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Year 2001 No. 110, June 27, 2001 ARCHIVE HOME SEARCH SUBSCRIBE

Workers and Politics:

End Rover Workers’ Marginalisation

Workers and Politics:
Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

End Rover Workers’ Marginalisation

NATFHE Lecturers on Strike at South Bank University

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on Devolution

Month of Solidarity with Workers and People of Korea – June 23 to July 25

US's Proposal for Resuming Talks with DPRK:
DPRK Urges US to Put Compensation for Electricity Loss on Primary Agenda

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———Workers and Politics ———

End Rover Workers’ Marginalisation

Rover Workers must have their say in working out the alternatives at Longbridge

The West Midlands Regional Forum was inspired by the Central Committee’s Communiqué "Build the Workers’ Opposition!".

In the General Election the workers have demonstrated their disaffection with representative democracy and the alternative must take root.

In these circumstances, workers must themselves constitute the political opposition to the agenda represented by the "Third Way".

It is true that the TUC is renewing its attempts to head the workers’ movement away from constituting the alternative.

Taking all this into account, we therefore affirm that the need for the workers at Rover is to work to end their marginalisation.

This work has to be carried despite the pressure not to break with the old conscience. On the one hand there is the question of those who are said to be disillusioned by the political system and didn’t vote and on the other hand there are those that did and still voted "labour". Those that voted "labour" still hold illusions that the Labour Party is the lesser of the two evils and also that they must maintain their loyalty. Another part of the problem is that "labour" still holds a form of "realistic" socialism. New Labour is more practical than the old one, and this can be seen in its programme for privatisation with the idea that there is no ideological opposition to private capital, as long as it works!

One form the conciliation with the old conscience takes is to suggest that all those that do not agree with the rationale of keeping the "unity of the labour movement" by maintaining its ties with the Labour Party are themselves splitting this "labour movement". As the CC’s Communiqué points out, this is an important issue in the workers’ movement, and will not be solved by bad-mouthing the political forces in action, but by deepening the discussion on the stand to take towards challenging the retrogressive programme represented by the "Third Way".

Therefore, to build the Workers’ Opposition is very much the task of the moment.

The "Third Way" of Tony Blair has been an obstacle for the Rover workers from the start. Initially, the trade union leadership, to encourage partnership at BMW, used this idea. In essence, the "Third Way" is to place a block on the workers’ movement from going for socialism. In Britain, the conception of "social partnership" has been developed as part and parcel of the "Third Way" to attempt to compromise the class struggle. The "Third Way" has put forward that the government does not simply take the Thatcherite road of open implementation of a neo-liberal programme of cutting investment in social programmes and naked exploitation nor the Old Labour methods of nationalisation and state planning but a "Third Way".

The BMW situation soon showed its true nature when it decided to close operations and put the end of volume production at Longbridge on the agenda. The Works Council developed by the EC was ineffective and the workers were told to forget about the politics in Europe. It was said that politics should be left to the elected "New Labour" politicians and negotiations should be left to the trade union experts. Workers were to be left marginalised, or so they thought. The reality was a massive demonstration led by Rover workers, their shop stewards along with shop floor resistance.

The preferred option was for Rover workers to push to maintain volume production because Alchemy wanted only to develop the MG sports car section of the business. The Phoenix consortium had a similar programme but with maintaining volume. Rover workers knew that the first option would be devastating both in terms of jobs, not only for Longbridge but also the entire West Midlands component manufacturers. The "Third Way" programme, along with EC rejection of public funding of the British motor industry, prevented any emergency solution to the Longbridge crisis.

Today the situation has not been fully resolved. The reason for it is the overproduction crisis and the impending recession. Phoenix has continued with implementing the MG development and sports car as its prime objective. Volume production is still under threat because of the overall economic problem affecting all car business. This is reflected in the serious impending disaster threatened by the pulling out of capital by Ford at Dagenham and Rover Solihull, and the ever looming danger by Ford to production of Jaguar in this country. The Vauxhall crisis at Luton and Ellesmere Port, the Nissan threat of withdrawal at Washington in the Northeast are also part of this.

