Against these attacks on workers, the fight is on

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8 Nov 2011

Wages - whether today's, or tomorrow's in the form of pensions, are under attack everywhere - in both the private and public sectors.

NHS workers, and central and local government workers have been subjected to pay freezes for 2 years - amounting to a fall in wages with respect to costs by around 10% over the two years. On top of that pensions are to be subjected to a 25% cut, if the government gets away with it - hence the 30 November official strike-day. And council workers, like those in Southampton, are again organising strikes against attempts to cut the wages for all earners above £17,500 by 2.2-5.5%!

Ford, Balfour Beatty, they're all at it!

As for the private sector, there is the recent example of Ford, which is trying to introduce a second tier of permanent workers on 20-25% less pay here in Britain for the first time - having already done this in the US 4 years ago - on top of a cut in pensions.

It remains to be seen if the rejection of these attacks by the majority of the workforce will see Ford workers striking together for the first time in almost 25 years. But Ford is just the latest in a long line of companies using this recession to squeeze yet more out of the workforce.

The construction giants, led by Balfour Beatty, aim to break a national agreement with skilled workers, which sets the benchmark for everyone else, in order to pay them 35% less! Electricians, plumbers and ventilation engineers around the county have been staging weekly protests for months outside the biggest building sites. In fact, this Wednesday they will assemble at the "Shard" at London Bridge, to march round London, making clear their intention to fight.

Compare the attacks on our wages with the awards the bosses have made to themselves: directors of Britain's largest 100 companies gave themselves a 50% pay rise this year - an average £2.7m each! Yes, an income over 100 times what they pay the employees who actually produce all of their and their shareholders' wealth!

The lower pay loophole...

But there is more, and worse: after the "Agency Workers' Regulations" became law on 1 October, companies are still avoiding paying temps equally -thus targeting the lowest paid in workers' ranks.

Rather than potentially losing the benefit of workers' experience by sacking them before their rights kick in at 12 weeks, they are using the so-called "Swedish Derogation" loophole. So for instance, Staffline agency, which supplies 686 workers to DHL, for Jaguar Land Rover's Halewood plant, will employ these workers on permanent contracts at £200/week less, so DHL can supply them to JLR at a lower rate. Of course, JLR/DHL/Staffline may well not get away with it since these workers are balloting for strike.

This particular loophole is being used already by clients of Adecco, the world's biggest "temps" group - which just today reported net profits of £140m, up 13% this year and which explained that the new Agency Regulations are "no problem"!

Morrisons is also employing workers under the Swedish Derogation, while at the same time making use of the government's subsidised apprentice scheme paying £2.60/hr "apprentice" rate, for workers to gain the skill(!) of stacking shelves.

Once former temps are on permanent contracts however, whether with an agency, or an umbrella company connected to the agency, they qualify for employment rights - like the right to claim unfair dismissal. Which is why, no doubt, the Con-Dems are now talking about scrapping this right for the first 3 years of employment!

In the meantime, while all workers, are expected to pay with huge cuts in their livelihoods for the bankers' crisis and the bail-out to the capitalist class - all caused by their unbelievable greed, guess what? The banks are rolling in billions again! Barclays just announced profits for 9 months this year of over £5bn!

But funnily enough, the arrogant Barclays CEO, Bob Diamond, has changed his tune. Earlier this year he told everyone that it was time to stop slamming the bankers. Now he says bankers should say "sorry" and warns of coming "social unrest" - as if there is not plenty of social unrest already, not just in worst-affected Greece, but all over the world.

It is not trust with the bosses which needs to be rebuilt, as Diamond claims, but our collective fight against their collective greed. So let workers put him straight, by showing the meaning of "social unrest" in practice - when the working class gets going, in the workplaces and in the streets.