Rights at work
Call to join the unions
I HAVE been working in a non-unionised call centre for about four years. For the last year I have been pinning up union notices and articles from Socialist Worker. Then other people started to put up articles from newspapers like the London Metro on RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury).
I realised that a momentum was getting going. I asked if people would come to a meeting to discuss issues in the workplace. I blew a whistle to signal the meeting was starting. Around 70 mainly black and Asian workers came to the room, where I'd laid on sweets and music.
I read out the minutes of a workers' reps meeting with management. It showed how management had reneged on their promises. We agreed to meet for 15 minutes but it went on for 45 minutes because management kept bursting in. I stood against the door to try to stop them. Many of us were angry but scared too. They told us they would take a day's pay off us. But this threat never happened. A few days later I was suspended for putting up a notice about the meeting.
In 30 minutes 30 people signed a petition which said, "No victimisation!" After my disciplinary I got my job back. Call centre workers can be so atomised. But the people who came to the meeting showed they do care about other workers. After that a union recruitment officer held a meeting in a local pub and some workers have since joined the union. Now management is approaching us to ask for meetings to discuss our grievances!
- MSF MEMBER, South London
On your guard against boss
THE demonstration in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation was an inspiration for us all. But where I work it has had an effect on an unexpected group - security guards! For years I have been selling Socialist Worker to a handful of contracted out guards and having political discussions with them.
After Seattle I found myself talking with a whole group who had never bought the paper. They put their work into second place while we debated the political questions raised by the demonstration. What's more, four security guards bought copies of Chris Harman's book A People's History of the World from me. Like so many other groups they are trying to get unionised because they face bullying and exploitation. It's worth making an effort. These workers can, and should, be unionised.
- WILLIAM, East London
Thai workers win compensation for 96p hourly rate
I LIVE in an area known as Silicon Glen in Scotland. I was appalled to read in the Scottish press that five Thai women working for a local electronics factory had been brought in from Thailand to undergo a "training programme". This programme involved the women being paid a ludicrous 96p an hour. Under the national minimum wage the women should have been paid at least �3.60 an hour.
The women were provided with food and accommodation. But I read that they were not permitted to leave the premises without a chaperone. I was pleased to hear that general outrage at the women's treatment forced the Inland Revenue to tackle the company, Chicony Electronics.
The employers have now paid the women a total of �12,000 in compensation However, I still feel this must be trivial compensation for the workers' shameful treatment at the hands of a multinational company.
- EMMA HUGHES, Dundee
UNION MEMBERS inside the broadcasting union BECTU are another group set to be excluded from the Labour Party's ballot for its candidate for London mayor. Our union is affiliated to the national Labour Party. Our members contribute to the party through the political levy on their union subscription. Yet we are excluded on the technicality that our union is not affiliated to the London Labour Party. It seems that New Labour is willing to take union members' money but is not so happy to allow us a proper say. So we planned a hustings for Tuesday of this week so that our members might hear all three candidates' views.
- BECTU BBC TSS BRANCH COMMITTEE; ROYAL OPERA HOUSE BRANCH COMMITTEE; TOBY BROWN and JON LOVELL, stewards, BBC TV news; MARK THOMAS; PAUL CARTER, chair, ITN joint shops committee, and others
Do we have too much?
I AGREE with the content of the article "Do We Consume Too Much?" (Socialist Worker, 6 January). However, I think that there is a problem with the tone used when addressing issues like consumer boycotts or individuals reducing their consumption. We should not be overly critical of those who do this. They are often opposed to the capitalist system and are looking for ways to change it.
We should consider whether we support certain boycotts and the way that we use our cars. By doing this, it would show we are serious about tackling poverty and environmental destruction. Any future socialist society will also require a different attitude to consumption, which we should encourage people to think about now.
- ROB HARDY, Leeds
GEORGE Robertson, who was Blair's chief warmonger and is now NATO's secretary general, is to be awarded an honorary doctorate by Dundee University. As an economics graduate of the university, he is to be recognised as a peacemaker!
Most Serbs, Albanians and Roma people are suffering from worse pollution, poverty and despair than before the war. If the university wished to show support for peace it could have supported the rally by thousands in the student resistance movement in Belgrade last November.
- LECTURER, Dundee University
Axe car park not our trees
LAST NOVEMBER Liverpool City Council announced plans to "redevelop" Sefton Park. Rumours started circulating that they planned to cut down 400 trees, privatise commercial outlets in the park and build car parks. We got involved in a meeting called by local people who were worried about the plans. We found that the issue fed into people's general discontent with the Liberal-run council and with Tony Blair. Over 70 people have come to two meetings. They have included people from Greenpeace, community groups, Friends of the Earth and local Labour Party members. Together we are building for a meeting with the local councillor and planning officer to stop the redevelopment.
AIGBURTH SWP, Liverpool
Adopt a factory
MY TGWU union branch has decided to concentrate on three local unorganised workplaces. We leafleted each factory and produced a newsletter with reports from the local branch meetings. At each factory we found out who are individual union members and used them to draw more people in.
Many workers do feel intimidated. At one factory management even stopped all overtime until the union stopped trying to recruit. The union got the Health and Safety Executive to go into the factories. Workers could see that the union can make a difference. We haven't won recognition yet, but we've made a start.
- MICK PATRICK, Essex
I AGREE with nearly everything in the letter about Bernard Matthews (Letters, 6 January). But I want to say that any betrayal was from Bill Morris, who refused to allow the action. The shop stewards fought long and hard for strike action, as did our regional organiser.
- SHOP STEWARD, Bernard Matthews
PAUL McGARR appears to misunderstand why Mr Gelsinger died from his gene therapy treatment (In My View, 15 January). Although I agree with his criticism of a mechanical view of genetics, Mr Gelsinger's death was not due to an unexpected result of successfully adding the missing gene. Scientists have faced great difficulties in inserting genes in the right chromosomes. In this case they attempted an extremely high dose of the virus-based therapy to get over these problems. Mr Gelsinger died because the virus provoked an immune response that led to a fatal inflammation. So the treatment went wrong before the introduced gene could possibly have had an effect.
- TIM HINTON, Cambridge