Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pro-Israel unionists seek to undermine Palestinian solidarity

Lisbeth Latham

In recent weeks, there have been a number of articles in the corporate media globally, including the Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian, on the creation of a new international union organisation — Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine.

TULIP’s stated goal is promoting Middle Eastern peace by bringing Israeli and Palestinian unions together. To this end, it has gone on the offensive against “apologists” for Hamas and Hezbollah in the international labour movement and seeks to end union support for the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign directed at Israel.

TULIP has been founded by Australian Workers Union National Secretary Paul Howes; Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (USA), and Michael J. Leahy , General Secretary of Community (United Kingdom).

TULIP’s website provides a number of links to labor organisations in both Israel and Palestine. In addition the site provides links to organisations in Canada, the US and Britain. These organisations which include Union Members for Israel (Canada); Trade Union Friends of Israel (Britain); Engage (a British organisation established to oppose the BDS campaign in the Association of University Teachers); US Jewish Labor Committee (Appelbaum is the President of JLC).

Both Union Members for Israel and Engage were established by unionists opposed to their unions supporting the BDS campaign. Both the JLC and TUFI actively seek to build support for not only the Israeli Labour movement in their respective labour movement, they have also attempted to build support for the Israeli state and its occupation of Palestine. JLC is also a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – which refers to itself as America’s Pro-Israel Lobby. Both TUFI and the JLC issued statements in response to Israel’s most recent war on Gaza that both portrayed Israel as an innocent victim and said little or nothing of the extent of the Israeli Defence Force’s slaughter of more than 1300 civilians in Gaza strip.

In its founding statement TULIP states that “solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is clear – and has been accepted in principle by both sides. Israeli and Palestinian states living side by side, within secure and recognised borders, is the only workable solution to a conflict that has dragged on for decades”. It continues “Israel has already taken a number of steps towards this goal, most notably by agreeing to the Oslo Accords in 1993 and later by the unilateral withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Lebanon and Gaza. Palestinian moderates lead by Mahmoud Abbas support this process”.

In fact, since Oslo, Israel’s illegal settlement program has been massively expanded - an expansion which continues today. Moreover when Israel withdrew from Gaza, it continued to build and expand settlement in the West Bank. Also in withdrawing Gaza, Israel moved to turn the territory into a giant prison, closing the borders and has blockaded Gaza restricting the flow of supplies.

What is the basis for collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian unions?
TULIP founding expresses the desire to improve links between Israeli and Palestinian unions as a central goal. To be serious in doing so surely it is necessary to understand what the previous relationship was. The dominant Israeli trade union organisation is Histadrut (General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) , which is affiliated to the International Confederation of Trade Unions and it is primarily this organisation that TULIP relates to but there is also Kav LaOved (a NGO that works with disadvantaged Israeli and Palestinian workers) and the Workers Advice Centre which aims to build support for the formation of an independent labour association bringing together Israeli and Palestinian workers.

While Histadrut has existed since 1920, it is only since 1994 that it has taken on the characteristic what would normally be considered a trade union in much of the world. Prior to this Histadrut was a corporatist organisation, it not only organised workers but was also one of Israel’s largest employers owning 25% of the economy. In 1995, the leadership of Histadrut sol d off the organisations assets as part of the neo-liberal drive which that begun within Israel and renamed the organisation New Histadrut. Histadrut’s ownership of a substantial section of the economy reflected the role it played in capital formation within Israel and within the Zionist settler community in Palestine prior to the creation of the Israeli state. At this time individual capitalists did not sufficient capital to construct much of the new infrastructure and enterprises. Histadrut was created to both furnish the money for future development but also to ensure that Jewish workers would be provided to work.

