Cook. The issue here is that Tony Blair has been criticised for receiving the Russian leader while what are termed "human rights abuses" are being carried out by Russia in Chechnya. At the same time, Zimbabwe, which is pursuing its own path of social development and does not have troops in other countries, is being condemned in the most vehement terms by Robin Cook, who is still continuing to make statements against the Zimbabwean government while in India.

The visit of Vladimir Putin must be seen in the context of the aim of the imperialist bourgeoisie to consolidate the Third Way as a mandatory path of development world-wide, while taking into account the jockeying of the big powers to cement alliances in a world where disequilibrium reigns for their own advantage.

Article Index


Foreign Ministers in Havana Call for Democratisation of United Nations and Enlargement of Security Council

Workers' Weekly Correspondent in Havana

Foreign ministers from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East meeting in Cuba at the South Summit have demanded the "democratisation" and modernisation of the UN. "The only way to improve our lot as developing countries is to ask for a fair share in the UN's decision-making process," the Ministers from some 40 developing countries said while meeting at the Group of 77 summit in Havana on April 12.

Amongst other things, the Foreign Ministers highlighted the need for permanent membership of the UN Security Council for developing countries, the elimination of the veto and "transparency" in the Council's work. They also demanded that the UN and its agencies must be committed to development and the eradication of poverty as well as international security as "two sides of the same coin".

Many of the ministers expressed opposition to the notion of so-called "humanitarian intervention". One delegate stated, "That principle is now being defined as the power of the international community to intervene against governments on the basis of criteria defined by the few," a clear reference to the policy of the US, Britain and the other big powers. There were many calls for reaffirming the UN Charter's provisions on respect for sovereignty, equality of states, self-determination and non-intervention in internal affairs.

Many delegates also question the notion of "good governance" and "democratisation" stressing that there was not one model of what constitutes democratic government.

The Ministers also demanded the restoration of the primacy of the UN General Assembly over the Security Council and demanded more say for poorer countries in decisions in international financial institutions.

They also question the entire system of international trade, which it was stressed works only in the interest of the big powers and the transnationals.

The South Summit is clearly contributing to a growing unity between the poorer countries in the world and increasing opposition to globalisation and the political and economic domination of the world by the big powers.

Article Index


Rover Workers Organise Second Demonstration in Birmingham

Workers from Longbridge marched again on Saturday from Broad Street in the city centre to the Bull Ring in Birmingham. The demonstrators carried effigies of Tony Blair and Stephen Byers. One group of workers carried a banner thanking the people for their support for the struggle against the giant car monopoly BMW. On one banner criticised Byers for being "Scared to visit Longbridge". Another placard listed the prospective redundancies coming up in the working class. It said: "10,000 Longbridge workers, 40,000 in the West Midlands, 4,000 at Ford Dagenham and 2,000 ship builders".

Carl Lanchester, 51, who has worked at the plant for the last 11 years, said, "The government has let workers down." He was hoping that the Towers' bid would be successful. He also said, "We have been stabbed in the back by the government and will continue to protest."

Many of the workers leafleted shoppers in the Bull Ring shopping centre.

Rafiq Muhammed, 43, from Small Heath, who has worked at the plant for 19 years, remarked that he was depending on the success of the Towers' bid. He said, "Although we don't yet know what is in the new bid we are very hopeful it will be accepted," and he added, "I've already been looking for a new job but can't find one. If the bid is not successful it will be devastating for my family."

Article Index


New Consortium Makes Rival Rover Offer

BMW has received an alternative offer in its planned sell-off of Rover, the new bid coming from a consortium led by former Rover boss John Towers.

The German firm has reportedly said in an off-handed way that it would "examine the contents" of the bid, but it could not yet give further information.

Meanwhile BMW has stopped the transfer of Rover staff to other units in the firm, which could have seen thousands of redundancies taking place immediately. The move came after unions threatened BMW with High Court action, saying the firm could breach its union agreements. Transfers will not occur until there have been more talks with the unions. The firm could be in breach of contract.

One worker at the factory gate, who was leaving for an extended Easter shutdown, at Longbridge said, "You don't know what is going to happen with this lot, we don't know what to expect when we come back."

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers said, "The Towers plan offers a better prospect than perhaps anything else."

Mr Towers is understood to have outlined a scheme to keep Rover as a volume car producer. The news follows disquiet over the expertise of prospective buyer, Alchemy. Their scheme involves heavy job losses and slimming down of production at Rover. Trade unions are also supporting the Towers initiative.

