The intersection of industrial and political struggles in the Russian Revolution

The preamble or prehistory to the Russian Revolution can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when the vast empire began to undergo radical changes that outstripped Tsarism’s capacity or inclination to adapt accordingly. The three decades prior to the war saw Russia experience significant economic growth as a result of breakneck industrialisation, increased foreign investment, the emergence of a modern banking system and the promotion of a small indigenous enterprise sector. National income grew rapidly in these years, yet this growth was distributed unequally between the economic core and periphery as well as along class lines. At the same time, liberal pressures in the direction of constitutional monarchy elicited a combination of reform and repression on the part of the autocracy, generating successive political crises that gradually eroded its power and legitimacy.

It was in this period that the Russian working class grew in numbers and confidence. Despite or perhaps because of the weakness and effective illegality of the organised labour movement, Russia experienced four waves of mass strikes in the lead up to the war – the first in the late 1870s, the second in 1896-97, the third in 1903-06, and a fourth beginning in 1912. Rising workplace militancy and the strength of radical political sentiment confounded orthodox Marxist diagnoses of Russia’s backwardness and pointed to at least two key factors that would ultimately make revolution possible.

Firstly, the government’s large stake in native industry and the protection of foreign investment meant that modest economic demands such as improved wages or working conditions were always likely to turn political, with the authorities quick to use violence in the defence of commercial interests. As Neil Faulkner notes in his popular account of the Revolution, workers learned from experience that ‘economics and politics were inseparable: that when one fought the boss for a living wage, one faced the truncheons and sabres of the Tsarist state.’ These struggles, he argues, ‘turned the more determined of the proletarian militants into political revolutionaries’, creating an important strata of organic intellectuals.

A second key factor was the predominantly peasant composition of the working class, whose experience of dispossession and tradition of violent rebellion against landowners made them more revolutionary than conservatively minded French smallholders, for example. With the abolition of serfdom failing to temper widespread demands for land redistribution, peasant revolts became a common feature of the Russian social landscape by the turn of the century. In addition, the large numbers of young peasants migrating to the towns and burgeoning industrial centres carried with them the radical traditions of their forebears, and bore what Sheila Fitzpatrick describes as ‘the resentments and frustrations that go with dislocation and incomplete assimilation to an unfamiliar environment’.

These undeveloped modern dynamics reacted against the established order in the 1890s, when Russia’s industrial cities were hit by strikes much bigger than those of the late 1870. The strikes were supported by small socialist organisations such as the St. Petersburg League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, whose founding members included a young V.I. Lenin and his close collaborator Julius Martov, a future leading light of the Mensheviks. This Marxist intelligentsia rooted itself in the urban working class through the establishment of reading circles and study groups, before progressing to political organisation and the calling of strikes. It was here that the foundations were laid for the emergence of Russian social democracy as a mass movement.

And yet, the theoretical Marxist debates taking place at the time – on economism, on conceptions of the revolution, on the role of the party – were only as urgent or relevant as the masses rendered them in practice. For in 1905 the workers once again intervened into history, casting aside established Marxist doctrine and dealing Tsarism a near fatal blow from which it would not recover.

It began at St. Petersburg’s massive Putilov steel works, with the sacking of four of its 12,000 workers at the end of 1904. To the workers’ petition for reinstatement Fr. George Gapon, a popular Orthodox priest with a socialist background, added demands for a wage increase and an eight-hour day. Radicals to the left of him then added further demands resonating beyond sectional interests: for the freedom of assembly and of the press, the separation of church and state, an end to the disastrous Russo-Japanese War, universal suffrage and a Constituent Assembly.

Bloody Sunday, 9 January 1905 in the Russian calendar, saw the Cossacks and police massacre up to 200 demonstrators outside the Winter Palace. What had begun as a popular campaign for liberal reforms was momentarily transformed into a movement of mass strikes, peasant insurrections and military mutinies, climaxing in the autumn with the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies assuming de facto control of the capital. Panicked and wounded, the regime was able to bolster its chances of survival by ending the war with Japan and pledging the creation of a national parliament, the Duma. However, the nascent worker-peasant alliance continued to pose a threat into 1906, land seizures and soviets being the order of the day. The Mensheviks and Bolsheviks could legitimately boast a place in this movement. But notwithstanding Trotsky’s prominent role in the St. Petersburg Soviet, their respective assessments had been overtaken by events. Indeed there were lessons in this partial defeat for everyone in the revolutionary movement – about human agency, about solidarity and collective action, about the nature of the state, about political organisation, tactics and the need for a ‘concrete analysis of concrete conditions’.