This role as a central actor in the creation of the Israeli state also stamped Histadrut with one of its defining features since its foundation – racism. British anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein in an article on the Electronic Intifada describes the Histadrut as a racist organisation. During intial process colonisation in Palestine – Zionist organisations sort to promote and encourage through promoting buy Jewish campaign. These Jewish companies were to only employ Jewish workers and so Histadrut actively participated in excluding Palestinian from employment in these companies. Palestinians, including Arab Israelis were barred from becoming full members of Histadrut until 1959. In 1979, all Palestinians from the occupied territories who worked in Israel were forced to join Histadrut, with 1% of their wages being paid in dues to the union however these workers were not entitled to receive any support from Histadrut.

Histadrut and Palestinian Workers In the wake of the Oslo accords Histadrut looked for greater links with Palestinian trade unions, according to Dani Ben Simhon, this was to enable it to take over the Palestinian unions and use them to legitimate its entry into the Arab world. In March 1995, Histadrut made an agreement with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PFGTU) to allow it to continue to collect 1% from all Palestinian workers working inside Israel as before, but to give half of this money to the PGFTU. As part of these negotiations began over the division of funds from Palestinian workers Histadrut offered to give the PGFTU 8 million shekels to compensate for funds previously collected. The PFGTU contested amount that would paid as it was a tiny fraction of the estimated 1.5 billion shekels collected from Palestinian workers.

Following the outbreak of the second intifada Histadrut cut off all ties with the PFGTU, it stopped acting behalf of Palestinian workers inside Israel and it has refused to speak out against the IDF’s assault on Palestinians or their unions, instead acting as the part of Israel’s PR machine within the labour movement globally. This includes when the Nablus offices of the PGFTU were bombed by the IDF in February 2002.

More broadly Histadrut has a poor record of supporting the rights of non-Jewish workers within Israel. According to Greenstein Histadrut has never supported Arab workers' fight against racial discrimination. Examples of this include its failure to oppose mass layoffs of Arabs that occurred after the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000; a labor dispute of Arab and Jewish employees with the Dead Sea Hotel Nirvana in 2003, when an Arab manager was fired because he refused to forbid his co-workers to speak Arabic in front of tourists, although nominally Arabic is an official language of Israel. Likewise it has done nothing about McDonald's Israel's policy decision in 2004 not to allow Arabic to be spoken in the restaurants or the situation at a building site in the Knesset grounds in 2004 when Arab workers' helmets were marked with a red X, to facilitate assassination by marksmen in case of emergency. In 2005, Histadrut was found by a Labour Court to have failed in duties and allowed illegal discrimination against foreign workers by the Israeli Hotel Association. 0n August 6 2008 a new agreement was signed between the PGFTU and Histadrut to renew relations between the new organisations and including the continued division of fees, with the amount owed by Histadrut having to be calculated.

Following the announcement of the agreement Histadrut Chairperson Ofer Ein said, “The outcome of our dialogue with the PGFTU can only help achieve this, and help lay the foundations for future cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and progress in our shared quest for justice, peace and prosperity for all in the region”.

Unfortunately this cooperation did not extend to defending Palestinian workers and their unions when they were next attacked by the IDF. During the IDF’s assault on Gaza between November 2008 and January 2009, Histadrut issued a number of statements supporting and defending the IDF assault on Gaza, as a "defence on Israel’s sovereignty". While the statements do indicate regret at the death of innocent civilians, Histadrut's statements give no indication that more than 1300 Palestinians were killed in the terror unleashed on Gaza. The main focus of Histadrut's statements is the threat to life caused by the Hamas’s launching of missiles into Israel.

Signifcantly Histadrut statement does not incude any condemnation of the impact of the IDF's offensive on Palestinian unions. An example of this destruction of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees' office on December 29.

TULIP has expressed considerable concern at the spreading support for the BDS campaign against. Unions in a number of countries have decided to support the BDS campaign, these include: Australia, Canada, Ireland, Norway, Scotland and South Africa. It is this move, which threatens to isolate Israel and is already causing damage to the Israeli economy that has motivated the formation of TULIP, as the supporters of Israel within the labour movement realise that the growing support for the BDS campaign reflects the extent of revulvsion felt by ordinary people towards the actions of the IDF. TULIP attempts to overcome this by arguing that a boycott will undermine collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian unions and impact most on the weakest sections of society.

