The Economy

The Rotten Apple: How Your iPhone Crushes Workers’ Rights

I thought I’d share this email from SumOfUs.org, a great online campaigning organisation in the spirit of Avaaz and 38 Degrees.

It’s basically another example of multinationals getting away with human rights violations through delegating responsibility for production (and therefore employer ethics) to sub-contractors in other countries.

Of course, the contracts won’t say ‘you must ban unions’, but the production (inc. labour) costs will be so cheap as for the employer at the top of the chain to understand that will probably be the case.

Apple will be able to pressure over its suppliers, whether through financial or competitive means – i.e. saying we’ll ditch you or we’ll give you more dosh to cover better working conditions. Is that going to happen? Not without pressure from the public. Reputational damage can be a good ally to industrial action and can be a crucial way of those outside of the workplace (and indeed country) exercising cross-border solidarity.

In short, sign and share the petition, please. It’s important.

——

“You’re fired!”

That’s how one of Apple’s key suppliers, NXP, responded to 24 workers in the Philippines who were attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement in May. It’s a disgusting attack on workers rights, and Apple has to stop it.

The iPhone 6 will reportedly contain technology from NXP, and so we have an opportunity now to move Apple to act upon its commitments to workers. The company wants buzz about new product features, not flaws. If thousands of us stand up now, Apple can be forced to demand that NXP reinstate the 24 workers.

Tell Apple to demand that its supplier NXP Philippines reinstate the workers who were wrongfully dismissed.

NXP, which is reportedly supplying technology for Apple’s new iPhone 6, fired the 24 workers under the pretext that their failure to work on a number of public holidays amounted to an illegal strike.

But we suspect something much more insidious is happening. The workers have been protesting for months to get their jobs back. It appears that NXP now wants to pay them off to shut up and go away, basically acknowledging that they were wrongfully dismissed.

The NXP 24 don’t want to be silenced and trade their fundamental rights for corporate cash — and they shouldn’t have to. Apple claims to ensure that its suppliers treat workers with respect and dignity. Apple could weigh in to get the workers back their jobs now, but so far the Californian IT giant has done nothing to fix this serious issue.

The 24 fired workers are leading members of a trade union, the MWAP. For months now they have been without work and pay, but their spirits are kept high by the solidarity they receive from friends and supporters like you around the globe. NXP’s dismissal of all of the union leadership is an attack upon the rights of all workers to freely associate and organise.

Nobody wants the products they buy from Apple to be tainted by the abuse of workers in developing countries. What’s more, Apple says that it is serious about supplier responsibility. Now it’s time to put those words into action–to demand justice for the workers who were illegally fired.

Apple needs to demand that the 24 workers get their jobs back immediately.

It took years of sustained pressure from conscientious consumers and activists like you before Apple agreed to make serious changes to the way it treated the workers in its supply chain. Now the company must deliver on those promises.

Thanks for all that you do,
Jon, Eoin, Marie, Martin and the rest of us.

**********

More information:

iPhone 6 supplier NXP ramps up intimidation and delaying tactics, IndustriALL Union, 16 July 2014
NXP sacks union leaders, Electronics Weekly, 16 July 2014

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As Tories bicker over a flat tax, here’s why it doesn’t work…

Tory policy chief Oliver Letwin is calling for a ‘flat tax’ rate, according to a Mirror exclusive yesterday.

He was talking in private to a laissez faire think tank, Politeia, and although instantly rebutted by Conservative Party HQ, it has sparked debate about Tory plans to cut tax for the rich, with Ed Balls today arguing the party is ‘champing at the bit’ to slash the top rate to 40%.

But that itself marks a step towards a flat tax, a policy both George Osborne and David Cameron have praised in the past. Left Foot Forward covered the topic last year amid a renewal of right-wing interest in the policy. What is it though?

The policy entails everyone paying the same basic rate – usually touted as around 20 or 30%. But it has two major possible implications.

If it was set at a low rate, it would require enormous further cuts to public services to compensate for tax income plummeting overnight. But if it was set at a high rate, it would require enormous tax rises among the poor to fund an effective tax cut for the rich, i.e. from the 45% top rate down to the 31% that the Institute for Fiscal Studies says would be necessary to maintain current Treasury tax receipts.

So we have two options with the flat tax – Cameron’s ‘permanent austerity’ hailed by neoliberals (an outcome which would hit the poorest hardest), or significant tax rises for low earners, which would also hit the poorest hardest. The flat tax is therefore, as is commonly understood, deeply regressive. Doesn’t take a genius to work it out.

