Opposing austerity, challenging racism and fighting for socialism means destroying the Labour Party

The central question we face is how can we build a movement to turn back the tide of reaction epitomised by the victory of a populist and nationalist Brexit campaign, the election of Trump as US President, and the possibility that the racist populist Marine le Pen wins the French presidential election in May? Such a movement has to challenge imperialism, and make both the possibility and the necessity of socialism central to its political message. It must break with, and oppose, the forces of opportunism whose purpose is to isolate and destroy any independent movement of the working class. In Britain that means a relentless struggle against the Labour Party and its apologists on the left. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader led some to argue that the Party could now become a progressive force and lead the fight against austerity. The evidence shows the opposite: Corbyn is absolutely determined to maintain the unity of the Labour Party and make any concession necessary to that end. Robert Clough reports.

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Sacked for fighting poverty pay

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no 138 - August/September 1997

In FRFI 137, NIGEL COOK described the barbaric conditions of employment and slave wages forced upon him and other workers at M&S Packaging in Blackburn, who package CDs for PolyGram, through the implementation of the Jobseeker's Allowance. In this issue, he reports on developments in the campaign against poverty pay.

Within hours of seeing the last issue of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the management of M&S Packaging suspended me from work and two days later sacked me.

Production manager Richard Ware contacted me at home and said 'You are suspended and we want you to come in on Wednesday because Mr Munn [the administrator] wants to have a word with you.' When I asked why, he simply replied 'Mr Pye [a manager of the multinational PolyGram] does not want you on his soil'.

I contacted the administrator's office immediately and asked if I could have my Union officer present at the meeting, only to be told by a Mrs Coardingly that: 'it was not fair on Mr Munn to spring it on him at such short notice, that you want to have your legal representative present', as he 'did not have enough time to arrange his legal team'.

I reminded Mrs Coardingly that I had been woken, having just worked a 12-hour night shift, and without any notice told I was suspended from work and that Mr Munn wanted to speak to me. She would not tell me why he wanted this meeting.

The next day I reported my suspension to my union. Jim Bowie, District Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, faxed Mr Munn a letter asking why I had been suspended and, if there had been any allegations or complaints of bad conduct against me, could he tell us what they were. Jim Bowie also asked if he could be present at the meeting.

The next morning, the day of the meeting, Mr Munn phoned Jim Bowie. He did not offer any reasons why I had been suspended, told him that the meeting was just an 'amicable chat' and after some persuasion grudgingly told Jim he could come.

Present at the 'amicable chat' were Mr Munn, Mr McCarthy (M&S director), Jim Bowie and me. Mr Munn started by arrogantly saying that there was nothing to compel him to allow my union officer to be present and that I should be grateful for him being so good-natured. Mr Munn then outlined his role as administrator: describing PolyGram as the 'sole customer', he emphasised that he did not want his lob made more difficult' by someone 'stirring up trouble'.

Mr McCarthy, clutching his copy of FRFI, then started quoting from highlighted parts of my article. He said that my article was not 'wholly accurate' because whilst it correctly mentioned the closed circuit cameras in the works and canteen areas 'it did not mention the cameras outside' and the fact that 'employees need permission to go to the toilet is for health and safety reasons'!

It was at this point that Mr Munn politely interrupted McCarthy, probably to spare us all this embarrassingly pathetic sight, and said that it was his intention that during the course of this meeting he would sack me. I asked him for the reason for my sacking, to which he proudly boasted that 'current legislation is such that I do not have to give any reason for dismissal'. He refused to give any reasons when asked again by my union representative.

The following day the union faxed a letter to both Munn and McCarthy asking for the reason for my sacking. To date neither of them has replied. This did not stop Munn informing the dole I had been 'dismissed for misconduct', in an effort to get my benefit stopped. However, when I told them that Munn had refused to give me a reason for my dismissal and I had been sacked for union activity, they let my claim go through.

