More 500 members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) on Virgin Trains’ West Coast line are balloting for strikes to win the reinstatement of sacked colleague Martin Hodges.
Martin was summarily dismissed by management, who allege a “poor timekeeping record” dating back to 2010. But TSSA officer Tom Condon said the sacking “was the first we had heard about [the timekeeping problem] — he has been our rep for five years.”
Activists believe Martin was sacked because of his union work. TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said: “Our rep, Martin Hodges, was fired for simply carrying out his trade union duties. He is now suspended on full pay because Virgin are refusing to allow him back into the office to resume his normal job.
“No trade union can stand aside and allow Virgin to run a hire and fire at will policy.”
Remploy workers vote to strike
Workers in Remploy factories across the UK have voted to strike, and to take action short of a strike, as they attempt to beat back government plans to close 54 factories.
The planned closure will see the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs in the manufacturing plants, which were set up after the Second World War to provide protected employment for disabled workers.
Members of the GMB union voted by 79.5% in favour of striking, and by 87.3% for action short of a strike. Unite members voted for strikes by a 59.7% majority, and for action short by 76.1%.
Phil Davies, the national secretary of the GMB, said: “The government’s intention to destroy thousands of disabled workers jobs in Remploy has given rise to an overwhelming vote for strike action against the proposed closures of their 54 factories. These closures are going ahead without any consideration of the feelings and needs of these workers and their families or their future job prospects. To close a factory that employs disabled people in the present economic climate is a sentence to life of unemployment and poverty.”
Unions are now set to announce a programme of strikes and other industrial action.
Parking workers fight low pay
Parking enforcement workers in Camden, London, will strike on 11 and 12 July in a battle against low pay.
The workers voted by over 97% in favour of strikes, and will mount pickets on all six of the parking enforcement centres across Camden. The service is run by the contractor NSL.
The workers are currently paid £8.09 an hour, less than the London Living Wage of £8.30 which even the Tory Mayor Boris Johnson acknowledges as a benchmark for wages in the capital.
Sparks' wildcat wins
Balfour Beatty electricians won a swift victory against bosses after they took wildcat strike action on a site in Scotland.
The workers, who are installing an overhead electricity transmission line between Beauly and Denny, come from all over the UK and therefore had to use Friday and Sunday to travel to and from the site, meaning they effectively only had a one-day weekend. Many had worked 17 consecutive 12-hour days and, despite assurances from management that they would be given Mondays off as a travelling day, their weekend arrangements had still not been clarified or sorted out.
Workers walked off the job on 26 and 27 June, and after a series of negotiations with management, bosses agreed that weekends would be four days in length, with at least one day paid and including two travel days.
90% of the workers involved in the strike were not unionised, although several have since joined Unite.
Bus bosses bid for peace
London bus workers’ union Unite suspended a planned strike on Thursday 5 July after an offer from management that appeared to meet the pre-strike demand for a £500-across-the-board bonus for Olympics working.
Transport for London officials trailed the offer in the press as being the equivalent of £583 per worker, or £700 for workers at garages more heavily impacted by the Games. They also talked up a unique profit sharing scheme, where they promised to split any increased revenue with the bus operating companies, if they guaranteed to pass it onto staff.
That bosses have made this offer at all — after almost a year of negotiations in which they hardly budged — is huge progress, and a testament to both the power of workers’ action and the desperation of London’s transport bosses and politicians to avoid any disruption to the Olympic Games.
There must now be as full and democratic a debate as possible amongst bus workers about the deal. It has some hidden (or at least harder-to-spot) strings — for example the fact that TfL’s figures (the £583 figure, for instance) are before-tax figures, meaning the actual amount workers receive could be a lot less. Some bus worker activists believe calling off the 5 July strike was a mistake, while others feel that it would have been poorly supported once the details of the offer became clear.
As Solidarity goes to press, the next strike — scheduled for 24 July — is still live, although as Unite representatives discuss the full details of the offer (currently still “confidential”) that strike may also be suspended or cancelled.
Settling for the bosses’ current offer — forced from them when previously they had been unwilling to make one at all — would be a victory.
Bus worker activists must assess their strength and democratically decide whether it is the best victory they can hope for, or whether they are capable of fighting on for an even bigger one.
John Lewis cleaners strike
Cleaning workers at John Lewis’s flagship store on Oxford Street, London, will strike on Friday 13 July.
The workers are demanding the London Living Wage (currently £8.30 an hour), and want their employers — the contractor Integrated Cleaning Management (ICM) — to back off from recently announced cuts which will see many workers have their hours — and pay — slashed.
The workers’ union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), is not officially recognised by John Lewis or ICM, but says it will take action anyway after its members voted by 90% for strikes in an indicative ballot. Turnout was 80%.
The IWW is organising pickets of the store. For more information, see facebook.com/cleaners.branch
Essex firefighters strike
Firefighters in Essex have been on strike in a long-running dispute over cuts and crewing arrangements.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) staged an eight-hour strike on 28 June, and followed it up with a one-hour stoppage on Saturday 30th.
Workers have been campaigning against the Essex Fire Authority changes since August 2009.
The fire authority has stockpiled equipment, and locked union members out of fire stations on the first day of industrial action.
Keith Hanscombe, East Anglian spokesman for the FBU, said the walk-out had been solid.
He said: "We are very pleased the fire chiefs decided to abandon plans to stop pay for the whole 15-hour night shift and lock us out as that would have affected the Olympic torch relay.
"There are 160 fewer frontline firefighters in Essex and it's getting worse. They are getting away with the same number of fire engines but with fewer firefighters so they have had to change the way they do things - our dispute over cuts and working conditions are directly linked.”
Talks between the union and fire chiefs are continuing through the government conciliation service ACAS prior to the next planned action, a 24-hour stoppage on July 18.
Initial strike dates have already been set for August and October.
Mr Hanscombe added: "Essex Fire Authority has more than £12 million in reserves, 15% of its annual budget and way over the recommended amount.
"Eric Pickles has told councils to temper front-line cuts with reserves, but in his own Brentwood constituency the second full-time fire crew is being cut."