Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2028

Council workers in Newham, east London, walked out over a single status deal last month

Council workers in Newham, east London, walked out over a single status deal last month

Single status is a disaster

The workers at Staffordshire council distressed by pay cuts of up to £10,000 (Single status means misery for workers, 18 November) are the latest victims of a disaster that has been unfolding ever since the first “single status” pay and grading reviews were completed in 1999.

Yet at a national level, unions such as the GMB, the T&G and particularly Unison have stubbornly maintained a rose tinted view of single status, despite the life-altering pay cuts being suffered by their members.

Worse still, on the basis of a legal opinion, the unions have failed to support long term or unlimited pay protection. This amounts to reneging on their 1997 promise that “nobody should lose” in pay and grading reviews.

Unions seem unable or unwilling to accept that there is a major problem with pay and grading reviews. Only at a local level, notably at Coventry, are unions and their members courageously opposing pay cuts. Unison activists are frustrated by having to fight both their employer and their national union on this issue.

The job evaluation process used for pay and grading reviews is far from scientifically precise – there is an appreciable margin of error in the grades awarded. This doesn’t matter if equal pay is achieved by “levelling up”, which is what the Equal Pay Act requires. But it matters a lot if pay is “levelled down”, because of the potential for jobs to be inappropriately downgraded.

Unions should never have agreed to job evaluation being used for pay and grading reviews when no central funding was available for the winners’ pay to be levelled up in accordance with the Equal Pay Act.

Equal pay remediation could, instead, have been based on the results of equal pay audits. As it is, the losers are having to pay for councils’ equal pay shortcomings through pay cuts and ultimately pension cuts. This despite the fact that it is senior management and elected members that have allowed the women concerned to be underpaid.

It is too late for the many GMB, T&G and Unison members, whose pay has been savagely cut and who are suffering the stress of having to struggle to pay essential bills. A recent case involved a Coventry binman whose family had to move into rented accommodation because they could no longer afford their mortgage payments. What sort of union is it that allows these personal disasters to happen?

Instead of tacitly supporting these pay cuts, the national unions should be supporting industrial action at every council where pay cuts are proposed or imposed. They should also threaten multiple unfair dismissal claims to counter the “fire and re-hire” threats that councils are making when local unions oppose pay cuts. Unless the GMB, T&G and Unison finally acknowledge that pay and grading reviews are proving to be catastrophic for many of their members, they will continue to do them a great disservice.

John Fricker, Cornwall

In defence of Cuba

Mike Gonzalez, in his damning assessment of Fidel Castro (Pirates of the Caribbean, 18 November), demonstrates an analysis that proffers a utopian view of the world completely out of keeping with reality.

The Cuban Revolution has been and continues to be a beacon of hope for the poor throughout the developing world.

Its achievements in the realms of healthcare, education, literacy, and its active solidarity with the world’s poor, are a model of what “socialism” can achieve, even when under sustained assault from the most savage empire the world has ever known.

This is what Mike and others who share his view forget. The Cuban Revolution is not over – the embargo levelled against it by the US ruling class amounts to waging a low intensity war. Under such siege conditions, of course Cuban society will not enjoy some of the freedoms that Mike maintains should be used as a barometer of its validity.

The leftward shift taking place across Latin America would never have been possible without the existence of Cuba as an alternative economic model.

As for the democracy Mike argues for – the US and Britain call themselves democratic, yet the bottom strata of the working class and poor in both countries have had their lives reduced to a living hell. Ultimately, there can be nothing more democratic than the arming of the people, which Cuba has done with its Committees for the Defence of the Revolution.

Moreover, the notion that Fidel runs Cuba by diktat is a myth. He is merely the symbolic head of a nation whose survival and continued resistance to US imperialism is a testament to the Cuban people as a whole.

Mike and others would be better served in working to remove the boot of imperialism from Cuba’s neck so that its development can proceed unhindered. Perhaps then, after helping to usher in those ideal material conditions for socialist advancement, we will have earned the right to dismiss a country that offers hope to the developing world.

John Wight, Edinburgh

Socialist solutions to stopping climate change

Mark Falmer asks whether socialists recognise the reality of the choices we face given the threat of climate change (Letters, 18 November). I think socialists do recognise the problems – and we have far more serious strategies to offer than many in the green movement who simply ask us to live our lives differently.

Mark is right to say that the planet will not be saved by a little more public ownership, or a few more buses. But the renationalisation of our railways coupled with serious investment in public transport would be a fantastic first step towards moving transport away from individual cars and lorries and onto forms of transport such as trains and coaches that produce far fewer greenhouse gases.

In his excellent recent book, George Monbiot shows how Britain could reduce its emissions by 90 percent by 2030. This would mean changes – but not necessarily in the way Mark envisages. We don’t need to import fruit, we could holiday abroad by train rather than aircraft and develop forms of travel that don’t burn petrol.

But the stumbling block will be those businesses that refuse to make changes because of the effects on their profits. This is why socialists believe we have to go one step further and fundamentally transform our society – into one where the welfare of the planet and its population are the priorities.

Martin Empson, East London

Time to break our energy addictions

I share Mark Falmer’s view (Letters, 18 November) that climate change cannot be solved simply by moving industries from the private to the public sector.

Capitalism is certainly a big part of the problem, but dismantling capitalism alone will not stop climate change. Most of us have got sucked into unsustainable, high energy lifestyles and we have to break our addiction.

You wrote that only 15 percent of carbon emissions come from households. But once you include electricity, travel and food, individually, we are responsible for more than 40 percent of total British emissions.

We need massively increased investment in sustainable energy, but we also have to reduce our own energy consumption.

We need an integrated public transport system, but this could just encourage more frequent journeys. Our aspirations to travel, especially by air, have far outstripped the Earth’s ability to absorb the emissions.

The clock is ticking and the government just pressed the snooze button for ten years. We have to act personally as well as politically.

John Ackers, North London

Fasting against isolation cells in Turkey

A one man hunger strike by Turkish lawyer Behiç Aşçı – launched on 5 April to mark World Lawyers Day – entered its 300th consecutive day on 19 November. The government continued to ignore his demand that they address the issue of the isolation of prisoners in the country's controversial maximum security F-type prisons.

Aşçı began the fast because, he says, he could no longer sit back and watch his clients die.

He has dedicated his legal career to human rights and social justice. A prominent member of the Turkish Association of Progressive Lawyers, Aşçı has represented more than 10,000 clients, including many of the political prisoners who have been sentenced for their membership of banned revolutionary socialist organisations. Political prisoners held in Turkey, including Kurdish activists, number in the thousands.

The failure to address the problems of F-type prisons has so far driven 122 inmates to die through hunger strikes, while another 600 have been left crippled.

The isolation prisons are designed to terrorise, humiliate and break the morale of the political prisoners. Many of the prisoners Behiç Aşçı represented have had their feet taped together and their hands taped behind their backs. Left alone, immobilised, for hours or days at a time and unable to avail themselves of toilet facilities, they are forced to endure the indignity of repeatedly soiling themselves. Many of Aşçı’s clients, both men and women, had been raped while in custody, often by prison guards using batons.

Throughout the interview Aşçı was calm and eloquent as he explained the factors that led him to make this drastic protest. But the physical signs of such a long time without food were also apparent. No human can normally survive more than 60 days without eating. The use of vitamin supplements can allow a death faster to survive for 300 days or longer.

Please write to the authorities of Turkey calling for a solution to this urgent problem.
President of Turkey, Mr. Ahmet Necdet Sezer, Cumhurbaskanligi 06100 Ankara,Turkey; Fax: +90 312 468 5026
Prime Minister, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, TC Basbakanlik Bakanligi Ankara,Turkey, Fax: + 90 312 417 0476;
Interior Minister, Mr Abdulkadir Aksu, Ministry of Interior, Içisleri Bakanligi, 06644 Ankara, Turkey; Fax: + 90 312 418 17 95,
Justice Minister, Mr Cemil Cicek, Ministry of Justice/ Adalet Bakanligi , 06659 Ankara, Turkey; Fax: + 90 312 418 5667,
Foreign Minister, Mr Abdullah Gül, Office of the Prime Minister, Basbakanlik,06573 Ankara, Turkey; Fax: + 90 312 417 04 76,

Elifsu Inan, London

Dritan wins the right to stay

The campaign for Kosovan asylum seeker Dritan Dauti to remain in Britain has been successful. This is great victory for asylum campaigns everywhere.

Dritan fled from war torn Kosovo in 1999 when he was 14, after Serbian soldiers destroyed his village.

He was separated from his family but managed to get to Britain, where he was put in his brother’s care.

In August 2001, the brothers learnt that their father, who had been against war and had refused to let his sons join the Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA), had been murdered by some KLA members.

Despite this, the authorities spent years attempting to deport Dritan back to Kosovo. But a well-supported campaign has finally won Dritan the right to remain in Britain.

We would like to thank everyone, including the fantastic legal team, for their unstinting support in the campaign. Dritan is now looking forward to living a settled life in Britain.

Derek Allen, East London

4x4 tax is a good first step

London mayor Ken Livingstone’s plan to increase the congestion charge for the most polluting cars is a small but welcome step forward.

The cost of using a vehicle in the highest polluting band will rise from £8 to £25 a day, with a zero charge for those in the lowest band. Unfortunately this won’t take effect until at least 2008.

The tax will hit mainly 4x4s. These are an obscenity in cities like London. They are designed to intimidate and to be more dangerous than other vehicles – yet more and more are on our streets.

Taxes on these vehicles should be the first step towards building support for wider restrictions. The poorer boroughs of east London, with high rates of pedestrian injuries, also need protecting.

But if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions, we need an immediate stop to road building – and a massive transfer of road space from cars to pedestrians and cyclists. Our goal has to be car free cities.

James Woodcock, East London

You have the right to rest

Gas Worker (Letters, 18 November) is correct to point out that every worker has the right to a minimum of 11 hours consecutive rest during each 24 hour period.

This is enshrined in the Working Time Regulations Act 1998. In the main it is only doctors who are excluded at present.

The European Court of Justice held in October 2004 that the exclusion does not normally apply to emergency services.

The exclusion only applies if, for example, a major catastrophe has occurred. So join a union and then tell your employers to put that in their pipe and smoke it!

Ryan McKinney, Belfast

My brush with JJB’s fat cat

The JJB strike in Wigan reminded me of my brush 23 years ago with David Whelan, the fat cat boss of JJB.

My first job was on a poultry farm next to Whelan’s mansion on Parbold Hill. He didn’t like the smell and wanted to buy the farm to close it – never mind our livelihoods!

The workers protested and the company that owned the farm agreed to sell it as a going concern. It was sold to another bidder – who promptly closed it. It turned out the buyer was a friend of Whelan.

The few workers who lived on the farm were served with eviction notices – but some of us hung on to our homes despite a lot of pressure to leave.

We weren’t organised enough to defend our jobs, but some of us managed to extract £500 from Whelan to leave the farm cottages – a lot for a 19 year old. Whelan didn’t want to pay us anything, so for us it was a victory of sorts.

Ian McKendrick, Oxford

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Article information

Sat 25 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2028
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