The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.61/No.39           November 10, 1997 
Alabama Coal Miners Strike For Dignity On Job  
This column is devoted to reporting the resistance by working people to the employers' assault on their living standards, working conditions, and unions.

We invite you to contribute short items to this column as a way for other fighting workers around the world to read about and learn from these important struggles. Jot down a few lines about what is happening in your union, at your workplace, or other workplaces in your area, including interesting political discussions.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -Coal miners at Drummond Coal Company's Shoal Creek mine near here struck for two days October 7-8. Some 700 miners, members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Local 1948, shut down the mine in protest when the company posted a new absentee policy and a "Code of Personal Conduct" for the mine that included a provision for the search of miners' personal property on mine premises.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn quickly granted the company's request for a restraining order against the strike. On October 15 the federal judge extended her October 8 ruling ordering the miners back to work until November 7. According to the Birmingham News, the judge wanted "to allow the parties an additional opportunity to resolve their disputes." The miners are prohibited by the restraining order from striking or "refusing to perform their work in a regular and normal manner, or failing or refusing to sign up for Sunday work, or failing or refusing to work on Sunday."

According to Drummond's complaint to the judge, the miners responded to the first back-to-work order by refusing to sign up for Sunday work. The company claims that the UMWA local is bound by the 1993 contract to "assure that an adequate number of personnel make themselves available for necessary work on Sundays." The company did not explain how the union local is supposed to assure that enough miners sign up for Sunday work.

UK Ford workers walk out demanding a raise
LONDON - Unionists at Ford's Dagenham plant brought production to a halt when an estimated 10-15 percent of the workers in the Paint, Trim and Assembly plant walked off the line on the night shift on October 3 and the day shift on October 6. They were protesting the company's proposed two-year deal for an annual pay raise of 2.75 percent, a small increase in pension benefits, and the introduction of what Ford termed a "flexible time corridor." Inflation in the United Kingdom is currently 3.6 percent.

The "flexible time corridor" refers to an extra 100 hours each year that employees would be contracted to work if required, "in order to respond more efficiently to market-driven peaks and troughs," according to the company. These hours would be without payment. Instead, an equivalent amount of time off would be allowed, paid at standard rate. The next meeting between the company and the unions is scheduled for mid-November.

Workers protest rail privatization in London
LONDON - Over a 100 workers from Acton Works in West London, United Kingdom, picketed the headquarters of the Department of Transport and Environment on Friday 10 October to protest the selling off of the Works to the German company, ADTRANZ. This was the third picket held. During the first one, workers blocked the main road and stopped traffic to draw attention to their demands.

Acton Works is the only engineering workshop left on the London Underground system. It specializes in the maintenance of safety equipment on the underground trains and signaling. Its proposed sale, which will be decided by November 6, is part of the process of privatization of London Underground. The 250 workers are members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Union (RMT), the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Workers Union (AEEU).

Although Acton Works has 5 years of orders for rolling stock, ADTRANZ will only guarantee workers jobs for 6 months. The leaflet produced by the Acton Works Committee said that this was in order to cut pay and conditions. Workers currently work a 35-hour week.

Placards at the picket were made by the section that makes the train seats. They said, "Great Train Robbery" and "Profits for safety, not for shareholders."

It was announced during the picket that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott had agreed to see Jimmy Knapp, General Secretary of the RMT and a union delegation on Thursday 16 October.

Workers at the picket were uneasy about the stance of the Labour Party. At the recent national party conference, John Prescott persuaded the rails unions to withdraw their motion for the re-nationalization of the railways. London Underground is the only part of the rail system that has not been privatized.

New Zealand bosses stage protectionist rally
THAMES, New Zealand - The Businessmens' Association in this small rural town, two hours drive from Auckland, organized a rally here September 26 to demand retention of protective tariffs on imported cars. They are concerned at the impact on business of the possible closure of the local Toyota car assembly plant, which employs 330 people.

Toyota management claims that government plans, agreed to in conjunction with members of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), to cut tariffs to nil by 2010 will make vehicle assembly in New Zealand unviable, and that the plant will likely close. The Thames plant is one of the few remaining car assembly plants in New Zealand, following closure of the Christchurch Toyota plant last August and the Auckland Ford plant, which employed 300 workers in February.

The rally attracted over 1,500 people. Businesses were closed for one hour and schools finished early to allow people to attend. Shortly after the rally began, to the strains of the Toyota advertising tune "Welcome to Our World," the Toyota workers marched down the main street to join the crowd.

A contingent of workers from Thames Hospital, concerned by ongoing cuts to services also participated with a banner saying "Save Thames Hospital Services."

Speakers at the event sought to rally the concerns of the many working people participating around support for "their" company (Toyota), "their" town, and for protectionism. Gavin Bell, the spokesperson for the Engineers Union, which organizes workers at Toyota, said, "This rally is about the survival of Thames and Toyota. We don't need the sudden abolition of tariffs - it goes in the opposite direction of allowing Toyota to make a dollar and the town to survive." He urged the people of Thames to continue to put pressure on the government in conjunction with Toyota management.

Minister of Commerce John Luxton reiterated his government's intention to abolish tariffs. He hinted that the Toyota workers could volunteer to take some cuts, suggesting that the one thing they could do would be to go back to the company and ask "what it would require for the plant to go on for one or two years."

The Militant interviewed some workers after the rally who were influenced by a pro-company perspective. One woman said, "The company is good to work for. They've let us off for the rest of the day." Another was not optimistic. "We were told a year ago" that the factory would likely close, she said.

Rich Stuart in Birmingham; Caroline Bellamy, member of the TGWU at Ford Dagenham in London; Rose Knight, member of the RMT in London; and Mervyl Morrison and Felicity Coggan, a member of the Engineers Union, in Auckland, New Zealand, contributed to this column.  
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