Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘Trade Unions

National Organiser of Trades Unionists Against the EU Joins Far-right Westmonster site as former Leftists takes up National Populism.

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Former Leftists Wave the Brexit Flag.

As Galloway is joined by a prominent FBU Trade Unionist, Paul Embery (London Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union and National organiser of Trade Unionists against the EU, a campaign backed by the Morning Star, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and, notably,  the Communist Party of Britain and Socialist Party) on the far-right Westmonster site, we ask: is a section of the one-time left drifting towards national populism?

Westmonster carries articles promoting the new “Patriotic Alliance” scare stories about migrants, and – favourable – reports on Trump and the chances of a Marine Le Pen victory in France.

On the same site Embrey argues that trade unions need to stop being, “an arm of a tin-eared liberal establishment” (TRADE UNION MOVEMENT MUST RECONNECT WITH WORKING CLASS POST-BREXIT).

He argues forcefully against free Movement,

… on free movement, union leaders remain ambivalent at best, criminally silent at worst. This disastrous policy, which commodifies workers, atomises society and contributes to the undercutting of wages, has, more than anything else, contributed to the rupture between working-class communities and the political class.

Westmonster’s patriotic ‘socialists’ parallel many of the themes of the former ‘Marxists’ of Spiked-on-Line.

This section of the left has not just embraced the populist language of the “people” versus the  ‘elites’,  the ‘rulers’ of the European Union.

They have moved from ideas of “strong democracy”, which had something in common with the writings of Benjamin R. Barber, a critique of liberal “thin” democracy, based on rights, and advocacy of the ability of people to “govern themselves”.

In its place National Sovereignty has been rediscovered (see: Frank Furedi. Politics without sovereignty is not politics at all 2007).

Sovereigntism.

In parallel to French ‘sovereigntists’ (supporters of ‘souverainisme’), both former leftists and long-standing republican nationalists,  they both defend “national institutions and culture”. Against the European Union they support, ” une Europe des nations“, the economic and political  independence of each country, against globalisation. Right wing soveriegntists explicitly opposes  mass immigration, ‘left’ sovereigntists also express concern about both the free movement of capital and of people.

By its nature sovereigntism is fixed on national political institutions.

In France this tends to mean an exaggerated ‘republicanism’. In the UK it is driven by an obsession with Parliamentary sovereignty.

Spiked-on-Line fits comfortably into the role of the best defenders of the Mother of Parliaments.

Following challenges to Brexit by what he chooses to call an “Elite Remainer”and the  Spiked’s Deputy Editor Tom Slater evoked everything save the Magna Carta to defend Westminster.

Parliamentary sovereignty is a precious thing. We fought a civil war and chopped off a king’s head to establish that it is only a parliament, with the consent of its electors, that can govern, that can determine the politics of a nation. It was the promise of parliamentary sovereignty, of real representation for all, that agitators from the Chartists through to the Suffragettes struggled and fought and went to the wall for.

“The Brexit case was driven by disdain for the demos, not love for parliament.” he thundered, we must now defend not just parliamentary sovereignty, but also the radical, democratic ideas that underpin it..”

One time leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Frank Furedi has extended the argument in directions all too well-known to those familiar with French politics. In  August last year, (HOW ‘OPEN BORDERS’ BECAME AN ILLIBERAL CRY)  he tackled immigration.

The use of immigration as a tool to weaken national sovereignty is wholly destructive, provoking cultural confusion and uncertainty. An enlightened argument for freedom of movement must also uphold national sovereignty, and recognise the status of the prevailing national culture. Disregarding the special status of national institutions and culture is an invitation to a permanent war of cultures — that is, to real division and tension.