While its possible that a BDS will undermine collaboration, the campaign is supported by Palestinian unions. Equally importantly for collaboration to be anything more than co-option of Palestinian unions, it needs to be based on support for their struggle for justice. Finally while TULIP is totally opposed to the propose BDS campaign, it has no problem with the very real sanctions and blockade that has been applied to the Palestinian people for electing Hamas into government.

Hamas an Obstacle to Peace?
TULIP has made a number of statements arguing that Hamas is an obstacle to peace as it does not support the two state solution that was agreed to as part of the Oslo Accords. Contrary to TULIP’s claims, Hamas’s leadership have repeatedly stated that are they willing to accept a pause based on the formation of two sovereign states.

This was most recently reflected on May 9, when Hamas leader Khaled Meeshal, said the formation of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders as the basis of a long-term truce. Such a state which would include East Jerusalem as its capital, Israel’s settlements dismantled, the right of return for Palestinian refugees and full sovereignty over land, air and water. These are all issues that Israeli government, whether they have been led by Labor, Likud or Kadima have repeatedly refused.

In laying the blame for the lack of progress at the feat of Hamas, TULIP’s founders label Hamas as an extremist organisation which needs to be isolated. In labelling Hamas an extremist organisation they ignore Hamas’s continued willingness to explore negotiations with both other Palestinian organisations and with the Israeli government. Israel’s most recent assault on Gaza followed a 17 month cease, during which, according to the Israeli Intelligence & Terrorism Information Centre, Hamas did not launch a single rocket or mortar shell into Israel, this was despite the Israel failing to uphold its commitment to lift the blockade on Gaza.

While TULIP is highly critical of Hamas as block to peace, it has nothing to say with regard to Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Bieteinu Party, only the Engage website has articles referring to Lieberman. Lieberman is now the foreign minister and deputy Prime Minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud lead government. Lieberman is on record for making a range of racist statements against Palestinians and Arabs in general, these include:

  • In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat;
  • In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons;
  • In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there;
  • Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel's 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would "have to find a new Arab entity" in which to live beyond Israel's borders. "They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost';
  • In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.
TULIP’s claims of support for peace covers an attempt to mobilise support for Israeli oppression and undermine international solidarity with Palestine.

The only basis for a lasting peace in the region is justice for the Palestinians. To help achieve this, internal labour movement should give active solidarity with the Palestinian people — including by supporting the BDS campaign.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Joint French Union Statement on May 26 Protests

25 May 2009

The magnitude of the mobilization of 29 January, 19 March, 1 May yielded early results.

These are extremely insufficient in the light of both the claims made on 5 January 2009, and continued worsening of the crisis. Both the Employers and government must prioritise initiating negotiations and dialogue with the utmost urgency.

The government must put the "social" at the centre of its economic policy by:

  • Enhancing the minimum wage, the minimum social benefits, pensions and pensions;
  • Making any assistance or any reduction in social contributions by employers conditional on measurable increases in employment, skills training and remuneration;
  • Implement an ambitious plan to promote employment and skills of young;
  • Extend period of full compensation for people who have been made redundant;
  • Give the Employment Centres the needs not only of employers but job seekers;
  • Remove the tax exemptions for overtime and on contributions to stock options, use this additional revenue to finance social measures;
  • Renounce the job cuts planned for public offices planned for 2009 and 2010, and commit to addressing the insecurity by continuing wage negotiations.

These are the conditions for quality public services that meet the needs of the population,

The employers must finally assume their responsibilities and launch negotiations on:

  • Wage policies, industrial policies, the evolution of employment in industrial sectors, the reports of customers - contractors, to maintain and increase employment and reduce insecurity;
  • Better access for all to partial unemployment, improving the duration and level of compensation associated with skills training;
  • The distribution and redistribution of wealth in companies, improving wages and reducing inequalities, especially between men and women, recognition of qualifications, the use of public money for the benefit of employment;
  • Implement lasting measures to promote the employment of young people to ensure their social and professional development,Comply with and improve trade union rights and the representative institutions of the staff.

