Monday, March 26, 2007

Swindon Trades Union Council Meeting
Climate Change & the role of the Trades Unions
Wednesday April 4th 2007
7.30 p.m.
Broadgreen Centre, Salisbury St (off of Manchester Rd)

Swindon TUC’s April meeting will hold a discussion on the question of global warming and what role the trades unions can play in tackling this global problem. Andy Parsons from the Swindon Climate Action Network will lead off the discussion. Anybody interested is welcome to attend.

Within the trade union movement there are differences over issues such as a new round of nuclear power stations which some unions (those with members who work in the industry) say will help to tackle global warming, whilst others point to the incredible cost and the dangers inherent in such a system exemplified by the disastrous accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

It is a commonplace that in order to cut emissions it is necessary to have a radical shift from road to rail. Yet the current government has left the privatised rail network in place, refusing to re-nationalise it. Without a cheaper and more reliable service there is hardly liable to be any significant shift from road to rail. Indeed in the last year train services were cut, encouraging people to return to their cars. In some parts of the South West the privatised train companies put on so few carriages that people who want to use the service are sometimes unable to board them because they are packed like sardines.

One of the questions which merits discussion is the relationship between individual action and collective action. Whilst individuals can take action in relation to their own lives is this sufficient to tackle global problems? The trades unions as collective organisations of working people historically have taken action which has limited the free reign of ‘the market’ and counter-posed social needs to the profit motive which lies at the heart of the economic system we live under. Nationalisation of the railways and the creation of the NHS were two examples carried out by Labour governments.

Can ‘market’ methods tackle global warming? Every political party professes to be ‘green’ today, whilst even the big multi-nationals are presenting a green image. As an example BP calls itself ‘Beyond Petroleum’ even whilst it makes fantastic profits and continues to pollute the environment. Yet the infrastructure of the big companies relies on a distribution network which whilst rational from the point of view of making profits, is irrational from the point of view of the health of the environment and of human beings who suffer the consequences of pollution. The international financial system has pressured countries previously self-sufficient in food to turn to cash crops. Whilst many of their peoples go hungry these cash crops are flown to Europe and the US.

What can the environmental movements and the trades union learn from each other? Is it possible to combine individual and collective action? Can the current economic system be reformed sufficiently to tackle the environmental crisis or do we need to strive for an economic system in which production is based on human needs rather than the profit motive? These are some of the questions we will discuss. Come along and have your say.

Report of the Isreali Workers Advice Center visit to Britain (March 2007).

Swindon TUC was pleased to help to facilitate a visit to Britain by the Israeli Workers Advice Center. The purpose of the visit was twofold:

To provide WAC with the opportunity of acquainting the British unions with their work organising workers, campaigning against the discrimination which Arab Israelis suffer in Israel, and against the closure which denies the right of Palestinians from the occupied territories to work in Israel.

To learn about the work of British unions and the struggles they are involved in.

To that end they were able to meet with:

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and other national officers, including the union's international officer Dean Mills.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow, President John Leach and members of the Council of Executives.
The TUC's International Officer Owen Tudor.
The GMB's international officer Joni McDougall.
Officers from UNISON's international department, Nick Siegler and Nick Crook.
John McDonnell MP, secretary of a number of union Parliamentary Groups.
South West TUC Secretary Nigel Costley.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign's Trade Union Officer Bernard Regan.

In addition they visited Camden UNISON, the GMB's Swindon office to learn about the union's migrant worker organising, and were able to speak to Bristol TUC and a special meeting organised by Oxford TUC.

The RMT was good enough to provide accomodation in London for the delegation which comprised Assaf Adiv (National Coordinator), Khitam Na'amneh (Women's Organiser) and Roni Ben Efrat (International Relations).

The visit succeeded in making WAC's activities more widely known and opening up a dialogue with British unions, with a view to developing fraternal relations. In particular the meetings with the TUC and the national unions mean that WAC is recognised as a legitimate element of the equation of the Palestinian and Israeli workers movement.

A number of offers were made such as a two page spread in the RMT members' paper, RMT News, regular exchange of reports, which will be followed up. Any trade union delegation visiting Israel and Palestine has an open invitation to meet with WAC.

The officially recognised union federation in Israel is the Histadrut. WAC organises outside this framework, in part because its activities were initially concentrated on the Arab/Palestinian Israeli population, which is not generally organised by the Histadrut. WAC concentrates its efforts on the massive task of organising amongst the 70% of workers who are unorganised.

As an organisation comprised of Jews and Arabs, working together as equals, it also seeks to organise workers regardless of their race, nationality or religion. For instance, it organises staff of Israeli Educational TV who are employed on a 'temporary' basis in order to deny them the rights of permanent employees. Most of these are Jewish workers. (See )

WAC originated, as the name suggests, as an advice and support centre helping workers who had no voice in Histadrut to deal with problems in the workplace (or the unemployment offices). However, it moved on to tackling collective issues. In the context of the Israeli situation one of its key tasks was to fight for jobs for Arab Israeli citizens, firstly in the building industry (many workers had been driven out of the industry by conscious government policy of important cheaper foreign labour under conditions of super-exploitation) and latterly in Agriculture. WAC had to tackle the racism and prejudice according to which Arab workers are 'lazy' or uninterested in gaining jobs.

Consequently WAC is a hybrid type of organisation, an NGO, but one with the aspiration to build an independent trade union movement, albeit it under very difficult conditions.

