Solidarity 254, 22 August 2012

Call centre exploits prison labour for £3 a day

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 2:00

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.

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Syria at the edge: for freedom and secular democracy!

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 1:54

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.

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Trade union news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 1:47

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.

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Tyne and Wear Metro cleaners fight on

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 1:36

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).

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Unison bullies members over pensions

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 1:31

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.

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Robert Hughes' Australia

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 12:52

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.

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Vera Zasulich: A pioneer for Russian Marxism

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 12:47

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.

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

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 12:32

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.


Submitted by Matthew on Wed, 22/08/2012 - 12:43

The false analogy between the Democratic Party and the Labour Party is that because trade unions give millions of dollars/pounds to them they are the same kind of party. The Labour Party might have moved to becoming more like the Democratic Party in the last couple of decades in that trade unions just hand over their money without any say in the politics of the party but is not the same yet - trade unions links to and levers within the Labour Party are weaker than they were but still exist, and could be used if the union leaderships wanted to, in a way that has never been true of the Democrats.

Before the First World War, almost all British trade unions supported the Liberal Party (with the exception of Lancashire where the millowners were Liberals and the textile workers' union supported the Tories). Trade unionists were the backbone of the Liberal Party in many constituencies, especially in mining areas in the North, and some of them became "Lib-Lab" MP's. The Labour Party was the result of trade unions and some of those MP's splitting from the Liberals. Do you think they were right to do so?

Submitted by LM on Thu, 23/08/2012 - 00:31

Hey Ryan,

Eric Lee isn't a member of the AWL and his position does not reflect that of Solidarity; his column is for the purposes of debate and discussion which it is, quite rightly, generating here. As for me, and I would imagine most if not all members, I agree with the position outlined in the first comment that Eric is drawing a false equivalence between the Labour Party and the Democrats. Lesser-evilism indeed, as you correctly saw. You might be interested in this article and others on the site by our US comrades: here.


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