The M&S management have been told in no uncertain terms that such high-handed sackings are simply not on in France. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin backed the workers and said: "If French law on sackings has been defied, we will take action." This was underlined by France's labour minister Elisabeth Guigou who called for a Europe-wide trade union protest and stressed that the holding of talks over proposed redundancy plans are a key part of French labour law.
This is more than an industrial dispute in France. M&S stores in Spain and Germany are also fearing the worst and the European Union is meanwhile being urged to step up its pressure on the British government to accept a proposed EU directive obliging firms to hold talks with trade unions before redundancy plans are made. Up to now Britain has been reluctant to agree.
British TUC general secretary John Monks has welcomed the support for French workers and the ruling of a French judge, Catherine Taillandier, who said M&S had fallen foul of French labour law and that the closures were illegal. And, of course, British trade unionists would expect John Monks to say this at the very least.
Certainly, the British government should be put under pressure by British trade unions to accept the EU directive on consultation and to implement in full other EU rules such as the working time directive on hours.
But it should be remembered too that the EU is fundamentally a capitalist body created by and for the capitalist classes of Europe. Such bits of progressive social legislation it has are only on the books because of working class pressure and successful struggles that have been waged and won inside the EU member countries.
Some trade union leaders in Britain speak of the EU and the Social Chapter of the EU's Maastricht Treaty as the answer to everything. That this legislation seems such a big advance on this side of the Channel only underlines the fact that Britain's organised working class has fallen behind in the struggle.
To a large extent this is the result of Britain's draconian anti-trade union laws introduced by the Thatcher and Major governments. The Labour government has so far only amended a small part of this legislation and is unlikely to move any further unless there is a renewed struggle demanding change.
Of particular concern is the legislation outlawing solidarity actions. This law has become even more crippling than when it was first passea because the tidal wave of privatisations have broken-up industries into numerous separate companies leaving the workers in each company unable to take joint actions in support of each another.
The bullet has to be bitten. The bosses and their representatives in Westminster and Brussels are not going to step back -- they have to be shoved. Indeed, bosses in other parts of the EU will be looking to bring European workers into line with the worst standards of labour law not the best.
And when push does come to shove it is industrial action that counts and the flexing of industrial muscle. In this, Britain's anti-union shackles will only be broken when the laws that bind us are broken!
The whole history of trade union struggle over the 200 years since the Combination Acts were passed has been one of battling to overcome bosses' laws. When organised labour succeeded it was as a result of vigorous working class action. For instance, the Trades Disputes Act of 1906 protecting unions from being sued for damages followed a mass trade union campaign.
We need such a spirit today!
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by Caroline Colebrook
TEACHING unions are combining to demand a 35-hour working week and considering industrial action to win it.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers unanimously passed a resolution backing the demand at its conference in Torquay last week.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) are both expected to support the call at their forthcoming conferences and so is the Welsh teaching union UCAC.
This comes as industrial action by the NUT and NASUWT has been withdrawn on the issue of teacher shortages. This action took the form of refusing to cover for long-term absences and for unfilled teaching posts.
The unions are now satisfied after clarification of an offer made last month by the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers (NEOST) ofa complete review of teachers pay and conditions.
NEOST suggested paying teachers extra -- up to £20 an hour -- to cover for vacancies lasting longer thhan three days. This would still work out cheaper for the employers than the £160 to £170 a day paid to employment agencies for temporary cover.
It also said it was prepared to negotiate on maximum class sizes, limits on workloads and minimum time outside the classroom -- vital for marking and lesson preparation.
Both the NUT and NASUWT welcomed this offer as a positive proposal but asked for further clarification before suspending the industrial action.
Last Monday NUT general secretary Doug McAvoy said that the NUT had obtained enough clarification to make suspension possible.
"This decision enables the two unions to take forward their shared objective for greater protection of teachers from excessive workload," he said.
"The remedies found by schools and local authorities to restrict teachers' workload as a result of our action will continue. The way will now be clear for important negotiations with employers and the Government.
"These negotiations provide an opportunity to agree improvements which, through the involvement of the Government, can go forward to the Teachers Review Body this autumn."
NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy also welcomed the clarification: "I'm obviously pleased -- it's a badly needed step in the right direction."
The unions are still wary that the NEOST offers of negotiation may simply be a ploy to end industrial acnon In me run-up to the general election.
Bradford NUT secretary Ian Murch said: "We are in a position of strength in relation to the Government in a run-up to the election and we have to be very careful about what we do here. We cannot let it off the hook."
Indeed, the suggestions made by NEOST will not be easy for the Government to implement until it has succeeded in recruiting a lot more teachers -- something that cannot happen quickly.
The Government is now boasting that it has met its last election promise to reduce infant school class sizes. But in secondary schools classes are now at their largest size for 20 years.
And in junior schools more than two thirds of children between the ages of eight and 11 are being taught in large classes.
There has been a very small improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools, from 17.2 pupils per teacher to 17.1. But the average class size has risen by 0.3 percent.
Nigel de Gruchy said that the smaller infant class sizes have been achieved "at a huge disproportionate cost".
The feeling in favour of industrial action expressed at the ATL conference is a mark of the anger within the teaching profession.
ATL general secretary Peter Smith said the action would be a form of work to rule, involving "civil disobedience" rather than an all-out strike.
Even this could put teachers in breach of their contracts, because although they have a basic 1,265 hours a year on average, there is no limit to the extra hours they can be asked to do now.
Peter Smith said the teaching unions are hoping to work towards the current teaching agreement in Scotland where a 35-hour week is being phased in.
In Scotland there is just one main teaching union -- the EIS and this industrial unionism gives the teachers there greater solidarity and industrial strength which has produced better terms and conditions.
The attacks suffered by teachers in England and Wales recently -- from performance pay to the oppression bby former Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead -- indicate that teachers here need the same kind ofindustrial clout.
Meanwhile teachers won an important court battle last week over the right to refuse to teach a disruptive pupil.
The case concerned a schoolboy in Bromlev. south London. who had been excluded last summer for disruptive behav iour.
When the governors overruled the head teacher and insisted the boy be taken back, the NASUWT balloted for industrial action. The teachers voted not to teach him and were sued by the boy's mother.
The teachers argued that the boy had threatened teachers, assaulted other pupils and was unteachable in the classroom.
The school had taught the boy in isolation with a supply teacher at a cost of around £600 a week for several months in the run-up to his GCSEs.
Both the court and the NASUWT expressed regret that the case had to be resolved in this way.
Nigel de Gruchy said: "No one can feel any sense of satisfaction at having this unfortunate case dragged through the courts ... The judge was right in his belief that the real needs of pupils are unlikely to be met in the courts.
"The NASUWT has secured another dramatic victory in the courts, not only for its own members, but for all teachers, pupils and parents who believe in insisting on civilised standards of behaviour in schools."
Once again the root of the issue is a teacher shortage. Decades of budget cuts have forced schools to cut the number of teachers who perhaps could have given this boy the extra time and attention he needed before he became so anti-social that he had to be excluded.
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by Renee Sams
MORE THAN 100 Roma people from this country and from the countries of eastern Europe gathered in Parliament Square last Sunday to celehrate Romani national day, which in their language they call Ushtiben (rising or awakening).
It is a day of international solidarity, with major events taking place all over the world, including a rally outside the United Nations in New York, in Ghent, Vienna, Sydney, Belgrade, Bucharest, Sofia, Skopje and many other cities in Europe.
On that day they also remember and pay their respects to the Roma who died in two world wars and those who lost their lives in the Nazi death camps.
Roma organisations in many countries, including recently formed ones in South America, want to use the day in an appeal for recognition of Roma rights.
This call has been taken up by the Roma parliament which met in Bratislava, Slovakia in March and by the Quito conference in Ecuador two weeks later.
And the call for Romani national recognition by the UN will be taken to the World Anti-Racism conference in Durban, South Africa, to be held at the end of August.
Sections of the Romani movement have become noticeably more militant in response to an appeal by Roma who have suffered "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo, which has left some 80,000 Roma refugees scattered all over Europe.
The Roma have suffered from discriminatory laws throughout the centuries, since they arrived in Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries.
They become known as the "black people", speaking a strange language and living a nomadic existence on the fringe of settled societies. They were viewed with antagonism and mistrust.
During the 20th century they continued to live a precarious existence in eastern Europe and Germany. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, the nomadic Romanies under German rule were already subject to restrictions. Roma were regarded as a race and they were made subject to the Nuremberg laws of 1935.
When Himmler signed the Auschwitz decree in 1942, over 20,000 Romanies ended their lives in the death camps. They were shot or gassed alongside the Jews.
Throughout eastern Europe, Romanies were massacred by the thousand outside the towns where they had lived.
The numbers of those who were murdered during the Nazi period can only be estimated at between a quarter and half a million.
During the socialist era, Romanies enjoyed a period of safety with guaranteed civil rights, homes and jobs.
But with the fall of socialism now the Roma are again being persecuted in parts of central and eastern Europe.
Racism against the Roma has greatly increased since the collapse of the eastern bloc and thousands have been forced to flee to save their lives and those of their families.
Those who have sought refuge in this country have been far from made welcome by things such as the voucher system and the vilification in the mass media, which fuels racist attitudes and assists the Government in its attempts to refuse refugee status to the Romany people.
It was this hostility to asylum seekers that won Britain the charge of being the most racist nation in Europe in a report by the Council of Europe earlier this month.
Asylum seekers are now getting more support from the Defend the Asylum Seekers campaign and the Roma are being helped by the Gypsy Council and the Romany Support Group, which was formed in 1998 in response to the arrival of Roma seeking asylum due to the discrimination they faced in eastern Europe.
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Chinese president Jiang Zemin said, following receipt of the US "very sorry" letter, that "Out of humanitarian considerations, the Chinese government has decided to allow the US crew to leave China". But he pointed out that the incident is not "fully settled" and he expects the issue to be handled "seriously" and "properly". The spyplane's future is not decided, although a meeting concerning the plane is expected on 18 April. The following, as we go to press, is a People's Daily reaction.
IN a commentary on the US government's letter expressing that the US side is "very sorry" about that the Chinese pilot who is missing and "very sorry" that the US surveillance plane entered China's territory without approval on 1 April.
The firm struggle by the Chinese government and people against US hegemony has forced the US government to change from its initial rude and unreasonable attitude to saying "very sorry" to the Chinese people, said the People's Daily commentary entitled "To Turn Patriotic Enthusiasm into Strength to Build a Powerful Nation".
In handling the issue, the Chinese government has adhered to the principal stance of safeguarding state sovereignty and national dignity and opposing hegemonism and power politics, the paper continued.
Despite China's opposition, the United States has, for years, frequently sent aircraft to conduct surveillance activities along China's coast, which was the root cause of the incident, the commentary says, stressing that the United States should take full responsibility for the "aircraft collision incident".
What the United States has done is against international laws and commonly recognised principles on international relations, and has infringed China's laws and regulations, invaded China's territorial space and violated China's sovereignty, and damaged China's national security interests, the commentary said.
The Chinese government has voiced solemn and just requests and protests to the US side and carried out ajustified, advantageous and restrained struggle against US hegemonism, which has once again displayed the ability to cope with complicated situations and to handle complicated issues of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee with Jiang Zemin at the core, the commentary explained.
"Human life is the most valuable thing on earth," it emphasises. The safety of the missing pilot is what the CPC and the Chinese government care most about and what millions of Chinese people have been worrying about.
By 10 April, the Chinese Navy had dispatched 107 aircraft and 95 vessels to undertake the largest-ever rescue effort in the history of the Chinese armed forces.
The commentary points out that all Chinese people from every ethnic group firmly support the solemn and just stance of the Chinese government and have shown strong patriotic enthusiasm and high spirits.
The Chinese nation is a great nation which advocates justice and fears no powers, it stresses. The anti-hegemonism struggle by the Chinese people has won strong support from the international community.
It goes on to say that China has won initial success in its ongoing struggle, noting that the struggle between the pursuers and opponents of hegemony and the uni-polar world and the multi-polar world is a long-term and complicated one. It will not be completed through one event or one round of encounters.
China believes in the irresistible historic trend that justice and truth will win, the commentary said.
The majority of American people are friendly to China, though in the United States there are anti-China forces who are hostile to China and interfere in China's internal affairs, it pointed out.
Improving and developing China-US relations are not only compatible to the fundamental interests of the two nations but favourable to world peace and stability.
Through the struggle, all Chinese people from all ethnic groups have extended a common understanding that China needs development; the nation needs reinvigoration; and society needs stability, People 's Daily said.
A strong will has formed to strenuously prosper the nation, strengthen the Chinese nation, and strengthen national power, This is a very precious spiritual wealth, People's Daily concluded.
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THE FIRST act of a new Labour government if it is re-elected, must be to implement consultation rights for workers, Transport and General Workers' Union general secretary Bill Morris told the annual conference of the Scottish TUC in Aberdeen last week.
He said that although the general election was "on hold". the political campaign to influence the programme for the next Labour government is on-going.
"If there is one critical issue above all else," he said, "that demands the Government's attention it's the issue of information and consultation.
"lt is entirely unacceptable for workers to be told that they have lost their jobs through the medium of the press."
He called on a new Labour government to implement the European Union Directive on Information and Consultation which has so far been ignored by Westminster.
"The way the French prime minister, Mr Jospin, spoke up against the British multinational Marks and Spencer when the management took the decision to close its stores in France --- I just wish the British government would speak up for British workers in circumstances of closures or redundancies."
He also had some comments about the voucher system for asylum seekers: "The voucher system must go and go now.
"We have seen the beginning of a new partnership between the Government and the trade unions as witnessed by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. That inquiry has done much to cast some light into the dark, dismal corners of so many British Institutions.
"Now at the TUC, we have our own Stephen Lawrence Task Group, building a positive approach to race and ensuring that equality works in practice as well as in theory.
"On this. I know that the Scottish TUC is matching our efforts with its own programme of activities and I offer warm support and congratulations for that work.
"But I am disappointed by the Government's treatment of asylum seekers. I am convinced that the voucher system is demeaning and an indictment to a society which prides itself on the principle of social justice.
"As a movement, we say and say together the voucher system must go and go now!" The conference debated an emergency motion on the foot-and-mouth epidemic and an emergency motion on job losses in the new technology sector.
As the conference proceeded. Marconi announced plans to cut 3,000 jobs worldwide, half of which would be jobs in Britain and most of those in the Lothian region of Scotland.
STUC general secretary Bill Speirs called for urgent government action for thousands of sufferers of asbestosis who stand to lose all compensation after the collapse of an insurance company used by the employers.
Mick Rix, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef told the conference it is time for the Government to "take back the track" and renationalise our railways.
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