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Proletarian issue 57 (December 2013)
Industry matters: Grangemouth fall-out for unions
Blacklisting update

In the continuing struggle to expose and combat the blacklisting that is endemic in the construction industry and beyond, the grassroots Blacklist Support Group has succeeded in getting reinstatement for an electrician sacked a year ago from the Crossrail project.

Frank Morris was fingered as a Unite activist and whistleblower over safety issues. The campaign successfully put pressure on all the companies involved in the BFK consortium handling Crossrail. His sacking was conclusive proof that blacklisting, so far from being a ‘historical’ issue, continues to be alive and kicking.

Faced with this continuing grassroots pressure, now ‘officially’ endorsed by the leadership of the GMB and Unite unions, the big eight construction companies have started making overtures to the unions to collaborate with them in establishing some kind of compensation scheme. Yet in apologising “for their involvement with TCA and the impact that its database may have had on any individual construction worker” whilst refusing to admit liability for their criminal actions, it is clear that the construction companies are still hoping to reinforce the fiction that they were themselves almost hapless victims of the disgraced Consulting Association, and were, through some temporary ‘lapse of judgement’ drawn into contact with this criminal organisation.

This stands truth on its head, however. Ian Kerr’s TCA, busted in 2009 for data protection offences and hung out to dry, had for years functioned as the unacknowledged espionage arm of the big eight. Indeed, Callum McAlpine himself chaired the TCA from 1993 to 1996, and all TCA meetings took place in his own office!

When McAlpine paid off Kerr’s £5,000 fine to shut him up, the company’s head of human resources told Kerr to hide the hush money in his daughter’s bank account. It was as an embittered employee that Kerr later told the Scottish Affairs Committee “I had put myself at the front and took the flak ... so that they wouldn’t be drawn into all of this. They would remain hidden.”

The first talks between a delegation from the Blacklist Support Group and three suits from the proposed blacklist compensation scheme, clearly aimed at getting the blacklisting construction firms off the hook by offering a few paltry sops to the wronged men, ended when the BSG delegates walked out in protest.

The BSG blog quoted Roy Bentham, a blacklisted joiner from Liverpool as saying that “These are not proposals designed for genuine negotiations. It is a piss-take ... The blacklist compensation scheme press release claims they are making this offer because of their altruistic concerns for blacklisted workers. If the firms have really turned over a new leaf, they can prove it by offering jobs to blacklisted workers on Crossrail and other major construction projects.

“Blacklisting breached our human rights, forced us into years of unemployment and made our families suffer financially. Why is a celebrity whose phone has been hacked worth so much more than the human rights of a building worker? ... These blacklisting wretches have the brass neck to offer us a thousand pounds in compensation. They can shove their grand right up their profit margin.”

Grangemouth: writing on the wall for the unions

Whilst the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) continues to whistle bravely in the dark, demanding of the TUC for the umpteenth time that it “name the day” for a token 24-hour strike, the real state of play was starkly revealed in the farce over Grangemouth.

Under threat by Ineos of summary closure of the petro-chemical plant, the Unite leadership collapsed, reversing overnight its earlier demands and accepting the most punitive terms dictated by the company (three-year pay freeze, three-year abstention from strikes, ban on full-time convenors). This total capitulation shows what is in store for the whole union movement if it fails to get out from under the paralysing grip of social democracy.

If being hobbled by social democracy results in this level of humiliation even for such a massive and well-funded union as Unite, what kind of resistance to austerity can be expected from the other Labour-affiliated union leaders?

Even armed with a high level of support from its members (who voted 4 to 1 for strike action), the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has chosen not to make a fight against privatisation of Royal Mail, focusing instead on trying to get a ‘fairer’ deal post-privatisation, and showing a marked reluctance to use the ballot mandate, pulling the proposed Monday 4 November strike and then announcing a series of further postponements.

It was to be expected that the Sunday Times would immediately seize the chance to kick Unite whilst it is down, repeating a slew of litigious tittle-tattle around the union’s supposed corrupt doings in Falkirk. But sooner than get into a twist defending themselves against charges of ‘exerting undue influence’ over the Labour party, the unions would do better to set about uprooting the corrupt and debilitating influence Labour has upon them.

