Friday, January 22, 2010

AFL-CIO: Massachusetts election

What happened Tuesday in Massachusetts was a wake-up call to all of us.

It was a working class revolt—a signal that in this economic crisis, the American people demand jobs, health care and an economy that works for them now—not political business as usual.

It was a loud and clear message that our elected leaders—and our labor movement—must do more for working people, do it fast and do it smarter.

An AFL-CIO poll taken Tuesday night shows without doubt:

Voters are fed up that elected leaders have done too little to help working families.

They said Democrats have NOT overreached on jobs, the economy and health care—they have underreached.

Voters have seen too much help for Wall Street and not nearly enough help for Main Street.

Unless Democrats demonstrate that fixing the economy is their overriding priority, and begin to create more jobs for working Americans NOW, we’re going to see more results this November like the Massachusetts election.

For the union movement and activists, the message was also clear: It’s not time to leave it to any political party to take care of us once we put them in office. It’s time to organize and mobilize as never before to make every elected or aspiring leader PROVE he or she will create the jobs we need in an economy we need with the health care we need.

I am not discouraged by Tuesday’s election results. Actually, I’m energized and I want you to be, too. Working America is demanding major change NOW—not timid, go-slow, partial solutions.

I know we are the people who can mobilize a massive army to force elected leaders to deliver.

In solidarity,

Richard L. Trumka
President, AFL-CIO

Sunday, January 17, 2010

RTBU Song Competition Winner

Don't Close The Depot Down
A Song by John Hospodaryk©John Hospodaryk 2009
[Winner of the 2009 RTBU Railway Song and Poem Competition]

Two thousand trucks across the Great Divide,
Two thousand truckloads of fuel that will ride
Upon the road when there's a train that can bring it safely to your town,
Safely to, safely to your town.
So all I ask of you is don't you, don't you close that depot down,
Don't you close, don't you close that depot down.

We gotta let that rolling stock stay upon the rail,
It's rolled a hundred years, it has never failed.
Don't wanna see them trucks crowdin' up the whole highway,
Whole, whole, whole highway,
So all I ask of you is don't you, don't you take that train away,
Don't you take that, take that train away.

Carbon footprints are truckin' up 'n' down the road,
Up 'n' down, up 'n' down the road.
One of these days one of them rigs you know is bound to explode,
How can we bear such a heavy load!

They're layin' off the workers, I heard it on the news,
'Cos private contractors is what they wanna use,
You know we gotta get together, people, spread the news all around,
All around, spread the word around. We must demand that they don't,
they don't close that depot down,
They must not close, close that depot down.

HAITI: Drop the $890 million debt

Cancel Haiti's existing debt and ensure new aid is in the form of grants.

As more news reaches us from Haiti following Tuesday’s earthquake, the true scale of the disaster is now emerging. Reports now suggest as many as 50,000 people may have died, with hundreds of thousands made homeless.


Dear Finance Ministers, IMF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and bilateral creditors,

As Haiti rebuilds from this disaster, please work to secure the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s $890 million debt and ensure that any emergency earthquake assistance is provided in the forms of grants, not debt-incurring loans.


Friday, January 15, 2010

ACTU: working families still struggling

A drop in Australia's unemployment rate for the third month in a row is encouraging and may indicate that the peak has passed, but December's over-reliance on part-time jobs growth may also be masking underlying problems, say unions.

Unemployment fell to 5.5% last month, but we must not lose sight of the fact that there are still 639,400 Australians out of work and 118,300 more jobseekers than a year ago.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said most of the 35,200 new jobs in December were part-time, and much of this was due to retailers adding extra staff for a short period before Christmas.

Additionally, the underemployment rate remains unchanged at 7.8%, while aggregate hours worked actually fell by a million hours.

"While the fall in the unemployment rate is welcome, full-time jobs growth in December was weaker than the previous few months, while part-time work always increases before Christmas because shops are busier," Ms Burrow said.

"We will have to wait for January's data before we can make any judgement about how sustainable the recent growth in part-time work is.

"But there is no doubt that many working families are still struggling, particularly after the minimum wage was frozen last year.

"The latest data shows almost 900,000 Australians wanted to work more hours - that is 170,000 more than a year ago.

"This suggests that tens of thousands of Australians are finding it difficult to meet their costs and service their debts.

"It would be counter-productive to accelerate the winding back of the economic stimulus program at this stage."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rio Tinto agrees to negotiate

Rio Tinto will negotiate a collective deal with its iron ore rail workers for the first time in 15 years, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says.

