Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2140

Workers at the BMW Cowley plant react with anger when told they have been sacked. Still from video of the meeting. Watch it at /art.php?id=17134» Management sacking agency workers at BMW Cowley

Workers at the BMW Cowley plant react with anger when told they have been sacked. Still from video of the meeting. Watch it at » Management sacking agency workers at BMW Cowley

Labour’s Europe shame

We saw British workers doing British jobs being sacked by their German employer BMW in Cowley last week (» Fury as Cowley workers sacked with hour’s notice, 21 February). They were understandably angry at being sacked at an hour’s notice.

They had no protection against being summarily sacked because they were agency workers, and despite some of them working for more than two years for BMW.

The workers might have wondered why they were not protected by European legislation.After all, didn’t the European parliament and the council of ministers agree to a directive last year that would give them the same rights as permanant staff if they worked for more than 12 weeks?

Unfortunately this directive does not yet apply in Britain. Despite the European Commission proposing the directive in 2002 it has been blocked and then watered down by a small group of countries led by Britain.

The directive that was finally agreed is unlikely to come into force for another two years – far too late to protect the BMW workers or the thousands of other agency workers who will lose their jobs in the recession.

Oil refinery workers in Lincolnshire struck to defend their jobs because they were not properly protected by the weakened Posted Workers Directive and because the Labour government has failed to repeal the anti-trade union laws.

The government is continuing to resist the ending of Britain’s opt-out of the Working Time Directive despite it having been voted through by a big majority of the European parliament.

British workers face the deepest recession in Europe thanks to Gordon Brown’s economic policies.Yet we have the weakest employment rights in Europe, again courtesy of our Labour government.

Oh, just in case you wondered, BMW couldn’t have done this in Germany because the law wouldn’t allow it.

So our flexible labour market, which Gordon Brown has boasted about, will ensure that our workforce will suffer most in the recession.

Hugh Kerr, Former MEP and member of employment committee of European parliament 1994-9, Edinburgh

Hard arguments for socialists

While I agree with every word of Simon Basketter’s article on the “British jobs for British workers” strike (» The bitterness that lies behind the wildcat strikes, 7 February) this is not an argument that the left can win easily, if at all.

The fact is that “local” labour is being overlooked, while workers are being brought over from Europe.

If the statistics comparing incoming European workers to the number of British workers in Europe were made widely known, would it make a difference?

I believe it is unlikely. Why let facts get in the way of a racist argument?

Capitalism encourages and feeds off self-interest and there is a lot of that in evidence at the Lindsey oil refinery.

The Unite union’s (what an irony in the name) actions have reinforced the tensions between the workers, rather than defusing them.

And then there is the fascist BNP...

There is an awful lot of work to do to get the socialist message across.

Kathryn Rimmington, Portsmouth

A strike for equality

Warrington, a town between Liverpool and Manchester, was recently in the news for the Football Association’s (FA) decision against two young football players.

I was shocked to learn that FA rules mean that children cannot play in mixed boys and girls’ teams. But I was pleased to learn that a mixed squad had been allowed at Birchwood Junior’s under 12s football team, and disappointed to learn that it was only part of a pilot study.

What is encouraging though, is that team members decided to strike in support of the two girls who had been told by the FA that they were no longer allowed to play. The strike was supported by a 2,000 strong petition. After this stand, the FA was forced to back down and state that it had made an “admin error”.

It is good to see such blatant discrimination crushed by a united team of young, “mixed” players. The team, currently top of the Warrington Junior League, seemed empowered by its united effort for equality.

One member commented, “I don’t know why girls shouldn’t be able to play because it’s just the same – some of the girls are better than the lads here.” Well done Birchwood Juniors.

Janine Woods, Warrington

‘Exciting’ sentence

An Italian court has found David Mills, the estranged husband of New Labour minister Tessa Jowell, guilty of taking £400,000 to withhold testimony to help Italy’s right wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mills, a tax lawyer, has been sentenced to four and a half years in an Italian prison for giving false evidence in two cases in the 1990s. Mills is to appeal.

The joint mortgage that Mills and Jowell held was paid off a few days after the £400,000 was received. And at least being the focus of attention has kept Mills’s spirit’s high. He told a reporter, “It’s like a thriller, all of this… it’s very exciting.”

Katherine Branney, East London

We need to rebuild union organisation

The retreat in many industries away from holding regular meetings of union members in the workplace and bringing together union reps is one of the factors that weakens workers’ ability to resist attacks.