Earlier, Stephen Byers announced a £2m package of aid to help companies which supply goods to Rover.

Byers said, "There are many companies in the supply chain facing an uncertain future and who need immediate help."

During a visit to West Midlands firms, the Trade and Industry Secretary unveiled a deal that is intended to help retrain staff and give them a chance to learn new skills. The cash is part of the £129m allocated by the government to the taskforce set up to help regenerate the region.

West Midlands Correspondent

Article Index


Small Businesses Denounce Rover Aid Package as a "Drop in the Ocean"

A £2m aid package, which is supposed to help West Midland component companies who supply Rover, has been denounced by small businesses as a paltry "drop in the ocean".

David Ashwell, managing director of West Bromwich firm Steel and Alloy Processing Ltd, told Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers that the amount could not compare to the millions invested by the area's automotive industries. Byers visited the company in Union Street on Friday.

The cash is part of the £129m budget allocated by the task force to help offset the problem caused by the announced Rover sell-off. It is supposed to help companies find new customers and markets. It is also supposed to help meet the costs of providing employees with re-training.

The trade unions have said that much more help will be needed to help Black Country suppliers survive.

Byers also met bosses of Laser Welded Blanks, also based in West Bromwich, which relies on Rover for 75 percent of its business and has already been forced to lay off nine of its employees. Mr Byers said that the company was a typical example of firms affected, as it was now uncertain of a return on a recent £5m investment on new technology supplying parts to the Rover 75.

West Midlands Correspondent

Article Index


UNISON Health Care Service Group Conference:

Debate on "Partnership Working"

Report by Workers' Weekly Health Group

One of the most hotly debated motions at Conference was a motion submitted by Newcastle City Health Branch on the New Labour call for "partnership at work" which is also the call of the TUC leaders. The main motion 28 Partnership in Action (printed below) was up against an amendment 28.1 from the Service Group Executive that eliminated the clause of the motion: "Real Partnership would involve the NHS being properly funded; an end to low pay, privatisation and PFI. Real democratic partnership would mean NHS workers, local users and communities deciding how health care is delivered. Conference therefore instructs the SGE to campaign for a democratically controlled, accountable NHS where partnership is between those who provide the service and those who use it."

Whilst the amendment was passed by Conference, the motion still highlights that the call for partnership is an insult to the members of the union and the users of the NHS and this opposition to partnership at work was strongly voiced by many delegates in the debate.

Moving the motion, a delegate from Newcastle City Health Branch said that they were not accepting the amendment because of what it takes out of the motion. He said that partnership should be an arrangement between equals. He said that there was no partnership when it came to pay, to PFI or the attacks on terms and conditions. He pointed out that what you see is increasing attacks on health workers so it is important to be clear about where this notion of partnership comes from. He said that the gap between rich and poor grows wider and wider so how can there be a partnership between the rich and the poor as Tony Blair says. He then pointed out that the Public Private Partnership is not a partnership because it allows the private sector to cream off the best bits of the public sector and run them for profit. "That is not partnership, it is privatisation", he said. Conference applauded when he said, "Ask the Rover workers about partnership and the 50,000 people that could lose their jobs." He concluded by saying that it could be called partnership when we have a democratically controlled, accountable NHS, when they do what we say not what they say.

Bob Abberley, UNISON Head of Health, then spoke on behalf of the Service Group Executive supporting the amendment. He reminded Conference of the presentation to delegates by Andrew Foster of the Partnership Board of the Confederation of Health Service Trusts. He focused on one thing that Andrew Foster had said as important. That if things were so bad, which he accepted they were at certain places, why were some people in the unions so frightened at looking at a system that might make it better. Bob Abberley then remarked that there were those that don't want better working relations, didn't want partnership because it didn't serve their interests. He said that whatever faults the government have, we have a better industrial relations. All we are doing is showing that partnership working is good for trade union organisation and we should grasp this opportunity so that we are in a position to deal with the government. He said that if it didn't work, we could change it. He said, "Partnership was a new opportunity and a new way of doing things which is what our members want." He complained that John Denham, the Health Minister, didn't get a round of applause at Conference when he said that as part of partnership working it is essential that trade union representatives have good time-off facilities and cover put into the workplace to allow them to do it. That is partnership, he said. He concluded by saying that he "didn't want us as an organisation to be seen as an organisation that isn't prepared to look to the future".

Opposing the amendment, the speaker who followed said that she resented being called negative and not wanting to improve industrial relations in the NHS. She pointed out that you do not need partnership to try and do that. She said you must look at the version of partnership that they actually want. She gave examples, and said that this is in fact cuts by any other word.

