From Mahalla el-Kubra to Remploy; solidarity sometimes succeeds
I'VE been remiss in this blog sometimes in not keeping up to date with the outcome of events I've introduced, and when it looks like working people have claimed victory in a couple of fights that's something we shouldn't let pass by.
First here's a news report passed on to me by Ben Rickman of Brent Trades Union Council:
Week-long strike at Egypt’s largest textile mill ends with meeting of workers’ demands
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Government negotiators and labor representatives resolved early on Saturday a week-old labor dispute that had paralyzed Egypt’s largest textile factory by largely agreeing to the workers’ demands, the strike committee said in a statement.Workers’ representatives of the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla el-Kubra, north of Cairo, met with the official government union and they agreed to grant the workers’ an additional 90 days pay, and negotiate over further increases.
“After the rise in Arab, local and international solidarity with the workers of Ghazl el-Mahalla, the workers were victorious in negotiations,” said a statement from the strike coordination committee that appeared on labor-related blogs. The workers, who complain of poverty-level wages, went on strike after the government only paid them 20 days in bonuses instead of a 150 days they said they deserved under profit sharing agreements.
Under the new agreement, the workers will receive an additional 70 days of wages, while the company general assembly will meet to determine additional payments so that the total bonus is at least 130 days. Thousands of workers staged a six-day sit in at the factory which employs 27,000 people and exports textiles all over the world. Factory managers said the strike cost them millions of dollars a day.
The strikers demanded better working conditions and benefits as well as higher wages, with some receiving as little as US$44 (€31) a month.The strike, the second at that factory in less than a year, came amid a wave of labor unrest that has swept the country as workers demand higher wages and bonuses and express fear over plans to sell off state-owned enterprises.
In nearly every case, the government officials have met with workers and agreed to their demands _ which some observers have said has only encouraged further strikes.The strike came as the government statistic bureau warned recently that the price of basic food stuffs has risen by 48 percent in the past year.
For more on the Egyptian workers' victory and what they are saying,
looked at by left-wing commentator Joel Beinin, see:
Solidarity not charity, say Remploy workers
Next, to Bournemouth, where the Labour Party conference last week heard speaker after speaker, from both unions and constituency parties, supporting the Remploy workers' fight against threatened closure of factories. Closures would break up an often highly-skilled workforce which has proven its contribution to society, and force disabled workers into competing for degrading low-paid work at the bottom of the ladder, or dependency on benefits.
The workers waged a national campaign of demonstrations, took it to Bournemouth, and were about to ballot for strike action. They won respect and support from fellow-trades unionists and the wider public.
Some well-known charities chose to tag along behind the government's claim that it was better for disabled workers to find opportunities in the general economy. This led to Remploy workers picketing their charity shops in protest. Instead of pretending to speak for the disabled, these charities have some explaining to do now, because the government they tried to ingratiate themselves with has changed its tune on Remploy.
With this being Gordon Brown's first Labour conference as prime minister, the party fixers persuaded union leaders to withdraw critical motions and settle for private talks. But this did not silence the speakers coming to the rostrum to speak about Remploy, nor hide the discomfort on the faces of government ministers listening. Only the evening TV "news" managed to avoid the issue by going on and on about whether Gordon would call an election. (live coverage of conference had been confined to the BBC's specialist parliamentary channel).
The GMB union website has reports at http://www.gmb.org.uk/Templates/Events.asp?NodeID=96115&strAction=EventDetail
and here are two media reports:
Unions call off Remploy strike threat
David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Wednesday September 26, 2007
The threat of a national strike by disabled workers at Remploy was yesterday called off after Peter Hain, the work and pensions secretary, promised a review of the closure of 42 factories.
Shop stewards from the GMB, Unite and Community unions recommended that no action be taken after they received the results of the ballot of 5000 workers.
They decided to defer any action for 28 days so that discussions could take place with the workforce about the future of the factories.
Some 2,400 workers were facing redundancy but this threat appears to have been lifted for the time being after Mr Hain promised a moratorium and a review.
In addition, government departments and local councils are to be encouraged to place new orders with Remploy factories to keep them open.
A new £150m contract for nurses and military uniforms is the most likely order to get the go-ahead.
The GMB union yesterday decided that the government's agreement to defer any action and remove the power of the management at Remploy to close factories was enough to call off a strike.
The government is to look at £50m savings from management in the running of the factories, but this will not affect the jobs of disabled workers. Remploy - whose factories employ thousands of disabled people - was set up in 1946 to provide work for disabled ex-servicemen. It receives an annual grant from the government to fund training, development and the finding of employment for disabled people.
Remploy receives 'rescue package'
The future of Remploy - the factories employing disabled people - looked more secure after the government announced a £555m package to safeguard its future.
Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain said he had also told Remploy bosses that there would be no factory closures without ministerial agreement.
Forty-three UK factories had been earmarked for closure with the loss of 2,500 jobs.
Mr Hain told Labour's conference there would be no compulsory redundancies.
He added that he was working with Cabinet colleagues to help win more public procurement contracts with Remploy to help secure its future.
Trade union agreement
The announcement averted a clash with the GMB, Unite and Community unions who have called for the sites to stay open and launched a nationwide campaign of marches and protests in the run-up to this week's Bournemouth conference.
It also headed off the threat of an embarrassing defeat for the government over the issue.
In a speech to the conference, Mr Hain said: "I have also made clear to Remploy management that no factory closures will take place without the agreement of government ministers.
"And, whatever the final shape of that agreement, the government will provide a subsidy of more than half a billion pounds over five years - a £555m package - for Remploy to have a successful future. A figure the trade unions have also agreed.
"And a categorical guarantee: There will be no compulsory redundancies for Remploy's disabled workers. Salaries guaranteed. Full final salary pensions protected as well."
Story from BBC
It might not be all over. But the Remploy workers and their unions can claim a victory.