Category Archives: workers rights

Another Reason to Hate Virgin Media

Usain Bolt should be ashamed of himself.

Not only does Virgin Media make loads of money through a variety of hidden charges (late payment charge, non- Direct Debit charge and so on), they also don’t recognize unions.

I remember reading how Virgin Media had derecognized the Communication Workers Union (CWU) last year.

Since Virgin Media made the outrageous declaration before Christmas, the union and its reps at the company have been out all over the country, despite the snow and ice, distributing leaflets, explaining the situation and encouraging staff to join the union. CWU has also launched a special offer for new members at a discounted rate of £4.99 a month for their first year.

This has resulted in a boost in membership as staff at Virgin Media increasingly realise the benefit of an independent, democratically accountable trade union over a staff forum set up by the company.

Union Home reported that:

Virgin Media bombarded its staff with company propaganda in letters, emails and website messages, at compulsory briefings with company directors and even phonecalls from managers to employees who had not yet voted. How did they know? Was this not an anonymous process? And if managers knew who had voted, did they also know which way they voted? These were some of the concerns being passed to us by employees. The company did allow us a short statement on their intranet (described as ‘very difficult to find’ by one employee). We’re told that managers are receiving a break-down of the voting results to see who got the ‘right’ result for the company. What they will do with the information is anyone’s guess.

This is the modus operandi of a union-busting company. They disseminate anti-union propaganda among the workforce and coerce them into accepting inferior pay and working conditions through a combination of lies, smears, bullying and intimidation.  They even held a referendum… it was rigged.

For years, Richard Branson has cultivated a media image as a cuddly capitalist who looks after his workers.  But capitalists rarely care for their workers and Branson, who throws a strop when people refuse to bend over for him, has been employing union-busters for years.

Here’s Branson pleading with workers to throw away their rights. Note the easy smarm. Note the oily charm.

This article from The Daily Mirror shows just how ruthless and grasping Virgin Media is.

A broadband bill has gone viral online after a man was charged an extra £10 – for being DEAD.

Furious Jim Boyden posted a photograph of his late father-in-law’s Virgin Media bill on Facebook after the company added a fine for late payment.

The image was accompanied by a message to Virgin which apologised for his father-in-law having “the unheard of nerve to be dead and therefore being unable to pay you.”

The picture, posted on Monday, has now been shared by more than 84,000 times.

The bill breakdown shows “D.D Denied-Payer deceased” next to a charge of £63.89, referring to the fact that the dead man’s bank had declined the payment.

As a result, Virgin Media added a “late payment charge” of £10 to the bill.

This blog from Nicholas Shaxson tells us that Virgin Enterprises, the company that sells the Virgin brand to other companies, so they can pose as fully-fledged Virgin companies, moved its operations from London to Geneva.

How important is this kind of abusive tax practice to the Virgin empire? Well, it’s hard to know exactly, but in 2002 Branson was quoted in this way:

“Virgin’s offshore status has been crucial to its development: it allowed money to move from business to business without massive tax liabilities. “If we had not done it the way that we did, Virgin would be half the size that it is today,” argues Branson.”

So overall the rich get richer, the poor get poorer markets get distorted, and there is no net benefit to the world of any kind. Quite the opposite.

People like Branson get awards all the time. No doubt he’s a good businessman in some ways. But this stuff counts as a serious, serious black mark against his name, during these times of national strife.

What is interesting about this is the comments under the Telegraph story – readers are generally a right-wing bunch, but most of the ones, at least at the top, are unremittingly hostile to Branson’s move. Perhaps that comes more from feelings of patriotism than anything else, but still, it’s interesting.

Even if they’ve relocated to Geneva, isn’t it time Virgin’s offices were occupied?

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Why do Tories think that we will accept reports that have not been based on research?

The Tories are fond of writing reports but few are based on any form of research. Moreover, the lack of research points to a deep-seated hatred of anything that bears even the slightest resemblance to evidence.  Even when they do conduct research, it is so compromised that they need not have bothered (have a look at some of the Centre for Social Justice’s ‘research’ if you don’t believe me). Such disregard for the intellectual rigours of research and producing evidence in the form of data is nothing less than a form of anti-intellectualism.

