Sunday, 28 March 2010

Plaid AM backs Visteon pension demo

Plaid AM Bethan Jenkins is urging support for a demonstration in support of Visteon workers robbed of their pensions:
"These men and women worked for sometimes up to 40 years for their pensions, having believed Ford's promises that their entitlements would be mirrored when Visteon was spun out of its parent company. Now it looks as thought the pensioners will have take Ford to court to get their money. "Ford may argue that it has no obligation towards its former workers but, at the very least, it has a moral obligation, and its executives should be ashamed that they are able to treat, hard-working, diligent employees in this way. "The pensioners must win this case. If they don't, it raises the spectre of other multi-nationals - many of whom have huge holes in their pension plans - dumping poorly performing divisions and staff entitlements on the UK taxpayer. It is a precedent, and it is in everybody's interest to support the Visteon pensioners."
Visteon, one of the world’s largest automotive suppliers, was spun out of Ford in 2000. By 2004, it employed 70,000 staff at over 200 sites in 27 countries around the world, including the UK, and turned over $18.7 billion in sales. In 2005, Visteon offloaded 17 unprofitable plants and six offices.
 In 2006, Visteon delisted from the New York Stock Exchange after its share price dropped to two cents. On March 31 this year, the company’s UK operation went into administration with debts of £669m. Some 560 staff at plants in Enfield, Belfast and Basildon were given less than an hour’s notice of the redundancies.
 Those workers then occupied their factories, claiming that they had been given guarantees on pay and conditions when Visteon separated from Ford. Several weeks of protest led to assurances from both Ford and Visteon that severance packages would be improved. However, shortly afterwards, the Visteon UK Pension Fund had entered the assessment period for the Pension Protection Fund.
 The PPF had been established by the Government following a long campaign involving Cardiff steel workers and Welsh politicians, after the collapse of Allied Steel and Wire in 2002 left those workers without pensions.
 However, the 3,000 ex-employees of Visteon UK – including 700 in Swansea and workers who have been paying into a Ford pension fund for up to 40 years - have since discovered that they may receive less than half of what they are owed if they are paid through the PPF.
 The Visteon Pension Action Group is now planning to take Ford to court, claiming it was promised safeguards for the fund when Visteon was spun off. It also argues that the PPF may well be unsustainable in the long run. The pensions regulator is also examining the group’s claims. The group is now planning to take Ford to court, after final talks with Ford in New York failed last month. It is now waiting to see whether the union will back its claim in court.
 A mass demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament takes place on 31 March 2010 - transport is going from Swansea.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Unite/Divide & Conquer

Official Picket & 'Evil' Trade Unionist (me), Armed with a Pram & Baby

When was a trade union dispute last such a hot election issue in a Britsh election? The current dispute between Unite and British Airways has really exposed the British parties, when it comes to their true attitudes towards the millions of trade unionists across the British State.

The Tories have perhaps been the most consistent, in fairness. Their absolute hatred for any trade union prepared to challenge an employer has come out loud and clear. Not since the Thatcher period have I seen Tory politicians saying exactly what they think about unions. Can you imagine what they will do to trade union law if they win power in May? They will go way beyond what Thatcher even dreamed of, using the Unite dispute to justify swingeing restrictions in unions' ability to take industrial action, just before unleashing the biggest public sector cuts in living memory. Please remember that the UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in any western democracy-far tighter than even the US.

The Lib Dems have been true to form, desperately trying to take the middle ground and endeavouring to balance the conflict between their membership who want to steer away from the Tories and their focus groups who want the opposite. Such are the joys of being in an ideological free-zone, although there are elements of their party who are pointing in the right direction.

Labour are in a genuine mess and frankly, it is mostly of their own making. Unite have grown not from membership recruitment but union amalgamation. They have been thrown together as the ultimate mix of public sector, traditional private sector, new private sector and a miriad of smaller unions; all of whom have a different agenda relevant to their members. The sheer hypocrisy of taking the member's money with one hand while stabbing them in the back with the other is not something new, but the negative publicity is and that is what is hurting Labour.

I would say that activists such as myself are very much in the minority. Most members are not active within the union or take any active role in any political party. They join largely for a form of 'job insurance', understanding that a good union branch can give them effective representation and still work in partnership with a sensible employer.

This dispute has exposed the hypocrisy of Labour, the anti-union venom of the Tories and the ignorant drift of the Lib Dems when it comes to unions. Sadly, the movement itself is very unlikely to gain from the media frenzy surrounding this story-not that the British parties care. They want power and if it means walking over trade unions to get it, then what's the problem?

