TTIP must be stopped – Unite the Union

Welcoming the launch of a People’s Movement information booklet on the proposed EU – US ‘Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’ (TTIP), Unite Regional Secretary jimmy Kelly today (Sunday September 7th) said that the job creation claims advanced by the treaty’s proponents do not stack up, and he warned that workers’ and citizens’ rights would take a backseat to corporate interests.

“It’s no wonder that there is a veil of secrecy over this treaty:  its advocates, both in the US and in the EU, know that citizens would not tolerate its proposed provisions.

“We all remember when the Government asked us to vote ‘YES for jobs’ to the Lisbon Treaty.  And we know how that ended.  TTIP has been billed by the European Commission as the ‘cheapest stimulus package imaginable’ -but the claims do not stack up.

“Let us be very clear:  There is no evidence that TTIP will create the jobs we need.  But what it may do is move jobs around – between sectors, and from countries with high labour and environmental standards to countries with low standards.  In this zero sum game, jobs will be shifted to locations guaranteeing the highest profit and the least regulatory inconvenience to corporations.  Rather than creating new jobs, there will be competition for the same jobs – generating a race to the bottom in which all are losers.

“The European Commission’s own impact assessment report acknowledges that TTIP would entail prolonged stagnation for European workers. It is estimated that up to 1.3 million workers could lose their jobs as a result of TTIP-generated jobs displacement, and the quality of any replacement jobs is likely to be lower.

“The German Hans Boeckler Foundation has looked at the various job projections and concluded that any overall job gains would be, to use their term, ‘negligible’.

“And the standard of existing employment could be compromised: workers may face new threats, since TTIP may enable corporations to challenge national policies designed to protect workers – policies which reduce their capacity to turn a profit.  So, while profits are protected and enhanced, the wages and consumer demand needed to generate growth will actually be dampened.

“In addition, TTIP is likely to incorporate Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms.  ISDS mechanisms are a one-way street – a street in which corporations have right of way, while workers and citizens must give way.  Using these mechanisms, corporations may be able to sue states for policies which affect their profits – but neither states, not citizens, nor trade unions, can sue corporations for policies which impact on local communities, or on workers’ rights, or on the environment.

“TTIP poses a clear and present danger to jobs, to workers, to the environment, to the Global South – and to democracy in Europe and in Ireland.  It must be stopped”, Jimmy Kelly concluded.

TULF on TTIP

A TULF Fact Sheet on TTIP is available on this website below is a brief summary of the issues involved.

The TTIP are a set of negotiations between European capital and American capital (which willingly agree on most things) in response to the shift in growth from the north to the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). Real growth has stagnated for decades in both continents, giving rise to the dominance of financial speculation and a shadow banking system, and this is a further attempt to create growth at the expense of people and our environment.

It seeks to increase profitability for big business in the United States and Europe at the expense of workers and their rights, of the public and the services they rely upon, and of the environment and food safety. It is being carried out by unelected technocrats who held private meetings with big business in advance and, whether on the European side or American side of the negotiations, largely agree on what needs to happen.

It would further cement liberalisation and privatisation and open up new areas for private exploitation. It would greatly restrict “public good” clauses in public procurement contracts. It would confer new rights on corporations, allowing them to sue sovereign states for policies that negatively affect their profits, and to have their case heard in unaccountable courts.

It would do away with some of the modest financial reforms that were introduced in response to the economic crisis, creating more instability, risk and speculation in the economy, and would result in significant loss of jobs in EU countries.

It is vital that unions oppose these negotiations. It will be tempting to merely concentrate efforts on the most offensive ISDS part; but all areas that negatively affect workers, the public and democracy must equally be opposed.

These negotiations are being carried out in secret, with very little comment or analysis by the media. Therefore the trade union movement must start with a public awareness campaign both with members and with workers more generally.

If we wish to secure public services and to halt privatisation and outsourcing we must fight to prevent TTIP being agreed.

The TULF encourages workers to sign this petition, calling for such a campaign to be led by the ICTU:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_Irish_Congress_of_Trade_Unions_Begin_a_public_awareness_campaign_and_call_for_the_scrapping_of_TTIP/?ezHxhib

Greyhound dispute: your assistance is needed!

You will be aware of the bitter, protracted and ongoing lockout of 78 trade union members by Greyhound Recycling and Recovery. This dispute, which was provoked by the west Dublin based employer locking out workers who refused to accept a pay cut of up to 35%, will shortly enter its third month.

From the beginning of this lockout strikebreakers have been employed by Greyhound to continue waste collections. The use of these strikebreakers has provoked outrage in many working class communities throughout Dublin.

This has resulted in community actions being taken where local activists and elected representatives have halted Greyhound trucks or walked in front of them in order to delay their progress. No person involved in these community actions has been arrested. These actions are being conducted in a peaceful manner and amount to communities exercising their right to protest.

