Exploitation of Migrant Labour must end

Following on from the decision to leave the EU and the rhetoric coming from some quarters as a consequence of BREXIT, the Scottish  Rank and File believes that in order for our members working in the Construction Sector to have all the benefits of our collective agreements, we should unite and fight against unscrupulous employers, where they seek to undermine those agreements, with the likes of BESNA and agency employment etc., and their utterly reprehensible and criminal behaviour manifesting itself in blacklisting, but it is also imperative that we challenge, head on, the exploitation of migrant labour.

We know that there are issues, on sites up and down the country, where migrant labour are being used by employers, whether it is by companies but predominantly agencies, to undercut the terms and conditions if the indigenous workforce, however, what we as a movement, must not allow, is the tactics of divide and conquer to prevail, by dragging us down to the level of the baying mob. We must take responsibility in challenging the fever pitch finger pointing that goes on and educate our fellow workers, that it is not the individual foreign worker who is undercutting our terms and conditions, it is not the worker with a poor grasp of English that has stolen your job. We must make it clear that it is the fault of that despicable employer and that if we fail to deal with them, then it will have an adverse effect on our standards of living and earning potential for years to come.

Big business constantly moan about the lack of skilled workers to fill the vacancies in construction, a situation that they helped create. Their under investment in training and skills is responsible for the skills shortage in all trades that we’re experiencing now, but surely the answer is quite simple. These same voices from industry, and indeed from our Governments, would be better off creating more apprenticeships to provide the skilled workforce they never tire of moaning about.

However, whilst investment in apprenticeships and training is widely accepted as necessary and is supported by the Rank and File and Trade Unions, short termism is still the order of the day and it is far and away a whole lot easier for employers to utilise the services provided by agencies as a quick fix. But this method in itself is not sustainable as employers are realising that this short sighted approach to fulfilling their Labour requirements has led directly to the lack of skilled workers entering the labour market from traditional apprenticeships and by using agencies who we have always known to be parasitic bodies that only take from our industry and at the same time put absolutely nothing back into it by way of training and apprenticeships.

So, now we have the situation where employers outsource skilled labour from abroad where employers relish the hostile attitudes on British construction sites where foreign workers often feel isolated and unwelcome. How can we organise and integrate those workers into the trade union under these circumstances?

We now have the perfect storm for exploitation, not only of the migrant worker, but of indigenous British workers as they divide and conquer. We are too busy blaming and pointing fingers at our foreign colleagues, working next to us, doing the same graft, that we have taken our collective eyes of the ball and are letting the real culprits get away with undercutting our terms and conditions. Some would say, we’ve only got ourselves to blame.

So, the question remains. How do we stop this exploitation, attacks on our industry terms and conditions, and bring about that investment in skills and training so that we have a sustainable industry fit for future generations?

It’s up to every one of us to take the time to embrace our overseas comrades to ensure that they benefit from our collective agreements and the protection of being part of a trade union. That is the best way to end this abuse.

We know this is easier said than done, but unless we stop this easy source of cheap labour by bringing these fellow workers on board and uniting with them, the employers can and will continue to undermine our union national agreements and ultimately your pay packet!

There is no other viable alternative to countering this problem, we must work together, we must educate and we must fight side by side, because if we don’t, we will be beaten by our own failings. We have to realise that unity is strength and division is a weakness too easily exploited by our real enemies.

Time to stand up for equality in construction

 


Splits in the left and the Rank and File

With attempted coups and splits within the Left in Unite, you would be forgiven for asking, what’s that got to do with the Rank & File? Well let’s examine this question.

The United Left in Scotland is a lay member group within Unite that promotes a progressive agenda, both industrially and politically, that they believe, the union should pursue. Senior members of the Rank & File in Scotland are, in fact, also members of the United Left in Scotland. However that is not the only reason.