The 1905 Revolution – the great ‘dress rehearsal’ as Lenin called it – ended with bloody repression, anti-Semitic pogroms and the arrest of its suspected architects. National revolts and peasant insurrections were crushed, while the number of strike days in Russia declined sharply from 24 million that year to less than a million by 1908. This was followed by another period of industrial and political unrest lasting from 1912 to 1914. The British journalist Arthur Ransome was on hand to witness how, upon the Tsar’s declaration of war with Germany on 2 August, these revolutionary sentiments quickly gave way to patriotic fervour and jingoistic flag-waving. ‘The strikes of a few days before were forgotten,’ he lamented. ‘War, as so often before and after, had for the moment welded the nation into one, or had seemed to weld it.’

Right across the European socialist movement, internationalists became national patriots overnight. Even most Russian socialists adhered to the ‘defencist’ position of supporting the war effort while at the same time calling for its immediate end. But the war had the overall effect of accentuating the old regime’s anachronisms and weaknesses. In the first place, with the Russo-Japanese War still raw in people’s memories, each major defeat suffered by Russia during the First World War – and there were many – would cause society to turn against the hapless Nicholas II and his government, highlighting their illegitimacy.

Secondly, the economic hardship caused by the war – high inflation coupled with low wages, and food shortages leading to mass starvation – heightened the sense of discontent felt by Russia’s vast population. In these harsh conditions the rapidly expanding industrial workforce grew more militant and strikes more frequent. And while the economic struggles continued, the political strike movement gained new momentum. Stories broke through of mutinies, of small groups of soldiers refusing orders to fire upon demonstrations; increasing numbers joined the burgeoning ranks of the revolution. This new development underscored one unintended but ultimately fatal consequence of the war effort: the coming together of Russia’s disparate and heterogeneous working class on the battlefield as well as on the home front.

The Bolsheviks, by necessity, sharpened their political programme, tactics and methods of organisation, their message becoming more popular with workers as the mood became more militant. But not even they expected revolution to break out when it did. No strikes had been called for International Women’s Day, 23 February 1917. The influential Bolshevik Vyborg Committee based in the heart of Petrograd saw no appetite for strike action. So when 7,000 low paid women workers from the city’s textile mills spilled onto the streets demanding ‘Bread!’, it was a surprise to everyone but the women themselves. For, as Faulkner rightly notes,

The working women of Petrograd were doubly oppressed: ground down in the workplace, by wretched conditions, long hours and low pay; ground down at home by the toil and poverty of everyday existence. Many were on their own, their brothers, husbands and sons conscripted. Many were grey with hunger and exhaustion. Sometimes they would go two or three days without eating. Sometimes they would cross themselves and weep with joy when they managed to buy bread. When a loaf can induce tears, revolution is close.

By the close of International Women’s Day, the striking women had called out tens of thousands of workers from neighbouring engineering factories. Within three days virtually all of Petrograd’s major factories had been shut down. Over 300,000 people were now active in a political strike, the slogan ‘Bread’ crowded out by banners reading ‘Down with the autocracy!’, ‘Down with the war!’ Army regiments mutinied in larger numbers than before, with thousands of soldiers coming over to the revolution. Before long it had spread to Moscow and the provincial cities, leaving the Tsarist regime crippled beyond repair.

According to Lars T. Lih, the prolific scholar of the early Soviet period, the February Revolution set up the ‘fundamental lines of force for the whole year’. The Romanov dynasty that had ruled Russia for centuries had collapsed, giving way to a ‘dual power’ situation in which the soviet – now comprised of worker and soldier delegates – gradually became the ultimate source of sovereign authority. On the surface, this power manifested itself in the Provisional Government’s adoption of key parts of the soviet programme and the loyalty of the armed forces to the soviet. At the same time, new trade unions were formed, with Mensheviks and Bolsheviks taking up leadership positions; and at a grassroots level, workers’ committees drew down economic power by assuming control of their factories.

The struggle between the Provisional Government and the soviet found expression in a series of political crises that occurred between February and October. Membership of the Bolshevik Party increased from just 24,000 to over 350,000 in the same period, as the population grew war weary and economic conditions deteriorated. Strikes and workplace occupations played an important role during the July Days demonstrations, for instance, when most of the 500,000 demonstrators who came out did so under the Bolshevik banner of ‘All power to the soviets!’ General Kornilov’s attempted coup of August likewise failed in large part because of the actions of ordinary workers: railwaymen diverted trains bringing troops into Petrograd, printers halted the distribution of Kornilov’s plans, and soviet activists used their newfound influence on the soldiers to prevent wider bloodshed.

