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We need unions with muscle

This article is over 21 years, 11 months old
Issue 1683


We need unions with muscle

I WORK in a non-unionised meat production factory as an operative under the New Deal Initiative on 3.60-3.75 an hour. The plant has iron railings, locked gates, barriers. All that’s missing is barbed wire and watchtowers. I have seen fit young men and women turned into walking skeletons due to excessive work in order to gain orders from Sainsbury’s. Before Christmas we worked 60 hours a week running a clapped out machine to push through enough orders for the company’s profits. Top management and shareholders gained at the expense of our health.

One of our charge hands was working 72 hours a week in the run up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve we began the “clean down” procedures for inspection. Our charge hand was looking ill and pale, and later he collapsed due to exhaustion. We were discussing his collapse when a manager came in and said, “What are you doing standing around talking?” You can probably tell what we were thinking!

The factory is typical of many others in the private sector and is ripe for unionisation now that it is “legal” to do so. I will pledge myself 110 percent for this cause to improve our pay and conditions. What we need now is the support of our union leaders. Seattle has shown the power of the working class. We have nothing to lose but our chains!

  • READER, South Yorkshire

Backing won for London socialists

MY UNION branch last week carried in principle a motion to support the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) in May’s Greater London Assembly elections. Civil servants in our PCS union, like most other people, are disappointed by New Labour’s continuation of Tory policies. Our union leadership is trying to sign us up to New Labour’s “modernising” agenda. We want to see an alternative to that, so we warmly welcome the establishment of the Alliance.

At the meeting someone argued that we should not be political as we are a trade union. Others pointed out that it is vital to have real socialist candidates who will stand up to this bosses’ government and fight against tube privatisation, for trade union rights, to stop the sell off of social housing and to end police racism. One important way for the Alliance to get backing and funding is through trade union branches. Every London trade unionist can and should raise this.

  • STEVE WEST, Hackney and Tower Hamlets PCS branch secretary (personal capacity)

Connex could be buried

OUR STRIKE against the Connex privatised rail company was a brilliant day. After all their threats and intimidation, no one went to work and we won. At the meeting on the strike day we quite fancied staying out all week and really rubbing Connex’s noses in it. Our reps talked us back. We won a victory but we could have buried Connex. Now they want to salvage something.

No one’s happy about working our reduced hours in split shifts. It wrecks your social life. Even before the deal was done notices were up telling us to work rest days. Neither has the pay rise been finalised-and who knows if Connex will still be around in 2003 when 100 percent pensionable pay comes in? We know the power we have over Connex. We should use it to win exactly what we want. We should be reballotted immediately over any deal.

  • Connex workers, South Coast

Who adds up the votes?

I MUST draw your attention to the recent ballot concerning the electricians’ pay deal. In Scotland the deal was narrowly rejected, while the opposite was true in England. There are two separate agreements, for Scotland and for England. Yet despite the rejection in Scotland we find our vote being lumped in with the English figures and told the deal is accepted. The majority in our Scottish vote would be enough to elect an MP for five years but is deemed inadequate to reject a pay deal.

  • IAIN JOHNSTON, Glasgow

Mumia’s call to action

I THOUGHT readers of Socialist Worker might be interested in getting hold of more of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s writings. His most recent book is Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience. It is a collection of profound personal and political reflections. It ends with the following poem, titled A Call to Action.

The choice, as every choice, is yours: to fight for freedom or be fettered, to struggle for liberty or be satisfied with slavery, to side with life or death. Spread the word of life far and wide. Talk to your friends, read, and open your eyes- even to doorways of perception you feared to look into yesterday. Hold your heart open to the truth.

Death Blossoms is available from Bookmarks, 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, phone 020 7637 1848. If anyone is interested in writing to a death row prisoner on a long term basis, they should contact the UK organisation Lifelines on [email protected]

  • NICK WALL, Liverpool

The missing health cash

THE ROLE of National Insurance in the NHS funding crisis has been ignored, although it accounts for an eighth of NHS funding. National Insurance is paid by workers and employers as a proportion of wages, and who pays how much is clearly a basic class question. The gap between employers’ contributions here and major European countries is huge. In Britain it is 9 percent of wages, in Germany 22 percent, in France 40 percent and in Italy 50 percent. The Financial Times reckons the French National Insurance total is 164 billion, while Britain’s is less than 100 billion for roughly the same size population.

  • HUGH LOWE, West London

Labour’s pensions robbery

NEWHAM Labour council in east London is to charge for home support services. Pensioners will have to pay 2 a fortnight for housework support and 3 a week for shopping support. This adds up to 200 a year. This means we have lost the 100 winter heating allowance pledged by the government and also another 100 from our meagre basic pension. New Labour-New Tory party.

  • GEORGE SYKES, East London

Postal points

  • WHEN LORD Winston attacked New Labour over the NHS people at my hospital were delighted someone had spoken out. We circulated an open letter to be published in our local paper.

The letter supported Winston’s statement and demanded a real increase in NHS funding. It argued that the government should open its war chest and tax the rich to raise the money. The response was brilliant. Over 200 health workers signed it in just a few days-nurses, consultants, porters, social workers, physiotherapists, domestics, clerical workers and junior doctors.

  • DIANA SWINGLER, East London

ROBRATAS GRABYS, a 49 year old Lithuanian asylum seeker, was found hanged at Harmondsworth Detention Centre on Monday 24 January. The immediate response of the authorities was to warn other detainees against saying anything. Robratas died two days after a failed attempt to deport him. His death is the latest in a number of suicides by detained asylum seekers. Detention is cruel and inhumane and should be ended.

  • JOHN O, National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns

I OBJECT to Alexis Wearmouth’s review of Spike Lee’s new film, Summer of Sam (Socialist Worker, 29 January). He dismisses the film on the basis that it reinforces stereotypes of Italian-American men and women. This isn’t true. 

The two main women in the film are both portrayed positively in rejecting stereotypes-one leaves her macho husband and the other rebels against the sexist values she is supposed to follow. For socialists, understanding how people challenge traditional values is vitally important. That is what Summer of Sam is about, and it does it brilliantly.

  • SEAN HARTNOLL, Cambridge

I HAVE been a trade unionist for 33 years and am sickened at the attack by UNISON leaders on Candy Udwin and Dave Carr at London’s UCLH hospitals.

Who do UNISON trade union officials think they are? Who pays their wages, and for their mobile phones and cars? It’s not NHS trust managers or the government, but rank and file workers. These are the same workers who do long unsociable hours in difficult conditions under constant pressure from management to be more “flexible”. Union leaders should be supporting Candy and Dave, and I urge rank and file members of the union to do so.

  • JOHN SCOBBIE, Coventry

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