But it’s also verified by several studies. Here’s an analysis of US flat tax plans by income bracket:

Flat tax

Citizens for Tax Justice, based in the US where calls for a flat tax rate are frequent, have therefore determined that the shift would result in ‘enormous tax cuts for the richest five percent of taxpayers’ alongside ‘tax hikes for all other income groups’, while leaving the investment income of the wealthy essentially untaxed.

Moreover, there’s little evidence to suggest it would ‘work’ in the way right-wing advocates say it would. It has only been introduced in some Baltic states and Russia. In the latter, it was hailed as dramatically boosting actual payment of tax, where previously it had been avoided. But according to a London School of Economics report, this coincided with a dramatic boost in tax collecting powers, and sweeping changes to other forms of taxation, a finding confirmed by another 2007 study.

Meanwhile, another key argument for the Flat Tax, ‘simplicity’, has been fundamentally rebutted by a University of Chicago study, which showed that in any complex economy there is no such thing as a ‘simple’ tax system, particularly when companies and individuals can avoid tax at whatever level it is set. The implementation costs for shifting to such a system were also significant.

Even a study by the free market IMF stressed ‘empirical evidence on [flat taxes’] effects is very limited’ although they did find that ‘there is no sign of Laffer [curve]-type behavioural responses generating revenue increases from the tax cut’ – in non-academic terms, cutting tax didn’t stop avoidance or boost productivity and government income.

So with the evidence unclear, or if anything pointing against a flat tax rate, the Tories have a choice to make. They could adopt a policy so right-wing even UKIP have abandoned it, in what would entrench their perception as the party of the rich forever…or they could ‘do the right thing’ for ‘hardworking people’ and drop the ludicrous plans.

Public services under attack – international austerity and the fight-back

Speaking to the Global Labour Institute’s 2014 International Summer School, Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, gave an account of the struggles public service workers are facing. This article draws on her speech to delegates in Tuesday’s opening plenary.

[Republished from my article at Socialist Unity]

Public service jobs used to be considered the gold standard in much of the world. Well paid, good pension, decent holidays and solid trade union rights. In an era of neoliberalism however, these previously ‘most formal of formal workers’ are facing the kinds of attacks previously only associated with the most ruthless companies.

International Struggles

There’s an ideological background to this. Labour market and union ‘reform’ has been factor in almost all post-crash countries. In South Korea, the government has recently initiated the most violent attack on public services – derecognising unions in each sector. Privatisation of the rail industry and the mass firing of union activists have turned the country into what one delegate called ‘a war zone’ for workers.

Public Services International, the Global Union Federation for public service workers, is used to privatisation battles – organising in industries which are often publicly funded and subsidised, but increasingly privately owned.

In the US, the Supreme Court last week ruled that there’s no obligation for care workers to pay union dues to unions collectively bargaining for them. These workers often work alone. They are now even more isolated – especially if their unions become toothless in the face of the court decision.

And internationally, at the last ILO conference, for first time delegates couldn’t reach a conclusion on the centrality of the right to strike – despite convention 87 of the ILO convention deeming it fundamental – because employers were so strongly against. It’s a frightening turn for workers of all sectors, as that is one of the only legal bases unions have on the global scale.

But there is some good news. The UN Women’s organisation recently recognised the role of unions as key to addressing the problems of women.

Moreover, until recently trade unions were previously not allowed to participate in UN discussions on migration. Now, after years of struggling from PSI and others, they can. With migration becoming a vehicle for new kinds of slavery, it’s an important milestone.

For public service workers, the water campaigns in the UN are equally important. In 2010, water was deemed a human right, providing the legal background for the massive 2013 struggles in Europe for water to be publicly owned – many of which won, in Paris and elsewhere.

And in the IMF, Christine Lagarde has recently said austerity is creating more injustice and poses a threat to democracy.

A turning point?

The ruling class, then, is getting scared. We are at critical point of class conflict. In response to a global ruling class, unions must likewise organise internationally, not just in one workplace. The welfare state wasn’t won in one shop floor but by the entire working class.

Multinational capital has a strategy. Unions can’t afford to navel-gaze. Whether in care homes, railway stations or outsourced water plants, public service workers in today’s climate of privatisation, cuts and union-busting know this better than ever.

Josiah Mortimer is reporting on the Global Labour Institute’s third International Summer School for trade unionists at Northern College this week. You can follow all of the conference online on the GLI site, through Union Solidarity International, and on Twitter, using the hashtag #ISS14. This article draws on the plenary ‘The Fall & Rise of Labour?’

How do we revive the global union movement?

The global labour movement is at a crossroads.

