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It was announced at the beginning of May that Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) is to invest £200 million in expanding its plant at Castle Bromwich to build the new Jaguar F-Type sports car. JLR is owned by the Indian conglomerate Tata. According to the media hype, 1,000 jobs are set to be created by the investment.
It should not be forgotten that JLR approached the then Labour government in 2009 for financial support, which was refused. Now, according to press reports, JLR is on course for record profits this year of around £1.5bn. The F-type is described as a premium car, the successor to the Jaguar E-type.
As a component of its capital-centred project, JLR prepared in April a “new product proposal” the theme of which is that the workers are a potential block to this project, and that in order to secure a “sustainable long-term future” at Castle Bromwich there is a need to re-state the plant’s commitment to “flexible and efficient working practices” and introduce “new flexibilities”. It is said that this deal is needed to keep the plant open to the year 2030. Current agreements would keep it open until at least 2020.
When the workforce considered this deal, they rejected it, with a vote of 68% against. The management attempted to railroad it through, as the workers on the whole were only given a few minutes to read and understand the 12-page document before voting on it. Nevertheless, it was very clear that there was an attempt in the deal to increase the length of the working week, and introduce stringent compulsory overtime.
The “new product proposal” gives a long list of the existing working practices that were implemented in the 1990s, such as “short notice movement of tea breaks and flexible lunch breaks”, “bell to bell working”, “ability to have fixed or flexible holidays, or a combination of both”, “efficient overtime arrangements”, “option to call or flat October shut down”, “ability to move annual shut down dates in accordance with operational requirements”, “zero line stops for Trade Union briefings”, and many others.
Now the workers were expected to ballot in favour of “improving our working processes and practices, and building on them, in return for securing new product and jobs at the plant”. The proposed practices are grouped under the headings of: “Reducing our cost base”; “Volume flexibility”; “Creating a high performance and safe environment”; “Future plans for the Castle Bromwich site”.
It goes without saying that the emphasis throughout is on the workers showing more “flexibility” and that they are considered a “cost” of production by JLR. The plans include compulsory working of up to 12 Saturdays in a 12-month rolling period, drugs and alcohol testing, and “health and safety” standards which lays the onus on the workers under the guise of creating an environment “in which our employees can deliver their best performance”.
Having rejected the proposed deal, the workers have grown even more uneasy about its provisions and the difficulties the future holds in store when JLR considers them not as human beings but as adjuncts to the making of maximum capitalist profit in competition with other capitalist concerns in the market place. It is known that some shop stewards who originally endorsed the deal have now resigned over the matter.
On the other hand, the reporting in the media has taken the position of blaming the workers for putting the future of the plant in the balance. Having posed the issue in this way, they then ask: “Are Jaguar workers right to vote against changes?”
Workers are not opposed to a thriving economy. On the contrary, they are demanding an alternative to being made to suffer the burden of the economic crisis which is not of their making. But “growth” not based on a genuine pro-social alternative is not the answer to the crisis and the problems of the economy either. An alternative must be found in which they workers themselves figure as a conscious organised force upholding the well-being of the people and the general interests of the economy and society.
Jaguar and Land Rover sold 805 cars in April, 56 per cent up over April 2011 and Land Rover 2,925, 46 per cent up. The company wants to go further and maximise its profits at the expense of workers’ jobs by making overtime on Saturday’s compulsory and increasing production through existing labour. Owners of monopoly capital like Tata are demanding concessions from workers, both those currently employed and others when they return to work, and a destruction of all established social norms.
By their actions, Jaguar workers are rejecting with contempt the disequilibrium of a "return to work and manufacturing" under the dictate of capital and its demand for concessions, a lower standard of living and destruction of all social norms that defend the well-being of the people. A "return to work and manufacturing" must be based on the recognition of the rights of the working class and established social norms that provide protection for the people's well-being.
(For Part 1, see WWIE, Vol.42, No.18)
The Bills commencing in the House of Lords announced in the Queen’s Speech further address the interests of the owners of capital.
House of Lords Bill 1 is the Trusts (Capital and Income) Bill 2012-13, which was carried over from the previous parliamentary session, having received its second reading on April 25. This Bill effects the recommendations of the Law Commission report Capital and Income in Trusts: Classification and Apportionment. It changes various technical rules on capital and income in trusts, which, it is asserted, will modernise and simplify the process. This Bill only applies to England and Wales.
The second Bill to be introduced in the Lords is the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill 2012-13, which had its second reading on May 22. It will set up a Groceries Adjudicator which will enforce the Groceries Code.