The Greyhound owners, Michael and Brian Buckley, have now begun legal proceedings against activists taking part in these community protests. They have applied to the High Court seeking an injunction not only against named individuals but to prevent any future effective protests against the strikebreakers by local communities.

The Trade Union Left Forum believes that this issue is one that should concern all trade unionists as it amounts to a serious attack on the right to engage in peaceful protest. In light of this the TULF is issuing a call to concerned trade unionists to organise effective support for community activists and elected representatives who wish to mount a legal defence against the Buckley Brothers.

Initially you are being asked to assist by:

  1. Informing the TULF of any solicitors or other legal professionals who may be willing to assist defendants for no charge or a reduced fee. This is an urgent matter as the judge has requested that sworn affidavits are presented to the court by Tuesday with the case going ahead on Thursday.
  2. Considering what financial support you may be willing to provide to a Community Actions Defence Fund that the TULF is considering establishing to support trade union activists threatened by these legal actions.

In solidarity,

The TULF Steering Committee

An independent political programme for the trade union movement and for workers

Where is the ambition?

Jack O’Connor has said on a number of occasions that the “left” lacks ambition and courage. This is certainly true of the official trade union movement. It lacks ambition, courage, and vision. The movement has failed to articulate its own vision of society and how we might get there. It has failed to present consistently to its members and to workers generally the necessary short-term reforms and the medium to long-term transitional policies that will bring about socialism—a society by, for and of working people.

And why is that? Many reasons, including the legacy of “partnership,” the “professionalisation” of the movement, the destruction of political education, the general depoliticisation of working people, the attitude of the media, confusion over the nature of the European Union, and more.

Many of these problems will not be surmounted overnight; but one reason that stands out and that can be successfully challenged is the fact that the movement has essentially outsourced political policy to the Labour Party, and is reluctant to promote and campaign on a political programme outside of what the Labour Party will allow—and this despite the fact that the ICTU is allegedly politically neutral, and only a couple of unions are actually affiliated to the Labour Party.

More than a hundred years ago the trade union movement decided it needed to fight on the political field as well as the industrial, and so it established the Labour Party as the political wing of the movement. The Labour Party was to represent the industrial organisation of the working class in the political structures of the day; and people like Tom Johnson—trade unionist, Labour Party leader, and main author of the Democratic Programme—did so. Now, however, the relationship has been reversed and the Labour Party is determining political policy, and unions have shied away from any independent vision or confrontation with Labour. The tail is clearly wagging the dog.

A changed political landscape

There is no doubt the political landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. Fianna Fáil has lost the support it had among sections of the working class. The Labour Party has lost its working-class base in cities and towns. An extremely right-wing ideological Fine Gael is the biggest party in the state electorally. And Sinn Féin has grown apace, capturing lost Fianna Fáil and Labour Party working-class support and middle-class frustrations.

By far the most striking trend, however (and whether this will be so in the long term remains to be seen) is the electoral success of independents—largely progressive—and small left-wing parties. Whether we think the rise of independent TDs and councillors is good or not for working people is one thing, but there is no doubt it is a trend and will be a factor in the next election.

But despite this massive change in electoral politics it is also clear that class rule remains as strong as ever, if not stronger. Successive governments of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, and of Fine Gael and Labour supported by the EU, ECB and IMF, have been able to impose, against popular wishes, a host of regressive neo-liberal reforms, strengthening the control capital has here and strengthening the dependence of our economy and state on moneylenders and foreign capital. They have been able to railroad through EU treaties against the voted mandate of the people, and have brazenly broken numerous electoral promises. The democratic structures of the state are openly laughed about, and this is reflected in the general anti-establishment position taken by our class in voting against Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Labour Party or not voting at all.

The trade union movement has the potential, is arguably the only movement capable, of pulling progressive forces together in a meaningful way to harness the anti-establishment position of working people and create a positive, energetic movement. To achieve this it must work to realise its potential and right now it is some way off it. We are not part of a movement. Unions are not working to build a movement. Sectionalism and short term servicing remains the priority and so long as this continues, potential will be all we have.

Vitalising the movement, organising new workers and mobilising for an independent political programme must go hand in hand.

Why an independent political programme?

It is time the trade union movement recognised and acted on its unique position. It is the organised working class. It is 600,000 workers throughout Ireland. It has the members, the resources, the campaigning capacity and ultimately the potential industrial strength to change this country for the better for working people—but only if it can win the hearts and minds of its members to a political programme that addresses the immediate concerns of our class and presents a vision and long-term agenda for transforming fundamentally the structures in this country.

This is our cause. Each one of us as a trade union activist must begin to make this demand and to challenge our unions to this cause. The Trade Union Left Forum will provide space for developing the ideas and programme; but fundamentally we, as trade unionists, must bring the demand for an independent political programme into each of our unions.

Political parties become stronger or weaker, rise and fall, but the trade union movement has grown and existed for more than a hundred years. We need our own independent political programme and to mobilise our members around it.