According to Anne Field, in the Shiraz Socialist blog, the leading light in this coup or split, is none other than Mark Lyon, former Unite convenor at Ineos, Grangemouth. Isn’t he the one that called the Rank & File rent-a-mob during the Besna dispute, I hear you ask? Well, allegedly, yes, apparently he is. He is also vice chair of Unite’s Executive Council and Chair of the International Committee.

So what is Unite’s response to attempted coups and risks of splits? Well, if you look at the trouble within the Labour Party and the vote of no confidence, by the PLP, in the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, that resulted in another leadership election, Unite’s response was one of condemnation of the PLP and quite rightly so. At Unite’s Policy Conference Len McCluskey said “…. And most of all, we are a union of principle.  We do not throw words to the wind or indulge in pointless gestures or posturing.  We reach agreements where possible and fight for our members where necessary. We don’t dwell on dogma, but we don’t confuse right with wrong. We debate difference and we cherish unity.  We stand proud in the British, Irish and international labour movement, and we do all this because of YOU, you here in this hall and thousands of our workplace representatives around the country. We have much still to do my friends; And we will do it together, while we remain united, we will remain strong”. Furthermore the Scottish Regional Secretary, in a press release, said “At this time of tremendous political and economic uncertainty, our country now looks to the Scottish Labour Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party at Westminster, to preserve our members’ jobs and working conditions, and to protect industries under increasing pressure in the uncertain climate following the decision of the UK to leave the European Union……..our members and the people of Scotland will be looking with dismay at the co-ordinated attempts to undermine the democratic mandate of our elected Leaders in Scotland and the UK”. Both very laudable indeed, but what about their response to the split within their own union in Scotland.

The splitters held a meeting in Glasgow on the 27th of August and guess who was there? According to the Shiraz Socialist blog, it was none other than the Scottish Regional Secretary and 13 other officers of the union. This group have said that they do not recognise the democratic decisions taken by United Left Scotland members at their AGM in June of this year, including the election of the new chairperson, who happens to be a prominent member of the Rank & File in Scotland. Len McCluskey apparently said, that he doesn’t support a split, but if there was a split and there was two groups claiming to be the left in Scotland, he would support a group who has Mark Lyon and the Regional Secretary as members. Eh, really? It is worth noting that when talking about the wasted three month fighting against the coup in the Labour Party, a leading member of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet was heard saying that “If this happened in a trade union, they would nail them to the wall”. Well….. eh no!! As it happens, they are backing the splitters. Why hasn’t Mark Lyon been nailed to the wall? Where is the principle in denouncing one coup and supporting another? All within the same labour movement. The shameful betrayal of members of United Left Scotland, including the Rank & File, shows a complete disregard for the lay member democracy of the union and one that is under threat.

However, we believe that worrying developments may present the Rank & File with further concerns. Apparently, the chair of the Scottish Building, Construction and Allied Trades’ RISC who also happens to be vice chair of the NISC, turns out, it seems, to be one of the co-conspirators in this whole sorry affair, and was also at the meeting on the 27th August. So, it seems, we have someone with a prominent position in the Construction sector, actively working against the Rank & File members in Scotland and possibly the UK. He also holds a position on the Scottish Executive as a result of being elected from the Risc. This person, who purports to be a supporter of the Rank & File, has attended our Scottish and national meetings, and has now, its believed, been working to undermine our members. We, the Rank & File, are trade unionists, we campaign on industrial matters and on political matters. We believe in solidarity and we support workers in struggle, both here and overseas. We are against those who try to split us for their own ends, and we don’t like betrayal. An attack on one of our members is an attack on us all, whether from employers or elsewhere.

Coups and splits are never pleasant, as damages inflicted could be irreparable and trust, even harder to reconcile. There are moves to try and bring this coup to an end and there is an open meeting planned for the 12th November. It may be resolved, it may not. But the unforgiveable thing, is witnessing comrades turning their back on good people within the Rank & File and that betrayal will never be excused.

