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(en) Britain, Anarcho-syndicalist Solidarity Federation - Catalyst #17 July 2008

Date Sun, 02 Nov 2008 19:45:42 +0200

CONTENTS ---- * Agency Exploitation ---- * Shelter in a Storm ---- * Who we
are... ---- * Catering bosses tip rip-off ---- * Know your rights: Working Time
Directive ---- * Migrant Workers Under Attack ---- * Equal opportunities - New
Labour style ---- * Summer of discontent? ---- Agency Exploitation ---- The
unions hailed the agreement on equal pay for agency workers “as a victory for
union campaigning”. They must be joking. The agreement excludes sick pay and
pensions and only guarantees the same pay as permanent staff after twelve weeks.
The unions admit that around 50% of agency staff won’t be covered by the
agreement as they are rarely employed for 12 weeks at a time. Nor do their
figures include the thousands of staff who will be let go just before the
12-week entitlement to equal pay. The reality is that beyond TUC hype about “a
breakthrough on workers’ rights”, the majority of agency workers will still
receive less pay than permanent staff.

The tragedy is that, for once, the unions were in a powerful position. The EU
was about to impose an agreement on Britain introducing a 6-week period that
would later lead to agency workers getting the same pay as permanent staff from
day one. All they had to do was refuse to compromise and wait for the EU
directive to be effective.

As things stand, the government can go to the EU arguing they have the agreement
of the unions, which should be enough to ensure Britain can keep the 12-week
period. Not only that, Labour is hopeful that, having conceded the principle of
equal treatment for agency workers, they will be allowed to keep Britain’s
opt-out in the soon to be renegotiated working time directive.

A victory for union campaigning? Or unprincipled trade unionism? Union leaders
have sacrificed the right of hundreds of thousands of low paid agency workers to
show they are business-friendly and prepared to put the interests of the bosses
before those of union members.
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Shelter in a Storm

Workers at Shelter, who provide advice and support to the homeless and badly
housed, are fighting to defend their pay and conditions, as well as the core
value of the organisation itself.

Shelter’s senior management have responded favourably to New Labour’s policy of
tendering public services to the lowest bidder. Management are seeking to
implement proposals that would see staff work extra hours for no extra pay,
downgrade jobs, remove pay increments and see compulsory redundancies.

While telling dedicated, experienced workers they were not value for money, the
charity’s head offices were refurbished at a cost of £750,000, new managers have
been employed and senior management gave themselves a pay increase.

Workers at Shelter were left with no choice but to take industrial action. In
March, a two-day strike was called for the first time in Shelter’s 41-year
history. Picket lines have been well attended, with strong support from other
union branches. London Solidarity Federation members went along to join the
picket on the second day but found the workers had had to rush off to catch a
meeting that management had rescheduled and only informed them at the last minute.

Strike action continued in April and May, when striking Shelter workers joined
the May Day march and spoke from the platform. No new strike dates have yet been

You can keep up with the dispute on the National Shop Stewards Network website:

You can send Messages of support to: shelterstewards@googlemail.com
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Who we are...

Anarcho-syndicalists believe that workplace organisation has to be based in the
workplace and to involve the membership of all the unions in each workplace. Pay
rises, job safety and control over how we work will not be won by
representation, but by workers taking action for themselves, independent of
their bosses or any would-be representatives.

“Workers rights” will only be won by direct action, or by negotiations backed up
by the credible threat of direct action, regardless of legislation. Confusing
workplace representatives with the rank and file only obscures the real task we
face - that of building effective organisation in the workplace.

To this end, we organise in Networks across industries and in Locals
geographically, to support each other in our struggles and fight for our
interests, both in and out of the workplace.

Solidarity Federation is part of the International Workers Association,
organising with like minded people across the world.

We’d like to distibute Catalyst as widely as possible, so if you’d like to
distribute locally, get in touch at one of the addresses’ below or -
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Catering bosses tip rip-off

Workers in some of the UK’s most prominent restaurant chains, including Pizza
Express, Carluccio’s and Café Rouge, are being ripped off by unscrupulous bosses
who use staff tips to subsidise low pay.

The catering sector, already notorious for low pay, poor conditions and long
hours, is cynically involved in even worse exploitation of its workforce by
using credit card tips to top up wages as low as £2 an hour to make the minimum

Another trick used is to charge staff an “administration fee” on tips added to
card transactions. The cost of using the card (between 1% and 2% of the bill)
should be met by the restaurant, but the bosses pass that cost on to their
workers, who are largely foreign, young and inexperienced. They can easily be
threatened with the sack if they tell customers that the bosses keep credit card

The Unite union has a campaign to close the legal loophole where tips count as
wages. So far the Government have done nothing but promise a vague “consultation”.

Restaurant workers - organise to fight against this theft. Together tell the
bosses that you will not stand for tips to top up pay, that you should get the
minimum wage (or more!) regardless of tips and credit card tips should be shared
out equally amongst staff. Make your demands together, stick together you will
achieve more than by making individual complaints.

As for customers – tip directly, in cash. Don’t allow your appreciation to feed
the boss’s greed.

