Monday, 7 August 2017

'Social action or social media' asks Michael Netto

'Social media is no replacement for social action', says 

Michael Netto*, former regional President of Unite on Gibraltar

PEOPLE need to stop using social media in order to let off steam and direct their complaints to the unions who can do something to remedy them.

This is the opinion of Michael Netto, who has recently retired from his positions in Gibraltar Unite the Union, and whose efforts in the union movements have been second to none in the community, especially during May Day celebrations.

Netto started getting involved in the unions leafleting households to inform the public leading to his participation in the first real general strike for workers' rights and conditions in 1972.  'Whereas nowadays we have internet, when I was 16 I would go with brother and father handing out leaflets door-to-door about any issue which the union at the time wanted to highlight,' he said.

He stepped up his participation in the unions after finishing his studies at the technical college, where he remember the festivities at this time of the year:  
'The May Days of those years were done in the Regal Cinema where issues of the public and private sector were highlighted through films and documentaries that described the military coups in Chile or the strikes in England.
'However, the conditions of workers, both in Gibraltar and the rest of Europe were not what they were today. Even with the economic crisis now, they aren't as degrading with very little consideration for health and safety or employment rights back then.'

For workers

He recalled a May Day in the 1980s, which he spent picketing the South Depot of the MoD's Department of the Environment where a UK duty manager with a very colonial attitude tried to run over one of the union's shop stewards:  'Everybody was saying that unless that guy wasn't sent back to the UK we wouldn't start work and even though the MoD didn't shift him immediately, he was moved to the North Depot before finally being sent back after a couple of months.'
Netto, who headed the Trade and General Worker's Union (TGWU), constantly fought the GSD's decision to move May Day to the first Monday of the month, as along with its successors, Unite the Union, they felt that what was being celebrated were all the past victories for all our workers.
'We take for granted the 40-hour week, health and safety, maternity and paternity rights which among 1001 things have been achieved through union struggles all over the world," he continued. "Gibraltar has still got many rights that have been lost in many parts of Europe and there are still many things that need to be achieved so we are keen to maintain the May Day tradition.'
When the GSLP (Gib. Socialist Labour Party)/ Liberals came to office in 2011 they not only reinstated May Day but also chose to celebrate Worker's Memorial Day, reinforcing that desire to honour the unions' efforts, and those individuals that have lost their lives at work.
'In line with other European countries, political parties that pursue progressive ideas tend to do events on May 1,' said Netto.  'Unfortunately, there's only one party that has done that and that's the GSLP/Liberals, reflecting a very good relationship between them and Unite.'
He described the current Government having been 'more courageous' than the GSD ever was in pursuing worker issues both in the public and private sectors.

'Guerilla typists'

 Netto said he gets very disappointed with the way that ex-union activists criticise Unite's activities in the street or social media:  'I'm retired now but I intend to contribute in one way or another to the trade union movement rather than take on this bitterness that only aims to bring down the trade union movement.'
While he recognises that the trade unions locally and abroad are different to what they were in yesteryear, he believes that change has come because society itself has shifted.
'We no longer measure the success of the unions by the number of strikes we've had," said Netto. "Moreover, the way we do things has changed and people prefer to go to a lawyer than a union to the extent that sometimes our achievements work against us because people don't feel aggrieved anymore.
'Not only that but while previously workers would discuss their issues in the workplace or with the union, nowadays they become 'guerilla typists'. They explain their issue on social media to make themselves feel good rather than taking further action to find solutions.'

                                                                                      05-05-15 PANORAMAdailyGIBRALTAR
*   Michael Netto was a member of the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement (DAM), when he was working in England in the early 1980s, and his father, who became Regional Secretary of the then Gibraltar Branch of the British Transport & General Worker Union in the 1980s was a member of the Syndicalist Workers' Federation (SWF) in the 1960s. 

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