Workers attacks union after BMW layoffs

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Red Marriott
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Feb 16 2009 15:11
Workers attacks union after BMW layoffs

Short video of angry workers meeting criticising union officials at BMW Mini Cowley plant in Oxford ; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7892538.stm

baboon
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Feb 16 2009 16:02

This anti-union protest is clearly not being run by the trade unions. In fact, on a first look, I would say that it is an expression of anti-trade unions and that it would be very difficult to say that this was set up at some level by the unions.
The anger and the threats to expose the unions to the media have a similarity with the strikes and the walkouts around Lindsey where a/ the anger was obvious and b/ workers (newspapers and TV reported "workers" not the trade unions, nor shop stewards) going to the media to make their own positions clearly known against what the unions are doing.
Another significant movement however small.

Beltov
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Feb 16 2009 17:21

The whole video is on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j93yNeZ2mPQ

Workers obviously furious. Also, BMW obviously closed the factory for a week so that the day shift couldn't walk out in solidarity, which would have definitely happened. Is there anyone in Oxford on the ground? I wonder if there any mass meetings taking place...

Ex-temp
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Feb 16 2009 18:21

Thanks for the link to the you tube video, interesting stuff!

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red youth crew
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Feb 17 2009 12:51

Yeah cheers for the link Beltov.

baboon
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Feb 17 2009 16:21

A year or more ago, Woodley and his union structure was engaged in a stitch up of BA cabin crew trying to sell them a massive wage cut and loss of conditions in the guise of a "victory". Similarly reported anger with union members (and some stewards from memory) tearing up their union cards and abuse directed at the unions. The union's were complicit in the "negotiated deal" going through.
The workers' anger on the clip is as obvious as the lying, duplicitous and police action of the unions. We can expect more of this.

Ex-temp
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Feb 17 2009 18:16
Beltov wrote:
The whole video is on YouTube here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j93yNeZ2mPQ

Workers obviously furious. Also, BMW obviously closed the factory for a week so that the day shift couldn't walk out in solidarity, which would have definitely happened. ...

is that definite? On what basis can be made that statement? (I'm not going to attack you, just wondering if you know something I don't)

Beltov
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Feb 17 2009 21:37

It's just armchair speculation (no inside info), but if you watch the video someone asks a question "what will happen to the week shift?" to which the union reply "they'll find out next week." There was clearly a concern about the rest of the workers. There are two clearer videos here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UwVRSGEI-w
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coWZd8kd_ac

B.

stuffit
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Feb 18 2009 09:58

There's an interview here
with one of the union guys who claims ' They have actually been given a week’s notice, but because of the shutdown it seems like they were only given an hour. That was not agreed with the company — we asked them to give a longer period of notice'

I don't get that -either they were or weren't given notice, no matter how it 'seems'.

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jef costello
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Feb 18 2009 10:23
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Although we are a trade union, we are employed by the company. If they give out an instruction, it would be a brave person to defy that. These days not many people would support a shop steward if he was sacked.

There's some circular thinking.

I think the argument is that because they are the weekend shift giving them a week's notice means telling them not to come in next week.

There's another interview in the Oxford Mail here.

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sum-one
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Feb 19 2009 16:38

Has anybody else heard that they've called a mass picket outside the Cowley plant on Monday? There is a post on the Indymedia site, but due to the article and the author, I'm not too sure what to think.

Beltov
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Feb 19 2009 22:17

Link to Indymedia?

late
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Feb 20 2009 08:52

The picket on Monday is definitely taking place. There are details on Ian Bones blog too, I expect he'll make an announcement on his radio show.

http://ianbone.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/sacked-cowley-workers-call-mass-picket-monday/

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sum-one
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Feb 20 2009 13:19

http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2009/02/422425.html

late
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Feb 20 2009 13:39

There's also a facebook group advertising the event.

