Labour News/March 2004

by David Granville

Pressure mounts over six-county organisation

RECENTLY APPOINTED Labour Party general secretary Mat Carter held meetings in February with representatives of pressure groups for and against Labour Party organisation in the six counties.

The party's long-standing policy of not allowing people in this particular remnant of empire to join the Labour Party was reversed last year when Labour leaders caved in to legal threats from pro-union trade unionist Andy McGiven.

McGiven is believed to be pressing the Party to come up with firm plans for organising in the six counties. Carter also recently met with representatives of the Labour Party Irish Society (LPIS), which remains opposed to Labour Party organisation, the formation of constituency parties and the standing of candidates in elections at any level throughout the six counties.

LPIS chair, Hayes and Harlow MP John McDonnell, has made it clear that the group is keen to continue working with the both the Labour Party and the SDLP on a range of issues, including the peace process, relevant to Irish people.

Workers' Memorial Day

UNION SAFETY activists are being urged to ensure that this year's annual Workers' Memorial Day on 28 April has maximum impact. Organised around the slogan 'Mourn for the Dead, Fight for the Living', action and events are currently being planned throughout Britain and Ireland.

Two million are killed world-wide by work each year, around 300 of these in Britain. Campaigning health and safety journal Hazards recently set out significance of Workers' Memorial Day:

"Workers Memorial Day is one day when we can act locally, nationally and be linked in international solidarity to publicise the real reasons why workers are being killed... and to demand political action to reverse the massive number of deaths caused by the Workplaces of Mass Destruction."

(For further details visit the Hazards webpage at

BMJ predicts mesothelioma 'epidemic'

UNION LEADERS have called for urgent action to clear deadly asbestos from British workplaces. The call follows the publication of a British Medical Journal (BMJ) survey predicting a steady growth in the numbers of people afflicted by the deadly lung disease mesothelioma.

Doctors conclude that mesothelioma is currently responsible for 1,800 death per year and predict that the death toll is set to rise to 2,000 per year by 2015.

The BMJ research confirms what health and safety campaigners have been saying for years.

"Many thousands of workers have already suffered long, slow and painful deaths because of exposure to asbestos. Many tens of thousands more who have worked with asbestos in the past face an uncertain future," said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. Construction union UCATT general secretary George Brumwell said there was a need to resist call from some Tory MPs and the asbestos industry for a relaxation in existing restrictions on asbestos use.

Half a million workplaces in Britain are believed to contain asbestos, posing a potentially lethal threat if the material is disturbed during refurbishment or demolition.

North hit by low pay

A RECENT report published by the GMB has highlighted the problem of low pay facing workers in the six counties.

The report reveals that the north has seven out of ten of the worst areas for low pay among full-time workers in the UK. Down props up the bottom of the low pay league of shame, with average wages £8,443 per annum below the UK average of £24,724. The other six-county areas cited in the bottom ten are: Cookstown, Ballymoney, Ards, Derry, Strabane and Magherafelt.

The report also reveals a staggering £34,624 pay gap between the area with the highest pay (City of London) and Down, where annual average full-time earnings are £16,281.

"The decline in manufacturing industry and the loss of craft and technical jobs has hit areas like the north east of England and Northern Ireland very badly," said GMB general secretary Kevin Curran, who is calling for a strong economic regeneration plan for the six counties.

  • The GMB is calling on the British government to compel employers to undertake equal pay audits.

    The call follows the publication a report in mid-January revealing a gender pay gap in Britain as a whole stands of £129 per week.

    Although the average gender pay gap for the six counties is lower at £82.50 per week, it tops £100 per week in three areas: Ballymena (£105.60), Belfast (£118.50) and Larne (£120.80).

TUC library collections online

THE JOINT TUC and London Metropolitan University initiative to allow online viewing of the TUC's library collections has been completed.

The website includes the full unedited 1,700-page manuscript of Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. Speaking at a reception to mark the completion of the project, Tony Benn explained that the book was both his favourite and the one he had given away the most throughout his life.

Trade unions had been a major part of British society for more than 150 years, said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber. "I'm delighted that so much valuable material from our past can now be accessed by students around the globe." The TUC Library collections can be viewed at

Union calls for fire chief to resign

THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) has called for the removal of a fire authority chief who likened fire service reform to rape, but said that it was better to lie down and enjoy it.

David Fox, chair of the Dorset Fire Authority made the comments in response to government moves to regionalise control rooms, where most of the workforce are women.

The FBU has labelled a number of government-proposed changes, including plans to reduce the speed and numbers of firefighters sent to 999 calls, to massively reduce responses to automatic fire alarms and plans to replace emergency fire control rooms with larger regional versions as "dangerously naive".

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