In the last week we’ve had the Beecroft Report, which was not only written by a venture capitalist and donor to the Conservative Party, it was produced without a single shred of evidence.  In 2009, right-wing think-tank Localis produced a report titled “The Principles for Social Housing Reform”. Written by  Stephen Greenhalgh and John Moss, the darlings of Tory local government,  they asserted that “social housing is welfare housing”. Looking through their report, one thing was noticeably absent: research. Yet this ‘report’ and the Beecroft Report are held up by the Tories as some form of unassailable truth. This is a logical fallacy (argumentum ad verecundiam).

I can tell you  that as a PhD student, if I were to make the similar assertions about my field of study without conducting any research or any providing any evidence to support my assertions, I would be told, in no uncertain terms, that my report was flawed and that I would have to go away and come back with some hard facts. Not for out Tory friends it seems.

The reasons why Tories think that their reports don’t require research or evidence that has been derived from empirical study is because they are arrogant and intellectually bankrupt. I often think the reason why James Delingpole regularly dismisses empirical evidence out of hand is because it conflicts with his weird belief that pollution is good for us. Jokes aside, this attitude is rooted firmly in the way in which this country has been governed since time immemorial. Parliament was once the preserve of the aristocracy. Even after the Reform Acts, the House of Commons has remained persistently upper middle class and semi-aristocratic save for the years between 1920 and 1989. The Conservative Party believes that it is the natural party of government and its place as a governing party is divinely ordained. Therefore should anyone demand proof, they are met with abuse.  To demand evidence is to question the existence of God Himself.

Like the Localis report, the Beecroft Report is predicated on one thing: class hatred. Beecroft is an unreconstructed Social Darwinist. As a venture (for that read “rentier”) capitalist, he produces nothing. Yet he feels that he has some kind of authority to produce a report that has no findings whatsoever. You can read his report here.

Yesterday,  the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, made a few noises about the report. Beecroft labelled him a “socialist”. This tells us something else: the right are not interested in debates or discussions and would much prefer to hurl insults at anyone who dares to criticise them (have a look at the comments left on this blog if you don’t believe me). Of course Cable is no socialist; he’s a market liberal who has one or two social impulses. He was once a member of the SDP. So he’s hardly a Trot.

The Tories have never liked employment laws and this is demonstrated by their desire to tear up legislation that protects workers from dangerous or unsanitary conditions. The Tories were also implacably opposed to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), some have even demanded that the NMW be scrapped for workers who are under the age of 25.

The Beecroft Report whose author claims it is a strategy to improve economic performance and reduce unemployment has produced a report so full of class prejudice that he should be clapped in irons and dragged by a donkey through the city streets, while the people pelt him with ordure.

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Postcards From The Barricades (Part 9)

As usual, I’m listening to The Redskins on my mp3 player to get me in the mood for today’s march and rally in defence of public sector pensions. But the rally is about more than pensions: it’s about jobs and security. It’s also about the cuts that are being imposed upon the lowest paid workers. In most other circumstances, when a bigger person picks on a smaller or weaker person, the bigger person is called a “bully” and rightly so.  Bullies have become very much a feature of light entertainment schedules in recent years. I’ll talk about that a little later on. The coalition government and its chums in Fleet Street are the bullies. No mistake there. There are 23 millionaires in the cabinet, it’s not as if they’re going to have to make a choice between food and heating this Winter.

The BBC News Channel spent the entire morning, interviewing as many right-wing voices as they could muster in advance of the marches and rallies.  All of them repeating the same tiresome “This strike is wrong, blah, blah, blah…”. I don’t have time to listen to much of it as I’m too busy trying to get out of the door in good time for the march.

