Industrial news

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 1:02

A report from the CWU Conference and news from PCS, GMB, TGWU & FBU.
CWU conference: two narrow defeats for the left

By a delegate

The postal and telecom workers union, the CWU, met on 1-6 June. The General Conference:

decided to campaign for law changes enabling unions to "exclude or expel members of racist or fascist parties... not solely on the basis of their conduct."

There was a challenge to the Executive's motion conferring honorary membership on former Senior Deputy General Secretary Tony Young because of his treacherous role in the Bain Review. In the end it got through because it was embedded in a list of other dignitaries who would otherwise have been denied the same status.

A motion from Manchester Clerical Branch condemned government double standards over Israel's treatment of Palestinians, instructing the union to cease affiliation to the Labour Party beyond the end of the year "unless the Government demonstrates equal vigour over … enforcing the terms of UN Resolution 242". The issue of solidarity with the Palestinians was uncontentious, and the debate quickly became one about the union's relationship to Labour. The motion was defeated, despite sympathy for the movers' sentiments. As one wag put it, "the problem with disaffiliation is that you can only do it once."

A motion from South East Wales Amal. urging a No vote in a referendum on the Euro provoked a large number of speakers to come to the rostrum to cautiously defend the Euro on the basis that the benefits would outweigh the costs. The motion was remitted.

In the Political Funds Management section, Pete Keenlyside moved the Greater Manchester Amal. motion aimed at targeting funds towards the union's branch political structures and support for CWU members standing for elections. His motion (106) was carried. The next motion (107) called for any Labour Party donations to be subject to: "support for our policies on the Post Office and BT... opposition to privatisation/PFI... support for trade unions" The debate was not wide ranging, as the vote was called early to enable an emergency motion (on Galloway) to be heard. General SecretaryBilly Hayes recommended rejection with the disingenuous argument that the criteria were too narrow, and did not mention opposition to the war. The motion was narrowly defeated.

An emergency motion condemning Labour's suspension of Galloway was argued on the basis of democratic right to free speech and carried almost unanimously.

Motion 108 (SWP/Socialist Alliance policy) calling for support in certain cases of "candidates and organisations who stand in opposition to New Labour, so long as they uphold policies and principles in line with CWU policy" was not reached. A challenge to standing orders to move it up the agenda had been overwhelmingly defeated earlier that morning.

In the postal conference:

Unelected National officer Ray Ellis came in for well-deserved stick over his handling of the Employee Health Service outsourced last year, though he survived a vote of no confidence.

After much internecine bloodletting over the last few months, the branches unanimously carried a unity motion from London Divisional Committee rejecting regional pay, and instructing that in addition to a substantial increase in basic pay, our claim should include a reduction in the working week, a cost of living allowance and a substantial increase in London Weighting. Thus the London Weighting claim will be negotiated as part of the national claim, with Dave Ward at the helm.

On the Transport Review, Conference defied the Executive recommendations and voted for Bristol & District's amendment declaring "any further loss of working/vehicles (under 13 tonnes) to logistics is not in the best interests of the members and will be vigorously opposed up to and including a [strike] ballot."

Although I was not present for most of the debate, I understand that several amendments were passed criticising the changes made to the "Managing the Surplus Framework" redundancy agreement since it was overwhelmingly agreed in a recent individual membership ballot.

The major debate of Postal Conference was on the Tailored Delivery System (TDS) agreement which proposes up to 20% savings in deliveries, likely to result in cuts equivalent to 12,000 full time jobs with a potential pay-off of £20 per week increase in basic pay conditional on full implementation.

Getting the union to agree to cutting one in every ten jobs in Delivery (the most militant of the functions) would clearly set the scene for the rest of the industry, so a hell of a lot was at stake.

