Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Gordon's give away - but not to workers

NO carnival, but Remploy workers gained attention for fight to save
factories. Behind Gordon Brown's rhetoric, government is giving away
their jobs.

GORDON Brown, the son of the manse, kept his image of sobriety, trust and Scottish shrewdness as Chancellor of the Exchequer, long after the electorate had seen through his senior partner, Tony B-liar, and decided to wipe the grin off his face. But now the dour, serious Brown is showing he is just another face of New Labour gimmickry, and could be a more dangerous version of the ailment.
Addressing the Trades Union Congress in Brighton yesterday, Brown set out to deflect the unions' concerns about globalisation, job losses, casualisation and industrial decline by going on about "British" this and "British" that, and promising "British jobs for British workers". The TV commentator thought he was using the conference to appeal to the electorate. If so, the Tories will be happily telling each other they need not come up with distinct policies but can just compete in flag-waving.

The British National Party must be even happier, since the prime minister has apparently accepted their version of the issues, and even adopted one of their slogans. Of course, they will say, "he admits we are right but only we are the ones to do anything". Trade union activists in places like Barking and Dagenham, who are campaigning to curb the inroads the far-Right party has made among voters will have a harder time explaining why its important to stop them.

But what has Gordon Brown promised, anyway? Will his government stop big companies from outsourcing and moving production overseas? Of course not. The government itself is doing it. Will it take steps to ensure standards of safety, pay and conditions are raised and maintained in the building industry and elsewhere, where extensive sub-contracting, bogus "self-employment", casual labour and cutting corners with conditions, are normal? On performance so far we doubt it. Now trade unionists in London are watching what happens with the Olympic contracts.

The government itself has presided over casualisation and job-losses in the public sector, imposing heavier burdens on those left, and finding juicy openings for private businesses, guaranteeing their profit with public subsidies, and farming out work abroad where it could.

It has supported expansion of the European Union so companies can move in to make more profit in east European countries, or import labour to work over here. It has accepted foreign shipping companies and crews working inshore. At the same time, the British government has resisted European Union directives on working hours etcetera, so that British Labour has led the capitalists' drive to undermine working-class gains throughout the continent.

Brown says his government will tighten immigration restrictions, as though they they weren't tight enough already, and will impose English-language tests on would be immigrants to the UK from outside the European Union. But everyone, including presumably Gordon Brown, knows that the immigrants flooding into Britain now are from countries like Poland which have become members of the EU. They may not need good English so far as employers are concerned (and they won't get much help to learn or improve it, as funds for courses are being slashed). Mind you, they are white...

Trade unionism is about uniting all workers, or should be, so that everyone's standards can be raised. That's why trade unions like mine have been working to organise migrant and immigrant workers, to end some of the horrendous ill-usage and exploitation that goes on, and stop employers using them to undermine standards for everyone. Yes, we want them to be helped to learn English, both for safety and so they can speak out better and organise. It is also why many of us oppose the asylum and immigration restrictions that serve to drive desperate people into working as "illegals", whom bosses can exploit and mistreat at will.

Chauvinism and demanding "British jobs for British workers" is the opposite of this. If we accept restrictions, logically we should accept British workers being prevented from emigrating, or going abroad to earn good money (even though the Brits were sometimes regarded as undercutting locals, as some German building workers complained to me several years back). But more immediately perhaps, waving the Union Jack about "British jobs" can mean we are also expected to waive minimum wages, welfare, and safety conditions, to help our patriotic British bosses by competing with the lowest-paid workers overseas. That's what Tory John Redwood was advocating recently, and don't think other parties will be far behind.

Meanwhile, we can help put Gordon Brown's speech in context by looking at what his government is doing to one group of British workers and their jobs. For 60 years, the public-owned Remploy workshops employing disabled workers have provided them with dignity and skilled employment, much of it turning out goods for government-run services, from nurses' uniforms to chemical warfare suits used by the armed services.

Now the government - which promised to "help" people off disablement benefit into work (by making it harder to claim benefit), - wants to shut or merge 43 Remploy factories. The list runs from Aberdare and Aberdeen to York and Ystradgynlaid. The work will go to private companies, and so - if they are lucky -would the workers, so we were told.

On August 28, Remploy workers and their unions, who have been staging protests around the country, launched a national campaign that began in Aberdeen and will continue next week with rallies in Portsmouth and Southampton, Leatherhead and Woolwich, Medway and Southend. On September 21 there's to be a rally outside the Brixton factory, followed by a cavalcade to Whitehall. Then on September 22-24, the Remploy campaigners will be outside the Labour Party's conference in Bournemouth.
More info see:

and GMB Remploy workers' campaign site:

Yesterday's Guardian revealed the government's brilliant plan to counter this campaign. It seems that Remploy management have been in talks with companies like Asda and Tesco. Works and Pensions Minister Peter Hain has set aside £50 million of taxpayers' money over five years so these benevolent employers can offer Remploy workers new jobs at similar wages to what they were earning before. Apparently the government believes this would be cheaper than employing them itself.

Never mind the loss of skills. Never mind that Asda's American owner Wal-Mart has an anti-union reputation and has resisted union organisation here; or that Asda's Mr.George brand recently figured in an expose of global sweatshops supplying British stores. This is how the government proposes to spend our money. If only to try and undermine the unions' campaign

It could, as the GMB union has pointed out, find scope under the EU directives for public bodies to keep placing contracts for goods and services with Remploy and other "sheltered" employers. Instead, while Gordon Brown waves his flag about "British jobs", the government is giving the contracts for nurses' and armed forces' uniforms, worth £150 million, to places like China.

Don't blame the foreign worker, in China, or on the farms and building sites, in the food industry or out in Morecambe Bay. The enemy is here at home, and he's at home in Number 10.

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