The government should abandon the extension of work on Sundays, ensure that public hospitals funded sufficiently to provide universal services, develop social housing and regulate the prices of rents.

Policies that improve the purchasing power of wages to increase consumer demand, along with the implementation of industrial and economic policies for sustainable development, coordinated at European level are all means to respond immediately and structurally with the crisis.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

European Workers Mobilìse for Jobs and Against Unemployment

Lisbeth Latham

Hundreds of thousands of workers answered the call of the European Trade Union Confederation’s calls for protests in Madrid, Brussels, Prague and Berlin on May to 16. The protests were in support of the ETUC’s “Fight the Crisis: Put People First” campaign and its efforts to win the adoption to win a “New Social Deal in Europe”.

The mobilisations, which were put at 20, 000 in Prague; 50, 000 in Brussels; 100, 000 in Berlin and 150, 000 in Madrid come as new projections indicate that the number of unemployed in Europe will rise by 8.5 million over the next two years. In response to the impact of the crisis the ETUC and its national affiliates are calling for greater action to protect workers and the unemployment through the adoption of a New Social Plan for Europe which would include:

  • An expanded recovery programme to provide more and better jobs, to protect employment in key industries, to invest in new, sustainable technologies, and to maintain vital public services;
  • Better pay and pensions, stronger welfare states, higher benefits to protect the purchasing power and effective participation rights needed to boost economies;
  • An end to the recent decisions of the European Court of Justice favouring market freedoms over our fundamental rights and collective agreements by confirming the social objectives of the internal market, and guaranteeing equal treatment and equal pay for ‘posted’ migrant workers;
  • Effective regulation of financial markets, a fair distribution of wealth, and no return to casino capitalism or to the ‘business as usual’ of the past 20 years in financial markets;
  • A European Central Bank committed to growth and full employment, not just price stability.

The adoption of these policies would be a positive step forward for millions of workers in Europe. It would provide protection for purchasing power and job security. Significantly the plan is aimed at social inclusion and the protecting the rights of workers regardless of their country of origin as a mechanism to protect wages and conditions.

If adopted the policies would make it more difficult for capital and the European governments to use the present crisis to drive down wages and conditions in order to return profitability – if capitalism survives the current crisis then it will do so by restoring profitability and allowing capital accumulation to continue.

The proposals by the ETUC reflect the attempts by sections of the global labour movement to present an alternative response to the current capitalist crisis that attempts to put workers rights ahead of profits. However there are currently no governing parties or potential parties of government in the advanced capitalist countries that have indicated that they would implement such policies these policies. Indeed the policies which are being proposed by the ETUC, which are mild and do not challenge directly the dominance of capital, are too extreme for European social democratic parties to consider.

An example of this was the developments in the Czech Republic and Hungary earlier this year. Unpopular right-wing governments have been brought down through mobilisations generated by the anger at the failure of these governments’ policies. In both of these countries the social democratic, who had been in opposition, have not sought to hold elections, elections that would most likely see them take government. Instead the social democratic parties have been willing to allow the instalment of technocratic governments dominated by former bankers.

This action reflects a number of factors. First is the reticence in accepting the poisoned chalice of government at the present time – where they will be blamed for the crisis. Secondly the social democrats do not desire to be under the pressure to enact changes to help workers, the unemployed and pensioners, at the same time they cannot afford to be seen to be pushing through the same anti-worker policies that have brought down the right-wing governments as this would result in greater space for either the far-left or far-right parties in their countries.

While the proposals of the ETUC could be a postive step forward, it provides no clear strategy to achieve its adoptions. It does imply two tactics for winning these objectives, the first was participation in its May Days of Protest (at this point no other mobilisations are planned) and the second is voting for a Social Europe in the June 4 European Parliamentary elections. The ETUC has developed a broader manifesto for the legislative changes it wants to achieve in the European parliament, however its material goes not give any indication how to win these objectives, or even which parties (or parliamentary groups) have indicated they support its policy.

