Tag Archives: trade unions

There’s Only One Bob Crow

Like many people on the Left, The Cat was shocked and saddened to hear about the sudden death this morning of Bob Crow at the relatively young age of 52. When I first heard the news, I refused to believe it and thought it was another Tory wind-up. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

Bob Crow was loved and respected by the members of his union, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (the RMT) and was admired by many outside the RMT. Many of us wished he could have been our union leader instead. If you look at Unison, for example, you have to ask yourself “What good is Dave Prentis”? How does he fight on behalf of his members”? The answer is, he doesn’t. He sells them short all the time.

The Right were fond of describing Mr Crow as a “dinosaur” and frequently claimed that he belonged to a past era. The Right’s use of this kind of terminology is deliberate: the Tories and their friends want to consign trade unions to the past and with them, workers’ rights. This suits them perfectly, because  the neoliberal world that we are currently forced to inhabit has no need for such fripperies as civil liberties and human rights. Such things get in the way of profits.

What this country needs are more Bob Crows, not less of them. But then, there was only one Bob Crow. He will be a hard act to follow.

Here he is in action a few weeks ago on The Sunday Politics.  Andrew Neil wasn’t prepared for this.

Farewell, Comrade Bob.

Leave a comment

Filed under Maritime and Transport Union, Rail, Trade Unions

The dairy farmers protests and the government’s double standards

Does anyone else find it ironic that the dairy farmers, who have been blockading milk processing plants, haven’t been painted as the “enemy within”? Not a single government minister has labelled them as “Trots” or “militants”. The Tory press has also been noticeably quiet, save for the outpouring of sympathy for the farmers. There isn’t a single Telegraph blogger that’s put his or her head above the parapet and accused the dairy farmers of “holding the country to ransom”. Yet when workers take industrial action for better pay and conditions they are attacked by the government and their allies in the media. The reason for this is simple: most farmers are supporters of the Conservative Party.

Instead, the right-wing press continues to lay into the unions. This article from The Daily Mail is typical,

The public would clearly welcome a law to prevent the country being brought to its knees by a few hundred union die-hards.

A backbench Tory MP, Dominic Raab, proposed a law which would have set minimum turnouts for strike ballots, but it died in Parliament for want of ministerial backing.

During last year’s strikes, Francis Maude did a lot of tough talking, accusing the unions of playing with fire and making veiled threats.

Now it’s time to back up those strong words and take some serious action.

First, the hack who wrote this offers us a generalization instead of hard facts: he claims that “the public” wants to see tougher union laws. That isn’t true.  Second, Dominic Raab should make better use of his time instead of trying to relive the life he didn’t have in the 1980s. He was clearly too young when Thatcher and her goons smashed the unions. Raab loves to talk and write about freedom but he’s more than happy to deny trade unionists their freedoms.  As I keep reminding readers, most local authorities are elected on a 21 to 25% turnout. Boris Johnson was re-elected as London Mayor on a turnout of 32%.

While the government is loathe to talk to trade unions – unless it’s to bully them – they are quite prepared to talk to the protesting dairy farmers. This is from The Independent,

The Government is to have talks with dairy farmers following two nights of protests over the prices paid to milk suppliers

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman and Farming Minister Jim Paice are to meet farmers, milk processors and supermarkets next week, a spokesman for Defra confirmed.

The ministers will hold talks at the Royal Welsh Show, in Powys, on Monday to try to resolve the crisis in the dairy industry.

The protests are being led by a group calling itself “Farmers For Action” (FFA). The FFA and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) are working together and both organizations support the Tory party.  The NFU is a not a union in the accepted sense of the word. Alan White writing in The New Statesman says,

But the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has historically seemed either unable or unwilling to unionise their members.” And indeed, many have asked whether the NFU can really be called a union at all, such is its close relationship with government.

Just to show you how well the Tories support this action, the MP for Bridgewater, Ian Liddell-Grainger has, in the words of This is the West Country, “applauded” the dairy farmers.