Parties and Independents who agree with the programme or parts of it can sign up to it and pledge their support. The movement then, not tied to any one party or to a government, is free to campaign and pursue its agenda with its supporters in the Dáil, in the Seanad, and in local councils.

The next election is likely to return an even more diverse result in parties and independents. The trade union movement needs to put itself in the strongest position possible to influence politically for our class. This will not be achieved if it is tied, whether formally or informally, to the Labour Party. A break is needed, and the movement needs the ambition and the courage to do this.

The Labour Party will be treated like other progressive parties or independents. It will be able to support the union programme, and in return the movement will supports those candidates. But so too will Sinn Féin, independents and other left-wing parties, all on an equal basis. It will be a case of them signing up to our programme in return for our support.

How do we achieve this?

Over the next few months the TULF will host a number of workshops, inviting trade union activists and those close to the movement to contribute to the development of an independent political programme for the movement.

The TULF will promote the need for this programme and the thinking to be adopted by the movement generally but in the context of an important general election on the horizon.

You can be part of this by sharing this article as a start but also by attending these workshops and generally participating in TULF initiatives as the campaign develops.

Government proposals on the “right to bargain”

The Government recently unveiled plans for addressing the fall-out from the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in the Ryanair and Impact dispute. This ruling undermined the operation of the Industrial Relations Acts (2001–04), known as the “Right to Bargain” legislation. The purpose of this legislation was to assist unionised workers in non-union firms where employers refused to collectively bargain in drawing on the support of the Labour Court to determine terms and conditions of employment.

While the new proposals may make the legislation operational again, some doubts must be raised about what is now being offered.

The source of the problem lies in a challenge against a Labour Court determination brought by Ryanair to the Supreme Court. Ryanair advanced the view that there was no trade dispute, that internal dispute-resolution procedures had not been exhausted in the first instance, and that the company already provided for “internal collective bargaining.”

The company maintained that collective bargaining existed because it “negotiated” with representatives of employees in concluding collective agreements on terms and conditions of employment. It further maintained that it had an Employee Representative Committee, whereby elected employee representatives negotiated with the employer—a fact contested by Impact, which claimed that the body was a consultative forum with no independence.

In a somewhat bizarre set of conclusions, the Supreme Court struck out the Labour Court determination. It found that, in the absence of sufficient evidence, the Labour Court could not conclude that the Employee Representative Committee was not a collective bargaining body, and that a collective bargaining unit need not be a “trade union or excepted body” with a negotiating licence but could be a body established by an employer, provided it exhibited an element of “independence,” had a system of elections, and operated in a “fair and reasonable” manner.

The Supreme Court further stipulated that employees could not simply leave a “functioning” internal bargaining body, not having exhausted its procedures for resolving disputes, and then say they had no collective bargaining, thereby triggering the provisions of the Industrial Relations Acts. It added that if the Labour Court did have jurisdiction to investigate the case it should consider the dispute through gathered evidence, referring to lack of evidence of sufficient union membership.

Following the Supreme Court judgement, the Right to Bargain legislation has largely remained in limbo. In attempting to alleviate the apparent problem, the new Government proposals, on the face of it, appear to go some way towards restoring the functioning of the act. However, on closer inspection some concerns arise over how effective the proposals will be in ensuring that workers in non-union firms have the necessary support for collectively bargaining.

Collective bargaining

To circumvent the risk that company-sponsored employee forums of the Employee Representative Committee variety would be used to supplant genuine unions, an important requirement of reform was held to be a definition of “collective bargaining,” which is not strictly defined in Irish law, although the Worker Participation (State Enterprises) Act (1977) contains a definition of “collective bargaining negotiations.” The definition now being proposed is:

collective bargaining comprises voluntary engagements or negotiations between any employer or employers’ organisation on the one hand and a trade union of workers or excepted body on the other, with the object of reaching agreement regarding working conditions or terms of employment or non-employment of workers.

In contrast, article 2 of ILO Convention No. 154 defines collective bargaining as

 . . . all negotiations which take place between an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations, on the one hand, and one or more workers’ organisations, on the other, for: (a) determining working conditions and terms of employment; and/or (b) regulating relations between employers and workers; and/or (c) regulating relations between employers or their organisations and a workers’ organisation or workers’ organisations.

“Voluntary engagements,” on the other hand, might imply that the management made an effort to simply interact with, communicate with and consult the workers, perhaps over matters of common interest to workers and employer. “Engagements” might even allow their joint examination with a view to identifying, in so far as possible, appropriate solutions. But it does not entail or imply a negotiated solution, which would traditionally be associated with collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining is normally confined to co-determining terms and conditions of employment and relations between the parties. It implies, at some fundamental level, joint regulation, not simply engagement.

Why use the term “engagements”? Some doubt must be raised about whether this will open up the possibility of non-union bodies that are really echo chambers for senior management communication, passing muster for collective bargaining. Or perhaps a determined employer could stonewall attempts to use the act by claiming that they are trying to voluntarily engage with the union at the local level.

