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Proletarian issue 29 (April 2009)
Industry matters: Royal Mail; General Motors; Waterford
Royal Mail

The Labour party’s National Policy Forum, the body through which union leaders are supposed to be able to exercise influence over the party to which they donate vast amounts of their members’ subs, has on two previous occasions come down categorically against the privatisation of Royal Mail, including any form of infusion of private cash.

The fond supposition was that Labour would take this seriously, and honour its manifesto pledge to keep RM public, thereby helping union leaders persuade their membership to keep sheltering under the social-democratic umbrella. Now that Peter Mandelson has swept all this aside, announcing the intention to sell off 30 percent of RM to Dutch firm TNT by summer of this year, the link with Labour has been put under greater stress than ever.

Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) general secretary Billy Hayes was quoted as saying that “privatisation of Royal Mail is a totemic issue for postal unions CWU and Unite.

“The current government plans are a defining moment in the relationship between the unions and the government. The relationship will be severely strained towards breaking point. Coupled with planned job losses and office closures in Royal Mail, the government’s actions are placing a huge strain on the unions’ relationship with the Labour party.”

Hayes added, “There is the old Jack Jones line [concerning the relationship between the unions and Labour] about murder maybe, divorce never. But as far as I can see there weren’t as many divorces in those days. I don’t want it to happen, but if we have a ballot I won’t be running round the country to say stay in the Labour party. Why should I?”

Cheering as these words are, the tenacity of social democracy should not be underestimated. At a meeting held on the eve of the latest National Policy Forum, ostensibly with the aim of maximising cross-union support for the campaign to keep the postal service public, it rapidly became clear that, for some, the main purpose of the evening was to breathe life into the corpse of the ‘special relationship’ with Labour.

MP Roger Berry insisted that everything depended on persuading Labour to change its mind, since the Tories would go for outright privatisation – better the devil you know. Some other MP told the audience that the union-Labour link was “in our DNA”.

Billy Hayes vowed that he personally would maintain his lifetime membership of Labour come what may, whilst recognising that if privatisation went ahead his union might have no choice but to quit. He waxed lyrical about all the “scene shifters” he claimed were working on our behalf at Westminster, helping to win Labour back to the path of virtue.

CPGB-ML members who were present challenged this debilitating focus on what the 139 backbench ‘rebels’ might or might not achieve, recommending workers to rely instead on their own class strength and solidarity in the coming battles.

The CPGB-ML responded quickly to the crisis over Royal Mail, getting a leaflet out in a matter of hours for use in the Westminster protest and then again for use outside the National Policy Forum in Bristol. (Leaflet available here)

General Motors

Stricken car manufacturing giant General Motors recently announced a plan to axe 47,000 jobs worldwide, 26,000 of them outside the USA. Whilst the European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF) have raised the call for coordinated Europe-wide government rescue plans to ‘solve’ the crisis, factory groups under the leadership of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) are rejecting this advice, pointing out that each one of the national ‘rescue plans’ proposed by social democracy requires the workers of the country in question to stomach redundancies and wage-cuts.

And if an independent European Opel group were thus to be carved out of the carcass of GM, it would continue to be exposed to ever more cut-throat international competition. Against this policy of social democracy, by which workers would be lured into a “mutual battle of annihilation” , the MLPD urges workers to forge a “common struggle in international coordination and across borders” .

The relative strength of this challenge to social-democratic treachery is hard to gauge – although the MLPD’s factory groups are known to be quite deeply rooted amongst the Opel workforce in Germany – but each new wave of redundancies can only help confirm in the eyes of workers the correctness of such an approach.

Norway

Train drivers in Norway set a good example on 8 January when they took action in support of Palestine.

Trains all over the country, as well as trams and the underground in Oslo, stood still for two minutes in protest against the Israeli massacre. The union demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza.

Waterford

Seven hundred and eight workers have vowed to continue their rota-based occupation of the glass-manufacturing plant in Waterford, Ireland until the decision to close it is reversed.

One worker occupying the plant is local Sinn Féin Councillor Joe Kelly. Says An Phoblacht : “The Waterford workers have enjoyed the solid support of the local community with businesses in the area supplying food and water as well as mattresses for them to bed down on. Families have been making regular deliveries of sandwiches. Taxi drivers also came to a halt in a work stoppage for an hour on Saturday as a show of solidarity. It seems the whole community is aiming to ensure that Waterford Crystal continues as a viable manufacturing plant.”

One asset-stripping outfit, KPS, is looking to buy the brand at a knock-down price as a tourist attraction, but with no guarantee for the 480 jobs under threat at the plant. A KPS spokesman said that the new company KPS has created for the buyout has a “new capital structure” and will “not be taking on any of Waterford Wedgwood’s debt liabilities”.

The workers who are holding out in the plant have called on the Irish government to provide financial and other assistance to the firm to purchase the company and save their jobs.

Dublin march
Meanwhile, in one of the biggest public demonstrations witnessed in Ireland in recent years, up to 120,000 people marched through Dublin on Saturday 21 February in a massive protest against the Irish government’s handling of the economic downturn and its attacks on working people.

Particular wrath was reserved for the so-called ‘golden circle’ of 10 individuals involved in investing in the stricken Anglo-Irish Bank. The government had bailed them out to the tune of €300m, but nobody even knew their names!

Not surprisingly, the march was led by workers from Waterford Crystal.


> Resisting rationalisation on the railways - April 2009   

> Industry matters: no capitalist solution for capitalist crisis - February 2009   
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