He said farmers who used heavy machinery in a blockade at Robert Wiseman Dairy put on a ‘magnificent’ show of strength which should send a clear message to the processors and retailers.

Can you imagine what he’d have said if this had been a picket blockading a factory or a mine? They’d have sent in the army and there would have been calls in the Tory press to hang, flog or transport the offenders to a remote Crown Dependency.

Back to FFA, it turns out that the leader of this group is none other than  David Handley, who was behind the fuel protests back in 2002.  Nowhere Towers also understands that the same people were also involved in the Countryside Alliance protests in 2004.

Don’t get me wrong, I think dairy farmers are paid badly for their produce but I also think that workers who take industrial action are often paid badly and face severe hardship because of cuts to their pay and pensions. The government is clearly operating double standards here and it’s easy to see why: most trade unionists don’t vote Tory because if you’re a worker who votes Tory, you may as well slit your throat now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics

Scapegoats and brickbats: the government’s assault on the public sector

The Tories need a scapegoat. They always need scapegoats. In the 1980’s the scapegoats were Labour-controlled local authorities (dubbed ‘Loony Left’ by the Tory press), the trade unions, gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities. These days, the scapegoats are public sector workers and the public sector generally. Trade unions still come in for flak from the Tories. This morning they were unwittingly helped by Labour’s Ed Balls, who chipped in by urging (if that’s the right word) the unions not to walk into the government’s “trap”.  The Labour Party clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of the 1980’s and when Balls produces nonsense like this,  it’s easy to see why Labour are out of power (hands up, who wants Blue Labour?). What Balls has done is to express cowardice. Rather than face down the government, Balls and the rest of the front bench try to avoid confrontation and in doing so, make themselves look weak and pathetic. Anyone would think that they didn’t want the votes of trade unionists.

The government and its allies in the media have been quite keen to misrepresent public sector workers. Perhaps the most popular myth in circulation is the one that claims that all public sector workers are well-paid and will get extremely generous pensions when they retire. The fact of the matter is that, as with most other wages, public sector pay has been stagnant for years. Forget what you’ve heard about council chief executives’ salaries, those who do all the dirty work on the frontline are being paid a fraction of that. Many public sector workers are on the National Minimum Wage and can expect to recieve pensions of around £4,000 and yet this government wants these people to pay more towards their pensions (which will decrease in real terms). Why? Because they need someone to blame. They need to hammer the public sector so that they can press ahead with their plan to privatize those social functions that are left. Only today, Cameron revealed the following plans to give people more “power” (sic). The Sunday Times (which I cannot quote because it’s behind a paywall) claims that Lord Snooty wants to give people  “individual budgets” so that they can “buy” services. From The Independent,

Allowing the elderly to choose how money is spent on their care;

Enabling people with long-term health conditions to choose their own therapies;

Giving parish councils powers to take control of local parks, playing fields, parking and traffic restrictions;

Allowing parents of children with special needs to make their own decisions about schooling.

What all this amounts to is a further assault on the public sector. Soon local authorities will only exist to rubber stamp the diktats of private providers. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: before we know it, education will subjected to the same treatment with schools being forced into the voucher system. As for empowerment, this is noticeably absent. Giving real political power to people is something that this government is keen to avoid. There is no way that the government wants to allow us plebians a say in how decisions are made. That would be too much like real democracy.

So what happens when you run out of funding? Well, the government hasn’t thought that far ahead.  Given the number of hare-brained ideas that trip from the lips of ministers, some might say that the government isn’t capable of thinking at all. In today’s Telegraph, Danny Alexander reiterated the government’s position,

Mr Alexander insisted that ministers wanted a ”constructive dialogue” with the unions – but indicated that this would be restricted to the detail of how the changes would be implemented.

