Wednesday, 6 November 2013

European Echoes at Genk & Grangemouth

Primitive Politics of Little England & the intellectual Eunuchs’! WHAT often passes for the left in Britain today is basically anti-European or with Bob Crow and his RMT union crudely just no2eu, and the same goes for the rump Socialist Party, formerly Militant. This is the primitive politics of little England and the political Eunuchs. Yet, when we contrast two recent industrial disputes: that of Ineos at Grangemouth in Scotland where the workers and their union, Unite, was decisively beaten last week, and that of the car workers at Ford in Genk, near Limburg in Belgium, were the ACV union forced the employers to negotiate a respectable settlement. Why did the Belgium ACV union prove a more substantial foe than Britain's Len McCluskey and Unite? The explanation is that the trade union tradition in much of Europe is often more in tune with a culture of 'initiativa' in so far as the workers in places like Belgium, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, operate in a more unpredictable way using political initiative and cunning to defeat their employers. Often these European workers are less disciplined and law-abiding than the Brits. And sometimes they don't even pay their union dues so readily as their English brothers, but they are often more courageous, that means less afraid of the police, than the Anglo-Saxon and the German trade unionists. At Grangemouth almost as soon as Fred Radcliffe announced his plan to close the oil plant in Grangemouth, Mr. McCluskey, his stewards and the workforce caved-in. At Genk, a year ago when Ford decided on closure of the plant in December 2014, the Belgium workers immediately set-up barricades at the factory gates, and according to Jack Ewing in yesterday's International Herald Tribune set about 'penning up 6,000 newly built Mondeo cars, S-Max minivans and Galaxy vans that had already been promised to customers – creating a traffic jam that would effectively shut down production for months – the workers were not going to make things easy for Ford.' This action forced Ford to deal with the union. Ford ultimately got a settlement in Genk but the cost was high at $750 million merely to settle with the 4,000 blue-collar workers, or just about $190,000 per worker. The cost for the white-collar workers will make it higher. Jack Ewing in the International Herald Tribune [IHT] writes: 'That cost of layoffs is substantially higher than in the United States, where Ford set aside $374 million in 2009 to cover severance costs for 2,400 workers, or about $155,000 each. Moreover, European labor law is much more favorable to unions than in the United States and tends to support workers in their tradition of militancy. In Genk, workers prevented the plant from operating normally for more than four months and received unemployment benefits for some of the time they did so.' Genk is a city of 65,000, many of them descendants of Italians, Turks or Moroccans who came decades ago to dig coal. The closure of Ford at Genk will let Ford consolidate production and mean that the next generation of production of Mondeo, the Kuga SUV, the S-Max and some other vehicles at a factory in Valencia in Spain. But justified or not, this decision has left a sense betrayal in Genk that has enraged people with the result that Mr.Dries, the mayor, was seriously anxious about violence. The IHT reports; 'Two weeks after Ford announced the closing, about 170 Belgium workers rode chartered buses to the main Ford plant in Cologne, Germany, where top management was meeting. The workers threw firecrackers and burned tire outside the factory gate. About a dozen people were arrested after they managed to break through security and into the Ford grounds in an unsuccessful effort to confront Mr. Odell.' The Belgium union officials say most of the protesters were peaceful and that 'the rowdiness was just the Belgium way of doing things'. Peter Kunnen, a lead negotiator for theACV-CSC union that represents Ford workers, said: 'A tire in Belgium – that is no problem [but] in Germany this is a big problem,' It is important to understand that if British trade unionism is to become more successful it will have to adopt other tactics that are more European. But this is too much for the rather narrow, small-minded and amatuer British left to grasp.

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