Unite’s opposition to the coup against Corbyn, and its support for the coup within the Left in Scotland, is so obviously contradictory as to be staring you right in the face. So, how can you be a fervent advocate of unity one minute, then, back a coup and a split, the next. The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Unite’s leadership needs to be challenged or the splitters will win….. Who’s next? Over to you Len.

Splitters of the world unite. Aye right.

The Scottish Rank & File Executive Committee

Sources:

https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/beware-charlatans-launch-counterfeit-united-left-scotland/#more-51864

http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/len-mccluskeys-speech-to-unite-policy-conference/

http://www.unitetheunion.org/how-we-help/listofregions/scotland/latestnews/scotlands-workers-need-a-united-scottish-labour-party/

 


SNP and Blacklisting – Smoke and Mirrors?

The recent announcement from the Scottish Government on blacklisting makes for good headlines. The ‘National’ lauded that “Construction firms who blacklist workers to be banned from public contracts”, and reported that ‘companies involved in blacklisting are to be banned from bidding for public contracts in a Scottish Government crackdown’. However, the provision of the new Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2015 includes ‘From 18 April 2016, it will be a legal requirement for public bodies to exclude businesses which are found to have breached the Blacklists Regulations 2010, or which have admitted to doing so. This will remain in force until the business has taken appropriate remedial measures, or a period of three years has elapsed since the blacklisting occurred, which is the maximum timescale allowed under EU law’, but only if there has been a breach of the Employment Relations act 1999 (Blacklisting) regulations 2010.

So how much will change as a result of this move by the Scottish Government? In truth, very little. To be fair, ‘Blacklisting’ will be included in the new regulations for the first time in procurement legislation, but the ability to exclude companies from public contracts is already in existence.

Article 57 paragraph 4 of the EU Directive on public procurement states:

 Contracting authorities may exclude or may be required by Member States to exclude from participation in a procurement procedure any economic operator in any of the following situations:

(c) where the contracting authority can demonstrate by appropriate means that the economic operator is guilty of grave professional misconduct, which renders its integrity questionable.

It is already against the law to blacklist and the contravention of the blacklisting regulations should ensure that a public contract will not be given to companies that have blacklisted workers, under this paragraph.

The inclusion of the maximum timescale of three years is a real kick in the teeth to those who found themselves in the Consulting Association’s files. In recent months, Unite the Union, Neil Findlay and others have been raising questions around the amount of public sector contracts that have been awarded to blacklisting companies since the publication of the Scottish Procurement Policy Note on blacklisting in November 2013. With recent additions, this has amounted to over £1.5b worth of contracts. This provision lets these companies off the hook and legitimises the inclusion of them in the procurement process.

The Scottish Government says that this is the maximum timescale allowed under EU law. But are they right? Article 57 paragraph 7 of the EU public procurement directive sates:

‘By law, regulation or administrative provision and having regard to Union law, Member States shall specify the implementing conditions for this Article. They shall, in particular, determine the maximum period of exclusion if no measures as specified in paragraph 6 are taken by the economic operator to demonstrate its reliability. Where the period of exclusion has not been set by final judgment, that period shall not exceed five years from the date of the conviction by final judgment in the cases referred to in paragraph 1 and three years from the date of the relevant event in the cases referred to in paragraph 4’.

This seems to suggest that member states can determine the maximum period of exclusion if remedial action isn’t satisfactory, and if they don’t, the three years maximum period sets in, yet the Scottish Government’s interpretation of EU law seems to differ from this point.

It’s very hard to get excited about something that will make very little difference to what is already in place. The BAM’s and Balfour Beatty’s of this world will continue to get public sector contracts and blacklisted workers will receive no justice as a result.

This announcement seems to be more about being seen to be doing the right thing rather than doing the right thing. The SNP’s overwhelming need to be all things to all men, means that they continue to make populist announcements and pronouncements, which don’t stack up under any scrutiny. In other words, they say the right things but rarely deliver. The workers who have suffered most from the insidious practice of big business, now find themselves in the middle of the SNP’s political brinkmanship.

