Saturday, 31 December 2016

FACTORY SIT-IN VICTORY: when Glacier Metal workers beat multi-national

Twenty years ago today, on Hogmanay 1996, the Glasgow Glacier Metal engineering workers were ringing the bells in elation at their victory, whilst Glacier bosses were wringing their hands in despair.

The ‘Polmadie 103’ had scored a landmark victory for class struggle trade unionism, defeating the factory’s multinational owners, Turner & Newall, after a seven week factory sit-in.

It was the first workplace occupation in ten years, and was provoked by dictatorial bosses trying to impose a 15-point change of contract, which aimed to double company profits; cut wages by £123 a week; and slash sick pay, the canteen subsidy and other benefits won over 25 years by these members of the AEEU, now part of UNITE the union.

The boss’s method of imposing this was designed to undermine the union. He picked on the youngest tradesman in the workforce, and ordered him to risk health and safety by doing two jobs at once. The lad went to his union stewards, who had prepared for this confrontation and - advising the entire workforce to ‘down tools’- went upstairs to negotiate.

As they waited outside his office, the manager sneaked down to the factory floor to declare: “Gentlemen, you are all sacked!" 
Four of those sacked were on holiday, while another was convalescing after operations for brain tumours. 

Advantages of Factory Occupation  
Critically, instead of walking out the door on strike - which years before had landed them in a prolonged lockout - the workers stayed in the factory, declaring themselves available for work.

This totally wrong-footed management, and gave the highly-skilled workers several strategic advantages.
They seized control of a factory with £1million-worth of undelivered precision engineering products, paralysing £200,000-a-day production and thereby putting pressure on the owners from customer companies. I'll never forget the irate phone call to the factory during the sit-in, when a company boss bellowed: "What's going on with my orders? I've got a f***ing nuclear power station to run!"

They psychologically brought the battle into the bosses’ domain, preventing them bussing in scabs past legally-hamstrung pickets with police assistance, as Timex had done in Dundee 1993.
And above all, they were fighting for their jobs, justice and full trade union rights inside a well-heated factory, with snow-storms outside, making it one huge campaigning nerve centre.

Building Workers' Solidarity  
If the factory occupation had remained a ‘folded arms’ affair, waiting for concessions from the employers, it would have collapsed, or at best allowed some dirty deal to be hatched above their heads between the management and top AEEU officials, who had secret contact with the company as early as five days into the occupation.
But this inspiring workers’ struggle was a model of strategy and tactics. Firm discipline was established by the union stewards and Occupation Committee, with a booze ban and daily mass meetings. Meals were cooked and the factory kept clean.

LFC hero Robbie Fowler showing solidarity with
the dockers' fight against cheap casual labour

Role of Socialists in the Sit-in 
Some of us who later founded the SSP played a major role in this historic event.

I first called to offer practical solidarity the morning after they started the occupation. We had been in the thick of building support for the 500 locked-out Liverpool dockers for the previous 15 months, and used our vast array of workplace contacts to arrange solidarity visits with Glacier workers all over Scotland – and parts of the UK, particularly those with big engineering industries.
This served several purposes, including financial survival for the workers’ families and a breach in the media shroud of silence.

On the issue of whether management could evict them, we explained the law, with the help of a couple of friendly lawyers, but emphasised that the ultimate means of defence of the sit-in from potential moves - involving police, or cowboy security firms - was to build mass support in the workplaces and surrounding community, creating a potential army of defence.

Solidarity Mass Pickets  
The employers hoped to isolate the sit-in with the help of media silence, aiming to starve the workers’ families into submission as Christmas loomed large. Workplace solidarity tours helped scupper that. It also countered the danger of boredom and demoralisation setting in amongst a workforce not previously known for involvement in the wider trade union movement.

When management told the arbitration service ACAS that they had no workforce, we smelt a rat, suspecting imminent eviction, and in discussions with the Occupation Committee suggested an early morning solidarity mass picket, built through a leaflet around workplaces and the mailing list of the Clydeside Dockers' Support Group (which I was the organiser of). That vastly boosted morale, became a weekly feature, and peaked at a turnout of 400.

Taking to the Streets 
We then suggested a pre-Xmas demo, which attracted well over 1,000 on Sunday 15 December. One report claimed 3,000.
The build-up was as important as this stirring event itself. The Occupation Committee had co-opted me as an adviser, and put me in charge of a small Demo Committee. We involved the absolute majority of the men, and a few of their partners, in street meetings, issuing hard-hitting leaflets that won support, by-passed the media blackout, and swamped workplaces and shopping centres across the west of Scotland.