Representation and the burden of proof

One potential problem with the proposals is the prescription that unions cannot use the legislation “if very small numbers of workers” are involved. No figure for “small” has so far been provided, but it seems to be left to the Labour Court’s discretion whether the numbers offered are “insignificant” relative to the total number in employment.

This is a change from past practice. Previously the court took the assurances of a union official about membership, although in some cases a union would voluntarily provide the court with membership numbers.

Unions have often relied on bringing a small minority of employees into membership first, using the Industrial Relations Act to secure gains and demonstrate their value to potential recruits and thereby increase membership. Now the burden of evidence of membership has increased for the union: it must make a statement under the Statutory Declarations Act setting out the number of members and the period of membership in the group, grade or category to which the trade dispute refers.

Where evidence is contested by an employer—for example where the employer claims to be already engaged in collective bargaining with a non-union excepted body—there may be a requirement for an employee to give oral evidence. The court has experimented with this already in the period following the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in a small number of cases. How this might work in identifying and bringing forth union members to give evidence in disputed cases, where an employer’s hostility and threat of victimisation is high, is uncertain.

Repeated use of the act

The new proposals will also limit the repeated use of an act in the case of particular companies: “The Labour Court shall not admit an application by a category of worker to which the trade dispute applies where the Court has made a recommendation or determination in relation to the same category of worker in respect of the same employer in previous 18 months.”

Under the former procedure there were a number of companies that were subject to multiple hearings under the Industrial Relations Acts on separate dispute items that they refused to negotiate on. Under the old situation, the prospect of repeated multiple claims sometimes encouraged employers to meet the union to sort issues out at the local level. Now they will just deal with one batch of issues and go for eighteen months before the process could start again.

In the light of the proposed Code of Practice Timeline changes, which involve doubling the initial reply period from the Labour Relations Commission and extending the voluntary resolution period from six to eight weeks, this could make the process of securing workers’ rights in non-union firms very sluggish.

Comparators

Finally, non-union firms are being proposed as valid points of comparison in relation to terms and conditions.

This is a new departure. The implicit original intention of the acts was to provide an outcome to workers that would be similar to that which might have occurred in a situation where collective bargaining did actually take place. The court, therefore, in making recommendations, did so with reference to unionised terms and conditions in comparable employments. But now the situation as it prevails in a non-union firm subject to the acts must be considered in the light of the prevailing situation in other non-union firms, and not just unionised firms. This might risk putting downward pressure on the gains workers might achieve through the acts.

Overall, the Industrial Relations Acts delivered some modest gains for unionised workers in non-union firms where employers refused to enter into collective bargaining. Relative to properly designed legislation on union recognition, it certainly was the poorer cousin. On the other hand, it is not entirely inferior to the statutory recognition regimes that exist in Britain and the United States, which have delivered very little to unionised workers.

The proposals might well inject new life into the use of the acts; but it is not clear that the present proposals will necessarily be of much advantage to Irish unions, and they are unlikely to turn around the trend of declining density.

Surprisingly, some union figures, such as Begg and O’Connor, have expressed some optimism about what is on offer. Although there is a long way to go before these proposals pass into law, it is difficult to see if such optimism is warranted. A range of concerns over the definition of collective bargaining, representation, the burden of proof and the nature of comparators all seem to justify some concern about the proposals’ effectiveness in securing bargaining rights for Irish workers.

[NC] – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/04-bargain.html

The Problems with Work

Kathi Weeks
May 26, 2014

Despite my use of the singular in the title, The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2011) explores several problems with work. My focus is not so much on the difficulties of this or that job but on the failures of the system of waged work together with the values and ways of life that support and are produced by it. Some of these problems fit under three general headings: underwork, overwork, and non-work.

