Obituary; Ken Cameron

Ken Cameron : "A Socialist And Comrade"

Ken Cameron : “A Socialist And Comrade”

By Peta Steel

Ken Cameron, the stalwart socialist General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union who has just died at the age of 75 was one of the most charismatic and effective figures in the trade union movement as it came under attack from the Tory Government during the 1980s.

Cameron was a constant supporter to the Mineworkers, print workers and ambulance workers as they faced action from Thatcher and her Ministers as they tried to dismantle the welfare system and strip workers of their rights.

Cameron was General Secretary of the Fire Brigades’ Union from 1980 to 2000, and during that time led the fight to stop the fire brigade from being privatised and to protect their pay and conditions. At the same time he did much to support other trade unionists and in particular the National Union of Mineworkers raising money to help them and liaise with other organisations.

Cameron was born in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands in 1941, his mother who was Irish worked in the local big houses as a cleaner taught him about socialism. He was to remain immensely proud of her and of his background for the rest of his life. His clear Highland’s accent though later tempered through years of living in England would demand immediate attention as he spoke.

Like many Scots he received an education that gave him a fundamental understanding of international relations and an abiding hatred of apartheid and injustice.

He left school determined to make a difference. A brief span training as a journalist on the Aberdeen Press and Journal came to an end when he was sacked after falling into a swimming pool whilst covering an international swimming competition.  Jobs in those days were less easy to come by as the exploration of the local oil fields was only just beginning.

Cameron who had also worked as a special constable moved to Birmingham where he trained to be a policeman, before joining the fire brigade service.

It was no surprise that he became increasingly involved with the Fire Brigade’s Union; gradually rising through its’ ranks, becoming one of its most progressive and charismatic leaders. He was to lead the protest following the strikes of 1977-78 as the fire brigade were threatened with cut backs under a Labour Government. In 1980 he became General Secretary of the FBU a role he was to hold for the next 20 years.

His appointment came as Thatcher with her hard views at taking on the trade unions and dismantling the nationalised industries was elected in to Government. He was one of the first to warn of the impending struggle and to try and unite the unions so that they could defend themselves.

But it was during the miners strike to protect jobs during 1984/1985 that Cameron came to the fore playing a leading part in raising money to help the union. Even travelling to the USA to raise funds; And at one time taking money from his own union’s funds to help them, the £20,000 was paid back six years later.

Ken Cameron marching with his members in the FBU.

Ken Cameron marching with his members in the FBU.

Cameron became a familiar face on the picket lines and at meetings constantly giving support. He was to do the same during the Ambulance Workers Strike. He never turned down calls for help and earned a reputation for being approachable and supportive.

He was also a champion of international causes giving strong support to the ANC and Mandela in the fight against apartheid, which was in those days being undermined by Thatcher who looked on Mandela as a terrorist and in raising awareness of the problems and the injustice suffered by the Palestinians.

He was to move the first pro Palestinian motion at Congress in 1982.   On his retirement he was to receive a personal letter from Nelson Mandela who by that time had become a friend, becoming an honorary member of the FBU in 1990.

He was both sanguine and pragmatic when Blair became leader of the Labour Party, resisting measures that would see the jettisoning of Clause Four. But on the day the motion to get rid of it passed, mourned its loss and made reference that Labour would come into government but would lose some of its soul in doing so.

On his retirement he served on the Central Arbitration Committee. He was chair of the PPPS management committee which runs the Morning Star for several years.

Paying tribute to him Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU said ‘Ken was a forward thinking, socialist union leader who devoted many years of his life to protect Fireworkers pay and conditions. Ken defended everything that was good about the work of firefighters.

Asked how he would describe himself Cameron said: ‘a socialist and a comrade’.

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The Decline Of US Unions Is Threat To Public Health

The following article is written by the United Steelworkers Director of Health & Safety, Mike Wright. Thanks to Unite’s Bud Hudspith for forwarding this excellent article.