Nowhere Towers believes that the government has behaved high-handedly towards the unions by telling them that they will only negotiate  when the unions accept the government’s plan. This is the wrong way to go about negotiations. In the same article, former Labour pensions minister and closet Tory, John Hutton added his thoughts,

”They are the basis on which we want to go forward and reform public-service pensions, but of course in these discussions we need to look at the detail of how that works, about how these things are implemented,” he told the Murnaghan programme.

”What we have to get to is a situation where, yes, people have to work a bit longer and contribute a bit more, as we have put forward, but that we maintain the quality of their pensions into the future.”

Reform is the word being used here but reform almost always means cuts, redundancies and unwanted and unnecessary changes to working conditions.  The unions have no choice but to go on strike. If they didn’t strike, they would be failing their members and, for that matter, all those working people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to earn a living from rents, dividends, shares, trust funds and daddy’s allowance.

The largest one-day strike since the General Strike of 1926 will take place on 30 June. Doing nothing is not an option.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Society, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Labour, Public spending

Cable: if you go on strike, we’ll make things worse for you

Business Secretary and former SDP member Vince Cable has told the unions that going on strike will risk Britain’s fragile economic recovery. He has also told them that the government will tighten its already draconian anti-union laws. Cable has got that so wrong: the recovery was threatened the moment The Hon. Gid decided to raise VAT and impose swingeing cuts on the public sector. Whether this government likes it or not, the private sector relies on the public sector for a lot of its work. Threatening the unions with further draconian legislation is pretty low. Britain already has the toughest anti-union legislation in Europe and its anti-union laws are on a par with those of the US and Chile.

A number of public sector unions are to go out on strike later this month. As a member of the UCU, I will be joining them.

This from today’s Independent

Union chiefs will be warned by a cabinet minister today that a concerted programme of industrial action against the Government’s austerity measures could result in anti-strike laws.

Up to one million workers are expected to walk out on 30 June in protest against the spending cuts, and further shows of union strength are planned for the autumn.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, will tell a union conference that such moves could backfire by playing into the hands of senior Tories pressing for fresh controls on industrial action.

You can read the rest here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Public spending, Trade Unions

The Redskins – Unionize

Great song

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Society & culture, Trade Unions, workers rights

This Christmas give Amazon a miss

Amazon refuses to recognize unions

The festive season is upon us. Many of us are thinking of buying presents for loved ones (if we can afford them) and some of us may be thinking of using the Internet to make our purchases. The most popular company on the Internet is Amazon, a US-owned multinational company, which dominates the web shopping market.

But how many people know that Amazon employs union busters? Amazon does all it can to ensure unions are not recognized in its massive facility in Bedfordshire.

Housman’s Bookshop in London has a very interesting page dedicated to union-busting activities at Amazon. It tells us that,

Amazon have a little-reported, but undeniable record of preventing their work force from unionising. In 2001, Amazon.co.uk hired a US management consultancy organisation, The Burke Group, to assist in defeating a campaign by the Graphical, Paper and Media Union (GPMU, now part of Unite the Union) to achieve recognition in the Milton Keynes distribution depot. It was alleged that the company sacked four union members during the 2001 recognition drive and held a series of captive meetings with employees.

Also In 2001, 850 employees in Seattle were laid off by Amazon.com after a unionisation drive. The Washington Alliance of Technological Workers (WashTech) accused the company of violating union laws, and claimed Amazon managers subjected them to intimidation and heavy propaganda.

UK union organiser Peter Lockhart said: “Behind the shiny facade of Amazon and the internet are poor pay, poor conditions, poor communications and poor management. It is anything but ‘new age’ inside that distribution centre.”

According to Unite the Union, Amazon continues to this day to see trade union representation as illegitimate.

The source for the above paragraph comes from this Guardian article dated 26 February 2008. This paragraph is particularly illuminating,

The very up-front Burke Group (TBG) of Malibu, California, whose website proudly advertises its expertise in “union avoidance consulting, counter-union campaigns, supervisory training, union vulnerability assessments, card signing mitigation, anti-corporate campaigns and more”, was reportedly active in eight UK companies between 2001 and 2003, and no one was any the wiser until after the recognition campaign was over.