The first and most obvious problem is that of underwork. In a society that expects most individuals to engage in waged work, the fact that there are not enough jobs to go around is devastating to individuals and communities. The current unemployment numbers and the prospect of a “jobless recovery” make it all the more clear that waged work is too precarious and incomplete to function adequately as a system of income allocation or a means of social inclusion. Then there is the problem of overwork. I refer here to all the ways that work monopolizes our time and energy. This includes not just the long hours we spend at work but the time spent preparing for work, searching for work, worrying about work or its absence, and recovering from work. The problem is that too much of our lifetime is subordinated to work. Finally, we should add to this list the problem of what I call non-work, which comprises two elements. One refers to all the forms of social productivity that are not covered by the wage system. For example, feminists have long insisted that unwaged housework, child care, and eldercare are all forms of socially necessary “reproductive” labor without which the “productive” waged labor economy could not function. These are not the only examples of unpaid work upon which waged work depends; employers profit as well from the time required to develop the knowledge, physical capacities, artistic output, communicative abilities, emotional skills, and even the social networks that they do not remunerate us for. The other problem of non-work is meant to evoke our inability or unwillingness to conceive a life not so relentlessly limited by the exigencies of work. The world of waged work so dominates our values, institutions, laws, and symbols that we have a hard time conceiving any other way of organizing productive activity, allocating income, or fashioning a meaningful life. We are valuable to ourselves and to one another to the extent that we produce at work. This limits our understanding of what is a worthy social contribution to a narrow conception of waged labor and then makes that a key requirement of citizens. So our ideas about individual achievement and social reciprocity become affixed and reduced to waged work.
Our ideas about individual achievement and social reciprocity become affixed and reduced to waged work.
To think critically about this system of waged work, we need to consider as well the cultural discourse that supports it, namely, the work ethic. In elevating work over other activities as our highest calling and moral duty, as a primary focus of time and energy, as what we should devote our lives to, invest our identities in, and structure our relations around, the work ethic encourages our consent to a lifetime in service to work. In celebrating work as an end in itself rather than just a means to other ends, and as the central focus of our lives rather than one component among others, the work ethic teaches us to live for work instead of working to live. The current power of this ethic of work should not be underestimated. Far from being some kind of historical relic, this set of ideas about the meaning of work, this overvaluation of work, is more important to the post-industrial economy than it ever was in the industrial period. For example, our “good attitude” toward work is important in jobs that require emotional labor on the part of service providers, among workers who cannot always be monitored or whose encounters cannot be entirely scripted, and for those employers that want employees who are independent and creative, but also manageable and directed toward the organization’s goals. If a strong identification with work and its discipline is increasingly a source of profit, then our willingness to question these values and orientations are potentially more effective as modes of resistance and rebellion.
 In elevating work over other activities as our highest calling and moral duty, the work ethic encourages our consent to a lifetime in service to work.
So what is to be done? One might approach this question in terms of three different demands: for more work, for better work, and for less work. As long as waged work is the primary way that most of us can secure the means to live, the struggle for more work—more jobs, more hours—remains necessary. And certainly, efforts to make work better, to make it less dangerous, less isolating, less alienated and, of course, better paid, are crucial targets of reform as well. But the demand for less work in the form of fewer weekly and lifetime hours, together with the demand for “lesser work,” that is, for its demotion in our hierarchy of values, is important as well. For one thing, full employment is unlikely to be achieved in the current system because it is considered detrimental to what is measured as “economic health.” As for the effort to improve the experience of work, unless it is coupled with the demands for less and lesser work, there is a danger that it will be met by employers with changes that result in more work. That is, advocates of better work are likely to find their demands for work enrichment appropriated by employers as an excuse for work intensification, as multi-skilling turns out to mean multi-tasking and demands for empowerment and participation are translated into additional responsibilities requiring even greater levels of energy investment and time commitment.
 [A guaranteed basic income] could offer a stronger position from which to negotiate better wages and working conditions.
There are two specific demands for change that I defend as part of a struggle for less and lesser work. The first is a thirty-hour week with no decrease in pay. The second is a guaranteed basic income. I am interested in these proposals as concrete policy reforms that could improve people’s situations by expanding the time off waged work (shorter hours) and making the link between work and income less absolute (basic income). The demand for shorter hours has historically appealed to a variety of differently situated workers. The demand for a basic income has even more potential to gather a broad coalition. It could offer some much-needed support for the unemployed and underemployed and a stronger position from which to negotiate better wages and working conditions. A basic income could provide some support for unwaged forms of socially necessary caring labor and also relieve some of the pressures that limit our choices of household formation and family membership. After all, it is important to recognize that there are two major mechanisms of income allocation, waged work is one, and the family, as a way to distribute income among the not-yet waged, unwaged, underwaged, and no-longer waged, is the other. As neither of these institutions is adequate to the task of providing for us all, a guaranteed income is a better option.
I am also interested in the way these demands for shorter hours and basic income (among others) can function not only as policy proposals but also as perspectives that can help organized labor, allied organizations, and the broader public to reflect critically on the present system of wages and hours and as provocations to think imaginatively about other ways of defining, organizing, and valuing work. Why, these demands ask us to consider, do we all need to work so long and hard? Why are some productive contributions rewarded with income and others not? What would we do with more time off waged work? How would our relationship to work change if the economic pressure to work was alleviated somewhat? The struggle for these practical reforms, in other words, in addition to winning reforms that would improve people’s lives, could also serve to broaden our perspectives on the social role and meaning of work and inspire us to imagine them differently.
https://portside.org/2014-05-26/problems-work

All the key issues?

Last September the Trade Union Left Forum asked, will this Government guarantee the right to union representation for workers? (The full article can be read at www.tuleftforum.com/will-government-guarantee-right-union-representation-workers/).

Judging by yesterday’s press statement by the Minister for jobs, enterprise, and innovation, Richard Bruton, on legislating for reform of the Industrial Relations Act (2001), the answer has to be a resounding and disappointing but not surprising No.