Mike Wright AJPH.2016_Page_1Mike Wright AJPH.2016_Page_2

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The Trade Union Act Is An Unjust Law – And It Spells Trouble

Cad_Jones_instagram_(3)By Carolyn Jones, Assiatant Secrertary, Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

The Trade Union Bill has now passed through its parliamentary stages, receiving Royal Assent on Wednesday May 4th — ironically, the 90th anniversary of the 1926 General Strike.

The Act will appear in the Queen’s speech on May 18th, with implementation dates set at the convenience of the government.

It’s true the Act is a shadow of the Bill first proposed, but dangerous details hide in those shadows. Rather than congratulate ourselves on what has been achieved, we must shine a light on the dangers ahead, exposing the intentions behind the Act and building on the growing opposition.

To do otherwise would be a disservice to future generations. It’s our kids and their kids who will suffer if the power of trade unions to organise, to represent and to defend living standards are choked off by this anti-working class Act.

As expected, some of the more bizarre and extreme proposals in the original Bill have been jettisoned. Unenforceable attempts to monitor and control the use of social media during disputes have been dumped, as have plans to make everyone on a picket line show their personal data to the police, employers or anyone else who asks to see it.

But the Act still demands the appointment of picket supervisors who must make themselves known to police and employers and carry a letter of authorisation. Breaches of any of the restrictions will in future attract criminal charges. Similar legislation in Spain has been used to threaten pickets with imprisonment — threats so far resisted by the Spanish trade unions.

On ballots, ancillary workers associated with important public services are no longer captured by the double thresholds (but private-sector workers involved in public services could still be caught by the net) and the wording on the ballot paper is slightly less prescriptive but still extremely vulnerable to injunction.

But the “flagship” aspect and main purpose of this Act remains in place. The imposition of a 50 per cent turnout and an additional 40 per cent support requirement for workers in health, education, fire response, transport and border security, make it near impossible for those workers currently leading the resistance against privatisation and cuts to take industrial action.

According to an IER report, millions of workers will be denied the right to take action under these new thresholds.

These restrictions bring Britain once again into conflict with international laws. In February 2016 the Committee of Experts told Britain that education and transport should not be included in the government’s list of “important services.” Similarly, the International Labour Organisation has reasserted that when setting ballot thresholds, “account should only be taken of votes cast.”

And yet the government pushed on. In response, unions quite rightly demanded the introduction of e-balloting to improve ballot turnouts and help unions reach the high thresholds. In an attempt to save the Bill from outright opposition, an amendment to review e-balloting and roll out a test programme was inserted by the Lords.

But the government has rejected the roll-out promise and instead kicked the e-ballot proposal into the long grass of an independent review.

And even when these new hurdles to strikes are navigated successfully, proposals to bus in agency workers — often vulnerable people coerced into taking positions under new universal credit rules — still lurk in the background.

On political funds the demand that members opt in rather than opt out will be delayed for 12 months and will only apply to new members. But the opt-in system is now law and threatens to undermine the political voice of trade unions.

And the bureaucratic nonsense of unions having to declare all political expenditure over £2,000 a year stands in complete contrast to the privacy and anonymity given to off-shore funds and off-shore Tory funders.

The election of a Labour government committed to removing this nasty Act grows ever more important if the political voice of the next generation of trade unionists is to be heard.

Proposals to ban check-off arrangements in the public sector have been dropped but only if the union wins the agreement of the employer and pays the admin costs. Fine where that works — but a constant threat to the negotiating position of unions where it doesn’t.

The idea of giving concessions where agreement can be reached permeates much of the final Act. So the Bill proposed doubling the notice period that unions have to give employers on a ballot from seven to 14 days. That period has now been reduced back to seven — but only where agreement can be reached.

Similarly, the validity of a ballot was reduced to three months in the Bill, extended to six months in the Act or nine months, but again only where agreement can be reached.

If the government was really supportive of industrial relations being conducted by agreement, it would have introduced statutory procedures to encourage collective bargaining. Instead it has put in place yet more hurdles for unions to jump and created a statutory safety net for employers to fall back on should relations at work deteriorate still further.

On the freedom of unions to organise at work, the Lords removed the proposal to cap facility time. The government however reinstated it, promising to research and consult on the cost of facility time before returning to the same attack but with more detail.

