Burberry workers facing the sack at the Treorchy plant are rightly annoyed at the massive profits hike the company is enjoying at the moment. Profits are 20% in the past three months, yet Burberry intends to shift production of its polo shirts from the Rhondda to China. The shirts sell for £55 and yet the GMB union reckons they only cost £11 to make in the Rhondda and £4 in China.
Workers spoke of the obscenity of the profits and yet understood that capitalist companies are all about maximising profits for shareholders. Let's face it, that's what capitalists are there for - to make money off the backs of workers. If they didn't move to China, they'd be neglecting their duty. By law, directors are required to maximise profits for their shareholders.
Which makes you think - is there an acceptable face of capitalism? The simple answer is no. Capitalism is incompatible with the needs of communities like the Rhondda, where workers have served the company well for decades on minimum wages.
That loyalty and long-service has been rewarded with the minimum severance pay, despite the booming profits.
It's hypocrisy of the highest order for the likes of Leighton Andrews, a paid-up member of the pro-capitalist New Labour establishment, to decry Burberry for taking a cold business decision. That's capitalism - like the cold-eyed shark, it knows nothing else.
Each warhead on a Trident missile is capable of triggering a thermonuclear explosion ten times the size of Hiroshima. Each of the UK's four Trident submarines carries up to 48 warheads, and although each warhead would assuredly cause "mass destruction" in any city that it was dropped on, these are still not classified as "weapons of mass destruction".
They are apparently an "independent nuclear deterrent" as opposed to a threat to global peace, which they would be in the hands of - say - the Iranians. WMDs are what other people have, which is why it's never used in the same breath as any discussion on Trident. The hypocrisy is all the more blatant for being unspoken.
So might a new generation of nuclear power stations - as proposed in the government's 11 July energy review - pose a proliferation risk, given that fissile material from civil nuclear reactors could end up in the new generation of Trident? After all, the UK's nuclear power programme was originally established in the 1950s to generate plutonium for weapons, and the state-owned nuclear fuels company BNFL still has a governing role in the running of the nuclear weapons programme at Aldermaston.
Wouldn't this put the British state in the same international category as Iran? Might legions of white-suited weapons inspectors come swarming around Sizewell C one day in the future and seal the whole place off with blue-and-white UN gaffer tape?
One dangerous Middle Eastern state - Israel - already possesses nuclear weapons. Its stockpile of perhaps 300 warheads makes it a bigger nuclear power even than the UK. The international community hypocritically observes a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding Israel's stockpile: we don't ask, and the Israelis don't tell. But Israel is a special case - the USA's guard-dog in the Middle East and therefore free of sanction.
A growing movement including Welsh activists is determined to challenge Trident. The peace group Trident Ploughshares is due to launch a year-long blockade of the Faslane naval base starting on 1 October. The Welsh contingents will be there between November 14-16.
Apart from the illegality, immorality and sheer inhumanity of Gordon Brown's decision to support Trident, there is the cost - something that might touch the Chancellor's heart even if a potential nuclear Armageddon doesn't. According to CND, this financial burden could total somewhere between £25bn and £40bn.
That would be enough to equip every building in the UK with solar panels, making us self-sufficient in renewable electricity, slashing UK greenhouse-gas emissions, and making a real contribution in the only war that matters for the future of the planet - the war on climate change.
To support the Faslane blockade, go to www.faslane365.org
This article appeared in Socialist Worker. In the name of workers' solidarity and for health considerations, I think I'll give Asda's a miss from now on...
Asda frozen food left out for the seagulls
Workers at Asda supermarket depots have told Socialist Worker that the company is running risks with food safety.
Members of the GMB union at Asda depots are balloting this week over strike action for union recognition. They say that it is not just the working conditions of Asda staff that are under attack by the anti-union company, but the condition of the food.
The company says its systems are safe and that it maintains high standards of health and safety, but workers accuse management of allowing frozen food to stand in the open air for hours after it had been delivered to stores.
Eddie, a GMB union steward from the Midlands, told Socialist Worker, "It is because of the just-in-time system. The food arrives almost as it is needed.
"Asda has the minimum room in the shops for storage because it takes up space that can be used for selling. The reality is there isn't enough room to take the deliveries. Think of the hot weather we have had recently. Then think of frozen food sat in the sun."
Drivers working in Asda depots in the north west of England say that food delivered to stores was sometimes left out for up to two hours before being placed in refrigerators.