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=52354752886&ref=nf

Ex-temp
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Feb 20 2009 14:09

Well I hope this talk is real and links to the workers, rather than being more hopeful talk by politicos... I suppose I shall see on Monday!

ftony
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Feb 21 2009 13:37

i heard of the picket from someone who is in contact with some of the workers. it's the workers who are calling this mass picket. could be big.

davidbroder
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Feb 23 2009 11:57

It wasn't.

http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/02/23/protest-by-bmwmini-workers-at-cowley/

To be fair, I heard that six Mini workers went to the Trades Council on Thursday asking them to support the picket. But basically the left turned out and the workers didn't, presumably assuming that they're totally screwed.

An instant occupation might have been the response that could have given the struggle some longevity... but the bosses deliberately gave them little time to organise, with the UNITE site convenor's collusion.

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Feb 23 2009 12:45
davidbroder wrote:
It wasn't.

clearly. Unfortunately, this is not very surprising. The face book group and event were clearly populated entirely by politicos, and the sources indymedia and Ian bone are not always the most accurate...

I wonder where you got your information from Tony?

Quote:
To be fair, I heard that six Mini workers went to the Trades Council on Thursday asking them to support the picket. But basically the left turned out and the workers didn't, presumably assuming that they're totally screwed.

yes, I know previously the union reps said that there was no support for industrial action to stop the job cuts before. To be honest, I'm inclined to believe them on this. Despite how bad unions often are, I would have thought that if mood at the plant was militant enough to maybe strike over jobs, then reps would not be afraid to break "confidentiality".

Quote:
An instant occupation might have been the response that could have given the struggle some longevity... but the bosses deliberately gave them little time to organise, with the UNITE site convenor's collusion.

I think BMW closing the factory for a week immediately afterwards would be a massive handicap to launching this kind of action. Even if there weren't mood for it marks the workers, it would be very very difficult to maintain an occupation like that for so long.

Some of the reaction from people here I think is wishful thinking

This statement for example is not really one which could be made about any workplace in the UK nowadays:

Beltov wrote:
Also, BMW obviously closed the factory for a week so that the day shift couldn't walk out in solidarity, which would have definitely happened.

The report David links to from the commune is informative. It ends however on a naive note, asking "will the unions lift a finger to save anyone else?"

Of course, unions do not do things to help their members. Unions act to the extent that they are forced to buy the possibility of their membership taking action outside of their control. If membership are not prepared to take some sort of action themselves, then the unions won't "lift a finger" at all - as illustrated quite well with the mini workers here.

davidbroder
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Feb 23 2009 14:16
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Of course, unions do not do things to help their members. Unions act to the extent that they are forced to buy the possibility of their membership taking action outside of their control. If membership are not prepared to take some sort of action themselves, then the unions won't "lift a finger" at all - as illustrated quite well with the mini workers here.

OK, I think that's a rather mechanical conception of trade union bureaucracy vs. rank-and-file-ism - obviously people like Derek Simpson don't foment militancy, but with shop stewards/"lay officials" it's more complex. It is quite possible that the membership may be demoralised but union activists in such posts will encourage them to take action. There are many different layers/strata/relationships between individual activists, as you yourself surely admit with your comments on Moss's lack of confidence in the members' militancy.

Their reason-for-being is not merely to channel and demobilise 'authentic' struggle into bureaucracy. Indeed, you might often criticise a union bureaucracy which is calling for a "yes" vote in a strike ballot for not doing so enthusiastically enough and not encouraging a recalcitrant/demoralised membership (e.g. Unison Sept 07). It depends.

EDIT

+ given that unions collect subs from members, are seen as collective organisations etc. etc. it seems wholly appropriate to criticise them for not organising effectively enough, even if we don't have illusions that bureaucrats are consistent allies.

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miles
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Feb 23 2009 15:26
Quote:
Some of the reaction from people here I think is wishful thinking

This statement for example is not really one which could be made about any workplace in the UK nowadays:
Beltov wrote:

Also, BMW obviously closed the factory for a week so that the day shift couldn't walk out in solidarity, which would have definitely happened.