Using public money to undertake costly research to use against public-sector workers is perverse, as is the imposition of the proposals on devolved governments.

And the backdrop to this malevolent Act is the newly empowered state surveillance officer. The new powers awarded to the Certification Officer (CO) remain much as they were in the original Bill.

The CO has powers to initiate complaints, undertake inspections including recording names, determine outcomes and impose fines of between £200-£20,000 on any national, regional or local branch on issues relating to political fund procedures and expenditure, internal elections, ballots and much more.

It’s true the government inserted a clause saying the CO would not be “subject to directions of any kind from any Minister of the Crown as to the manner in which he is to exercise his functions.”

But it’s not the manner in which the CO does the work that is so objectionable. It is the nature of the work s/he undertakes that raises concerns and it is the nature of the work that is set by ministers.

This was a nasty Bill that’s turned into a nasty Act. Parliamentary activity has delivered what it can in the face of a government determined to silence political opposition, cull collective action, criminalise solidarity on the picket line and strangle unions with bureaucratic red tape controlled by a state surveillance officer.

If this Act, like the 1971 Act before it is to be defeated, the immediate battle will be extra-parliamentary, led by workers responding to attacks on their standard of living and working conditions.

Those battles are already being fought in Britain, Spain and France and will continue to grow as current economic policies fail to deliver anything other than growing  inequality and lack of opportunity.

In the longer term, Jeremy Corbyn and his team need to be given the space and time to develop alternative economic and industrial policies. Such policies will expose the political nature of Tory attacks and show how another narrative and political agenda is possible.

To that end, the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) is working on a manifesto for labour law which places trade unions back at the heart of economic, industrial and social regeneration.

In the meantime, the labour movement must do all it collectively can to educate, agitate and organise against this undemocratic, unnecessary and unfair Trade Union Act.

Carolyn Jones is also director of the Institute of Employment Rights.

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Construction ‘blacklisting’ victory sees over £10 million pay-out to 256 workers

ConstructionThe biggest ‘blacklisting’ scandal in UK construction industry history has seen the court case end in victory as 256 workers are set to receive more than £10 million in compensation.

Unite, the country’s biggest union, said that the pay-outs could range from £25,000 up to £200,000 per claimant, depending on such factors as the loss of income and the seriousness of the defamation.

Unite’s determined legal stance last week resulted in a further £4 million for 97 of the 256 claimants, whose original compensation offers the union deemed inadequate.

This brought the total compensation package to £10,435,000.

Unite waged a five-year fight, following the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary of Unite, against household names, such as Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd and Balfour Beatty Engineering Services as well as more than 30 other firms, which were part of a blacklisting conspiracy that saw hundreds of workers lose those jobs and have their lives ruined for carrying out legitimate trade union activities, such as health and safety.

At the centre of the scandal were the machinations of the secretive Consulting Association which was raided by the Information Commissioner in 2009.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The massive scale of the agreed damages – more than £10 million – shows the gravity of the misdeeds of these major construction companies which created and used the Consulting Group as a vehicle to enable them to blacklist trade unionists on behalf of more than 30 construction companies.
“The sums to be paid out go a considerable way to acknowledge the hurt, suffering and loss of income our members and their families have been through over many years.
“Under the agreement they can once more apply for jobs in the construction industry without fear of discrimination.
‘This settlement is a clear statement on behalf of the trade union movement that never again can such nefarious activities be allowed to happen against decent working people trying to earn an honest living in a tough industry.
 “The message is clear that there can never be any hiding place for bosses in the construction and any other industry thinking of reverting to shameful blacklisting practices against committed trade unionists.”
Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett said: “Unite is proud to have fought right to the end to get the maximum we believed was possible against companies that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to make unprecedented admissions of guilt last October.
“In addition to financial compensation, admissions of guilt and formal apologies, the companies have agreed, as a result of this litigation, to issue guidance to site managers to ensure blacklisting is not occurring on a local level and to ensure that Unite members receive no less favourable treatment for job applications, as a result of this litigation.
“However, what remains outstanding from the agreement is the legislative definition of blacklisting, as outlined in the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklisting) Regulations 2010.
“We view the secret vetting operation carried out by the Consulting Association as a blacklist, and hence in contravention of the Act. This is the core reason as to why these companies should be answerable to a public inquiry and why the Westminster and the devolved governments should continue to ask serious questions of these companies before they are engaged for public contracts.
“Finally, Unite would like to thank its legal team – Anthony Hudson QC at Matrix; Ben Cooper, counsel at Old Square and Richard Arthur and his team at Thompsons Solicitors – who stood should to shoulder with the trade union movement during this lengthy – and ultimately victorious – landmark case.”

The Unite case centred on a number of key legal issues, including defamation, breaches of the 1988 Data Protection Act, conspiracy and misuse of private information.

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UK: Anti-trade union law a ‘dark day’ for UK workers

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey

Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey

The completion of the parliamentary stages of the Conservative government’s Trade Union Bill will be remembered as a ‘dark day’ for working people, the UK’s largest union, Unite has said.

The bill now awaits Royal Assent after a series of amendments intended to lessen the worst aspects of the new law were accepted by the government benches.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “We have always questioned the place of these proposals – described by the government’s own advisors as ‘not fit for purpose’ – in a modern democracy.
“The waves of opposition to the bill at every parliamentary stage proved our point. This is a law to solve a problem that does not exist, and which will do a great disservice to harmonious industrial relations in this country.

“The bill’s progress today is simply a dark day for workers and for those who speak up in their defence when power is misused. Moreover, it is the workers of England, who will bear the brunt of the Conservative government’s measures, for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all stated this law has no place in their countries or workplaces.
“Congratulations must go to those in both the Commons and the Lords, to the unions and to their members for their dogged exposure of the many short-comings of this bill. Our movement’s determination has wrung significant concessions from the government.
“Welcome though these concessions are, they cannot detract from the main purpose of this bill – to make it harder for UK workers to defend themselves.

“We will also be holding the minister to his word on the new powers granted to the certification officer. His clear direction today was that these powers must not be used to impede the day-to-day work of unions, that of protecting their members, because our resources will be tied up dealing with baseless complaints.
“Lastly, we urge the government to reflect upon the message that its campaign has sent to working people – the decent people who tend our sick, educate our children, clean our streets and staff our shops – and conclude that they can never again lay claim to be the party of the working people.”

Frances O’Grady TUC General Secretary said: “While we are pleased to have secured significant changes to the Trade Union Bill, it still remains a very bad and divisive bill.

“The history books will show that the government’s first major act of this Parliament has been to attack the right to strike – a fundamental British liberty.

“This legislation, even in its amended form, poses a serious threat to good industrial relations and is completely unnecessary.”

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40,000 US Verizon Workers On Stike For Thrid Week

From Uni Global Union

The largest strike in the USA since 2011 is into its third week as more than 40,000 workers, members of the Communication Workers’ of America (CWA), fight outsourcing and offshoring by the company. The strike also includes retail staff in New York who are fighting for their first contract.

The strike follows 10 months of negotiations between the union and the company, where Verizon has maintained their stance over the following issues:

  • outsourcing contact center jobs to the Philippines and Mexico.
  • – outsourcing of certain US based jobs to low-wage contractors.
  • – Provisions that would allow the company at a moment’s notice to transfer workers up to 1,000kms away from their homes and families for up to two months at a time.

In 2015, Verizon made US$4.31 billion in the first three months of 2016, up from US$4.22 billion in the same period a year earlier. Over the past three years, Verizon has reported US$39 billion in profits.

One of the effected Verizon Contact Center workers Mandy Poe, said that she was on strike “for my future and my children’s future”. Jennifer Masferrer, who also works at a Verizon Contact Center said, “my fight for my family is important, my fight for my home is important, my fight for my sweet girls is important and I’m willing to go on strike for that.”

Verizon technician Dan Hylton said that, “the biggest issue for me is that the company wants to relocate jobs on a moment’s notice. We are all husbands, fathers, daughters, sons and when you’re asking someone to move in some cases out of state for up to four months at a time it’s nearly impossible.”

UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings said, “UNI Global Union stands with Verizon workers in their fight for decent jobs and decent pay. These workers and their families deserve a life and not to be constantly living at the whim of Verizon.”

Alan Tate, the head of the ICTS division of UNI Global Union, which includes telecommunications, said, “we stand in solidarity with the brave workers of Verizon in the United States in the face of the company’s brutal attack on their living standards and way of life”.

CWA has expressed concern that safety violations are occurring as Verizon rushes to maintain its network using unqualified contractors, a practice the union says is likely to increase as the company pushes to outsource more jobs.

CWA is asking that supporters sign this petition to Verizon CEO Lowell McAda

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CETA : Trouble in The Netherlands.

Chrystia Freeland - Canadian International Trade Minister

Chrystia Freeland – Canadian International Trade Minister

Thanks to Ben Davis at the United Steelworkers for the information.

The EU-Canada trade agreement known as CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is running into trouble in the Netherlands with the Dutch parliament rejecting provisional application of the deal.

Opposition to the trade deal in European countries is growing. The Walloon Parliament also refused to sign up for the deal requesting the regional government not to grant full powers to the Belgian federal executive to sign the CETA deal.

The Dutch parliament requested that the government present a proposal to MPs before taking any position on CETA, in case the European Commission makes a proposal on the provisional enforcement of the treaty.

In June, EU leaders are supposed to ratify CETA. Although final government approval is expected in September, the June meeting is the last chance for European governments to raise serious objections.

Dutch voters are increasingly looking to a referendum on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as their next target.

Some 100,000 Dutch citizens have already signed a petition demanding a referendum on TTIP. 300,000 names are needed to trigger a non-binding vote on the issue, as was the case with the recent vote on the EU – Ukraine agreement..

The treaty must be ratified by the European Parliament, and each of the parliaments of the 28 member states of the EU, to finally come into force.

Last week, Canadian Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland was in Brussels to try to convince MEPs to look at CETA in its own right.

In a somewhat bizarre comment she said: “Sometimes when Canadians and Europeans speak, we want to just have a tête-à-tête, but it becomes a ménage à trois. Let’s not make our relationship a ménage à trois, I would love unanimous support in your parliament. I’m gunning for it in mine. You are not going to get a better deal. And this deal will be a very important precedent for progressive trade deals going forward”.

The EU and Canada negotiated a deal almost without any opposition until unions, campaign groups and the public started mobilizing.

The controversial investor-state dispute clause (ISDS) in CETA has been re-written to review the deal and include the setting up of an investment court instead of standing by post-NAFTA improvements worked out with the US during the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks.

But there is a major worry that that US companies could use CETA to launch investor lawsuits against EU states.

Ms. Freeland responded by arguing that the investor court would prevent business-to-state disputes from becoming state-to-state diplomatic row.

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TUC Sets Out Changes Government Have Been Forced To Make On TU Bill

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady: 'Much More To Do On TU Bill'

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady: ‘Much More To Do On TU Bill’

The TUC has published a detailed list of changes the government has been forced to accept to the partisan Trade Union Bill.

The TUC says “there is still some why to go – but the bill is now much shorter – shorn of some of the most damaging proposals”.

The government has to date has:

  • Dropped extreme measures to restrict protest, such as giving employers detailed plans for pickets and social media campaigns two weeks in advance, or making everyone on a picket line show their personal data to the police, employers or anyone who asked to see it.
  • Scaled Back the double threshold for strike ballots in “important public services”, to avoid capturing hundreds of thousands of ancillary workers.
  • Abandoned plans to ban union subscriptions via payroll (check-off), provided the union pays payment processing costs (as many already do).
  • Conceded safeguards against politicisation of the role of the union regulator (Certification Officer) and reduced its costs to unions.
  • Watered Down plans to restrict union political funds. Changes will no longer apply to existing members, and the cost and effort of new requirements will be much reduced.
  • Agreed to a review of letting unions use online methods for strike ballots. This would help increase turnouts, as we know postal balloting suppresses them.
  • Added safeguards to a new reserve power to cap union facility time. This will happen now only after at least 3 years of research and negotiation with employers.