On the same Spiked-on-Line site, the day of Brexit was greeted by excited born-again nationalists,

THE BRILLIANCE OF BREXIT

Leading British public intellectual Julie Burchill announced,

It’s very handy that Brexit was born as the Labour Party was dying – now all of us comrades who are repulsed by forelock-tugging, nepotism and hypocrisy have a home to go to. I can’t remember a time when I felt so excited about the future. I was pleased but not shocked to learn that John Lydon, my teenage hero, is a proud Brexiteer – I’ve always said that the REAL thing the Remnants can’t forgive us for is not the imaginary hate crimes or the alleged economic Armageddon our victory will bring, but the fact that we’ve revealed them as a bunch of scared-stiff, curtain-twitching, tut-tutting, doom-mongering stick-in-the-muds, clinging on to the boring old status quo like a kiddy with a comfort blanket, when all this time they thought they were progressives. Bring on the chaos!

Former International Marxist Group member and Labour MP,  Kate Hoey says…

Today is brilliant because triggering Article 50 simply reflects the most basic element of democracy: putting into effect the choice of the people. With the entire establishment arrayed against them, the British public decided that the UK was strong, wise and generous enough to survive outside the restrictions of the European Union.

In a few years’ time, when we are making our own laws and freely trading with the rest of the world – including with our European friends – I predict that it will be very hard to find people who admit to having doubted that we could succeed as a proud independent country.

Kate is MP for Vauxhall.

Other comments include, from a member of the revolutionary wing of the Daily Telegraph, “It’s now up to left and right to contest what kind of future they want for the UK after Brexit. The 2020 election will pose a choice between socialism and capitalism. ”

Harsimrat Kaur adds a dash of humour by declaring, “The main reason I voted to leave was so we can implement a fair immigration system. The idea that a person with an EU passport has easier access to Britain than someone with a non-EU passport is outrageous. Going forward, I want to see us restore that equality.”

Equality indeed…

Brian Denny,  of the Trades Unionists against the EU, a regular contributor to the Morning Star and who appears to be a member of the Communist Party of Britain (see their site here),  says, “We have nothing to lose but Eurocratic dictatorship.”

In a gesture which links Spiked-on- line with Westmonster, Paul Embery (see above) says…

What happened on 23 June was a genuine democratic revolt. The establishment was shaken to its core. Working-class England – which had hitherto always played second fiddle in the minds of politicians to Middle England – arose from its slumber. And how! An entire class of people which had been ignored and patronised hit back. The left must get on board. Democracy just happened. We should cheer and embrace the new mood. Suddenly politics means something again. Suddenly we can see that the political order isn’t inviolable. There is a New Jerusalem to be built. And we have taken the first step.

Paul is regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union and national organiser of Trade Unionists Against the EU.

Many people on the left will no doubt wish to congratulate the FBU on having a leading figure write for Spiked-on-Line and Westmonster.

Or perhaps to explain to them a few things about internationalism, the working class having ‘no country’, the British state’s ‘capitalist’ faults, and perhaps,  something about who’s in charge of making Brexit, transferring EU legal documents and rulings into British law under their own terms: the hard right wing of the Tory Party, cheered on by the millionaire press (as the Morning Star might say..).

TUC: Frances O’Grady Speaks to and for the Whole Labour Movement.

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Frances O’Grady Speaks for Whole Labour Movement.

If you want proof that the whole of the British labour movement has not taken leave of its collective senses in the last few months Frances O’Grady  stands in a place of honour.

This is her statement on the Brexit result.

O’Grady addresses the referendum result:The referendum result on Britain’s membership of the European Union heralds a whole new era of uncertainty for the working people we represent.The General Council asked me to lead a campaign that talked about what was in the best interests of working people. About the rights we enjoy – fought for by unions but guaranteed by the EU. About the risks to our economy and our public services – our precious NHS. And about what life outside the single market could mean for jobs.The campaign wasn’t easy.

For me personally, facing Boris and Andrea Leadsom in the BBC debate was quite an experience. And not one I’d be in a hurry to repeat. But, as someone told me, at least now I can say I’ve played Wembley.