Today the same problems are waiting to surface again at Longbridge. No alternative has been put forward to the capitalist crisis except to step up productivity and increase exploitation at the plant. The old British Leyland management who lead the Phoenix consortium, with John Towers as the head man and Harold Musgrove in reserve, know the methods of utilising labour to maximise profit. Workers are told to be satisfied that they have a job and that they voted for the latest set-up.

Workers with their shop stewards have to make the necessary proposals and set the agenda for the future of Longbridge. The impending crisis and dangers to job security and their families’ futures are at stake, not to mention the economy of the country. On top of the pressures of overproduction are the environmental issues, which are becoming greater and cannot be ignored.

The workers must get organised and set up groups of writers and disseminators to discuss from their own experience what should be the agenda for society. The broad masses of workers have to join the work to build the Workers’ Opposition.

West Midlands Regional Forum on the Mass Party Press

Article Index

NATFHE Lecturers on Strike at South Bank University

On Tuesday, June 26, lecturers from NATFHE, the lecturers’ union went on strike at South Bank University (SBU). The University is making 40% of the academic staff in the Faculty of the Built Environment redundant. A dozen or more lecturers picketed the site on Wandsworth Road, demanding that the future of the Faculty be protected. Workers’ Weekly interviewed an SBU NATFHE union official on the picket.

WW: Can you tell us what is going on in this dispute today?

SBU NATFHE: The university is going to make 40% of the staff in this faculty redundant over the next year and a bit. Immediately we are going to lose 13 members of staff, and then we are going to lose another 15 members of staff by July next year and then a few more the following year.

But this is also going across other parts of the university. There are redundancies in other faculties of the university. This is done on the basis that the university has not recruited enough students.

Now, the argument against that is that this is partly due to government policies. We are an access university and large numbers of our students come from ethnic minorities and working class backgrounds, and consequently they are averse to debt and there is no culture of going to university in the first place.

Now, if the Labour Party were serious about expanding Higher Education, then we surely should be one of their flagship organisations. But they ignore us. We have written to Tony Blair – both us and our Vice-Chancellor. Our letters get a very strange reply, that they are fully aware of the situation but they do nothing to improve it. So consequently because the university has to return the number of students it is going to recruit each year – it is always a forecast – we have not met the target, so the university has got to pay back something in the region of £4 million. That would be ameliorated if we can come up with an action plan so that we will get back in balance. However, that action plan is based 100% on sacking staff. So we have got to give back something like 10% of our income, but we are going to do that by getting rid of nearly 20% of our academic teaching staff. Which means – what will we be like in future?

So we say that we are going to be smaller but worse, not smaller but better by using this programme.

What we would have liked to have seen is first of all serious negotiations with our management. We would have liked to have seen our management stand up a bit more to the university. It is the staff who are standing up the university not the senior management, who seem to just roll over at anything the government says. They do not seem to have any backbone in them.

Most of our students are not A-level students. We attract a large number of mature students and a large number of part-time students. We offer a large range of courses, probably a better range of courses than many traditional universities. But we are penalised by being an ex-polytechnic, just like all the other ex-polytechnics. In London, it is an expensive place to be a student. To come here you have to be settled in London in the first place. It is very difficult to come from the provinces. When we were a polytechnic we attracted students from all over the country. Now we are very much for the local area, and our local area is not the richest part of London. If the government is serious about improving education, they have got to look at these things. They will look at it eventually, but by then it will be too late. The damage will be done. We must try and get the message across.

Now, we are trying to get our management to stop these redundancies. We do not want compulsory redundancies this year. We think that redeployment should be looked at, which we do not think has been fully investigated. But at the moment we have a situation where compulsory redundancy is considered better than voluntary redundancy.

The redundancies this year do not affect all the university. They are affecting specific areas. But we would like to remind all our colleagues that if we go back a few years, the Faculty of the Built Environment here was the largest faculty in the university. We had over 4,000 students. Now we are one of the poorer ones because of the situation of the work that we do. It is a problem of recruiting school-leavers into the building industry. But we think that we have bottomed out and we are improving. But if all of these cuts happen in this faculty, 40% of the staff will go, and it is going to be very difficult to know how that is going to help our recovery, because life is going to be very difficult for those who stay, and it is going to be equally difficult for those who go, particularly as all they will get will be compulsory redundancy with statutory redundancy pay, which is a very strange way to treat hard-working staff. They do not seem to value the people who work here.