An ACAS boss complained after a leaflet was left unwittingly on his windscreen, because it described Turner & Newall as ‘notorious merchants of death’, citing their appalling record on asbestosis. AEEU officials went ape-shit down the phone to the union convener, who firmly rejected their instructions and printed 29,000 of the ‘offending’ leaflet. This propaganda offensive helped bring T&N bosses to heel, as they already faced dire problems with £billions of outstanding asbestosis claims and feared their notoriety being broadcast.

Mass meeting of the locked-out Liverpool dockers

Supporting Locked-out Liverpool Dockers  
The workers were literally dancing with elation after the success of the demo. They then turned their attention to daily street collections in the run up to Xmas – for financial survival, but also to keep the campaign alive and in people’s minds.

The first big collection, on 18 December, raised £488… for the Liverpool dockers! The Occupation Committee rounded it up to £600, in an act of selfless solidarity born of their own experiences in battle. On Xmas Eve, a team hit Glasgow’s Argyle Street from 10am to 5pm and collected £2,800.

Negotiations began that day, involving both full-time union officials and the factory union convener and deputy convener. T&N’s Head of Employee Relations grizzled with rage that as they negotiated, Glacier workers were on the streets with megaphones and leaflets attacking T&N. That was precisely part of the point – to pile pressure on the company, and remind right-wing AEEU officials what was at stake.

A Christmas day breakfast was laid on in the occupied factory for families and supporters – another ingenious act of defiance and comradeship by people whose talents erupted in the heat of battle. 

Outright Victory! 
By Hogmanay, the 103 workers were celebrating a landmark victory. All were reinstated, with full union recognition, and very little conceded to the bosses on their conditions of work.
In a final fling at undermining union rights, the company tried to get a staggered return to work – which the AEEU full-time officials agreed to. The workers’ direct union representatives went ballistic, refused, said it was a ploy to potentially victimise leaders of the occupation, and won a proud, united return to work.

A multinational giant was brought to its knees by the tactics, skills, and impact on production by this factory occupation. Socialists played an important, constructive part, applying collective experience to living struggles, laying foundations for a united, working class socialist party - in the form of the SSP, established two years after the Polmadie 103's victory. 

Capitalists Complain! 
Such was the impact of this victorious struggle in the Southside of Glasgow, that a dissident voice in the hierarchy of Turner & Newall management reproduced the article I wrote on its tenth anniversary, with a covering note bemoaning their losses.

"Even if they worked only 5 days per week, at “£200,000-a-day” this 7-week strike cost them £7 million, plus legal and administrative costs of fighting the strike. And they lost not only the strike but their former stronger position against the union.
Here’s an exquisite example of why [former Glacier Metal Company CEO] Wilfred Brown’s ideas about Works Councils make management stronger, not weaker. Had Turner & Newall had the guts to restore this strong institution — instead of the cowardice of underhanded union-busting — they would have been in a stronger position overall in their discussion with the union."

Interestingly, he advocated a return to earlier methods of Works Councils - the much-vaunted concept of 'social partnership' - rather than full-frontal union-busting methods... to achieve precisely the same cost-cutting, profit-boosting attacks on workers' terms and conditions!

As workplace closures and massive redundancies erupt 20 years on, workers and their union leaderships should study, adapt and apply the lessons from this outstanding model of how to defy the dictatorship of capital.

Monday, 19 December 2016


Christmas is seen by all as a time for rest, escape, family life, a bit of indulgence - regardless of which religious belief or atheist views subscribed to.
A time of comfort and warmth in the deep mid-winter, rooted in pagan rituals of light and food amidst darkness and hunger. 
But capitalism has transformed it into a debt-fueled spending spree; a binge of commercial consumer spending to feed the insatiable appetite for profits for big business. And it's workers who suffer the downside.

Christmas 2016 is no exception. Capitalist exploitation carries on regardless of the 'season of goodwill' - a quality noticeable for its absence on the part of many employers, or the media outlets that lash out with venom at workers who dare to resist being deprived of even basic rights at Christmas, or indeed all year round. 
Spare a thought for all those hundreds of thousands of workers who get barely any break over the festive season, but are then vilified as wreckers, the architects of mayhem, when they dare take action to improve their lot. 