Blacklisted workers deserve better.

Sources:

http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00491432.pdf

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv:OJ.L_.2014.094.01.0065.01.ENG

http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00486741.pdf

http://www.gov.scot/resource/0043/00438311.pdf


Time for change

The election of Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party, has been like a logjam that has been removed which has allowed and facilitated a better flow of progressive views and thoughts, with socialism suddenly becoming in vogue.

The Labour Party appears to turning itself from being only an election machine and into a party with potential to influence progressive movements throughout the UK.

But why did it take the election of a 66 year old parliamentarian, a back bencher for over thirty years, to release this enthusiasm for a clear alternative to austerity, a man who struggled to get the 35 nominations needed to get on to the ballot paper, with many of the so-called trade unionists in the Parliamentary Labour Party failing to back him?

Witnessing the packed halls as Corbyn toured the country, it became clear that people of all age groups, within the Labour Trade Union family, were waiting for this moment, yet like the unpredictability of May’s general election result, the key players within the trade union movement were taken by surprise by the impact that he has had on the nation and are now struggling how to deal with this new found confidence.

Why, with all the resources that the TU movement have, were they not in the position to realise this potential and to release it in a positive manner as Corbyn has done?

Could the reason be, that the Trade Unions are unable to engage its membership? Unwilling to listen, out of touch, close down debate and stagnation of thought? The same reasons why Corbyn’s leadership rivals failed to connect in the leadership campaign.

Since the election of the coalition in 2010, there has been a catalogue of missed opportunities for the movement to respond to. The objectives of privatisation, deregulation and attacks on trade unionism under the name of “austerity”. The consequences of not responding has seen the living standards reduced for the mass of working class people while wealth has increased for the minority elite. with the working class and our communities under such relentless attack, the trade union response has been nothing more than tokenistic.

The failure to build on the mass demonstrations of March and November 2011 against austerity and pension cuts simply highlight the pitiful leadership which has, sadly, led to a lack of confidence among trade union members. The call to look at the “Practicalities of a general strike” at the 2013 TUC, was nothing more than window dressing for an organisation which offers very little for working people.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics, show that nearly one million jobs in the public sector have been lost in the UK since the Tories first came into power with the coalition in 2010 with 84,000 lost in Scotland. Why, with this devastating amount of job losses, there has been no co-ordinated response by the TUC, is beyond comprehension.

The attack on collective bargaining, which many view as a corner stone of trade union strength, has seen the UK trade union movement currently drop to second lowest within the EU, while in other countries in Europe, collective agreement continue to grow. This is both bad for trade unions and the economy itself, and is a significant contributor to the growth of inequality which creates its own misery.

The failure to co-ordinate an industrial campaign against a weak coalition is seen as being symptomatic of the indecisions shown by the Union leadership and will be remembered as a grave error to thousands of workers.

The failure of above giving rise to the election of this reactionary Tory Government.

We now have a Tory Government unchained from its weak coalition partner, intent on delivering the final coup de grace to the trade union movement, and taking the labour further into the Victorian era. The thousands employed on precarious working conditions, a throw back to this era, don’t need people to stand up for them, they need their Unions to protected them from this harsh reality in a so-called modern country with the fifth largest economy in the world.

In this bleak political landscape, the challenge for the movement is huge.

How we deal with this challenge will require strong leadership with fresh ideas, a clear vision to lead the movement, not for the next five years but for future generations with a vision for organising, as well as industrial and political strategies.

Surely the proposals within the trade union bill will awaken the slumbering beast.

Corbyn politics demands “straight talking”, a principle that the trade unions need to embrace. The closeness to the previous new Labour agenda exemplified by the lack of influence during Labour governments of 1997-2010 which left workers in the UK still facing draconian labour laws, the worst in Europe, and where we now fight off a low base when challenging the Tories current proposals.

