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On a recent visit to the north east, I was talking to a worker in an EDF Energy call centre.
In talks about pay with GMB and Unite union negotiators, EDF Energy bosses said the workers in the north east call centre were "paid too much for what they do." They offered a one-off, non-consolidated, taxable bonus of £450 for 2019.
Workers in the call centres are low-paid, although those in the south of England are paid more than those in the north because of legacy arrangements with previous utility companies which EDF took over.
EDF nuclear workers were offered 3.35%, which they have rejected. Workers in field services have rejected an offer of 1.2%.
EDF has said that profits are down in its nuclear sector and it cannot afford to pay more. This is far from the truth. EDF would rather pay shareholders' dividends than workers' wages.
EDF made £691 million in profits last year. It paid shareholders an interim dividend of 15p per share in December 2018, and will pay a further 16p on 10 June.
Although stock in the parent company is mostly owned by the French state, there are 3,010,267,676 shares in EDF altogether. Meanwhile, EDF increased its standard variable tariff rate by 10% on 7 February.
Workers should reject the offer and demand a proper pay rise. We need to nationalise the utility companies under democratic workers' control so that workers get proper wages and customers get a fair deal.
Clare Wilkins, Nottingham
Raking it in
Two pieces of news that broke recently perfectly sum up Birmingham City Council.
It was reported in the Birmingham Post that a former senior council officer received a £455,000 severance payment when his job disappeared under a reorganisation.
The council justified it by saying that over £300,000 of this was a pension contribution.
How many council workers who took voluntary redundancy received such generous pension provision? No ordinary council worker would receive such an amount during their complete retirement period.
Meanwhile, in north Birmingham, the council is threatening to close Walsall Road allotment, currently used by over 100 local gardeners, and considered one of the best sites in the country. It has been featured twice on BBC Gardeners' World.
The council wants to use the land for the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Allotment holders maintain that there are plenty of other sites in the same park that could be used for the games.
There we have it. Birmingham City Council makes huge payouts to senior managers, while taking away valuable community assets to satisfy a vanity project and the egos of senior Blairite councillors.
At least Brummies can take comfort in having the largest Primark store in the world!
Clive Walder, Birmingham
Politics in Worcestershire is becoming confusing. Louise Griffiths was elected a Green councillor for Battenhall on Worcester City Council last year - but has defected to the Conservatives, complaining of antisemitism, and feeling "restricted by the set-up of the Green Party here in Worcester."
Now Daniel Walton, who was Labour Party candidate for West Worcestershire in the general election of 2015, is standing for Malvern Hills District Council, Broadheath, as an independent.
I think a bit more testing out of candidates' values and views might be in order to see how committed they are before they stand.
Pete McNally, Worcester
Rouse, Ye Women!
Four GMB union members from Beverley and their partners travelled across the Humber Bridge to the former ropery works in Barton-upon-Humber to watch a Townsend Theatre production of 'Rouse, Ye Women!'
The play is set entirely to verse and song, and focuses on the low-paid women chainmakers around Cradley Heath in the Midlands.
While heavy and medium chains were produced by men in the factories, the women made lighter chains, working in isolation from home, in a small back room, in cramped conditions, with a forge and a hammer and tongs.
The women working in these sweatshop conditions were dependent on the "fogger" - a middleman, subcontractor to the large manufacturers - who delivered iron rods and collected the finished chains.
The fogger would take a 25% cut of the money paid by the manufacturers, leaving the women five shillings for a 54-hour week.
It was the work of Mary Macarthur, the founder of the 100,000-strong National Federation of Women Workers, that inspired and gave confidence to these women to strike. Ten weeks in total - and £4,000 raised in strike fund, an enormous amount at the time.
Thanks to the strike and Macarthur, the Liberal government passed the 'Trade Boards Act' to set minimum rates in four low-paid trades, at two-and-a-half pence per hour. For most women, this was a rise of 100%.
The participation and interaction from the audience was spectacular, joining in with song that put a bit of fighting spirit in your belly. When the fogger entered the scene he was met with a chorus of boos reminiscent of a Christmas pantomime.
If we fight, yes we can win. The verdict of Beverley GMB members: absolutely outstanding, thoroughly enjoyable performance - highly recommended.
- For tour dates and venues visit townsendproductions.org.uk
Tony Davison, GMB Beverley
The state uses the threat of crime to attack democratic rights. I was giving out leaflets, and told to move on.
I refused, and got searched - when they realised I was a 'threat to the public' as I had my work knife on my keys. I told them I work on a building site. They took it. That cost me 15 quid.
The people of Romford, east London borrowed 55,299 payday loans out of a population of just 95,894 in 2018, according to the Financial Conduct Authority. Their loans totalled just over £15 million.
Also, Birmingham was named as the payday loan capital of the UK, with its residents borrowing a total of £37 million in 2018.
A report in the Guardian went on: "In recent years, millions of people have turned to the high-cost payday loans to help pay their rent or mortgage, deal with an unexpected emergency, or simply afford their weekly food shop."
These statistics cannot convey the sheer misery behind them - the human and social cost paid for in poor mental and physical health, homelessness, family and relationship breakdown and rising crime.
We socialists must, however, translate these stats into a programme for revolutionary socialist change - based on common, democratic public ownership of the means of life, including land, our essential public services, industries, and the finance and banking sector.
And we must carry forth a strategy of coordinated, mass action, building towards generalised strike action, to drive the heartless Tories and their Blairite apologists from office and their positions once and for all.
Len Hockey, Loughton
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