For more information: PO Box 29, South West D.O. Manchester M15 5HW 07984 675281
www.solfed.org.uk www.selfed.org.uk www.direct-action.org.uk www.ewn.rgbi.net
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Know your rights: Working Time Directive

The Working Time Directive limits the hours you work to an average of 48 over a
17-week period. However, many employers make workers sign an ‘opt-out’ that
means they can be expected to work more than 48 hours a week.

What most bosses don’t tell you is that if you’ve signed this opt out, you can
tell your employer that you want to opt back in. All you need to do is put it in
writing. It will take effect in 7 days time unless a different period is
specified in the original opt-out, up to a maximum of three months.

The employer has no right to sack you or take any disciplinary action for
exercising this, or any other rights. If they do, going to an Employment
Tribunal might force them to pay modest compensation.

Workers are protected from discrimination on grounds of race, sex, disability,
age and sexual orientation from day one. Other rights kick in after 12 months.
You should be careful if you think your boss will react badly to you claiming
your rights early on, as they can sack you without giving good reasons.

Some types of work are partially exempt from the Directive, such as training
doctors, domestic servants, security guards and those doing a seasonal job, such
as in agriculture.

For more information on your rights at work: www.stuffyourboss.com
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Migrant Workers Under Attack

No-one accuses non-unionised workers of driving down wages by taking low-paid
jobs. So why are migrant workers who do accused of undermining pay and
conditions? Migrants just want to earn a living and, like everyone, would love
to have better pay and conditions. Many of them would like to organise to
improve pay and conditions for all.

Immigration controls prevent people working legally and make them vulnerable to
super-exploitation. The direct effect is to undermine the pay and conditions of
migrants, and then all workers. To improve pay and conditions in sectors where
there are many migrant workers, offer them solidarity. Organise with them and
oppose immigration controls which hinder resistance.

Immigration controls can’t stop immigration - they don’t work, but politicians
continually try to step them up. They are a workplace issue. Employers are now
obliged to ensure all their workers can work legally or face five-figure fines.
Systematic checks on National Insurance numbers and documents are being carried out.

Many underhand tactics are used, including calling workers in for a fake “health
and safety meeting”. Instead, police and immigration officials carried out paper
checks, then detained and deported workers without them. The Border and
Immigration Agency have carried out aggressive raids, sometimes involving armed
police, in order to brand migrants as dangerous. The latter is a
tried-and-trusted tactic to create suspicion and fear among those who might
otherwise object to the treatment of vulnerable people.

The key to improving the lot of all workers is to improve that of the most
vulnerable - undocumented migrant workers. The tools we need are class
solidarity, internationalism and direct action. Oppose all immigration controls.
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Equal opportunities - New Labour style

Remploy employs over 5000 disabled staff in specially adapted premises,
receiving £111 million in government funding. In May last year, the government
announced the closure of many factories, with between 500 and 2000 job losses.

These factories provide a safe place to work for many disabled people unlikely
to find “mainstream” employment. The government pretends that it is now opposed
to segregated workplaces for disabled people, but the real reason for closing
the factories is cost.

Union activists called for industrial action, most Remploy workers are union
members and over 80% voted for action.

West Yorkshire Solidarity Federation members joined a demonstration in Bradford
in January where Anne McGuire, Minister for Disabled People, was loudly heckled.

There have been blockades and pickets of factories across the country. In York,
strikers blocked lorries from taking away equipment before the factory was due
to close.

Some charities, like MIND and Mencap, have supported the closures, stating that
disabled people should be working in mainstream employment. However, there are
many barriers to mainstream jobs such as access and discrimination. How many
disabled people do you know in “mainstream” employment?

Many Remploy workers feel they can’t move to the merged factories because of the
disruption involved, so how would they fit into mainstream employment? They feel
they are being dumped on the scrapheap; their rights ignored and wages forced down.

Since this article was written, 30 factories have been shut. The GMB union
stated that the “campaign goes on”, and that more action is planned, although
there is no indication of what this might be.
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Summer of discontent?

Following hot on the heels of recent strikes across the public sector (including
teachers and the civil service), UNISON members in local government have voted
to reject the government’s desultory pay offer, which amounted to another 3
years of pay cuts. This follows years of below inflation “pay rises” (in the
real world, pay cuts), and comes as the government attempts to limit public
sector pay claims to 2% across the board. Last year, UNISON members voted to
reject the government’s initial offer, and voted to take industrial action when
the offer was only raised to 2.475% - still well short of inflation, which
remains at over 4%. However, despite this vote for action, UNISON instead
folded, and accepted another pay cut – perhaps unsurprising from a union led by
Dave Prentis, one of New Labour’s biggest supporters in the union movement.

Workers in local government need to take firm control of their struggle, and
demand and force a better settlement, whether the local government bosses,
Gordon Brown or union leaders like it or not. It’s our wages that are being cut,
so we need to be the ones to stop it! Workers across the public sector need to
unite across artificial union boundaries - with the government intending on
holding down pay across the sector, workers need to work together to make a
co-ordinated response. While unions may offer token co-ordinated one day
actions, these are not enough, and will not defeat a government intent on
showing it is tough on unions, and workers must take the lead and go beyond this.
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