The man sitting next to me on the Tube is reading a copy of The Times, the headline reads “Osborne Strikes First”.  Ha ha, very funny. I alight at Holborn. I hate this station because the exit from the Piccadilly Line northbound platform is far too small. It’s like an inadequate storm gully that’s blocked with a few leaves and twigs, which overflows at the slightest hint of rainfall. As soon as I step out of the station, I’m swept along by a passing group of marchers down Kingsway. I arrive at Lincolns Inn Fields. It’s crowded and there are certainly more people here than the BBC’s Jon Sopel estimates. There are a few children about too. Here are a couple of kids getting into the spirit of things.

I walk along the southern side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I can see some UCU balloons in the distance.  I spend a bit of time milling about, looking for people I know when I meet some familiar faces from UEL. One of them sees Dennis Skinner and shouts “Beast of Bolsover”! He smiles and nods.  Here’s The Beast scoffing a biscuit.

I can also see Peter Tatchell to my left but he has his back to me. We begin to make our way to Victoria Embankment,   I’m actually at the front of the march for a change. I took this picture of this rather funky looking float, I’d guess you’d call it.

The march proceeds slowly around Aldwych and onto The Strand. I find myself standing next to the BBC’s Mike Sergeant (yes, he is the son of John), who doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything. No sign yet of Paraig O’Brien. We’re finally allowed down The Strand. Lee Jasper cycles past me, he’s shouting through a loud hailer.

Either his bike is too small for him or the saddle is too low. At any rate, he shouldn’t be peddling with his arches. I walk past a load of scaffolding opposite Gilbraltar House, there are loads of photographers hanging from it. A security type says to them, “You realise it’s not fixed”. It looks fine to me; it would take more than twenty blokes to pull down this load of scaffolding. A few elephants, maybe… Security dude is being a spoilsport. Typical.

The French Confédération générale du travail, (CGT) have sent a delegation too.

It is one of five such confederations and is considered to be the most moderate. They’re not what you might call militant syndicalists either, the CGT… then again, nor is the TUC.

The pace of the march seems to be dictated by the authorities. Is there someone somewhere who is timing all of this? Working out the average speed over the distance travelled?  My phone goes off. I find somewhere to take the call. I’m not one of those people who walks and talks on the phone at the same time. As I finish the call, I can overhear some bloke next to me say, “They look like civil servants” adding “The problem with these marches is they attract activists”. Spoken like a true Sun reader. No irony. Full of sneering contempt for his fellow workers.

We arrive at Victoria Embankment. The speeches begin. The NASUWT’s John Rimmer’s speech gets cut short. I’m not sure why. Maybe he wrote too much and ran out of time. I don’t know. The UCU speaker who followed spoke without the aid of notes and was passionate but didn’t venture beyond slogans. I miss most of Christine Blower’s speech because I’m being distracted by the whispered news that some form of direct action is going to take place near Piccadilly Circus.

Unite’s Len McCluskey tells us that there are 50,000 on the march. Not bad for mid-week.  He’s followed by Ken Livingstone, who reminds us that MPs, who work in the public sector receive a pension of £40,000 per annum. He tells us that suicides on the tube network have doubled because of the redundancies and the debt people have been saddled with. Mark Serwotka of the PCS closes the platform speeches. “You are the people that make this country tick”.  For sure, because without public sector workers, the bins wouldn’t be emptied. I can’t think of anyone who would sign up to the idea of taking their refuse to the dump themselves. “It’s time that the Labour Party got off the fence and supported this  strike”, Serwotka says. I agree. The message coming from the Labour leadership is confused. There are Greens on this march and yet I didn’t see a single Labour Party banner.

I get home to hear the usual nonsense about the strike. Gove assumes the role of a graverobber and fashions a narrative from bones of long-dead trade union leaders. It’s unconvincing and undignified stuff. He cuts a desperate figure of a man. All guff and no substance.

Later on The One Show, Jeremy Clarkson is asked for his thoughts on today’s strike. Here’s what he says,

Franco would have loved him. Pinochet too. He’s a bully and bullying has become Britain’s national pastime. Top Gear is as much about bullying as it is cars. Some of the nation’s current crop stand-ups rely on getting laughs by picking on the little guy. H L Mencken once said “Comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable”.  There by the grace of God and all that stuff. Clarkson thrives on his role of professional gobshite and all-round boor. But this time, he’s overstepped the mark. A wise man once told me that, “There’s no such thing as a joke”. I truly believe that Clarkson meant what he said. By the way, Clarkson is a pal and neighbour of Lord Snooty and Rebekah Brooks.