The crucial debate was over the very first amendment from the North Wales/North West Divisional Committee, which if carried would have wrecked the whole agreement, since it challenged the principle of a "pre-determined level of local savings as part of a TDS revision." All but one of the speakers from the floor, and the Executive statement were in support of the amendment. Yet when it came to the vote, it could not have been more divided. The chair called a card vote and the amendment was defeated 7,394-7,444.

Any hopes that the North/ South divide had healed were dashed by looking at the breakdown: it was Midlands, North West and Scotland versus London and Anglia divisions. But, as my area Rep commented, if it had been John Keggie's signature on the agreement instead of Dave Ward, London would have thrown it out.

Report on the decisions of the telecoms conference next issue.

Two years on strike

Sacked William Cooks workers in Sheffield are still on strike after two years and two months. On Saturday 7 June over 200 trade unionists and supporters attended an official, Amicus-AEEU march and rally in Sheffield to show their continuing support for the Cooks workers' magnificent struggle.

Many trade union banners from across the region were there and the rally was addressed by both Derek Simpson, General Secretary Amicus-AEEU, and Tony Woodley, Deputy General Secretary TGWU, as well as Eddie Grimes, a leading William Cooks striker.

The William Cooks workers were sacked by their bosses for taking official action in response to proposed pay cuts. In 1997 and 1998 they received no pay rise because of the company's bid to prevent takeover. In 1999 wages were increased by £5 per week but in 2000 the company bosses demanded a pay cut of £20-30 per week and 25 redundancies. In 2001 the firm made similar demands, £80-120 per week reduction for each worker.

On 12 April 2001 the workers went on strike for one day, but on 13 April they tried to go back in and were told that they could not return to work if they did not sign the agreement to end their union action; if they did go into work it would be deemed voluntary work and they would not get paid. On 20 April the workers were told, "We don't need you, we've employed other people, we're not having you back."

A tribunal decision is expected by the end of July. The William Cook workers deserve the support the wider trade union movement in this important struggle for reinstatement.

Donations/messages of support c/o 116 Richmond Park Crescent, Sheffield S13 8HG

FBU to decide on "new" deal

We go to press on the eve of a recall conference of the firefighters' union FBU to decide on their latest pay offer. The offer is worth 15.2% over two and a half years. The union has previously rejected 15% over three years.

The conference takes place with the background of new legislation pushed through by John Prescott, which would allow the Government to impose a settlement on the FBU.

A few concessions have been made in this offer. For instance, the new deal gives an assurance that overtime will not be used to cover for any staff shortages. And from 2005 firefighters' pay will be tied to that of workers in professional and technical occupations, rather than manual workers as has been the case since 1977. However the deal has strings, and is a long way short of the demands members had back in September when 90% voted for strike action.

GMB: a long way to go

By a delegate

There wasn't too much debating or voting at GMB Congress. But plenty of back-slapping and arm-twisting.

Indeed the whole of day one, bar about one hour, was taken up with giving out gongs and grovelling eulogies to retiring bigwigs. The whole show cost GMB members just half a million pounds.

On the Labour Party, the really controversial motions were withdrawn, or in the case of the SWP's motion on the political fund, soundly beaten. But the Congress did vote to review the union's relationship with the party, and to re-interview all its sponsored MPs (something like 100) and to fund only those who are prepared to fight for the union's policies.

On Iraq an emergency motion from London Region was passed calling for Blair to resign if it is proved that he misled Parliament over weapons of mass destruction.

No Sweat got a good hearing at conference, although the motion to affiliate seemed to have got "lost in the post". A fringe meeting plugged motions for branches to affiliate and to join the solidarity campaign to support the CAT in Mexico.

A packed fringe meeting heard Paul Kenny argue for the union to democratise and organise, and discussed the successful recruitment campaigns of the London and other regions. In London the union has been prepared to take radical steps to organise the "unorganisable" - like minicab drivers and sex workers.

The low turnout for the recent general secretary election, in which official campaigning was forbidden and members were left isolated and uninformed, illustrates the need to democratise the union. Workers will join a union that reaches out to them and helps them organise to win on the issues that affect them in their workplaces. And they will stay in a union in which they exercise democratise control so that it stays flexible, focused and responsive enough to continue to win for its members.