US-based union-busting companies have made considerable inroads into Britain.  The companies, like The Burke Group, describe themselves euphemistically  as  “labor relations companies”.  Some of the names here may surprise you. Others may not.

Companies such as Amazon.co.uk, Honeywell, Calor Gas, T-Mobile and Virgin Atlantic have all made use of TBG’s services, according to Logan’s study, which cites data obtained from the consultancy’s website before it was password-protected. Amicus union officials at another company, GE Caledonian, said they were “blown out of the water” when workers there unexpectedly rejected the union. More recently, the consultancy carried the day at Kettle Chips in Norwich. The workforce at the company, which is owned by the private equity company Lion Capital, includes many immigrants and last year voted by 206 to 93 not to join Britain’s biggest union, Unite.

Sir Tidy Beard hires union busters

A lot of people like to think of Richard Branson as a nice guy. It’s the tidy beard and the jumpers that fool people. “Oh, he’s just a hippy”. They’re the worst. Beneath the cosy exterior lies the beating heart of a hard-nosed capitalist.

Amazon also advertises this book on its site. In the synopsis it says that it,

“Offers a behind-the-scenes look at how major corporations use their power to destroy worker’s unions and shows how unions are actually good for business and for the country”.

Someone should tell that to Amazon .

With Boris Johnson recently calling for a review of Britain’s draconian labour laws, the Tories’ thirst for union-busting has never been greater. On the one hand they will claim that it is a worker’s right to join a trade union but, on the other hand, if that union’s members should take industrial action, it’s a different matter. The workers  and their union will be smeared and some employers will even find a way of dismissing striking workers on trumped up charges.

This is the ugly face of consumerism. Cheap goods delivered to your door at the cost of worker’s rights.

1 Comment

Filed under Consumerism, Trade Unions

Great song and still relevant after all these years

Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Society & culture

Britain’s anti-union culture: the labour landscape since 1979

I have noted elsewhere how Britain has become more like Chile in recent years. I admit that there are few stories of trade unionists being set upon by the state’s thugs in today’s papers, but the Battle of Orgreave Colliery showed us what levels the state was prepared to stoop in order to impose its will. Thatcher used the police as  her own personal gendarmerie, yet if one watched the BBC news reports for that day, one would come away with the impression that the miners were the aggressors. But thanks to the very good work of Glasgow University Media Group we learned the truth: it was the police who charged the miners and not the other way around.

Since 1979 the trade unions have been painted variously as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘greedy’. The tabloid press – largely controlled by Conservative sympathizing proprietors – prints smear after smear about the unions. The same papers will also tell us how any strike is likely to affect you. On strike days we are treated to vox pops of angry commuters who have had to battle in  to work because of a tube strike. A typical vox pop might run like this,  “I’m absolutely livid. Why do they have to strike? They’ve got jobs. They should be grateful”. The same channel may even wheel out an economic ‘expert’ (usually someone like Ruth Lea or Digby Jones) who will inform us that “strike days costs the British economy x amount”. How do they work out such precise figures?

The press-created Winter of Discontent of 1978 has been used as a stick to beat the unions with since the election of Thatcher in 1979. Unions were described as “too powerful” and held responsible for the nation’s ills. In the unions, the Tory press found an easy scapegoat. Curiously enough, no one asked searching questions about Britain’s managers who,  prior to 1979, were more than happy to take long lunches and run companies like their own personal piggy banks.