Whilst there are other NGOs doing good work in supporting oppressed workers, and the unemployed, campaigning for rights etc, WAC is unique insofar as it brings together Arabs and Jews with the perspective of building an independent workers' movement and a radical trade union which sees itself as part of the struggle of the working class internationally, challenging 'globalisation'.

It's opposition to the oppression of the 20% of the Israeli population which is Arab/Palestinian, makes it difficult to build support amongst the Jewish population, at least without a break with the Zionist outlook which sees Israel as 'a state of the Jews'. Nevertheless its work shows the practical possibility of building a movement which unites Jews and Arabs.

For more information on WAC visit its web site at:

You can receive WAC's bi-monthly English language newsletter by emailing

The Israeli English language magazine Challenge, which is devoted to examining the Israel/Palestine conflict, has regular reports on the activities of WAC:

Whilst the delegation was in Britain, The Mall, a short (12 minute) DVD about ‘Illegal’ Palestinian workers squatting in an unfinished Mall in Tel Aviv, was shown at an International Documentary Film Festival in Oxford. The DVD was made by Video 48, which works with WAC (see ). Also available are:

A Job To Win – a film about WAC’s campaign to get Arab Israelis back into the construction industry.
The Mission - a film of a visit by a European Trade Union delegation to Israel and the West Bank organised by WAC.
Breaking Walls – a film about a mural painted by US artist Mike Alewitz in an Arab Israeli village, Dani Ben Simhon who gave up a potentially lucrative art career to devote his efforts to organising for WAC, and Musav Salameh, a building worker, who is kept apart from his parents in the West Bank by Israel's separation wall.

Our thanks to those who helped with the visit and to the following organisations for their financial support which made the trip possible:

Bracknell Amicus
Bridgwater TUC
Bristol RMT
Oxford TUC
Socialist Unity Network
Swindon TUC
Waterloo RMT
Wiltshire & Swindon GMB

Martin Wicks
Secretary Swindon TUC

Sunday, March 04, 2007

BNP calls off 'trade union' launch

Two pieces of news on the BNP ffrom Searchlight South West

On the eve of Searchlight's exposure of the apartheid terrorism link behind Solidarity, the British National Party's trade union has cancelled its first annual general meeting and re-launch, due to be held in central London on 24 Febuary.

The BNP has cited public order considerations, but this is just a smokescreen. The BNP is running scared after Searchlight started asking questions about the South African apartheid connection and the BNP's secret think-tank. Solidarity's website is hosted by a man called Dr Lambertus Nieuwhof. He and his Herefordshire-based company, Vidronic Online, have also taken over most of the BNP's other internet operations, including the party's website for Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP had 12 councillors elected last May. Nieuwhof, known in the BNP as Bep, is also part of the BNP's secret think-tank, a small inner circle of men whose identity is unknown to both the wider membership and the general public. Their task is to form policy for Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, and give the party the intellectual underpinning it has hitherto lacked.

Nieuwhof, 35, is an immigrant but that has proved no bar to his rise to a position of influence in the BNP. Perhaps that is because of his past record as a white racist fighter. Fifteen years ago South Africa was in the process of dismantling apartheid. The white supremacists of the terrorist Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging (AWB) were doing their utmost to prevent the move towards majority rule and to restore the racist system. Three men had planted a home-made bomb at the Calvary Church School in protest against the school's decision to become racially mixed. When the bomb failed to go off, one of them lost his nerve. He gave himself up to the police and turned in his two associates. One of those associates was Nieuwhof. At the end of the resulting court case he received a derisory 12-month suspended prison sentence.

Leaving South Africa Nieuwhof set off for Britain, where he came into contact with Arthur Kemp, another South African extremist exile, who had been arrested for the murder of Chris Hani, a close colleague of Nelson Mandela, in April 1993 but released without charge. Kemp had been named by Clive Derby-Lewis, a far-right South African MP who is now serving life imprisonment for setting up Hani's murder, as the author of a hit list of prominent anti-apartheid leaders. Kemp too has become influential in the BNP. His articles appear on the BNP website and his 586-page tome March of the Titans comes highly recommended on the BNP's booklist. The book propounds the view that "all civilisations rise and fall according to their racial homogeneity and nothing else". Kemp still supports apartheid.

In an article in November 2004 on South Africa under the ANC he complained that: "... the Tory/Labour old gang parties, were all complicit in ensuring the creation of the new South Africa, working as hard as they could to bring about the downfall of the previous White government".

Gerry Gable, publisher of Searchlight, said: "The handmaidens of South Africa's murderous apartheid regime are unfortunately alive and well and pulling the strings in the British National Party. "

TUC welcomes 'union can expel BNP member' judgement

The TUC has welcomed today's decision by the European Court of Human Rights that unions can expel members of the far-right BNP, and that this is not incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case was brought by traindrivers' union ASLEF, after the UK courts found in favour of a BNP member expelled from the union because of the incompatibility of BNP views and those of the trade union movement.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said, "This is an important and welcome judgement. The European Court of Human Rights has made the common sense decision that the right to freedom of association does not force unions to accept into membership people opposed to the basic principles of trade unionism. Instead it says that the European Convention's provisions protect unions from excessive interference by government in deciding how they run their own affairs, including how they choose their members."We will need to discuss further all the implications of this judgement, including what changes now need to be made to UK law, but every union will welcome this clear decision that they can now expel BNP members."