unions

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

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’.

UNion Win – United Nations reverses derecognition

Some good news from the international online union campaign group LabourStart (make sure to sign up if you’re not already a part of it)…

(As an aside, it begars belief that the UN took such a dramatically anti-labour move in the first place, when the generally pro-worker International Labour Organisation constitutes such a significant and strong part of the UN)

Eight months ago, I wrote to all of you asking you to support a campaign for workers’ rights at the United Nations.

On 11 July last year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon derecognized the staff unions representing the organization’s 65,000 staff, many working in dangerous locations and war zones.  I asked you to join me in sending off protest messages to Ban Ki-moon, and you did in your thousands.

This week, I learned that our efforts paid off.

According to Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations, “the campaign by UN unions to restore the recognition rights of UN staff has secured a successful outcome.

“On behalf of the unions of the United Nations, I would like to thank you, LabourStart and your 14,000 members who sent emails to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for their fantastic support during the campaign. Your efforts helped persuade the Secretary-General and his team that the UN should live up to its principles on human rights and labour representation.”

You can read the full text of Ian’s message here.

I thank you too — we did well.

And we demonstrated yet again the incredible power of the new communications technologies when combined with traditional trade union solidarity.

Have a great weekend!


Eric Lee

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…

 

Young Greens begin week of action against university pay inequality

Fair Pay Campus

The Young Greens launched a week of actions at campuses across the country on Monday as part of a growing campaign against pay inequality at UK universities.

Actions are being held at the University of East Anglia, Imperial College London and Leeds Met to draw attention to the huge rise in senior management pay at a time when Higher Education staff are facing real-terms pay cuts.

The youth branch of the Green Party, which represents thousands of students and young people in England and Wales, has launched the week of action running from the 17th March-21st March as part of its Fair Pay Campus Campaign. Our Fair Pay campaign is calling on universities to:

1. Publish the ratio between their highest and lowest paid worker
2. Commit to working towards a 10:1 ratio on campus
3. Pledge to pay directly employed workers the living wage
4. Ensure your contractors pay their workers the living wage
5. Publish the pay of vice chancellors and senior management

Chris Jarvis, Campaigns Coordinator and organiser of the week of action said: “Fair pay at our universities is resoundingly on the agenda. As part of our ongoing campaign to make pay in the higher education sector more equal, the Young Greens have called this national week of action to demand universities take the huge pay gap in the sector seriously and to treat institutions of education as public goods – not fat-cat corporations.

“Over the past 6 months, education unions have been rightly taking industrial action over a 13% real terms pay cut since 2008 – at a time when the pay of the average Vice Chancellor has increased by 8% last year alone. It’s time for university bosses to treat all staff fairly instead of stuffing their own pockets.

“Thousands of university staff across the country are lingering on low pay and being shifted from outsourced contract to contract, while university heads earn more than the Prime Minister. Our Fair Pay League report shows that if university heads took a pay cut to £140,000 – still an enormous sum – the money raised could bring thousands of minimum wage workers up to the Living Wage.

“As it stands, the lowest paid in HE currently have to work on average 18.6 years to earn the annual salary of the head of their university. This is a national scandal at a time of cuts to education, and it’s time that universities got behind the Young Greens’ call for maximum pay ratios of 10:1. Our week of action will be calling on universities to do just that.”

Charlene Concepcion, Co-Chair of the London Young Greens, commented: “While students are being saddled with debts and workers across the country are continuing to struggle on poverty pay it is galling to see how the heads of our universities continue to line their pockets and those of their colleagues. Education should be for everyone and our foremost educational establishments should represent that spirit of fairness and public service.

“In line with Green party policy, we’re calling on universities to pledge that, as a minimum, all their staff will be paid the Living Wage – a wage they can build a life-around. We also want to see them move towards a fairer pay ratio where no one is paid more than ten times the wage of the lowest earner.”

The demonstration at Imperial College will begin at 13.00 on Friday 21 March and will take place outside the Rector’s Office in South Kensington.

Leeds Metropolitan University Young Greens re-launched their Fair Pay campaign on the 18th March.

The Facebook event for the Week of Action is here: www.facebook.com/events/630502876998854/

Read the Young Greens’ Fair Pay League report on university pay: fairpayunis.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/2013-fair-pay-league.pdf

For more details visit the campaign website at fairpayunis.wordpress.com and Twitter: twitter.com/FairPayCampus. Find the Young Greens online at: younggreens.greenparty.org.uk

Young Greens Logo - Vertical-01

Saturday’s TUC march showed unions are needed more than ever

Credit: Steve Cooke

 

Nick Clegg received an unusual York welcome on Saturday.

Over 3000 anti-austerity protesters marched for ‘A Better Way’ through York to greet the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference being held at the Barbican.