Even worse is the common practice of union officials, both lay and full time, meeting management “in confidence”.

There is nothing more undermining than management being the first to communicate to the workforce that the union has accepted proposals to cut jobs, pay or conditions.

Union reps should refuse to be gagged. They have to immediately report to the members they represent.

Workers have a right to discuss and determine how the union should respond before demoralisation creeps in and management’s proposals become an “inevitable” outcome.

Compromising on this principle makes it harder for members to control the outcome of events. It plays into the employers’ hands.

In the 1960s and 1970s Socialist Worker helped organise opposition to government attempts to undermine union organisation in the workplace.

A series of articles in Socialist Worker addressing these issues would help socialists rebuild effective trade union organisation – including accountability within the unions – that is essential to resist today.

Alan Walter, Central London

Personal budgets devastated BBC

Diana Swingler (» Letters, 21 February) is correct about the likely effects of “personal budgets” in the NHS.

In the 1990s, the BBC brought in an internal market where each unit had its own budget that it could spend where it liked.

As a result, the BBC ended up paying for outside services while also paying to maintain its own unused studios, which it then had to hire out to other television companies.

This absurd misuse of resources in the name of “efficiency” was linked to increasing demands on workers for longer hours, lower pay and greater workloads.

It also led to a climate where keeping your job could be set increasingly against telling the truth, especially in BBC News.

In 2003 the Ten O’Clock News misrepresented protests at the invasion of Iraq.

Now the BBC refuses to broadcast the appeal for aid for Gaza.

“Personal budgets” is yet another step in the process of using public money to demolish the public health service, just as individual budgets destroyed the integrity of the BBC.

William Alderson, Former BBC worker, King’s Lynn

SWP needs to be pro-active

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) certainly seems to be the most “popular” left wing party but it seems to be dominated by people who propagate rhetoric and don’t do anything.

They seem more preoccupied with confronting the fascist BNP than anything else.

This is not a bad thing, but it does seem rather “reactionist” – reacting against fascism – rather than seeking to break new ground for themselves.

We need progression and our own writers, not tired rehashes of Leon Trotsky. Don’t get me wrong, the SWP is a force for good and change within Britain.

We just need to be more pro-active and force the issues.We need revolutionary people, not just revolutionary words.

David Willmer, Liverpool

Jones has let workers down

Plaid Cymru’s leader Ieuan Wyn Jones spoke at the recent march in Holyhead on Anglesey of 150 workers from Eaton Electric against the loss of their jobs (» Factory workers march to save their jobs, 21 February).

He promised that the Welsh Assembly would “do everything within its powers to influence Eaton to maintain a presence on the Holyhead site”.

Jones is the local assembly member and minister responsible for the economy in Wales.

Frankly, he has not used his influence to strengthen the local economy and has been taking a back seat in the Eaton situation.

The Welsh nationalists are ineffective in such matters and only seem to be concerned about advancing their cultural agenda in Wales.

This serious problem would have got virtually no coverage if not for the Unite union and the local MP Albert Owen.

David Phillips, Holyhead, Anglesey

More drain on public money

Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) in Britain may face a shortfall of £4 billion over the next 18 months – and the private firms involved expect the government to stump up the cash to bail them out.

New Labour has championed PFI, where private companies are paid by the government to build schools and hospitals. This drain on public money now looks set to get worse.

Private companies claim that they can no longer access bank loans to undertake the PFI projects.

The obvious solution is for the state to use its money to undertake the projects and keep them under public control.

But this is anathema to a government that is wedded to the interests of big business.

Mary Wallinger, Leeds

Relight the fire of 1968

The revelations that young people have been among the hardest hit so far in this recession shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The victimisation of young people – scapegoated as thugs, drunks and granny-beaters by the media – has had an obvious effect.

Management also feel freer to take advantage of students in the workplace with longer, unsociable hours for less pay.

Over the past few weeks we have seen the spirit of 1968 reignited on Britain’s campuses.

The occupations and protests in support of the Palestinian people show there is a fighting attitude among young people.

The fight for Palestine must continue but so should the fight for equal pay and against job cuts.

Josh Hollands, Kent

Organise save jobs protest

I wish that the SWP and other progressive forces would organise a demonstration against bankers’ bonuses and to save jobs.

I am sure you would get a big turnout for such a protest as world capitalism is in crisis.

Steve Smith, by email

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Article information

Tue 24 Feb 2009, 18:21 GMT
Issue No. 2140
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