Short industrial reports

Submitted by AWL on 17 October, 2008 - 2:12

LOCAL GOVERNMENT: On 20 August and 24 September Scottish local government workers staged two successful 24-hour strikes demanding a 5% pay-rise or £1,000, whichever is the greater. The employers’ improved offer was 2.5% rise this year.

The strikes were to have been followed up by longer selective action.

But on Thursday 2 October the employers came up with a new offer: a two-year deals, with a pay rise of 3% this year, and 2.5% next year. As the real rate of inflation is running at around 10% for the lowest paid workers, this deal amounts to a pay cut over two years.

But the offer was sufficient for the union leaders — in Unite, Unison and GMB — to justify calling off the planned selective strikes.

If the unions recommend acceptance, the result will be demoralisation. If they recommend rejection, then members will wonder why strike action has been called off in exchange for an unacceptable pay offer. Union activists need to campaign for rejection of the latest pay.

Unfortunately the left in Scotland in Unison, the largest local authority union, is divided over future strategy, with some calling for an escalation involving two-day and three-day all-out strike action in successive months, and others arguing there is not yet sufficient support for such an escalation. There are also differences of opinion about the organisation of emergency cover.

• Fuller report:

RAIL: 450 Scottish railway signal workers struck on 7 October, in response to the failure of Network Rail over the past two years to abide by agreements on rostering and transfers. A second strike planned for 9 October was called off after talks between the RMT union and Network Rail.

Network Rail had been taking a hard line — setting up a “confidential helpline” to clarify matters for the supposedly confused RMT members who have been taken in by a “RMT spin machine.”

Given the length of time which Network Rail has played fast and loose with rostering agreements, it is all the more important that the dispute is not “settled” on the basis of some ACAS fudge but only with cast-iron guarantees that the company will adhere to current agreements.

HIGHER EDUCATION: On 7 October lecturers at Nottingham Trent University were joined by delegations from around England in a three hundred strong protest against attempts to de-recognise their union, the UCU.

On 4 October, following protracted negotiations, university managers unilaterally terminated the existing collective bargaining agreement they had with the UCU.

The protest took place outside Nottingham’s Royal Centre, where student “freshers” were to be “welcomed” by Nottingham Trent Vice Chancellor Neil Gorman. Most students took leaflets and many expressed interest in perhaps the first such protest many will have seen. However, in a disgraceful attempt to obstruct lecturers speaking to students, apparatchiks from Trent’s student union formed a human corridor through the protest, demanding that protesters “stop obstructing” passing students. How low can you go?!

This is a blatant attack on trade union freedom, a cynical move by an employer that has pushed for massive expansion without suitable investment and initiated significant staff restructuring only to re-employ staff forced to take early retirement. They want to transform a learning institution into a learning factory.

If Nottingham Trent manages to push through this de-recognition, it will be a blow to the whole labour movement and a herald of things to come elsewhere in a cash-strapped public sector.

UCU can and will win but only with continued campaign of action and increased solidarity from across our movement.

For more information see

UNITE LEFT: According to reports from a delegate to the Executive of Unite (the union formed by merger of Amicus and TGWU), and other well-placed sources, the union’s “joint general secretaries”, Tony Woodley (TGWU) and Derek Simpson (Amicus) are presently engaged in “all out war”.

It’s so bad that the further integration of the two previous unions may now be at risk.

The reasons seem to have much more to do with personalities that any serious points of political or even organisational difference. Simpson has become more and more authoritarian and intolerant of any form of dissent — especially from former allies. There have been arbitrary sackings of staff members who have displeased him, and former Amicus members thought to be working too closely with ex-T&G people have come under attack.

Ironically, Simpson is now hoping that the challenge to him remaining as joint general secretary until 2010 (when he’ll be 66), from Jerry Hicks is successful! This would trigger a general secretary election either in the Amicus Section, or in Unite as a whole, in which Simpson would stand. If he were to be elected, he could then hold office for a further five years! If this happens, Woodley will almost certainly stand as well.

Insiders reckon that this scenario is unlikely, and Hicks’s complaint to the Certification Officer is unlikely to succeed.

In the event of a Woodley versus Simpson election battle, the out-and-out right from both sides of Unite, would stand back and let these “lefts” knock the shit out of each other. If Hicks’s challenge fails, and the general secretary election is in 2010, the right will probably coalesce around either North West Regional Secretary Kevin Coyne (ex Amicus) or his brother, the Midlands Regional Secretary, Gerrard Coyne (ex T&G).

The Amicus Unity Gazette and the T&G Broad Left are now meeting together at national and regional levels, and generally working together reasonably well. The ultra-loyal pro-Simpson grouping around Steve Davison has split from the Gazette and is rumoured to be in discussions with the ex-T&G group led by John Aitkin.

There will be a launch rally of the new, united Left group (no name yet) in Birmingham on Saturday 29 November.

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