With hindsight, the Bolsheviks gaining control of the Petrograd Soviet at the end of August and the Moscow Soviet a week later would seem to imply an inexorability about the Russian Revolution. The events of 25-26 October, both on the streets and behind the scenes at the Second All-Russian Soviet Congress, were much more chaotic and uncertain than this. Of Lenin, China Miéville has written that, ‘Reality, radical, now stunned him.’ However, the strength of the Bolsheviks’ position was that they had spent a year immersing themselves in the working-class movement, reformulating their tactics to confer with the shifting balance of class forces. When the Revolution came, they were able to hasten the transfer of power to the soviet and guide it towards implementation of a socialist programme.

One hundred years on and we have in many ways come full circle. New fault lines are emerging and becoming increasingly threatening in the existing economic and political order. But with this comes possibilities that haven’t existed in years. Whilst the Russian Revolution cannot be taken as a blueprint, as the only way of building a new society, it nonetheless offers a number of positive lessons for those of us arguing for an alternative.

Firstly, when we look at the history of how successful revolutions are made, we find that it means not merely lecturing at people or sloganeering – the ‘build it and they will come’ approach – but listening to them, learning from them and harnessing their experiential knowledge. It also means being involved in ongoing struggles, campaigns and forms of resistance which are objectively anti-capitalist even if they are not explicitly meant as such. Struggles for universal healthcare, the right to a home, a high quality system of free public education, for a sustainable environment, or against racist and gendered forms of oppression and the logic of privatisation and commodification – each of these, argues the Marxist geographer David Harvey, interrupts the circular flow of capital and represents an attack on the system as a whole. In addition, as the Right2Water campaign aptly demonstrates, participation in these forms of resistance can help trade unions to reconnect with communities and halt the sharp decline they have experienced in the past three decades.

Secondly, while the system and human reality have changed in the past hundred years, the forms of oppression and exploitation they sought to overturn are fundamentally the same. The task of building economic and political power in workplaces and communities remains vitally important, particularly as the institutions of representative democracy are being hollowed out. Already we are seeing workers in Ireland starting to push back against the onslaught that began in 2008, with the number and intensity industrial disputes growing year on year since 2012. But as the Russian Revolution and indeed the missed opportunities of the Irish revolutionary period show, industrial struggle must be complemented with direct political interventions and a political strategy for fulfilling our programme.

Finally, the Russian Revolution shows that we must come armed with a positive vision for a better future and win the battle of ideas, over the course of a generation if necessary. In this regard, the British Labour Party manifesto and the role of Momentum in popularising Corbyn’s simple message underscore the potential that exists for a grassroots-led movement such as Right2Change.

History records few occasions when masses of ordinary people overturned a system and took power. The ability to point to this, to draw inspiration and hope from it, is indispensible to confronting the challenges of the present. At the same time, it is crucial that we learn the harsh lessons of our own history – the missed opportunities of the revolutionary period, the disastrous legacy of social partnership, the historical roots and impact of sectarianism, the paralysing effect of left sectarianism, to name a few. If we can do this while sharing knowledge and experiences with contemporary social movements globally, then we will surely be giving ourselves the best chance of success.

Seán Byers

Trademark

SIPTU’s Big Start Campaign is Winning

SIPTU’s Big Start campaign is winning big for the early years education sector, workers and union. Below is a brief overview of the situation faced by the workers and the aims of this campaign. Also check out http://www.bigstart.ie/ 

The struggle of childcare workers for recognition and decent pay will one of the key battle grounds in the fight for trade union rights in Ireland in the 21st century.

Capitalist economies have always depended on low-paid and under-valued work which is often done by women. Early Years Educators are a perfect example of this; thousands of qualified, dedicated professions who care for and educate the youngest children during the most crucial years of their development.

Despite the universal recognition of the importance of Early Years Education and childcare, people working in the sector are often paid little more than the minimum wage. Many are laid off during the summer months. The root cause of this is Ireland’s lack of proper investment into the sector -the lowest in the OECD.

Last year SIPTU brought together stakeholders in the sector such as Barnardos, the National Childhood Network, ICTU USI and others, and launched the Big Start campaign. The aim is to secure increased state investment to ensure quality, affordable childcare for all children, with decent pay for early years professionals.

The campaign is reaching out to employees in private and community sectors, but also owner-operators of private crèches, who themselves are often struggling to get by due to inadequate state support.

