Archive for May, 2012

Turkey: New law aims to ban strikes in aviation sector

May 30, 2012 Leave a comment

From LabourStart.

On 10th May, Metin Külünk, a deputy of the ruling political party, proposed an amendment to Article 29 of the existing Collective Labour Agreement, Strike and Lock-Out Law as follows: “It shall not be lawful to call a strike or order a lock-out in the following activities … Banking, public notaries and aviation services.” Such an amendment would be a serious blow to the right to strike in Turkey and will bring major loss of income and hard-won rights for unionized aviation workers. This repressive parliamentary motion is now the subject of an ILO complaint submitted by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). As a reaction to this unprecedented attack Turkish Airlines workers went on mass sick leave on May 29, 2012, at 3am. In fact Turkish Civil Aviation Union (Hava-İş) members have been left with no alternative other than taking this latest action. On the very same day hundreds of them received text messages to their phones informing them that they were sacked without compensation.

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Baggage handlers on strike at Stansted

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Swissport baggage handlers are in the middle of a series of strike actions in response to roster changes that will take place over a three week period.

The action is as follows;

Wednesday 23 May from 5.30am ends 5.30am on Thursday 24 May
Saturday 26 May from 5.30am ends 5.30am Monday 28 May
Saturday 2 June from 5.30am ends 5.30am Wednesday 6 June

This is part of the strike action that was originally threatened at Easter.
Members of the Unite union voted for strike action by an overwhelming 94.4 per cent on an impressive 90 per cent turnout.

This is remarkable and I fully support the brave workers for taking action in defensive of themselves as well as everyone in civil aviation, however I have written before how these actions have to try and push themselves outside of the union framework – as the long fight at Liverpool Airport demonstrated.

Skeleton Staff at Grave’s End

May 19, 2012 Leave a comment

For all those who have to contemplate getting a summer job soon!

B. Booker, ‘Skeleton Staff at Grave’s End’,  Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Sept 1962), pp. 23-24

For four weeks, during my summer holidays, I had the misfortune of being a clerk in the Mutuality Club Dept. of the Gravesend Cooperative Society.

The Mutuality Club is in the fine, modern offices of the Co-op bank, in Harmer Street. When one first enters the bank, one is struck by the bright, cheerful atmosphere of the place. But the office is bare of the slightest amenities (except toilets). The Gracesend Co-op is run on a shoe-string. To illustrate this I will give some examples.

Many workers have no proper desks. They have to sit at long, low wooden benches. Chronic backache is common.

The Co-op is short of proper office chairs (i.e. chairs with padded seats and backs). Some unlucky workers are forced to sit on hard wooden seats, which further add to their misery.

There are not enough pens especially red ones which are used for checking. I was reduced to using my own!

There are no fire extinguishers in the bank offices. They are all in the office upstairs. The only exits to the street are via two doors opening onto Harmer Street. Presumably, if these are blocked during a fire, bank workers will twiddle their thumbs until rescued or burnt to death.

Rumours are going around that the main reason for these economies is that the ‘divi’ is shortly to be raised to 2/- in the pound.

For a 37 1/4 and a 4 3/4 hour week* I was paid £5.10.0. The rate is now $5.15.6. These hours were minus the half-hour tea break a day, spent in one of the dingiest rooms (called ‘lounge’) I have ever seen. The girls in the Check Office were highly honoured. They were paid five bob a week more as they ‘used machines’.

The work in the office (as in most offices) was most demoralising. It was more or less the same thing, day in, day out with only a rare change to another department, if lucky.

Most of the people I spoke to were thoroughly bored with it all. The girls were waiting to get married so as to leave. The boys (there were 3 of us) foresaw no possible future in the job. It is very difficult to get on in the Co-op unless you happen to be a Labour councillor or something. We were going to leave as soon as we found other jobs. It is absolutely false to say, as many bourgeois do, that people of ‘lower intellect’ want to do menial tasks.

There was practically no diffusion of labour in the office. Only three girls, for example, could handle a very simple telephone exchange. No attempt was made to teach anyone else to work it, in case of emergency. If one of the girls was absent – or in the toilet – when a call came through, the call would have to wait.