How has the trade union leadership reacted to the ‘Corbyn affect’? Well, dangerous concessions on thresholds as being suggested by some, could mean that nothing much has changed and for the unions, its business as usual. Surely this position is untenable?

It seems ironic that when the Labour Party is on the rise with huge increases in membership, the supposed bastions of progressive ideas, faces stagnation.

Perhaps like Labour, it’s time for change, and perhaps for individuals within the key affiliates, it’s time to recognise that need and for some to move on, most importantly, for the survival of the trade union movement they claim committed too.

When Greek ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis addressed the recent TUC, he closed with the following, “But comrades, to finish on a slightly pessimistic note and a word of caution to what is happening here in Britain, the enemy is always within. The enemy is always the Ramsay McDonalds, the enemy is fear in our ranks. Try to excise it from your hearts and the hearts of your leaders”.

Maybe its time to act before it’s too late.


SNP’s broken promises on blacklisting

The SNP government in Scotland have been listening to trade unions and the Blacklisting Support Group over the scourge of blacklisting and have been offering kind words of sympathy and support.

But what have they actually delivered?

In November 2013 the Scottish Government launched it’s guidance note on blacklisting. It was claimed that this was a ‘major step forward’ in the fight for justice for blacklisted workers and their families. However this guidance note has proven to be ineffective because since that time, 16 public sector contracts have been awarded to some of the blacklisting companies, identified after the raid on the Consulting Association by the Information Commissioner‘s Office in 2009. Contracts amounting to over £900m. This is a national scandal.

At the time, we argued that the guidance note didn’t go far enough and that we needed a statutory instrument to give the guidance some teeth. The SNP have failed to put this on a statutory footing.

So what does this say about the commitment of the SNP?

It is worth noting that they also rejected an amendment on blacklisting, proposed by Neil Findlay in consultation with trade unions, at the second reading of the Procurement Reform Bill, and there is no mention of blacklisting in the statutory procurement guidance launched earlier this month.

The SNP, while saying the right things, are actually delivering very little to deliver the justice that we all demand.

We must increase the pressure on ministers in the Scottish government to actually act, on what they agree to be a scourge on our society.

Words are not enough, this inaction is a slap in the face to those workers and their families, who’s lives have been ruined by these cretinous companies.

We need and demand action.


Trade Union Bill

It has been well documented in recent months that the Trade Union bill is the biggest attack on trade union members since the dark days of Thatcher. An ideological and vicious attempt to suppress the workers of this country from defending themselves from the excesses of capitalism, that goes to the very heart of our human and civil rights.

So what do we make of of the latest intervention from Unite leader, Len McCluskey, in a letter to David Cameron? Len seems to be in favour of the element of the bill that deals with ballots. In particular, where it seeks to enforce a 50% turnout of those entitled to vote with the addition that 40% of those entitled to vote, votes in favour, but only if a deal could be done that would require an amendment to the bill to bring in secure workplace ballots using online and electronic voting.

So what is the thinking behind this? Is he concerned that people see this as a sensible move and he doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of public opinion, as suggested by the guardian? Or is it a tactical move where  McCluskey is seen to be the reasonable one, willing to compromise and therefore able to take the moral high ground?

The reason I say this is because if he really believed in the plans for ballots, incorporated in the bill, then why didn’t he demand similar plans for other ballots, in his letter to the prime minister? Why didn’t he demand this for the general election for example? At the last election, the Tories got 36.9% of the vote out of those who voted, that means they only received 24.42% of those eligible to vote. If you agree with the principle of what is proposed in the trade union bill, then what mandate do the Tories have to govern this country? Now that would have put you on the moral high ground, but he didn’t argue that.