This campaign is also very important to the union movement’s strategic aims of organising workers in non-unionised sectors which are expected to grow in size in the coming decades. The government must recognise that only with decent terms and conditions will young people be attracted into these professions.

Union membership is steadily growing and educators are getting active. Local activist networks have been set up, with SIPTU members lobbying their local politicians and gathering petition signatures from parents. Social media has been a key tool for keeping people engaged.

Ultimately our strategy involves two parts: a political campaign to persuade the government to increase investment in the sector, and an organising drive to increase union density and secure a Sectoral Employment Order for the sector.

Bringing together allied organisations like Barnardos and the National Childhood Network has been a key part of the political campaign, while SIPTU organisers and activists across the country have been talking to the educators themselves and convincing them that through a Union they can change their situation.

Important progress has been made. In July the Dáil unanimously endorsed a Sinn Féin motion calling for recognition, investment and professional pay. Many local councils have passed motions in support, and even the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone has endorsed the unionisation of the sector.

But only Early Years Educators themselves can secure a victory, by recognising their collective power in a union and demanding the recognition they deserve.

 

Sign the Workers Charter

Trade Union Left Forum Friends and Supporters,

Please sign the Workers Charter A Future Worth Fighting For at http://www.tuleftforum.com/workers-charter/

Why have we launched this?

We want to show there is widespread member support across unions for a radical programme of workers rights in Ireland. We want to put pressure on unions and political parties to adopt this programme. While each demand itself is inherently winnable with popular support, achieved together, it would result in a significant shift in the balance of power in Ireland away from big business and toward working people.

What can you do?

Sign the charter and share it. By doing this you are showing public support for the demands in the charter and for a future worth fighting for. Share it with friends and colleagues and ask them to sign and share it too. Look out for further actions and meetings and participate as we develop this campaign.

What are the next steps in the campaign?

First step is to win support for the charter from trade unionists across the country. We will then step up efforts at lobbying unions and political parties. We hope this charter can also inspire activists to put forward motions to conferences and seek democratic support within their own unions for the whole charter or elements of it.

Please sign the charter here http://www.tuleftforum.com/workers-charter/

A future worth fighting for – Workers Charter

 

Dear friends and comrades,

The Trade Union Left Forum is releasing a workers charter, an initiative to organise left trade unionists around a progressive workers rights programme. The charter, A future worth fighting for, emerged from a consultation with activists, supporters and friends throughout 2015 and 2016. Draft TULF Workers Charter

And so on Thursday, October 5th at 6pm, we are hosting a discussion on the draft workers charter in Mandate Trade Union offices. You can check out our FB event https://www.facebook.com/events/1438700992914745 to register. 

Workers deserve a society where our needs come first, before the interests of big business, exploitative employers and the EU/IMF. But this will never be given to us without a fight.

This meeting is a chance for trade union activists to discuss this draft charter and the campaign to communicate this vision to our friends and comrades across the union movement.

Why trade unionists should oppose CETA

The main goal of CETA is to remove regulatory ‘barriers’ which restrict the potential profits to be made by transnational corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. These ‘barriers’ are in reality some of our most prized social standards

CETA also seeks to create new markets by opening up public services and government procurement contracts to competition from transnational corporations, threatening to introduce a further wave of privatisations in key sectors, such as health and education.

Only the rights of corporations are clarified; those of workers are ignored or couched in vague provisions. Not only does CETA not contain a clause saying that respect for human rights is an essential element of the deal, it does not include binding and enforceable measures to ensure ILO core labour standards are respected in its sustainable development chapter. Furthermore, the public procurement provisions do not include explicit obligations to respect labour and environmental standards nor promote the use of social and environmental criteria in public tenders.

CETA will be provisionally applied by the Irish government on September 21st 2017.  This means that all its provisions, except the investor –state dispute mechanism will become effective in Ireland from today.

Below are outlined some of the reasons why all trade unionists should actively oppose this deal.

We’re in uncharted territory with public services

For the first time the EU has negotiated on our behalf, a trade deal with a “negative list” for services. This means that unless EU governments have explicitly excluded specific services, – and ours excluded only a few – all services, including new public services, will be automatically open to competition from foreign- service providers. Jargon-filled mechanisms like “standstill” and “ratchet” clauses lock-in current and further liberalisation, making it very difficult and costly for countries to bring services back into public ownership.

Because public procurement isn’t just about price

Local and national governments use public tenders to fulfil public policy choices. That means companies bidding for public contracts must abide by agreed criteria that may include social, labour or environmental sustainability clauses. CETA’s Procurement Chapter fails to include any watertight clauses that uphold social criteria. Instead contracts can be awarded to the “most beneficial” or “the cheapest offer”.  CETA, along with other deals limits our ability to redefine and enhance the tools we use to achieve important public policy goals.