I saw an example of the most piddling piece of bureaucracy I have met for a long time. In Gravesend, the Co-op has recently changed its name from ‘The Borough of Gravesend Cooperative Society’ to ‘The Gravesend Cooperative Society’. Everything published before this momentous decision still as the word ‘Borough’ on it. Before one can even start to do any work, one has to scratch out the offending word. It was an offence not to do so, our secretary pompously explained to us. All this involves extra work, wastes time and is annoying. It is particularly annoying when one forgets to do it and has to go back over, say 250 vouchers, erasing ‘boroughs’.

In the four weeks I worked there, I never saw such a bunch of demoralised, fed-up people in all my life. They would have given anything to have gotten the hell out of there.

Brian Booker

Flying Low: Grad opportunities working lates

May 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Philip Stott continues The Commune’s series on casual work with an essay on his experience as an airport baggage-handler and aircraft cleaner

After graduating from university, I immediately started working for an agency who specialise in providing workers for the aviation industry. I thought I would write about two of my ‘assignments’.

Servisair are imposing redundancies on Liverpool baggage handlers, as the job becomes increasingly casualised

The first of these was as an aircraft cleaner for Derichebourg Multiservices at Liverpool Airport. I was part of a group of people in our twenties, some of whom travelled from as far away as Bury, who were taken on in order to work through the busy summer period. We worked a shift pattern, 10pm-6am; four days on, two days off and were paid an agency rate of £6.68 an hour (pretty bad for night work). Refuelling operators were the best paid and worked shifts, 8pm–8am, four days on, four off. There had been no pay rise at all for five years.

Although the work was not glamorous, this was to be expected. What really struck me was the condition of the equipment. For example, the company’s catering van had been saved from the scrap yard, each cleaning van had a door that was jammed shut and they were prone to breaking down. This could mean we would have to walk across the airfield in the wind and the rain carrying our vacuum cleaners, mops and cleaning equipment. Also, the airport did not have enough working Ground Power Units, so we would sometimes have to radio someone from Servisair to bring one round for us. Not great when you were rushing to get home so you could try and get in bed before it got light.

One of my favourite things about this job was the amount of stuff you would find left behind by passengers. Especially during the school holidays, when under the piles of rubbish, euro notes and iPods were common finds. Once I found 100 cigarettes and a litre of Bacardi – this made a nice supplement to our crappy wages.

A new supervisor had taken over a few months before I started and had made an effort to stamp her authority. Although efforts had always been made to make people work more for less money, it was her arrival that had turned ‘a nice little job’ into one that everyone hated. This had caused one of the team leaders to become obviously depressed, whilst the other developed stress related health problems, both left whilst I was working there.

Agency workers were almost segregated from working with the older staff. We would usually clean Ryanair planes with the supervisor whilst the permanent staff would clean EasyJet. We were constantly told how lazy the older staff were. This had its effect on people and on one particular night, a young woman got in such an argument with the supervisor that she felt she had to run off the plane and flee down the airfield, never to be seen again. There was some talk of members of airside security co-signing a letter of protest in relation to the way she was treated, but this did not get anywhere. When I did work on the EasyJet planes I found out that the lads worked just fine, it was only that they hated the supervisor so whenever ‘she’ was on a plane with them they would go on a go-slow.

Life got much easier once the two team leaders had left. A temporary team leader was brought in from London. He kept complaining how he had never worked in such shoddy conditions and would always let us do a half arsed job. Airside security were going through pay negotiations whilst I was there, some people enquired to their union rep about taking industrial action, but the GMB had signed a no strike agreement and they were told this was not an option.

The other cleaning lads made a formal grievance to the company about pay, but I have not heard of any developments since. It was an open secret that the company wanted to get rid of the old hands, I have since learned that the new team leader (who was used as a scab during the 2009 baggage handler strike and is the son of the airport’s chief firefighter) fabricated stories in order to try and get two of my old mates sacked.

A note on the manager. He had previously been the manager of a Sainsbury’s store and had been taken on by Derichebourg for crazy money. He was hardly ever on site but spent most his time at work doing what was no doubt crucial paperwork. We were often understaffed as agency workers were not replaced, this would involve Derichebourg having to fork out for a 60 day security pass from the airport and was not going to happen. The manager would sometimes help out when we were understaffed. Now, I did not mind that he worked slower than us but he did not even know what we had to do and I would have to instruct him on what our job was. For the money he was paid I found this bizarre.

Whilst writing this I have heard that the Derichebourg workers at Liverpool airport have not been paid their wages for the last month’s work.

Handling baggage

I was rewarded for my obedience with a job as a baggage handler for Swissport International at Manchester Airport. The hourly rate for agency was £7.20. The worst thing for me about this job was the hours, with shifts starting as early as 4am and finishing as late as 11:30pm. For the first month I was rostered an average of thirty hours a week, easily enough to survive off, but these were cut the next month. Many people made up their hours through overtime, but as a sleep lover, I did not fancy only eleven hours between shifts. Many of the workers also did foreigners outside of work hours.

Most agency workers were a mixture of guys in their early twenties living at home and those in their sixties who had been made redundant from their skilled jobs and were working for a few more years before they retired, some people were so desperate for work that they drove from Southport. It will be no surprise to readers of The Commune that people are earning less now than they have ever earned in their lives, in fact, the hourly rate for a baggage handler at Manchester Airport is about the same as it was in the 1990s.

Although I got on with most of the guys, there was a significant amount of people who made it clear that they did not want agency workers there and would not give you the time of day. Despite the fact that I could understand this, it was I who felt hard done by when I was working next to people earning more than three times as much as me, as I worked all the public holidays over Christmas.

The work itself was incredibly easy. Swissport seemed to have chosen a strategy of having a large, low paid and casualised workforce, so that unlike in Liverpool, I was not rushed off my feet. This meant we had lots of down time with nothing to do. Although this produced the effect of making me extremely bored and always looking for work to do, one guy I knew would leave the airport and make the long walk in-between airport terminals just to make himself look busy. This was very different guys working for Menzies: they got paid more but actually had to work hard every day. Swissport saved their money on equipment. Whereas the bag halls at Manchester Airport are full Servisair trailers, I frequently had to drive around the airport looking for Swissport trailers to load flights onto. The only times I had to exert myself was when loading flights to Pakistan: as these are not holiday flights, most bags weigh about 32kg; however, you work in a team of two, which really helps deal with the boredom. Loading a flight usually involves sitting around waiting for three or four hours whilst the passengers check in, there is a bit of a rush near the end but this is easily dealt with. Loading the large Airbus A380 Emirates flight to Dubai was hard due to the different amounts of classes involved, but this responsibility was rarely given to agency workers.

The young women taken on to work on the check in desk were treated particularly badly, though. After all the security checks they had to go through to get the job, they would be lucky to work twenty hours a week and would sometimes even be sent home once they arrived at work as they were not needed. This meant that they would be much better off claiming JSA, although some of them had their eyes on becoming air hostesses in the future and saw this as a way into the job.

I later learnt that Swissport were paid by the government to take people on, in order to reduce unemployment figures, so they had no incentive to give you any more hours and would not need to replace you if you left.

One of the biggest concerns for agency workers was the way we paid tax. Our agency used some dodgy payroll company that kept changing its name and every week we would pay less than a pound in tax, as the payroll company would claim large amounts of ‘expenses’ for us. Although some people received large tax bills for this, many people thought it was actually better to remain an agency worker than to sign on with the company as we were taking home more money.

Power in a union?

During the training period at work the shop steward was invited round and gave each of us a form to join Unite, he openly bragged with the other rep about how great it was to go down to London and drink lots of free beer. The new bag-hall manager was the old union rep who had been rewarded for his militancy with a nice manager’s job. There was graffiti throughout the bag hall depicting the steward as a jelly fish with no backbone. I did sheepishly ask when branch meetings were held and was laughed at in response and told not to ask. As the biggest handling company at the airport, a Servisair worker held the branch secretary’s position. Happy with this, he had decided not to hold a branch meeting for months.

The Liverpool baggage handlers’ strike that lasted two months started shortly after I started work in Manchester. I was glad to hear that my old friends in Liverpool were visiting the picket lines but there was very little discussion of it in Manchester, except that people would not mind being called ‘scab’, if the rumours were true about getting £100 for a single day’s work.

A rare piece of good news is that after months of putting it off, agency workers who have worked for more than 12 weeks now receive the same amount of pay as permanent staff, in line with a new EU law. Unfortunately, perhaps pre-empting these developments, in summer a new grade of workers was created and all workers taken on permanently are employed on a new contract with inferior terms and conditions.

Iain Duncan Smith’s cleaners leave letter on his desk asking to be paid the living wage

May 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Channel 4 News speaks to the contract cleaners at the Department for Work and Pensions who demanded a pay rise from the politician at the top, saying they can’t live on the minimum wage in London.

Click picture for video

Iain Duncan Smith says it is his mission to make work pay. He wants to end ‘in-work poverty’ So it must have been a shock to find a letter left on his desk from 64 of the people who clean his office, complaining that they cannot live on the wages they are paid by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Today I met one of the cleaners who signed that letter. She was frightened that she might get sacked if we identify her – she can’t afford to lose her job, even if she can’t survive on her low wages. She told me it is always a struggle to pay the bills:

“As soon as the money comes in on Friday, every two weeks, on Monday there is no money in the bank. I feel tired and depressed .. I prefer not to think about it because I want to cry.”

The letter she signed said:

“Every morning we clean these offices and these hallways. Our hard work helps you to do your job properly and comfortably .. However because of our pay, we are struggling every day to buy the things we need.”

The people who clean inside the DWP are employed by a private contractor, Mitie, who pays most of them the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour. But to earn what is considered a “living wage” you have to earn at least £8.30 in London, or £7.20 outside, which is what the cleaners are asking for. Mitie declined to comment on the cleaners’ pay.

Felix Ojo left his job cleaning at the DWP yesterday. He let me see some of his pay slips and bank statements to show how he couldn’t survive on £6.08 an hour, telling me: “at times I borrow to buy a bus pass and borrow for food. If you’re borrowing how can you back it back? That is the problem – I have a lot of bad debt.”

The cleaners’ letter was co ordinated by London Citizens who campaign for a living wage of £8.30 for all employees in London. Matthew Bolton, a campaigner at London Citizens says:

“We believe that IDS does want to make work pay, and a lot of his policies are committed that way, to improve the incentive to work and make sure people can provide for their families. So adopting the Living Wage would be a clear demonstration of that commitment, and that would help us encourage other government departments to do the right thing too”.

The cleaners asked Iain Duncan Smith for a meeting. They have not yet had a response. The Secretary of State is said to be quietly sympathetic. But the department say it would cost millions of pounds to raise the cleaners’ wages.

All the staff who clean the Houses of Parliament are paid the London living wage. As are all staff at the Greater London Authority. But most government departments still pay only the minimum wage to contract cleaners. Campaigners say its time the DWP took the lead on poverty wages and finally make work pay for the people who work for them.

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Punk Against Prejudice event in aid of Sophie Lancaster Foundation

May 2, 2012 Leave a comment

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Remembering Dave Spencer

May 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Showing respect from the commune, by Mark Harrison.

It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of our comrade Dave Spencer on the night of Tuesday 24, less than a week short of his 72nd birthday. Many shocked friends and comrades have written to us remembering his personal warmth and good humour, even when debating passionate issues, as he did so recently, he did so in a composed and relaxed manner that forced you to think more clearly and raise the level of your own argument. Dave’s life touched many outside traditional left wing circles, as an exponent of radical pedagogy he put his ideas into action in Coventry by running an adult education course, going out in the council estates of Coventry to teach parents in primary schools English, Maths, Psychology, cooking etc.

In Dave’s own words during a recent debate “My way of teaching English was to discuss a controversial topic for an hour or so to get everybody thinking. The women would then go home and write down their thoughts or experiences. Grammar could come later. One of the favourite topics was “All men are bastards. Discuss”. One day the women of my class in Bell Green came in to discuss the proposed closure of their local Primary School. What to do? I seem to remember suggesting in an abstract way occupation and joining the local Labour Party to get rid of their councillors. Three days later, on the front page of the local paper there was an article “Parents occupy Bell Green Primary School” and there in the picture were the smiling faces of my students!”

As Dave would say, truly ‘communism from below’.

In later life Dave became chair of his local residents’ group and managed to secure national lottery funding to build a play area for the children in the park. He told a recent aggregate of the commune that this felt like the biggest achievement he was ever a part of in politics and was very moved by the experience.

Dave was a revolutionary for over 50 years, in which time he was a constant champion of the rank-and-file ‘from below’ through factory bulletins and organising local discos but was also prepared to stand up to petty bureaucrats.

One of the final unity campaigns Dave was involved in was the Campaign for a Marxist Party, where he saw that the CPGB wanted to wreck the initiative after they had gained all they could from it, as the SWP did in the Socialist Alliance.

As one comrade remembers, “At one conference of the campaign the CPGB brought a hand raising mob, some of whom had joined days before and some who were not even members. Jack Conrad of the CPGB ignored the chair (Dave) and signalled that the verbal abuse and nonsense could begin. Dave raised himself to his full height and stature and put courtesy aside as inappropriate and bellowed ‘sit down and shut up you silly boy!’ This caused the self-styled hard Bolshevik to look rather upset and one of his supporters called for the chair to show some respect. In response, Dave, in his best headmasterly voice explained that first he would have to have respect for others….

On another occasion during a national committee meeting, two comrades drank two pints of beer each over four hours. The next issue of the Weekly Worker had a very large pint of Guinness next to an article on the committee, that implied the committee were all drunks. I wrote hundreds of words denouncing the CPGB. But Dave simply said, ‘A cult creates its own reality’. Exactly”


We in the commune hope to republish some of David’s articles in memory of him. Below is a message from David on the failure of the left.

“On the SWP’s “Left Unity” initiative, I don’t see why we can’t afford to ignore it – the electorate certainly will. The main reason for the vacuum on the Left is the behaviour of the SWP and SP. They destroyed both the Socialist Alliance which had over 90 candidates in the 2001 general election and the Scottish Socialist Party which had over 70 candidates in 2001. Neither group can stand any rivals or any form of democracy. The SWP could not keep Respect together and the SP were too frightened to launch the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party as a membership organisation in case they got outnumbered. I can’t believe they have changed their approach unless for tactical reasons.

The only way to beat the BNP is by consistent political work in working class communities – that is by building from below. In the recent County Council elections 3 comrades in Northampton put up as Save Our Public Services candidates. Dave Green got the best result in New Duston with 950 votes, 39.6% of the vote and 61 votes short of the incumbent Tory councillor. Harry Tuttle in Lumbertubs ward got 277 votes, 16.5% of the vote and Norman Adams in Delapre got 219 votes, 10.2% of the total. These are good results compared to the pitiful 0.9% for the NO2EU candidates in the European elections, all of whom must have lost their £5,000 deposits in each region.

The Northampton votes are the result of week by week campaigning to defend council housing, open public spaces and opposing the PFI building of schools.

Because of the economic recession there will be attacks on the living standards of the working class and certainly cuts in public services. There will be a need to build more community campaigns. This is where the Left should be. As I understand it the BNP’s tactics are to be visible and active in working class areas. That’s where we should defeat them not in some last minute unity scheme for the general election which will cost a lot of money and get nowhere.

Dave S”

On democratic practice

“Dear Comrades

CPGB comrades have complained quite rightly about the physical abuse and attack on their comrade at Marxism 2007. Such methods should be declared out of order in the working class movement.

Jack Conrad however thinks that verbal abuse and attacks are well in order and part of the free expression of his human rights.

In the CMP Committee’s opinion — which is widely held by others in society and based on scientific evidence — there is a direct link between verbal and physical, racial, sexual, homophobic and other forms of abuse on the person. It is the inappropriate expression of uncontrolled anger. It is also a form of bullying and intimidation in order to obtain or retain power.

With emails it is easy to dash off a reply to a person on the spur of the moment and write something abusive. What the Committee is saying is that comrades should think before they write and avoid verbal abuse. This recommendation is quite normal on elists. In developing the Campaign it is particularly important. We want to build a democratic and comradely culture where comrades can develop their ideas and their activities in dialogue with others and make a contribution.

Some comrades may not agree with trying to build this culture. They may prefer a series of arm-wrestling contests and hostile macho shouting matches where the development of their own ego is the object. Let them argue for that type of culture.

The Chair of an organisation should represent the principles and aims of that organisation as a whole and balance that against the rights of individual members. This role can of course be abused in a bureaucratic fashion. On the other hand without a chair you can have total anarchy.

In the case of chairing this email list I would see it that a comrade or comrades could complain that so and so’s behaviour was abusive or out of order. I would then put it to the members of the email list to vote on the issue and to propose what should happen. The whole process would be democratic. There is no question of me dictating or policing or throwing ASBOs about as mischieviously suggested by JC. If JC wants to show his Leninist credentials by calling people twerps because Lenin called Trotsky a twerp in 1907, that’s harmless enough as far as I’m concerned. Others may disagree.

The question is comrades of deciding and putting into practice what sort of culture we want to build in the Campaign.


Dave S”

We welcome all those who knew Dave to share their memories and recollections of our comrade.

A funeral and wake will be held in Coventry on May 10.

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