The South Bank University is not one of those financially strapped universities. We know that we have roughly £28 million to £30 million in the cash reserves, and we think that some of that money should have been used to improve the situation. We are just asking for sensible and reasonable management, and we do not think we are getting it.

WW: I know other universities are facing the same problem. Middlesex University are having to so-called balance their books, so they are pushing for compulsory redundancies.

SBU NATFHE: It seems that the necessity of the universities is to get rid of large numbers of us across the new university sector as soon as they possibly can.

We had compulsory redundancies here in ’98; the university had compulsory redundancies in ’97. So since the Labour Party came into power, this is our third round of compulsory redundancies. And if you serious about wanting to expand Higher Education, this is where it should be expanded.

Now, 60% of the all the money that goes into Higher Education goes into the old universities, 40% into the new, but we have 60% of the students. So the whole financial arrangement is so imbalanced. We are penalised by being successful. In the past we have recruited large numbers of students. We have been used as a sponge for unemployment – "send them to education" – then they just turn off the tap whenever it suits them. This is not a strategy for the future. It never has been. This is a strategy for "how do we win the next election". That is all there ever is. They are not interested in the people. They are just interested in themselves and their own party politics.

WW: How do you see the dispute developing now?

SBU NATFHE: What we know is that university staff are not militant people. To get people out here on a demonstration like this is unreal, because they do not do this, this is not part of their nature. They also do not want to be put in a situation where they jeopardise the students’ futures. That is the last thing. They are our futures as well as their own. So we do not want to do that.

But the university uses the students as a weapon against us. We do not want to damage them. So we always treat our industrial action very seriously and carefully – what will cause disruption to the university rather than disruption to the students.

It is a difficult issue all the time. The university always uses a sledgehammer approach to us. They threaten us with legal action; they threaten us with pay-docking. And it is a continual stream of threats all the time. And there is very little negotiation that goes on. We sit round tables – they talk, but they do not do any more. They do not offer anything, nothing really constructive happens. We know that there is a problem. But the problem is of their making. They are worried about our slide down the league tables. Now, our slide down the league tables does coincide with the presence of our current Vice-Chancellor. When he came, we were a mid-range university. During his tenure with us, we have managed to slip down all the league tables, and we are now number 97.

What we now find is that all of this is supposed to make us better by reducing our student numbers, reducing our staffing numbers. And what this means is that while we are reducing all of those, we are actually increasing our staff-student ratio. At the moment, this faculty is working at 15:1. We will now go up to 20:1. But they say that will improve quality. Well, that is a wonderful calculation! Unfortunately, if you try to put that in an exam question, I do not think you would be able to put a decent rationale behind it.

WW: Thanks a lot.

SBU NATFHE: One last thing. When Tony Blair said, "education, education, education," you knew that some lecturer in some university was going to lose his job! As simple as that! And that sums it up!

Article Index

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on Devolution

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey was published on Tuesday, June 26. The survey highlights that three quarters of the Scottish people believe that the Scottish Parliament should be more important than Westminster and that two thirds demand more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Speaking on the eve of the publication of the survey, the Leader of the Scottish National Party, John Swinney, said: "These results highlight that devolution is not the ‘settled will’ of the Scottish people but a process which will complete the powers of the Scottish Parliament and lead to independence. The first step in this process was the overwhelming vote for devolution and the next step – which this survey highlights – is to gain more and more powers for the Parliament."

Article Index

Month of Solidarity with Workers and People of Korea – June 23 to July 25

The World Federation of Trade Union (WFTU) issued the following Declaration on June 18.

The World Federation of Trade Unions, in accordance with the resolution adopted by the 14th World Trade Union Congress, appeals to working people and trade unions in all countries to observe a Month of Solidarity with the Workers and People of Korea from 23 June to 25 July 2001.

