The Trade Union establishment has given the Employment Relations Bill (the so-called "Fairness at Work" legislation), a warm welcome. TUC general secretary John Monks describes it as the "biggest advance in employee rights in a generation".
John Edmonds, GMB general secretary, was beside himself, describing it as "pure gold" and "an enormous step forward".
Ken Jackson, general secretary of the AEEU, said: "The government is leading industry into a new era of partnership. If unions miss this opportunity to spread partnership throughout industry we will only have ourselves to blame".
Darlings of right wing journalism such as the Daily Mail are warning of a return to 'mob rule' and the 'bad old days' of union power, claiming that New Labour have given "union barons the go ahead to start rebuilding their power bases in offices and factories".
So what does this bill offer workers?
The bill guarantees automatic recognition to unions who represent over half of the workers in a workplace. It also prohibits the sacking of striking workers in the first eight weeks of a dispute, as well as banning the creation of blacklists of union activists.
It also raises the ceiling for unfair dismissal compensation to £50,000, and extends the right to claim unfair dismissal to workers who have served at least a year in their job. The bill also contain 'family friendly' proposals, including the right to time off for domestic emergencies, the extension of paid maternity leave, and three months unpaid parental leave for both parents.
Despite some positive aspects, it is clear that this bill does not represent the 'rolling back' of the Thatcherite anti-union laws, whatever the right-wing press would have it's readers believe.
The whole range of repressive anti-union laws remain. This bill, despite some welcome changes to the structure of industrial relations, is about giving the union bureaucracy something back after crossing their fingers for a Labour victory for two decades. The 'union barons' the Daily Mail fear are not as 'dangerous' as they would think, 'union barons' being, like the government and the bosses, more interested in controlling ordinary union members than letting them set the pace for the movement.
In the end, this bill was hardly likely to challenge the injustice of the wage system. The only way to challenge the capitalist system is in the workplace-the only way to challenge the bosses power is from below!
With the deadline for handing 'power' over to our local politicians looming, the major 'stumbling block' is decommissioning.
As we have stated before handing power over to sectarian politicians provides no solution to the problems faced by working class people. This is not to say that party politics of the Westminster or Leinster House variety offer workers any solutions - politicians can never represent our interests. However a breakdown in those cease-fires which do stand is not a welcome development.
Local and not so local politicians are again playing with the lives of working class people. The use of parliamentary privilege, by 'Doctor' Ian Paisley, to name people he alleges were involved in republican terrorism in the past, has given loyalist 'dissidents' a ready made hit list at a time when the Orange Volunteers are carrying out a sectarian pipe bombing campaign.
Things are not all rosy in the republican camp either, with increasingly violent infighting over missing weapons, coupled with a hardening of attitudes in relation to any future decommissioning.
As regards state forces there have been some small, tokenistic, signs of demilitarisation, but, not surprisingly, no indication of moves towards disarmament.
Workers find themselves confronting a bleak future with no credible alternatives on offer. We need to build those alternatives ourselves, in the workplace and the community, starting by breaking down sectarian barriers and coming together to fight for our interests as workers.
Workers at the West Belfast engineering company Mackies, which once employed over six thousand people, join growing numbers of local workers facing bleak futures on the dole. Many, if not all, of Mackies 350 employees are certain to be laid off as a result of the company's collapse, 57 were sacked within 48 hours of the company going into receivership. They join 400 laid off by F G Wilson, as well as those laid off recently by Shorts and textile workers at Desmonds.
These are just some examples what 'loyalty' to the company gets you in the capitalist marketplace, a marketplace which regards its workers as commodities to be bought and sold, hired and fired.
In none of these workplaces did production simply fall off, no where did the workforce cease to carry out their jobs, they were simply the latest victims of international capital (moving production to cheaper, more highly exploited, labour markets), and management incompetence. The interests of the bosses, and even those who regard themselves as the most 'loyal' of workers, are incompatible. Isn't it time the workers took control?
A new 'scheme', Worktrain, is replacing ACE. According to the Training and Employment Agency, the new scheme will provide "high quality training places for the long-term unemployed".
ACE was introduced in the 1980's by the Tories to 'tackle' unemployment, but failed miserably. Perhaps succeeding in its real goal of undermining existing and full time jobs. Why employ tradesmen to cut the grass, plant trees, or get rid of graffiti, when the local ACE scheme will do it for free?
Worktrain, targeted at the long-term unemployed, is the latest in a line of measures brought in under the auspices of the 'New Deal', a package more venomous than any Tory attack on benefits, it directly accelerates casualisation and worsening conditions for those in work.
Phrases like Corporate Slavery are not far from the truth; workers will get virtually nothing out of it, but are now constantly under the threat that if they don't perform, they will lose benefits.
If you are already working your job will be undermined by New Deal as it subsidises low waged work, low waged workers will be casualised and undermined in their position - if the Labour government gets it its way, any employer will be able to demand even permanent workers accept worsening conditions - or they'll be 'New Dealed'. This will work its way up the employee profile, ALL jobs will be less secure as a result.
Meanwhile, on the employers side, it is no wonder so many are signing up. Employers who had signed up last year March were getting a total of £3,600 PER MINUTE for being involved. They get £750 to train each person and £60 per week per person for... extra profit.
New Deal forces the long-term unemployed and those under 25 onto crap schemes or fulltime work for an extra few quid on their dole. There is as the government put it "no fifth option", staying on benefits will become impossible as 'New Deal' continues to bite.
The only option open to the unemployed is resistance!
As Friends of the Earth are 'naming and shaming' the top 97 polluting companies in England and Wales for pumping cancer causing chemicals into the air, it has been revealed that three of the worst sites for air pollution in the 'UK' are in Northern Ireland.
Derry was found to have sulphur dioxide levels one and a half times the 'safe standards' set down by the World Health Organisation, levels were also dangerously high in Dunmurry and on the Shankill Road.
Sulphur dioxide is thought to be responsible for 3500 premature deaths a year throughout the 'UK', which particularly dangerous to people who already have respiratory problems, such as children with asthma. The greatest source of this deadly gas are power stations and the burning of fossil fuels in homes. As we heat our homes the fuel companies get richer and our health goes down the pan, such is the logic of profit at any cost.
A recently published report, called What Makes for a Satisfied Student?, based on a survey of 23,000 students from more than 60 further education colleges, shows that students satisfaction is strongly linked to the quality of teaching and the sense each student has that he or she is on the right course and is being supported by staff. One revealing result from the surveys is that students consistently expressed their highest satisfaction for the "friendliness of teachers". The support given by teachers and the interest levels of courses also score highly.
The increasing casualisation of the further education sector has long been a cause for concern for teaching staff, who have complained of the long hours and increasingly high workloads, and dwindling pay. Teachers unions have long claimed that this process of casualisation was incompatible with attracting students. This survey provides some support for this view, though there are few indications that teachers' resentment at cuts in the sector has rubbed off on students. If nothing else, this survey proves that education is about people, not about trendy multimedia gimmicks. Education ought to be run by the people directly involved in it, the workers and the students, and not by bureaucrats and accountants.
Over the past year the CNT (Spanish section of the IWA) has been fighting a campaign against unemployment, insecure labour and temp. agencies - demanding the closure of "job sharks" and the implementation of a 30 hour week to fight unemployment.
With over 3 million unemployed in Spain, and temp. agencies constituting 33% of the labour market the CNT are fighting for the 30 hour week, with no cut in pay, as a way to share the work.
As part of the ongoing campaign, May Day last year saw the CNT convoking rallies and demonstrations throughout Spain, to commemorate the day and demonstrate against unemployment, insecurity, temporary and contingent labour, for a 30 hour week and for Libertarian Communism. Two thousand joined the CNT demonstration in Madrid with smaller rallies and marches drawing the support of hundreds in cities and towns across Spain.
Temp. agencies and the offices of unions which accepted the legalisation of such agencies in 1994, have been picketed throughout the campaign.
Michal Patera is a Czech Anarcho-Syndicalist, currently facing a charge of 'attempted murder for ideological reasons'. In defending himself from a murderous attack by five neo-nazi thugs, Michal was forced to use a gun which he legally owned. The Portuguese section is organising a Michal Patera solidarity campaign, to protest at the unjust imprisonment. Michal Patera is an activist in the FSA, the Czech section of the IWA. He is also a prominent anti-fascist in a country in which, according to its own government statistics, more than one third of the police are members or active sympathisers of neo-fascist and racist organisations. More information is available from Organise! - IWA at our contact address.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a father, a grandfather, a former Black Panther, a supporter of the radical group MOVE, a journalist and one time president of the Philadelphia association of Black journalists. He is also a resident of, as he puts it himself: "the fastest growing public housing tract in America" - prison.
To be more specific he is incarcerated on Death Row awaiting execution. Framed in 1982 for the murder of a police officer, Mumia's guilt is unquestionable for his real crime was not murder but resistance. A reality aptly testified to by the fact that the Prosecution were allowed to introduce evidence of his politics to support their assertion that he had conspired to murder. Despite this being unconstitutional under the First Amendment rights of Free speech and association.
Following the failure of his latest legal appeal in the fall of '98, Mumia can now be executed within thirty days of the issuing of an order by the Pennsylvanian Governor.
Messages of support can be sent to:
Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM8335, SC1 Greene, 1040 E. Roy Furham Highway, Waynesburg, P.A. 15370, U.S.A..
Letters of protest can be sent to:
Thomas Ridge, Main Capitol Building, Room 225, Harrisburg, P.A.,17120, U.S.A.
Although we'd all like to think an Anarchist or Anarcho-Syndicalist group can survive on idealism, determination and revolutionary spirit, the truth of' the matter is that while we exist in the confines of a capitalist society we need that bit more than just free association, mutual aid, solidarity and direct action to build a social revolutionary alternative (although all these things are essential), we need MONEY!
As such Organise!-IWA has started a drive to raise £10,000 towards the opening of a Solidarity Centre in Belfast. Such a centre would be used to provide a forum where militant workers can come together and begin to set their own agenda, beyond the confines of the reformist Trade Union movement, We see the promotion of direct action and working class self activity as of central importance. It is very' much a case of putting our ideas into action.
This is not about substituting a premises for the constructive work of building a real revolutionary alternative in Ireland, but about providing a focus for activity and campaigns which can unite workers across the sectarian divide and bring them together in defence of their interests as workers. It is about the establishment, not of a political party, but of a movement where solidarity is not a mere slogan but the foundation upon which all of our efforts are based