In an alarming step backwards for worker rights and democracy in the country, at least 11 trade union leaders and worker activists have been arrested. At the same time, security forces have raided the houses of trade union leaders and volunteers, and many have gone into hiding in fear of their safety.
Trade union offices in Ashulia, the garment-producing hub of the capital Dhaka, have been invaded, vandalized and forcibly shut down, with membership documents burned and furniture removed.
After garment workers demanded an increase in wages in December, more than 1,600 workers have been fired and police have filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders.
IndustriALL and Uni have teamed up with LabourStart for the online petition demanding that the Bangladesh government release all detained union leaders and activists and stop the repression of garment workers.
Despite the crackdown, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina has been joining the world’s elite in Davos this week telling business leaders and the international community that there are harmonious industrial relations in the readymade garment (RMG) industry in the country. She also said her country was “highly committed to ensuring compliance with regard to the RMG industry.”
The garment industry is crucial to Bangladesh’s economy where it makes up 83 per cent of exports, and is the world’s second largest producer of textile and apparel, employing 4.5 million workers of which 80 per cent are women.
IndustriALL and Uni have been at the forefront of improving worker rights and safety in the garment industry in Bangladesh, following the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers. They were the drivers of the Bangladesh Accord, a legally-binding agreement signed by more than 200 global brands, to inspect 1,600 garment factories for fire and safety hazards. More than 74% of identified safety issues in the 1,600 factories have been reported or verified as fixed.
Striking cleaners protested outside Great Western Railway HQ in Swindon yesterday, in a bid to end a dispute they have with a contractor.
Over 100 RMT members held banners and shouted “fair pay now,” accusing Servest UK of bullying and undervaluing staff.
Union rep Sharon Petrie said: “This dispute is about how they treat us. We don’t get anything for holidays and we don’t get sick pay.”
Pointing out that she works on GWR services, Ms Petrie said the train operator must sort out the issues.
She added: “We work for them, we look like them and so we should be treated like other Great Western staff.”
RMT National Executive member, Eddie Dempsey addressed workers before the action, saying: “Great Western have ignored us and so we are here to talk to them.
“We want a director to come down here and talk to us, hear our demands and accept our petition.”
Union officials were granted a meeting and will be contacting the company in due course to discuss the dispute.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Dempsey added: “Some of the members aren’t given proper gloves to toilets with. GWR has to take these workers in-house and give them proper terms and conditions.”
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The victory this week for blacklisted workers in the High Court marks a significant step forward in the fight for justice.
Unite the Union announced it had reached a settlement with construction companies which will see 256 workers receive more than £10m between them in compensation, for the years of not being able to find work in the industry they were trained.
The GMB union which reached a similar settlement last month, said the total value of compensation in the case was around £75m for 771 claimants, with legal costs on both sides estimated at £25 million.
Aside from the substantial settlements workers will receive, the construction companies responsible were forced into a humiliating apology in court.
The lawyer for the companies said: “The Defendants are here today to offer, through me, their sincere and unreserved apologies to the Claimants for any damage caused. The Defendants apologise as providers of any information and for the loss of employment suffered as a result of communication of information during the operation of the Consulting Association. They also apologise for the anxiety and hurt to feelings caused as a result.”
There has been significant scepticism voiced by the Blacklist Support Group which has been instrumental in achieving this result, as to the sincerity of the apology.
After all these are companies who knowingly and wilfully used information obtained on files kept by the Consulting Association to target workers sometimes for legal trade union and political activity. But many of those blacklisted were not “militant trades’ unionists.”
In some cases workers suffered 20 years of being unable to get a job, lost houses, their families were torn apart and have suffered mental health conditions as a result.
The Consulting Association was raided and closed down in 2009. But this has not stopped companies working together in the construction industry to undermine workers’ terms and conditions.
When I worked for the Morning Star in early 2011, I was the one first national daily newspaper journalists to report on major construction companies’ teaming up to reduce electricians (sparks) pay by up to 35 percent.
This led to a wave of rank and file trade union resistance not seen in decades.
Unofficial action, site occupations and demonstrations would take place weekly for months on end.
I met workers who had suffered blacklisting and were key to providing sparks employed in the industry much needed support as this industrial conflict escalated.
The campaign began with demonstrations outside building sites on the Crossrail project and soon workers were outside the glitzy hotels, interrupting dinners for industry CEOs.
By the end, Unite the union had called a ballot and was launching huge demonstrations in London and unofficial walkouts took place at several sites across the country.
The anti-trade union laws were successfully broken several times and I witnessed industrial workers show great resolve and cool heads under intense pressure from the police when they were kettled and threatened with arrest.
My overriding memory of the dispute was where I covered an early morning demo and site occupation in London. I went to the site manager who had just arrived at 8.45 to start his shift. I asked what he thought about the accusation that employers were planning to doc pay by up to 35 percent. His response was astonishing:
“If it was up to me, I would pay them one pound an hour,” he said in a rage.
