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Proletarian issue 53 (April 2013)
Industry matters: the crisis grinds on
Crisis grinds on

The capitalist crisis continues to collect more scalps in the manufacturing, retail and public-service sectors.

Honda at Swindon are making over a thousand workers redundant, HMV, Jessops and Blockbusters have joined Comet on the scrap heap and Manchester and Birmingham city councils (both Labour controlled) are shedding jobs left, right and centre in their mission to end “local government as we know it” (as the leader of the Labour group in Birmingham so memorably put it).

The capitalist rationale for leaving social democracy in charge of local government in big working-class areas has always been that workers will more likely stomach treatment from Labour councillors that they would not accept from Tories.

With Labour so badly discredited and the cuts in jobs and welfare starting to make themselves felt hardest and soonest in industrial (and former industrial) areas, the old trick is no longer working so well. Labour’s message of ‘Yes to fair cuts’ is not convincing those most affected, and Labour’s foot soldiers in the council chambers are starting to feel the heat.

In response to such worries, delegates from Labour councils got together for a jolly at Liverpool’s BT Convention Centre in mid-January, under the banner of “Austerity With Fairness”, to discuss how best to skin the working class without losing their own seats in the chamber.

Anti-cuts activists from Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere, prevented by the police from approaching the Convention Centre, promptly occupied the council chamber instead, talking to the local press and hanging banners denouncing the cuts.

After half an hour the police arrived and issued threats, but the protestors stood their ground. The Mayor of Liverpool was then sent in, but he fared no better with his bluster about “I’ve been a socialist since before you were born.”

Having made their presence well and truly felt, the activists quit voluntarily, joining a throng of supporters gathered outside.

Social democracy misleadership at the NUJ

A comrade in the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) reports that continuing membership looks more and more irrelevant to many members as they vote with their feet. Eight hundred union members have recently left, according to the latest lapsing run (lapsed membership statistics as published by NUJ head office). The intake of new members is failing to keep pace with such union defections.

On Monday 18 February the NUJ pulled its BBC members out on a one-day strike. Though the leadership had known about the landslide pro-strike ballot since December, it was only in the last week before the strike that the NEC actually started distributing strike flyers.

General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet made no effort to tour workplaces in order to agitate and stiffen the resolve of local members. And as one comrade on the NEC of the union informed us, “The fact five MPs support the strike is hardly succour for anyone, other than the vote Labour back in brigade,” forcing him to the reluctant conclusion that the 24-hour gesture was “A useless effort that serves only to increase despondency amongst members.

The NUJ negotiations with employers routinely follow the same tired methods of acquiescence – such as agreement to deal with some cuts through voluntary redundancies, whilst asking for those identified as ‘at risk’ to be put on a redeployment register.

Having managed to dissipate unified resistance to job losses and to strangle union strength through redundancy, the sum of this ‘negotiation’ is then presented to the workforce, and the union membership at large, as a victory!

And such redundancy deals are inevitably followed by further bouts of listless resignation and defection, as workplace agreements drawn up during the process are quickly overturned by a fresh round of management cuts!

The social democrats at the helm cannot (or will not) recognise the continuous nature of this long-term war corporate war of stealth. Instead, it is caught – almost willingly – on the hook of the employer’s legalistic manipulation of the anti-trade union laws. It allows, even connives in the membership becoming worn down and despondent, and puts the shackles onto opposition and resistance by channelling it into cautious talking heads, committees of membership retention, coloured flyers, cross-party parliamentary groups, and ineffectual campaigns for the legal repeal of the anti-union laws.

London Met exploits xenophobia to remove opponents of outsourcing

London Metropolitan University, itself the target of a recent xenophobic government witch-hunt justified by the alleged failure of college authorities to act with sufficient zeal as auxiliaries of the state’s border control in vetting migrant students’ credentials, has now turned on its own employees.

The Met has suspended the elected staff governor and the chair of the Unison branch along with a UCU member, Professor Steve Jeffreys, director of the Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI).

The pretext for this is that the staff governor, Jawad Botmeh, has a 1996 conviction for conspiring to cause explosions. The conviction was contested by Mr Botmeh, who for six years turned down offers of parole because they depended on his abandoning the statement of his innocence.

When he was employed by London Met, no effort was made to hide his conviction from management. Yet now college management are playing the ‘mad bomber’ card in order to sabotage the work of the WLRI, which has led opposition to outsourcing and supported college staff in their struggles over wages, conditions and jobs.

As Mr Jeffreys points out: “Three of the 13 WLRI staff are now suspended. Two others are still under investigation. I fear for our future – just weeks after celebrating our tenth anniversary.”

By acting in this way, the university’s managers are cravenly stoking up the same racist panic by which the government only last year nearly bankrupted the university itself, pulling the rug out from under students already far advanced in their studies and damaging the college’s international reputation. By their treatment of Mr Botmeh and his colleagues, they have now trampled that reputation into the mud for good.

Postscript to the above: the director of HR at London Met has now resigned and the three suspended staff have been reinstated, after a massive show of support for their stand. Clearly if London Met’s reputation as a place of learning that serves the community has any hope of preservation, this will be because of the people that work there, not the management.
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