Public services are exempted from market access, national treatment and performance requirements and the most-favoured-nation provisions of the investment chapter only to the extent that they are ‘carried out neither on a commercial basis nor in competition with one or more economic operators’. This is the phantom public sector carve-out established in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) agreement.

As there are pockets of private business in most public services, few meet these criteria. Standstill and ratchet clauses freeze current levels of privatisation, making it difficult, and costly, for governments to take privatised services back into public hands.

Because it’s very weak on the environment and worker’s rights;

Crucially, in its sustainable development chapter, CETA does not contain binding and enforceable measures to ensure ILO core labour standards are respected, while the public procurement provisions do not include explicit obligations to respect labour and environmental standards nor promote the use of social and environmental criteria in public tenders. It promotes workers’ access to labour ‘tribunals’ rather than recognising and explicitly accepting EU member states’ workers’ rights.

Unlike the enforceable exclusive rights for investors, CETA includes no binding rules to protect and improve worker’s rights and environmental protection. The Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB) criticised this, calling for “the chapters on workers’ rights, environmental protection and sustainable development to be as enforceable as the rest of the agreement” but the final text doesn’t meet these demands. 

Instead it says: ‘Nothing in the Agreement should prevent the Parties from applying their national laws provided that, in doing so, they do not nullify or impair the benefits accruing from the Agreement.’ So, where does this leave SEOs or collective agreements for example?

But perhaps the most important reason we should be very concerned about CETA is that it is a back door for American corporations to challenge standards and regulations in the EU through their subsidiaries in Canada. All an American agriculture, energy or drug giant would have to do is to challenge EU standards through ISDS using their existing subsidiaries in Canada or set one up in order to do so.

Because of Canada’s abysmal record at the International Labour Organisation (ILO):

  • Of the ILO’s 189 Conventions, Canada has only ratified 34.
  • Canada has only ratified eight of the 31 ILO Conventions developed since 1982.
  • Canada has only now ratified all eight ILO fundamental Conventions. It had been one of only 24 countries in the world that had not ratified Convention No. 98 – Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (1949), but it did in early July of this year just prior to CETA debates in some EU national parliaments. However, a country may secede from ILO conventions by giving one years’ notice.
  • Since 1982, unions in Canada have filed more complaints to the ILO’s Freedom of Association Committee than the national labour movements of any other country and there have been 86 ILO complaints filed against Canada, the ILO has ruled on 85 of these cases and found that freedom of association principles had been violated in 78 instances.

Because worker’s rights will be compromised by Regulatory Cooperation in CETA.

There will be continual pressure on regulations and standards, as CETA is also a back door for American corporations – who control around 55% of the Canadian economy – to challenge standards and regulations in the EU through their subsidiaries in Canada. All an American agriculture, energy or drug giant would have to do is to challenge European standards through ICS using their subsidiaries in Canada.

Meanwhile, socially desirable or progressive labour legislation which might affect corporative profits would have to be notified to the governing Regulatory Cooperation Council one year in advance and would likely be identified as a ‘barrier to trade’ by the stakeholders – corporations and EU Commission and we would never hear about it.

As regulations covering everything not listed as exempt, from chemicals through to education and public procurement converge, the only remaining means for increasing competitiveness is through reductions in workers terms and conditions. This is likely to involve union de-recognition, a reduction in voluntarism, attacks on collective agreements and a retreat from our accepted right to organise. Furthermore, a country may secede from ILO conventions by giving one years’ notice.

But irrespective of the ILO perspective, there still remains the overriding concern surrounding ISDS – renamed ICS but like Windscale, which was renamed Sellafield, it remains just as toxic! Not only does this dispute settlement system accord transnational companies the right to sue sovereign states before arbitrary tribunals, if their ‘reasonable expectations’ of profits might be jeopardised by some legislative measure, but it directly threatens workers terms and conditions.

This was illustrated forcibly last year when Egypt was sued under a similar deal for attempting to raise the minimum wage. One can only imagine the list of possible measures; maternity leave, minimum annual holidays, extended unfair dismissals legislation, pension legislation- the list goes on.

Because the ICTU has adopted a progressive position on CETA.

The ICTU has adopted a position of ‘outright opposition’ to this deal and calls for a progressive trade agenda, which means not only the inclusion of a social dimension in all trade agreements but also the full preservation and improvement of the right of governments and authorities to regulate the economy in the public interest as they see fit.

