As capitalism nips in the bud the career aspirations of those preparing to enter work for the first time, it is at the same time blighting the retirement prospects of their mums and dads. Whilst ballots by the FBU (fire brigades) and POA (prison officers) unions have continued to demonstrate that members are standing firm against the government’s ‘final offer’ on public-service pensions, both Unison members and (in local government) Unite members have voted to accept the imposed deal, which requires workers to retire later and pay more for a reduced pension.
Some idea of the treacherous role played by the social-democratic leadership of Unison can be gleaned from their actions before and during the ballot. Not only were members recommended to accept the offer, but local branches were bombarded with communications telling them to campaign for a Yes vote and under no circumstances to campaign for a No vote.
When it became clear that some branches were continuing to stand firm on the issue, the leadership then truly acted as gendarmes in the working-class movement, instructing regional organisers to shop any branches or individuals who continued to resist the capitulation. As one leaked email put it:
“For all ROs [regional officers] who have a county or unitary/met borough branch can you please (casually and unobtrusively) check with your branch secs that they have received and read my email from Sunday and try to establish if their branch is going to follow these guidelines. I’m asking we focus on the County and unitary councils as this is where the bulk of the membership is and where we are likely to have the most problems.
“Please have these discussions in a casual way and don’t say ‘I’ve been asked to do this by the regional secretary’ – we need to be subtle about this. Please report back the results of your discussion to me … If you are out and about at a branch committee meeting and this is discussed and the branch seek to vote to campaign against the SGE recommendations remind them of the points in the third bullet point in the email below. If they then vote on the issues please ask them to take a recorded vote and also take your own private notes of who voted to breach the guidelines.”
The hardest hit
The orgy of feel-good sentimentality that the media whipped up around the Paralympics stands in stark contrast to the way the disabled are actually treated the rest of the time under capitalism.
Nobody knows this better than the 1,700 disabled Remploy workers facing the boot as more than half the 54 workshops are set to close by year-end as these ‘assets’ are sold off. This follows on from a similar jobs cull at Remploy two years ago. Two years on, 85 percent of those workers remain unemployed.
The Paralympics originated in the non-PC ‘Wheelchair Games’ at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, as a way of using competitive sport to help rebuild the health and confidence of men whose bodies were shattered in the last world war. Remploy began in the same period and under a similar impulse, with the rationale of providing productive and sociable work for those whose war injuries excluded them from more mainstream employment.
It is a cruel irony that, whilst the government talks a blue streak about empowering the disabled by cutting off their benefits and telling them to get a job, the Remploy workshops which did actually get the handicapped into work are now sacrificed on the altar of profitability.
Remploy workers are fighting back, however. Workers who were casually sacked opted to occupy Remploy’s head office in Leicester, with further strikes at the Chesterfield and Springburn works, both of which are to be sold off.
Meanwhile, the Paralympics dream lost some of its shine when the sordid reality of its business sponsors obtruded. One sponsor who had hoped to capitalise on the feel-good vibe was Visa. Taking advantage of its lucrative monopoly on provision of card payment services and cash machines, it had already raised eyebrows during the Olympics when it turned out that you had to have a Visa card to buy tickets. Now this patron of the disabled games has incurred the wrath of the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
The RNIB threatened legal action against Visa when it turned out that none of the eight on-site cash points were equipped with ‘talking ATM’ facilities, arguing that this infringed equality law. Visa dodged the lawyers by promising to modify just two of the machines, then went ahead and did nothing, breaking its promise to accommodate partially-sighted visitors. In a lame defence, Visa blamed the short notice, though they knew the timescale when they made the commitment.
First prize for hypocrisy, though, had to go to Atos, the bounty hunters charged with the task of vetting disability benefit claimants and finding them fit for work with scant regard for the medical evidence. Their outrageous attempt to live down their reputation as tormentors of the disabled by sponsoring the Paralympics has backfired badly, triggering a rash of protests by disabled rights activists.
Meanwhile, in Sardinia, around a hundred miners have taken the bold step of arming themselves with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and barricading themselves nearly 400 metres underground.
What has driven them to this is the prospect of their mine in Carbosulcis, the last surviving coal mine in Italy, being threatened with closure. Over a phone link one miner in his fifties who has worked there for 28 years declared: “We are prepared to stay here until we hear a response from the government that secures the future of the mine. We will stay here indefinitely.”
A future that works?
On 20 October, the TUC has called another day of demonstrations in London and Glasgow behind the motto ‘A Future That Works’. The London demo will assemble 11.00am to 1.30pm at the Embankment, then march to Hyde Park for a rally. The details of the Glasgow march are not yet confirmed, since the city council is making moves to ban workers from protesting in George Square.
Brendan Barber makes it pretty clear that what he considers a future that ‘works’ is nothing to do with socialism: “We expect a huge turnout from the growing numbers that want a future that works. With the USA and France now setting out the alternative [!], it’s time the UK also changed course.”
Could it be that the man is deliberately trying to put us all off coming? Hopefully we will disappoint him by turning up in droves.