Solidarity 254, 22 August 2012

Call centre exploits prison labour for £3 a day

Becoming Green, a company which markets environmentally-sustainable energy to homeowners, has been exposed using prison labour on slave wages in its Cardiff call centre.

Almost 20% of the call centre’s staff in July and August were inmates from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, around 21 miles away from the centre. The prison workers were paid just £3 per day for their work.

Syria at the edge: for freedom and secular democracy!

The people of Syria face a humanitarian disaster. The state is responsible for most of the estimated 23,000 deaths since the uprising against Bashar Assad’s police state began in March 2011.

The regime has now lost control over large areas of the country and is resorting to the use of attack helicopters and fixed-wing planes against its own people.

Over a quarter of a million people have fled the country and 1.2 million are internally displaced. The UN states that 2.5 million are in need of food and other aid.

Trade union news in brief

Parking attendants employed by contractor NSL in Camden, London, will strike again on 9 and 10 August.

Workers are fighting for the London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour, as well as for sick pay. They also have other grievances around terms and conditions.

Unison has 80% density amongst NSL workers in Camden and has had strong turnouts in previous strike days. Workers fought hard to win recognition. Despite these achievements, they have found it difficult to get Unison officialdom to sanction further strikes.

Tyne and Wear Metro cleaners fight on

On 6 and 7 August RMT members employed by Churchill to clean the Tyne and Wear Metro struck again for 48 hours.

The long-running dispute has now seen cleaners take five days of strike action.

They are demanding living wages (they are currently paid minimum wage, and have not been offered a pay rise for this year), free travel passes, access to a pensions scheme, and an end to victimisation.

The action on 6 and 7 August was described as rock solid. Workers also organised a lobby of Nexus, the Tyne and Wear transport authority (made up of local councillors).

Unison bullies members over pensions

I am in a local government Unison branch which has a firm branch position of opposition to the pension offer currently on the table.

The deal is not that different to what was on offer prior to our industrial action on 30 November. We will all be working longer, paying more, and getting less.

Robert Hughes' Australia

Robert Hughes, the Australian art critic, died on 6 August. We reprint this review (from 1988) by Belinda Weaver of his important history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, as a tribute.

It’s chic now in Australia to claim convict descent. Everyone wants to get in on the act. Tracing family history is now a national obsession. The convict past, no longer the shameful stigma it was, seems just another lovable aspect of Australia’s history.

Vera Zasulich: A pioneer for Russian Marxism

Vera Zasulich (1849-1919) was a revolutionary and an early Russian Marxist.

Born in Mikhaylovska as one of the daughters of a minor noble, she was brought up by wealthier relatives following her father’s death, and found her first job working as a clerk in St. Petersburg at the age of sixteen.

Why American unions support Obama and why they're right to do so

Every four years, an odd little debate occurs on the left.

Here is what happens: an American presidential campaign begins. Someone on the American left will write an article saying that there is no real choice between Democrats and Republicans and that workers need their own party.

Then left-wing papers around the world will reprint the article, or quote it, and agree with the comrade that workers have no real choice in America and need a class party, a labour party.

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