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(en) Britain, Catalyst #14 - Industrial Freesheet of the anarchist Solidarity Federation International

Date Mon, 01 May 2006 11:31:09 +0300

· Red Tuesday - The working class fight back
· Media workers face redundancy
· Asbestos: The silent killer in schools
· Safety on the railways?
· Mercadona strike in Barcelona
· Lose the Labour levy
· The Stuff Your Boss Anti-casualisation campaign
· Anarcho-syndicalism
· Solidarity Federation Membership Application
Spring 2006 · free · donations welcome

· Red Tuesday - The working class fight back

Tuesday 28th March 2006 witnessed over a million workers take part
in the largest one-day strike in Britain since the General Strike of
1926. The Government is hoping to do away with council workers
current deal that allows them to retire at 60 providing they have had
at least 25 years service with the council. This assault on council
workers rights is part of a wider global assault on the working class.
However these attacks have provoked waves of resistance around the
globe and on Tuesday 28th March workers in both Britain and
across the channel in France took to the streets and went on strike in
order to defend their rights from the attacks of their
respectivegovernments. The reaction from businessleaders and their
friends in the tabloids wasone of unanimous incredulity and disdain.
Sir Digby Jones, director of the CBI, appointed "Voice of Business"
and hideously bloated by his wealth declared the strike "a disgrace".

While we hope that Tuesday March 28th will mark the start of a new
wave of working class resistance and fight we must understand,
without illusions that a one-day strike is unlikely to unnerve the
Government or its wealthy backers. Despite making a show of
opposition to government attacks, Union Bosses have more often
than not collaborated with government to impose these reforms by
showing lip service to their members and asking for the attacks to be
watered down in their severity. Thus we end up with government
attacks being accepted with slight alterations in their wording or
paltry concessions to the workers being made.. Such half measures
only help the government in seeing through their business driven
reforms and leave new workers open to attack. These submissions to
government attacks have left the working class fighting a losing
battle on a purely defensive footing.

The attack on pensions which is taking place in the private and
public sector is an audacious effort by business to pass the costs of
market and government failings onto workers in order to maintain
and maximise existing profits. The Government hopes to tackle the
pension's shortfall by extending the imposition of work meaning an
increase in retirement age for the vast majority of workers. Telling
people that because they are living longer they must work longer in
today's age of material and technological affluence is a plain insult.
Whilst company directors are able to take early retirement with
million pound bonuses and lucrative pension schemes stolen from
the proceeds of our own labour we are told by politicians that we
must carry on working until we drop.

If March 28th gave us a fleeting indication of the potential power of
the working class to disrupt and oppose the existing order and their
attacks then we must build and develop this power in order that the
government is unable to implement any more regressive reforms.

If we are to realise this potential the first step must be to ensure that
attempts to divide us along lines of age or what sector we work in are
overcome. The first step in realising our potential power as workers
is to understand that we are at our strongest not only when we are
united but when we act without restraint in our own interests,
without the hindering intervention of divisive union leaders who
would sell our interests in exchange for a friendly handshake from
number ten.

We look forward to workers in here in the UK and across the world
resisting these sets of degrading reforms with every tactic in our
artillery, withdrawing our labour, taking to the streets and bringing
the country to a standstill by whatever means necessary to defend
and strengthen our position and to take the fight to the employers.


· Media workers face redundancy

HUNDREDS of jobs are being cut across the newspaper industry as
a downturn in advertising bites into profits. News International,
Johnston Press, Newsquest and Archant are among the major
groups who have recently frozen new employment across their
holdings and ordered wholesale restructuring.

In December last year, Trinity Mirror, the largest regional newspaper
group in the UK, went through a similar process, earning them the
title of the ‘company that cancelled Christmas’, according to
the National Union of Journalists.

The Daily Mail Group Trust, the toughest anti-union group in the
country, had attempted to go one step further and get out of the
regional newspaper business altogether, but failing to find a buyer for
their Northcliffe subsidiary, have launched a vicious series of cuts

The industry, which has seen a huge relative decline in wages since
unions were kicked out of the newsrooms in the 90s, has been
largely unable to defend itself against the measures, despite strong
evidence that the cuts will do more harm than good in the long term.