Faced with this opposition to the policies that they are pushing, the unions and the broader progressive movement need examine how they can bring sufficient pressure to bare to force the implementation of their program. In France, the radical Solidaires union confederation and the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) have argued that victory in the struggle will require a campaign of escalating actions building up to an ongoing general strike similar to those conducted in the French colonies of Guadalupe, Martinique and Reunion earlier this year.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

CAW - TCA: Open Letter to GM Workers

The letter below was sent by the Canadian Auto Workers' GM Master Contract bargaining committee to the CAW's membership. It follows the demand on May 7 by the Canadian and Ontario governments that GM and the CAW come to a new àgreement to secure government bailouts for the sector.

GM and the CAW had already reached a new agreement in March, however the Ontario government has insisted that a new contract be drawn following Chrysler forcing greater concessions from the CAW in their contract.

There are also signficant battles looming in Europe following FIAT's take over of Chrysler which has also included FIAT taking over GM's European subsiduries Opel, Saab and Vauxhall. There are battles looming accross Europe acrross all FIAT's plants over jobs losses and to defend conditions.

The struggle in the global auto-industry reflects the extent to which both capital and governmetns are attempting to use the current crisis in order to both restructure and deepen the neo-liberal offensive against workers and unions.


An Open Letter to GM Workers
We Are Fighting For Our Lives

Dear Brothers and Sisters;
This has been an unbelievable, frightening time for auto workers. Our industry was weakened for years by government neglect and a one-way flood of imports from offshore. Then the global financial crisis hit, auto sales seized up, and we’ve been fighting for our lives ever since.

As you know, the CAW has been pro-active in trying to be “part of the solution” to this mess–a mess that auto workers did not create. Our contract in May 2008 provided $300 million per year in cost savings to the three companies combined. Then this March, as instructed by the government, we signed and ratified an extraordinary contract with GM that provided further savings as part of GM’s restructuring plan.

However, on March 30th U.S. President Barack Obama, in a televised address, rejected the GM plan, and told all stakeholders to go back to the drawing board. The Canadian government rubber-stamped this decision.

General Motors is already technically bankrupt: it cannot pay its bills without government aid (including the first $500 million in Canadian aid that flowed earlier this month). The federal and Ontario governments rejected our March contract, and have ordered the CAW to reach a new deal with GM or else they will pull the plug on the Canadian arm of the company. Without government support, GM Canada would be liquidated. Our plants would close, and our pensioners would be left to fend for themselves.

We feel angry and betrayed about having to negotiate a new collective agreement with GM, for the third time in one year. We know that you share that frustration.

But your bargaining committee has decided that we must respond positively to the government’s ultimatum. GM’s future in Canada is too important for us to walk away. However, it will be a massive challenge to try to reach a fair deal in the coming days. Because the governments and the company are trying to make workers pay for this economic crisis that we did not cause, and that we cannot possibly fix.

In particular, the government has made an outrageous demand that GM’s labour costs must be equivalent to Toyota Canada’s – including the cost of GM’s pension deficit! Toyota Canada has virtually no retirees. GM Canada has almost 25,000. What’s worse, thanks to GM’s greed and government’s incompetence, the GM pension fund is many billions of dollars in deficit.

The Ontario government allowed GM to underfund its pension for decades, through its special funding regulations, which the CAW is on record as opposing. Yet now they want workers to bear the cost of the resulting massive deficit through massive cuts in our pensions.

It can’t be done.
Obviously, the active GM workforce cannot solve a multi-billion dollar problem that took the company and the government decades to create. Remember, the pension deficit grew and grew even when GM was the most profitable company in Canada (GM Canada earned over $30 billion in profit, in inflation-adjusted terms, from 1978 through 2007), including periods when GM fully funded its U.S. plans.

The CAW has committed all along that our active labour costs will remain fully competitive. The CAW has consistently reminded GM Canada that our plants are 23 per cent more efficient than Toyota Canada’s (according to the independent Harbour Report).