That’s the verdict of Bill Fletcher of the American Federation of Government Employees, speaking to the Global Labour Institute’s International Summer School in Barnsley this week. Workers are being hit by neoliberalism across the world – that much is obvious – but politically, the issue is this: how are unions to respond in the face of supposedly left-wing parties that have conceded to many of the neoliberal policies unions despise?

It’s question being asked while the populist right soar in much of the global north – filling the void where previously socialist politics would have existed.

Fletcher sees the current attacks on workers – from privatisation to public sector cuts – as representing the ‘obliteration of the social contract’ that emerged following the Second World War. But it was a social contract that was also ‘historically specific’ – built amid fear of the red threat.

It’s a message echoed by Asbjørn Wahl of the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees. For him, the tripartite state-union-employer relationship dominant across much of Europe following World War Two was the ‘child of class compromise’ – a child that’s now left home. In other words, there’s no going back. But neither should we. Capitalist and union cooperation dampened the radicalism of working class in an attempt to bolster support for the Cold War.

While it did lead to several decades of social progress in the West, social democracy became a mere ‘mediator between classes’. Such mediation became the final aim of the labour movement. And in capitulating to this, they gave up on socialism, contributing to an ideological crisis on the left.

Yet the end of the social democratic accord in the 1980s has made nation states less and less responsive to popular demands, while the stresses of neoliberal globalisation turn populations against one another. For Fletcher, the system’s weakness has created a breeding ground for a right-wing populism – what he amusingly calls ‘the herpes of capitalism’ – that is now on the rise across Europe and elsewhere. At the same time, any resistance to the neoliberal project is met with repression.

There is clearly a strong sense of alienation among people however. It’s up to the left to politicise this discontent. To do this will require broad new social alliances, concrete alternatives, and unions taking on broader political responsibility amidst mainstream party capitulation, Wahl claims. Such alternatives must be built on a minimum programme that includes standing against austerity, taxing the rich, cancelling public debt, socialising finance and defending democracy.

The current crisis is of course political. The response must also be political – rebuilding labour movement and rebuilding left must go hand in hand. There’s no going back to the corporatism of the 1970s. But Fletcher argues unions can be a ‘civilising force amid the current chaos’ – if they go through a reformation.

Such a reformation must involve the re-radicalisation and re-politicisation of unions instead of continuing a business or servicing model. And that’s no small task. But if the labour movement is to get out of this current conjuncture, we can’t depend on doing the same and expecting different results. Nor can we rely on revivalism and nostalgia for some by-gone social democratic past. Instead, we need a fresh start if we’re going to have any chance of challenging the ‘capitalism on crack’ that is the current paradigm. That will include working with social movements like those that organised the millions-strong Madrid march against austerity in March. If we do this, Wahl says, ‘we have a chance to avoid extinction’. It is, therefore, a chance we can’t afford to miss.

Josiah Mortimer is reporting on the Global Labour Institute’s third International Summer School for trade unionists at Northern College this week. You can follow all of the conference online on the GLI site, through Union Solidarity International, and on Twitter: #ISS14. This article draws on the plenary ‘Capitalism, Anti-Capitalism and the Trade Union Movement’.

As Young Workers’ Month Ends: It’s Time to Get Organised

Today marks the end of Young Workers’ Month. The below is my article for the Huffington Post on it.

It’s been a bad few weeks for trade unionism. Two of its greatest champions – Tony Benn and Bob Crow – have both passed away. But beneath the sadness, something interesting has been happening. Something that offers hope for a previously moribund movement.

March marked the first Young Workers’ Month – four weeks of activities organised by the TUC to kick some life back into trade unionism.

It’s no secret that young people, by and large, aren’t members of unions. Just 8% of 16-24 year olds are members of a union in their workplace. That leaves 92% of young people almost entirely dependent on the whim of employers and the (largely right-wing) government. The fact that just a tiny minority of Generation Y are protected at work doesn’t bode well for those seeking a fairer society.

But Young Workers’ Month is trying to turn that around, both through the TUC and the actions of its dozens of its still-powerful member unions. With union numbers at less than half of their 1970s peak of 14 million, now seems the right time.

I spoke to Carl Roper, head of organising at the TUC and the co-ordinator of Young Workers Month. He told me YWM aims to ‘highlight within the trade union movement that there is a crisis with respect to union membership amongst young workers’: a chance to ask, ‘what are we going to do to reach out?’ It’s potentially the biggest issue for the left in Britain.

But perhaps young people just aren’t interested in collectivism anymore? Roper disagrees: ‘We don’t believe there’s a ‘Thatcher generation’ who don’t like unions or collective action. The evidence is the other way actually – young people are political, they are active. It’ just their knowledge of unions is very limited.’

