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Archive for April, 2009

May Day

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After an occupation and strike lasting over six weeks workers at the FCI
Microconnections in Mantes-la-Jolie have saved their jobs.

The strike began on February 24th with workers demanding assurances on their
future. Management refusal to give information on production at an equivalent
factory in Singapore and an announcement that there was ‘overstaffing’ led
workers to believe that the company was planning to shut the factory down
and shift production. Over half of the factory’s 400 workers occupied the
factory to prevent any removal of equipment.

Workers held the factory and picketed for seven weeks, in spite of a legal order
to quit the premises issued on the 26th of March. 100 workers responded by going to the company
headquarters in Versailles and blockading the chief executive in the building for
four hours to demand negotiations.

Management continued to deny that any redundancies were planned until the
CGT uncovered a document detailing a redundancy plan for November on the
3rd of April. This increased support amongst the workers, especially the
non-strikers.

A week later after negotiations between the CGT and CFDT unions and management, mediated by the region’s sous-prefet and the work and employment bureau, an agreement was announced. The workers had succeeded in winning a guarantee that the factory would stay open until 2014 with no job losses before 2011. Workers also won payment for 27 of their 34 strike days.

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Scotland Yard last night suspended a second officer over brutality allegations after fresh video surfaced showing him striking a woman who was attending a vigil in honour of Ian Tomlinson, the man who died after being attacked by police at the G20 protests.

The officer, a sergeant, was the second person from the Territorial Support Group to be suspended in the last week.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission announced it would investigate the alleged attack by the TSG sergeant, the second time in a week the police watchdog has announced an investigation after media revelations.

The footage and series of photographs were taken at the Bank of England the day after Tomlinson’s death. The latest footage appears to show the officer hitting a woman across the face with the back of his hand, and saying: “Go away.”

The woman, clutching a carton of orange juice and digital camera, remonstrates with the officer. He is then seen drawing a baton from his pocket and striking the woman on her legs. The officer’s badge number was concealed.

“People were there for the vigil out of respect to remember Ian Tomlinson,” said Tristan Woodwards, 25, who caught the incident on film. “Police officers have to be held accountable.”

David Winnick MP, a member of the home affairs select committee, said last night the footage showed “more totally unacceptable” behaviour by a police officer.

He added: “The home secretary should make a statement about events at the G20 protests. That statement should include first and foremost Ian Tomlinson’s death and explain why police made a totally misleading statement about their contact with him.”

The first officer to be suspended came forward after the Guardian last week published footage of his clash with Tomlinson. It is believed the officer suspended last night had not come forward, but Scotland Yard would not say how he had been identified.

The new claims of brutality came as the chair of the IPCC faced renewed criticism after he wrongly claimed there was “no CCTV footage” in the area where police allegedly assaulted the newspaper vendor before he died.

The IPCC said yesterday that Nick Hardwick had been mistaken when he said there were no security cameras around Royal Exchange Passage, a pedestrianised area near the Bank of England where an officer struck Tomlinson with a baton and pushed him to the ground.

Tomlinson, 47, had his hands in his pockets and his back to police when the attack occurred around 7.20pm on 1 April. He collapsed and died moments later.

The IPCC is investigating whether the attack caught on footage obtained by the Guardian last week was an isolated incident or the culmination of a series of unprovoked assaults on Tomlinson. The father of nine had been trying to walk home when he was confronted by police at the G20 protests.

A first postmortem concluded that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack. The results of a second examination is expected within days.

Hardwick said on Thursday there was no CCTV evidence of alleged police assaults on Tomlinson. “We don’t have CCTV footage of the incident,” he told Channel 4 news. “There is no CCTV footage – there were no cameras in the locations where he was assaulted.”

Yesterday, after pictures were published showing cameras in the area, the IPCC said: “[On Thursday] Mr Hardwick believed that he was correct in this assertion – we now know this may not be accurate. There are cameras in the surrounding area.”

An IPCC spokesperson said while there may have been cameras in the area, that did not mean the watchdog had discovered footage of any alleged assaults.

The IPCC would not comment on why, a week after it said “investigators have looked at many hours of CCTV”.

City of London police manage and control the public CCTV cameras in the area, including at least one that overlooks Royal Exchange Passage.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the rights group Liberty, said she had “serious concerns” about the IPCC’s leadership, whose confusion over CCTV was “very worrying for the investigation”.

“You have to ask the question: Where are they getting their information from? Are they taking [City of London] police at their word?

“If the IPCC can’t grip this investigation and win back the public confidence that was lost in the Jean Charles de Menezes case, then I think patience will run out.”