But the long-term crisis in pension funding was not caused by the workers. And it can’t be fixed by the workers. We are holding the line on this issue – to defend our current retirees. And to defend you – the active workers of today, and the retirees of the future.

Stand by for more updates. Above all, be ready to support your union in the coming crucial days. We will not allow the workers to be made the scapegoats of this crisis.

Thank you for your continuing solidarity.

Signed, The CAW-GM Master Bargaining Committee

What does CCAA mean for our jobs?
It is possible, and even likely, that GM will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. in coming weeks, and for CCAA protection in Canada. What does this mean?

First, it does not mean that GM is bankrupt. Rather, GM is receiving court protection for a period of time, to restructure its business and escape from some of its debts.

The Canadian government has confirmed that if we reach a new deal with GM, they will protect that agreement through the CCAA process (so that no further bargaining is required).

This also means that the Canadian and Provincial governments will continue to provide the financing needed to assist GM through the CCAA process.

The best case is that GM would quickly exit Chapter 11 and CCAA protection, with the active support of the Canadian and U.S. governments, and then begin operations as a revitalized company.

Without government financial aid (which the government says is contingent in part on a deal with CAW), then GM Canada would likely be liquidated.

In any event, the CAW will use all its bargaining and legal resources to protect the interests of our current members and our retirees.

Furthermore, the CAW has been in the forefront mobilizing its membership on a range of issues from pension security to fighting for fair trade (instead of free trade), pulling out all stops in defence of our members, our families and our communities.

The activism of our leadership and members has been very much appreciated and those actions must continue if we are going to influence elected parliamentarians in defending the interests of the Canadian economy.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Steel union protects bosses’ profits

Lisbeth Latham

Since the global economic crisis began, there has been a sharp fall in global demand for steel, resulting in more competition between steel makers.

This competition will place considerable pressure on Australian steel makers BlueScope and OneSteel. Australian steel producers are also facing the potential financial impact of attempts to cut CO2 emissions.

In response to these pressures, on April 17 the Australian Workers Union (AWU) launched New Steel Plan: Our Vision for Australian Steel in the 21st Century.

AWU national secretary Paul Howes, in promoting the plan, has said failure to support the steel industry could potentially cost 500,000 jobs.

Steel crisis

The current crisis in the steel industry has its roots in the global resources boom over the past decade. During this boom, there was a substantial rise in the productive capacity in the steel industry. New small producers entered the market — particularly in India and China.

Despite expansion, production peaked for US steel makers at 97% of capacity in June 2006, remaining as high as 94.6% in December 2007. By March, it was down to 35.11%.

In Australia, says the AWU, production has fallen from 85% of capacity in the 2006 June quarter to 75% of capacity in the 2008 December quarter. Expectations are that it will fall to 71% for the March quarter.

In response to the fall in production, steel makers — like other manufacturers — have begun to shift workers onto shorter shifts. Socialist Alliance member Garry Holiday, who is an AWU assistant delegate at BlueScope’s Western Port steel refinery at Hastings, said workers are on average working 60% of their previous hours.

In the medium term, steel producers will be looking to shed jobs. To offset this, the AWU proposes a 10-point plan. It aims, among other things, to:

  • increase domestic sales by creating a mechanism that gives preference to Australian-made steel;
  • have the Australian government take action against international steel makers “dumping” — ie selling steel at much lower prices — in Australia; and
  • support productivity growth, wage restraint and jobs by using new technology.

The AWU’s plan is modelled on the steel plan adopted by the Hawke Labor government in 1983, which the AWU says “secured our local industry for the past 25 years”.

However, this plan, which was implemented during a similar period of high excess capacity coming out of a resource boom, led to more than 10,000 job losses in the steel industry.

At the same time, Australian steel producers were making significant gains in labour productivity and lifting their international competitiveness.

