Industrial News Round-up

Submitted by Anon on 9 February, 2007 - 2:15

Manchester strike

250 health workers in Manchester struck against cuts in community mental health teams on 31 January. This will be followed by another week's strike this month. The strikes follow a 91.6% ballot result in favour of action by community nurses, occupational therapists and team secretaries against cuts by Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust. These are:

* cuts in community nursing, occupational therapy, team secretary and senior support worker posts which will mean higher caseloads, and a reduction in service;
* downgradings for those staff who keep their job;
* no guarantee of no redundancies;
* possible privatisation of four community teams;
* closure of one of the south Manchester old age day centres;
* a job freeze on all nursing posts in the Trust where will be 33 less nursing posts and 8 less OT posts replaced by 24 new managers!

After picketing their offices, the health workers joined striking civil servants and IT workers from Fujitsu, who came out for five days against a union-busting management, in a 200-strong rally in Central Manchester.

Strike cancelled

The planned two day strike by British Airways cabin crew over pay, sick leave and other issues was cancelled just hours before it was due to start on 30 January. Many of BA workers' grievances go back to the 1997 strike, the result of which was a two-tier workforce with new workers working harder for less pay. The T&G has been fighting for a levelling up to something closer to the old conditions, but without a serious strategy to fight; every year sees more and more workers in the lower tier, particularly since cabin crew have a very high turn-over.

There will now be an 18% rise in pensionable pay for workers in the lower tier, integrating a number of allowances into pay and thus increasing the employer's contribution to pensions. However, on all the other major issues, including sick pay, the union has gained nothing beyond a commitment to further discussion.

Meanwhile, it seems that all the unions in BA - T&G, GMB (manual workers and check-in staff) and Amicus (engineers and technicians) are now planning to quietly accept a company proposal on pensions that will mean manual workers losing out.

The T&G shop stewards' committee voted to accept the deal, although this seems to have been following advice from headquarters and from Tony Woodley that nothing further could have been won by going ahead with strike action. Management did make pretty extensive arrangements to encourage scabbing, including £300 a day extra pay and arrangements for anonymity. However, given that even the threat of a strike cost BA £9 million in 1,300 cancelled flights, this is highly questionable. Two members of the shop stewards' committee have
apparently resigned.

Join the action!
By an RMT member

Guards on Central Trains are in dispute with the company over the imposition of a computerised rostering system called Crewplan. The RMT union has already organised three days of strikes. The results of a ballot for action short of strike (to enable a ban on revenue collection) are due this week.

RMT drivers who want to support the action have not been balloted even though Crewplan will affect them in exactly the same way. ASLEF, which represents the majority of drivers is taking an opportunistic line: they oppose the breaking of agreements but want to get the benefits from extra rest day working that is now available because the Crewplan computer cannot do its job properly.

Some in ASLEF say that because it hasn't been introduced at Nottingham and Birmingham New Street (the two biggest depots) drivers there don't have to worry about it. So much for solidarity with their brothers and sisters at the smaller depots.

The lack of inter-union solidarity has definitely weakened our fight. The clerical workers' union TSSA - some of whose members lost their jobs because of Crewplan - have done nothing but dumbly accept the state of affairs. ASLEF have let management trial it at all the smaller depots whilst allowing themselves to become embroiled in lengthy talks. Yet management have stated that these talks will not lead to the withdrawal of Crewplan!

Unfortunately even if ASLEF can be got to take some action this won't be for at least two months. By that time RMT members may have given up the fight. How much better would it have been if there was some kind of co-ordinating body amongst the rail unions which could have made a principled stand against Crewplan right at the start?

Central Train's management seem to be prepared to tough out the RMT action. We need to get ASLEF to take breaking of agreements seriously and ballot for strike action

Factory sit-in

Workers at the Simclar electronics components factory in Kilwinning, North Ayrshire, held an overnight occupation of their workplace in protest at the bosses' sudden announcement that they are to close two of their plants, with 420 redundancies. The workers were locked out of the factories, and with no redundancy packages, many have been forced to take out emergency loans.

During a protest outside the factory, organised by the union Community, 60 workers went inside, refusing to leave until they were offered redundancy compensation.

The firm's Dunfermline HQ also saw a protest of former Simclar workers and local trade unionists.

The company has earned widespread condemnation.

Simclar workers at both the Kilwinning and Irvine plants will continue their picket against the asset-stripping of their former workplace.

Stop the cuts

The British Library is facing £7 million in cuts. The Library, whose collections include a copy of every book ever published in the UK, as well as extensive newspaper archives, maps, music and foreign works, is apparently of secondary interest to a Government who once proclaimed the importance of "Education, education, education".

Not only will the newspaper collection at Collindale be closed down, but Library opening hours are to be cut by a third, 15% of the books will be got rid of, and attacks on staff numbers are to continue. The Library plans to introduce charges for use of its reading rooms.

The cuts will make access to rare materials, including those from the history of the workers' movement, nigh-on impossible. Archives such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch's News International are no substitute for the collections held by the Library.

These measures will not only affect academics, but also students and the thousands of people who use archives for personal research, such as family trees. Its current strict "admission policies" already prevent it from being a truly public resource.

The control of knowledge and information is being pushed further into the hands of media barons and the businessmen who buy "academies". Cuts to the Library must be resisted - its role as a public educational resource must be defended and extended.

Still toothless

By 223 to 127, the House of Lords voted on 5 February to include deaths in prison and police cells as part of new "corporate manslaughter" legislation. This was a defeat for the government and above all for Home Secretary John Reid, who had threatened to withdraw the whole bill if this amendment was successful. Unfortunately, the bill is still pretty much useless for the purpose for which it was demanded by the labour movement.

The extension is welcome, but relative to the huge numbers of workers killed in workplace accidents, the numbers involved in deaths in custody are very small.

The Lords' amendment was passed by a tactical alliance of vaguely left-wing Labour critics and Tories determined to defeat the government (a number of half dead Tory peers, including Margaret Thatcher, were wheeled out to vote).

There are a large number of problems with the legislation. Most importantly, it punishes firms as collective entities and not individual directors; moreover, the phrase used in the bill is "senior management failure", making it very easy for companies to pass the buck by claiming that the failure took place at a level that was not senior.

The government is giving a sop to the unions, formally meeting the demand for a corporate manslaughter bill while in fact not doing anything that will seriously alarm business.

Reid's chest-beating is motivated not by his pro-capitalist but by his authoritarian, law-and-order convictions. For precisely that reason, it seems unlikely that he will actually go as far as to scupper the bill. The bosses have, predictably, got what they wanted and will be able to go on killing workers untouched.

Under the axe
By a UCU member

500,000 adult learners may lose their courses as a result of new government priorities in post-16 education. But the National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) estimates around one million adult learning places will be lost through the funding shake-up.

At the same time, thousands of learners face large fee increases for their courses. Adult education courses are currently subsidised by 72.5% - learners, or their employers, pay 27.5% of the costs of learning. But the government has issued fees guidance to colleges instructing them to gradually decrease the subsidy to 50% by 2010.

The latest Department for Education and Skills figures show there were 3.63 million learners in further education in 2005-6 - a 13.6% fall on 2004-5. One reason for the drop is increased fees.

Money is being shifted towards accredited courses and basic skills, and towards 16-18 years olds.

In Lewisham in south east London, for example, Learning and Skills Council cuts are estimated at £800,000 in the next financial year. Centres are due to close and classes such as pottery, cooking, painting and foreign languages will be in particular danger.

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