Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 26 May 2008

26 May 2008

 No ballot paper can help us against the crisis - only our collective strength will

The media jumped on Labour's "crushing defeat" in the Crewe by-election, to herald the "end of New Labour" - if not of Labour itself, for that matter! By the same token Cameron's "rising star" was hailed as if he was about to move into Downing Street. However, the political sphere is not a crystal ball and a few election results, no matter how flattering for the Tories, are not enough to predict the future.

So far, the only conclusion that can be drawn from this month's local elections and the Crewe by-election is that the Tories are more successful at mobilising their electorate than Labour.

And why should it be otherwise? Why should working class voters come out and vote for a party which robs the poorest, as with the 10p tax band, while indulging the greed of the wealthy with tax breaks? Why should workers support Labour, which lets the profit sharks push our fuel, mortgage and grocery bills through the roof, but bails the banks and their shareholders out of the colossal mess caused by their profiteering?

However, the fact that Labour has been stealing the Tories' clothes over the past decade, does not mean that the working class forgets what is behind the Tories' demagogy. Cameron's baby-faced benevolent defence of the "little guy" over the 10p tax band and the planned 2p rise of petrol tax, is just posturing: Brown may be a servile errand boy for big business, but Cameron is big business!

No-one can possibly forget this fact in view of the first measures announced by Cameron's mate, Boris Johnson. He has scarcely been Mayor of London for 3 weeks and already he plans to cancel half-price bus fares for income support claimants within 3 months. Meanwhile, he has appointed as deputy mayor and head of Transport for London a millionaire and former "company raider" whose only claim to fame is to have cut 2,800 jobs when he was CEO of the AA. This probably says it all!

No, there is no reason for workers to give their votes either to the Tories or to Labour. But for us, workers, this is not the real issue anyway. We will not find a solution to the increasing problems that we are facing today in the ballot box. Against the threats on our standard of living and jobs, we can only rely on ourselves. Our collective strength can force the bosses to use their accumulated profits to protect our jobs and increase our wages in line with real prices. This is the only choice for us and we will have to make it, rather sooner than later!

 Agency temps: the new "equality" is a sham!

As an add-on to his personal electoral re-launch, Brown decided to announce new rights for workers, including for agency temps. It must be said that there is a hidden reason for this: the EU's threat to end Britain's opt-out from the working time directive if nothing was done for agency workers.

On 20 May, an agreement between the TUC, the bosses' organisation, the CBI and the government was struck, which was described by the TUC as a "victory for union campaigning". It is supposed to allow agency workers to have "equal treatment"... after 12 weeks of employment in the same job.

However, "equal" is not the proper word as these rights do not remove the right for the bosses to over-exploit agency workers. After all, a lot of temporary agency contracts (at least half, says the CBI itself) do not even last for 12 weeks - and it is very likely that from now onwards, even fewer will last long enough for any kind of rights to kick in!

But what does this "right to equal treatment" mean? Well the right to be "treated the same" as another worker doing the same job, but no right to a pension or other "social occupational benefit" like, for instance, sick pay - and this for 12 weeks of slaving away like mad to avoid the sack!

Therefore, the government has only agreed, with the TUC's support, that under half of agency temps can have equal pay with permanent workers on the same job. That is all. As for anything else, by legal right, that is, they can whistle! Moreover, what will stop the bosses from by-passing the law, for instance by employing agency temps in particularly low-paid jobs and no permanent workers? No wonder the CBI welcomed the result as the "least worst" outcome, highlighting the fact that sick pay and pensions were excluded!

As for us, this means that we cannot rely on this law to act as a protection against the all too frequent exploitation imposed on agency temps and against the divisions this creates in our ranks. The most effective law for workers is always to stand up together, join ranks across all the artificial divisions created in our ranks by the bosses, and to read them the riot act!