Guards on Southern Rail struck again from 22-23 November, with further strikes planned for 6-8 December, 22-24 December, and 31 December-2 January. Despite widespread calls to do so, government ministers are refusing to meet with the guards′ union, RMT, directly.
Instead, the government has handed Southern bosses a £20 million payment in an attempt to improve their service. For Southern to meet the union’s demand for a second, safety-critical member of staff on board each train would involve filling 20 guard vacancies (which it promised to do in January, and then reneged), with a total cost of less than £1 million, according to RMT estimates. This figure barely dents the £20 million handout, or the £157 million that the Go-Ahead Group, the parent company of Govia Thameslink Railway, which owns Southern, has in reserve.
On 28 November, drivers, who are members of Aslef, voted by 87% for strikes in a third ballot. Their first ballot was declared illegal after Southern bosses sought a High Court injunction, and the union cancelled the second, citing “technical difficulties”. They will strike on 13-14 December, 16 December and 9-14 January.
Tube workers fight job cuts
Station and revenue staff on London Underground began an overtime ban from 23 November, as part of a fight against job cuts. The workers, who are members of the RMT union, are demanding the reversal of job cuts made as part of the “Fit for the Future” programme, a radical restructure of Tube station staffing which saw nearly 1,000 frontline posts axed.
Figures obtained by the RMT showed that London Underground spent nearly £700,000 on overtime payments just in August-September 2016. Some stations have been forced to close for periods due to staff shortages resulting from the overtime ban, and union activists suggest the company is cutting corners to keep stations open.
A supporter of the Tubeworker bulletin told Solidarity: “We have evidence that the company has kept stations open despite not having the legally-stipulated minimum numbers of staff on site. Elsewhere, they’re using managers to make up the numbers even when it’s not clear they have the correct licences and qualifications.
“It shows clearly that the staffing level is far too low, and that London Underground would apparently rather gamble with passenger safety than take the financial hit of a station closure.”
Members of smaller Tube union TSSA are expected to join the dispute, with their ballot due back as Solidarity went to press on 29 November. RMT station staff reps met on 28 November to discuss ongoing strategy in their dispute, including the possibility of striking in parallel with RMT drivers on the Piccadilly and Hammersmith and City Lines, who will strike from 6-7 December in disputes over victimisation of union reps and management abuse of procedures.
Labour CLPs back Durham TAs
Durham teaching assistants stuck again on Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 November. Teaching assistants are fighting the imposition of term-time-only contracts which would see them lose up to 23% of their salary.
The Labour council plans to sack 2,700 teaching assistants and employ them on the new contracts in order to force through the change. Teaching assistants picketed open schools and managed to turn away some students. Many parents have expressed their support for the strike. After picketing teaching assistants and their supporters marched through Durham.
Many local Labour members are unhappy with the way the council is treating the teaching assistants, but Labour councillors appear to be trying to block attempts to have open debates on the issue. Despite this so far four Durham Labour CLPs have voted to support the teaching assistants — City of Durham, Darlington, North West Durham and Blaydon.
As Solidarity went to press on Tuesday 29 November, Durham County Council has agreed to meet the teaching assistants’ union Unison Teaching assistants plan to strike again on Thursday 1 December, and Tuesday 6 - Thursday 8 December.
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Cinema strikes grow
Picturehouse Cinema workers at the Ritzy cinema in south London and Hackney Picturehouse in north east London are planning further strikes, likely to be in mid-December, in their battle to win living wages. Five days of strikes from 19-23 November disrupted premières of new Harry Potter movie ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them’, and although Picturehouse bosses did keep the cinemas open for periods, lively picket lines at both sites succeeded in persuading many customers to turn away.
A strike fundraiser on 23 November raised over £1,000 for the workers’ strike fund, with further events planned in the new year. Activists told Solidarity that they may plan their strikes to coincide with premier screenings of the new ‘Star Wars’ movie, which opens on 15 December. Workers at the Ritzy and Hackney Picturehouse are also making links with staff at other Picturehouse sites in an effort to spread the dispute.
King’s cleaners protest
On Friday 25 November, around 150 cleaners at King’s College London and their supporters protested outside KCL against overwork, lack of cover staff and the threat of redundancy.
Servest, to whom KCL outsourced the contract after the cleaners’ successful campaign for the Living Wage in 2014, has consistently paid staff late and refused to pay for cover or overtime, forcing huge workloads onto cleaners when colleagues are ill. Previous redundancies meant that workers had increased workloads for the same pay. Supervisors have not received the pay increase in line with the Living Wage that was promised in April.
The protest was energetic and noisy, with almost constant chanting, and the workers seem more than ready for a fight. Around a third were workers, and more were at the protest before starting work, and the rest students. There were supporters from LSE and SOAS Justice for Cleaners. The size of the demonstration was impressive considering the short notice and the decline of activity, particularly among students, since the Living Wage victory. It was loud and lively. KCL, which outsourced the contract after conceding the Living Wage in order to distance themselves from corner-cutting, is complicit in these labour abuses.
Last Monday, all staff were sent a letter about contract restructuring, threatening them with redundancies and significant cuts in hours. Unison has balloted for industrial action, with 90% voting for. We are now awaiting the announcement of strike dates and picket lines. An effort must now be made among student activists and the Labour club to mobilise support for them.