Weekly news up-date, 22 October 2012

Austerity and Counter-Austerity in Britain: Social Protest Movements and Political Organizing On the Rise

By Roger Annis

Britain is in the throes of a deepening class struggle prompted by attacks on social and democratic rights by the capitalist class. The economic elite is pressing forward with an austerity program of ever-deepening cuts to jobs and social services. A coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats has been in power for the past two years and has cut billions of dollars from public services. With the country mired in economic stagnation, the two parties are aiming to cut billions more in government spending, most notably in the social sphere.

The leading force in the Coalition, the Conservative Party, says it wants to cut a further 10-billion pounds ($15-billion) from welfare payments alone between now and 2015. Under consideration are denial of housing subsidies to people under 25 years of age and ending per-child welfare benefits to families that bear more than a yet-to-be announced fixed limit of children.

Wages of Britain’s public service workers have been frozen since 2011. In March of this year, the UNISON union said the pay freeze and other attacks had reduced the purchasing power of health service workers by some 15 per cent. Further cuts are aimed at vacation benefits and family-friendly work schedules.

Previous Labour governments began the outsourcing of health services to private providers. The Conservatives have drawn up a list of 6,000 additional procedures to be outsourced. This is stoking tension with directors of the Nation Health Service. Its chief executive, Sir David Nicholson, recently warned against privatization “carpet bombing,” saying it could easily end in “misery and failure.

As a result of government attacks, social protests in Britain are on a marked upswing. A mass protest against austerity has been called by the trade unions to take place in London and Glasgow October 20th. Students will follow that with a national day of protest on November 21 against rising tuition fees, cuts to student living assistance and other restrictions on access to education.

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Unite the Resistance – The Case for a General Strike – Mark Serwotka

As public sector workers in the UK prepare for a general strike, check out a talk by union president, Mark Serwotka.



Dalton McGuinty planned to suspend legislature before deciding to quit

Premier Dalton McGuinty planned to suspend the legislature this week — even before he decided to resign — in order to reach a wage-freeze deal with 481,000 unionized public servants, the Star has learned.

Sources said the house was to have been prorogued Tuesday because McGuinty wanted to foster secret talks that began a week ago without the supercharged backdrop of a raucous minority assembly.

“There’s a desire to get a deal . . . through negotiation not legislation,” a senior government official said Thursday.

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Progressive Conservatives on Labour

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives have a plan to reform labour laws in the province. The Agenda looks at the merits of the Tories’ proposals.

Check out this debate between industrial relations experts, Tim Hudak, and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation on the Progressive Conservatives’ anti-union policy paper, “Paths to Prosperity”.



Walmart strikes spread to more states

For the second time in five days – and also the second time in Walmart’s five decades – workers at multiple U.S. Walmart stores are on strike. This morning, workers walked off the job at stores in DallasTexas; Miami, Florida; Seattle, Washington; Laurel, Maryland; and Northern, Central, and Southern California. No end date has been announced; some plan to remain on strike at least through tomorrow, when they’ll join other Walmart workers for a demonstration outside the company’s annual investor meeting in Bentonville, Arkansas. Today’s is the latest in a wave of Walmart supply chain strikes without precedent in the United States: From shrimp workers in Louisiana, to warehouse workers in California and Illinois, to Walmart store employees in five states.

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Sean Tucker and Andrew Stevens: Tory bill on union expenses could trip up businesses in the process

For decades activist shareholders, trade unions, and, more recently, Wikileaks activists have demanded greater transparency from business and governments. Indeed, one of the functions of democracy is to shed light on how political and business decisions are made in society. Transparency also helps to keep those in positions of power accountable to the public.  This is the thrust behind Conservative Member of Parliament, Russ Hiebert’s, Private Members’ Bill, C-377, which could potentially deliver what these groups have long sought: a template and rationale for legislation that would compel Canadian businesses to disclose financial and other critical information to public scrutiny.

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Are there really no Canadians willing and able to work at a coal mine?

There is something deeply unsettling about the news that Chinese workers on temporary permits will be coming to British Columbia to work in a northeastern coal mine.

Canadian history is one part of the reason; Canada’s future is the other.

In the mid-19th century, Chinese workers were recruited to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. They weren’t allowed to bring their wives or children with them. They had none of the rights of other Canadians. And, they had to pay for the privilege of coming to do dangerous work for very low wages.

It was little more than six years ago that the Canadian government apologized for the Chinese head tax, offering individual payments of $20,000 to anyone alive who had paid it or any living spouse of those who had paid it.

It also set aside $34 million for projects that would reinforce a never-again message.

Yet, when the first of what could be as many as 2,000 Chinese arrive to work for Vancouver-based employer Canadian Denhua International Mines Group, they will be in strikingly similar circumstances.

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Recruiters Charging BC-Bound Chinese Temp Miners $12,500

Chinese miners being recruited to work in Canada are paying more than $12,500 CAD for the privilege, The Tyee has learned, and their actual wages are less than those advertised.

There has been uproar from unions this week after it was learned more than 2,000 Chinese miners would be on their way to British Columbia to work in mines run by Canadian Dehua International, a Vancouver-based company founded and run by a former Chinese government official, to name one company involved.

Posing as a Chinese miner, The Tyee made contact with two of three companies that placed ads on a Chinese website similar to Craigslist called Bai Xing and discovered the workers are paying the recruiters expensive fees in exchange for jobs in Canada.

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