I confirmed that he wanted quoting on that and he agreed before scurrying off.
This attitude is not just something unique to that individual manager but represents that basic contradiction between worker and employer – the fact that the boss is trying to get as much labour for the least amount of money out of the worker. And in contrast, the worker is trying to get more money and better conditions for the work they do.
With the technological advances our society has made in the last 7 years and attitude that profit trumps the need to pay people properly, the possibility of further blacklisting of people at work must be investigated.
As the Blacklist Support Group said on the evening of their outstanding victory:
“[We] …demand a full public inquiry to fully expose the blacklisting human rights conspiracy and the collusion between big business and the shadowy anti-democratic elements within the police. We are hardworking men and women used to getting our hands dirty. We are not giving up until the job is completed.”
When someone has lived 80 years it is impossible to fit in every detail of their life.
Most of you know Dad as a communist, a trade unionist, loving partner and father.
I will come on to those aspects of his life shortly but I wanted to give a little insight into his upbringing, political awakening and his later years.
Dad was born in 1935 in abject poverty in Dudley. His father tragically died when he was four and his mother had to work three cleaning jobs to keep home for him and his brother John.
Living in a two up two down, sharing a washroom and toilet with four other families in a court yard and occasionally going hungry, Dad’s poverty had a profound impact on him.
When he did national service in the RAF, he was 18, and this was the first time he had seen the sea.
Serving out in Kenya, Dad often described his time in the air force as his “university.”
He learnt about jazz, played football and was an airframe mechanic on a Lincoln bomber – the mark 2 of a Lancaster bomber.
Returning to work on Civvy Street, Dad became a skilled machinist working in several factories.
He was a keen sportsman in athletics and particularly football which at one time led to an offer of a professional contract from Swindon Town.
Tragically his brother John died in 1966 rescuing his wife’s sister in dangerous seas off the coast of New Zealand.
Dad never got over this loss and over the years would talk of his love for John many times.
Dad often described his early working life as a “mindless militant” – somebody who got annoyed about his own terms and conditions but didn’t care about much else.
That all changed when he met communist and fellow worker Fred Hammond.
While dad was working on his machine, Fred, who was a machine inspector would come round, have a chat and help out fellow workers get the job done faster and easier.
Dad said he used to argue with Fred about politics and rather than dismissing my dad, Fred persevered and began to influence Dad on how he saw the world.
Becoming class conscious and a Marxist, dad became a leading shop steward, playing a significant role in winning better terms and conditions for the workforce but also selling 50 Morning Star’s a day and getting the union branch to supply funds to other workers in struggle.
His commitment to the Morning Star was second to none.
He would often come off a night shift on a Saturday morning, sell the Morning Star in town, get on a train to London for a demonstration, cat nap on the way there and back, and go to work for another night shift on a Saturday night.
The People’s March for Jobs in 1983 was perhaps Dad’s biggest political achievement. Organised by the TUC, Dad as a chief marshal, marching from Glasgow to London, defying a bout of pneumonia to complete the demostration.
This show of strength by the organised labour movement and Dad’s central role although unsuccessful in helping to kick the Thatcher government out that year, marked an important chapter in Britain’s proud labour movement history.
He continued this work as Wolverhampton Trades Council President and AEU district President.
Following retirement and battling chronic ill health, Dad became Chair of Governors at Bilston Community college, promoting the importance and accessibility of education to working class people.
Dad faced up to his health problems as bravely and with as much conviction as he had campaigned for workers’ rights and socialism all his adult life.
He was always grateful for the NHS – something that he believed would not have existed had it not been for the struggle of post-war Britain and the example of the socialist world.
Health workers sustained Dad as long as possible in hospital in the last weeks of his life and ensured him a peaceful end.
He maintained that strength of will and dignity for which he was well known right up until the end and our last conversation was appropriately about England winning the Ashes and his excitement at the Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign.
A quote that Dad often repeated while I was growing up was from Nikolai Ostrovsky who said:
“Man’s dearest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying, he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world──the fight for the Liberation of Mankind”
I’ll miss you dad and the struggle continues…
I feel like a media guerrilla, with limited resources and guile, trying to amplify a small yet vital voice within the mainstream media
Alarm blaring out, birds singing cheerily and the soft tones of John Humphries of R4 fame will soon be filling the room with the news of the day.
This is where my working day begins.
And today the NHS is top of the agenda once again.
Campaigning PR like other forms of journalism is not for clock watchers and not for those seeking fame and fortune. But once I awake and switch on, I know I am in the right profession.
Today the group I work for – Keep Our NHS Public is enjoying a bumper day. A key activist is on the Today programme and later will also be on the BBC News Website and Newsnight.