The minister’s statement added very little to what he had already stated, and what was leaked to the media before Christmas. The Fine Gael minister has been clear that any legislation brought forward in this area would be a reform of the 2001 act, would not introduce compulsory collective bargaining and the recognition of trade unions, would retain our voluntary system of industrial relations, would legislate for the Supreme Court ruling on the infamous Ryanair case, and would be consistent with our dependence on foreign direct investment.

The minister has said all this publicly; so yesterday’s statement, which advised us that the main provisions of the legislation would include the below points, is not exactly news and, coming two weeks before an election, appears much more like a Labour Party stunt in the face of what may well be that party’s worst electoral performance in recent history.

There is no draft legislation, not even headings, just the following list of points:

• a definition of what constitutes “collective bargaining”;

• provisions to help the Labour Court identify whether internal bargaining bodies are genuinely independent of their employer;

• bringing clarity to the requirements to be met by a trade union advancing a claim under the act;

• setting out policies and principles for the Labour Court to follow when assessing those workers’ terms and conditions, including the sustainability of the employer’s business in the long term;

• new provisions to ensure that cases dealt with are ones where the numbers of workers are not insignificant;

• provisions to ensure that remuneration, terms and conditions are looked at in their totality;

• provisions to limit the frequency of reassessment of the same issues;

• an explicit prohibition of the use by employers of inducements (financial or otherwise) designed specifically to have employees forgo collective representation by a trade union;

• enhanced protection for workers who may feel that they are being victimised for exercising their rights in this regard by way of interim relief in the case of dismissal.

Within hours both SIPTU and the ICTU expressed their support for these proposals. David Begg went so far as to say that the points listed above “appeared to deal with all the key issues, from a trade union point of view.”

All the key issues? Will a group of workers in a shop, factory or office who get together and say, “Mr Employer, please talk to us and our chosen union about our terms and conditions of employment,” be able to compel their employer to do so? No. So has it dealt with the fundamental issue from a trade union point of view? No, it has not.

Worse than that: if provisions to help the Labour Court identify whether internal bargaining bodies are genuinely independent of their employer allows and legislates for the recognition and acceptance of staff associations or information and consultation committees as independent internal bargaining units, then this legislation is a step backwards for the trade union movement and will in fact make organising non-union workers into the movement even more difficult than it already is.

These proposals have the potential to weaken the trade union movement significantly over time, as internal bargaining units fill the private sector and declining union density is replaced by these internal associations. This is not merely unacceptable: it is potentially damaging to the movement.

Let’s look at some of the other points. The “sustainability of the employer’s business in the long term” sounds awfully like adding a vague competitiveness clause to any discussion about terms and conditions of employment. Pay and terms and conditions of employment to be “looked at in their totality” sounds as if any pay claim might be resisted on the grounds of a totality of terms and conditions of employment and benefits.

“Provisions to limit the frequency of reassessment” can clearly work both ways. Will a pay claim only be allowed every so often? This is hardly a mechanism for facilitating annual collective bargaining on pay.

An explicit prohibition of financial inducements to forgo collective bargaining with a union, while very welcome, is in fact the law under the European Court of Human Rights Wilson Judgement. And enhanced protection against victimisation, while again very welcome, is already provided for (somewhat weakly) in equality legislation.

So, do these points appear to deal with “all the key issues”? It is not possible to make such a statement on the basis of what is provided; and, worse than that, it seems it could be worse than achieving nothing if it provides for the legal recognition of internal non-union staff bodies.

To summarise what we said in our article in September about what would be positive and progressive legislation, it should include:

• a recognition of union membership and collective bargaining as a basic human right;

• a legal right and a mechanism for compulsory recognition of a trade union for employees by employers;

• broad outlines of what constitutes collective bargaining and negotiating mechanisms and an avoidance of minimal consultation-style frameworks;

• a clear understanding of a “trade union” as an independent registered trade union and not a staff association established by the management;

• the right of trade unions to have access to workers in their work-place, to ensure that all workers are given the right to organise a union free from intimidation;

• the right of access to existing members where collective bargaining already exists;

• protection for union members from penalisation, discrimination or disciplinary action for carrying out legitimate trade union activity;

• legal protection for the collection of union subscriptions at source;

• economically harsh fines and penalties for companies found to be in breach of the legislation, so that it is not economic to illegally avoid unions.

Of course, this article is not based on any draft legislation, so we must wait to see this. However, based on what has been made public, union members should be under no illusions about what is on the table.

New WFTU website a big improvement

The Secretariat is in the happy position to inform the members and friends of the WFTU that from May Day 2014 a new website is available at the www.wftucentral.org.

The new, modern, more user-friendly, more practical website is an important step that will empower the communication and the coordination of the struggle of the class-oriented trade union movement.

In the section “About Us” the visitor can find detailed information about the history, the constitution, the documents and the administration of the WFTU.

In the section “Action” you can find the Statements, news about the Activities of the WFTU, news about the union activity and workers issues around the world as well as all the latest Publications of the WFTU, easy to be downloaded.

