Tuesday, 4 August 2009

There are limits to what Trade Union action can achive!


A demonstration was held yesterday outside the head office of the Department of Energy and Climate Change in London by students backing the workers' sit-in at the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight.

The protesters held up banners saying "Take back the wind power"; they blockaded the main entrance to the building for over two hours before they were arrested.

In another move the Rail Maritime and Transport union made a formal complaint to the police over the weekend about the actions of private security guards employed at the plant. The union took legal advice about the treatment of the workers after claiming they were being denied access to adequate supplies of food. Officials said they were seriously concerned about the health implications of the lack of food reaching the workers inside the factory. One has already been forced to leave on medical advice after his blood sugar levels were found to be seriously low. The union said it believed it had reached a deal over the weekend to take hot food in to the 10 workers who have been staging a sit-in for the past two weeks, but claimed that supplies were blocked again last night.
A spokesman said the union was now considering taking out an injunction against the company and the security firm.
General Secretary Bob Crow said: "It's disgusting that Vestas are trying to starve the workers out and we are calling on the police to take urgent action against their private security company to stop this outrageous affront to basic human rights.
"We will fight with every tool available to get food in to the workers on the inside whose only crime is to fight for their livelihoods and the future of green energy."
The factory was due to shut last Friday, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, but the closure has been delayed following the occupation.

Vestas will seek repossession of the factory in a court case on the Isle of Wight today, which is expected to attract large numbers of protesters.
A climate camp has been set up outside the factory as environmentalists join trade union activists in trying to save the plant.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber urged the Danish owners of the factory to re-think its closure decision.

"Business, unions and Government must get around the table and make every effort to secure a future for wind turbine manufacturing in the UK.

"Ed Miliband (Climate Change Secretary) has proved himself to be a champion of the green agenda and the drive to create new jobs.

"Now we are asking him to go the extra mile for the 600 workers and the production facility - the only one of its size in Britain - which is vital to building our low-carbon future. Everything must be done to look for positive alternatives."

Ye old cat and mouse chase…..

This dispute, this type of dispute reminds me of Tom and Jerry the famous cat and mouse whose disputes personified and screened on TV in the 70s as time fillers; before other programmes’. And I mean no disrespect to the workers at the Vestas Wind Systems plant on the Isle of Wight. They should be applauded for their courageous stand in defence of their jobs and livelihoods.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with any campaign to defend workers jobs, we can not run away from the fact that the owners of the means of production in the first decade of this century have the upper hand and unfortunately assist by legislation introduced by Thatcher and held in place by New Labour. The result has been that many Trade Unions have either disappeared or amalgamated into larger organisations’ with less influence in what was known as the workplace. While the latest official statistics show that trade union membership in the UK fell more than 2% to 27.4% in 2008, new figures from Unison, Britain's biggest public sector trade union, indicate a rise in new members this year. More than 12,000 young people (16- to 27-year-olds) joined Unison in the first six months of this year – 1,500 up on the same period last year – and the union is predicting that this growth will continue. Overall, membership of Unison is also growing, a trend that other unions also say they are seeing.

After decades of steady decline, trade unions face their biggest challenge – persuading a new generation of workers that, in the face of the worst recession since the 1930s, being a union member really will make a difference to their working lives. My feeling is that the ruling class has learnt all the lessons on how to deal with trade unions combined with the decline of manufacturing and little if any inroads into newer industries such as IT and finance have not been made. If the Tories win the next election then Unison may see a program of cuts in services that become a threat to jobs.

In some ways its like a throwback back to the early days of capitalism, employers are able to act with almost complete ruthlessness in the treatment of worker. With unemployment on the way up bosses take advantage by driving wages down and make do with an ever-ready pool of immigrant workers to reduce pay and conditions to the bare minimum. Between May 2004 and June 2006, 447,000 workers from these eight countries registered to work in UK. The government estimates that the figure is now over 500,000. Over 60% of these workers come from Poland. One reason for the large number of Poles moving to Britain to find work is that Poland (population 38,500,000) is the largest of the eight countries to join the EU in 2004 has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the EU, approximately 18% in 2005 compared to 5.5% in UK. Salaries and wages in Poland are amongst the lowest in Europe, (approximately 25% of the average for EU countries). For example in UK average weekly wages were £447 or about £23,250 per year, while in Poland the average monthly salary is £380 or less than £500 per year. Although things are cheaper in Poland than in the UK (for example milk is about half the price, bread about one third the price, petrol ¾ the price and rents for flats and houses about half price), people in Poland have a lower standard of living than people in UK do.

Breaking News

As I write it is being reported in the Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph; ANGER and frustration has driven unions to call an official strike ballot over on-going unrest at the Total Lindsey Oil Refinery.
Hundreds of North Lincolnshire residents work at the site, which was rocked by wildcat strikes in May and June this year.
Nearly 650 workers were sacked during the protest over 56 redundancies from the on-going HDS-3 construction project. All were reinstated after a deal negotiated between the GMB and Unite unions and Total management.

The GMB union will organise the ballot to start on August 11. It will run until September 1, with any agreed action beginning shortly afterwards.
GMB national secretary Phil Davies said: "The anger, frustration and mistrust between the employers and union members has been made a lot worse by the action of Total in reneging on the deal that led to the settlement of the unofficial dispute at Lindsay."

The Socialist Party (SPGB) urges workers to use their intelligence and imagination to envisage a world fundamentally different from the one in which capitalism operates and trade unions function. It must be emphasised that capitalism is a system, with its own economic laws, and this system cannot be made to run in the interests of working people.

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