Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 34, September 5, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum Discussion

Challenge of Workers Organising to Guarantee their Rights


Many essential workers and those told to return after furlough have needed to take issue with employers who have continued to force workers to work under poor conditions, without personal protection equipment (PPE), social distancing, inadequate ventilation and many more long held problems in the working environment. This has been seen where there are spikes in the coronavirus infection rates such as care homes, food processing and packaging factories.

Many car companies now employ a portion of their workforce from an agency pool. This is the situation at BMW in Oxford [1] and Tata Jaguar in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, for example. The large industrial employers reason that these workers are easier to hire and fire as a reserve workforce, even though skills may be lost in the process and employers may need to retrain workers for the various tasks for the future. These temporary workers suffer poorer conditions than full time workers with contracts of employment. Many temporary workers across industry work in the "gig" economy, on basic minimum wage or below. Workers are not at all happy about this situation. Some work in Victorian conditions like sweatshops. Some are migrant workers or are unregistered. Advantage is taken of these workers by big companies like Boohoo in the clothing industry, but employment agencies have been known to supply workers across the board as low paid exploited labour.

It is precisely because aims and interests are in conflict that the conditions of workers and their concerns are not being addressed by these monopolies and multinationals. They do not feature on the list of elite priorities. Workers must organise to force the issues onto the agenda. They can mobilise the full weight of their organisation to defend and resist this anti-social offensive. Workers' councils still exist at Castle Bromwich, for example. Trades councils and other collectives are holding online meetings. Often workers are in fact discussing how to set their own agenda and what agenda to set.

The pandemic has brought into sharp relief the injustices and inequality in society. The government, the mouthpiece of the rich and the financial oligarchy, is set to continue the status quo and even worsen these injustices under the guise of "protecting the economy". So on the one hand, while claiming to have the safety of workers uppermost in their minds, the government and its backers preside over a return to work while at the same time hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs and the chancellor says "we can't save all jobs".

Workers have been striving to enhance their decision-making over their conditions and the production process in its entirety. They are not accepting the pretext that because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic workers have to face redundancy.

Workers across the car industry and the economy as a whole are faced, particularly at this time, with the need to limit the power of the monopolies to impose their dictate. Powerful private interests are using the conditions of the pandemic to block the workers from asserting their own rights and interests. People's lives and livelihoods are treated as just so much collateral damage.

Workers' voices speaking out about their conditions and the solutions to the problems that production faces must be heard. This is the nub of the matter, and it is no small matter.

The workers' security lies in our fight for the rights of all!

Note

1. See "BMW Announces Hundreds of Agency Job Losses": http://www.rcpbml.org.uk/wwie-20/ww20-33/ww20-33-02.htm


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