The campaign wasn’t clean, or even honest. Fake promises of more money for the NHS. Dog whistle appeals to anti-immigrant sentiment. And the bizarre spectacle of a self-styled anti-Establishment vanguard.

Led by a serial back-stabber, a former stockbroker and a member of the Bullingdon Club.

While many sat it out, we stepped up. We made sure our members knew what we thought. And, in the end, our polls showed that a majority of trade unionists voted Remain.

For many it wasn’t an easy decision. And I respect those who thought differently. Especially those in our movement, who made the judgement they thought best. And those in the communities we have always championed. Who paid a high price for globalisation, And are still paying the price of the crash.

In this movement, we’re democrats. We accept what the British people have said.

So I say this: Whether you voted Remain or Leave; our job now is to get the best deal possible for working people. And to build a Britain that is successful, prosperous, fair. A Britain of great jobs for everyone.

We face a new government and a new prime minister too. Now, as a rule, I’m all in favour of having more women in charge. But it’s no secret that this isn’t one I would have chosen.

Nevertheless, in three weeks’ time she will be stood in a hall like this one. Giving her big speech to an audience that’s… well, a little different from this one. And, woman to woman, I’m going to take the liberty of giving some advice about what she should say.

After all, on the steps of Downing Street, the new prime minister admitted that life is much harder for working people than many in Westminster realise.

She promised us social justice. She vowed to govern for the many, not the privileged few. So my advice to the new prime minister is this: prove it. Show us that your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.

There are five tests that must be met before you pull the trigger on Article 50.

First: EU citizens living and working in the UK must be guaranteed the right to remain. They are our friends, our neighbours, our workmates. It is plain immoral and inhuman to keep them in limbo. The public agrees: guarantee their right to stay.

Second: we need an all-Ireland agreement on economic and border issues. This movement worked hard for jobs, justice and peace. It would be foolish to take that for granted.

Third: we keep being told that Brexit means Brexit. I’m not sure many union leaders would get away with saying a walk-out means a walk-out. A strike means a strike. And that’s that.

At some point we’d have to spell out what we want. What we think we can get. And win a mandate from our members to negotiate. The same goes for the prime minister.

How can her government know what to negotiate for if it doesn’t know what the country thinks?

Or what the rest of the EU would accept?

Now in some corners of Whitehall there is talk about Canada and the CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] model.

Well, let me give the government fair warning. Britain didn’t vote for new trade agreements that: destroy jobs, set up secret courts and open the way to privatisation. If they go for the son of CETA, we will make opposition to TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] look like a tea party.

The fourth point. Negotiating our exit can’t be left to the Tories. This shouldn’t be about managing the internal politics of the Conservative Party. It’s about shaping the future of our country. We need a cross-party negotiating team, including the nations, London and the North. And it can’t be a case of cosy chats with the City and the CBI either. As the voice of working people, trade unions must be at the table too.

And that leads me on to the fifth and most important point. Before we go for Article 50, we need proof that workers’ rights will be safe. We fought hard for those rights. They weren’t gifted by Brussels, but won by trade unionists. And people didn’t vote Leave to get rid of holiday pay; to lose time off to care for sick children; or junk rights for temporary and agency workers.

And our European neighbours won’t agree good access to the single market if Britain undercuts them as an offshore haven for cheap labour.

So, prime minister, no ifs, no buts. Guarantee workers’ rights, now. And for the future. And tell us about your plan for the economy.

Just one week after the vote, the TUC published a national action plan. To protect jobs. To protect investment. To make sure ordinary working people don’t pay the price. They can’t afford it. After all, workers in the UK have already suffered the biggest fall in wages since the crash of any developed economy, except Greece.

Now, you won’t catch me talking down industry. We know the importance of confidence. But, delegates, we remember the recession after the financial crash. We know, all too well, the risk of complacency too. And union reps across the country. Convenors at our biggest workplaces. They are telling me about the worry and uncertainty their people are facing.