CETA is a trade deal for corporate interests and the ICTU reiterates that workers will never accept any trade agreement that doesn’t promote decent jobs and growth while safeguarding labour, consumer, environmental and health and safety standards. Irrespective of your view of the ICTU, this position should be uncritically supported and promulgated by all trade unionists. The struggle against CETA and other such trade deals such as TTIP and TISA, being negotiated ‘on our behalf’ by the EU is only beginning.

Making sense of a world that impacts us all

Below is a short piece by experienced trade union educator and activist Mel Corry on Trademarks political education for trade union activists and staff. For more info on Trademark check out http://www.trademarkbelfast.com/featured-news/trade-union-education-news 

“The popular element “feels” but does not always know or understand; the intellectual element “knows” but does not always understand and in particular does not always feel.” Antonio Gramsci 

This quote from Gramsci encapsulates why we at Trademark have been developing more political content for Trade Union education over the last number of years.

As long ago as 2012 we looked at the various education products that were available to workplace reps as soon as they were elected. Some unions had very comprehensive programmes ranging from shop stewards, introduction and advanced stages as well as health and safety stages 1&2. They may also have had the odd equality class built in or a course on pensions. Some unions did not provide any training at all but rather directed their reps towards ICTU programmes.

The common theme that emerged was that in general unions were very good at providing adequate training which gave the rep the skills to be able to carry out the function of the workplace rep but neglected any analysis of the system. It did not deal with fundamental political questions that challenge the balance of power between capital and labour or ask why do we need unions? What is the balance of forces in the Industrial relations arena? Who really benefits from my labour? Why should I pay tax? Crucially it did not seek to develop the organic intellectuals that exist among our membership that enable them to understand, feel and engage in struggle.

We set about providing a course that assumed the participants had enough support to develop their skills but would benefit from an examination of the world around them.  Our earliest attempts were crude and disjointed but we knew we had hit on something by the feedback.  We organised weekend schools in our offices with no paid release from work or union expenses and they were always oversubscribed. This fact alone was enough for us to refine the content and delivery and offer it to unions.

We were lucky to work with Mandate and NIPSA, the public sector union in the North, both unions were at the sharp end of defending members’ terms and conditions and still are.  We believe that if reps are to convince workers of the need to take industrial action then the union should ensure they have the ability to answer the complex questions that will be asked from the membership.

As Unite members we were delighted to play a role in developing this model for community activists as part of the Right2Change campaign and the appetite for political education is as strong among  community activists as it is among trade unionists.

Every group of participants has given us reason to update and refine the course content and along with rapidly changing political circumstances the course today is very different from the first one we delivered.

Many commentators have remarked that the changing political landscape could not have been predicted. Many of those who attended our political education courses have been exposed to the possibility that Trump could become the next president of the USA or that Britain would vote to leave the EU or that the British Labour Party would rediscover its social democratic values and shift to the left. They are also dispelled of the myth that there is no alternative.

We don’t see it as our job to point to an alternative but rather give the workers hope that another type of world is possible indeed essential for our continued existence as a species.

It is our task now to argue for politics to run through all our education processes. We should be asking why is healthy and safety important as well as how do I argue for safety.  Reps should be able to argue with the economic information they’ve been given by the employer during collective bargaining scenarios. As Stevie Nolan has remarked when you cut through trade union education it should be like slicing through Blackpool rock, politics runs right through it.

Modesty dictates that I enclose only a couple of the many positive reviews of our training, check out the rest for yourselves.

Mel Corry.

Great training this weekend thank you it was accessible engaging and interesting. It made sense of a world that impacts on all of us and that we should understand and challenge. I’ve already been sharing points from the course with my neighbour the night I got back and will continue to do what I can for social justice.

An outstanding training, essential for any person who cares about our world, our history, past and present and our future. I was engrossed from the minute it began right to the very end. Thought provoking and emotive. Well done for delivering so well such an insightful couple of days. Thank you!

McDonalds workers to strike in Britain

McDonalds opened their first store in Britain in 1974 and for the first time ever workers are set to take industrial action.

Workers at McDonalds, members of the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, have been leading the Fast Food Rights campaign in Britain which has been campaigning for secure hour contracts, £10 an hour and trade union representation and rights. Previously as part of the campaign the Labour Party, under Corbyn, refused a McDonalds stall at their annual Party conference.

The campaign has just achieved an initial victory as McDonalds has introduced some guaranteed hour contracts. Following the ballot for industrial action the fast food chain confirmed that all restaurants will have fixed hours contracts in place by the end of this year, in an agreement that campaigners claim would effect 80,000 workers.