In the journalistic community it has been acknowledged for years
that cuts to reporter numbers pushes down newspaper quality and
impacts on the media’s ability to investigate controversial
subject matter. This in turn impacts on reader confidence, leading to
a spiral of declining revenues and standards.

However, continued pressures from the stock market, coupled with
a general decline in sales and the threat of online marketing, has
prompted managers to increase investment in advertising while
cutting it from editorial.

One SolFed member in the industry said: “These cuts should
have been the basis for a resurgence in union activity, but the
response has been weak. In most cases the NUJ has been worse
than useless, but it’s the only game in town at the moment. The
old hands (working with poorly organised, mostly younger people
because of the high turnover of staff) have been unable to turn things
around, and their effectiveness is hamstrung by slowmoving

“Every week there’s a new story in the industry press of
pickets on the gates of yet another paper, but the cuts are continuing
regardless. The long-term decline in union power has left workers
unable to respond effectively against today’s assaults through
the traditional system. This needs to change, and we need a tougher
and faster method of organising to fight back properly.”


· Asbestos: The silent killer in schools

Some 15 teachers a year are dying of asbestos related cancer. The
Health and Safety Executive released figures stating that between
1991 and 2000 147 teachers died from the untreatable cancer
mesothelioma. When it took into account education assistants,
nursery nurses and university lecturers the figures doubled. These
figures could even be higher if other support staff, such as
caretakers, maintenance staff and cleaners, are taken into account.

The history of asbestos is one of cover up and lies in the name of
profit. The dangers of asbestos have been known about for over a
hundred years. But the profits to be made from asbestos production
ensured that the truth about the deadly nature of asbestos was

This has resulted in millions of workers dying from asbestos-related
diseases round the world. In Britain alone over 5,000 people a year
die as a result of inhaling asbestos, this figure is predicted to rise to
10,000 a year by 2010.

Shockingly even though the dangers of asbestos are now widely
known asbestos is still mined in places such as Canada and still
extensively used throughout the developing world. In Britain its use
in construction began to be phased out in the late 1970s but
according to the Health & Safety Executive asbestos containing
materials (ACMs) was used in buildings constructed or refurbished
before blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1985. In some cases
ACMs, such as asbestos cement, were used up until 1999. It is
estimated that some 13,000 schools in Britain are riddled with

Workers should not simply rely on management to ensure that
asbestos is handled properly. Current legislation allows asbestos to
remain in place as long as it is not disturbed. This is largely due to
cost; asbestos is so widespread in buildings throughout Britain the
cost of removing it would be massive. Managers claim asbestos
present in buildings is safe in order to avoid the cost of removing it.

All workplaces should have undertaken an asbestos survey and have
in place an asbestos management plan. Manchester Solidarity
Federation is encouraging all workers to raise the issue with their
managers. Get them to check if asbestos is present where you work
and that it is not likely to be disturbed. Management are legally
obligated to consult workers regarding health and safety.

If you need advice contact Manchester Solidarity Federation who are
involved in the justice for asbestos victims campaign.


· Safety on the railways?

Health and safety campaigners have welcomed the jailing of a rail
boss, found guilty of killing four maintenance workers who died
when a runaway wagon ploughed into them. Mark Connell, 44, had
deliberately dismantled the brakes on two of his wagons in order to
save money.

He received a nine year sentence for each of the four counts of
manslaughter, to run concurrently. However the jailing of Connell,
though welcome, is perhaps not quite the victory it first seems. As
the construction giant Carillion plc, who subcontracted Connell to
carry out the work, and as such should take some of the blame, was
never prosecuted.