It is clear that the AWU’s proposed new plan will have similar results. Holiday said: “The hoped for results are contradictory. They are supposedly aimed at protecting jobs. However if you look at the tables provided in the plan, the goal is increased labour productivity. So the goal is to work less to produce more. I’m not sure that is supposed to produce or protect jobs.

“I was talking to a delegate from a contractor at Western Port about the plan; he was not impressed at all. He said ’they want us on the dole queue’.”

Much of the AWU’s plan is about the broader impact on the Australian economy from maintaining a steel industry, rather than the direct impact on steelworkers themselves.

The plan suggests that for every 1000 tonne cut in steel production, there will be 60 jobs lost, and the government would lose $1.97 million in tax revenue.

However, if steel production is going to be maintained through growth in productivity, then it is likely that there will be poorer outcomes in terms of job generation from the steel industry.

The AWU’s plan gives first priority to steel producers’ profits.

“In producing the plan, the AWU leadership is attempting to demonstrate that it is a ‘responsible union’ to employers, not only in the steel industry but in other sectors, such as the aluminium and the civil construction industry”, Holiday said. The AWU wants to be the union that employers prefer to deal with.

Environmentally friendly steel?
The AWU portrays the steel industry as environmentally friendly. In a March 25 Australian article, Howes said steel was environmentally friendly as it 100% recyclable and, like aluminium, was used in the construction of solar panels and wind turbines.

The steel plan expands on this, outlining how the steel industry could potentially help to cut total greenhouse gas emissions through process and raw materials enhancement, energy and materials recycling and waste and emissions cuts.

The AWU leadership is correct to say the steel industry is under pressure, as a collapse in employment looms. It is also correct that these sectors can potentially contribute significantly to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

However, in acting as an advocate for steel companies, the AWU puts the company’s profits before workers’ right to employment and decent wages as well as a liveable environment.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly issue # 794


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

French Unions Announce Mass Demonstrations for May and June

Lisbeth Latham

France’s eight major union confederations have called further mass mobilisations for May 26 and June 13. The announcement followed a joint meeting of the national leaderships of the union confederations held on May 4 to assess the May Day protests.

In their joint statement, the Unions argue that the May 1st demonstration – which involved more than 1.2 million and was third joint action in the last four months “testifies to the deep roots of the mobilisation and indicated the commitment of employees, job seekers and retirees to express their grievances and get a response”. The statement continued “the government and employers would be wrong to treat them with contempt by refusing them, where as the crisis, with unemployment and dismissals strike them (workers, retirees and job seekers) with full whip”.

The joint union leaderships will meet in the next few days to develop a set of demands that develop on the demands raised on the government and employers on January 5. The unions have made it clear that they are expecting a rapid response to their demands.


Monday, May 4, 2009

French Workers March Against Sarkozy on May Day

Lisbeth Latham

Frances’s eight major union federations united to hold national demonstrations on May 1, the third joint demonstration this year. The May Day demonstrations reflected the continued push within the French labour movement for a united campaign to force the Sarkozy government to implement policies that protect the interests of workers, students, pensioners and the poor.

Initial reports suggest that more than 1.2 million people participated in 286 protests across France. While the number of protesters was down on the January and March demonstrations, according to the General Federation of Labour (CGT) the figure was five times larger than participated in 2008, and three times larger than participated in the 2003 protests which were part of the campaign against the Chirac government’s attacks on pensions.

In its statement on the May Day demonstrations the CGT states that the mobilisations were successful in involving a substantial number of new protestors, both from the public and private sector. In addition the call for May Day had helped to expand the involvement of workers in action.

The lower numbers attending protests may reflect the fact that May Day is a public holiday in France. Significantly opinion polls suggest that 70% of French people support the union campaign. Which may have contributed to the Socialist Party encouraged its members to participate in May Day demonstrations, the first time since 2002.

France’s unions will meet again on May 4 to discuss the coordination of the campaign during May and June. France’s unions will participate in the European Trade Union Confederation’s Put People First demonstrations in Madrid, Brussels, Berlin and Prague on May 14-16.


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Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

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