As the Deputy Prime Minister spoke in favour of his motion on immigration, hundreds stood outside the building – a building which York’s Lib Dem council closed while it was last in control of the authority – to vent their anger at the cuts to public services, privatisation and other policies which hit the poorest hardest. Needless to say, the marchers’ chants, boos and cries of ‘shame’ reflected this palpable and genuine rage.

It was rage at everything from the Lib Dem’s propping up the Conservatives in government, to the tuition fee betrayal (Clegg’s crocodile tears notwithstanding), the bedroom tax, the back-door sell-off of the NHS to private companies and – judging by the presence of university lecturers and their UCU union – the dismal state of higher education under this government, with course and department closures, real-terms pay cuts and increasing marketisation.

This was a feeling expressed by the many students on the march too – a bloc that reflected the more radical spectrum of the protest. York’s Socialist Students made an effigy of Nick Clegg himself, hanged off the city walls, alongside a ‘Welcome to Traitor’s Gate’ banner. A grim sight for delegates to behold, in a wealthy former-Lib Dem city where they probably expected a friendlier reception amid Labour authority unpopularity. No such luck.

The TUC-organised demo couldn’t have chosen its day to be more symbolic. Saturday marked International Women’s Day. That very morning, delegates were hit with headlines of ‘Osborne’s tax and benefits changes hit women almost four times harder than men’. Not the best way for the previously centre-left party to celebrate IWD. But who wouldn’t have predicted that the three-year freeze in child benefit would have hit women hardest? Or that the cut in the top rate of tax for millionaires mostly helps rich white men?

Speakers at the rally after the march were quick to point this out. All ten speakers were women – a figure that contrasts sharply with the Lib Dems current level of gender representation. The figure hasn’t been picked up upon, but those 10 northern speakers are more than the Lib Dem’s current number of female MPs in the whole of the UK – and certainly more than at the next election after a number of announcedfemale resignations . Most inspiringly, leading the march were strikers (almost entirely women) from Care UK in Doncaster – workers who have just finished a week-long strike against the company to which their jobs were recently handed over to by the council. They’re facing pay cuts of up to 50% in an attempt to boost profits – and they’re fighting back.

Thirty years on from the miners’ strike, it’s a reminder that unions still matter. In fact, the whole protest – amid hundreds of union flags and banners – served to prove that trade unions, in standing up for the hardest-hit by austerity, are actually more needed than ever in the face of the neoliberal onslaught that is this coalition government (and don’t think the austerity will end with Labour, either). Indeed, the TUC collected 52 full carrier bags of food at the demonstration for local food banks under strain from the weight of a cost of living crisis.

Saturday’s march showed that, with over six million members – the majority of whom are now women – and the ability to mobilise thousands in the cause of social justice, unions still pack a punch. But with just 13% of 16-24 year olds members of what are still the largest democratic civil society bodies, perhaps the biggest message was that our generation needs to get organised. Otherwise, the current austerity measures could be ‘permanent’, to use Cameron’s word.

On Sunday, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity are planning to wave Clegg off as he leaves the city. Given the welcome he got, and the goodbye he’ll receive, he may well get the message that York – with its large student population alongside those hit by benefit cuts – isn’t such a big fan of the Lib Dems, after all.

Credit: Steve Cooke

Credit: Steve Cooke

Unions strike gold: York Uni’s lowest paid get a raise after industrial action

[My latest news article for Nouse, the UoY campus newspaper]

The University of York has increased the pay of its lowest-paid staff, in a move welcomed by unions on campus.

Management said they made the move as they were “concerned” to protect the worst-off at the university.

It comes at a time of national negotiations over a below-inflation pay offer of 1% by HE bosses’ group the University and College Employers’ Association, in what appears to be an initial strike victory by Unison and Unison who took co-ordinated action alongside lecturers’ union UCU on the 31st October.

In a statement, the university said: “We have decided that, regardless of the outcome of the [UCEA] pay settlement nationally, we will ensure that no employee of the university is paid less than £14,719 per annum (pro-rated according to the number of hours worked).”

The figure equates to £7.65 an hour for a 37 hour working week – the new non-London Living Wage – in a move that affects the first two salary points of Grade 1 staff. The rise will also be backdated to August 1 2013.

UNISON regional organiser Steve Torrance said: “This is a positive step from a university in the Russell Group of universities.

“While we welcome moves from any employer towards implementing the living wage for the lowest paid, all of our members need a fair pay rise of more than 1% after five years of real terms pay cuts.

“We echo York University management’s call for all parties to return to the negotiating table to resolve the current dispute.

“However, negotiations are like dancing and it takes two to tango. So my message to UCEA is strictly come dancing!”

With an £8.7m trading surplus, unions are convinced that the university has the money to afford an at- or above-inflation pay rise for all staff who have seen a 13% real-terms pay cut over the past few years.