Year 2000 No. 14, January 27, 2000

Connex Cancels 600 Trains as Train Drivers Continue to Ban Overtime

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Connex Cancels 600 Trains as Train Drivers Continue to Ban Overtime

Firefighters Plan Strike Action

Students Stage Occupation at SOAS

Latest Mega Merger – EMI and Time Warner

Readers Forum
On Overproduction

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Connex Cancels 600 Trains as Train Drivers Continue to Ban Overtime

In addition to the six days of strikes that the train drivers of the Connex trains overwhelming balloted for, they are continuing their overtime ban in pursuit of their claims.

The drivers point out the safety implications of them working long hours, pointing out that it cannot be in the interests of the people who travel on the trains for Connex to have to rely on overtime to keep the trains running. They draw the link with the Paddington, Southall and other rail tragedies. The drivers cannot be expected to have to cope with complex and inherently dangerous signalling arrangements, especially if pushed by the train companies to work for long periods.

Connex is having to cancel more than 500 services a day on its South Central and South Eastern divisions. This will rise to more than 600 from Monday when the overtime ban affects its longer distance Kent Coast trains. The train drivers are drawing the line at working on their rest days. Connex, as do other rail companies, rely on drivers working overtime to run their full timetable of 3,500 services a day.

If the dispute is not settled, the next 24-hour strike will be next Wednesday. One traveller said of Connex: "The service is appalling. They keep putting the prices up, the trains run late or are cancelled, there are no seats and the fares are extortionate. I pay £32 a week for a Travelcard, but I won’t get a refund – just frostbite!"

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Firefighters Plan Strike Action

Firefighters in East London are planning to take action in support of 11 colleagues suspended on full pay in a dispute over staffing on New Year’s Eve.

Six firefighters were suspended on New Year’s Eve at Homerton fire station and another five on New Year’s Day in connection with a long-standing overtime ban. According to the Fire Brigades Union, members are outraged by what they see as an attempt to weaken the overtime ban. There is to be a solidarity march in London on February 4, and there are also plans for four days of further action.

The FBU plans to ballot the firefighters for strike action if the management have not reinstated the suspended workers by February 7. Firefighters at other stations in London have already said they are prepared to strike.

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Students Stage Occupation at SOAS

Students yesterday occupied part of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in protest against tuition fees.

Up to 100 students have joined the sit-in. They are demanding an end to charges for students working overseas and a more flexible approach to students who are having great difficulty paying their fees.

Sara Baker, a student of Arabic, said: "We have tried lobbying and every other level of protest, but it got to the point where this was the only way anyone would listen to us."

The occupation began yesterday after a Student Union vote on solidarity with Oxford and London University students who are facing expulsion for non-payment of fees. Students at SOAS had previously held an occupation in November 1997 when the authorities moved to restrict access to vital books in "reform" to the ticket system. Over 100 students had then occupied the library.

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Latest Mega Merger – EMI and Time Warner

It was announced on Monday this week that the British monopoly EMI is to merge with the massive AOL Time Warner monopoly in the US to create what has been called "the world's biggest music company". The AOL/Time Warner monopoly was itself only created two weeks ago when internet monopoly AOL and Time Warner merged in what was hailed as "old media meeting new" and the world's biggest ever merger.

It is thought that the new merger aims to secure a significant part of the major new "entertainment via the Internet" market, AOL already has over 22 million Internet subscribers throughout the world. But the new monopoly also has a major influence in publishing and in news broadcasting through its control of CNN, which provides news services in seven different languages. Such increasing monopolisation brings about a massive concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the financial oligarchy and is vital for the big monopolies in their determination to secure maximum profits and ever greater control of the global market. Through such mergers the monopolies also aim to cut their costs even at the expense of the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of workers and their families. Already EMI has stated that the merger will produce £250 million of savings for the two monopolies. But it has also said that 3000 jobs could be lost in the next three years.

This process of massive monopolisation, which objectively is accelerating, underlines the need for the working class and people to take control of what belongs to them, to take control of the economy so that production can be planned in the interest of the majority and not for the profits of the few.

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On Overproduction

Would any reader like to discuss the importance of overproduction in the recurring crisis in capitalism? For some time I have been trying to make sense of the constant reports in their press of the problem of overproduction, last year in the Financial Times a long report on China spoke of the difficulties experienced by Pilkingtons because of excess production. Here is a so-called Communist country suffering the same as any nation in the West with production increasing faster than the market can absorb it. This week in my place of work I was given a photocopy of an article from the Times newspaper by a fellow worker which was headed "Dunlop to cut jobs in UK tyre production", 650 jobs were to go at Birmingham and 770 to at Newbridge, Edinburgh.

