TrenchNews, Verse 13

TOP STORY

LabourStart Forced to Close Website After Campaign Against Home Care Employer

Eric Lee’s LabourStart is an internet organizational tool for Britain’s unions. It has been more than a resource, it has been responsible for launching successful campaigns against employers and govts around the world who abuse workers and/or their unions. Barnet Unison, a website run by a local of the English union, explains.

To those of you unfamiliar with this organistion they provide information of campaigns across the world. Often they are exposing organisations/ governments who may have murdered, tortured , imprisoned Trade Union activists for going about their business, something which we all take for granted in this country. As with the Fremantle campaign, they will have a standard email detailing the issue and request readers to send the email off to the Head of the Organisation or Government.

By mobilizing union memberships around the world through its widespread newsletter to target specific injustices, LabourStart has been able to swamp offending employers and govt agencies or ministers with thousands of emails from all over the globe protesting anti-union or anti-worker activities. It has succeeded in getting trade union leaders released from jails, helped international unions win job actions, and supported trade unions in some of the most brutal countries on the planet.

Here, as Barnet Unison said, is the shocker: in all that time, they have never been threatened by anyone they went up against, not by military juntas or dictators or the cruelest and most vicious of employers.

Until now. And it’s coming from a British employer called Fremantle, not a Third World despot.

Privatization of previously govt functions and agencies came to Britain with Thatcher and grew under Poodle Blair as the UK’s Labour party followed Bill Clinton and the DLC’s lead in appropriating conservative positions and inserting them into a supposedly liberal political organization. Five years ago, The Poodle privatized Britain’s home care agencies (they call it “care home”), handing the contract to a so-called “non-profit” corporation called Fremantle. I’ll let Eric summarize what happened next.

On 1 April 2007 Fremantle Trust cut low paid care workers pay by up to 30%. The workers were told — “accept these terms or be sacked”! The members involved in the dispute provide residential and day care to the elderly and vulnerable residents in Barnet’s old peoples’ homes, in north London. Fremantle Trust is a not-for-profit company that took over care home contracts five years ago. The cuts include lower wages, increased hours, no sick pay, shorter holidays and reduced payment for working unsocial hours. Even pensions to which contributions have been made during the workers’ service are to be dramatically cut by more than one third. In response to these attacks our members voted to take strike action. Care workers need to be properly trained, decently paid and most importantly, valued members of society. This is an all too familiar story of privatisation, where companies pledge to keep delivering the same service but under-cut the in-house provision by attacking the conditions of the workforce.

(emphasis added)

Eric began an email campaign, urging his mailing list to send messages to Fremantle’s CEO, Carol Sawyers, expressing disappointment with the company’s treatment of its workers and urging it rescind the cuts. In the first 3 days, Sawyer’s inbox was flooded with over 5000 emails. Eric again, from his newsletter last week:

The reaction of the company was swift: On Friday afternoon, they fired off an email message to me threatening LabourStart with legal action, accusing us of “libel”. (As you may know, English libel laws are biased against the defendant, and are used by corporations to attempt to suppress dissent.)

A couple of days later, Fremantle got even more aggressive, and sacked Unison rep Andrew Rogers (pictured).

Andrew Rogers, Unison rep sacked by Fremantle this week This bullying behavior is, I am told, typical of how this company works. They’ve asked us to stop this campaign, to stop saying negative things about them, and to stop sending them email protest messages.

Eric’s response was predictable: step up the campaign. After his newsletter notified his members of the threat, 8000 more emails poured into Fremantle. What happened next was a first.

[O]n Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the employer (Fremantle Trust) contacted our internet service provider and demanded that they shut down the campaign or else face a lawsuit themselves.

We were contacted by the legal department of the internet service provider and told that we had until noon on Friday to close down the campaign or else the entire LabourStart site would be shut down.

We worked very hard over those 24 hours to attempt to get our provider to back down, and had the full support of Unison (Britain’s giant public sector union, whose members are at the center of the dispute) but were not successful in doing this before the noon deadline on Friday.

As a result, at 11:59 on Friday we were compelled to shut down the campaigns.

But not for long. The internet is still much harder to control than other forms of media.

But — we instantly revived the campaign in nine languages on a different server, in a different country, with a new name that reflects our feeling at this time.

The new site is called “We will not be silenced!” and is located, appropriately enough, at http://www.wewillnotbesilenced.org

Eric simply moved his site to an overseas server to prevent Sawyers’ attack on a new provider if he used a British ISP, and the campaign continues.