Investment plans stalled. Job hires on hold. That means government must be ready to step in. And work to keep the advantages we get from membership of the single market. For all of our industries – not just the City.

That’s the key to a successful Brexit for working people.

 Her speech to the TUC today in Brighton is just now being reported.

TUC chief Frances O’Grady slams ‘greedy firms that treat workers like animals’ in keynote congress speech

“Let me give fair warning to any greedy business that treats its workers like animals – we will shine a light on you,” she said.

“Run a big brand with a dirty little secret? A warehouse of people paid less than the minimum wage? A fleet of couriers who are slaves to an app? Let me put you on notice.

“There will be no hiding place. We will organise and we will win. Britain’s unions will not rest until every worker gets the fair treatment they deserve.”

Ms O’Grady said Brexit, which has prompted a “whole new area of uncertainty”, was led by “a former stockbroker, a serial backstabber and a member of the Bullingdon Club“.

She told Mrs May: “Show us your top priority is to make sure workers don’t pay the price of Brexit.”

The union chief demanded more council homes, the building of High Speed 2 and a “Make Your Mind Up Time on Heathrow” – expanding the airport.

….

“Taking back control” should start with steelworkers’ jobs and Tories should end “an economic philosophy that treats people as nothing more than a commodity”, she said.

She slammed the Tories’ “silly spiteful” Trade Union Act, a crackdown on the right to strike, but insisted the government was pushed back on key issues.

She added: “You can’t build a strong economy without a strong NHS and strong public services too.

“So listen up please government, pull an emergency brake on austerity and end that public sector pay squeeze now.”

Unions have already warned workers will suffer unless they are prioritised in Brexit talks.

The TUC said jobs and rights would be at risk if Britain was a “bargain-basement economy” after quitting the EU.

Ms O’Grady urged Government to get “the best deal we can for workers” and tackle investment.

TUC research showed one of the biggest risks of Brexit was loss of foreign investment.

Between 2010 and 2014, the UK performed “very poorly” in spending on industrial plants, transport and housing.

Full version: (TUC)

Frances O’Grady address to Congress, Monday 12 September 2016

Thanks.

I want to formally move the General Council Statement and campaign plan.

But first I want to put on record my thanks.

To you delegates, for your loyalty to the working people we represent.

To the President and to the General Council, for their good humour and camaraderie.

And to the staff of the TUC and all our unions.

Their dedication and professionalism is second to none.

I also want to send our solidarity to workers:

Staff on the railways and in the Post Office – about time we had that People’s Bank;

in schools and colleges; offshore workers; the junior doctors and the whole health team; Marks and Spencer and fast food workers;

Ritzy cinema staff still fighting for a real Living Wage; at Uber, Amazon, Asos and Sports Direct.

And workers everywhere standing up for their rights.

Full text here.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Socialist Party: For Ending the Free Movement of Labour to the UK.

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Image result for pro-europe demonstration trafalgar square left unity tendance coatesy

Capitalist pro-EU demonstrators.

The Socialist Party writes,

The EU referendum result was a massive rejection of the capitalist establishment but voting Leave was not a vote for a governmental alternative. Now Jeremy Corbyn has the opportunity to use his Labour leadership re-election campaign to rally both Leave and Remain voters behind a programme for a socialist and internationalist break with the EU bosses’ club, argues CLIVE HEEMSKERK.

The Party is exultant.

‘Project Fear’ lost (project hysteria about Johnny foreigners won…).

The main forces of British and international capitalism did everything they could to secure a vote in June’s referendum to keep Britain in the EU. President Obama made a carefully choreographed state visit. The IMF co-ordinated the release of doom-laden reports with the chancellor George Osborne.

And then there was the shameful joint campaigning of right-wing Labour Party and trade union leaders with David Cameron and other representatives of big business.