My union submitted an application to the Industrial Tribunal on the grounds that I had clearly been sacked for my union activities. The day before my hearing, we received notification from the tribunal that the hearing could not progress because of a legal technicality. Apparently, under Section 11(3) of the Insolvency Act 1986, during the period for which an Administration Order is in force (as is the present situation with M&S) ‘... (d) No other proceedings and no execution or other legal process may be commenced or continued, and no distress may be levied, against the Company or its property except with the consent of the Administrator or the leave of the Court and subject (where the Court gives leave) to such terms as aforesaid.'

The union's legal advisers were unaware of this fact, and it was the solicitors acting for McCarthy and Munn who brought it to the attention of the chairman of the Industrial Tribunals. The chairman then 'stayed' my hearing for four weeks.

The union's national legal department, having assessed my case, have now appointed a local firm of solicitors, at the cost of £2,000, to seek 'leave of the Court'. My case is to be heard on 25 July.

The solicitors have said that the case could well end up in the House of Lords as there is, to their knowledge, no legal precedent. As it stands, this legal loophole effectively allows employers to sack workers without reasons, regardless of length of service, and the same sacked workers have no immediate redress to an Industrial Tribunal.

How PolyGram conducts business - ssh!

In the preparation of my case the union have now obtained a copy of a letter from a PolyGram manager, dated the same day as my suspension, that clearly instructs M&S to keep me off ‘PolyGram's premises'. The letter, referring to the FRFI article, attempts to distance PolyGram from the appalling conditions at M&S when it reminds McCarthy that ‘terms and conditions you offer to employees are your responsibility'. It goes on to state their concerns about people's 'impression of how we conduct business'.

The campaign

I contacted the GMB union convenor at PolyGram, Barry Eatough, and told him of my sacking; he agreed to meet with me and other M&S workers at the union offices to discuss ways in which PolyGram workers could help improve conditions at M&S. He never showed up and has refused to answer our telephone messages and letters. It became obvious that any effective campaigning against the increasing tide of sweatshop firms paying crap wages would have to be built by those directly affected. It cannot depend on those workers who enjoy relatively good working conditions and wages.

So I, along with members of my union, local supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Group and other progressives have formed a campaign calling for my reinstatement. Other demands of the campaign are Fight Poverty Pay!, No to Slave Labour! and End Casualisation! The campaign has two priorities to win support: writing to union branches and other organisations and individuals and campaigning on the streets and in the communities.

The response from organisations so far has been good, with many union branches, trades councils and other groups affiliating to the campaign, sending donations and inviting speakers to their meetings. And our street work has been very well received by the thousands of people forced to work in lousy jobs. At our weekly street stall in Blackburn town centre we regularly meet people telling us of their experiences. One woman, a care assistant, was being paid £2.50 per hour and another guy was being paid £1.50 per hour. We have been told of a cleaning firm in Preston paying just £1.00 per hour. There are over 50 job agencies servicing Blackburn and the surrounding area. We also leaflet outside the JobCentre, highlighting the role of the Employment Service in forcing JSA claimants into appalling jobs.

We hold regular campaign meetings in the central library, where we encourage everyone who supports the aims of the campaign to get involved. Unfortunately, the local Socialist Workers Party and New Communist Party have not attended any of our events. We held a very successful picket outside PolyGram, to publicise their use of sweatshop firm M&S Packaging. More than 30 people attended, including representatives of Bury Unemployed Workers Centre, Preston Radical, trades councils and various union branches. The picket received good coverage in the local press.

The campaign has agreed that we should use any means necessary to publicise the scandalous work conditions that are now becoming the norm in this country. So I raised the issue of my sacking and the growth of racketeering job agencies with the local MP, Jack Straw. I met with him at a recent surgery and explained my situation; when I mentioned PolyGram, he expressed familiarity with the name. Perhaps he was already aware of the recent appointment of PolyGram Chief Executive Stuart Till as a co-chair of the government's Film Working Group. Film workers beware — zero hour contracts and poverty pay, coming your way soon!

Straw did say that he would write letters to M&S and PolyGram about my sacking, and that he believed a minimum wage would go some way towards curing the problem of the job agency racket. He also promised to contact Ian McCartney (Labour Minister for the Labour Market) and inform me of Labour's plans to combat casualisation. We wait to see if he keeps his word.