There is no peace and security for the workers and people of Korea since the United States continues to keep, on Korean soil, its military bases with more than 40,000 troops and over one thousand nuclear weapons. Introducing new mass destruction weapons, the US is holding large-scale military exercises against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Tension in the Korean peninsula is accelerated by the decision of the Bush Administration of the USA to scrap the "DPRK-US Agreed Framework" and by announcing hostile policies against the DPRK while obstructing the process of peace, reconciliation and reunification of the Korean peninsula.

The observance of the Month of Solidarity this year coincides with the positive results of North-South Summit in the capital of the DPRK, Pyongyang, and the agreement reached to make all efforts for the peaceful reunification of the country by the Korean people themselves.

The WFTU wishes success to the Korean working people who are making great efforts to carry forward the aims of the North-South Joint Declaration and reunify the country as soon as possible. In this context, the WFTU considers it essential that effective steps are taken to reduce tensions in the Korean peninsula and, in particular, to ensure the immediate withdrawal of all US troops which have been occupying South Korea for over half a century. All provocative military exercises should be cancelled. The Korean peninsula should be declared as a nuclear-free zone. The arbitrary sanctions imposed by the USA and its allies against the DPRK should be lifted immediately.

In the framework of the Month of Solidarity, the WFTU also appeals for the further strengthening of solidarity with the struggle of the working people of South Korea for their demands – trade union rights, democratic liberties and especially the abolition of the notorious "Security Law" which constitutes a gross violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article Index

US's Proposal for Resuming Talks with DPRK:

DPRK Urges US to Put Compensation for Electricity Loss on Primary Agenda

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea issued a statement on June 18 concerning US President Bush's June 6 statement regarding the resumption of negotiations with the DPRK. The DPRK Foreign Ministry statement said:

It is noteworthy that the new US administration proposed resuming DPRK-US dialogue, which it unilaterally put under suspension for four months, but we cannot but remain vigilant against its real intention.

The US side, while proposing to resume negotiations without preconditions, unilaterally set out and opened to the public topics of discussion before both sides even sat together. The US topics of discussion are issues related to the so-called nuclear, missile and conventional armed forces of the DPRK. We cannot construe this other than as an attempt by the US to disarm the DPRK through negotiations.

Putting up conditions which the DPRK can never accept cannot but arouse apprehension and doubt as to whether the US intends to have a sincere dialogue and has a willingness to settle issues through dialogue.

It is the universally recognised elementary requirement that dialogue between sovereign states should be conducted on a fair and equal footing. This is evidenced by the fact that the previous DPRK-US dialogues were held in conformity with the interests of both sides and produced results helpful to improving bilateral relations. In this sense, we cannot but interpret the US administration's "proposal for resuming dialogue" as unilateral and conditional in its nature and hostile in its intention.

Our aim in having a dialogue with the United States is to discuss and put into practice measures to wipe out the mistrust and misunderstanding between both sides and put the DPRK-US relations on a normal footing so as to meet the bilateral interests.

All the pending issues related to the DPRK-US relations originate from the US hostile policy, which is a big threat to the DPRK. If the US truly has a will to drop its hostile policy and have a dialogue with the DPRK, it should, first of all, adopt as topics of discussion practical matters related to the implementation of the provisions of the DPRK-US Agreed Framework and the DPRK-US Joint Communiqué as already agreed upon.

The DPRK's conventional armed forces can never be a subject of discussion before the US forces are pulled out of south Korea not least as they are means for self-defence to cope with the grave threat posed by the US and its allies.

The US should refrain from its sinister attempt to shift the responsibility for the stalled negotiations onto the DPRK after deliberately raising such unrealistic and unacceptable demands. The most realistic and urgent issue at present as regards the implementation of the DPRK-US Agreed Framework, the keynote of which is the US Light Water Reactor provision in return for the DPRK's nuclear freeze, is to handle in a responsible manner the grave situation where the LWR provision has been delayed for too long. The Agreed Framework is in danger of collapse due to the delay in the LWR provision.

We are of the view that the issue of compensating for the loss of electricity caused by the delay in the LWR provision, which we have already proposed to the US side as a solution to the issues, should be adopted as a primary item to be taken up at the negotiations.

The US side would be well advised to dispel doubts as to whether the US has the political will to drop its hostile policy toward the DPRK and discuss and settle the pressing issue of the loss of electricity.

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