Socialist Worker

Signing up to the fight for the right to work

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2153

Workers on the march for jobs in Birmingham earlier this month
 (Pic:» Guy Smallman )

Workers on the march for jobs in Birmingham earlier this month (Pic: » Guy Smallman)

Workers, trade unionists, unemployed people and students are all mobilising for a major conference to fight for jobs.

The Fight for the Right to Work conference takes place in London on 13 June. It can unite workers facing job losses with the growing numbers of unemployed, whose hopes of finding a job are fading by the day.

Unemployment in Britain is now at 2.2 million and is hitting young people particularly hard. In too many cases, union leaders have failed to mount the fightback needed to stop the jobs massacre.

Some trade unionists hope that the Fight for the Right to Work conference can help to build much needed rank and file organisation.

Martin Copson is a senior shop steward in the Unite union at the Corus steelworks in Scunthorpe. “Management have told us that we need to take a pay cut or lose jobs,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Experience has shown that we can’t leave the fight to full time union officials. I hope that the conference can be a step towards building up the confidence among workers to fight.”

Many of those booked up for the conference have first-hand experience of vicious treatment from bosses.

Brian is a call centre worker from Glasgow who is coming to the conference. Workers at the call centre take on contracts from private companies and from the Scottish government to carry out surveys and questionnaires over the phone. But recently there has been less work for people to do.

“We’re often sent home in the middle of the day,” he told Socialist Worker. “It tends to be three out of five days that this happens.

“But we get paid by the hour. You go in expecting to be paid for a day’s work and can come out with £20.”

Brian explained that people in his workplace are not even officially classed as employed by the company.

“We don’t actually have an employment contract, just a sheet of terms and conditions.

“From week to week we never know if we’ll have enough money to get by. I’m constantly writing down lists of what I have to pay for and working out if I’ve got enough.

“It’s hard having to do without a lot of things. But the worst thing is the unpredictability of it all. It’s so stressful.”

As many people are being thrown out of work or fear for the future of their jobs, others, particularly young people, are increasingly finding that the only jobs available are low-paid.

Paris Thompson is a kitchen porter in Leeds and a GMB union member. “I don’t have any qualifications and it sometimes feels like there’s not much future for people like me,” he told Socialist Worker.

“There are no decent jobs out there. I think it’s especially hard if you’re young and don’t have qualifications. People are scrabbling over the few jobs that are there and lots of people are just left with nothing.”

But qualifications are no guarantee of a decent job. Brian is a law graduate. “In my call centre most people have degrees or are studying for degrees,” he said. “Most are fluent in two languages. Their skills are not being used.”

For students yet to enter the workforce, the prospect is daunting.

“Everyone is in the same boat,” said Martin, a student at Sheffield Hallam University.

“You never know what’s round the corner. I want to show solidarity with the workers at our university who may lose their jobs.”

The crisis has fed into a growing political awareness that workers can use to strengthen the fightback. “At my workplace we’ve started discussing what we can do”, said Brian.

“The government has to be forced to create jobs. And companies that don’t give workers basic rights shouldn’t be allowed to exist.”

Support for conference grows

The Fight for the Right to Work conference is supported by Unite union convenors at Visteon and shop stewards at Waterford Crystal.

Union branches are sending delegates. Motions of support have been passed at Waltham Forest, Manchester, Plymouth, Camden, and Chesterfield & District trades councils, London Region UCU, London Metropolitan UCU branch, London Region RMT, Leicester 0168M Unite branch, Unite Scottish Housing Branch SC151, Unite Wembley & Hendon branch, Unite T&G Central London ACTS1/524 and the Manchester Reps at Fujitsu.

Prisme workers who held a successful occupation of their factory are backing the conference. Three student unions—Essex, Soas and Goldsmiths—have backed it.

Sixteen people signed up to the conference on the march for jobs in north London last Saturday.

Go to » for more information and to sign up, or to download a motion for your trade union branch

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Article information

Tue 26 May 2009, 18:19 BST
Issue No. 2153
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