In the section “Multimedia” you can find all the photos, the posters and the videos of the WFTU. In the new service called “Podcast Gallery” you will be soon able to hear recordings of WFTU activities, speeches etc.

With the new website every visitor can register his email in our mailing list and receive news for our activity.

Find out more by visiting the new WFTU website at www.wftucentral.org .

South Dublin County Council staff vote in favour of industrial action

IMPACT members working at South Dublin County Council have balloted in favour of industrial action following a decision by South Dublin County Council management to abolish ‘acting’ positions. The management decision effectively ordered staff to continue to perform senior duties, but on a lower pay rate. Staff at the local authority have voted in favour of industrial action by a margin of 86%.

The form of industrial action to be taken is expected to be announced next week.

IMPACT official Angela Kirk explained “In an act of calculated bad faith, council management announced its intention to cut the pay of staff in acting positions just days before a Labour Relations Commission hearing, which was to arbitrate on the matter. Local talks had broken down after management told the union it intended to change the pay rates rather than regularising the acting positions as agreed in the talks that led to the Haddington Road agreement.”

Ms Kirk said management was in breach of Haddington Road and was effectively extending pay cuts to staff below the €65,000 earnings threshold set out in the deal. The union also condemned management for refusing to discuss its proposals, saying that they were non-negotiable.

Many of the affected staff have been working at the more senior levels for years. They have already seen their pay cut by an average 14% since 2009 and have seen their working time increased under the Haddington Road agreement.

During the talks that produced the Haddington Road agreement, IMPACT won agreement on a process to regularise long-term acting positions following the completion of a workforce plan in each local authority.

http://www.impact.ie/14/05/09/South-Dublin-County-Council-staff-vote-in-favour-of-industrial-action.htm

Alt-labor: a new union movement or the same old song?

Unions are evolving to survive, as protests against Walmart – without employees of the company – increasingly show.

On a crisp and sunny morning on the day after Thanksgiving, a group of protesters gathered in front of a large Walmart in Michigan’s Sterling Heights, calling for wage increases and better working conditions for the superstore’s employees. Mary Johnson, a retiree and member of international activist group the Raging Grannies, stood next to Dan Lombardo, a plumber wearing old-fashioned overalls, who was carrying a sign stating “Walmart equals poverty.” Mothering Justice founder Danielle Atkinson, in a vibrant purple coat, turned up with her entire family. Even Mary Kay Henry, the International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who was back in the Detroit area for the holiday, was there.

But as police cars drew up, scattering the protesters, it seemed there was one cohort of people missing: the protest had not included a single Walmart worker.

Over the last couple of years, in a bid to survive, unions have been fighting back against crumbling membership rates, testing out new strategies and pouring logistical and financial resources into non-union, alternative forms of organizing, at the heart of which are campaigns to raise the minimum wage. In the interest of reaching a new cohort of younger and more diverse workers, immediate ambitions to increase membership levels have fallen by the wayside.

So the pragmatism sets in: to command the numbers they need to create a presence at protests, unions are helping organize workers who are not paying members and have little prospect of becoming so in the near future.

There’s a name for it that harkens more to the music industry than the labor movement: alternative labor, or ” alt-labor”.

Leading the “alt-labor” initiatives have been two organizing clusters: Our Walmart, created by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), and the Fight for 15 movement. The former group’s demands include a $25,000 a year minimum salary for all Walmart workers but have given up on hopes for unionization. Then there’s the Fight For 15 movement, created by the SEIU. That targets the fast-food industry, with demands for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union-and an appeal to millennials.

Alt-labor as a phenomenon – filling in gaps where unions have failed to organize – is not new. In the last two decades, workers in the restaurant, retail, agriculture and domestic work industries have been fighting for their rights through non-union foundation funded worker centers, grassroots, community organizations, including the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, who have had a number of landmark victories.

What is new is the extent of big labor unions’ involvement and investment into alt-labor, and the creation of their own alt-labor spinoffs.

The labor movement is trying to reinvent itself, by necessity. The United States labor movement is in crisis. Unions today represent just 11.3% of American workers, down from 28.3% in 1954. Worse for the old bosses of labor, 93% of the private sector is currently non-union – a reflection of a number of trends, including the gradual spreading of anti-worker, pro-employer legislation and policies, an idea that unions are bad for business, the outsourcing of jobs and labor’s failure to adapt to an increasingly service-based economy.

“The labor movement is on a learning curve,” says Bob Bruno, a professor at the University of Illinois, who directs its Chicago-based labor education program.

Unions have remained vastly absent from the retail and restaurant industries, Walmart and fast food chains included. Walmart currently employs 1.3 million people in America, while the 10 largest fast food chains employ 2.2 million Americans.

“As income inequality grows greater and greater, it becomes more and more obvious that you’ve got larger sectors of the workforce that are now huddling round the minimum wage,” Bruno says. “The labor movement is coming to a realization that these are workers that they need to be attentive to and think about finding ways of supporting.”