There remain bright spots in the gloom. A joint one-day strike by UCU, Unite and Unison in defence of university staff pensions drew some support from students as well as the affected staff, for example.

And the FBU’s readiness to press on with its programme of strikes (resisting the imposition of pension arrangements compelling them to be clambering up ladders at 60 years of age) might serve to advertise the benefits of disaffiliating from Labour.

But confronted by a capitalist offensive all across the line, there can be no escaping the essential task facing the working class: the root-and-branch struggle to rid itself of the poison of social democracy.

As the economy continues to bump along the ground, TUC chief Frances O’Grady parrots hopeful talk about a supposed “recovery”, lamenting only the fact that reported growth of over £60bn in the past four years has been accompanied by a fall in disposable incomes of nearly £500 per capita. But this is the fundamental reality of capitalism in crisis – forcing down the spending power of the workers, upon which the whole capitalist economy depends – and it cannot be wished away by vague promises of “green jobs” and “investment” coming down the line with “the next Labour government”.

Courts give slave-labour schemes the green light

The Supreme Court has upheld the earlier court ruling in favour of an unemployed young woman who was threatened by the Department of Work and Pensions with having her benefits cut if she refused to give up her voluntary work at a local museum and instead work for no wage at Poundland.

Whilst welcome news for the plaintiff, this new ruling, based as it is solely on a technical breach of the law, in effect endorses the fundamental thrust of the intimidating slave-labour workfare schemes, which can now be expected to forge ahead under governments of whatever political complexion – unless and until workers take matters into their own hands.

Shipbuilding

Global overcapacity in ship building, with British shipyards in Portsmouth and on the Clyde outcompeted by south Korea, is putting 1,775 jobs under threat.

Unite blames the failure of Thatcher to invest enough in the British industry to enable it to grab a bigger share of the market, thereby encouraging workers in the erroneous belief that their class interests are best served by helping their capitalist exploiters to beat down the competition.

Securing by force what cannot be won in the market place is, after all, the fundamental reason for building all those aircraft carriers in the first place.

Seoul suppresses unions

Speaking of south Korea, that vaunted bastion of ‘freedom and democracy’, the Park regime has withdrawn registration from the Korean Teachers’ Union on the grounds that it had the temerity to continue to represent dismissed teachers.

By this logic, any troublesome worker may be shorn of the right to belong to a union by the simple expedient of sacking him. The same grounds were claimed for the refusal – for the fourth time – to register the Korean Government Employees Union, depriving hundreds of government workers of representation.

Strike wave in Colombia

The brutal military suppression of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) over the last decade, with the backing of Washington’s Plan Colombia, has enabled the comprador regime in Bogota to open up formerly liberated territories to imperialist plunder.

Foreign direct investment rose 824 percent in ten years, fuelling average annual growth of 4.8 percent, based largely on the export of vast quantities of coal, oil and gold. Under the 2006 ‘free trade’ agreement that former president Uribe signed up to, the freedom for imperialism to plunder the mineral wealth of the country, and the freedom of Colombian big business to cream off a fraction of the revenues from the imperialist loot, was guaranteed.

Meanwhile, behind the healthy-sounding growth stats, the economic development of the country has been further skewed and the gap between rich and poor continues to yawn.

In revolt against this state of affairs, Colombian workers have launched a number of prolonged strikes this year, with the country’s largest coal mine (Cerrejon) brought to a halt for a month and its second-largest (Drummond) out for nearly two months. Numerous other protests have raged elsewhere in the extractive industry.

Unrest has also swept the agricultural sector, where protests over falling coffee prices led to farmers blocking the supply of vegetables to Bogota, forcing the government to bring in a system of subsidies.

It is clear that the self-same conditions that made FARC necessary in the first place have, if anything worsened, ensuring that, one way or another, capitalism just can’t stop itself from producing the gravediggers for its own system.
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