A propaganda tsunami of fear was unleashed to try and intimidate the working class to vote in favour of the EU bosses’ club.

But to no avail. Pimco investment company analysts mournfully commented that the vote was “part of a wider, more global, backlash against the establishment, rising inequality and globalisation” (The Guardian, 28 June).

No mention of, er, Jeremy Corbyn’s position in favour of Remain..

The article is full of a lot of tiresome self-justification, and statistics that minimise the Labour voters’ support for Remain, not to mention that of the overwhelming majority of young people, (“Just two out of five people aged 65 and over backed staying in. In contrast, 75% of voters aged 18 to 24 plumped for Remain). They apparently do not see it as a problem that, as the Mirror put it,  “Labour’s heartlands united with Tory shires” to vote Leave.

Accepting the present state of class consciousness – on this basis we could equally claim that the Tory shires were also voting “against the capitalist establishment” – is not a socialist standpoint.

Instead the so-called Lexit camp offered ‘understanding’ about fears about being swamped’ by migrants, and a cart-load of clichés about ‘Brussels’ links to big business, as if Westminster is not bound and foot to Capital.

We can also recall straightforward lies blaming the reform of the Code du Travail in France on the EU and the idea that Brexit would halt the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),  when it’s been EU countries, and not the UK that have scuppered it for the moment.

The result was that during the Referendum campaign the Lexiters sided with the ‘sovereigntists’ who imagine that leaving the EU would ‘restore’ power to Parliament, and indeed the Nation.

In other words they stood on the same side as the most reactionary sections of Capital and the bourgeoisie, the Tory Right and the ‘populist’ nationalist-racists of UKIP.

If they are not always as honest as their virulently nationalist French allies, the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID), about this, the strategy of the Socialist Party, like the SWP, the Morning Star and Counterfire, ties class politics to national sovereignty and erodes the internationalist basis of a common European left.

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Trotskyist POID pro-Brexit Rally in Paris May 2016 backed by Socialist Party, Morning Star, Steve Hedley, Alex Gordon, Lexit campaign, and Co.

It is the task of the left to fight, not adapt to, the  carnival of reaction that took place during and is continuing after the Referendum.

But no doubt the Socialist Party would have found class reasons to ‘understand’ those in the Victorian proletariat who celebrated the 1900 ending of the siege of Mafeking and this joyous meeting of toffs and East Enders.

Image result for siege of mafeking celebrations in London

To these high-minded people, all capitalist politicians are to blame for nationalist campaigns that feed on racism (“All capitalist politicians, defending a system based on the exploitation of the majority by a small minority, to some degree rest on nationalism – with racism as its most virulent expression – to maintain a social base for capitalist rule”) . It’s never the ideology of others, who have no minds of their own. So they, the capitalist lot, are all to blame…

No doubt from the front page of the Daily Express, UKIP, to…the Liberal Democrats….

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The Socialist would no doubt dislike this UKIP poster.

Instead the Socialist Party has a position of the problem – but also opposed to the free movement of labour.

Or to put it less indirectly: migrant labour and ‘foreigners’.

This is a real sticking point.

In the negotiations that are taking place, the Socialist Party lays down a few ‘principles’, apparently socialist and ‘trade unionist’,  on the topic.

They state,

The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.

What is their position on the kind of ‘border control’ they do support.

The organised workers’ movement must take an independent class position on the EU free movement of labour rules that will be raised in the EU negotiations (see box).

Which is?

Here is the negative (Why the Socialist Party opposed the EU.)

What ‘free movement’ exists in the EU is used to allow big business to exploit a cheap supply of labour in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of low pay, zero-hour contacts and poor employment conditions.

Well there’s nothing here about pan-European efforts to end this ‘race to the bottom’.

Only a very British exit from the system.

We would like a specific answer: is the Socialist Party in favour of a “closed shop” controlling entry for European and other migrant workers entry into the UK?

How will this operate ?