My understanding is that Len McCluskey said much the same thing at a meeting of the National Executive recently, but there was little discussion and certainly no decision taken. So when he says “Were you to be able to accept this modern and democratic proposal to update balloting procedures then Unite, for its part, would be comfortable about accepting the thresholds and the time limit on the validity of ballots proposed in the trade union bill, without prejudice to our position on other elements of the legislation.”, on whose behalf is he speaking? Certainly not Unite members and certainly not the 100,000 people who marched outside the Tory party conference in Manchester.

Mr McCluskey’s letter to the prime minister and his nervous defence of what he had written, on the Andrew Marr show came as a surprise to most. It puts him at odds with the Labour Party leadership (for markedly different reasons than in the past), his trade union leader comrades and his union’s membership.

Ultimately the message that he has given out is that he is a Trade Union leader who is willing to do deals with the Tories and what else will he be willing to concede? That is what will come out of this. He has put himself and Unite at odds with everyone else opposed to this bill. He has weakened his own and Unite’s position and has made himself a laughing stock.

Not the smartest thing you’ve done Mr McCluskey.


Organising for the future in construction

At a meeting of the construction RISC chairs recently, the future of organising in the construction sector was discussed. In particular, the issues looked at, were the problems within the sector, possible solutions, and practical actions that could be actioned.

Some of the problems identified were things like:

  • The Sector is difficult to fit into the 100% campaign because of the somewhat transient nature of the workforce.
  • Despite Conference resolutions, dedicated regional officers are not in place. The Sector does need a certain level of knowledge which other Sectors may not experience.
  • Added to this, officers tend to have complicated and multi-sector responsibilities to organise.
  • Construction is not seen as a priority sector within the Union.
  • Retention of members is a great challenge.

These are the issues that we can all identify with and something that we all have been arguing about for some time, however possible solutions were also discussed, such as:

  • After  the next RISC’s, notice should be given to convene a special meeting within 2 – 3 weeks with a single item agenda – the strategy for the RISC,  with invitations extended to Regional Secretaries and representatives of the Organising Department.
  • More clarity is needed under the following headings:
    • What is the actual purpose of the RISC? What should its objectives be?
    • What is the relationship between the Construction RISC and other RISC’s where       there may be synergy?
    • How can relationships be fostered, and between whom?
    • How would this work?
    • What is the role of RISC members outside of meetings?
    • What is the role of the Chair of the RISC outside meetings?
    • How can we turn the RISC into an action-centred, strategic body?
    • What is the role of Unite full-time officers on the RISC?
    • Are they there to report, advise, direct, or take direction from the lay delegates?
    • How  would the above relationship work?
    • How will we decide accountabilities within the RISC, and how would these apply in practice?
  • A proposal to pilot one RISC for special attention was discussed.  Do we select the most challenging Region, or one where there is a greater chance of success?

This is a debate that we must all engage in. It is important that the fundamental question of what is the point of the RISC must be explored. It must be more than just a talking shop and more than just a vehicle for sending delegates to conference. However, we must all get involved in the debate, also, because of the things that are not mentioned here. There is not mention of sites, other than as part of the 100% campaign. Without real organisation on site, the 100% campaign is doomed to fail. It is about identifying sites and getting agreements early, making it easier to organise. It’s about fostering our activists and building confidence in our members to become shop stewards, safety reps etc., and offering real protection for them.

How do we identify sites early? One way is to get the information from other sectors. If a hospital is going to be built, then comrades in that sector should be helping to smooth the transition from planning to construction. That is one example. We must form closer relationships with other sectors. It is also important to get regional buy in, otherwise any strategy just won’t work. The regional secretary controls the officers in their region, not the national officer for construction, and he must be persuaded to direct resources to implement any strategy. We also, in turn, have to argue for resources to be directed to the region, from the centre.

Of course, we can’t divorce this process from the work of the combine. Direct employment, an end to blacklisting, paid for training, trade union matters and proper employment procedures must be part of the whole solution.

Two regions have been chosen to pilot these discussions, Scotland and NEYH. This is an opportunity that we can’t afford not to take. Get involved.