Two stores at Cambridge and Crayford have now balloted overwhelmingly for strike action to keep momentum going on the campaign. President of the BFAWU, Ian Hodson, confirmed to TULF the reasons for this action:

This is an historic decision by a small but significant group of workers. This strike is due to a culture of bullying, sexual harassment, reduction of hours and failure to offer guaranteed hours contracts promised since April. The workers are also calling for a wage of £10 an hour and union recognition. The BFAWU is 100% behind the decision taken by our members and congratulates them on their historic stand. Already this campaign has led to McDonalds  finally posting an offer to 119,000 workers of a guaranteed hours contract. This response demonstrates the power workers have when they stand together and shows the power a union can bring to a workplace.

 Trade Union Left Forum supports these workers.

Public Transport or Private Gravy Train

It has been announced that the operation of 10% of Dublin bus routes has been handed over to a private transport company ironically named “Go Ahead” as if to indicate the nod and the wink that usually accompany such deals that our gombeen political class are involved in.

This is nothing less than the start of the privatisation of the public transport system. They can parcel it up whatever way they want but it is privatisation. Public ownership and management of our services is about providing them in a decent reliable safe and environmentally friendly way at the same time as providing good well paid jobs for the workers involved. Put another way in the interest of the citizens who use and provide them ie. Society.

When operations are privatised the only interest of the operator is maximum profit. With the type of contracts that have been given to “Go Ahead” the options are quite limited namely the pay and conditions of employees and safety standards due to the fact that buses and revenues are kept in state ownership for the moment.

This is the method that our political class are using to bring in privatisation by the back door. We will be told what a wonderful job the operator is doing for a fraction of the cost (poverty wages), that competition is good for the consumer and it’s time more franchises were put up for tender since some of the fleet owned by the state is getting old and needs to be renewed why not let the privateers tender for this as well. The propaganda will continue and before we know it the “Go Ahead” will be given for the complete privatisation of the public transport system.

Then the real agenda starts unprofitable routes will be stopped, off peak services will be reduced to a trickle, fares will increase, wages slashed, standards will plummet health safety and the environment will be set to a bare minimum as a private monopoly or duopoly takes over and “goes ahead” with their insatiable appetite for ever more profits. This has been seen time and again when public services are handed over to privateers.

The  role of the trade unions cannot be overlooked as they came to an agreement to allow 10% of the services to go out to tender. This was done as the unions have been caught napping after years of social partnership followed by a decade of austerity which led to the narrative of ‘it’s the best we can do at this time’ being accepted. Some unions have said they will allow this but no more privatisation will be accepted . This is encouraging and needs to be built on following the recent victories of workers in Luas, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann after strike action being taken .

This illustrates how important it is for workers to get involved in their trade unions and be willing to go the extra mile to defend their jobs and the rights of society as a whole ultimately the best way of achieving this is to fight to have the anti trade union laws repealed and tip the balance back in favour of workers. Political understanding and intervention is needed in our union movement by workers and activists themselves.

Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 – 2020

Article by a public sector worker on why they are voting No to the PSSA as it increases the working day, intensifies work with insufficient return for workers and has wider negative implications for all private sector workers

Every so often I think has Karl Marx’s analysis of capitalism any relevance today? Then I come across the following from Volume 3 of Capital:

“The level of exploitation of labour, the appropriation of surplus labour and surplus value, can be increased by prolonging the working day and making work more intense”

The Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 carries out both these actions. The public service which employs 300,000 workers may not be seen by those in the private sector as being subject to the same laws of capitalist exploitation as the private sector but in fact both are connected. The capitalist class used the financial crisis to attack the pay and conditions of the public sector and try to drive a wedge between workers in the public and private sectors. The attacks on the public sector were a useful diversion to avoid debate on the whole austerity programme and the distribution of wealth in the country. Weak governments in place since 2007 acquiesced in these attacks, reduced pay, lengthened the working day and then introduced the FEMPI legislation. This agreement locks in those worse pay and conditions. It effectively copper-fastens longer working days, career average pensions, later retirement dates and lower wages while claiming to restore pay.

Outsourcing

This is really the only positive part of this agreement and even it is pretty basic. Before any further outsourcing takes place public sector unions will have to be consulted. The original Lansdowne Road provisions remain in place. More importantly outsourcing decisions cannot be based on lower labour costs of the private sector. Private sector employers would like nothing more than to grab public money while offering the minimum wage and zero hour contracts to employees.