Pre or post-entry?

To the whatabouters we ask: will ending freedom of movement from ‘Fortress  Europe’  mean that you can make a ‘socialist’ Fortress UK?

Migrant labour deserves an answer on how the Socialist Party wishes to regulate their future.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 7, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Massive Turn-out for Protests Against New Labour Law.

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LOI TRAVAIL MOBILISATION

1,2 million demonstrators across France according to the CGT and  390 000 according to the Police.

Huffington Post announces,

Un million de personnes ont défilé mardi 14 juin à Paris contre la loi Travail, actuellement débattue du Sénat, ont indiqué trois syndicats organisateurs (CGT, FO, Solidaires).

Libération reports,

Violents heurts à Paris lors de la manif contre la loi travail.

Violent clashes during the demonstration against the Labour Law.

French PM Valls calls on unions to stop protesting in Paris after new violence.

Says France 24.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday urged the hardline CGT union to stop organising mass rallies in Paris against a contested labour reform after fresh clashes between masked youths and riot police at a demo.

On the sidelines of a CGT-led march on Tuesday, gangs of black-clad youths hurled makeshift firebombs at police and broke windows, including at Paris’ main children’s hospital.

“When you cannot organise a demo and take responsibility, leaving thugs in the middle of the march … then you don’t organise this sort of demonstration that can degenerate,” Valls said on France Inter radio.

Police fired dozens of rounds of teargas and used water cannons to disperse the groups of youths during the rally, which police said had a turnout of 75,000-80,000 in Paris alone, roughly three times more than at recent big demos.

The Paris police department reported 58 arrests, including many foreigners, with 24 police and 17 protesters injured.

“We cannot have a general ban (on demos), but we will take our responsibilities. We can no longer have this disgraceful show with things getting out of control,” Valls said before visiting the Necker children’s hospitable to inspect the damage.

As next year’s Presidential election draw near the left looks increasingly likely to be eliminated in the first round, reports the Nouvel Obs.

In a number of opinion polls and different scenarios – all including Marine Le Pen –  left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon would obtain from 14% to 15% of the votes against 14%  to 15% for a Parti Socialiste candidacy by François Hollande.

 

In all cases the far-right would be beaten in the second round by a candidate of Les Républicains (right-wing). 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm

‘Trade Unionists Against the EU’ defends “Indigenous workers” against “Cheap Foreign Labour”.

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Local Workers Excluded from Being Able to Provide for Families by EU ‘shunting’ people around Europe. 

The Daily Express (May 25th) reports.

…hitting back today campaign group Trade Unionists Against the EU (TUAEU) nailed the “delusion being promoted by some that we should remain in the EU to transform it”.

Director Enrico Tortolano said: “One of the bizarre features of the pro-EU campaign is its spreading of the lie that the EU can be reformed and transformed into paradise on earth. The reality is that the EU is reform proof.

“As these states lurch to the right and the EU gives itself up further to the demands of the corporations, the delusion of reformability looks even more ridiculous and flies in the face of the brutal realities being challenged by trade unionists forced to take the streets in Belgium, France and Greece this week.”

Patriotic trade unionists have launched a campaign to get Britain out of the EU and are urging ordinary workers to look at the “constitutional reality” of the 28-nation bloc rather than believing Mr Cameron’s spin doctors.

This is what campaign leader Enrico Tortolono  says about the free movement of labour (Trade Unionists Against the EU):

Moreover EU rules demanding the complete free movement of labour have had a profound impact on all trade unions operating within the EU.

Following the accession of eastern European states to the EU, migrant labour has been rapidly moving west while capital and manufacturing jobs are moving east.

While western European countries experiencing a large influx of migrant labour, eastern European states are suffering population falls and an inevitable brain drain, leading to a loss of skilled labour and young people as well as an uncertain future of underdevelopment.

