Industry matters: Cleaners’ victory

Proletarian writers

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Members of the trade union United Voices of the World, London

Proletarian writers

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Cleaners’ victory

Cleaners working in the City of London have won the London living wage for the current year after an unprecedented 43 days of consecutive strike action, claimed to be the longest strike in the history of the City of London and the longest strike by an entirely migrant – in this case Latin American – workforce.

The cleaners, who are members of the trade union United Voices of the World, work at 100 Wood Street, an office building which is owned by the world’s second-richest man Amancio Ortega. It is home to financial giants such as JP Morgan and Schroders and is managed by CBRE, a Fortune 500 commercial real estate company who outsource the cleaning to Thames Cleaning & Support Service Limited.

Whilst celebrating winning the London living wage for the current year, the workers have voted unanimously to continue striking until Thames guarantees that it will continue to pay the London living wage in the future. They are also demanding the reinstatement of unlawfully sacked colleagues, backdated payment of the London living wage to 1 January 2016 and union recognition. (See Cleaners win living wage after longest strike in City of London by Maria Susana Benavidez Guaman,, 22 July 2016)

NorthLink Ferries: ScotNats lose their alibi

In Scotland, the Scottish Nationalist Party government is coming under intensified pressure to stop privatising ferry services. These services, vital for connecting Scotland’s many islands to each other and with the mainland, have already in part been sold off – not even to the highest bidder, but to whichever golden boys happen to be flavour of the month with Holyrood.

Currently this is Serco, whose fingers are in many pies, including running two private jails in Australia and carving out bits of the NHS. It was recently revealed by the Shetland Times that, when Serco was awarded the contract for NorthLink Ferries in 2012, a public sector bid from CalMac was ignored and returned unopened. The RMT trade union is rightly insisting that NorthLink Ferries should be renationalised. (See The EU was no friend to RMT members by Gordon Martin, Morning Star, 28 June 2016)

And whilst we’re about it, one might well ask: if Brexit means binning the EU commission’s 2013 fourth railway package (under which it was compulsory to put all rail services out to competitive tendering), why not bring the railways back into public ownership? After all, it was EU directives from the early 1990s that gave the Major government the green light to break up British Rail and sell it off. What better way to celebrate Britain’s departure from the EU club than by reversing the process?

Unfortunately, however, we are not out of the EU yet and may not be for years. In the meantime, all EU laws and regulations continue to apply, while our political masters, though mouthing the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’, are as yet doing nothing to speed up the process.

The reality, of course, is that the same capitalist crisis which drove the privatisation of public services in the first place remains with us post-Brexit, and indeed will be getting worse. Only by setting our sights on the overthrow of capitalism can we turn the tide on privatisation, slump and war. We have reason to hope at least that now the performance of this task will be facilitated by a weakened EU and a weakened British imperialism.

North Sea oil strike

On 26 July, some 400 North Sea oil workers, members of RMT and Unite, went on strike for 24 hours – the first such action in 30 years. The strike and overtime ban, with more strikes threatened, was triggered by the announcement in February by Wood Group that it was going to slash wages for around a third of its UK contract workforce.

Hard on the heels of a wave of redundancies hitting the industry comes this new threat to cut as much as 30 percent off pay and allowances. The employers also want to mess with rostering, extending the present two-week working cycle to a three-week cycle, thereby lengthening the time workers would need to spend away from their families. (See Oil workers down tools in first North Sea strike for 28 years by Chris Foote, STV, 22 July 2016)

South Korea: Union-busting in the ‘free world’

The death by suicide of a union rep following five years of persecution highlights the way that big auto firms like Hyundai Motor Company conspire to prevent unions mobilising workers at companies upon which the manufacturer relies for the supply of spare parts.

Earlier this year, Han Kwan-ho, an elected union official of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU), took his own life. For five years he had suffered intimidation, repression and attacks in revenge for his trade union activities at Yoo Sung Enterprise, a key supplier for Hyundai.

The south Korean monopoly conspired with Yoo Sung and with Changjo, a management consultancy specialising in union-busting, to crush the union at the parts factory and conjure up a new, ‘management-friendly’ union. Union members were subjected to arbitrary disciplinary measures and targeted by civil and criminal lawsuits. Shortly before he died, Han Kwan-ho received yet another disciplinary notice, and after his demise two trumped-up criminal charges were still pending.

Far from this being an isolated case, Hyundai has a long history of leading union-busting campaigns at its many supplier companies in south Korea, including Valeo ESK, Bosch Electrical Drives, Continental, Mando and Sang-shin Break. (See Hyundai: stop union busting at your suppliers, IndustriAll Union, 23 June 2106)

These struggles are of great potential significance. On the one hand, the extended and complex supply chains that evolve around the needs of a giant manufacturer facilitate the superexploitation of supply company workers, keeping them fragmented and disorganised. On the other hand, where workers get organised and start to resist, it can be possible to identify and target weak points in the supply chain, enabling even a relatively small workforce to punch well above its weight in defending its rights.