Hours

Following the rejection of Croke Park 2 the Haddington Road Agreement was negotiated. Under the terms of that agreement the working day was increased by an average 2.5 hours a week. This was in effect an unpaid prolonging of the working day by 7% or a decrease in pay by the same amount. There have been 15 million unpaid additional hours across the public service. The prolongation of the working day is now effectively embedded. When the reduction in public sector numbers is factored in, the work has become more intense as there are fewer people to do the same work. The deal offers 2 options which make it clear that the additional hours are a pay cut: the option of working the pre-HRA hours with a cut in pay and pension or more insidiously sacrifice a portion of holidays above the statutory minimum. These options will mainly affect those with young children and force them to either take a cut in pay or have less leave.

Pay & Pensions

The whole point of this agreement was to unwind FEMPI and restore pay. It was well highlighted in the media and the Public Services Pay Commission Report what would be on offer. The gross public sector pay bill fell 9% between 2007 and 2016. Average private sector pay was 3% above 2008 levels by 2016 whereas average public sector pay was 8% below for the same period. Effectively this deal will restore gross pay figures for 90% of public servants to where it was in 2009 by 2020. For the other 10% by 2020/2021. By 2020 73% of public servants will have had a gain of 7% over current levels. Roughly 25% will exit the FEMPI pension levy. On the face of it this does not appear to be too bad until you realise that on average the working week is 2.5 hours longer which is about a 7% pay cut so the gain of 7% on the headline figures is not a gain at all. In fact by 2020 not only will there be no gain but as average inflation since 2010 has been 0.5% it is a pay cut on the headline figures. If inflation increases further there is no provision in the agreement to address that issue.

The other major change in unravelling FEMPI occurs around pensions. Under FEMPI there was a Pensions Related Deduction which had absolutely nothing to do with pensions, despite the name. This was a special levy that only applied to public servants. This is now being renamed as an Additional Pension Contribution. Public servants currently pay €1.2 billion made up of €500 million in occupational pension contributions and €720 million in Pension Levy. Post 95 entrants also pay Class A PRSI. Once the Pension Levy is converted to the Additional Pension Contribution public servants will be paying 15% plus towards their occupational pensions without any improvement in pensions. This APC is purely to appease the neo-liberals who oppose defined benefit pension schemes. Post 2011 entrants will be on a career averaging pension scheme which in practice will be comparable to a defined contribution scheme. There is also another stealth provision for those paying Class A PRSI to keep working until you are entitled to the State Retirement Pension.  This will push the retirement age from 65 to 66 and further out in subsequent years. You will be a wage slave for most of your life.

Conclusion

Overall this is a bad deal for the working class. ICTU likes to claim that there is about a 6% dividend in terms of pay and conditions by being a union member. However, this deal does not maintain that. For new entrants to the public sector their pay is on a par with the private sector. The value of the pension scheme has been eroded and is now little different from a defined contribution scheme in the private sector. Instead of setting a benchmark for private sector employers the Government has lowered pay and conditions for its employees to that of the private sector. This deal buys stability for the Government from the most organized section of the working class until the end of 2020. The current Government is highly unstable. The two main parties of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail are like mangy gadhars sniffing around a piece of meat and waiting for the other to make the first mistake. The water protests and the failure to criminalise political protest at the Jobstown Trial rocked the Establishment. The last thing they want is an election at the present time. The unions could have pursued a more radical programme with the threat of industrial action which would have brought down the Government. The Establishment has bought time with this agreement during which it hopes to consolidate its position. There is growing evidence that new entrants to the public sector are not joining trade unions. The main pitch of the unions to new recruits are various discounts on financial products. The unions have become complacent. If union membership declines management will use this as an excuse to attack unions as has happened in the UK. This deal shows that the capitalist class has been successful in undermining and overturning the Report of the Benchmarking body of 2002.

Good luck to Mandate and Dunnes workers

 
TULF wish Mandate and Dunnes workers the very best in the Labour Court next week. Mandate Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light told us today,
 
‘We are going before the Labour Court next week with a very important case for Dunnes workers and for workers generally. The issues we are bringing forward under the recent Industrial Relations (Amendment Act) 2015 are around hours of work and contracts. These workers should be entitled to decent secure hours of work so they can plan and budget their lives. The uncertainty they exist with is simply unfair in a so called modern economy.’
 
There is no doubt that this is a big case for all workers and will test the legislation brought in by the Fine Gael / Labour coalition. All workers should be entitled to decent well paid secure hours of work and there is currently legislative moves afoot to try secure this.