I’ll leave you with this picture of a man with a well-pimped wheelchair.

The fight goes on!

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Why right libertarians take semantic refuge in classical liberalism

Classical liberalism in action – Victorian workhouses were prisons for the poor

Recently, I’ve noticed the numbers of right libertarians who have suddenly started claiming that they’re really “classical liberals”. Like cockroaches when they’re exposed to the light, vigorous scrutiny of their soi-disant libertarianism sends them scurrying into the gap between the skirting board and the floor of discourse. There, in the darkness, they feel safe. There they can claim that they are “classical liberals”. But their new-found old position relies entirely on the mass ignorance of the term “classical liberalism” and the historical materialism of the 19th century when classical liberalism (then called liberalism) was first applied as an economic doctrine.

These born-again classical liberals will apply the same narratives that exponents of neoliberalism will use as a defence of their doctrine: that wealth can only be created for all  if the state is “smaller” and business is freed from “bureaucracy” and “red tape” and that wealth will consequently trickle down to those below. This, they argue, will bring forth ‘freedom’ but the freedom that they speak of only applies to a small section of the population: the factory owners and the rentier capitalists. Trickle down doesn’t work, yet these born again classical liberals will claim that it does – though none of them can point to examples of where trickle down has succeeded.

So what are the key defining features of classical liberalism and how does it differ, if at all, from right libertarianism?

Classical liberalism’s key features are

  • Individual liberty
  • smaller state/limited government
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Freedom of speech, religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and the needy
  • Social Darwinism
  • Utilitarianism

Right libertarians

  • Individual liberty
  • Laissez faire capitalism/free markets
  • Smaller state/limited or no government
  • Freedom of speech. religion, press and assembly
  • Disregard for the poor and needy
  • Social Darwinism

As you can see, there isn’t much difference between either of them and when right libertarians suddenly proclaim that they are “classical liberals”, they are dishonest in making this largely artificial distinction. The real reason for declaring themselves as classical liberals has more to do with romanticism, nostalgia and outright dishonesty than anything else. They want to go back to a time when people knew their place and stayed there. Social mobility did not exist; the working class stayed in their place. They were denied access to higher education and were tied to their places of work. Knowledge was reserved for the privileged and the powerful. In the eyes of the dominant political hegemony, knowledge in the hands of the subaltern classes was considered dangerous (think of William Tyndale’s struggle to publish the Bible in English). Because with knowledge and ideas came the possibility that authority could be questioned, which could lead, in turn, to civil disobedience and insurrection…even though this happened anyway and was met with considerable force.

The neoliberals and those right libertarians who subscribe to the small state notion are actually the  descendants of classical liberals. They can no more return to the past, then I can become the King of Tonga. They have selectivized the past by appropriating certain memories of the classical liberal period, which always seem to orbit the sun-like narrative of the British Empire. When one puts the point to them that Adam Smith’s assertion that “free markets will lead to world peace” is fallacious proposition, they will respond by asking, “did free market states go to war against each other”? It’s a red herring. There were plenty of wars, many of them waged by free market states against other nations. Free trade relied on wars and the colonization of other countries. It also meant outdoing the competition from other free market nations. Presumably, for our apologists, the Opium Wars were not waged in the name of free trade but were waged to punish the Chinese for not accepting opium rather than silver as payment for silk? It’s a fatuous argument but it’s the sort of defence right libertarians would use.  In the 19th century, the British Empire was the biggest drug pusher on the planet- there is no getting away from it.  It was because of this idea of  “free trade” that countries like China were forced to “open” their markets and thus open themselves to decades of foreign domination.