Connell’s company, MAC Machinery Services, is typical of the
countless number of sub-contractors carrying out work on British
Railways. These dubious outfits care little about the safety of their
largely self-employed labour force, they hire workers who often have
little or no experience of working on the railways and even less heath
& safety training. The large construction companies, contracted to
carry out track maintenance since rail privatisation, are fully aware of
the nature of these cowboy companies but use them because they
come cheap and so boost profits. When accidents occur and workers
pay with their lives, the directors of rich and powerful companies
such as Carillian , Balfour Beatty and First Engineering simply walk
away passing the blame for criminal safety.

This culture of passing the buck has become the normal way of
working on the railways and is used where companies employ
workers directly. Here companies employ what at first sight appears
to be vigorous heath and safety polices. Workers are sent on endless
safety courses and have to sign off regular safety briefing. These
polices are largely cosmetic and mask poor and unsafe working
conditions, based on long hours and understaffing in which the
pressure is constantly on workers to get work done in a short space
of time. When rail workers cut safety corners simply to get the job
done management are happy to turn a blind eye. Until that is an
accident occurs, then the safety briefing and course attended are
wheeled out as prove of the companies commitment to health and
safety and blame is passed onto individual workers who are
castigated for not following company safety procedures. To the
extent that it is now routine for workers to be disciplined or sacked
for breaches of health and safety, a practice virtually unheard of
under nationalisation when safety procedures were seen as a means
of preventing accidents rather a get out clause for managers.

Sadly this “blame it on the workers” culture now extends
across most sectors of the British economy. Privatisation, increasing
casualisation and ever longer hours has resulted in ever worsening
working conditions that lead to poor health and safety standards.
Which companies conceal by creating veneer of heath and safety
respectability to disguise often appalling work place practices.

A whole industry of experts has been created that employers can call
upon to instruct workers on heath and safety practices. Creating a
“virtual” world of safety procedures that bare little relation to
the realities of what actually happens in the workplace which only
function is to transfers all safety responsibility onto worker. When
things go wrong management simply blame workers for not
following guidelines.

In to many workplaces it is management that have the whip hand
and when bosses have control the result will always be poor
standards of heath and Safety. The long term solution to poor heath
and safety is to rebuild workplace organisation that can challenge the
power of management in order to improve working conditions. Good
health and safety does not depend on presenting workers with
certificates for attending some nonsense course they have been
forced to attend. But rather workers having control over their
working environment in order to challenge the power of managers
who inevitably but cost before the heath and welfare of workers.


· Higher education staff strike for better pay

Lecturers, academics, researchers and support staff from AUT and
NATFHE unions staged a one day strike on March 7th. This
national day of action also marked the start of an indefinite "action
short of a strike" including boycotts of assessments, appraisals and
staff cover.The action had been supported by students from the NUS
as well.

Universities and colleges across the country had lectures cancelled
and many universities saw good levels of attendance among
unionised members. The best turnout was reported in some of the
Scottish universities where almost all lectures were cancelled and
most students didn't cross the picket lines either.

The unions state that the dispute originates from unfulfilled pay and
conditions promises. For years university staff salaries have lagged
behind in fact dropping in real terms for about 40% in the past 20
years. As one remedy to this situation politicians and bosses
introduced highly controversial student top-up fees.

Former Higher Education minister Alan Jonson said in the House of
Commons in April 2004 that at least third of the money collected
from top-up fees will be used for salaries. Perhaps they meant the
salaries of the vice chancellors, who have seen their income soar by
30%, because the staff have only seen increases barely meeting
inflation rates.

Bosses seem to have forgotten their earlier claims as well. Dr
Copland, Chairman of the Universities and Colleges Employers
Association said in May 2005 that "employers have repeatedly made
clear that they want to see more money spent on staff, whenever
funding allows." Now funding is there, but the will to pay the staff
suddenly disappeared.

"Workers voted for the strike action for many reasons", said one
striking comrade from Solidarity Federation’s Education
Workers Network (EWN) from University of Manchester. "The
discontent runs much deeper than just pay issues. Universities are
facing further commercialisation, privatisation, outsourcing and
casualisation of staff. The whole direction of where education is
going got over 65% of the staff to vote for strike action, and many
more for the action short of a strike".