Another speaker then supported the amendment by praising his Director of Personnel, a UNISON member, who had spoken at the TUC Conference on Partnership. He called on Conference to support the amendment.

A delegate then spoke on behalf of UNISON South Tyneside Health Branch supporting the main motion and opposing the amendment. He said that delegates should consider that motion 28 was one of the most important motions at this Conference. He said that he thought that it was a question of principle about where the union stands on this question. He said that the experience of his branch, like many other branches, was that good organisation, partnership with the members, was a more relevant thing in getting the Trust to listen to the concerns of the members. He said that of course the management will listen to us on many questions, but he pointed out that all the time there are three or four disputes running throughout the year. What are we going to do – sign up to social partnership and say to the union members these disputes can be placed to one side?

The delegate went on to say that it is very important to be clear that the social partnership the government is calling for is not on our agenda but on their agenda. He pointed out that they are trying to get workers behind their employers in the global market at the expense of the national economy, at the expense of their rights and interests. It is about turning the public sector over to the private sector, he said. It is about getting rid of any roadblock to their agenda. He reminded conference that the Health Minister, John Denham, got so excited yesterday that the Whitley terms and conditions are going to be scrapped in relation to what they have planned regarding multi-skilling and more cuts for the NHS. He called on Conference to recognise that the union must build its own arrangements, its own partnerships with the members, with patients, with the poor who are getting poorer and not with the rich who run society and are getting richer. He concluded by saying that the union must fight for its own agenda, an agenda that was the right to health care for everyone, that the debts of the Trusts should be written off and so on.

Replying to the motion, the mover of the main motion from Newcastle City Health Branch said that it was a complete red herring to say that this issue was about trade union rights at work. He said "partnership" would not stop PFI, and "partnership" would not stop low pay. He emphasised in his conclusion that only strong unions would do that. He said that it is us who have a better vision of the NHS, one that is a democratic in which the users and the providers work together and where they have control over the budget and let the management be juniors in that arrangement and not the ones who call the shots.

After the debate, discussion on the important issues raised continued in the hall and outside.


For Your Reference:

Motion 28 submitted by Newcastle City Health Branch

PARTNERSHIP IN ACTION

This Government makes frequent references to Partnership working. The reality in the NHS however remains anything but a Partnership. Jobs continue to be lost, low pay remains endemic; our services continue to be privatised, and PFI threatens tens of thousands of our members' terms and conditions. The real increase in NHS expenditure remains little more than that which we got under the Tory Government, and in Trust after Trust management continue to act as if the NHS is their personal property, where budgets count more than patient care. Under such circumstances talk of Partnership is an insult to our members and the users of the NHS. Real Partnerhsip would involve the NHS being properly funded; an end to low pay, privatisation and PFI. Real democratic partnership would mean NHS workers, local users and communities deciding how health care is delivered. Conference therefore instructs the SGE to campaign for a democratically controlled, accountable NHS where partnership is between those who provide the service and those who use it.

Amendment 28.1 from Health Service Group Executive

Delete last three sentences from "Real Partnership…" and insert:

Conference welcomes the report of the Taskforce on staff involvement. The recommendations contained in the report provide opportunities to improve branch organisation, increase our member's involvement in the decision making process and generally improve the working lives of our members.

Conference calls on all branches to press their employers to implement the recommendations of the report and the action plan issued by the national social partnership forum. Employers and Trade Unions must especially acknowledge recommendation 2 of the report -

"Good industrial relations are key to delivering staff involvement through effective social partnership at all levels."

Some examples of areas that Branches are already working in partnership with employers include -

· Programmes to develop leadership skills recognising the key role that Trade Union activists play at local levels as leaders of the workforce.

· Frameworks for staff rights recognising the key role of trade unions in promoting good industrial relations.

· Funded protected time for staff training including trade union education

· The development of family friendly working practices

· Joint development of policies for dealing with issues such as discrimination at work, bullying and harassment.

Conference supports the idea of Regional tasks forces consisting of management and trade unionists to provide a leadership role in supporting and facilitating local trade unions and managers in adopting the partnership approach to industrial relations.

UNISON branches should encourage employers to establish personal development plans for all staff. A timetable for achieving this should be set jointly with each employer.

Most importantly UNISON branches should seek to ensure every trust complies with the recommendations that there are proper facilities and time off for trade union representatives, including the provision of cover when away from their usual place of work.

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