'Happy Christmas - That's me off to Work!'
In 2014 (the latest available figures) 365,000 retail workers had to leave their families and work on Boxing Day. 
For many, that meant enormous taxi fares due to the lack of public transport. For all of them, it meant being deprived of family time, especially when so many of us have two sides of a family living hundreds of miles apart. I have first-hand knowledge of this, with some of us facing a choice of either working until 3 or 4 in the morning of Christmas Eve, or else starting at 10pm on Christmas Day, to restock the store so it can open on Boxing Day.

No Presents for Working Boxing Day
And in recent years, retail workers won't even get a premium payment for doing such anti-social hours, as big companies boast about granting miserly hourly pay increases, or of being 'living wage employers', but rob back all or part of those wage concessions through abolition of double-time and time-and-a-half. 
No wonder 140,000 people so far have signed a Petition demanding a ban on shopping in big stores on Boxing Day, to reduce the exploitation of retail workers. 

Would our worlds collapse if there was no shopping on Boxing Day?! 
The frenzied festival of shopping for those 'must have' items is totally unnecessary, based on manufactured 'needs' which turbocharge the sales volumes and profit margins of a mere handful of national and multinational companies. 
And in many cases they open primarily because their competitors are open, regardless of the level of footfall. It's another expression of the harmful lunacy of capitalist competition, at the expense of totally distorted work/life balance for a vast army of workers. 

Solidarity with Argos Drivers 
Another much maligned group of workers right now are delivery drivers with Argos, because they have been provoked into a 72-hour strike on 20 December at Argos' central distribution centre in Staffordshire. Visions of those iPhones, iPads, Xboxes or books not arriving for family and friends on time are being painted by the media to cudgel the drivers into public isolation and surrender. 
They voted by an 83% majority to take this action after trying in vain for two years to be paid the Christmas holiday pay they're owed. On average each driver is owed £700, because Argos wasn't complying with legal rulings that spell out holiday pay should include overtime pay and nightshift allowances - what's called 'holiday average'. 
Their union, UNITE, are justifiably demanding two years' backlog in holiday pay, and are making the perfectly reasonable demand that it should be paid in time for workers' Christmas. 
The company bosses' response is a mixture of bloody intransigence, attempts to play down the impact the strike will have - with talk of 'business as usual' - and vitriolic outbursts as if the action will collapse modern civilization.


Scrooges in the Sky
British Airways cabin crew – also represented by Unite – have voted overwhelmingly for strike action. Their dispute is straightforward – around 4,000 staff have joined the airline since 2010 on “Mixed Fleet” contracts. These jobs were advertised with pay between £21,000 and £25,000 but, in reality, start at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay!
A recent Unite survey found that half of Mixed Fleet staff have taken on second jobs to make ends meet, and more than two-thirds were going to work “unfit to fly” because they could not afford to be off sick.
Some even admitted they were sleeping in cars between flights, simply because they could not afford the petrol to get home. This is the reality of low-pay Britain, filled with capitalist Scrooges.

Strikes are not for Fun
What those who condemn any group of pre-Christmas strikers blithely ignore is the fact that taking such action hammers the pockets of the workers involved. Strikes are not a board game for family gatherings; they're a last resort, an attempt to right wrongs by withdrawal of workers' labour. 

Support Crown Post Office strikers 
That equally applies to the 4,000 Crown Post Office staff, members of the CWU union, who've declared five days of strikes up to Christmas Eve. 
They are sacrificing five days' pay to try and stop privatization of at least the 60 biggest of the 300 Crown Post Office branches, with the loss of 2,000 jobs; the forcible removal of the Final Salary Pension Scheme from half the 6,600 workforce, with cuts of at least 30% to their pensions on retirement; and the very existence of the Crown PO network which so many people rely on for daily services. 
These workers have tried to forced meaningful negotiations out of their employers for months, staging several previous strike days, and deserve the full solidarity of us all as they face a cold Christmas on the picket lines. 

Strike Ban on the Railways? 
But if these workers have been accused of causing mayhem, the railworkers on Southern Rail have been declared Devils incarnate, the biggest threat to civilization since Satan was a boy. 
Members of ASLEF and the RMT are both striking to end the carnage of passengers' safety by the profiteering vandals of Govia, the French-owned franchise-holders on the UK's biggest, busiest rail network. 
In their hunt for profit, and their desire to carry out the bidding of the Tory government, Govia has caused meltdown on the railways as they try to impose Driver Only Operations. They refuse to negotiate, arrogant in the knowledge they have Tory government backing in their attempts to smash the unions and impose life-endangering removal of guards. 
In response to the current 3-day strike, Tory Transport Minister Chris Grayling has entered the fray with talk of 'carefully considering' a ban on the right to strike on the railways. 
He simultaneously dismisses the strike as "pointless" - in which case why bother banning it?! - and laments the fact: 
"I can't step in to stop people striking. It is, unfortunately, a lawful strike." 
He's forced to concede the latter point after Govia failed in their repeated attempts to declare the action illegal through Court action. 

Dictatorship of Capital 
But rather than examine why workers have been prepared to lose numerous days' pay for a dispute that has nothing to do with pay rates, or pensions, but public safety, the Tories wade in with threats of a ban on the right of workers to withdraw their labour. When such dictatorial laws are applied in other countries, the Tories are willing to condemn these regimes as 'communist dictatorships' or 'banana republics' - unless, of course, these dictators are their trading partners, or partners in war crimes against other peoples - as they did with Pinochet's Chile in 1974, or Saudi Arabia today. 

Defend the Right to Strike 
The right to strike - to withhold your labour - is the most elementary human, democratic right that any worker should enjoy. And whilst Britain - the self-styled mother of parliamentary democracy - has never enshrined this right to strike in the constitution, an outright ban in the rail industry would be the first step towards outright, undisguised dictatorship by capital, a modern form of slavery. 

Strife Between Classes in the Season of Goodwill 
Amazon workers sleeping in tents in the woods outside the Dunfermline plant because they can't afford the fares to get to work in this hell-hole of humiliating conditions on the wages Amazon pay them; retail workers deprived of a full Christmas break with their families; Argos drivers losing wages to win two years' holiday back pay they're entitled to; Post Office staff braving the elements in defence of jobs, pensions and the very survival of the public service they provide; railworkers being demonized and threatened with forced labour under a Tory strike ban... welcome to Christmas 2016, the season of goodwill! 

Workers' Rights are not Just for Christmas!
The public inconvenience caused by strikes on the railways, delivery vans or Post Offices - or even the demand for shop shutdowns on Boxing Day - are being exploited by the media to try and whip up enmity between different sections of the same working class. Passengers against railworkers; consumers against delivery drivers; shoppers against retail workers. 

But the real point all this should highlight is entirely different: the utter dependency of society on working class people, regardless of which occupation, skills grade, colour, national origin, gender, or sexual identity. And unity in action of those who work (or want to work) for a living is fundamental to winning a better world. 
Society only functions because of the collective efforts of the working class. 
And class is central to the nature of society, as much at Christmas as during the rest of our lives under capitalism. 
Workers' rights are not just for Christmas - but it'd be a good start!

Monday, 12 December 2016


Two figures who should know all about the workings of British capitalism have declared the utter failure of their preferred system in the space of two weeks. 

In his Autumn Statement, Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond admitted the Tories have failed miserably in their goals of slashing government debt and state borrowing. Despite the excruciating pain of endless austerity imposed by them on workers and communities - jobs and services slaughtered, benefits blitzed, workers' rights razed to the ground - the national debt has rocketed and economic growth stalled. 

Straight from the Banker's Mouth
Two weeks after Hammond declared continued cuts - with no prospects of real pay rises since 2006 until at least 2021 - the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, added his own damning verdict on the system that produces the profits and perks of bankers and billionaires. He concluded we've suffered the first 'lost decade' of fallen wages since the 1860s; with "staggering wealth inequalities" tripling the wealth share of the richest 1% from a third in 2000 to half all wealth in 2010; and 'milennials' (those becoming adults since 2000) earning £8,000 less in their 20s than their predecessors did.
Carney reaffirms what workers already know firsthand, at terrible personal cost, and what we've written about in anger for years: the hardest hit by recessions are the poorest, and younger or part-time workers (two-thirds of whom are women).
This is about as stunning a revelation as saying Carney's salary of £874,000 makes him better off than the average bank worker in your local Bank of Scotland branch!
But coming from the BoE chief, it is a shattering judgement on capitalism - including its dominant financial wing. 

Challenge and Change the System
The point is not only to understand the system - and its appalling consequences for millions who produce society's wealth through their skills, labour and dedication - but to challenge and change it. 
Carney merely warns that "public support for open markets is under threat", with plummeting real pay, rocketing inequality, and the growth of protectionism (as threatened by Donald Trump) all hampering economic growth. He just wants a modified form of capitalism, not its replacement. A few crumbs from the capitalists' table to let the plebs spend enough to fuel a consumer-led recovery in economic output and profits.
Like Hammond, the banker-in-chief offers nothing to cure the disease. Indeed, the Tories' medicine is worse than the disease! 