Let’s remind ourselves what anti-union laws have been passed since 1979. I found this on the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union’s website,

1980 Employment Act

  • Definition of lawful picketing restricted to own place of work
  • 80% ballot needed to legalise a closed shop
  • Funds offered for union ballots
  • Restricted right to take secondary action
  • Code of practice (six pickets)
  • Repeal of statutory recognition procedure
  • Restricts unfair dismissal and maternity rights
  • Unfair dismissal rights from 1 year to 6 months in companies under 20

1982 Employment Act

  • Further restrictions on industrial action – eg. definition of trade dispute
  • Further restricted action to ‘own’ employer
  • Employers could obtain injunctions against unions and sue unions for damages
  • 80% rule extended to ALL closed shops every 5 years
  • Compensation for dismissal because of closed shop
  • Removed union only labour clauses in commercial contracts

1984 Trade Union Act

  • EC elections every 5 years by secret ballot
  • Political fund ballots every 10 years
  • Secret ballots before industrial action

1986 Public Order Act

  • Introduced new criminal offences in relation to picketing

1988 Employment Act

  • Unions to compensate members disciplined for non-compliance with majority decisions
  • Members can seek injunction if no pre-strike ballot
  • Union finances to be open to inspection
  • Unions prevented from paying members’ or officials’ fines
  • Action to preserve post entry closed shop made unlawful
  • New restrictions on industrial action and election ballots
  • Ballots for separate workplaces
  • Ballots for non-voting EC members
  • Election addresses controlled
  • Independent scrutiny
  • Establishment of CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members)

1989 Employment Act

  • Tribunal pre-hearing review and proposed deposit of £150
  • Exemption of small employer from providing details of disciplinary procedures
  • Restricts time off with pay for union duties
  • Written reasons for dismissal now require 2 years’ service
  • Redundancy rebates abolished
  • Abolition of training commission

1990 Employment Act

  • Attack on pre-entry closed shop – unlawful to refuse to employ non-union member
  • All secondary action now unlawful
  • Unions liable for action induced by ANY official unless written repudiation using statutory form of words sent to all members
  • Selective dismissal of strikers taking unofficial action
  • Extended power of CROTUM

1992 Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act

  • Brings together all collective employment rights including trade union finances and elections; union members’ rights including dismissal, time off; redundancy consultation; ACAS, CAC and CROTUM; industrial action legislation
  • Does not cover individual rights like unfair dismissal, redundancy pay, maternity etc (these are covered by 1978 EPCA)

1993 Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act

  • Individuals can seek injunction against unlawful action
  • Creation of Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • 7 days notice of ballots and of industrial action
  • Members to be involved in ballot to be identified
  • Attack on Bridlington procedures
  • Written consent for check-off every three years
  • Financial records, including salaries, to be available
  • Checks on election ballots
  • Independent scrutiny of strike ballots
  • All industrial action ballots to be postal
  • Postal ballots on union mergers
  • New powers for Certification Officer to check union finances
  • Higher penalties against unions failing to keep proper accounts
  • ‘Wilson/Palmer’ Amendment (sweeteners to those moving to individual contracts)
  • Unlawful to dismiss heath & safety rep in course of duties and those walking off unsafe site
  • Right of individual to challenge collective agreement in contravention of equal treatment terms
  • Changes to Transfer of Undertakings Regulations
  • Changes to redundancy terms (consultation)
  • Abolition of Wages Councils
  • Changes to Tribunals and EAT procedures

1999 Employment Relations Act

  • Amendments to Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992
  • Recognition and negotiation procedures for employers with at least 21 workers, establishment of bargaining unit
  • Derecognition from loss of trade union independence or majority support of bargaining unit
  • Complaint process for use of political funds and breach of union disciplinary, electoral or other internal rules
  • Dismissal for participation in official industrial action deemed unfair
  • Ballot and notice provisions for strike or industrial action
  • Abolishes offices of Commissioner for Rights of Trade Union Members and Commissioner for Protection Against Unlawful Industrial Action
  • Funds to be provided to assist in developing employment partnerships
  • Amends Employment Rights Act and TULRA to prevent complaint over unfair dismissal if action for purposes of national security

As we can see, when Labour introduced the 1999 Employment Relations Act, it left the anti-union laws intact. It was a piecemeal bit of legislation designed to placate those who feared a return to the 1970’s and to pay lip service to the worker’s rights. CROTUM (Commissioner for the Rights Of Trade Union Members) was created to advise members on taking action against their union. It also happens to be one of the most amusing acronyms that I have ever seen and offers itself readily to abuse (just put an “S” in front of the “C”).