In more developed member states, wages have been under pressure in many sectors in a process known as ‘social dumping’, as cheap foreign labour replaces the indigenous workforce and trade union bargaining power is severely weakened.

A campaign to Leave the EU based on the defence of the “indigenous workforce” against “cheap foreign labour” is no doubt welcomed by the Daily Express.

This is another Express story (today):

Boris: Voting to stay in the EU means ‘kissing goodbye’ to controlling immigration

BRITAIN can “kiss goodbye” to any chance of controlling its borders if it stays in the EU, Brexit campaigners said yesterday.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 27, 2016 at 10:38 am

French Conflict over ‘Loi Travail’ Intensifies as Nuclear Workers join Protests.

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In Reply:  CGT Trade Unionists Face Violence Smears.

France prepares for day of strikes as nuclear workers join labour protests.

France 24.

France faced an eighth day of industrial action on Thursday after workers at nuclear power stations voted to join protests against labour reforms. Blockades of fuel depots by angry unions have forced France to dip into its fuel reserves.

CGT energy and mining federation spokeswoman Marie-Claire Cailletaud said the strike action at nuclear plants will reduce power output, but that the reactors will not stop running.

“One cannot just turn off a nuclear plant, it is not like a thermal or hydro plant,” Cailletaud said.

The union said late Wednesday that 16 of France’s 19 nuclear stations had voted to join the strike, although CGT official Jean-Luc Daganaud said the effect on power supply would depend on how many workers decided to join the action.

Workers led by the powerful CGT union have blocked oil refineries across France over the past week in protest against planned changes to France’s cherished protective labour laws, leading to fuel shortages in parts of the country and long queues of cars at near-empty petrol stations.

The Ufip oil industry federation has confirmed that around a third of the country’s 12,000 petrol stations were running dry. France has also mobilised its emergency fuel stocks for the first time since 2010 but officials said there was no risk of a shortage.

The French media is full of reports that the  Confédération générale du travail (CGT) is “using everything it’s got” in the dispute (Loi travail : « La CGT joue son va-tout »). Le Monde suggests that the leader of the left-wing federation, Phillipe Martinez, has taken on the role of the ‘Leader of the Opposition’ to the  El Khomri  law. (Le patron de la CGT se hisse au rang de chef de l’opposition à la loi travail.)

There are  daily claims, from those hostile to the union federation,  that the CGT are using the protests as a means of resolving their own – serious internal difficulties. These range from loss of membership (the result of long-term industrial decline) to the fall-out from the controversy over  expenses paid to to their former leader, Thierry Lepaon

It is the case that the CGT faces a challenge from the ‘reformist’ union federation, the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT). This morning on France Inter Véronique Descacq,  secrétaire générale adjointe to the CFDT,  claimed to have negotiated a deal which they can live with. She asserted that the reform embodies new workers’ rights (listen here).

Against this claim – essentially that the CGT is acting purely out of its own interests – L’Humanité has pointed to the unity between the trade unionists (with the CFDT excepted), from the corporatist and (partly) Trotskyist federation, Force Ouvrière , to the radical left SUD in protests and strikes against the Loi Travail (Une grande partie du personnel qui attendait l’unité syndicale va se mettre en grève).

What is at stake is not only moves to make working practices more ‘flexible’ to the bosses’ advantage. It is the shape of French collective bargaining (covering up to 98% of employees). The ‘reforms’ weaken them  allowing local accords and which give employers the ability to go over the heads of unions by enterprise by enterprise referendums. The CFDT is equally acting in its own interests, with, it claims, strength in the  these  direct company negotiations it can by-pass the CGT which prefers to reach agreements by “branche”, that is by sector.

It would not, by contrast, be unfair to point out the CGT is using the industrial strength  that it has – in the sectors cited in the France 24 report. (Loi Travail : pourquoi la CGT durcit le mouvement).

Why should it not do so?