Tory Cure Worse than the Disease
Hundreds of thousands are currently getting notice of cuts to their benefits, with growing queues of desperate people seeking food bank parcels and advice off welfare rights workers. Homelessness is rising as housing benefits are slashed and sanctions hammer the poorest.
The Tories have targeted Glasgow for savage closure of Job Centres, not only threatening low-paid DWP staff jobs, but especially adding another cruel layer of punishment to the unemployed - adding drastically to their journeys, making a walk to the Job Centre virtually impossible, public transport even more unaffordable, lateness for appointments far more likely, thereby battering the poorest with an escalated sanctions regime that has already driven thousands to starvation, in some cases suicide. 
The number of 'Daniel Blakes' is set to rocket.

Tent City at Amazon!
As sections of the press expose the repressive hell-hole for workers inside tax-dodging exploiters like Amazon, other reports reveal Amazon workers camping out in tents in the bitter winter weather in the woods beside their Dunfermline plant, to save the fares to work that they can't afford on Amazon wages. 
Maybe that's what Mark Carney means by "open markets"! So much for the old adage of working to keep a roof over your head!
Abstract labels like 'neo-liberalism' and 'globalization' cannot begin to convey the brutality of exploitation millions of workers and unemployed or sick workers suffer, as human sacrifices on the altar of profit.

Socialist Measures to Tackle Root Causes 
Prime causes of poverty amongst younger and part-time workers are the series of lower legal minimum wages for under-25s, and the spreading plague of casualised, insecure jobs; its ultimate expression being zero hours contracts. Both are consciously manufactured tools of planned poverty by capitalist employers and their politicians. 

End Age Wage Discrimination 
The SSP has persistently fought for abolition of the lower youth rates of minimum wage; for the same guaranteed minimum for all from 16 upwards - a rate that reflects the real cost of living, without workers being chained to dependency on in-work, top-up benefits - £10-an-hour now! 
This would counter a growing trend towards employing younger staff in preference to 'older' workers who legally have to be paid a bit more. Take a trip round any High Street or retail park and you'll spot the age profiles lowering in recent years, to allow profiteers to lower their wage bills.

Zero Hours, Zero Rights 
There is increasing fury at zero hours contracts, where workers in hospitality, social care, retail, education, fast food outlets, etc - 120,000 of them in Scotland alone - sit by their mobile or email in desperate hope of a shift, and frequently fork out transport costs to work only to be told they're not needed after all.
Zero hours and nominal hours contracts - 4, 6, 8, 12-hours-a-week being commonplace - have been systematically used to crush wage rates, using the fear arising from job insecurity to terrorize workers into accepting their lowly position. As an example, one of my family is working for rotten pay in the leisure industry, hired six months at a time, but only after he signed a contract that explicitly bans him from joining a union!
That's why - to help end the atrocities of poverty and inequality, as described by Hammond and Carney - the SSP is battling to abolish zero hours contracts entirely. And not just so governments and employers can gain a cheap propaganda advantage by ending zero hours and instead offering one hour a week, as advocated by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership opponent, Owen Smith. 

For Guaranteed 16-Hour Minimum & 35-Hour Maximum Week 
We are pioneering the demand for a guaranteed minimum contract of 16-hours-a-week for all jobs - only allowing exceptions where a worker, accompanied by their recognized union rep, requests lesser hours to suit their circumstances.
Alongside that, the SSP's crusade for a maximum 35-hour working week, with no loss of earnings - rapidly moving to a 4-day week and 6-hour day - would spearhead radical wealth redistribution, away from private profit to pay. 

Taking the dominant sectors of the economy into democratic public ownership - removing the poisonous pursuit of private profit - would allow society to harness the benefits of robotics, algorithms and the explosion of new technology for working people -  with drastically reduced hours of work, rather than robbery of 15 million UK jobs, as the aforementioned Carney warned of in his same speech.

Socialist Resolution 
Capitalism doesn't work - except for the richest 1%. Capitalism enforces poverty and insecurity for millions, grotesque opulence for the millionaires, and the obscenity of millions suffering mental ill-health through long hours of overwork, whilst millions others suffer the same stresses and strains from not being able to get the hours of work they require to financially survive.

Make a New Year resolution to arm yourself with the facts, arguments and policies to help persuade others to shake off the chains of capitalist exploitation. Resolve to make 2017 a year of advance for the rational, humane, egalitarian alternative of socialist democracy, where hunger, reliance on food banks, and stunted growth of human potential through poverty and inequality, are cast into the past as nightmare memories.