The CFMEU mining and energy division said the mining giant would negotiate a new collective agreement to cover the wages and conditions of more than 250 workers across its iron ore rail operations in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

Rio Tinto moved to a system of individual contracts more than 15 years ago, CFMEU mining and energy secretary Gary Wood said.

The company's decision to bargain with the union was a recognition the industrial landscape in Australia had changed, he said.

"In its decision to negotiate, Rio Tinto has finally come to terms with the reality that the rights of Australian workers have been restored under the federal government's fairer IR (Industrial Relations) laws," Mr Wood said.

Mr Wood said he hoped it signalled the beginning of the end of Rio Tinto's hostility towards union agreements.

"The CFMEU is hopeful that Rio Tinto's decision to negotiate collectively with its workforce marks the beginning of the new era of co-operation," Mr Wood said.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

AMMA and ACCI miss the Howard years

Maritime Union of Australia, National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin said calls today by employer groups for the Federal Government to intervene in the dispute with Farstad where a smokescreen designed to distract attention from the fact employer's where not bargaining in good faith.

"It is unfortunate employers don't want to debate the real issues in this dispute. Farstad seaman do a very difficult and dangerous job, often working at sea for many weeks of the year. They are simply arguing that this work be recognised with similar benefits to other workers.

"The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) and the ACCI are engaging in a mischievous and hypocritical political campaign against the Fair Work Act and designed to cover the fact their arguments failed before the independent umpire, Fair Work Australia.

"The ACCI are good corporate buddies and have been recruited to AMMA's spurious campaign he said.

"When you put AMMA’s political games aside and look at the facts, it is a very different story that emerges.

"Maritime companies themselves recognise the enormous disparity in wages in the offshore construction sector.

"It was in fact employers who offered very large allowances to some sections of the offshore construction industry workforce to attract those workers to sign on to individual AWAs to avoid the requirements to bargain collectively.

“The MUA is bargaining in good faith in an effort to find a solution that would fix this wage disparity over time.

"They are pattern bargaining on behalf of employers, effectively vetoing any opportunity to reach agreement. If unions did it they would be calling for the death penalty for us AMMA has never wanted collective agreements to apply in metaliferous mining, and the strategy its members are being encouraged to adopt in this dispute is part of that wider AMMA campaign against the Fair Work Act. They miss Workchoices the poor buggers.. Why wouldn't they considering they monopolised Industrial relations," Mr Crumlin said.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

MUA: Farstad stoppage

The Maritime Union of Australia said further industrial protected action planned for Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday at Farstad Shipping was regrettable but members felt they had no alternative after negotiations disappointed.

"We've moderated our claims right though these negotiations. Official talks on Monday regrettably did not achieve the level of progress the union had anticipated", said Mick Doleman, Deputy National Secretary of the MUA.

"We would have liked to avoid these actions but our members felt they did not have an alternative to seek a fair outcome. We are still prepared to consider abandoning the action subject to the company's shifting it's position.

"All along we have maintained that being paid parity for construction work - being compensated at the same level as, for example, the rigger who you are working beside - is a fundamental right.

"We have also always been prepared to use Fair Work Australia or an independent conciliator to assist in this matter", Doleman said.

A 48-hour stoppage is planned for Farstad Shipping from midnight Friday 8 through to midnight Sunday 10 January, with another 24-hour stoppage beginning midnight Monday 11.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

ACTU: Rein in corporate greed

The Productivity Commission’s final report on executive remuneration falls short of what is needed to rein in a corporate culture of rewarding risky behaviour that endangers jobs and undermines the economy, said ACTU President Sharan Burrow.

While welcoming improved transparency and shareholder accountability in the setting of executive remuneration, it was a great disappointment that the commission did not adopt a cap on CEO salaries, as unions have been urging, she said.

“This report is a big let down for working Australians who have watched with horror as boards and executives rewarded themselves with ever growing swags of money while engaging in reckless behaviour that resulted in tens of thousands of job losses,” Ms Burrow said.

“Working Australians rightfully expected the Productivity Commission to recommend tougher action to break this nexus between risk-taking and excessive pay and bonuses.

“It’s obscene that the average pay of CEOs of the top 20 companies last year was $7.2 million – or 110 times average wages – at a time when workers were being told they had to tighten their belts and accept job losses.

“Tighter rules of corporate governance and increased board accountability and transparency are long overdue, and the proposed ‘two strikes’ rule to sack boards that repeatedly approve unacceptable remuneration packages is positive.

“But it is disappointing that the big business lobby has got into the commission’s ear and even the two strikes rule has been watered down.

“Excessive salaries and bonuses contributed to the GFC by encouraging risk-taking and short-term thinking that undermined the sustainability of businesses and the financial system.