According to the Explanatory Notes prepared by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the Competition Commission reported in 2000 on the relation between large supermarkets and their suppliers, which resulted in a supermarket code of practice to regulate the market. However, a later report in 2008 showed that supermarkets were still following “anti-competitive” practices. In response, the Groceries Supply Code of Practice (the Groceries Code for short) was written. This Code applies to retailers with a turnover of more than £1bn in Britain, and came into force in February 2010.
Such attempts to create voluntary regulation through agreement with the big supermarkets having failed, the present Bill was published in draft form in May of last year. Rather than a curtailing of the power of the monopolies, it represents an outlook of recognising monopoly right and enshrining it in law in the form of regulation. With its capital-centred perspective of defending “competition”, it can only in the long term lead to further domination of distribution and exchange by big retail monopolies.
The European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Bill 2012-13 is the third House of Lords Bill. This Bill received its second reading on May 23. The background to this Bill is the signing on February 2, 2012 of the Treaty to Establish a European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
The ESM will replace the interim European Financial Stability Facility and European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism in the Eurozone, which were created during the unfolding of the European sovereign debt crisis.
This treaty was signed only by Eurozone states. Britain refused to participate. However, an amendment to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU, the new name given in 2009 to the 1958 Treaty of Rome) is required to give the ESM legitimacy in European law. The following will be added to the TFEU:
“The member states whose currency is the euro may establish a stability mechanism to be activated if indispensable to safeguard the stability of the euro area as a whole. The granting of any required financial assistance under the mechanism will be made subject to strict conditionality.”
Amendments to the TFEU must be ratified by all EU member states, regardless of their currency. Foreign Office Minister Lord Howell expressed the line that “Eurozone stability is important for our own stability”. However, various Conservative Lords, such as former Chancellors Lord Lawson and Lord Lamont, have used the debate to express their opposition the euro or criticise Eurozone governments. Nevertheless, it is likely to be passed, given that both Houses of Parliament approved the draft treaty change decision in March last year. Thus Britain will play its role in bringing about the arrangements that it supposedly refused to participate in creating.
The fourth House of Lords Bill is the Crime and Courts Bill 2012-13, which had its second reading on May 28. This is one of the major Bills of this parliamentary session, making sweeping changes to the justice system, following on from the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, which replaced the police authorities with directly-elected Commissioners. It represents the next stage of the government’s programme of changing the arrangements between the police, the judiciary and the executive, which were outlined in the paper Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting Police and the People, released shortly after the 2010 election.
Following that paper’s notion of “efficient” justice and policing, the Bill will create a new national framework with a single County Court and a single Family Court for England and Wales. It will create a new National Crime Agency (NCA), responsible for organised crime, border policing, “economic crime” and “online protection”, underpinned by a central intelligence hub, various coordination arrangements and a National Cyber Crime Unit. The NCA will replace the existing Serious Organised Crime Agency. The National Policing Improvement Agency will also be abolished. In their response to the Bill, Liberty have pointed out that accountability is being reduced as the NCA will not be subject to the same oversight as its predecessor, and will exempted from the Freedom of Information Act. Currently, the police, immigration services and customs are not exempt from this Act.
Liberty also point out that the Bill continues the “trend of granting wide-ranging powers to the executive”, such as through provision of new powers to the Home Secretary regarding non-custodial sentences. The Bill further alters the relation between the judiciary and the executive via a change in the method of judicial appointments. The Home Secretary will also be given the power to remove the prohibition on recording audio and filming in any court.
The Bill follows the 2011 Act in using the same catch-all style of bundling major structural changes with miscellaneous new powers and regulations into a single piece of legislation. Whereas the earlier Act was notorious for its new and arbitrary restrictions on the right to protest around Parliament Square, the present Bill attacks the rights of foreign nationals and national minorities through the erosion of due process in the immigration system and the extending of the powers of border officials. The Bill removes the right of appeal for those whose application for a family visit visa to Britain has been refused.
Bills yet to be published
Part 3 will deal with the further major Bills outlined in the Queen’s Speech, which include: the Pensions and Public Service Pensions Bills, the Children and Families Bill, the Draft Care and Support Bill, the House of Lords Reform Bill, the Justice and Security Bill, the Draft Communications and Data Bill, the Croatian Accession Bill, the Small Donations Bill, the Draft Energy Bill, the Draft Water Bill and the Draft Local Audit Bill.
In March 2012, Terra Firma, a private equity firm, recently acquired 127 garden centres of the Garden Centre Group. This sent shock waves through garden centre staff because of their reputation as the “vultures” of the big business world: stripping down companies to pick off and sell on profitable bits, bringing job losses and insecurity in their wake, as was the case when they took over EMI in 2008 when over 3,000 staff lost their jobs. Terra Firma boasts on their web site, “We create value for our stakeholders by acquiring, transforming and selling asset-backed businesses in essential industries.” They go on to say, “We create superior returns by transforming the strategy, operations and finances of our businesses to make them best-in-class. We achieve this using five key drivers: changing strategy; strengthening management; lowering the cost of capital; developing through capital expenditure; and building through mergers and acquisitions.”