Monday, 8 March 2010

PCS pickets success

PCS pickets in Wrecsam reported great success outside the JobCentre, courts and the large HMRC tax office.
 They were joined by Plaid Cymru North Wales AM Janet Ryder (pictured above) and local Plaid councillors, who got a great reception not least because they brought pickets at the Grosvenor Road site bacon butties and mugs of coffee!
 Janet Ryder was also present when a senior tax office manager tried to throw her weight around by questioning the number of pickets. After trying to claim that only six were allowed per entrance by law, she was quickly corrected by pickets. Little did she realise that she was talking to an expert in labour law as well as the regional Assembly Member.
 There was also support from the fast-growing North Wales Shop Stewards Network, which has quickly established itself as a grassroots campaigning group of trade unionists. In the past few months they have shown solidarity with various pickets in Wrecsam including those by the RMT railworkers, CWU posties and UCU lecturers at Glyndwr as well as today's PCS pickets.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Plaid AM calls for PCS picket line to be respected

Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood has urged fellow Welsh Assembly staff and Assembly Members not to cross the Public and Commercial Services union picket line planned for next week.

The South Wales Central AM, who chairs the PCS cross party group in the Assembly, also urged the First Minister to make strong representations to the Westminster Government in order to avert strike action by the PCS Union next week.

Up to 20,000 Welsh civil and public servants are expected to withdraw their labour on Monday and Tuesday in defence of their redundancy rights. The PCS Union is calling for the UK Government to return to the negotiating table and involve ACAS in an attempt to agree a resolution to the dispute.

In questions to the First Minister today, Leanne Wood AM said:
“When I put a question to you on the PCS strike last month you correctly stated that it was not a devolved matter. 
“Now in the light of the fact that staff employed by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly Commission are affected by this dispute and that plenary next Tuesday could end up being cancelled, this is an issue that calls for strong representation from Wales. 
“What measures or representations can you make to urge the Westminster Government to involve ACAS and to get around the negotiating table with the union in order to agree an acceptable resolution to this impasse?” 

Leanne has also called for next Tuesday’s plenary session to be cancelled in solidarity and support with hard working staff who she said provide an “excellent service” to AMs and the Government. She has urged AMs to join PCS members on the picket lines and rallies.

Leanne is also submitting a draft statement of opinion, asking the Assembly to recognise the essential work done by civil servants, expressing deep concern at proposed changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and support for PCS union members taking industrial action in defence of their redundancy rights.

25 Years Ago

On this day 25 years ago the miner's strike officially ended, followed by the swift closure of most of the remaining pits in Wales. As my uncle had worked down Tower, I was with my brothers the first generation on my mother's side not to go down the pit. As a teenager, I had followed the 12 month dispute with great interest although my life was far removed from the mining valleys of the south that my ancestors had grafted in. Growing up in Swansea, the only evidence of the strike were the collections in town or coverage of the blockade in Port Talbot steel works, where my dad had worked.

I remember clearly one day my mam coming back from shopping announcing that she had given a donation to the miners collecting in town, clarifying what she had told them, 'this is for your families and not for Scargill. She despised him as much as she despised Thatcher for what he did to the miners and I shared her opinions. Scargill refused to start the strike when Lewis Merthyr was closed in Wales, as he wanted to start with a Yorkshire pit. Of course, Thatcher and British Coal knew this and closed a Yorkshire mine when there were more than enough coal reserves to win an industrial war of attrition, also ensuring that the strike would be over one and not two winters. From day one of the dispute, the fate of the miners was sealed and as proud as I was that the only major coalfield to stay solid in the strike was South Wales, what was really gained by their loyalty to the union? The South Wales coal mining communities have suffered more than any other in the UK since the pits closed.

Some argue that one of the results of the strike was a realisation that Wales needed its own voice to stand up for itself, leading to a growth in demand for devolution. I would certainly accept that the despair at continual Tory London Governments foisted on an unwilling Wales did much to turn around the result of 1979, but what a price to pay. I went down Taff Merthyr on a working day once, rode a coal conveyor, worked a coal cutter and was spooked at by a couple of pitmen working above me in the pitch black as we walked towards the face. Two of the pitmen were killed 3 days later, when they took their safety lines off to reach for tools, slipped and fell down the half mile shaft. I'm proud of my mining heritage, but glad that I never had to work down a mine.