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Proletarian issue 60 (June 2014)
Industry matters: Labour a party of austerity
Privateers annex Barnet – with never a shot fired

Barnet council in north London is outsourcing all its services to Capita in a contract costing £320m. Included in the deal are the IT department, customer services and personnel, threatening many with redundancy.

Yet all that Unison has been able to muster in the way of resistance to this outrageous fait accompli has been (a) a long drawn-out legal battle over the council’s failure to disclose information on the role of agency workers (in the course of haggling over TUPE arrangements and redundancy agreements) and (b) an online petition, hosted by professional protesters 38 Degrees, begging Capita not to sack people (or to require them to relocate their families to Belfast, essentially amounting to the same thing).

Now the union is trying to convince itself that a crucial victory has been won in the courts. In 2013, a tribunal ruled that the council should have supplied the information about agency workers and should now cough up some loss-of-earnings compensation arising from its failure so to do. The council grudgingly conceded this point, but demurred over the level of compensation. Rather than drag the process out any longer, the union and the council settled the compensation claim out of court.

Whilst it is clearly welcome news for the workers immediately affected, this pragmatic fudge hardly justifies Unison leader Dave Prentis’ claim that “this is a landmark decision that will help to protect the rights of workers”. Rather, by keeping workers’ attention exclusively focused on legal processes and the virtual world of online petitions, Unison has completely failed to mobilise its members to use their collective strength to withdraw all cooperation from the whole outsourcing project.

Such a campaign of non-cooperation would achieve more than any number of shaky tribunal decisions and petitions in cyberspace all put together.

Least helpful of all was the plug Unison’s Barnet branch secretary John Burgess slipped in for the Labour party. Correctly noting that “Other councils are watching what’s going on here because Barnet is rapidly becoming the ‘disappearing council’,” this loyal hod-carrier for social democracy then felt obliged to add that “there’s a promise of more of this to come if the Tories get in again next year”.

Workers are indeed watching what is going on in other councils, not least those where Labour are either implementing cuts themselves or assisting others to do so. In 2015, whichever bourgeois party prevails, capitalism will assuredly get in again, and will press on with making workers pay for the crisis – and to hell with tribunals and petitions.

Only the collective strength of workers can stop them in their tracks.

Labour opens the door to privatisation and cuts in Bristol

Central to Barnet’s decision to go for broke and outsource all its services was one Max Wide, an overpaid advisor recruited from the private sector. Now Wide has surfaced in Bristol to assist with the ongoing demolition of public services there (to the tune of £90m), superintended by the city’s recently-invented Mayor, George Ferguson.

Ferguson gushed that “Max’s experience makes him the ideal fit for Bristol. He’s a man of bright ideas, fresh thinking and, vitally, a proven record of applying this in a practical way to achieve results.” And just in case anyone didn’t get the picture, the Mayor dropped another hint, enthusing that the golden boy would help him “make bold decisions and look very fundamentally at what we’re here for and how we do business”.

Anyone still tempted to hit the snooze button until a new day dawns under Labour in 2015 should note that Bristol’s cuts budget was voted through with the support of Labour as well as the Tories.

Labour-run Carmarthen council attacks union rights

Understandably, rank-and-file union members are becoming heartily sick of their unions’ blind loyalty to Labour.

The National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) website recently featured a member of Unison’s Carmarthen branch speaking out against the Labour council’s decision to stop giving reps time off for union work, affecting GMB and Unite as well as Unison.

He drew the very sensible conclusion that “This is clearly a political decision by the Labour-led council, who are attempting to stifle the trade unions and in particular Unison branch opposition to the vicious cut to services that the council is implementing. Our branch opposes all cuts, including the massive increased charges to sporting facilities, and we have never been shy of criticising this Labour-led council for meekly implementing ConDem cuts.”

Sadly, this plain speaking does not extend throughout the union leadership. Whilst Unison Wales’ own website laments this decision as well, it does so in such a manner as to reveal just how deep the social-democratic rot penetrates into the union movement.

The official position is not that the union should resist all cuts, but rather that it should be allowed to join with the council in finding ways to lessen the pain!

The current budget challenge [!] means that the council is expected to make a £30m saving. To attempt to do this without properly resourced and structured facility time is irresponsible and will cost the council more in the long run.

So rather than demanding time off to mobilise against the cuts, what is requested is time off to help the Labour council fleece the working class in a more ‘responsible’ fashion!

It is time that the unions stopped shooting themselves in the foot by propping up Labour and instead directed their fire at capitalism. Break the link with Labour!

RMT and FBU lead the fight

Tube workers went on strike for 48 hours on 29 and 30 April over plans to axe every booking office and wipe out nearly a thousand jobs. The plans, which are presented by Boris Johnson as an exercise in modernisation, are in reality driven by Transport for London’s determination to make cuts amounting to 12.5 percent of budget.

In February, the RMT suspended a planned strike after being assured by London Underground (LU) that a station-by-station review would be carried out, with the possibility of some ticket offices being spared. No such review has taken place, and LU management are openly bragging that, if it ever happens, there will in any case be no survivors.

As Boris Johnson put it: “We’re going to close 260 ticket offices, we’re going to change the way they operate, we’re going to make them available for other functions, we’re going to do fantastic things with our stations,” adding contemptuously: “but there’s always room to discuss about the terms and conditions of our employees”.

The RMT further suspended an intended further 72-hour strike, which was to have started on 5 May, pending negotiation.

Meanwhile, the Fire Brigades Union engaged in renewed strike action over the May bank holiday in the continuing effort to defend public-sector pensions. The militancy of the RMT and FBU continues to reflect the fact that neither union is affiliated to the imperialist Labour party.

The RMT was a strong organising presence on the May Day rally in London, although less impressive was the attempt by the organisers to rebrand International Workers’ Day as a joint commemoration of Bob Crow and Tony Benn.

Using the occasion to celebrate the life and struggle of Bob Crow, a doughty fighter for the working class, is one thing. Coupling this with a panegyric to Tony Benn, lifelong supporter of the imperialist Labour party and a member of the Labour government that sent troops into the Six Counties, does justice neither to Bob Crow nor to May Day.

Offering in defence the assertion that “they are both substantial labour movement figures”, as did wannabe RMT General Secretary Alex Gordon, just ducks the issue.
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