Wednesday, 16 September 2015

‘Proud unionist’ leads Labour Party

On Saturday, the British Labour Party overwhelmingly elected Jeremy Corbyn as their new party leader. In one of his first public appearances in his new role, Corbyn delivered a speech at the TUC Congress in which he described himself as a ‘proud unionist’ and said: “I am, and always will be, an active trade unionist. That is in my body.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian suggests that Corbyn’s views may play a crucial role in the upcoming referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU. The Conservative prime minister David Cameron is negotiating a new deal with the EU, and “the prime minister has been under pressure from business to include changes to workers’ rights in his negotiation package” (which would seem consistent with his broader anti-union strategy).

The TUC has indicated it may revoke its support for staying in the EU if this means rolling down social and employment rights. As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady explained to the FT: “Those who are expecting the trade union movement to bang the drum for Europe should think very hard about whether they can in all good faith make that request and then attack our rights by the back door.”

According to the Guardian, there is ‘deep concern’ in the pro-European camp at the ‘growing Eurosceptic mood’. Corbyn hasn’t taken a stance yet but has said Cameron should not have a ‘blank cheque’ in his negotiations with the EU.

Below are some quotes from Corbyn’s speech at the TUC Congress.

International solidarity
“We need to stand in solidarity with trade unionists all over the world demanding exactly the same things as we have secured for ourselves and trying to defend for ourselves. Trade unionism is a worldwide movement, not just a national movement and we should never be ashamed to say that.”

Democratic labour movement
Referring to the people who participated in his own election: “But all those people coming forward to take part in this process came forward, yes, because they were interested, yes, because they were hopeful but, yes, because they wanted to be part of a democratic process where we make policy together. … I want everybody to bring their views forward, every union branch, every party branch and every union, so we develop organically the strengths we all have, the ideas we all have and the imagination we all have.”

The proposed Trade Union Bill
“They are threatening the right of peaceful protest by looking to criminalise picketing. They are even threatening the right to free speech by seeking to limit what a union member can say on social media during a dispute. Are we really going to have teams of civil servants or lawyers or police or somebody trawling through massive numbers of twitter messages, Facebook messages, to find something somebody said about their employer or about an industrial dispute? What kind of intrusive society are they really trying to bring about.”

“They call us “deficit deniers”, but then they spend billions in cutting taxes for the richest families and for the most profitable businesses. What they are as is “poverty deniers”. … Let’s be clear. Austerity is actually a political choice that this Government has taken and they are imposing it on the most vulnerable and poorest in our society.”

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Danish unions take on Ryanair

Danish unions are planning solidarity actions directed at the fiercely anti-union airline Ryanair, which started operating from Copenhagen last March. When baggage handlers, fuelers and other staff stop servicing Ryanair, it may become impossible for the airline to continue operating from the Danish airport Kastrup.

There is increasing opposition across Europe against what many perceive as unfair competition from the Irish low cost airline, which has been accused of social dumping. Ryanair claims it operates under Irish law and that it can ignore social legislation in the countries in which it operates.

Nowhere has the opposition against these practices been as strong as in Denmark. According to the Financial Times, Ryanair is facing ‘one of the biggest challenges to its low-cost model’. Governments have told their staff not to use airlines that don’t abide by Danish labour law and large investors are reconsidering their investments in Ryanair. In a response, ceo Michael O’Leary said “I don't care about investors who are waffling on about ILO conventions”.

The Danes are showing unions across Europe they don’t need to resign themselves to the erosion of labour conditions and labour rights. You can show them your support by liking their Luftens Helte Facebook page.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

US: ‘Trade deal defeat shows strength of unions’

Last Friday, the US House of Representatives voted against a ‘fast track’ procedure that would have given the president more power to negotiate a trade deal with pacific countries. According to an analysis in the New York Times, a coalition of trade unions and liberal activists played a key role in this outcome. Union members have held 650 events, made 160,000 phone calls and sent over 20,000 letters. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka:
We are very grateful for all the activists, families, community leaders and elected officials who worked so tirelessly for transparency and worker rights in international trade deals. This was truly democracy in action.
According to the NYT analysis, the campaign was successful because they started as early as 2013 and because of the broad support in the labour movement. A spokesperson of the Chamber of Commerce said was ‘mystified’ that even the SEIU supports the campaign, even though it represents many public sector workers: “None of these workers are in any way negatively affected by competition with imports. Yet SEIU will be there, showing solidarity.”