As the TUC says there are still some harmful proposals that could become law, including:

  • Unfair strike ballot turnout thresholds – including a huge double threshold for so-called “important public services”.
  • Rules about identifying picket leaders to police that worry trade unionists in light of the construction blacklisting scandals.
  • New membership rules that seem to be designed to cost unions time and money, and increase employers’ opportunities to use the courts to stop strikes.

The TUC comments that the “next step is to see if the Lords will insist on their amendments that the government refused. But even if the bill passes, there will still be arguments to come on the mass of secondary regulations and codes of practice still to be published.

And there will be a major battle around the proposals to remove the long-standing ban on employers using agency workers to break strikes. This was never part of the bill, but progressing alongside it. It’s disappeared for now, but we suspect it will be back.

“There is more to do” says TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady “but union members everywhere can feel justly proud today in what we’ve achieved – and in what that tells us about the power, relevance and vitality of our trade union movement”.

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TU Bill: Government Backtracks On Political Funds And e-balloting

TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady

The Government has again back tracked on parts of the Trade Union Bill, after accepting a House Of Lords amendment on delaying changes to trade union political funds.

The Tories have now conceeded changes to the roll-out of political funds reforms, facility time, as well as accepting a trial for industrial action e-balloting.

The new rules, force trade unionists to “opt-in” to the political fund, will still be introduced, but over a 12 month period rather than three months.

The Government have had to make concessions on the Trade Union Bill following changes made in that the House of Lords which forced changes to the proposals on check off of subscriptions. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the latest climbdown, but stressed that MPs should continue to oppose the bill in full.

“This is another victory for common sense. We are pleased the Government appears to have backtracked from implementing damaging changes to union political funds,” she said.

“These concessions follow months of lobbying from the TUC, trade unions and thousands of individual trade union members. And we are thankful for the support from peers of all parties and none.

“We are pleased ministers have listened to reason and committed to holding a review of electronic voting for strike ballots. 

“However, if online balloting is secure enough for the Conservatives to use to select their candidate for London Mayor, there can be no excuse for delaying its introduction for union members.

“It must be a case of when – and not if – trade unions are allowed to use modern balloting methods. We will continue to make this case forcibly.”

On the concession that ministers will delay imposing a cap on facility time in the public sector, Frances O’Grady said: “We are also pleased that ministers have backed away from imposing a cap on union facility time, having originally planned to introduce this within six months of the Trade Union Bill becoming law.

“Paid time off for public sector union reps to represent their members is granted by employers because it is good for staff well-being, improves communication and stops problems escalating into disputes.

“We welcome the range of concessions that the government has offered, but continue to oppose the Trade Union Bill in its entirety.”

“The Trade Union Bill still poses a threat to industrial relations. The TUC will continue to press for further changes to this divisive and unnecessary Bill, and urges MPs to oppose it in its entirety.”\

The government last week backed away from plans to ban workers from opting to pay their union subscriptions through payroll in the public sector – the so-called ‘check-off’ system.

Angela Eagle, shadow Business Secretary, said: “After months of campaigning by the Labour Party and trade unions, it is welcome that the Government have thought again on changes to political funds and taken account of the proposals from peers of all parties and none in the report of the House of Lords committee, which was initiated by a motion from Labour’s lords.

“Despite the concessions from the Government, Labour remains opposed to the Trade Union Bill. It is entirely unnecessary and is bad for workers and businesses.”

Eurosceptics have claimed that the Government is backing down on parts of the TU Bill in order to secure the support of unions who are being forced to deal with issues related to check 0ff rather than campaigning for the Remain side in the Referendum.

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TPP Trade Deal : Why US Unions Oppose It.

The US and 12 nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is a trade agreement that will stimulate the outsourcing of American jobs and devastate manufacturing.

The Allegheny County Council voted on a resolution against the TPP because it will harm their constituents. Watch this video and learn why.

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