In many ways, Our Walmart and the Fight For 15 movements are not new forms of labor, but labor from scratch – organizing members who have never been members of unions before – one worker at a time, one work place at a time.

When Nancy Salgado, 27, who has been a McDonald’s employee in Chicago since the age of 16, received a phone call from her sister last summer, urging her to join the Fight For 15 movement, she says she didn’t believe any of what her sister was telling her was true.

“I wasn’t aware that I had rights, I wasn’t aware that anybody cared about fast-food workers or anybody cared about how much I was making.”

Now Salgado, who makes $8.25 an hour and has two young children she is the sole provider for, says she won’t stop protesting, striking and mobilizing more of her colleagues until she earns the right to organize without retaliation, form a union and negotiate a raise.

Damon Silvers, director for policy and special counsel at the AFL-CIO, a national trade union center representing 11 million workers, says the future of the labor movements is not so much tied to whether or not unions will survive, but whether the rights of working people will.

“The critical thing right now in the American economy and the American workforce is for working people to rediscover that they have power collectively to shape their own economic future,” Silvers says.

But with only a minority of workers taking part in protests (and in the case of Sterling Heights, none at all) there is no doubt this is a public awareness campaign too. Less kind commentators have called Walmart and fast-food industry-geared protests a march on the media.

Striking hardly threatens the daily functioning of businesses in highly volatile, low-skill industries where employees can be fired or have their hours cut from one day to the next with little protection. It does however serve to draw attention to broader economic issues, including stark income inequality, and the reality of living on the minimum wage.

“Often, fast-food workers are out of sight, out of mind,” says Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst at Demos.

Jessica Davis, 25, also a McDonald’s employee, says she first learned about unions and workers’ rights just four months ago, when she was approached by an organizer on a work break. Before then, she says she assumed she was at the mercy of her manager.

Today, Davis, who has had her hours cut in half since she joined Fight For 15, dedicates time at work convincing colleagues to join the fight with her.

“I tell them they can cut your days for anything they want, why not have them cut your days for something you believe in, for something where you can stand up and say ‘They cut my days for this, this is not right.’”

While similar stories of worker empowerment are happening across the country through on the ground organizers at least partially financed by UFCW for Walmart and SEIU for fast-food outlets, it should come as no surprise that Salgado and Davis’ originally lacked any knowledge of their rights as workers. That kind of lack of awareness is what motivates alt-labor organizers.

Last September, economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty found that 95% of the wealth generated since the 2008 financial crash went to the top 1% of American earners, with economic recovery holding a very different meaning for those at the top of the American economic ladder than it did for those at the bottom.

In a report released last October, the National Employment Law Project estimated McDonald’s 707,850 employees were forced to rely on $1.2bn in public assistance despite the company making $5.46bn in profits, and paying its CEO $13.7m.

Traub argues the fast food and Walmart strikes and the personal stories that accompany them have brought increased visibility to theoretical arguments, propping up major campaigns to raise the minimum wage in more official settings, such as the recent Democrat-sponsored congressional bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016.

But opponents abound, selling their skepticism: are these campaigns a succession of media-stunts set up by big labor as a last resort to advance their interests, or is the effort to build a new movement actually taking place on the ground?

Among the most vocal denouncing alt-labor practices is the Center for Union Facts, run by renowned conservative public relations expert Richard Berman.

Berman’s websites, laborpains.org and workercenters.com, among others, seek to expose alt-labor organizations’ ties to unions, with the implication that the old labor movement is pulling the puppet strings.

“No campaigns supported by unions – either implicitly or explicitly – to raise the minimum wage are worker-led battles,” Berman says. “They are coordinated attacks led by national labor unions against long-time industry foes.”

Berman’s point about worker involvement is a sensitive topic within labor and alt-labor.

When asked, Our Walmart and the Fight For 15 movement did not hide their union affiliations – though the ties are definitely downplayed. Presumably in an effort to appear as grassroots-led as possible, SEIU’s Fight For 15 movement has a different name in each city, and has no central website. Neither organization’s budget has been made accessible, which keeps opposition scrutiny at bay.

More concretely, one question remains: if the larger unions continue to dissolve, the sources of financial support for alt-labor are likely to go with them. The financial future of alt-labor is thus up in the air. Could fast-food workers feasibly become the dues-paying GM workers of the future?

If convincing workers to take part in protests still represents an uphill battle, the central, core ambitions of the protests – raising the minimum wage and tangibly addressing inequality – are bringing a variety of sympathetic community members and organizations together. With a new cause to rally around, the question arises: could a new kind of American, far from the factory floor, represent the future and survival of the labor movement?

Back at the Walmart gathering in Sterling Heights, with police officers growing increasingly impatient from their cars, the remaining, diverse set of protesters had gathered for a group photo. They exchanged jokes and, later, phone numbers. Current Walmart store employees may have been absent from the protest, but the cause of raising the minimum wage and tackling inequality was clearly forming new friendships, connections and alliances.

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/may/01/low-wage-new-union-walmart-fast-food