There were at least two cameras on or beside Royal Exchange Passage. One, on the corner of Threadneedle Street, is a City of London police camera that can turn through 360 degrees.

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korudallos-11-040207h35xq
The protest march of Saturday 11/4 marks a climax for the solidarity struggle regarding
imprisoned insurgents of the December uprising in Athens

On Saturday 11/4 noon a big protest march took to the streets of Koridallos, Athens,
towards the central jail of Greece. The march was in protest to the continuing
imprisonment of last December insurgents against who all evidence are little more than
circumstantial. Demanding the immediate release of the prisoners and pledging their
solidarity to all inmates and to the Katerina Goulioni, the prison activist who was
assassinated during her transfer from Crete to the mainland last month, the demonstrators
stood outside the women’s prison wing chanting prison abolition slogans as inmates put
fire on linen hanging them on their cell windows.

The protest march comes in a climax of solidarity struggle to the imprisoned insurgents
of December across the country including protest marches, concerts for economic help
to the imprisoned insurgents and their juridical expenses. On the previous Friday 10/04
three radio stations were occupied in Athens and were forced to broadcast programmes
on December demanding the immediate release of insurgents.

At the same time, on Saturday 12/4 evening protesters attacked and destroyed the offices of ANEK Lines, the colossal passenger boat company on whose boat Katerina Goulioni, the inmate prison-activist was assassinated on 18/3, putting an end to her struggle for the abolition of physical penetrative vaginal inspection in Greek prisons. Her death led to an uprising in the women’s prison of Thebes last month.

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20 March 2009

Early on Wednesday morning, a Greek prisoner actively engaged in defending prisoners’ rights was found dead. Katerina Goulioni and other prisoners were being transferred on a ferry from Thiva women’s prison in Greece to Neapoli prison on Crete.

It is alleged that, during the transport, she was seated at a distance from other prisoners and that her hands were tied behind her back. Other prisoners are reported to have said that she looked as if she had been hit in the face.

Katerina Goulioni contacted Amnesty International on several occasions to report on the inhuman treatment of prisoners and prison conditions for women, including at Thiva prison, near Athens, and at Diavata prison, Thessaloniki.

She informed Amnesty International that she had lodged complaints with the Greek Ombudsperson, including one in February 2009, and the prison governor of Thiva prison. She also appeared in a television documentary just before her death.

Katerina Goulioni had also been actively involved in Amnesty International’s campaigns by collecting petition signatures from Thiva prisoners. She told members of Amnesty International Greece on 17 March 2009 that the organization’s campaigning materials had recently been removed from her cell together with other human rights documents and that some materials had not been delivered at all.

According to information provided by the Greek Ministry of Justice, Katerina Goulioni died of a heart attack. The official coroner’s report is expected next week.
 
Amnesty International is calling on the Greek authorities to carry out a full, prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the full circumstances of the death of Katerina Goulioni; and into the complaints that she had lodged about the treatment of women prisoners.

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The Ford motor company has had a parts factory on the Finaghy Road in West Belfast for years. In 1980 there were 1400 employees working there. By the year 2000 that had been reduced to about 550 or 600. At least some of that decline in the labour force is attributable to machinery improvements creating greater efficiency but also a planned run down was begun. In 2000 Ford created a sub-company which was initially called ‘Neuco’ then renamed ‘Visteon’ and treated it in some ways as if it was an independent company. Visteon never existed outside of Ford.

So if anyone was wondering when post-fordism started in Belfast, the Ford motor company would claim it began in 2000. However, the Ford flag still flew over the ‘Visteon’ factory until last week when workers seized control of their factory after being told that Visteon had been put into administration for bankruptcy. They were given 6 minutes notice that they were losing their job. So they simply stayed in the cafeteria to which they’d been summoned, wouldn’t leave the building. When the accountants and management eventually left the premises they didn’t let them back in. Now there is a union flag flying over the plant. But for the workers at the Ford/Visteon plant the real issue is still with Ford.

In the last 7 or 8 years Ford has deliberately rundown its Visteon plant, encouraging workers to take full pensions, early retirement or a severance deal. From almost 600 workers in 2000 there were 210 people employed in Belfast at the time of the attempted plant closure on Financial Fools day (April 1st 2009). Now that Visteon has been put into administration, neither Ford nor Visteon will have to pay those pensions. According to legislation the government (tax-payer money) is expected to fill the pensions gap. Even so some of the pensioners (4000 total in uk) would have a pension reduction by 10%. Many of the workers are asking each other, was this a deliberate Ford strategy from 2000, to offer full pensions because they knew they would never pay, they knew pension costs would be off-loaded to the public taxpayer! During the Ford/Visteon name exchange the Union had negotiated a separation agreement including promises that the amount of work Ford gave to its new Visteon plants would be equal or better but continually the parts contracts always seemed to be less.

The most important negotiation during the name change was that by European Works Council they got guarantee of the same pension, pay raises, holidays, and a mirror contract (The Ford book was orange and said “Ford”, the Visteon book was yellow but otherwise merely a reprint). However anyone with a company dumped into administration can escape all these commitments. Even though many workers that I met had been working in the Belfast plant for 30 or more years, statutory redundancy pay is capped. Because all the parts contracts that Visteon receives come from Ford, the Visteon company is really no more than an internal accounting unit that has been allowed to go bust. For Ford the ‘credit crunch’ may simply be a useful cover for an accounting and legal names hatchet job that was planned years before the bust.

Since 2000 the negotiation has been an ongoing process. The 520 agreement said that workers at one of Ford’s ‘Visteon’ plants had the right work in another Ford plant as Ford employees. At one point when a ‘Visteon’ plant in England was shedding jobs many of the employees flowed to a nearby Ford plant and replaced outsourced workers with temporary contracts. The workers at Visteon plants in England have nearby Ford plants in which they are potentially eligible for work, for example the Ford plant in Bridgend was 11 miles from the Swansea Visteon plant. However in Belfast, there is no such nearby plant. The 520 agreement only applies if the workers go to a Ford plant, so obviously the Belfast workers in Finaghy feel this plant closure is ripping the heart out of their community (the majority of whom are from greater Belfast area and a significant minority of which are directly from the immediate Finaghy/West Belfast area.

This is perhaps why the focus of the campaign is not on redundancy pay (as has been reported in the news) but rather the focus is on keeping the factory open. “I don’t want a redundancy package,” one worker told me. It was Belfast workers refusal to leave that inspired similar direct action resistance at the two other closing Visteon plants in Basildon and Enfield (England). On Wednesday a supporters’ march with a couple hundred people started at a local shopping centre and walked out to the occupied plant. The Northern Ireland Parades Commission normally requires 28 days notice before any kind of march can happen (because sectarian marches have resulted in violence). However the police were down to the plant the day before to fast track the permission process so that the March could go forward legally. Support for the Belfast workers occupation has so far been very strong from all quarters.

South Africa Connection: Although the account books for Visteon in England put the company in administration, the Visteon plant in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (a separate company within accounting world) has been financially stable making the same car parts for Ford motor company. One of the reasons for this is that Ford was purchasing the same car parts from the South African plant for $12-14 more per part than they were from the Belfast plant. For example, plastic fuel rails are made in Belfast (or Port Elizabeth) and shipped to the Ford plant in Bridgend (Wales) where engines are assembled and shipped to Germany where the Ford Fiesta is then put together. Apparently there is now a 12 week waiting list for new Fiestas in Germany because of a government scheme by which anyone with a car more than 9 years old who wants to trade up for a new car will be subsidized a couple of €thousand euro by the German government. The workers at the Belfast plant were quick to point out that there had recently been 7 critical failures on parts from the Port Elizabeth plant, possibly because helium leak tests (one of the stages of production) were not done there. Such a spate of failures would normally cause a plant to lose its Q1 standard rating (this rating is awarded internally by the Ford Company). Since I talked to the Belfast workers, a support agreement has been signed with other workers at some UK Ford plants. As far as I am aware UK Ford plants include Dagenham, Southampton, and Bridgend. The Hillrich plant was sold to Jaguar and is now making the new Tata. The Visteon plant in Swansea was given to Linamor, a Canadian firm with only 2 unionized plants (Swansea is one). The other three Visteon plants are of course the subject of this dispute. I believe they were meeting with the Bridgend Convenor (Wales). At that time they were hoping the agreement to include not handling parts from South Africa but I haven’t heard what was actually signed. Libcom is trying to confirm that workers from Southampton are blacking other Visteon parts http://libcom.org/news/belfast-hundreds-rally-support-visteon-workers-occupation-10042009

While in Enfield and Basildon direct action seems to be ending : http://libcom.org/news/enfield-ford-visteon-occupation-ends-no-conclusion-10042009 in Belfast the plant is still occupied and the stated aim is to reopen the factory. People want their jobs back, and they want to close the hole in the heart of the community. One Belfast trade unionist, commenting on the ordinariness of where things begin, said, “Who’d have thought the revolution would begin in Finaghy… !?”

Details written here were written down from conversations with occupation workers so some place names/spellings may need checked. More or less, however, the details should be accurate.

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