In today’s climate, management would rather negotiate with individuals – if at all. Negotiating with individuals leads to a divide and conquer situation where worker is pitted against worker. In cases like this, there can only be one winner: the boss.

Today membership of trade unions is lower than it has been in the entire history of the movement. Anti-union legislation is mainly responsible but the number of people working on short-term contracts has also increased and few private sector companies have any active trade unions. If Labour are lucky enough to be re-elected it is unlikely that they will repeal any of the anti-union laws. I would recommend any union that is currently affiliated with Labour to disaffiliate at once. We need a party that will look after the interest of workers and not be beholden to capitalists or their apologists. But that party also needs to have a good chance of gaining seats in the Commons. Under the present system and the one proposed (AV) this is unlikely to happen. Therefore the need to reform the voting system is vital. The anti-democratic tendencies of the main parties have to be curbed because it was these anti-democratic tendencies that led to the abolition of the metropolitan councils, Section 28 and the Poll Tax.

People need unions now more than ever.

UPDATE:

I discovered this interesting blog about the Lawful Industrial Action Bill. It fell in the Commons last week due to a lack of enough MPs to support it. This is very depressing.

Out of 255 Labour MPs (or thereabouts) only 82 could bring themselves to support the Bill. Green MP Caroline Lucas supported it together with one SNP, one Plaid Cymru, and even 2 Tories. Four Labour MPs were out of the country, one in hospital, one ill, and one at a funeral. Hilary Benn, Maria Eagle and Gareth Thomas, excelled themselves by being present in the Commons but refusing to vote for it. The rest appear to have nipped off to their constituencies (or their second homes). The right of workers to strike was not sufficiently important for them to stay in London on a Friday.

You can read a list of who did and who didn’t vote here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Government & politics, Trade Unions

The ghost of Pinochet rears its ugly head

The Chilean presidential election which took place in January received superficial attention in the British media. But those of us who have been watching Chile know that the new President, Sebastian Piñera is a billionaire. What many people don’t know is that his elder brother, Jose, was in Pinochet’s cabinet as the Secretary for Labor and Social Security and Secretary of Mining (he oversaw the privatization of Chile’s mines which were nationalized under Salvador Allende). Sebastian Piñera on the other hand amassed a fortune during the Pinochet years. This fortune mainly came from the introduction of credit cards to Chile in the late 1970’s. Like his brother he is also connected to the infamous Chicago Boys. He was Professor of Economics at the University of Chile from 1977 to 1990. Presumably he was moonlighting for Pinochet while inculcating his students in the benefits of an unfettered market economy. Both Sebastian and Jose’s father (also called Jose) was once a CIA operative.

As I reported in yesterday’s blog, the Chicago Boys have returned to power; Piñera has rewarded three of them with cabinet portfolios – one of which is the Economy portfolio. In fact, Piñera’s election depended  largely on support from Pinochet supporters. This blogger reports that a blog called Cuestionatelo Todo had this to say on Piñera’s victory,

His (Pinera’s) triumph represents a resurrection of “pinochetismo,” […] Pinochet never really died, and Piñera’s victory is only the natural consequence of a transition that never happened and the simple continuation of the same thing with faces that appear friendlier. The triumph of Piñera’s party is a step backward for Chilean democracy.

Quite, it is almost as if The Caudillo were controlling events in Chile from beyond the grave. There’s more from the Comment Factory

Piñera himself has ties to the Pinochet-era, something which he has been keen to downplay. While he was among those who in 1988 voted to end the dictatorship and restore democracy to Chile, in 1989 he also managed the unsuccessful election campaign of Hernàn Buchi who was a minister in the Pinochet regime for ten years, including the position of Minister of Finance from 1985-1989. Buchi has never been implicated in any of the abuse or corruption allegations that stain the regime, yet his participation in so oppressive a system makes him a figure of animosity to a large section of Chilean society, something that is true of all Pinochistas.

Last year US Expat Living in Chile said,

So, Sebastian Pinera, perennial candidate, is running again. I saw a poll showing he and Frei (concertacion candidate) were within a few points but another independent and former socialist party candidate has entered the race. He is somewhat left of Frei and appears to be taking votes-Pinera is now far ahead with the other two splitting the rest of the vote. Pinera has carefully distanced himself from the Pinochet legacy.

He may have tried to distance himself from Pinochet but he is tainted by both association and the fact that he amassed millions under the dictator. Piñera has also claimed that he voted “No” in the 1989 plebsicite to retain Pinochet (who expected the vote to go his way). This is from US Expat who found this interesting nugget,

The first document is a compilation of data and analysis on Miguel Juan Sebastián Piñera Echenique, ordered by the Department of Communications at the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, which increased the number WSA/Was/3215B, the input register 1975, 1984 and 1990, and is related to money laundering, setting up shell companies, bribery and conspiracy, all acts relating to the intervention and liquidation of the Banco de Talca, 1982.

Veteran Chile-watchers may recall that Pinochet was also accused of money laundering as well as drug-trafficking. Piñera also owned one of the biggest television channels in Chile, which he was reported to have sold to Time-Warner. Nikolas Kozloff’s blog on Buzzflash says,

Piñera, a kind of Chilean Berlusconi who owns a television channel amongst other business holdings, and who piloted his private helicopter around the country to make campaign stops in isolated regions, is one of the world’s 700 richest people. The politician opposes human rights prosecutions for military and police officers implicated in abuses during the Pinochet military dictatorship, and as such represents a political step backwards for Chile.

Kozloff also reminds us,

Unlike Venezuela for example, Chile has no television station that espouses the views of the left. There are two left-wing bi-monthlies, El Siglo of the Communist Party and Punto Final. Both have notoriously low circulation. The Communist Party owns a radio station, and there are a few other progressive leaning stations. On the Internet, there is more political diversity than in TV and print, but digital media is still incipient in Chile where most people lack Internet access.

I think we know where this is going: a media that is controlled by the right did the ‘right thing’ by Piñera and convinced the electorate to hand him their votes. According to Huffington Post, Piñera also owns a controlling interest in LAN, the Chilean flag-carrier and the country’s most popular football team.

Piñera has pledged to continue former President Michelle Bachelet’s policies. However,

Other promises include privatizing 20 percent of state-owned Codelco, the world’s biggest copper producer, and hiring 10,000 new police officers and pushing for renewable energy and improvements in public education.

Socially, he said he would expand legal rights for gay and lesbian couples, but draw the line against same-sex marriage or adoption. He’s also against euthanasia and abortion, which remains illegal in all cases in Chile.

While trade unions are not illegal in Chile, intimidation and union-bashing are near routine; a legacy of the Pinochet years. Interstingly enough, one company that has been identified for violating trade union rights is LAN,

Union bashing at LAN Airlines: In July, LAN Airlines Chile dismissed three union representatives, Juan Martínez, Carlos Sarmiento and Mario Ricci. This anti-union measure was one of a series of practices violating organising rights, aimed at weakening the union’s power to act. In addition, the company, which has branches in other countries, is developing a policy of precarious employment, making increased use of subcontracting and outsourcing arrangements.

Enough of Piñera, what about those Chicago Boys? I reported yesterday that Juan Andrés Fontaine had been given the Economy portfolio (which includes development and tourism). One interesting appointment has been in Education with Joaqín Lavín taking that portfolio. Lavín is a member of Opus Dei who wrote a book praising Pinochet’s economic policies . He is also a former presidential candidate having lost to Ricardo Largos in 1999. The last Chicago Boy to be included in the cabinet is Cristián Larroulet, who has the intriguing title of Minister Secretary General of the Presidency of the Government (or Segpres). It’s a pretty fair bet that he is extremely close to the president.

What do the next 4 years hold in store for ordinary Chileans? Given the inclusion of 3 Chicago Boys in the cabinet, it is clear that the Piñera presidency will continue with its Friedmanite economic practices. Bachelet’s presidency changed precious little in that regard. The rescue of the trapped miners at Copiapo reminds what happens when a nation’s economy is left to the free market: safety goes begging and trade union rights are violated. When the Thatcher government took on the miners, it did so for ideological reasons. The coalition government is pledged to ‘reform’ public services; the reason for this, too, is ideological: the public sector is heavily unionized, whereas few companies in the private sector are unionized. This is sold as a form of ‘freedom’. Pinochet promised the same thing but this  freedom was only accessible through him. It was the same during the Thatcher years and this idea has been resurrected and re-articulated by the present government.

Finally Piñera is set to meet our esteemed PM, Lord Snooty for a cup of tea next week.  I wonder what they will talk about?

4 Comments

Filed under Chile, World

The Chicago Boys are back in town

The Chilean Miners’ plight has been the biggest news story of the year – next to that of the hapless Raul Moat of course. But what is really going in post-Pinochet Chile aside from the massive world media event that surrounds every move of the rescue efforts at Copiapo? I don’t want to denigrate the plight of the miners; they’ve suffered and will probably continue to suffer for some time to come. What I cannot fathom is the way in which the company that owns the mine has behaved towards the 33 trapped miners and the workers on the surface. Last week, the Buenos Aires Herald reported that,

Employees from the San Esteban Company, owner of the mine where 33 miners have been trapped since August 5, held a demonstration in Copiapó, northern Chile, in order to protest unpaid salaries.

Some 300 persons, amongst them miners and their families, protested peacefully against the company, owner of the San José mine, claiming that the salaries corresponding to the month of September have not been paid.

There was a brief mention of this on BBC News but the focus was inevitably drawn towards the ‘human interest’ story of the trapped miners – who have also not been paid.

Union leaders have called on the government to pay compensation to the men, together with roughly 270 other employees of San Esteban who are now out of work. They blame the accident on poor regulation, pointing out that the mine was allowed to remain open despite repeated safety violations which led to the death of a miner in 2007.

But this is Chile. Remember? This is the Friedmanite Paradise designed by Pinochet’s Chicago Boys.  Here the market operates without any interference, what began under Pinochet continues to this day in spite of the stagnation of Chile’s economy,

While both the Concertación economists and those of the far right sought to blame Chile’s woes on outside factors—the Asian crisis of 1997, the Argentine implosion of 2000, the U.S. slump of 2001, and so on—a few dissident economists had predicted all along that the boom would inevitably reach an impasse. One, economist Graciela Moguillansky of the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, argued that the large Chilean finance/resource-processing conglomerates which dominate the economy had exhausted the easy resource-processing opportunities handed to them by the government through programs created decades ago. The “Chilean miracle” had reached its own self-imposed limits.

Nothing can grow indefinitely, not even economies but try telling that to some Austrian School zealot.

While the Chicago School is known for its devotion to free-market policies and its hostility to government regulation, the chief target of the Chicago Boys (and other right-wing economists), along with the military dictatorship and the business class, was not state intervention in economic life, but rather the organized power of the Chilean working class.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should.  The soi-disant libertarians of the British right often try to couch their anti-union rhetoric in terms of freedom. Last week Emperor Boris called for a change in strike laws.

The UNHCR has documented cases of serious violations of trade union rights in Chile.

So while the world waits for the latest chapter in the latest media drama to unfold, spare a thought for Chile’s workers who now have to struggle to survive under Chile’s first right wing government since Pinochet. 3 of the original Chicago Boys have been installed in the cabinet as ministers. One of them, Juan Andrés Fontaine, is currently Minister of the Economy.

Fontaine said he was “called to serve with a mandate to increase economic activity in Chile.”

He even has a Facebook page.

3 Comments

Filed under Chile