Why? For a start, media coverage of unions almost exclusively tends of focus on when they are at their angriest – protests and strikes. Yet naturally, this ignores the day-to-day role of union representatives, 200,000 of whom deal with the pretty unglamorous case work, from representing staff at employment tribunals to sitting in on management meetings and putting forward an alternative voice. Yet lack of decent media coverage can’t be the only factor for low unionisation rates – after all, it’s hardly new.

One reason for young people’s ‘union apathy’, if there’s such a thing, could be fairly simple. Most of them tend to work in sectors of the economy where union organisation is just non-existent and difficult to unionise – after all, how do you get part-time bar staff on zero-hours contracts out on the picket lines?

’25% of all 16-24 year olds work in retail, where union density is 12%. The next highest proportion is food and hospitality – where density is 3%. So young people just don’t come into contact with unions,’ Roper told me. Turning those stats around is a tough job, but one that Britain’s union confederation seems hopeful it can do. Out of necessity, perhaps more than anything.

But there is a perception, at least from young people I know, that unions – as useful as they are for older people, just aren’t for us. Picture the flat-capped 1960s male factory worker shouting ‘everyone out’.

That, perhaps, is where social media comes in. Wednesday will see an online Q&A over Twitter with the first ever female TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, called, appropriately, #askfrances. It’s a nifty way of piquing the interest of a seemingly individualised (and thus isolated) demographic.

Maybe we’re not so isolated, though. ‘Young people do join unions where there is one – if you work in a hospital, if you’re a nurse, a teacher, a civil servant, or on London Underground, working at a local authority or a car company or an airport, you’re more likely to join a union where the workplace is organised…But too many young people work in places where there’s no union organisation at all’.

The question remains as to why these sectors are unorganised. ‘Young people don’t know about unions, and don’t have the lived experience of them. Over 50% of people in the UK now have never been a member.’ The solution? Roper raised the prospect of teaching about trade unions in school, but it’s hard to see how that will go down with Michael Gove.

Offering better prospects may be something tucked away in the back of last May’s TUC Campaign Plan – ‘gateway membership’. The idea offers a chance for young people to get a taste of being in a union where there isn’t a presence at their workplace. Roper said it was in its ‘embryonic stages’ and was cautious to discuss whether it will go ahead or not, but it seems a chance not to be missed.

2014 seems pretty late to be starting all this. Yet Roper dismisses the idea unions have ignored young people: ‘It was unions that campaigned for the minimum wage, and for it to be equalised among young and old workers now.’ This is on top of the current Fair Pay Fortnight, as well as the TUC’s push alongside the NUS for an end to unpaid internships via a phone app.

The latter is most poignant as it’s students who may offer the best hope for union revival, giving it the radical kick it needs. Campaigns alongside the UCU, Unite and Unison on UK campuses for a Living Wage and an end to outsourcing – whether at Birmingham, Sussex, the University of the Arts, or through the London-based ‘Tres Cosas’ (‘Three Things’) struggle – all serve as testament to what happens when, to steal a phrase from 2010, ‘students and workers unite and fight’. With the ‘cost of living’ crisis raging, Young Workers’ Month offers the prospect of bringing that sentiment back…

 

UCU Head Urges York Uni Staff to Reject Recruitment Outsourcing Plans

The General Secretary of the national lecturers’ union UCU has written to hundreds of University of York staff urging them to reject the proposal to outsource the provision of basic English-language teaching and international student recruitment.

In an email last Friday (7th), Sally Hunt warned that the planned Joint Venture between the University and multi-national company INTO University Partnerships was ‘a dangerous and risky gamble’.

The plans are for much of the currently in-house Centre for English Language Teaching’s work to be undertaken by the private company  over at a new building on Heslington East, in a scheme 50% owned by the university. It is expected, if it goes ahead, to begin in Autumn 2015, being fully operational from 2016. However, university staff as well as student union representatives including Kallum Taylor have raised concerns about the plans which some see as ‘part-privatisation’.

Hunt said: “The joint venture will involve the university committing millions of pounds to setting and sustaining a new company with INTO to recruit and teach international students.

“UCU has serious concerns about these joint ventures. We believe that INTO’s need to generate profit will create pressure to cut corners in academic standards. We know that INTO employs staff on lower pay rates and worse terms and conditions than comparable university staff.

“We also know that two of the joint ventures have been dissolved following losses and two more continue to make losses  years after they opened, surviving on loans of millions of pounds from their partner universities. A joint venture with INTO will be a big issue for your university and for everyone who works there.

Hunt said it was “not too late to stop this gamble”, and noted that UCU campaigns have helped persuade universities to avoid these joint ventures at a succession of other universities including Essex, Goldsmiths, Oxford Brookes and De Montfort, where over 90% of staff consulted opposed the plans.

However, the University of York has defended the early-stage proposals, which were put to the Senate in February.

In an article for York Vision, University Registrar David Duncan said: “The programmes would increase the throughput of well-qualified overseas students, especially for undergraduate courses but also for some postgraduate programmes. This in turn would improve the University’s financial position, generate funds for reinvestment in staff and facilities, and raise our profile overseas.

“INTO is regarded as the market leader at the present time. It would provide both capital to build new facilities and recruitment of students through its network of overseas agents who specialise in recruiting students to foundation courses.”

He said that the plans were ‘far from’ the privatisation of Higher Education: “We already partner with external providers to fund capital investments on campus; likewise, we make use of recruiting agents around the world to attract students to York.  Under this proposal, the University would retain complete academic control of entry, programmes and progression, and would have a 50% stake in the joint venture.”

However, the UCU have produced a leaflet at York on what they see as the dangers of the INTO proposals after significant financial losses and underperformance were reported at other partner universities.

Brighton Greens’ council tax move shows the fight against austerity is on

[Cross-posted from my article over at Left Foot Forward yesterday]

Brighton and Hove’s Green council is taking bold steps to counter austerity. Last week the administration proposed a 4.75 per cent council tax rise to protect vital adult social care services for the city’s elderly and vulnerable residents, as well as funding for the third sector which has been badly hit by national cut-backs.

Brighton-JPEG

After three year of callous cuts from central government, Greens in Brighton have said enough is enough, arguing that radical solutions are needed to circumvent the next round of austerity being forced upon cities up and down the country. Brighton is the second hardest-hit unitary council nationally in terms of the budget reductions the coalition have forced upon it. 

That’s why they are planning to hold a referendum to let local people choose between sweeping cuts to adult social care or give around a pound a week extra.

Less than a fiver a month to protect the elderly seems like a fair ask, despite times of course being hard for Brighton residents. As Green council leader Jason Kitcat has said:

“This is the right time to ask the people what they think is the right approach – do we cut back services or pay extra, £4.53 a month or less for the majority of households, to show we really are a caring society?”

That’s not to downplay the truism that raising taxes is rarely popular, but councils face little choice. Caroline Lucas, throwing her weight behind the move, put it clearly:

“This is an appalling situation, for which the government is alone to blame. A referendum would allow the people of Brighton and Hove…to decide on the best response.”

And it’s not just Greens supporting the campaign to let Brighton decide their services’ future. The local GMB and Unison branches have spoken out in favour of the referendum, with Mark Turner, the city’s GMB branch secretary saying:

“This new budget would protect frontline services in adult social care. Cuts would have absolutely terrible consequences on people’s lives. It is only right that the public have a chance to vote on this proposal.”

The proposal for Brighton&Hove will pass in Council in February, unless opposed by both Labour and Tory councillors. It would then proceed to a ballot on 22 May – the same time as elections for European Parliament, significantly saving on administration costs.

However, the Tories and Labour in Brighton seem to be planning to stop the referendum. The proposal was rejected by the Brighton&Hove Labour Party within fifteen minutes of the announcement. They’ve also called on the minority-run council to step down, and are planning to propose a vote of no confidence, with leader of Brighton and Hove Labour Group, Warren Morgan calling for “a cross-party caretaker administration to run the council till the elections in 400 days.”

Such a care-taker administration can only mean one thing – a Labour-Tory coalition. Essentially Labour is seeking to get into bed with the Conservatives just to spite the Greens.

Meanwhile, the Tories are likely to be wedded to the coalition’s ideological council tax freeze, which is year-on-year shrinking the local state and depriving residents of key services hit by a combination of increasing demand and austerity.

In the face of such opposition, the minority council is in an extremely difficult place. That’s why it’s important that people inside and outside Brighton who support public services back the ‘#BrightonDecides’ campaign.

This Saturday, Young Greens from across the UK are heading to Brighton to campaign in favour of the referendum. We’ve also written to the national press, encouraging all Brighton&Hove councillors, and indeed councils across the country, to give the voters the chance to fight the toxicity of austerity.

Unlike other parties, the Green Party fundamentally opposes austerity – not just in words but in actions too. It’s a brave position, and it’s one that other councils, instead of simply capitulating to permanent austerity, should follow.