Retail is an essential industry, and it is being said that as the government puts the emphasis on “austerity measures” drastic measures are required from the retail industry. But it is the staff who provide the skills, expertise and service who propel this industry. Far from the recognition that it is the workers that produce the added value in this industry, what workers have found that this company means by “transforming the strategy, operations and finances” is an austerity programme with an anti-worker ethos. And in reality what this programme of austerity has meant for the garden centres is massive “cut backs” which has hit workers with redundancies, slashing of hours, and worsening terms and conditions, substandard health and safety, and leaving staff unable to provide the service they pride themselves on.
In certain garden centres just after the takeover departments were sold off as concessions further fragmenting the service and forced redundancies were made across the garden centres, from fork lift drivers to sales assistants. From young workers to those who have worked for years. Not only did these arbitrary redundancies mean loss of previously secure jobs, but brought a sense of insecurity to the workers who were kept in the dark about the company’s plans.
By “strengthening management” and “lowering cost of capital”, core workers are seen as a “cost” and are being thrown out of a job, while the company railroads in its austerity programme. This austerity not only means the loss of jobs but it means other daily affronts to the dignity of the workers. Recently, workers have had to contend with cuts to their hours, and having to compensate for workers that have been made redundant, doing extra jobs they are not trained for. Less staff has left a situation where health and safety is severely compromised especially in the warehouses where up to 10 forklift drivers and movers and handlers have reached lows of just two workers, and in restaurants with stretched and rushed staff more likely to have accidents. Basic things like heating have been cut, leaving staff and customers in substandard conditions.
Staff were patronisingly told that this destruction was part of necessary “cut backs” and that they should stand in line behind the decisions of the company, which was in the interests of the company and therefore the staff and their customers. But workers who see the reality of these “measures” know that far from being in their interests, and an answer to boost the economy, a programme of austerity means they can no longer provide a decent service, and their established pay and conditions are being dismantled.
What workers want is a society that is human centred, not a society that attacks them and the whole public good in a desperate attempt to make extra profit for the monopolies and their stakeholders. In retail, despite the lack of a broad union membership, workers are saying enough is enough, and building their opposition. Retail workers must take this forward and discuss among themselves, as the producers of a service in a much used sector of industry, how to affirm and ensure that these workplaces are their workplaces run for the public benefit. They must stop the retail monopolies in their tracks and oppose the strategy of keeping workers in the dark aimed at disempowering them.
The main fact of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, as is obvious, was that tens of millions did not put out flags – in the writer's street only two houses out of 200 did – hold street parties, or line the streets and riverbanks. For the vast majority struggling to make ends meet, it was a few days respite before returning to the daily grind, once more taking up resistance to the attacks on their rights and livelihoods as the representatives of the rich attempt to unload the burden of the crisis onto the backs of those who did not cause it; preparing once again to step up the struggle against pension cuts, tuition fees rises, destruction and privatisation of the NHS, the endless and criminal foreign wars, and all the other evils of the day.
Such facts, of course, did nothing to deter the media hacks and political lackeys of the ruling financial oligarchy. A triumph of loyal support for the long-outdated feudal institution of monarchy was planned and – according to them – a triumph duly took place. Even the fact that the centrepiece of the celebrations, the river pageant, was a disastrous washout due to the weather, with dozens in danger of hyperthermia rescued from the river, the old Duke himself hospitalised following the debacle, was claimed to be a huge success. A triumph for British stoicism, they trumpeted! Hyperbole reached new heights of absurdity, and the banal inanity of the presenters plumbed new depths.
It is said the Queen has no power. This is claimed to be the beauty of the monarchal system in our so-called democracy. However, it clearly draws a veil over where power lies, provides in an essentially secular age the appearance of a God-given authority to the crimes of the gangsters and careerists in the service of the financial oligarchy who make up the cartel parties in the parliament, and whose stranglehold on the polity denies any exercise of the popular will. In such circumstances, the personal qualities of the individual mean little. The Queen, it is claimed, is a modest and diligent person, albeit with no major achievements in her 60-year reign, no enlightened opinions to speak of, though steadfast support for every military adventure and war crime to which "her" governments have assigned the forces of the Crown. Unremarked by the grovelling media, it was nonetheless notable that most of the royals were decked out in military garb, an indicator of where the monopolists will undoubtedly turn when their rule is seriously challenged.
Has the expensive and ludicrous charade changed the course of events? It seems very doubtful! A happy memory, perhaps, for the gullible, with hopefully not too many colds. But back to business for the remainder grappling with the problems of the day.
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