As the conflict intensifies there is a concerted attempt to link the CGT not only with claims of intimidation against non-strikers, but also with acts of violence against its opponents which Descacq echoed. Those in the Parti Socialiste who have backed the ‘reform’  – despite opposition within their own ranks – have, it is claimed,  been singled out.

31 of the Governing Parti Socialiste’s offices across the country have, since December, been the target of acts of vandalism. These have mostly been minor but on Monday their Grenoble HQ was sprayed with 12 bullet shots (le Monde).

It would be extremely rash to offer any kind of judgement about the probable outcome of this conflict.

Update: The leader of the CFDT has just declared that it would be “unacceptable” to drop the ‘reform’ as that would mean losing the “new rights” which it offers.

Berger (CFDT): retirer la loi travail serait “inacceptable”

Today’s L’Humanité.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 26, 2016 at 10:48 am

Oil Refineries and Petrol Depots Blocked as French Union Protests Accelerate.

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Le Monde,  The day after a new day of demonstrations against the ”  El Khomri” labour ‘reforms’ the CGT “oil” section, has called for oil refineries to be blocked. (Via Solidarité Ouvrière)

French unions, students, and radical activists in groups such as Nuit Debout continue to campaign against the ‘Loi Khomri”.

The laws will undermine the ability of unions to reach collective agreements (although unions are weak and divided with only 8% members,  over 98% of French companies operate within the framework of collective bargaining, compared with under 29%, 63.7% public sector, only 16.0% in the private sector,   in the UK, (Here). The ‘reforms’ will encourage local negotiations, means to go over the head of unions, and other devices to weaken the collective system.

They will reduce hard won workers’ rights, getting  rid of the ‘red tape’ that helps the system of Inspecteurs du Travil, enforce decent working conditions.

Contrary to the falsehood being broadcast by the UK ‘Lexit’ campaign the pressure for these changes comes from the French Employers’ organisation, the MEDEF, not Brussels or the European Commission.

As can be seen in this banner which links the government, from Hollande, Valls, and Macron, to the Bosses’ federation.

https://npa2009.org/sites/default/files/29861.jpg

The action by the CGT is considerably more significant than the clashes between demonstrators and police which have been widely reported internationally.

French President Francois Hollande vowed Tuesday to stick with his controversial attempts to reform the labour market, even as a new round of violent protests broke out.

France 24.

Police fired tear gas in central Paris as an initially peaceful protest organised by unions and students was disrupted by a more radical fringe.

The labour reforms have sparked two months of protests on France’s streets, drawing 68,000 nationwide on Tuesday, authorities said, while organisers put the turnout at 220,000.

Withdraw, withdraw this law of the wealthy, it’s the law of the bosses,” was the message blasted from loudspeakers at the Paris march.

But Hollande said the battle against unemployment was not yet won and he placed the need to reform over his personal popularity, which remains at near-record lows a year ahead of a possible bid for re-election.

“I will not give way, because too many (previous) governments have backed down,” Hollande said in an hour-long interview with Europe 1 radio.

“I prefer that people have an image of a president who made reforms rather than a president who did nothing,” he said.

Police were quick to act as violence by masked youths broke out during the march in central Paris, kicking off another week of nationwide strikes and demonstrations against the package of reforms. Some 87 people were arrested.

Demonstrations were also reported in cities across the country from Marseille in the south to central Lyon and Lille in the north.

Lorry drivers blocked roads and ports in northern and western France, and there were clashes between protesters and police in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes, where thousands more took to the streets.

“We have been ignored, so we will work even harder to make our voices heard,” said Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, at the Paris rally.

The government argues the changes contained in the draft law will make France’s notoriously rigid labour market more flexible, but opponents say it will erode job security and do little to bring down the unemployment rate, stuck at 10 percent and nearly 25 percent for young people.

The labour reform, which would make it easier for employers to hire and fire workers, is likely the last major piece of legislation for Hollande, the least popular leader in modern French history who faces a re-election next May.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm