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june 2012 issue of the commune – out now!

June 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Issue 30 of The Commune is now available. It features a bottom up view of the UK public sector pensions dispute, an article on how our public spaces are changing, new developments on the left and more besides.

The paper is free: click the image above to download the PDF. See below for a list of articles as they are posted online.

Strikes

sparks show the way – this month’s editorial looks at the different trajectories taken by electricians’ and haulage drivers’ struggles

phony war in uk pensions dispute – a london based college worker writes about the top down nature in which the struggle is being conducted

The Left

new anti-capitalist initiative launched – Jackie Lucas sees a chance to work in the ACI but is wary of Trotskyist practices

the way forward for the left? – Chris Strafford wants communists to relate to mass movements, and reflects on his experience for the CPGB

Current Events

you can’t say that! – Ollie Sutherland was not impressed by most of the left’s approach to the London Mayoral election

deeper into essex: how you are allowed in your city – Sharon Borthwick reviews Anna Minton ‘Ground Contol: Fear and happinnes in the twenty-first century city’ and looks at how our public spaces are changing, especially in relation to the Olympics

Debate

made in rochdale: exported globally – Scumboni offers a radical defence of worker co-operatives

the paradox of internationalism from below – Barry Biddulph continues our series on the national question

Obituary

dave spencer 1940-2012 – Jim Schofield remembers our dear friend and comrade

distribution

This paper is free, and we’re always looking to expand our distribution network. Would you like to share these ideas with friends or colleagues? Leave a few in your local library or café? Contact us at uncaptiveminds@gmail.com

To get our communist message out there, we also need money. If you enjoy the paper, the price of a couple of pints a month would be of great use to us. Email us, or set up a standing order to The Commune, Co-op sc. 089299 ac. 65317440. You can also send cheques, addressed to ‘The Commune’, to The Commune, Freedom Bookshop, Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX

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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.

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.

Fraternally

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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‘this is only the beginning.’ but of what? – Commune leaflet for 26 march

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

This is our leaflet for 26 March. Download a PDF here or read the front page article below.



Read more…