Trade Unions

Going through the Motions

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Andrew Stone questions the claims of some dubious representatives of the Iraqi working class.

Rarely have a people been so patronised as the Iraqis. They want us to bomb them, the shock and awe liberals told us, they will greet us with flowers. And when this didn't happen? They want us to stay, Blair's bombers insist, despite all poll evidence and a rising tide of resistance suggesting the contrary.

New Berth for Prezza

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Silently and majestically, the good ship John Prescott slipped effortlessly into a new safe haven over the summer recess.

This amazing manoeuvre provides Prezza with a new berth at Amicus, the union which just a few weeks back became the largest in the country through a merger with the much smaller GPMU print union. Not only has Amicus now got about 1.3 million members, it also has by far the largest concentration of union-sponsored MPs in the House of Commons. Prescott's move makes him the 120th member of the Amicus parliamentary group, and having the deputy prime minister wedged in among that lot will do no harm at all come the TUC and Labour Party conference season this autumn.

Putting the Pressure On

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Battle lines are being drawn between Labour and the unions. But how will the awkward squad deal with the issues?

Gordon Brown has declared war on the PCS civil servants' union. If this Labour government gets its way over 104,000 workers will lose their jobs. But this attack on a key public sector union has much wider implications. Brown also wants to rip up the civil service pension scheme. Across the public sector workers will be nervously wondering if they will be next. Behind the scenes the government is clearing its 'industrial problems' from the decks.

The Heat is On

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Strikes and pickets are now back in the news. Pay heads a list of grievances that express growing frustration with New Labour. Peter Morgan explains why workers are getting more awkward.

There is clearly something going on with workers in the offices, factories and workplaces of Britain. It can best be summed up in a single word: confidence. Today our side seems to be winning more disputes than it loses and sometimes this happens without a strike taking place. Often it is simply the case that a resounding yes vote for action in a ballot is enough to win.

Time to be More Awkward

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Tony and Gordon's public pay policy problem

Before the Little Bliar set off to put an Easter tan on his flawless conscience in Bermuda, he must have thought that things weren't going too badly, all things considered. The fact that he was still in the job was little short of a miracle in itself. Then the Iraqi people go and decide to mount a major uprising on the first anniversary of the start of the war and back home three major trade union disputes rear up all at once.

Unions: The Only Way to Win

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The enthusiasm for the awkward squad will be wasted unless the rank and file take centre stage with determined strike action.

A run of recent setbacks in the unions has taken a bit of the gloss off the preceding sequence of election victories for members of the 'awkward squad'. Following the defeat of the firefighters and then the ousting of Mick Rix from the leadership of Aslef, the shock vote against national strike action by postal workers has taken a bit of wind out of the unions' sails and put some unaccustomed backbone into New Labour. It has left many fellow workers wondering when and if the much-heralded revival of union militancy is ever going to materialise.

Trades Union Congress: Big Battalions Firing Blanks

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On the opening morning of this year‘s TUC conference at Brighton, a small group of demonstrators shouted slogans at delegates as they entered.

These ranged from demands for the TUC to block foundation hospitals to calls for an end to privatisation, racist asylum laws and tuition fees. Scattered among the slogans were, of course, demands for the end of the occupation in Iraq, and Bush and Blair‘s imperial adventures.

Blink and You'll Miss It

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The narrow vote against national strike action by postal workers came as a shock to many of us in the Communication Workers Union.

Royal Mail bosses, on the other hand, were jubilant. This strengthens their ability to ram through 30,000 redundancies with a staged productivity pay deal. The Financial Times summed it up like this: ’Royal Mail and the CWU were eyeball to eyeball, and 48,000 members of the CWU blinked.‘

Awkward Moment

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The defeat of Mick Rix has important lessons - but not those the Blairites would have us believe.

The unexpected departure of Mick Rix as leader of the train drivers' union, Aslef, is a bit of a one-off in that it goes against the broad trend which still dominates in union elections. A week before the upset in Aslef, left candidates virtually swept the board in votes on the PCS civil service union national executive. And not long after, a leading Blairite and member of Labour's national executive, John Keggie, was ousted as deputy general secretary of the Royal Mail section of the CWU.

Proud to be Awkward

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There is a golden opportunity for the trade union movement to revitalise itself, and rebuilding grassroots networks is the key.

On the day of the 2 million strong Stop the War Coalition demonstration, one union general secretary went around his delegation recording the names of the young activists who were marching. These, he claims, are the future of the union - the next generation of reps. There is no doubting the impact the anti-war movement has had on the trade union movement. Millions of trade unionists were inspired and involved in this mass movement. Inspired by the school students' strikes, at least 360 workplaces took part in unofficial action on the day war broke out.

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