Victory against victimisation of union organiser by Deliveroo

Following a publicity campaign by the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), Deliveroo have dropped their investigation against IWGB union organiser and FRFI supporter Ben, and have invited him back to work. On Monday 11 December, the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch made public the fact that Ben, a key organiser of the ongoing struggle for improvements in pay and conditions, had been told that he was under investigation for the crime of ‘riding a cargo bike’ and would not be able to work whilst this was carried out. Alongside this, the IWGB revealed a leaked image of Ben’s employment profile from the Deliveroo internal system, making clear that his employment was ‘terminated’ and that before speaking to him, any members of staff should contact Sebastian Gilbert, the Head of Driver Operations in Britain and Ireland. On the same day the Financial Times Alphaville blog included a comment piece by Ben, exposing this to a wider audience and making clear that  Deliveroo workers would not be intimidated by such clear political victimisation. This campaign has forced Deliveroo to back down. Ben has now received an email from Deliveroo's Director of Operations, David Scott stating:

‘Dear Ben,

We have been carrying out an investigation into the cargo bike incident described below. During this investigation, you were not offered any work as your account was placed on hold while the investigation was ongoing.

We've looked into the matter regarding the cargo bike, considered your response below, and the investigation has drawn to a close. No further action will be taken on this occasion.

In order to ensure the safety of our riders, we insist that any rider using a cargo bike has been properly assessed, and I'd like to remind you that you should not use a cargo bike as you have not received that training.

Please contact me if you wish to arrange further work with Deliveroo.

Kind Regards,

David Scott’

This is what organisation, collective bargaining, and political campaigning can achieve. No doubt Deliveroo will think twice before targeting union organisers again.

No to victimisation!

Victory to the Deliveroo workers!

 

For more on the Deliveroo struggle, and the wider context, see:

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/economy/4545-tgf071216

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/labourtrade-unions/4525-dd0711216

http://www.revolutionarycommunist.org/britain/labourtrade-unions/4446-dd191016

 

Deliveroo drivers fighting back against exploitation

Deliveroo drivers across London have united – with the help of the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union – to organise in the ‘unorganisable’ gig economy. The aim? To achieve union recognition for the drivers in Camden and to change employment status for Deliveroo riders nationally. Deliveroo riders are currently classified as ‘self-employed independent contractors’, meaning they are not entitled to basic workers’ rights. Deliveroo riders are seeking to change their employment status to ‘worker’ – a form of self employment which grants rights such as the national minimum wage, the right to paid holiday and the right to protection against discrimination; none of which drivers currently have.

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Bourgeois Labour Party – no change with Corbyn at the top

corbyn jeremy

A year ago, in the summer of 2015, the Labour Party was in complete disarray and facing a deep crisis. It had lost two successive general elections in 2010 and 2015. Its defeat in 2015 was especially abject: after five years of punishing austerity for the working class at the hands of the ConDem coalition, Labour failed to prevent a Tory victory, was wiped out in Scotland and lost 24 seats overall. There had to be the semblance of change if the Party was to avoid disintegration. Corbyn’s victories in the subsequent leadership elections have enabled the social democratic left to begin a new project; sowing expectations that the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership can now fight austerity and transform itself into a socialist party capable of winning working class votes. Robert Clough argues that this is an illusion.

Corbyn’s success, announced on 24 September, came with a substantial margin over his challenger, Owen Smith, to the delight of his supporters. Overall, Corbyn won 61.8% of 506,000 votes cast, compared to 59.5% of 422,664 votes cast in 2015. While support from trade union voters increased slightly, from 57.6% in 2015 to 60.2%, votes from Party members increased substantially (49.6% to 59%). Corbyn’s second victory was never in real doubt: his ability to attract thousands to his rallies contrasted with the efforts of Smith, whose meetings sometimes struggled to get into double figures. The Labour Party machine tried its best to exclude Corbyn supporters both by preventing those who had joined the party after February 2016 from voting in the election, and by disqualifying large numbers of registered supporters, those who had paid £25 to vote in the election. Given that Labour Party figures showed that 180,000 supporters had signed up in the two-day period for registration over 19-20 July, and that 121,517 actually voted, claims that 40,000 Corbyn supporters had been prevented from voting seem justified.

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