Classical liberals denied the right of workers to organize. It was only when the last of the Combination Acts was repealed that workers were able to organize in any meaningful way.  Socially, classical liberals were very much against the idea of the relief of poverty and sought to contain it within the Poor Laws. The workhouse, which had been around since the 14th century, saw an expansion in the 19th century after the passing of the Poor Law of 1834. Today’s born again classical liberals have similar ideas with regards to the poor and the unemployed, for whom they have resurrected the artificial distinctions of “deserving” and “undeserving”. Any money spent on the relief of poverty was seen as another impediment to the freedoms of the rich and powerful. One ‘argument’ that I encountered was “The working class were richer (sic) in 1899 than they were in 1801”. But this is another red herring: the working class were never “rich” and lived in overcrowded rented accommodation. Few of them moved up the social ladder. Those that did became the petite bourgeoisie: the shopkeepers, market traders or were otherwise recruited as instruments of oppression, nor did they buy their own properties in leafy districts of the industrial cities nor did any of them become industrialists. There was a glass ceiling preventing those at the bottom from becoming say, MPs, because of the property qualification.

The right libertarian is a dishonest creature that substitutes myths and tropes for facts. They extrapolate their arguments from sets of numbers in the hope that no one will spot the flaws in their thesis – which always overlooks society in favour of cold economic statistics. This decontextualization of numbers from the societal whole is their only defence and it’s a weak one. But the worst offence is to claim that they are “classical liberals” when they are really right libertarians looking for a way to divert attention away from their very postmodern interpretations of  selfishness and greed by hiding in the darkness of the past.

The use of the phrase “classical liberalism” by right libertarians is therefore an exercise in semantic subterfuge and should be laughed off as such.

UPDATE 11/5/11 @ 1213

I found this interesting blog written by an anarchist. Right libertarians don’t live in the real world.

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Filed under 19th century, Economics, History, History & Memory, Ideologies, Labour history, Language, Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights

The Redskins – Unionize

Great song

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Today’s UCU strike at UEL and the importance of solidarity

Picket line at UEL's Docklands Campus

I was on the picket line at UEL today and I was appalled by the numbers of students – presumably all of them members of the National Union of Students – who crossed the line. Even the self-styled, but disqualified president of UEL’s Student Union,  Godwin Odusami, crossed the picket line.  On that basis alone he should be disqualified, but I will save his other misdeeds for another blog. But let’s put it this way, anyone who hopes to be president of the Student Union needs to act in solidarity with members of those unions that are on strike. There is no excuse.

I managed to convince a couple of students that it was in their interests not to cross the line, but those who decided to do so came out with the most bizarre list of excuses that I have ever heard in my life. Some of the reasons given weren’t even logical. Many of them claimed that they were going to the library. Which reminds me, where were the library staff? Had they scabbed?

There is a serious lack of critical understanding of industrial action and the purpose and function of a picket line in the minds of many young people in this country. This is due, in no small part, to the constant lies told about unions and strikes in the Tory-dominated press. For these people, strikes are an “inconvenience to the public”. One student asked me “Why can’t you organize a petition”?  Since when did a petition change anything? Another remarked on the apparent ineffectiveness of strike action but such questions are best met with a cool rebuttal that is based on historical materialism. Women’s suffrage, for example, would not have been possible without people taking action to change things. Slavery and Jim Crow laws might still be in place in the southern half of the United States.

I am always mystified by those people who cross picket lines during Tube strikes. They wait on lonely platforms for hours on end and for what? To say that they “defied the bolshie unions”? Their energies would have been better spent at home or doing the things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do while at work.

When unions go on strike in France, the majority of the media is often behind the striking workers. There is a clear understanding of why people resort to industrial action and why it is a legitimate political activity. In this country, the reverse is true and the media will present a narrative of individualism; how it affects you, the consumer, and how it impinges upon ‘your’ freedom. But such freedoms are imagined and when they are weighed against your right to collective bargaining in the workplace, they come in at a very poor second place.

There needs to an effort to educate many young people of the need for trade unions together with a drive to ram home the importance of solidarity. If we don’t, the only image of the picket line will be that of a grainy black and white photograph with the caption, “How we used to do things”.

I felt like reciting this to all those students who crossed the picket line

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

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Filed under Cuts, Education, Government & politics, London, Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights