The TUC Congress motion on TTIP

The following motion was passed two weeks ago at TUC Congress. While this is old news, I have been meaning to write something about TTIP, and simply have not had the time. Hope you find this useful:

Congress is extremely concerned about the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade treaty, a wide-ranging trade deal giving unprecedented power and influence to transnational corporations that would become the benchmark for all future trade agreements, currently being negotiated between the EU and the USA and recognises the threat posed. While there may be economic benefits in reducing trade tariffs and reviewing regulation for certain industrial sectors, Congress believes that the primary purpose of TTIP is to extend corporate investor rights.

A key element of the TTIP is the introduction of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, which would act as a tribunal/arbitration. The ISDS could see millions of pounds paid out to those big private sector corporations should NHS services be brought back into the public sector in the future.

As with all trade agreements, TTIP is being negotiated mainly in secret. The current negotiations lack transparency and proper democratic oversight.

TTIP would:

a) allow corporations to sue sovereign states, elected governments and other authorities legislating in the public interest where this curtails their ability to maximise their profits, by recourse to an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism;

b) threaten the future of our NHS and other key public services;

c) risk job losses, despite unsubstantiated claims to the contrary;

d) potentially undermine labour standards, pay, conditions and trade union rights as the US refuses to ratify core ILO conventions and operates anti-union “right to work” policies in half of its states;

e) reverse years of European progress on environmental standards, food safety and control of dangerous chemicals, given US refusal to accept stricter EU regulation of substances long banned in the EU; and

f) deprive EU member states of billions of pounds in lost tariff revenue.

Key concerns are:

i) the threat to our National Health Service and sections of the public sector that may be opened up to the private sector leaving a future Labour government with no legal right to take back into public ownership (including previously publicly owned transport and utilities) and that could lead to a far more widespread fragmentation of NHS services, putting them into the hands of big private sector corporations;

ii) the quasi-judicial process on the Investor-State Dispute Settlement under which multinational corporations may sue, in secret courts, nation states whose laws or actions are deemed incompatible with free trade;

iii) opening up European markets to US Frankenstein foods – hormone enriched beef, chlorinated poultry and genetically modified cereals and salmon;

iv) the mutual recognition of regulatory standards which will lead to a race to the bottom and the creation of a Transatlantic Regulatory Council which will give privileged access to multinational corporations; and

v) the impact on creators’ intellectual property rights.

Congress notes that free trade agreements rarely, if ever, benefit working people and are pushed by corporations who use them as a means to maximise profits and further their own interests.

The idea of transatlantic trade may well be supported by those that would profit from it, but for our health services based on values, principles and sustainability it could be a financial disaster, adding another nail in the NHS coffin. The TUC and a number of other organisations have been campaigning to exempt the NHS from the negotiations and Congress now calls on the General Council to keep the pressure on and raise the profile of the calamitous affects the TTIP could have on the NHS.

Congress remains unconvinced by official claims of job creation arising out of TTIP, and considers that the dangers to public services, workers’ rights and environmental standards outweigh any potential benefits. Congress remains unconvinced about the likelihood of a binding labour rights chapter based on ILO Core Conventions.

Congress has similar concerns over current negotiations for the proposed Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).

Congress believes that on the current path we will be presented with a fait accompli in the form of an inadequate, unacceptable agreement that we have had no chance of influencing or amending and where time will make it difficult to mobilise opposition.

Congress resolves that the TUC should:

1) oppose Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanisms and a ratchet clause;

2) call for the exclusion of all public services, including education and health, public procurement, public utilities and public transport (whether in public or private ownership) from the negotiations;

3) demand no levelling down in relation to consumer, worker or environmental protection;

4) insist on genuine consultation with civil society organisations, including trade unions;

5) work with like-minded organisations, including the ETUC, in opposing all detrimental aspects of TTIP and in campaigning for alternative EU trade and investment policies; and

6) welcome the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Trade to exclude the audio-visual sector from the initial TTIP agenda, and lobby the UK government to oppose its future inclusion, in order to preserve the European Cultural Exception and the unique national nature of arts and entertainment activity within Europe.

Congress therefore resolves that the trade union movement should now call for the TTIP negotiations to be halted and adopt a clear position of outright opposition to TTIP, and the other trade agreements currently being negotiated, whilst continuing to monitor progress and press for improvements to promote decent jobs and growth and safeguard labour, consumer, environmental and health and safety standards through lobbying, campaigning and negotiating, in alliance with the ETUC and AFLCIO.

Congress agrees that all pending and future trade agreements entered into by the EU should be subject to a vigorous and transparent regime of scrutiny and consultation, ensuring that they are of benefit and acceptable to the millions of people affected by their content, in all countries covered by the agreement.

ISIS at the gates of Baghdad

Patrick Cockburn’s latest article in The Independent is a sobering wake up call as to the extent of the collapse of the Iraqi Army against ISIS and the very real prospect of the group entering Baghdad sooner rather than later.

If they do the ensuing bloodbath would be of a magnitude we haven’t yet seen in this part of the world, which given its recent history is saying something.

The West of course bears overwhelming responsibility for pushing Iraq into the abyss, with the likes of Tony Blair and George W Bush men whose crimes and imperial arrogance will still be written about many years hence.

1916 was the year the Middle East was divided up among the imperialist powers and 2014 is the year it unravelled. The suffering and chaos that has swept this part of the world over the years in between is impossible to describe with sufficient accuracy, but it has been biblical both in scope and duration. It promises to get much worse before it gets better.

The West’s response to ISIS has been inept, wrongheaded, and lacked either cohesion or wisdom. Not only have we set the region on fire, we have fanned the flames in a classic example of forging a disaster from a crisis.

At a time like this we are reminded of the stark choice presented by Rosa Luxemburg to a Europe engulfed in the fire of the First World War – the choice between socialism or barbarism. There is zero prospect of socialism in Iraq or anywhere else in the region anytime soon. Barbarism on the other hand is upon us.

The road to Damascus

Paradoxically, it is unusually difficult in a democratic society for politicians to oppose wars. I know that it is hard to envisage an elected government lying to take a country to war unlawfully, but this really did happen when President Polk invaded Mexico in 1846.

The war stood in stark contrasts to the ideals of the American republic, and the Whig party opposed the war. Indeed Whig Congressman Abraham Lincoln from Illinois brilliantly exposed the lies and inaccuracies that the government had used to hoodwink the public. Consequently, despite his manifest talents, he lost his Illinois seat at the next election, and its opposition to the war deeply weakened the Whig party, contributing to its extinction not long after.

British participation in a war against the soi-disant “Islamic State” is undoubtedly popular. It is also undoubtedly legal, as the Iraqi government has asked for military assistance within its sovereign territory. Even were the war to extend into Syria, this could be legally justified if it were to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe; and it could be argued that IS operates only in areas where the writ of sovereign authority of the Syrian government does not hold.

It is also true that only military action can contain and defeat ISIS. I have written before that it is a warlord polity, that has grown into a vacuum where the sovereign states have lost their monopoly of the use of armed force. As a warlord polity it has no civic infrastructure, and a coalition of interests holds together a military force through momentum, patronage and charisma. Military reverses may well see the whole structure collapse. (Historically, warlord polities have also sometimes been ended through absorption back into the state – but sectarian Jihadi ideology, global ambitions and political unacceptablity means that this simply cannot happen with ISIS)

However, this does not mean that British military action is right nor appropriate, nor that the US led coalition is going to succeed. There are real dangers in entering any war where the military objectives are open ended, and the political objectives are unclear.

General Lord Richards, former head of the UK military, today said that ISIS cannot be defeated without ground forces. Indeed, a global coalition of air power arrayed against ISIS, including the Western powers may enhance the “lost cause glamour” and defiant rebel charisma of the terrorists; unless ISIS can also be defeated on the ground.

But whose ground troops would they be, and what would their objective be? The US led coalition includes states like Qatar and UAE who themselves have backed Islamist movements, and many of the military allies assembled may regard the Damascus government of Assad as a greater enemy than ISIS. Would Turkey be happy to see ISIS defeated by Kurdish forces in northern Syria?

The USA has entered into a war that will almost inevitably be shaped by the regional aspirations of its allies; and the tail will wag the dog, as the US gets embroiled in the complexities of civil war in Syria and embroiled again in confessional division in Iraq.
It was a mistake for the British government to make an open ended military commitment without any pre-defined criteria for success, and no exit strategy. ISIS does need to be defeated, but that can only be done by first agreeing a regional political framework, and agreed military and political objectives; and this cannot be done by pretending that the Syrian government of Assad does not exist.

Not for the first time, Peter Oborne at the Telegraph has been a beacon of common sense.

The literal-minded Americans are determined to destroy ISIS, and are ready to make the necessary compromises. This is why they have opened up unofficial lines of communication with Assad through intermediaries in Damascus and elsewhere. However, Saudi Arabia (which carried on backing ISIS up to the early spring of this year, almost certainly with the tacit approval of Britain and America) remains preoccupied with the destruction of Assad. 
[... ...]

For [ISIS], the Saudi role in this week’s air attack gives fresh credibility to [ISIS leader, Al Baghdadi's] claim that the regime in Riyadh is a catspaw of the United States. No wonder that the Saudis contributed only four F-16s to the attack. Meanwhile, Qatar (owner of the Shard and the Olympic Village, host of the 2022 World Cup and all-round friend of Britain) deployed its Mirages, but dropped no bombs. Turkey has done its best to remain on good terms with all sides, including ISIS. Meanwhile, Israel is reported to be cooperating with the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra against Assad, thus consolidating its quiet alliance with the Arab states. (The shooting down of a Syrian plane by the Israelis should probably be seen in the context of this unlikely friendship.)

Amid this military and political shambles, one central fact is obvious: the coalition has no reliable partner on the ground. Three armed groups have proved themselves capable of confronting ISIS on the battlefield – the Syrian army; Hezbollah; and the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia. America and others are not prepared to work openly with any of these, because doing so would destroy the alliance with Saudi Arabia, and hence the anti-ISIS coalition.

There is a terrible logic here that air war will lead to ground war, and that ground war extending into Syria will involve conflict against Assad’s forces, and further chaos, war and destablisation.


Gimme Gimme Gimme a much better contract

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GMB held a Further Protest At Wincanton’s Swindon Depot today In a Pay Dispute

A promised meeting with Wincanton over workers paid £2 per hour less did not take place and GMB will not take this lying down.

200 GMB members at the depot are paid £2 per hour less pay than the warehouse staff employed directly for Wincanton. The depot is operated for a major UK retailer.
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Left Unity – who holds the leaders to account?

The Left Unity project was dissected last year by “Michael Ford”, who pointed out that:

Social weight – deep roots in society – is the missing element which has sunk every previous initiative of its kind (SLP, Socialist Alliance, SSP, Respect, TUSC) generally sooner rather than later, and which Left Unity does not address. The fact is that despite these varied appeals over the last twenty-odd years to desert Labour at the ballot box, the masses and their organisations have not moved, and have held true to their previous engagements, even with a diminished enthusiasm reflected in an increasing rate of electoral abstention.

It is a reasonable question to ask, not only how organisations set up to challenge Labour at the ballot box might aspire to the mass votes necessary for electoral success; but also, should they actually get those votes, then how would these organisations resist the social pressures that affect successful electoral parties.

The Labour Party not only has 3 million trade union members affiliated, but also the historical legacy of social democratic attitudes by its voters; these are real social forces that provide ballast inhibiting the party from ever fully capitulating to the values of capitalism.

Wags have often said that while far left organisations split over ideology, far right organisations split over money. The more recent experience is that far left organisations struggle to deal with issues of leadership accountablity.

As reported in the Independent, Bianca Todd, one of the principle national speakers of Left Unity was found by an Employment Tribunal to have refused to give her staff a contract & to have refused to pay them sick pay and holiday pay.

The Harborough Mail reports:

Holiday money and unpaid wages from the Christmas period were owed to both Mr Brooks and Lisa Frederick.Andree Yarrow was owed sick pay and also owed wages from over the Christmas period.Mrs Yarrow said they had been told by Miss Todd that the company would close for two weeks during December but that they would be paid for that time.Mr Brooks, Mrs Frederick and Mrs Yarrow all said they had not received payment for that period in spite of assurances received from Miss Todd that they would.Mrs Yarrow also said that she did not receive any sick pay from the company when she had to take time off for an operation.

Recording a verdict, Mr Goodchild judged that Mr Brooks was entitled to £197.65 of unpaid wages, £177.90 in unpaid holiday and £296.50 because no contract was given.Mrs Frederick was awarded £197.65 in unpaid wages, £177.90 in unpaid holiday and £296.50 as again she was given no contract.Mrs Yarrow was awarded £300 in unpaid sick pay, £237.20 in unpaid wages and £296.50 as no contract was in place.

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Carillion rapped by Swindon NHS Trust report

A damning NHS Trust report completely vindicates what GMB has said about Carillion since the union was first approached by staff in 2011.

GMB, the union for staff at Carillion at Great Western PFI Hospital in Swindon, commented on the report considered on 25th September by the Board of the NHS Foundation Trust which details significant concerns about the one star food hygiene rating, the cleanliness issues identified by the CQC last year and ongoing employee relations issues.

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB Regional Officer, said “”GMB call on Carillion to heed this chorus of criticism from the NHS Trust and to talk to us to settle the dispute and get on with delivering the service they are paid to provide.

“The Trust is well aware of the industrial relations issues on site and must be concerned by the high number of discrimination claims lodged with the Employment Tribunal, which are damaging to the reputation of the Trust.

“The report drives a coach and horses through the notion that private companies such as Carillion should have any role to play in the health service and is a damning indictment of the Private Finance Initiative.

“Great Western Hospital in Swindon is just one of 150,000 properties around the world where Carillion provide facilities management and support services. Even if the top managers are very good they cannot properly look after that vast number of buildings. Carillion’s main aim from the very start has been to line their pockets with cash from Swindon Hospital.

“As soon as it can, the Trust should end its relationship with Carillion and take these services in house to be run by directly employed and properly accountable staff in the interests of patients and not in the interests of profit.

“What we are seeing in Swindon is the same high-handed arrogance that gave rise to 224 construction workers from around the UK being blacklisted by Carillion. They have yet to apologise for this or compensate their victims”.
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Is RMT tilting back to the mainstream?

The RMT general secretary election result was interesting, giving the more mainstream Mick Cash a commanding lead over the other candidates; and Alex Gordon, the most left wing candidate, and the most associated with the No2EU and TUSC policies of the RMT getting the lowest vote.

An RMT official confided to me that he was hoping that the result would mean an end to what he described as “student union politics”. It has been clear for a while that RMT is able to exert far less influence over transport policy than either TSSA or ASLEF.

It will also be interesting to see whether Mick Cash is able to change the culture of the RMT, which for example, despite a reputation for being a progressive union, still has no female full time officials.