The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 28th May 2004

Firefighters protest at more broken promises

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by Caroline Colebrook

RAILWAY workers throughout Britain are planning strike action this summer and firefighters have been taking unnofficial action after employers reneged on agreements on pay and pensions.
 Rail workers employed by Network Rail – most of the maintenance and signal workers – last week voted to strike in a dispute that is mainly about plans to scrap the company’s final-salary-based pension scheme and replace it with an inferior plan.

 The turnout at the ballot, conducted by the RMT transport union, was 68 per cent with 2,947 voting in favour of strike action and 2,246 voting against.
not yet

The union has not yet set a strike date but has sought negotiations with the employers.

 Preliminary talks are due to start this Friday and RMT said: “If these preliminary talks prove successful, we will be able to commence in-depth negotiations next week.”

 RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the workers’ action was aimed at defending “their pension rights, to end two-tier working conditions and for justice on pay.”

 He attacked the decision to stop new employees entering the final salary pension scheme.

 “People retiring in 20 to 30 years time are going to have no state pension, company pensions won’t be worth a light and they will be going to the taxpayer to keep their heads above water.”

 He dismissed the replacement pension scheme as “no more than a glorified savings plan”.

 The union also wants the three per cent pay offer raised to 3.5 per cent.

 Meanwhile Network Rail bosses are taking legal action to prevent the strike. If this fails they plan to replace the 5,188 RMT signallers with a core team of 130 scabs.

 They have set up a secret process of training and assessing managers to replace vital signallers.

 On this basis Network Rail claims it can run a skeleton commuter service in major cities such as London, Glasgow, Birmingham or Manchester. These tactics are likely to undermine the talks before they begin.

 Initial talks between the Fire Brigades Union and their employers broke up last Monday in acrimony in a dispute over management’s failure to implement a pay agreement reached at the end of last year’s firefighters’ dispute.

 This has already led to a series of wildcat strikes, provoked by the suspension of some Manchester firefighters who refused to operate new equipment unless they were paid the agreed rate to do so.

 The dispute also involves demands by some local fire services for an end to “stand down” time at night. They insist that fire crews, when not actually fighting fires, should always be either training or inspecting buildings for fire safety worthiness.  The union points out that this is impractical at night in their latest statement.
fury and disgust

“At a meeting yesterday with employers, the FBU negotiators expressed ‘fury and disgust’ at the employers continued reneging on the June pay agreement.

“The negotiators pointed out that the employers’ proposal of words on stand down time as set out in their letter of 20 May remains totally unacceptable.

 A full report of this meeting will be given to the executive council and thereafter the membership.”

Before the latest offer, the FBU leadership had unanimously agreed to ballot for a series of strike actions in Manchester in response to the victimisation of members by local management.

 Some 140 FBU members have been suspended, under a regime that allows management to suspend staff without pay.

 The Fire Authority was trying to force through changes to working practices without agreement, says Kevin Brown Manchester FBU Brigade Secretary: “If they want change all they have to do is sign the national agreement. Instead their national representatives – including those from Greater Manchester Fire Authority – have dragged their feet for more than seven months.

 Meanwhile Labour affiliated unions met last week to express their commitment to campaigning for a third term for the Labour Government.

But they called for a clear, unambiguous radical manifesto that deals with the issues most important to the public.

 Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “We all believe a radical third term Labour government is in the best interests of British workers and the wider general public.

 “There are divisions in the Labour Party and the country, particularly over our foolhardy involvement in Iraq and the use of privatisation in our public services, which have to be healed.

“We agreed we wanted to get radical policies on public services, pensions, manufacturing and fairness at work to bring greater security for people at work and in retirement.”

 The unions involved represent more than 80 per cent of Labour-affiliated membership. 


Britain is working – for America

TONY BLAIR’S spin merchants are working overtime these days trying to drum up some interest in the EU and local elections in June. But the best that they can come up with is the old Tory bogey-man scare and some childish jibes against the new Tory leader Michael Howard.

There’s no doubt that under the Tories unemployment hit three million, interest rates hit 15 per cent and 150,000 families lost their homes all with the approval of Michael Howard who was a senior minister in both the Thatcher and Major governments. And arguably Labour has “created” 1.9 million more jobs, 100,000 extra businesses and mortgage rates are at their lowest in 40 years.

But what Blair & Co don’t talk about is the millions forced to work on poverty-line wages in sub-standard accommodation or the millions paying through the nose for soaring house prices because the councils are still not allowed to build new estates. Nor are they bragging about the thousands of new millionaires also “created” by Labour through the maintenance of Tory anti-union legislation and Tory taxation policies that have made this country a bonanza for every spiv and profiteer.

Britain is certainly working for them. It is also working for American imperialism. And that’s something Blair and his minions don’t want to talk about. It’s not surprising with revelations of new imperialist atrocities coming out of Iraq by the day. The horrendous regime at the US Abu Ghraib concentration camp in Iraq has sickened American public opinion and forced the US military government to order a name change and its ultimate demolition. The massacre at the wedding feast is followed by reliable reports of British Army brutality in southern Iraq while Bush and Blair bleat on about returning Iraq to “democracy”.

The sense of shame at doing Bush’s dirty work has even effected the Tory grandees who seeking to recover some of the ground lost to the Liberal Democrats over the Iraq war. Michael Howard and Michael Rifkind have publicly called on Blair to distance Britain from some aspects of the American occupation and demand a greater role in the direct administration of the occupation.

 Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, rightly dismissed this as “chicanery and political opportunism”. Though a handful of Tories did take the principled stand in Parliament, voting with the Labour rebels, the Lib-Dems and the Welsh and Scottish nationalists against Blair’s war, Howard was not one of them. Malcolm Rifkind, who hopes to return to Parliament, publicly states that he believes that the Iraq war was “unnecessary and undesirable” though that hasn’t stopped him making a few bob as chairman of AmorGroup, one of the largest private “security” firms operating in Iraq.

But the greatest sense of anger and disgust is within the labour movement itself – shame at the sight of a British Labour Prime Minister acting as the apologist and mouthpiece for the most venal and aggressive section of the American ruling class.

No worker can benefit from the return of the Tories and most of us know it. Blair has got to go, together with all of the servile clique that revolve around him. And only the movement that put him there in the first place can remove him. The militant trade unions and the Labour rebels in Parliament must act to end this sickening farce. 

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