GMB Congress suggests our union is still a long way off from that goal.

PCS: the fight is on!

One of the most important union executive elections in many years started last week.

Members of the Civil Service union PCS get the chance to throw out the gang of right wingers who have run the union since merger and who used to rule the roost in two of the component unions, CPSA and IRSF. The ruling right wing clique have spent just £40,000 this year on campaigning for PCS members, and over half a million on trying to get the courts to reverse the result of the union's own General Secretary election. After failing to reverse the results of that poll, the right wing then did their best to refuse to carry out the members' wishes to re-introduce annual union conferences and elections. They were yet again defeated.

The PCS right wing have been content to bend over backwards for ministers while civil service workers have seen their pay and working conditions decline. The national union leadership have done absolutely nothing to defend or re-establish national pay bargaining. Instead, they have agreed to pay deals that could well be ruled illegal and discriminatory by the EU. There was only ever one reason for existence for the PCS right wing. It was to stop the union becoming an effective independent working-class organisation and to keep it tied to ministers as an obedient little plaything.

AWL members in the union will be campaigning hard to win a huge vote for the joint Left Unity/PCS Democrats slate. If you want more information then go to: www.voteleftunity.org.uk or www.socialistcaucus.co.uk

TGWU: now build the Broad Left

By a TGWU member

Tony Woodley's victory in the TGWU General Secretary election is an important gain for the left in the union and throughout the labour movement.

Woodley, who describes himself as "a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad", defeated his nearest rival, Jack Dromey, by over 20,000 votes, though the turnout was just 21% of the T&G's total membership. Woodley campaigned on a manifesto that included opposition to "business unionism", a commitment to campaign for a £6 minimum wage, the repeal of all anti-union laws, and various proposals to halt the T&G's "culture of decline", including a proposal for "family membership", more resources for recruitment, and a renewed look at amalgamations with other unions.

However, unlike many of the other members of the so-called "awkward squad" of left wing union leaders, Woodley is committed to the union-Labour Party link and denounced the proposal to break (or weaken) the link as "a rightwing agenda with which I will have no truck". Woodley proposes instead, a union-based "council of war" to reclaim the Party from the Blairites.

Woodley had the backing of the T&G Broad Left (although another candidate, Barry Camfield, misleadingly claimed to be "Broad Left" and was, in fact supported by a minority of Morning Star people). His victory provides the Broad Left with an opportunity to re-organise itself into a much more open and campaigning body. At present, because of the union's undemocratic rule-book and the threat of disciplinary action, the Broad Left operates in a fairly clandestine manner that makes it difficult for new activists to get involved.

Some left-wingers (including Solidarity supporters) have had sharp criticisms of Woodley in the past. Our task now, however, is not to wrangle over by-gone disputes, but to insist that Woodley implements the many good promises contained in his manifesto and in his election speeches. The best way of doing that is to build the Broad Left into a genuine rank and file organisation.

Industrial notes

Agency workers- TUC campaign?

Apparently the TUC has launched a campaign to ensure that Britain's three million agency workers should get the same employment rights as other workers. A real campaign on this basis aimed at the big non-union agencies is exactly the kind of campaign the trade union movement needs to do in order to rebuild the movement. Unfortunately, the TUC campaign so far has consisted of a canapés and chardonnay working conference, with guest speaker Employment Minister Alan Johnson MP explaining to the assembled bureaucrats why such a move would damage "competitiveness".

Bribery and corruption

John Edmonds the retiring leader of the GMB told his union's conference that he was offered a seat in the House of Lords if he promised to keep his members in line. Edmonds made it clear to Tony Blair that he could not be bribed. There was no need for Blair to worry about resorting to bribery and corruption. The man who described himself as putting "intellectual edge" into the trade union movement, does that kind of thing for free.

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