One shop steward has made an official complaint to the company that frozen and chilled food was left out at the Gateshead store for six hours one day in May. He says he saw the food at 5pm and that shop staff had shown him a log revealing that it had been delivered at 11am.
Mick, a steward in Bristol told Socialist Worker, "We timed one load of frozen food being left outside in the sun for two hours 45 minutes. We have photos of seagulls picking at the packaging. The food was then taken into the store to be sold.
The workers point out that "checkers" at warehouses, who monitor the dates and rotation of stock, have been axed and the quality of training on food hygiene and trading standards has been cut.
These practices are not an accident but a deliberate strategy. In the management document, Warehouse Chip Away Strategy, the company outlined how Asda planned to drastically undermine labour standards.
The document proposed cutting breaks and removing the right to take individual grievances to external arbitrators.
It introduced "single man loading" for jobs involving lifting, despite admitting that the company's own risk assessment says two people are required for such tasks. Line managers are advised to "lead by example, not taking all the breaks that hourly paid colleagues get" in order to "take credence away from breaks".
A driver at the company's Wigan depot called Asda's health and safety policies an "absolute farce" after photographing teetering pallets stacked up in the back of his vehicle.
He said that such massive piles of goods regularly collapsed, putting staff in danger. The driver says that this was due to direct orders from management to increase the number of cases on the lorries, thus saving costs by not needing to send out as many loads.
"It goes to show how much we are worth to Asda, because they are putting profits well above our health and safety," he said.
One incident at the Grangemouth distribution depot involved the jamming of the "dead man pedal" on a forklift truck to keep it moving as workers rushed to pick boxes from the shelves.
The truck is designed not to work unless the worker's foot is on the pedal which means that the worker has to keep getting on and off the truck. According to a steward at the Falkirk depot, "Management denied that a switch had been held down on the lift truck, but we've got pictures on the wall showing it.
"We've had lots of stewards who have been threatened with losing their jobs. They've been pulling people aside and intimidating them. Health and safety is being breached in an attempt to cut corners to meet unsafe work targets."
Another steward told Socialist Worker, "In Wigan one of our members had an accident. A senior shop steward asked to do a health and safety inspection on the conveyor involved.
He was refused. He reminded the manager of health and safety act obligations. When he returned the next day he was told he faced disciplinary action for challenging a manager."
Inside the depots, management are constantly pushing to increase the daily work load.
According to Geoff, a rep from Skelmersdale, "Staff levels are cut to the bone to maximise profit. They want two workers to do the job of three. At our depots we have to lift 6,000-10,000 kilos a shift. Asda pays minimum wages but wants 200 percent from workers."
© Copyright Socialist Worker
Wouldn't it be great if the great mass of casualised, part-time young workers in Wales could be organised like this to take on the multinational chains?
Unite!, the small New Zealand union taking on the big fast food multinationals, is calling on unions and grassroots organisations worldwide to send messages of solidarity via web video to show to workers involved in the SuperSizeMyPay.Com campaign.
The SuperSizeMyPay.Com living wage/anti-poverty wages campaign is seeking to win a NZ$12 minimum wage, the abolition of youth rates and secure hours in an anti-union industry notorious for paying low wages, exploiting youth and having insecure and un-guaranteed hours.
Despite the majority of union members having never been in a union before or ever having been on a picket line, workers successful pulled off the world's first Starbucks strike which spread to 10 stores. Fast-food workers have also held a youth rates strike at a multi-million dollar KFC store, an anti-WTO strike at a PizzaHut to highlight the plight of migrant workers and more recently pulled off a lightening-strike that emptied out several KFC stores.
Due to the success of industrial action, the company that owns Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hut in New Zealand has made a new offer and members will soon be deciding on whether or not to escalate industrial action or to accept the new collective agreement. Unite will also be concluding negotiations with McDonalds and Burger King within the month.
To show support to workers and build their confidence to continue their struggle, Unite is seeking short two minute messages of solidarity, videotaped and digitised to show workers in stop work meetings and at community events.
The messages would include:
* A message of support for the workers and their SuperSizeMyPay.Com campaign for NZ$12 minimum wage, no youth rates and secure hours,
* How the campaign relates to your own union or community campaign,
* The global significance of the campaign's three issues and how they relate to international labour trends (i.e. globalization, casualisation etc.)
