Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 14 September, 2016 - 12:50 Author: Simon Nelson, Gemma Short and Peggy Carter

Unison is organising a strike ballot among its members in the Higher Education (HE) sector to oppose this year’s pay offer. The offer of just 1.1% for the majority of staff, with some additional payments at the lower end of the scale, is not adequate to meet rises in the cost of living and compensate for rises in taxation.The union is recommending rejection of the offer and demanding a 5% rise, and the independent living wage for those on the lowest pay.

Although there is a financial squeeze on the HE sector, those at the top are trying to make those at the bottom suffer all of the pain. In 2014/15 university vice-chancellors, the top job, had an average pay rise of 6.1%. Their average pay was £275,000.

The lecturers’ union UCU is operating Action Short of Strike (ASOS) in their pay dispute; they struck for three days in the last academic year. Unite is currently balloting for strike action over pay; GMB is not organising a ballot.Unison’s strike ballot closes on 19 September. If the Unison and Unite ballots reject the offer, strikes could happen in the first two months of the new academic year.

Unison members at the University of Nottingham have rejected a local pay offer of 1.1%. They are demanding 5% and £500, plus the living wage for those at the bottom of the pay scale. In an indicative ballot, 75% voted to reject. The Unison branch has also opened negotiations with a view to returning to the national pay bargaining mechanism.

Cleaners fight union-busting

Cleaners at Kinsley Academy school in West Yorkshire are on indefinite strike against their outsourced employer, C&D Cleaning. They are fighting against pay cuts of 65p an hour, and removal of their sick pay entitlement.

Following Unison challenging the company to recognise the Tupe legislation, which protected the workers terms and conditions when they were transferred from working for Wakefield Council, C&D’s HR Director went on the offensive against the union and the workers; in their response to union concerns they said:

“We do not require your input, opinion or indeed assistance in any shape or form...I do not expect to hear from you again...We do not recognise you or your organisation and subsequently we will not be entering into any form of dialogue with you in relation to our employees...

“I understand from the above and the impact for you as an organisation when members realise that we are no longer in the 1980s and this questions the actual value of union membership when you have no say, no power or influence over their employer….

“I also understand that by your very nature you make your living justify your means out of recalcitrant behaviour and churlish threats. I would therefore politely remind you that sweeping statements and allegations based purely on conjecture and deformation will be dealt with accordingly.”

Unison are taking the case to an employment tribunal.

• Follow them on twitter: @KinsleyCandD

Durham teaching assistants reject offer

Durham teaching assistants fighting a change in their contracts which will see some loose more than 20% of their pay, have been offered a new deal by the council.However the offer makes little movement on previous ones, and looks set to be rejected by teaching assistants. One teaching assistant told a local newspaper “We will now vote on the proposals and if, as the feedback [on Facebook] suggests, they are rejected, we will vote to strike. This is not a decision we will take lightly as it will have a huge impact on families, but we feel that we have no choice.”

After an article in the Guardian about the teaching assistants struggle, their fundraiser jumped from £2,500 to £23,000. They have received a wide range of support from the local community and from across the labour movement.

Teaching assistants will be holding a rally at the Miners′ Hall in Durham at 7pm on Wednesday 21 September. All are welcome to attend.

• Follow their struggle and donate to the fund here

Post office workers to strike on 15 September

Thousands of post office workers will strike on Thursday 15 September against an attack on their job security and pensions.Workers are facing a round of cuts which will see 2,000 job losses, further privatisation of branches, and changes to pensions which will leave them tens of thousands of pounds worse off in retirement.

Their union, the CWU, is calling on the government to step in to stop the cuts and work out a strategy to save the Post Office. CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “The Post Office cannot pretend that using public money to pay off staff so they can be replaced with minimum wage jobs is a success story or that closing down its flagship branches is a defence of the service.”

Post Office managers have been trying to break the union by offering workers money not to strike and threatening to make CWU reps redundant.CWU deputy general secretary (postal) Terry Pullinger said ″It is incredible that a publicly owned company is behaving this way and the government has got to make clear that this is completely unacceptable.”

Picturehouse protest

On Friday 12 September, activists staged an action at the Hackney Picturehouse in solidarity with the Ritzy Picturehouse workers, who in dispute for the living wage, maternity pay and sick pay.They interrupted a showing of the newly-remastered David Bowie film, The Man Who Fell to Earth, as it was being introduced by director Danny Boyle. They made a speech to explain the dispute, stood up with placards and were received with much applause from the packed room.Danny Boyle showed his support for the campaign by posing for pictures.

• Follow the Ritzy dispute here

TUC wrings its hands

TUC Congress gathered in Brighton from Sunday 11 September for its annual handwringing, avoiding the difficult questions and failing to provide the leadership necessary in these tumultuous times.

Congress was dominated by the aftermath of the Brexit debate. A composite motion, while claiming that workers should not pay for Brexit, failed to say who (the bosses, the government) would have to pay. Instead it pledged the TUC to “work with employers and the UK government to this end, promoting British businesses around the world”, precisely the kind of social partnership approach that was disastrous, not only in recent referendums but also in industrial relations.

Most leading union bureaucrats studiously avoided mentioning Jeremy Corbyn or anything about the leadership contest. Unlike past Labour leaders, Corbyn was not invited to address the whole Congress and instead had only the General Council dinner. However many left delegates used their speeches to name-check Corbyn positively and talk about the possibilities the movement around his leadership is generating.

On the Trade Union Act, there was a wide consensus that the TUC bureaucracy had spent too much time celebrating small concessions as major victories, while the central attacks on voting thresholds, and picketing had been imposed are now on the statute book. The best delegates said that unions needed to be discussing how to defy the new anti-union laws, not how to implement them.The biggest row was around a TSSA resolution on climate change.

The motion was generally benign, but included a line on stopping airport expansion. The Balpa pilots’ union amendment took out this line but left the rest intact. The GMB and Unite got Balpa to withdraw their amendment, so that they could oppose the whole resolution. This was part of a wider drive by some union leaders to downgrade climate change. Sadly, they succeeded in voting down the motion and setting back union action on climate change.

The SWP and Socialist Party excelled in their disconnection from reality. For the SWP, the junior doctors’ dispute and the Deliveroo victory were sufficient to overturn the lowest strike figures for generations. Socialist Party speakers told delegates not to be downbeat about Brexit, because at least it had brought the downfall of Cameron and Osborne.It was pointed out that the result was a more right-wing government, which had no idea where it was going with Brexit but was very happy to continue with attacks on workers.What is needed is honest assessments of the situation, followed by vigorous intervention in the class struggle.

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