If you click the link, you’ll be directed to a page with a form letter you can simply sign and sent or re-write in your own words if you feel strongly enough. I urge you to do so. The global corporatocracy is a jungle virus – whatever slimy anti-union, anti-worker bullying succeeds will spread through the entire network. If most of Wal-mart’s skanky corporate behavior has been slow to be adopted by other corps in the US, it’s only because they’ve been caught so often and lost so many battles that their reputation is in tatters. And even at that, a number of chains have still appropriated wholesale illegal techniques like time-shaving and demanding workers put in time for no pay as secret corporate policies passed down verbally to managers with instructions to make sure workers don’t find out about upper management’s involvement.

Don’t let Fremantle get away with this bullshit. If you do, it could come to your company next.

OTHER STORIES

More Corporate Skulduggery

Boston Globe: “Corporate Executive Has Hissy-Fit

A corporate VP who resigned from his company two years ago is suddenly taking them to court for severance pay and benefits totaling $$hundred of thousands of $$$ because, he says now, they “forced him out” when they hired a new VP to take some of his responsibilities.

When Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc. senior vice president Dr. N. Anthony Coles resigned two years ago, the Cambridge biotech company said he left to take another job.

But in newly filed court documents, Coles says he was shoved out the door.

In a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Coles, 47, says he was stripped of some of his key responsibilities in 2005 when Vertex hired another executive, spurring him to start job hunting.

So, by his own admission, he took umbrage at the hiring and went looking for a new job. When he found it, he left. Now he wants his old company to pay severance just as if they’d actually fired him. Which they didn’t.

Really, read the rest of the article. It’s precious. Here’s my favorite part.

Over the next few years, Coles received raises, six-figure annual bonuses, and increasing responsibility, according to his lawsuit.

In November 2003, he was given the additional title of head of global corporate and business development.

But in February 2005, Vertex’s chief executive, Joshua Boger, and president Vicki L. Sato told Coles that a new hire, Dr. Victor A. Hartmann, would assume the business and corporate development duties.

Coles said he complained to Boger that the move was a demotion and started talking to him about taking on another substantial role at Vertex. But when nothing materialized, Coles contends, he had no choice but to look for a job elsewhere.

Isn’t that darling? He had no choice. Dear, dear. How cruelly he was treated. How could he stay somewhere that paid him “a starting salary of $325,000, a $55,000 signing bonus, a forgivable loan of $250,000, plus stock options and other benefits” totaling over $500K/yr if they’re going to treat him so shabbily? Obviously, his wounded pride is worth far more and the company should be punished severely.

You know, a judge isn’t going to take kindly to this story. Not at all. Coles murders his own case just by the way he makes it. OTOH, he better not opt for a jury. Ordinary people, victims of corporate greed all, won’t have any patience at all with this shit.

WaPo: “Skilling Appeals Enron Conviction, Asks for a New Trial

Jeffrey Skillings, sentenced to 24 years for engineering Enron’s illegal investment and market-manipulation schemes and then cooking the books to hide the $$$millions$$$ he and his conspirators raked off, wants a shot at getting out.

Skilling has received a measure of support for one of his key arguments. Last year, a judge cited “serious frailties” with Skilling’s conviction on conspiracy, securities fraud and insider trading counts. At issue is a theory that prosecutors employed to charge Skilling with conspiracy, a strategy invalidated in a case that flowed from Enron’s collapse.

Lawyers for Skilling argue that the jury verdict form in his case did not separate the problematic legal theory from harmless ones, tainting the entire prosecution. It remains unclear whether an appeals panel will reach the same conclusion about most of Skilling’s convictions — and whether wiping away at least one of them would significantly affect his sentence. Skilling’s sentence is four times longer than any other former Enron executive and six years longer than the average federal murder sentence, according to his court filing.

Skilling has become a scapegoat because his fellow defendant, Enron founder Kenneth L. Lay, died in July 2006, before he could be sentenced, the lawyers wrote. Skilling was “the last man standing when the court meted out its punishment,” they said.

Yeah, right. Another one they better not try in front of a jury.

WaPo: “Democrats, TSA Scuffle On Who Inspects Cargo

Bush’s Transportation Security Agency (TSA), a Homeland Security sub-agency which is responsible for anti-terrorist screening at airports and loading docks, wants to let corporations do their own screening, meaning of course that, since it’s expensive, they won’t.

The showdown between Congress and the Transportation Security Administration centers on who should screen the more than 7,500 tons of cargo that the TSA says are loaded onto passenger planes each day. An undisclosed portion of that cargo is screened before each flight, and Congress passed a law in late July mandating that, within three years, all cargo be screened.

Two top Democrats said they want government screeners to conduct the inspections. They point to recommendations by the 9/11 commission that urged TSA to stiffen cargo screening and a recent audit that questioned TSA’s efforts.

The airlines are responsible for screening the cargo, with TSA oversight. Much of the cargo is shrink-wrapped into large bundles before reaching the airport, making it difficult to screen, TSA officials have said.