Steven, do you mean the closing of a factory for a week, or walking out in solidarity? I'm assuming you mean the former, in which case the question arises that if the bourgeiosie goes to such lengths already (news blackouts, distorted reporting, setting sectors / industries against each other, nationalist campaigns etc) why is that something you couldn't say about 'any' workplace in the UK nowadays?

To my mind, given the tidal wave of job losses and potential for rising struggle, I think closing a workplace is one of the easiest things they can do. In this particular case, well, I think closing production for a week nicely ties in with 'calming things down'. It's easier to do then to have to institute open repression (which will come, at some point) which has the risk of a wider backlash.

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Steven.
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Feb 23 2009 18:12
miles wrote:
Quote:
Some of the reaction from people here I think is wishful thinking

This statement for example is not really one which could be made about any workplace in the UK nowadays:

Quote:
Beltov wrote:

Also, BMW obviously closed the factory for a week so that the day shift couldn't walk out in solidarity, which would have definitely happened .

Steven, do you mean the closing of a factory for a week, or walking out in solidarity? I'm assuming you mean the former

no, sorry that wasn't clear. I meant the latter, now with added emphasis for clarity.

It is a very grave mistake to take wildcat solidarity strikes for granted nowadays. They are very, very rare in the UK, and in the vast majority of workplaces would be completely unthinkable in current circumstances.

David:

davidbroder wrote:
Quote:
Of course, unions do not do things to help their members. Unions act to the extent that they are forced to buy the possibility of their membership taking action outside of their control. If membership are not prepared to take some sort of action themselves, then the unions won't "lift a finger" at all - as illustrated quite well with the mini workers here.

OK, I think that's a rather mechanical conception of trade union bureaucracy vs. rank-and-file-ism - obviously people like Derek Simpson don't foment militancy, but with shop stewards/"lay officials" it's more complex. It is quite possible that the membership may be demoralised but union activists in such posts will encourage them to take action. There are many different layers/strata/relationships between individual activists, as you yourself surely admit with your comments on Moss's lack of confidence in the members' militancy.

as I would have hoped you would get from my comments on Moss's lack of confidence, I don't believe I do have a "mechanical conception of trade union bureaucracy". I would distinguish between lay union officials and shopfloor union activists and "the unions". I myself am a convenor for UNISON. While I may try to encourage my co-workers to take action, the union outside and above my branch in effect does the opposite.

Quote:
Their reason-for-being is not merely to channel and demobilise 'authentic' struggle into bureaucracy. Indeed, you might often criticise a union bureaucracy which is calling for a "yes" vote in a strike ballot for not doing so enthusiastically enough and not encouraging a recalcitrant/demoralised membership (e.g. Unison Sept 07). It depends.

indeed, I have done just that repeatedly on this site.

Quote:

+ given that unions collect subs from members, are seen as collective organisations etc. etc. it seems wholly appropriate to criticise them for not organising effectively enough, even if we don't have illusions that bureaucrats are consistent allies.

again, I think this betrays a certain political naivete. Through workers union membership fees, many workers give money to the Labour Party. Would you criticise the Labour Party for not fighting "effectively" enough for working people? Or do you recognize that the interests of the Labour Party are in fact opposed to those of working people, and so expect them to behave no differently?

The same is the case for the unions - their interests are more to consolidate their own power and influence as collective negotiators for the sale of labour power, not to advance the conditions of workers.

On a more general note, I've noticed other people around your commune group talking about the union "bureaucrats" as being a problem. While I agree with you guys on a lot, unfortunately I feel this is quite a shallow critique, mimicking that of the Trotskyist groups. The problems with the trade unions are deeper than the official leadership or officials. The institutional structures they exist within force them to enforce anti-worker policies. For example, the forbidding of unofficial strikes (because they are more effective), the necessity of secret postal ballots for industrial action (more likely to result in no votes), etc.