Yet the support of SEIU makes perfect sense, the NYT explains: when the labour conditions of private sector workers are under attack, this will weaken the entire labour movement.

In the Netherlands, union federation FNV has taken a stance against TTIP, the transatlantic counterpart of the pacific trade deal.

Friday, 5 June 2015

US: Youth have favourable views of unions

‘Young people think unions are a thing of the past’, it is often argued. But is this true? The American Pew Research Center recently checked and the results are clear. In all age groups, more people have positive than negative views of unions, but support for unions is strongest among youth.

The data are quoted in an interesting article in Business Insider (via Kurt Vandaele). Meanwhile in the Netherlands, the youth movement Young & United has collected tens of thousands of signatures against the fact that young adults get only half the normal minimum wage.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

IG Metall launches online platform for the self-employed

German trade union IG Metall has launched an online platform where self-employed IT workers can rate the companies they work for. The union wants to change the current situation in which clients get cheap labour from ‘crowdwork’ without bearing any responsibilty.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Dutch union reclaims 1 May

On 1 May, thousands of people participated in an action for decent jobs organised by trade union FNV. It was the first time for the FNV to organise a large event on 1 May since the celebration of Queen’s Day was moved to 30 April in 1948 (as of this year, King’s Day is celebrated on 27 April). Chairman Ton Heerts said 1 May will from now on be a day of action.

The Netherlands is exceptional in that 1 May is not a holiday and there’s not much of a tradition to celebrate 1 May. Over the past years there have been local initiatives to revive the 1 May tradition, including support actions for the cleaners’ campaign in Amsterdam.

Some examples of actions last Friday:
  • A petition was launched (sign here) against austerity and for quality and decent jobs in the health care sector. Within a day, over 10,000 people have already signed the petition.
  • Hundreds of police cars sounded their sirens in support for a better collective agreement.
  • The youth campaign Young & United was present at the 1 May action. Young & United is protesting against the youth wages in the Netherlands, which are among the lowest in Europe and allow multinationals like Ahold and McDonalds to add dozens of millions of euros to their profits.
  • There was an action of students and staff at the University of Amsterdam. An occupation of the main university building has already resulted in more student participation and the chairwoman of the university stepping down. One of the issues that have not yet been result is the large share of precarious work among university staff.
  • The committee No to Forced Labour held an action at an Amsterdam store of Ahold-owned supermarket chain Albert Heijn. Ahold is among the employers exploiting unemployed workers who are forced to work without wages (Albert Heijn can be contacted here).
  • The Anarchist Group Amsterdam and the Vrije Bond launched a campaign and website to inform migrant workers of their labour rights.
  • Various institutions used 1 May to publish labour-related news. Minister Lodewijk Asscher announced that the national government will insource its cleaners by early 2016. The city of The Hague announced it will stop using unpaid unemployed workers and that it will offer labour contracts to 260 people who are currently cleaning the streets without pay. Statistics Netherlands published new data on strikes, showing that half the strike days in 2014 can be attributed to actions of the cleaners. They also quoted ETUI data confirming that the Netherlands has one of the lowest strike rates in Europe.
    Photo via Ron Meyer

    Paper on community unionism

    The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has published a 5-page paper by Jane Holgate (University of Leeds Business School) on collaboration of trade unions with local communities. Holgate argues:
    Over time, unions have become more institutionally than community embedded, with employed professionals operating on behalf of workers rather than organising workers to organise themselves. Further, the attacks on unions, particularly during the growth of neoliberal ideology from the 1980s onward, meant that many unions became inward-looking and more focused on servicing the surviving membership; as a result, trade unions became less visible in the wider community. Community unionism thus provides a way for unions to (re)build activity from the grassroots in the communities in which workers are most active in their daily lives.
    Download the paper here (via Kurt Vandaele)