***

TSA officials said the mandate would be impossible to carry out and that they believe the law allows shippers, manufacturers and other private companies to conduct the screening if they meet government standards. The manufacturers and shippers would have to maintain a secure chain of custody of the screened cargo until it is loaded onto planes, TSA officials said.

***

“We are going to do whatever the law says to do,” said Kip Hawley, TSA’s administrator. “There are some definitions that are terms of art. The clear intention of the legislation is to make sure packages that get onto passenger aircraft have to be physically inspected at some level. How can we do it in an operationally effective way so we don’t kill the industry or require massive increases in TSA resources? How do we do it in a way to add security to the existing freight process rather than force the freight process to conform to our security process?”

(emphasis added)

IOW, the Bushies don’t want to appropriate the money it would take to actually implement these parts of their PATRIOT Act because they’re interested in spying on Americans, not protecting the country from terrorists, and because it causes their corporate buddies some money. Their solution is not just to privatize the inspections but to allow the companies themselves to inspect their own cargoes using their own resources and people.

Here’s what will happen: the corporations will hire a single inspector – at minimum wage, naturally – who will be instructed to eyeball the cargo and sign off on it in under 3 minutes (any longer would be a waste of company time and money). We will wind up with a useless process that, in typical corporate/Bush Admin fashion, will appear to be doing something it isn’t actually doing.

Feel safer, do yah?

Reverse Globalization

AJC: “Chinese firm to build machinery plant in Peachtree City

In a stunning bit of “Through the Looking Glass” logic, a Chinese manufacturer is going to open a plant in the US, presumably because our labor costs are lower.

Hunan Province-based Sany Heavy Industry Co. is expected to build a plant in Fayette County that could one day employ 600 people, according to several people familiar with the project. The investment could top $50 million.

“I’m just so excited to finally see it happen,” said Lani Wong, who chairs the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Chinese-Americans, a nonprofit business and cultural promotion group. Wong didn’t provide details.

Sany, one of the largest machinery makers in the People’s Republic of China, furthers the Communist nation’s investment in Georgia. Two other Chinese manufacturers — an electrical components factory in Barnesville and a soy sauce maker in Newnan — have announced factories in the Atlanta area since June 2006.

After years of losing jobs to low-wage China, Beijing has granted newly powerful Chinese companies permission to invest overseas. Governors, like all economic-development recruiters, swoon at the prospect of the world’s fastest-growing economy bringing money and jobs to their state.

“We’re on to something,” said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Perdue. “It’s definitely a furthering of this trend. It’s good stuff.”

File under “Bizarre”.

Economy

Two pieces on the looming economic collapse threatened by the subprime mportgage debacle:

WaPo: “Growth in Jobs Ends as Housing Crunch Widens

Job creation in the United States came to a standstill in August as the downturn in the housing market led employers to sharply reduce hiring, a government report said yesterday.

It was the strongest evidence yet that problems in the housing market were seeping into the broader economy. The stock market fell sharply, and the report made it highly likely, analysts said, that the Federal Reserve would cut a key interest rate later this month to try to minimize the fallout.

The Labor Department said yesterday that the nation lost 4,000 jobs in August, the first time employment had shrunk since August 2003. Economists had predicted a gain of about 125,000 jobs. The report also revised previous months’ job growth to reflect a decline and indicated that the unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent.

“We did not expect a report as awful as this,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at the consulting firm High Frequency Economics.

Didn’t you? That’s funny. The rest of us did.

NYT: “Unexpected Loss of Jobs Raises Risk of Recession

The unexpected weakness in employment changed the terms of the debate over the health of the economy. Before the report was released, most economists were predicting that the economy had added about 100,000 jobs in August and that growth had slowed but continued.

But now, the odds of a recession in the next year have risen, to 25 to 50 percent, economists interviewed yesterday said. A recession is typically defined as an extended period in which the economy shrinks, leading to a rise in unemployment and a drop in consumer spending and business investment.

“People need to start thinking about the housing market not just as some ring-fence problem which is off on its own,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at Global Insight, an economic research firm in Lexington, Mass. “They need to start worrying about the health of the broader economy.”

I would think so. And about time, too.

Union Activity

WaPo: “Unions Press Clinton on Outsourcing Of U.S. Jobs

Way past time for this.

When Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton flew to New Delhi to meet with Indian business leaders in 2005, she offered a blunt assessment of the loss of American jobs across the Pacific. “There is no way to legislate against reality,” she declared. “Outsourcing will continue. . . . We are not against all outsourcing; we are not in favor of putting up fences.”

Two years later, as a Democratic presidential hopeful, Clinton struck a different tone when she told students in New Hampshire that she hated “seeing U.S. telemarketing jobs done in remote locations far, far from our shores.”

The two speeches delivered continents apart highlight the delicate balance the senator from New York, a dedicated free-trader, is seeking to maintain as she courts two competing constituencies: wealthy Indian immigrants who have pledged to donate and raise as much as $5 million for her 2008 campaign and powerful American labor unions that are crucial to any Democratic primary victory.