The article went on to say that Dunlop "blamed" excess capacity for the sackings almost as though it had sneaked up on the directors of Dunlop without them noticing. If the management is so out of touch with what is produced by their factories then it is time for them to be disciplined by the workers especially the redundant ones, and the inept management be given the grand order of the boot.

If one raises the issue at a Union branch meeting (mine is the AEEU) it is never taken seriously but then it is not Union officials that are made redundant. I would appreciate any discussion on this subject.

Yours Fraternally

WDIE Reply

WDIE reported on the plans of the Dunlop tyre monopoly to eliminate 650 jobs at its Fort Dunlop plant in Birmingham in issue No.5, January 14.

The first thing to draw attention to here is the objective reality of what happened with Dunlop, because this shows that the problem we are dealing with is not that of lack of planning in the enterprise, incompetent management, or monopoly capitalists who are out of touch with their market. It demonstrates that the aim of production is the most important question, and raises furthermore the question of the aim and direction of the economy itself. What is the aim of an economy? In which direction is it headed? What is its motive force?

The elimination of 38 per cent of the workforce at Fort Dunlop demonstrates the processes of competition and monopolisation at work, and how the intensification of one gives rise to the intensification of the other. The Dunlop company is not some self-contained enterprise, unconnected, unrelated to any other, getting on with the business of making tyres to fulfil the needs of society for tyres on cars, lorries and so on. Point one is that it is a subsidiary of Simitomo Rubber Industries Ltd (SRI) of Japan. It was taken over in 1984. SRI produces tyres, sporting goods (golf balls) and other rubber related products. Tyres accounted for 79% of SRI’s revenue in 1998. This total revenue for that year amounted to 653,524 million Japanese yen (£3,773 million). Its profit margin was 1.94%. The company has 53 consolidated subsidiaries, of which Dunlop in Birmingham is the one in Britain. SRI itself is part of Sumitomo Group of companies, a conglomerate covering the chemical, coal, construction, metal product manufacturing and aerospace industries. In addition, underlining how the financial oligarchy is the controlling force, the group contains banks, insurance, financial and property companies. There are around 52 companies in the group.

However, the story does not end there. In September last year, SRI entered a series of joint ventures in North America, Europe and Japan with Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Goodyear’s revenue was US$9,328.7 million (£3,862.7 million) in the period which ended in September, though in each of 1996 and 1997, it had been half as much again. Tyres accounted for 82% of 1998 revenues.

Of course, the history prior to the takeovers and joint ventures has been one of the most intense competition between these tyre giants. Clearly in the 1980s, Dunlop was swallowed up in this process, and Fort Dunlop itself became a shadow of its former self.

With its alliance with Sumitomo, Goodyear boasted that it regained its global tyre industry leadership, regaining the position it had held for more than seven decades. Goodyear became the dominant partner, i.e. it controlled the Sumitomo enterprises, in North America and Europe. In addition it became SRI’s second-largest shareholder with a 10% interest in the company. Goodyear will have a seat on SRI’s board of directors beginning in March 2001. It made a cash payment of $936 million to SRI on concluding the global alliance. With the addition of Dunlop, Goodyear, according to industry estimates, now holds almost 22% of the $70 billion global tyre market. It now employs more than 105,000 people worldwide. According to Goodyear’s chairman, president and chief executive officer (one and the same person), "One of our objectives is to be No. 1 or 2 in every market in which we compete."

Having concluded this alliance and gaining control in Europe, Goodyear is embarking on a Europe-wide "rationalisation process". In an announcement on January 6, the company said: "The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company today took another step in its globalisation plans with the announcement that it will integrate commercial truck tyre and mould production within the company’s recently completed joint venture with Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd in Europe. This move, which will result in substantial cost savings and synergies for the Goodyear and Dunlop joint venture, will involve the discontinuance of truck tyre production at the Dunlop Tyres UK plant in Birmingham, England, and a production shift to other joint venture plants in Europe. Mould production will move to Goodyear’s facility in Luxembourg. This will result in the loss of 650 jobs at the plant, which also produces passenger and racing tyres. The workforce of the Birmingham facilities totals 1,700." The statement also mentioned that in November 1999, it had announced the closures of tyre plants in Argentina and Italy as part of its global rationalisation plan.

(To be continued)

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