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Proletarian issue 64 (February 2015)
Industry matters: City Link Christmas lay-offs
City Link Christmas lay-offs

On Christmas Day, over 2,300 employees of the parcel-delivery firm City Link got the news that the company was going bust and they would face redundancy on New Year’s Eve. The collapse came after Amazon declined to buy out the failing company and an alternative sale fell through.

The private equity firm that bought City Link for £1 in 2013, Better Capital, is owned by Jon Moulton, a multimillionaire and regular donor to the Conservative party. Weeping copious crocodile tears, Moulton claimed he had done everything to keep the company afloat. What’s more, he said, he personally would have preferred to break the bad tidings on Boxing Day rather than Christmas Day, if only the RMT trade union had not had the bad manners to reveal the truth to workers as soon as they heard it.

This apology for a human being wheedled to the Guardian: “Of course, I wish it would come on different days. We did everything we could to make sure the announcement would be on Boxing Day, not Christmas Day. It [would have] still been horrible, but a little less horrible.”

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash saw matters in a different light: “RMT does not believe that those pulling the strings had any interest in saving this business and were happy to cut and run, leaving a trail of human misery in their wake. The City Link collapse has blown the lid off the cosy relationship between bandit capitalism and the political elite ... Those responsible will slink away with their own resources ring fenced and leaving the taxpayer to pick up the redundancy tab.” (‘City Link workers made redundant after consortium’s bid is rejected’, 31 December 2014)

We should add that the ‘political elite’ in bed with ‘bandit capitalism’ includes those in the Labour party no less than their ConDem counterparts.

Earlier reports in Proletarian have recounted how nominally ‘self-employed’ workers appear on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) radar when it’s a question of boosting the ‘new jobs’ stats, but do not then register as jobless when their livelihoods go up in smoke. The category of ‘self-unemployed’ has yet to be recognised, yet its ranks are swelling.

City Link is a prime example. On top of the 2,356 direct employees that have been made redundant as a result of the collapse, there are another 1,000 ‘self-employed’ drivers who have been left high and dry.

Phil Valentine, a freelance who runs five vehicles for City Link in the Lake District, said he was owed about £21,000 for two and a half weeks’ work. During that time, he had incurred expenses including drivers’ wages and insurance for the vans plus a £3,000 fuel bill. He has been told he is unlikely to receive any of the money he is owed and will now have to seek new work and pay out as much as £1,200 per van to have them resprayed in the livery of any new employer.” (Ibid)

Such ‘self-employed contractors’ will get no redundancy pay-outs and can probably whistle for any compensation at all, given their lowly status as ‘unsecured’ creditors of a bankrupt company. It is safe to assume that whatever money or assets were left on City Link’s books when the company collapsed will have long since been picked to the bone by the time Phil gets to the front of the queue.

Saving the NHS: how Labour’s distraction politics get in the way of a real fight

At time of going to press, two days of strike action are planned for 29 January (12 hours) and 24 February (24 hours] over the government’s refusal to abide by the recommendation of the NHS pay review body that all staff should get a 1 percent pay award. This action represents a modest escalation of earlier four-hour strikes in October and November 2014, and deserves the support of all trade unionists, but it must at the same time be recognised that this is a quite inadequate response to the wholesale privatisation of the NHS that is upon us.

As the demolition of the NHS proceeds apace, social democracy busies itself in distraction activities, which, regardless of intention, objectively hide from workers the real causes and scale of the attack on the health service.

On 21 November 2014, on a sleepy Friday afternoon, as a large number of MPs melted back into their constituencies, the Labour MP for Eltham, Clive Efford, was cock-a-hoop to see his private member’s bill on the NHS pass its second reading. The National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill aspires to prune the worst aspects of the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 – notably the clause that relieves the secretary of state for health of all responsibility for providing a comprehensive health service free at the point of delivery. The bill also tinkers with the rules governing competitive tendering for NHS services.

Given that such revisions of the original act as these would effectively amount to its abolition, it is safe to assume that the scale of the vote in favour of the bill’s passage to committee stage (241 to 18) demonstrates more than anything else the government’s well-founded confidence that this bill has not a snowball’s chance in hell of ever becoming law. There was simply no need to forgo the Friday afternoon Tory exodus to the shires.

Mr Efford is putting it mildly when he admits that “our fight isn’t over”, urging his supporters to “pressure the government to make sure that they take the bill straight to committee and do not use delay tactics to try to stall its passage through parliament”. That was on last 21 November. Several months have elapsed and the valiant little bill is no further up the greasy pole, with no date yet advised for its arrival at the committee stage.

We can be certain that if the bill ever looks like it might actually be getting somewhere, the government will indeed tweak parliamentary procedure to scotch it. Efford knows this as well as we do. But he also knows that, by grandstanding with this ‘plucky’ but doomed challenge to the Health and Social Care Act in the run-up to the general election, he can rack up brownie points for assisting the Labour party in maintaining its fraudulent pose as champion of the NHS – despite that party’s prominent and inglorious role in the health service’s demolition.

India: police detain strikers

Workers at NVH Auto (a south Korean company operating in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and supplying parts to Hyundai) staged a sit-in over the new year to demand the reinstatement of 17 of their co-workers, the recognition of the United Labour Federation (ULF) trade union and an end to management bullying.

A ULF spokesman stated that: “The employees here are being treated very badly. They are not provided basic amenities such as water and are not allowed to go to toilets without permission. A union was formed in 2013, but the management did not recognise it.”

The decision was taken to blockade the plant in order to prevent management from using contract labour to remove finished goods. Managers resorted to physical bullying to try to shift workers out of the way, and a video of one of the managers physically dragging workers around has gone viral on social media.

The police then swooped in the early hours of Saturday 3 January and arrested 107 strikers, locking them up wholesale in two large halls. Police told workers this was to stop them from “disturbing supplies to Hyundai”, thereby frankly acknowledging the real purpose of the police force in a capitalist state – ie, the upholding of the rights of private property in the means of production against any revolt of the wage slaves.
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