(emphasis added)

Not surprisingly, unions aren’t too thrilled by her hypocrisy.

Despite aggressive courtship by Democratic candidates, major unions such as the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union have withheld their endorsements as they scrutinize the candidates’ records and solicit views on a variety of issues.

High on the agenda of union officials is an explanation of how each candidate will try to stem the loss of U.S. jobs, including large numbers in the service and technology sectors that are being taken over by cheap labor in India. During the vetting, some union leaders have found Clinton’s record troubling.

“The India issue is still something people are concerned about. Her financial relationships, her quotes — they have both gotten attention,” said Thea M. Lee, policy director for the AFL-CIO.

Not as much as they should. Hillary is a DLC founder and a semi-Blue Dog, very conservative when it comes to corporations and the economy. The unions would do well to avoid her. She’ll make nothing but trouble for them.

Boston Globe: “Entergy union advocates compensation reform”

A union representing workers at an Entergy Corp. nuclear power plant in Massachusetts said Thursday that it would push the company to allow shareholder input on the compensation of its top executives, which totaled more than $27 million last year.

According to Entergy’s proxy statement filed in March with the Securities and Exchange Commission, chairman and chief executive officer J. Wayne Leonard, received $14.8 million in total compensation in 2006, a year in which the company dealt with the bankruptcy of its New Orleans subsidiary after Hurricane Katrina.

The Utility Workers Union of America local that represents workers at Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Station in Massachusetts said it filed a shareholder proposal urging Entergy’s board to allow shareholders to cast an advisory vote on compensation packages of top executives.

An Associated Press calculation of total compensation put Leonard’s figure at $15.5 million. That calculation included salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year — and may vary from the company’s reported total.

Lay-Offs

AJC: “Struggling Countrywide says it will slash 12,000 jobs

Countrywide has been at the center of the subprime implosion, and its employees are naturally the ones paying the price for the corporate scam its executives foisted on the country.

Countrywide Financial Corp. said Friday it will cut as many as 12,000 jobs as it struggles to deal with challenging conditions in the mortgage industry.

The company said the cuts, amounting to as much as 20 percent of its work force, are needed because it expects new mortgages to fall about 25 percent in 2008 from this year’s levels.

“We are taking decisive action to ensure that Countrywide continues to be well-positioned for further success,” said Angelo Mozilo, chairman and CEO.

In recent weeks, the company borrowed $11.5 billion and sold a $2 billion stake to Bank of America so it could keep operating its retail banking and mortgage lending businesses.

The Calabasas-based company said it intends to keep transferring its residential lending business into its Countrywide Bank unit as a way to strengthen its access to funding.

This is called “throwing good money after bad”. Can you imagine one of the homeowners trapped by the scam trying to borrow more money to make their now-huge payments?

AJC: “Coke lays off 125 in U.S.

Doesn’t sound like much but it’s the tip of the iceberg: Coke is getting ready to move its manufacturing operations overseas to low-wage countries, and what follows is nothing but the excuse they’re using to justify it.

Coca-Cola will lay off as many as 125 employees in the United States this year as part of a reorganization of its struggling North American division, the company said Wednesday.

The moves are part of a rapid succession of changes for Coca-Cola North America as the division tries to reverse lagging sales of its flagship soft drinks and increase profitability.

Most of the jobs to be cut will be in Atlanta, said Coke spokeswoman Lori Billingsley. Managers began informing employees Tuesday.

The layoffs represent about 3.5 percent of Coca-Cola North America’s 3,500 full-time, nonhourly employees based in the United States. The cuts will be completed by year-end.

As many as 275 employees will have to reapply for one of 150 newly created assignments, Billingsley said. The 100 to 125 employees who aren’t selected will be laid off at the end of December.

“Struggling North American operations” my ass. That’s the same excuse GM used to close down and move overseas 15 years ago in a year they made an $$$11BIL$$$ profit. But don’t expect to see anything in our conservative press about Coke building new plants in Sri Lanka or Colombia even as it closes them here and lays off more Americans. They didn’t cover it when GM did it and they won’t cover it when Coke does.

Miscellaneous

WaPo: “Bill Boosting Student Aid Is Approved

Good news at last – maybe – for disadvantaged students who’ve been left out as Bush cut back for 7 straight years.

Congress approved legislation yesterday that cuts more than $20 billion in government subsidies to institutions that make student loans, and uses most of that money to pay for increased financial aid for college students.

The bill would increase the maximum Pell grant, which goes to the poorest college students, from $4,310 a year to $5,400 a year by 2012.

It also would cut interest rates on federally backed student loans to poor and middle-class students from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent over the next four years.

President Bush has indicated he will sign the bill, despite previous objections to some of its provisions.

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