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Catalyst #16 (Spring 2007)

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Work Until Your End!

Bosses' pay has more than doubled during the past six years while workers wages have remained virtually static. It has been calculated that for every £100 earned by directors in 2000, they now earn £205 after allowing for inflation. But for employees their £100 has climbed to an average of £106.

In the City this year bonuses are expected to reach a record £9 billion. At Goldman Sachs alone, about 4,000 high-flying investment bankers are expected to receive £1 million each and those in the top grade are likely to get £10 million each.

Goldman Sachs was the centre of the recent cleaners' fight for better pay. The cleaners, many of whom are paid the £5.35-an-hour minimum wage, occupied one of the bank's most prominent sites in the City waving placards reading “Goldman Sucks”.

To rub salt into the wounds the bosses top executives have the option of retiring at 60 and enjoy access to final-salary schemes.

These pay a fixed proportion of annual salary as a pension for every year of service seeing top bosses amassing pensions worth £1bn in recent years. On average the final salary pension is worth nearly £3 million each. The largest directors' pension is worth nearly £5 million over 40 times more than most staff pensions.

In contrast these same fat cats have been happy to cut the pensions of their own staff, and have condemned the government for not cutting the pension built up by public servants such as nurses and school meals staff. Still hundreds of thousands of workers have found their workplace finalsalary schemes replaced by less lucrative money purchase pensions and are facing the prospect of having to work even longer before they can retire.

IWW Under Attack!

"A number of Solidarity Federation locals have been mobilising to support our comrades in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in their struggle to defend their members in the US who are facing victimisation and sackings due to their union organising activities.

The list of workers sacked so far for their union activities is:-

  • Joseph Agins, sacked December 12th 2005
  • Charles Fostrom sacked July 11th 2006
  • Evan Winterschiedt sacked July 18th 2006
  • Daniel Gross sacked August 5th 2006
  • Isis Saenz fired November 1st 2006

All sackings so far have taken place in New York.

So far SolFed members have been involved in a number of pickets of Starbucks stores and have enjoyed some success in sending potential coffee-drinkers elsewhere! It seems that the principle of never crossing a picket line is not quite dead despite all the years of defeat and ruling class propaganda. The struggle of the IWW's Starbucks Union has inspired action in some fifty cities around the world, including in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and of course the US and UK. We hope that SolFed members and others can assist our IWW comrades in winning some breathing space for those trying to take on the harassment and intimidation of this particularly anti-worker multinational. It doesn't take much to hand out some leaflets outside the store and the case is a pretty simple one to argue! See www.starbucksunion.org for further details."

Working For Free!

Workers in this country do an average of seven hours six minutes extra work a week, and should take home an extra £4,800 a year if they were paid the average wage for those unpaid hours.

The response of the TUC since 2005 has been to declare one day in February ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day' and on that day calls on employees to use it to remind bosses of their extra unpaid work by taking a proper lunch break and going home on time for this one day a year. Employers should also use the day to say thank you to staff for their unpaid work, perhaps by buying them lunch or an after-work coffee or cocktail.

This sort of spineless approach is typical of the unions that will bend over backwards to ensure that they don't upset the bosses too much. We should be going home on time every day and be campaigning for a shorter working week. Instead we still work the longest hours in Europe, and many workplaces are gripped by a culture of long hours and staying at your desk. Many companies now ask workers to register on to a computer log for a piss break!

The TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, someone who went straight from university to student union president to work for the TUC, said, “We do not want to turn Britain into a nation of clock watchers, and few mind putting in extra effort from time to time when it is needed, but it is too easy for extra time to get taken for granted and then expected every week.”

Well we've got news for him – some of us do mind that we are being screwed twice over by the bosses. It's time to put a stop to it and for us all to work collectively to make sure that they don't get any more out of us than we can

Wont Get Fooled Again?

Few can still harbour any illusion about the Labour Party. Hardly any brain cells are required to see that Labour is just a continuation of Thatcher's vicious free market polices glossed over with a touch of caring concern. This says much about the reasoning capacity of boneheaded trade union leaders who still insist on handing over millions of pounds to Labour.

That the Labour Party has finally evolved into the Tory Party will not come as a surprise to anarcho-syndicalists. One of the driving forces which gave birth to our movement, in the early years of the 20th century, was the disillusionment felt by workers with newly elected MPs. In country after country newly franchised (mainly male) workers used their votes to elect socialist and communist party members to office for the first time; only to find that, once in office, their elected representatives were quickly seduced by the trappings of power. In a number of countries they were corrupted to the extent of supporting the use of troops to put down strikes.

The revulsion over this betrayal led to the embryonic revolutionary unions adopting a firm anti-parliamentary line. They rejected electoral politics and took up direct action as the means by which the working class could keep democratic control of their own struggle and confront capitalism directly. Instead of placing their faith in politicians and governments, they sought to build a mass movement that would use boycotts and various forms of strike action as part of the wider struggle against capitalism. The ultimate aim was to launch a social general strike which would be the means of overthrowing capitalism and creating a better world.

The experience of those early workers and the direct action alternative is still relevant today. As Labour transformed themselves into the Tories, numerous socialist parties have stepped in to try and occupy the place once occupied by Labour. We should not be fooled; the whole history of electoral politics, not just here but across the world, is that once in power political parties soon ditch any thoughts of destroying capitalism and become part of the elite ruling over us in the same old way.

Anarcho-syndicalism

The Solidarity Federation seeks to create a militant opposition to the bosses and the state, controlled by the workers themselves. Its strategy can apply equally to those in the official trade unions who wish to organise independently of the union bureaucracy and those who wish to set up other types of self-organisation.

Rank and File Control. Decisions should be made collectively. This means they are made by mass meetings, not by officials in union offices. These mass meetings include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership. It will not, however, include scabs or managers. Anyone we elect to negotiate with management should have a mandate from the workforce that gives them clear guidance on what is and is not acceptable. Mass meetings of workers need to be able to recall all delegates.

Direct Action at work means strikes, go-slows, working-to-rule, occupations and boycotts. We are opposed to the alternative which is ‘partnership' with bosses. Workers can only win serious concessions from management when industrial action is used or when bosses fear it might be.

Solidarity with other workers is the key to victory. Workers should support each others' disputes despite the antitrade union laws. We need to approach other workers directly for their support. ‘Don't Cross Picket Lines!'

Control of Funds. Strike funds need to be controlled by the workers themselves. Officials will refuse to fund unlawful solidarity action. Union bureaucrats use official backing and strike pay to turn action on and off like a tap.

Unions use a large proportion of their political funds on sponsoring parliamentary candidates. Backing the Labour Party is not in the interests of workers. We should also not fall into the trap of backing so-called ‘socialist' candidates. The Parliamentary system is about working class people giving up power and control, not exercising it.

Social Change. The interests of the working class lie in the destruction of capitalist society. The whole of the wealth of society is produced by the workers. However, a portion of this is converted into profits for those who own the means of production. When workers make wage demands, they are simply trying to win a bigger share of what is rightfully their own.

Our ultimate aim is a self-managed, stateless society based on the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. It is a society where we are no longer just used as a means to an end by bosses wanting to make money from our labour.

When We Fight Back!

Older readers may remember those far off days of the 1970s when attacking greedy militant trade unionist was all the rage. A rain forest's worth of print was produced arguing that organised workers were grabbing all the wealth, causing economic havoc and creating a more unequal Britain. The low paid, less well organised workers, were supposedly left behind in the wage race by their unionised brothers and sisters.

Well the demon of the wildcat strikes has been tamed and as a result so has trade union power. Surley now without all those greedy trade unionists Britain has become a more equal place. Not quite, in fact just the opposite. In the last 30 years Britain has become a far more unequal place to live. In 1934 13% of the national income was owned by the richest 1%. By the 1970s this had dropped to just 4%. The Thatcher years saw it rise again 11% and under Blair we are back to the 1930's levels. Their share of the country's wealth has also shot up. In the 1970s the richest 1% owned 17% of the country's total wealth; by 2002 this had risen to 23%. During the same period the bottom 50% of the population's share of wealth dropped to just 6%. After 30 years free of mindless militancy the richest 10% now earns more than the total income of the bottom 50% of the population.

At the other end of the scale the poorest 10% of the population have faired even worse in our strike-free paradise. Under Thatcher their earnings fell by 8% in real terms. Under Labour their lot has hardly improved and in both 2002 and 2003, the disposable income of the bottom 10% fell. This at a time when some 75,000 people now own 50% of Britain's total liquid assists, with their earnings actually increasing by 66% in the last five years. In the last nine years the richest 1000 people have seen their wealth increase from £99 billion to £301billion. While in the strike ridden 1970s a top executive earned 25 times more than the average worker, they currently earn 120 times more or around £46,000 a week.

Yet surprise, surprise we hear little about the greedy rich and growing inequality from the politicians and media. It seems that for ordinary workers to strive for a living wage in the 1970s was greedy, it wrecked the economy and somehow caused greater inequality. While in 2007 the super rich ripping off an ever larger proportion of the country's wealth helps the economy by attracting the right people to the top jobs. This mysteriously leads to greater equality, due to some magical process no one can explain, under which the fortunes earned by the rich somehow trickles down through society enriching the needy poor.

The truth is that under the post war system of free collective bargaining workers were able to begin to challenge both the power and the earning of the rich ensuring that the earnings of all sectors, including the low paid, increased in real terms. That is the real reason why militant workers were so despised for much of the post war period because they challenged the power of capitalism to make money.

We should learn the lesson well; we cannot trust the state or politicians to defend workers rights because they will always side with capitalism. Our only defence is workers collective power, based on self organisation and direct action. It is only through our collective strength can begin to challenge growing inequality and rid the world of the evil that is capitalism and replace it with a better world based on common ownership and workers democratic control.

Lose the Labour levy

Many on the Left, including those who constantly advised us all to “vote Labour without Illusions”, are now convinced that there is no difference between the Tories and the Labour Party, in this, they are wrong. One difference is that the unions still fund New Labour to the tune of millions of pounds.

There are, however, growing signs that trade unionists are growing increasingly angry at handing over their money to such an openly anti-working class party as Labour. In a number of unions, campaigns have been launched aimed at breaking the link with Labour.

If these campaigns prove successful, no doubt the various left wing parties will argue that union political funds should go to them. Such arguments should be ignored. Workers and their unions are quite capable of campaigning for their own political aims. The idea that economic and political struggle can somehow be artificially split is rooted In Intellectual snobbery and patronage. Workers are not stupid and should not be reliant on politicians to do their thinking and act on their behalf.

The working class has only ever made real gains through self-organisation and direct action. That is where our money should be directed, rather than handed over to political parties. The aim of all political parties is to obtain and then keep power. All else is secondary, including the interests of the workers they claim to represent.

POLITICAL FUND EXEMPTION NOTICE

I hereby give notice that I object to contributing to the Political Fund of the union and am in consequence exempt, in the manner provided by Chapter 6 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (consolidation) Act 1992, from contributing to that fund.

Name:
Address:
Union: Branch:
Membership No: Payroll No:
Signature: Date:

About Catalyst

Catalyst is the quarterly freesheet of the Solidarity Federation. If you want to get hold of a copy, get in touch with your nearest SolFed local, or email catalyst@solfed.org.uk. If you would like to distribute Catalyst, please get in touch with the Catalyst collective.

Other Catalyst issues

Catalyst #19 (February 2009)
Decent jobs
Catalyst #18 (Autumn 2008)
Featuring: the real cost of inflation, dirty dealings at LSE, day of action against Starbucks, cleaning up on the tube and more.
Catalyst #17 (July 2008)
Catalyst #17 July 2008
Catalyst #15 (Summer 2006)
Catalyst #15
Catalyst #14 (Spring 2006)
Catalyst #14
Catalyst #13 (Summer 2005)
Catalyst #13


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