For more information about the campaign, please visit http://www.supersizemypay.com/about
The Irish Ferries dispute is on the verge of settlement it seems. This excellent report on the protests it has sparked across Ireland is taken from www.socialistworker.co.uk
A strike to defend the rights and jobs of seafarers has fired a shot across the bow of the bosses at Irish Ferries. In an awesome display of trade union power, up to 170,000 people left work and took part in marches and rallies in support of Irish Ferries staff and migrant workers on the streets of Ireland on Friday.
Irish Ferries is currently trying to replace its entire seafaring staff with eastern European labourers who will be paid less than half the Irish minimum wage. Workers on the streets, and trade union leaders on the platform, directed their anger as much against the Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern and neo-liberalism as the management of Irish Ferries.
In Dublin up to 100,000 marched. While those at the front of the demonstration began entering the plush Merrion Square near parliament, marchers at the back of were still leaving Parnell Square on the north side of the Liffey river. The route was lined with people applauding and cheering.
“This is a demonstration that sends a clear message to government and employers that we do not want a society that is founded on injustice, blackguardism and the exploitation of workers. We want that rooted out and we want that ended now,” Peter McLoone of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) told the cheering thousands at the rally.
Throughout Ireland the protests were massive with 15,000 in Limerick, 20,000 in Waterford, 20,000 in Cork, 4,000 in Sligo, 2,500 in Athlone, 1,000 in Galway, 2,000 in Tralee—and 500 struck in Rosslare Harbour.
Demonstrators waved flags, banged drums, sang protest songs and held up placards that read, “No Slave Ships on Irish Seas” and “Ferry Christmas, Mr Scrooge”.
Ferry workers have been occupying the ships Ulysses and Isle of Inishmore in Wales since 23 November. A third ferry has been stranded in Ireland by the solidarity action of port workers.
Tom Tully, the boson on the Ulysses, was on the Dublin march. He said, “The action and protests today will show the government as well as our company that we are not going to stand by and let them get rid of us and then go and exploit eastern Europeans.
“We are not going to allow them to pay anybody under our minimum wage. They are saying a lot in the Dail (the parliament) but they are doing nothing. We need action, we don’t need words.”
A river of solidarity filled the streets. Workers came out from the Post Office and the civil service, from the public and private sectors.
The taxi drivers’ union marched behind the psychiatric nurses and in front of the musicians’ union.
Older workers pointed out how many young workers were there. Young workers pointed out how many older workers were there. Polish flags flew next to union flags. British delegations from the PCS and RMT unions, and the Scottish TUC were applauded as they marched.
Mike O’Loughlin, a lorry driver for Tesco, said, “Friday 9 December will now be known as ‘solidarity day’. This is a shot in a very long war. To turn around neo-liberalism we need to push on and put some manners on them and their mates in the Dail.”
According to Padraig McCarthy, who works at the Guinness brewery, “We must stop greedy employers from destroying decent unionised jobs. This is a line in the sand. People like to write off the unions, but this shows what we can do when we put our mind to it.”
Every construction site in Dublin shut down as both Irish and eastern European builders downed tools and joined the march.
One group of builders sang their way along the route stopping only twice. Once to lift their hard hats to salute a statue of the Irish labour leader James Larkin and again when someone shouted from the crowd, “Irish jobs for Irish workers”. They shouted back, “No! Decent jobs for every worker.”
It was a message that ran through the march. At the front of the march the ICTU banner read, “Equal Rights for All Workers”.
David Beggs, the national secretary of the ICTU, said, “We must make the workers strong, we must make the trade unions strong. We must say to every worker, whether they are from Warsaw or Waterford, whether they are from Prague or from Portlaoise, you are welcome in our ranks. And in our ranks you will find comradeship, fraternity and support.”
The anger of Irish workers on a range of issues was clear. Davy said, “Everyone knows this goes beyond Irish Ferries but I can tell you I see it with my own eyes. In the building trade we see exploitation every day.
“There are only 20 labour inspectors in Ireland and only 15 are working at any one time. No wonder exploitation is rampant. There are more dog wardens than there are labour inspectors.”
Irish workers have been tied to national “partnership” wage agreements since 1987 that has resulted in low wage rises and a weakening of rank and file organisation.
The dispute at Irish Ferries has meant the union leaders have so far stayed out of discussions for the next partnership agreement.
While the Irish Labour Party issued stickers calling for “Partnership not Piracy” many see the dispute as the end of social partnership. “The economy is driven by just greed and money,’’ said Sean, a Dublin corporation worker. “We have given and given through partnership and all they want is to run roughshod over workers. Slave labour is not acceptable whether there is partnership or not. I reckon we are going to need the marching boots a lot in the next few months.”
“It’s time for action,’’ said Gerry O’Connor, a health and safety inspector at manufacturing giant Tyco International. “If Irish Ferries get their way, where will it stop? The free-market fundamentalists need to be held in check. The EU services agreement (Bolkestein) means that this is just a start. The bosses want to outsource jobs to the lowest wages they can and governments across Europe will back them.”
“The dispute crystallizes the reality of job displacement and exploitation of all workers, Irish and non-Irish,” said MacDara Doyle, from the ICTU. “We are not anti-immigrant, we are anti-Bolkestein.”
The dispute has thrown Irish politics into crisis. Desperate talks imposed by the government failed to solve the -dispute as Irish Ferries management insist on registering their boats in Cyprus to avoid Irish labour laws.
Paul Smyth, marine organiser for the SIPTU union, said, “Irish ferries’ plan is that after a 12 hour shift, workers getting half the minimum wage would spend their rest time on ferries. So for three months they stay on board ship.
“Our colours are nailed to the mast. Some of the people in those engine rooms have been offered £250,000 in redundancy.
“They aren’t taking it for a simple reason. They are saying they will not allow slave conditions for anyone. Join us in this fight and we will win.
Journalists working for the biggest newspaper group in Wales are to be balloted on industrial action following moves by their employer to impose compulsory redundancies.
The Cardiff-based Western Mail & Echo has announced plans to make 44 workers – including ten journalists - redundant.
The Trinity Mirror company publishes the Western Mail, the South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday and the Celtic group of weekly papers.
The National Union of Journalists is organising a fight to protect jobs. Martin Shipton, a member of the Western Mail & Echo Chapel committee, said: "Our members have voted unanimously to ballot for strike action. The company's proposals will damage the newspapers and threaten the long-term future of print journalism in Wales.
"We are not prepared to stand idly by while faceless executives on huge salaries in London destroy jobs in Wales and wreck long-established newspapers."
This London-based attitude also prompted Northcliffe Newspapers to move its printing of the South Wales Evening Post from Swansea to Gloucester with the loss of 70 jobs and the paper's editorial credibility.
In the world of television, BBC Wales is currently cutting 200 jobs out of a total of 1300 staff and ITV Wales (formerly HTV Wales) continues to suffer death by a thousand cuts at the hands of its new London-based owners.
The lack of a diverse media in Wales has long been a problem. The lack of an independent media is becoming critical.
A bitter labour dispute off the Welsh coast is threatening to de-rail Ireland's image as a thriving Celtic Tiger economy and raises questions about the use of migrant workers to cut costs.
The stand-off between workers and bosses on two ferries could escalate into a full-scale general strike in Ireland and today sees a demonstration in support of seafarers at Holyhead.
The unions and Irish Ferries bosses have both agreed to talk with the government-sponsored Labour Relations Council in a dispute that erupted into a full-scale lock-out when the company attempted to replace Irish seafarers with Latvian crews under guard from a private security firm.
The Isle of Inishmore, moored in Pembroke Dock, and the Ulysses, docked in Holyhead, were due to sail on 24 November. The new crew and security guards had boarded the Isle of Inishmore disguised as passengers before changing into uniform. Allegations that the security guards were wearing flak jackets have been denied, as have reports that the use of tear gas was considered as a weapon against the crew by Irish Ferries bosses.
In response to this confused situation, the ship's officers and crew secured control of the bridge and engine room. Crew on the Ulysses responded in similar fashion and the two sides have been deadlocked ever since.
Irish Ferries chief executive Eamonn Rothwell has described the situation as "about the life or death of a company", saying they could not compete without significantly reducing labour costs. To this end, the company has been negotiating with the main Irish union SIPTU to re-register the ferries in Cyprus, which would avoid Irish minimum wage laws and allow them to pay Eastern European crews 3.50 Euros an hour, less than half the Irish minimum wage. Re-registering in Cyprus would allow the company to avoid paying that legal minimum of 7.65 Euros currently earned by Irish seafarers. They have also given 543 seafarers an ultimatum - take a pay cut and longer hours or face redundancy.
SIPTU's Barbara Kelly points out that Irish Ferries is far from in a "life or death" situation as it made 28 million Euros in profit last year: "It's pure greed. The return on capital is not enough for them, 28 million is not enough."
The union maintains that an agreement to replace crew on another ferry route between Ireland and France had been worked out amicably and that this dispute could also have been done very differently. Ms Kelly said: "We offered 15m Euro in savings - that was rejected, a consultant's recommendations were rejected before the ink was dry on his report."
Mr Rothwell counters that the dramatic boarding of the ship took place to prevent sabotage by the workforce - something he alleges happened on the company's French ferry the Normandie. he also rejects claims that the introduction of Eastern European crews would have exploited the migrant workers.
He said: "The outsourced crews will be paid in real terms (given accommodation, food, travel and living expenses are covered) 30% higher than on-land Irish minimum wages. They’ll be paid five or six times what they could earn at home where they live. That’s not exploitation. For them, Irish Ferries is the best thing that ever happened."
But it would also mean significant cuts in wages and conditions for Irish crews and that's what's made this such a bitter and signficant dispute in Ireland, where thousands of migrant workers have streamed in to find work in the booming economy. Very often, they've done the work at the bottom of the economic pile and trade unions fear that they may be being used by unscrupulous bosses to undercut wage rates.
Now the National Implementation Board, a tripartite agency involving the Irish Government, unions and employers, has intervened and recommended that the move to re-register in Cyprus is abandoned and that talks take place with the Labour Relations Commission until Wednesday to try to break the deadlock.
In the meantime, both the original and Latvian crews remain on board the ships while onshore support for the seafarers grows. SIPTU, Ireland's biggest union, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions have called for a mass protest this Friday, which could escalate into a one-day general strike as teachers, public servants and other workers join the demonstrations.
Attitudes in the dispute seem to be hardening, with union activists pointing out that Mr Rothwell earned 687,000 Euros last year, prompting the comment that maybe there were Latvians who could do that job instead.
Across the water, the head of the RMT seamen's union in Wales, Brian Curtis, has called on the public to support the Irish Ferries workers. He said: "This is a matter of serious public concern and it could determine what sort of society we are creating for our children, both in the UK and in Ireland. We do not accept that companies should be allowed to start a race to the bottom of accepted employment standards."
with thanks to Tony for this
Irish Ferries are sacking all their Irish workers and replacing them with cheaper (mainly Latvian) seafarers. Now the
minimum wage in Ireland is €7.65 an hour, which is considered far too generous by the owners. Therefore they are going to re-register the ships in Cyprus so they can pay the crew next to nothing.
Being at sea is a difficult and sometimes dangerous job. It takes a long time to qualify and that period invloves a lot of time away from your family. Thus seafarers were always paid more than people who worked ashore to compensate them for the unsocial nature of their work.
These Latvian seafarers will be essentially prisoners on their ships, as they will not be able to afford to go ashore in Ireland, Wales or France. Plus of course, they won't be much use to the passengers in the event of a crisis as their English is not up to much.
If companies need to save money, why don't they "outsource" their board of directors? I am sure you could get a board of directors in Bangalore, who would do a pretty good job for €5,000 a year.
If you are thinking of taking a trip to Ireland don't use this bunch of shysters.
The Unite union has launched its SuperSizeMyPay.Com campaign today with a crowd of about 100 people gathered to send a message to Starbucks and other fast-food and cafe outlets to give their workers a fair deal.
Workers from stores across Auckland walked off the job today to join the world’s first Starbucks strike in New Zealand. What began as a small protest by workers from one store became a city-wide strike when Starbucks workers heard that managers would be brought in to cover the shifts of the striking K’Rd workers. More than 30 workers spontaneously walked out from 10 different Auckland Starbucks stores to join KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonalds employees, and around 150 other supporters outside the store.
“Our campaign isn’t just about fair pay at work, it’s about social justice. Poverty-wages are increasing the gap between rich and poor and increasing other social inequalities. The majority of low paid and minimum-wage workers are women, Maori, Pacific islanders, disabled, youth, students and new migrants,” said a union organiser.
The minimum wage is now the most important determining factor for low-paid workers. Raising the minimum wage to $12 NOW, removing youth rates, giving secure hours and other minimum entitlements would be the first step towards reclaiming what entitlements workers have lost and alleviating poverty and inequality.
For video footage of the strike see:
The Unite union is new and is making serious inroads into the notoriously non-unionised workforces at fast-food restaurants and shops. It aims to recruit exactly those young, low-paid and casualised workers that have been ignored by traditional unions for too long. It's young, dynamic and knows how to make an impression - and that's attracting people back to the idea that "mewn undeb mae nerth" - there is power in a union.