This success is on the back of some steady media coverage which can be difficult to obtain when your group is one of many campaigning and speaking on the most important issue leading up to the general election.
But at this early hour in the day, I am happy and full of energy.
The highs and lows you have in this job are often in parallel with how well the media is receiving you, what coverage you are getting and most importantly if your key messaging hooks are having an impact on the public.
A short bus ride to the office – the amazing Hackney Volunteer Centre where we rent a desk – is our base of operation.
Here I sit with other NGO’s busy working away trying to get our respective messages out there.
Suddenly the phone rings. It’s the boss!
I am so lucky to have a practical and fair minded employer, when I know for many brothers and sisters in the union reading this, it is not the case.
Of course it is our right to be treated fairly and properly at work. But it is great when we can just get on with the job in hand rather than having to worry about bullying or other forms of unfair treatment.
The phone call is brief and we discuss the press release and social media messages I will be sending out during the day.
The NHS is such a huge monolith that to cover all aspects of what is happening is impossible. So much of our focus is on reacting to reactionary government policies and promoting an alternative to the privatisation agenda.
Our activists have branches across the country and I try my best to promote their vital work in the community both in the local and national media.
My diary is awash with upcoming events. We have another national coordinated day of action coming up this weekend and I will be manning our social media hub to get the message to the press and public that there is resistance to privatisation and unshakeable love for our NHS.
After speaking to a member in Southend, it is lunchtime. But there is no time to enjoy the sun starting to break through. A quick dash to the Co-op for a meal deal – usually an uninspiring ham and cheese sandwich is what awaits me – and back to the office again, to see if there have been any press emails.
Since starting the job in September we have seen our media profile and influence soar. It would be totally wrong and arrogant to take all of the credit for that.
As a PR, we do have skills which grassroots organisations need. However without the dedication of our members who do their work for no pay and who create climate which we can promote in the media, there would be no coverage.
It is early evening now and I am sparing a thought for what we are up against. I feel like a media guerrilla, with limited resources and guile, trying to amplify a small yet vital voice within the mainstream media.
Despite my years of journalistic experience and professional training, nothing prepares you quite like first-hand experience when you are made responsible for an organisation’s voice, directing it and making it sound appealing to a sometimes difficult mass media.
Official hours are done now and no campaigns event to attend so it is a back home. And even though you must switch off, it is always hard to because tomorrow on the sun rising, battle begins once more.
– This article was originally published in the Journalist:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 22/09/2014
KONP REACTION TO ED BALLS’S NHS FUNDING PLEDGE
Keep Our NHS Public (KONP) calls on Labour to restore health spending levels to 11% of GDP saying Ed Ball’s commitment to further funding does not go far enough.
The Shadow Chancellor was speaking at the Labour Party conference in Manchester today, where he said Labour would use a 50p tax rate for top earners, to raise extra funds for the NHS and would repeal the 2012 Health and Social Care Act to stop the “creeping privatisation” of the health service.
He acknowledged there was a crisis in Accident and Emergencies, fewer nurses and said: “I love the NHS and I will do whatever I have to, to save it.”
Reacting to Mr Balls’s speech, KONP Co-Chair Professor Sue Richards said: “Ed Balls says he loves the NHS. Yet his pledge for further NHS funding falls well short of what is required to save it.
“The Conservatives have massively cut funding to the NHS, syphoning off money to spend it on their privatisation ideology and the bureaucracy needed to make it happen. They hire private companies, which are slick at putting in bids for contracts, and even better at cutting corners when it comes to patient care.
“The National Audit Office slammed Serco for having, ‘insufficient staff to fill all clinical shifts,’ during 2012, when it provided out of hours care in Cornwall. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Government spending on the NHS is continuing to fall as a percentage of GDP.
In 2010, healthcare expenditure accounted for 9.7 per cent of GDP, falling from 9.8 per cent in 2009.
Professor Richards added: “The Conservatives are squeezing down expenditure on health in the expectation that more of us will pay for private treatment in order to avoid long waiting lists. If Labour wants to save our health service from the mess left by the Tories, they need to commit to bringing health expenditure back up to the European average and a level they raised it to during their last time in office. This is a key way to show Labour loves our NHS.”
For further comment, contact Professor Sue Richards on: 07407 379194
Notes to editors
- “KONP campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS in
the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and for a publicly owned, publicly
accountable, publicly provided and comprehensive NHS .”
- KONP is the longest running NHS campaign, founded in 2005http://www.keepournhspublic.com/
Mark Carney is not known for inspiring speeches but his warning to Scotland on the eve of independence vote that a currency union wasn’t “compatible with sovereignty” should there be a “Yes” vote was not the only noteworthy thing he said.
Posing as a benevolent friend of organised labour, he praised trade unionists at least twice for their approach to the recession and their acceptance of the flexible labour market, prompting strong reaction from delegates and industrial relations experts.
With friends like these, who needs enemies.