Solidarity 254, 22 August 2012

Call centre exploits prison labour for £3 a day

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 14:00

Becoming Green, a company which markets environmentally-sustainable energy to homeowners, has been exposed using prison labour on slave wages in its Cardiff call centre.

Almost 20% of the call centre’s staff in July and August were inmates from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, around 21 miles away from the centre. The prison workers were paid just £3 per day for their work.

Becoming Green had been employing the prisoners for 40-day periods, but as there is no centralised regulation on how long external employers can employ prison labour on “training contracts”, Becoming Green could keep

Syria at the edge: for freedom and secular democracy!

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 13:54

The people of Syria face a humanitarian disaster. The state is responsible for most of the estimated 23,000 deaths since the uprising against Bashar Assad’s police state began in March 2011.

The regime has now lost control over large areas of the country and is resorting to the use of attack helicopters and fixed-wing planes against its own people.

Over a quarter of a million people have fled the country and 1.2 million are internally displaced. The UN states that 2.5 million are in need of food and other aid.

Basic infrastructure is breaking down. For example, sewage-contaminated water has

Trade union news in brief

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 13:47

Parking attendants employed by contractor NSL in Camden, London, will strike again on 9 and 10 August.

Workers are fighting for the London Living Wage of £8.30 an hour, as well as for sick pay. They also have other grievances around terms and conditions.

Unison has 80% density amongst NSL workers in Camden and has had strong turnouts in previous strike days. Workers fought hard to win recognition. Despite these achievements, they have found it difficult to get Unison officialdom to sanction further strikes.

The dispute has a significance beyond the borough of Camden, as many London boroughs

Tyne and Wear Metro cleaners fight on

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 13:36

On 6 and 7 August RMT members employed by Churchill to clean the Tyne and Wear Metro struck again for 48 hours.

The long-running dispute has now seen cleaners take five days of strike action.

They are demanding living wages (they are currently paid minimum wage, and have not been offered a pay rise for this year), free travel passes, access to a pensions scheme, and an end to victimisation.

The action on 6 and 7 August was described as rock solid. Workers also organised a lobby of Nexus, the Tyne and Wear transport authority (made up of local councillors).

The local anti-cuts network also

Unison bullies members over pensions

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 13:31

I am in a local government Unison branch which has a firm branch position of opposition to the pension offer currently on the table.

The deal is not that different to what was on offer prior to our industrial action on 30 November. We will all be working longer, paying more, and getting less.

How has our union ended up recommending acceptance, and indeed threatening any branch that has a different position? The undemocratic way in which this has been handled has shocked many ordinary members and reps and given us all a lesson in the nature of bureaucracy and the lengths they will go to silence

Call centre workers strike

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 12:57

Jobcentre Plus call centre workers were on strike over working conditions on Monday 13 August.

Regular readers of Solidarity will know that Jobcentre Plus workers in DWP Call Centres have been part of the PCS union’s Contact Centre Campaign since as early as 2009 in the fight for improved working conditions. Just some of the conditions that workers have taken action against include oppressive management practices, time and target driven working, monitoring of staff movements and whereabouts, and high stress levels (often due to all of the above), which has led to a draconian attitude to

Robert Hughes' Australia

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 12:52

Robert Hughes, the Australian art critic, died on 6 August. We reprint this review (from 1988) by Belinda Weaver of his important history of Australia, The Fatal Shore, as a tribute.

It’s chic now in Australia to claim convict descent. Everyone wants to get in on the act. Tracing family history is now a national obsession. The convict past, no longer the shameful stigma it was, seems just another lovable aspect of Australia’s history.

Aussies are supposed to be ruggedly independent, jovial, anti-authoritarian, loyal to their mates, fond of the outdoor life. The popular image of the convict — a

Vera Zasulich: A pioneer for Russian Marxism

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 12:47

Vera Zasulich (1849-1919) was a revolutionary and an early Russian Marxist.

Born in Mikhaylovska as one of the daughters of a minor noble, she was brought up by wealthier relatives following her father’s death, and found her first job working as a clerk in St. Petersburg at the age of sixteen.

It was in the Imperial capital that Zasulich first became involved in the kaleidoscopic revolutionary milieu of Alexander II’s Russia, associating with the group around the “nihilist” Sergey Nechayev and, later, with the Kievan Insurgents, who were supporters of the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.


Why American unions support Obama and why they're right to do so

Published on: Wed, 22/08/2012 - 12:32

Every four years, an odd little debate occurs on the left.

Here is what happens: an American presidential campaign begins. Someone on the American left will write an article saying that there is no real choice between Democrats and Republicans and that workers need their own party.

Then left-wing papers around the world will reprint the article, or quote it, and agree with the comrade that workers have no real choice in America and need a class party, a labour party.

Some of those who make the case here in Britain will go further and say that British workers face the same predicament, that

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