EWN do not only want to have a bigger slice of the stolen cake, but
demand the end of top-up fees which they see as a way to block
access to education for many working class students. EWN also
argues for the workers to unite in their demands rather than dividing
themselves into smaller unions based on craft rather than industry.

If you work in education or are a student, and are interested in
Education Workers Network, please contact your nearest Solidarity
Federation local.


· Mercadona workers strike in Barcelona

The 22nd of April marked the end of the first month of an indefinite
strike in Barcelona by workers at the Sant Sadorni d`Anoia logistics
centre for the major Spanish Supermarket chain Mercadona.

The dispute began with the sacking of 3 members of the
anarcho-syndicalist union CNT and the culmination of a campaign
of threats by the company against workers unionising. Even before a
strike was declared the company brought in scab workers,
attempting to preempt the actions of their own employees.
Immediately, the workforce went on strike, initially for 10 days, and
has since developed into an indefinite strike.

The demands of the strikers are:
· The reinstatement of the sacked workers.
· Payment for obligatory 30 minute breaks.
· Compliance with H&S regulations.
· An end to harassment of workers.
· Recognition of the CNT and its delegates.
· Guarantees of job security.

There have been daily pickets outside the centre itself, as well as
pickets of many Mercadona's 970 stores and other logistics centres
such as the one in Valencia by other members of the CNT
attempting to spread the strike and more than eleven demonstrations
in the centre of Barcelona to raise public awareness of the strike.

Several times the pickets have been violently attacked by the police
and Mercadona's private security. The CNT is appealing for urgent
financial help for the strikers, many of whom are migrant workers
and as such are in an increasingly vulnerable situation.
Bank details for sending donations are:
· Europe IBAN: ES08 2100 (La Caixa)-1183-35-0100505773
· Rest of the world: BIC (Swift): CAIXESBBXXX 2100 (La
Caixa)- 1183-35-0100505773
For more information on the strike see www.cnt.es/mercacoso &
barcelona.cnt.es (in Spanish), also see www.iwa-ait.org


· 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

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

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.

Membership No:
Payroll No:


· The Stuff Your Boss Anti-casualisation campaign

Initially in NW England, centered around workplace conditions,
casual and temp work, homeworking, health and safety at work,
workplace bullying, as well as issues around Job Seekers Allowance
and Incapacity Benefit.
contact: stuffyourboss@lists.riseup.net or
http://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/stuffyourboss or write to: SYB,
c/o PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester, M15 5HW to be put in
touch with activists in your area

Post code:


· 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 anti-trade 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 socalled ‘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.


· Solidarity Federation Membership Application

I wish to join the Solidarity Federation. I have enclosed a cheque for
£5.00 (made out to ‘Solidarity Federation’) to cover my
initial 3 months of membership. I understand my details will be
passed on to the nearest SolFed local who will contact me shortly.

Post code:
Occupation/Union (if any):


Education Workers’ Network (EWN), c/o Preston SF
ewn@ewn.org.uk lists.riseup.net/www/info/ewn www.ewn.org.uk
Public Service Workers’ Network (PSWN) c/o Solidarity Bristol
Birmingham & Northampton SF, c/o The Blackcurrent Centre, 24
St. Michael's Ave., Northampton NN1 4JQ brumsf@solfed.org.uk &
W Yorks SF, PO Box 75, Hebden Bridge, West Yorks HX7 8WB
Manchester SF, PO Box 29, SW PDO, Manchester M15 5HW
07984675281 manchestersf@solfed.org.uk
Preston SF, PO Box 469, Preston PR1 8XF 07707256682
Edinburgh SF, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA
07896621313 edinburghsf@solfed.org.uk
N&E London SF, PO Box 1681, London N8 7LE 07984675281
South Herts SF, PO Box 493, St. Albans AL1 5TW
South London SF, PO Box 17773, London SE8 4WX
Solidariy Bristol solidaritybristol@solfed.org.uk
South West Solidarity sws@solfed.org.uk


c/o The Blackcurrent Centre, 24 St.
Michael's Ave., Northampton NN1 4JQ
e-mail; catalyst@solfed.org.uk
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