“We need tighter restrictions on executive pay to prevent a repeat of the greed and recklessness that led to the GFC.”

Unions have proposed that the base salaries of company chiefs, excluding incentives, should be capped at a maximum 10 times the average earnings of employees within that company.

Incentives or bonus payments should then be based on long-term sustainability not short-term risk taking.

Companies should also be taxed at a higher rate for paying CEO salaries over $1 million.


Tsutomu Yamaguchi: 1916 - 2010

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, survivor of both atomic blasts to hit Japan in World War II, died of stomach cancer on Monday 4 Jan 2010 in Nagasaki, Japan. He was 93.

Mr. Yamaguchi, as a 29 year-old engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, was in Hiroshima on a business trip when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on the morning of 6 August, 1945. He was getting off a streetcar when the so-called Little Boy device detonated above the city.

Mr. Yamaguchi said he was less than two miles away from ground zero that day. His eardrums were ruptured, and his upper torso was burned by the blast, which destroyed most of the city's buildings and killed 80,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi spent the night in a Hiroshima bomb shelter and returned to Nagasaki, his hometown, the following day, according to interviews he gave over the years. The second bomb, known as Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August, killing 70,000 people.

Mr. Yamaguchi was in his Nagasaki office, telling his boss about the Hiroshima blast, when "suddenly the same white light filled the room," he said in an interview last March with the British newspaper The Independent.

"I thought the mushroom cloud had followed me from Hiroshima," he said.

Japan surrendered six days after the Nagasaki attack.

Mr. Yamaguchi recovered from his wounds, went to work for the American occupation forces, became a teacher and eventually returned to work at Mitsubishi.

There were believed to have been about 165 twice-bombed people, known as nijyuu hibakusha, although municipal officials in both cities have said that Mr. Yamaguchi was the only person to be officially acknowledged as such.

One of his daughters, Toshiko Yamasaki, who was born in 1948, said her mother had also been "soaked in black rain and was poisoned" by the fallout from the Nagasaki blast. Her mother died in 2008 from kidney and liver cancer. She was 88.

"We think she passed the poison on to us," Ms. Yamasaki said, noting that her brother died of cancer at 59 and that her sister has been chronically ill throughout her life.

In his later years Mr. Yamaguchi spoke out against atomic weapons, though he had earlier avoided joining antinuclear protests because of the attention he might have attracted, Ms. Yamasaki told The Independent. "He was so healthy, he thought it would have been unfair to people who were really sick" she added.

Mr. Yamaguchi rarely gave interviews, but he wrote a memoir and was part of a 2006 documentary about the double bombing survivors. He called for the abolition of nuclear weapons at a showing of the documentary, "Niju Hibaku" ("Twice Bombed"), at the United Nations that year.

At a lecture he gave in Nagasaki last June, Mr. Yamaguchi said he had written to President Obama about banning nuclear arms. And he was recently visited by the American film director James Cameron to discuss a film project on atomic bombs, Ms. Yamasaki said.

Mr. Yamaguchi was philosophical about his surviving the blasts. "I could have died on either of those days. Everything that follows is a bonus."

RTBU: Rail Should be First Option for Dangerous Goods

National legislation to ensure that dangerous goods such as petrol are transported by rail wherever practical would save lives on Australian roads, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) said.

RTBU National Organiser Bob Nanva said amendments should be made to Federal, State and Territory Dangerous Goods Acts to make rail transport the first option for the transport of dangerous goods, especially for long haul trips.

“As a community, we all have an interest in making our roads as safe as possible.
“Major corporations, however, have shown they are more interested in saving dollars than saving lives, so it is time that governments stepped in to make them do the right thing.
“Dollars should not come before sense when it comes to the safety of people on Australian roads.”

Mr Nanva said a prime example of the unnecessary burden being placed on Australian roads was the recent decision by Shell to move the transport of fuel from rail freight to road transport.

“The Blue Mountains Highway, for example, is winding, often congested and in many places quite narrow. Sending hundreds of extra petrol tankers along this road is doing nothing for road safety, especially when a safer, viable option is already available.

“Companies should not be able to make these decisions without any consideration of the public interest or public safety.”

Mr Nanva also called on governments to step up investment in transport infrastructure to improve both road safety and to make rail a more viable alternative for business.

“Government have a responsibility to set the rules, but they also have a responsibility to provide the basic infrastructure that supports our economy.
“When it comes to genuine nation building infrastructure projects, investment in major rail freight corridors should be a key priority for all governments.”

The RTBU has written to a number of other interest groups and stakeholders to gain support for the proposal to move dangerous goods off Australian roads.