Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials, 21 April 2008

21 April 2008

 1.6 million on the dole... and they say we should be pleased!

"Superb figures" said unemployment minister Stephen Timms about the Office of National Statistics' latest announcement on unemployment. But what can be "superb" about over 1.6 million workers being out of a job with only half of them being entitled to any form of unemployment benefit? This beggars belief!

Of course, this scandal is not new. It goes back to the Tories' introduction of the Jobseekers' Allowance and Labour's on-going punitive drive to blackmail the jobless into taking any odd job, or to discourage them from even registering with the dole office.

The overall jobless figure may have gone down since 1997, but when the equivalent of the combined populations of Birmingham, Manchester and Coventry is still unemployed there is really nothing worth writing home about!

Timm's complacency does not come as a surprise, though. We know all too well what concerns this government. And it is certainly not the problems faced by the jobless. Their concern, instead, is the state of what they call the "labour market" - boss-speak to describe what it costs to hire and fire an employee and how easily it can be done.

The government hails the fact that according to the ONS figures, employment is "at an all-time high". Strangely enough, however, even the ONS has to admit that the average working week keeps going down. It is now only 31.9 hours. And no-one bothers to question why!

Yet what does this really mean, if not that the proportion of real jobs - i.e. full time - is going down as well? Besides, the 48h-week is still the norm in many industries and the working week is even longer in others, due to Blair's famous "opt-out" from the EU working time regulations. So this average of 31.9 hours, means that a large proportion of the ONS so-called "jobs" must offer only 15 hours of work, or less, per week.

And leaving aside company directors, high flying lawyers and such like, who earns an hourly rate which is high enough to make a living on so few hours?

What really pleases Stephen Timms so much is that the number of workers who have no choice but to take the first lousy job on offer, no matter how low the pay and how bad the conditions, remains high enough to allow the bosses to get away with paying low wages.

But what also pleases Timms, although he did not dare to say it, is that average earnings growth is going down - which, in passing, contradicts the notion that the employment situation is improving. Indeed, earnings increased on average by 3.7% over the previous year, which is well below inflation, considering the rate at which utility, housing, food and petrol bills have increased.

All this can remind us only of one thing - something that should worry Timms and his like. It should remind us that the only way forward for the working class, is to raise the banner of the fight for decent wages and conditions, so that we can afford to work fewer hours, to stop killing ourselves for the bosses' profits and ensure that our children and neighbours have real jobs.

 These cow-boy bosses need to be taught a lesson

Ineos, the owner of the Grangemouth oil refinery, is threatening to cut North-Sea oil supplies to Scotland and the North of England for weeks, should the refinery's 1,200 workers go ahead with a 48-hour strike planned for 27 and 28 April.

This strike is a response to Ineos' plan to close the refinery workers' pension scheme to new entrants and to cut pensions for existing members. This is all the more scandalous as Ineos has already cut the fund's value by £40m using an accounting trick and reduced its contribution. As if a company which is the world's third largest chemical group, with over £400m profit last year, could not afford decent pensions for its workers!

Ineos' threat is outrageous blackmail and, what is more, based on a lie. There are 70 days worth of fuel reserves in Britain and even if Ineos closed the refinery for a week or more, this would still not threaten supplies - that is, provided the government does its job of ensuring that the reserves are used.

Above all, Ineos is trying to use public opinion to force workers into agreeing to this daylight robbery of their pensions. And the Grangemouth workers are right not to fall for this. They really deserve all of our support.