Workers’ Liberty school workers met on 7 October 2017 to discuss our plans in our workplaces and in the new National Education Union, formed on 1 September by the merger of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The new union is making a recruitment drive, offering membership free to trainees and students, for £1 to newly qualified teachers, and for £10 for the first year to all teachers and all school support staff. The response has been good, with twice as many new recruits to the NEU in September 2017 as there were to the NUT and ATL in September 2016. We will be encouraging the 70% of school support staff who are currently non-union to join the NEU, and those who are also members of other unions to “dual-card” by joining the NEU too. We want a single union for all school-based workers. We will campaign in the NEU for the union to seek a recognition agreement so the NEU can represent, and negotiate on behalf of, all workers in schools.
The NEU should develop a culture of industrial unionism and move away from the NUT model of a professional association for teachers only. A joint-membership, joint-representation deal with Unison, Unite, and GMB — similar to what UCU has with members of ten other unions working in universities and colleges — would be a good way of achieving that.
Our meeting also discussed a proposal from school student Joe Booth for a campaign to “take the stress out of studying”. We will submit a motion for NEU NUT section conference, and campaign on such issues as abolishing detentions (now being used at a rate of tens of thousands a year by many schools); drastically reducing or abolishing exams; remodelling schools to give students adequate social breaks and congenial places where they can take their breaks; abolition or simplification and gender-neutralising of school uniforms.
We are working on motions on other issues, including a boycott in primary schools of SATS and other high-stakes summative testing; free movement; union international delegations’ relations with Hamas in the light of Hamas’s union-busting in Gaza; and unionising multi-academy trusts. On paper the NEU is committed to a drive to create union structures for solidarity and negotiation across multi-academy trusts. In practice, so far anyway, NEU full-time staff have mostly been sluggish about working on that.
UCU fights job cuts and “sackers’ charter”
UCU members at both the University of Manchester and University of Leeds will strike over job cuts and changes to the university dismissal policy respectively. UCU members at Leeds will strike on 11, 12 and 13 October, and members at Manchester will strike on 23 and 24 October. The University of Manchester plans to cut 140 academic jobs, supposedly due to an uncertain financial climate, yet the university recorded a £36m surplus last year and its 2015-2016 financial statement showed £1.5bn in reserves. Despite the job cuts the university has also announced it will be hiring more than 100 new early-career academics, which the UCU argues is an attempt to ″clear out″ experienced, more expensive, academics in favour of newer, cheaper, staff.
The University of Leeds is changing its dismissal policy to one that the UCU calls a ″sackers′ charter″. The new policy would allow workers to be sacked for ″some other substantial reason″
UCU Leeds branch president Vicky Blake said: “The University of Leeds is insisting on an open ended catch-all power to dismiss staff on the grounds of ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’, posing a serious threat to our members’ job security.
“We believe the change could enable the university to sack people for all sorts of dubious reasons and may restrict staff from pursuing new ideas or controversial topics within their daily work. UCU is also concerned that this sackers’ charter could subject staff to third party commercial or political pressure over unpopular research findings. “Or could even risk staff being sacked for a breakdown in trust with a manager.”
Being made to work for free
PCS members in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have voted on a nearly 70% turnout, 84% in favour of strike action and 92% for action short of a strike. Within weeks, Driving Examiners and enforcement staff in the agency could be on strike.
The union is giving DVSA a few days to come up with proposals to end a long running dispute over working time. If they don’t, then the two weeks’ notice of industrial action will be served. The working time dispute centres on two main issues.
The first concerns travelling to a work station. Currently travelling from home to your home work station is not counted as work and so is not paid for. If you are asked to travel from home to a non-home station, the first 45 minutes of that journey is not paid for. The union says that this should be paid as working time. DVSA wants a situation where staff are increasingly deployed to different work stations but they don’t want to pay for this travel.
The second issue relates to a new type of driving test being introduced later this year. This test incorporates use of a Sat Nav. Currently examiners do seven tests in a day. The timing study for the new test suggests that to fit it into the working day in fact examiners will often have to work more than the working day. The union is proposing that any such “run over” is treated as paid overtime or that the examiner can refuse to take out the last test of the day (as they can now) if that would lead to a “run over”. The agency of course wants staff to work any run overs for free.
So the dispute revolves around whether you get paid for working or not.
Strikes to hit three airports
Cleaners employed by Mitie at Manchester Airport have voted to strike to break a two-year pay freeze. Workers are currently paid just above the government ″Living Wage″ at £7.50 but are demanding an increase to just above the real Living Wage (currently £8.45), and for £1 an hour to be backdated to April 2016. Their strikes were yet to be announced as Solidarity went to press.
Unite is also balloting workers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. At Heathrow Unite is balloting engineering workers, security workers, air and landside operations and fire services, for strikes over a plan by employers to force through cuts and changes to terms and conditions. At Gatwick Unite is balloting baggage handlers employed on a contract for Norwegian Airlines over pay. The workers are employed by employed by a subcontractor of a subcontractor, but the decisions on pay seem to be made by a company called Red Handling which is a subsidiary of Norwegian Airlines itself. Rather than offering workers a pay rise which was due in May, Red Handling has suggested that a company barbecue could be organised! The ballot at Gatwick will end on 13 October, and at Heathrow on 18 October.
Royal Mail seeks injunction against strike
A CWU announcement of a 48-hour strike starting on 19 October has been met with legal threats by Royal Mail. Royal Mail claims that under an existing agreement with the union the CWU must enter mediation with the company before going on strike. The CWU however has been attempting to resolve the dispute with Royal Mail for 18 months! Royal Mail has lodged an application with the High Court for an injunction against the strike. Royal Mail is clearly unnerved my members′ strength of feelings and the prospect of effective strikes. The CWU has announced that it will not be calling off the strikes.
• More detail about the strike and ballot result here
Derby Labour split over TA dispute
School support workers in Derby, members of Unison, are holding consultative ballots in the special schools where wage cuts imposed by the Derby’s Labour Council are greatest. Before bringing members out on strike again, Unison are planning to spend more time individually challenging Labour councillors. There are some signs that the pressure is having an effect. In the Council’s Labour group a motion of no confidence in the leader Ranjit Banwait was moved.
The motion picked up on the same theme that Derby Unison has drawn attention to time and again. That electorally the council may face a disaster if it does not recognise the damage done to its credibility from its damaging disputes with the local community and its lack of openness.
Labour Cllr Paul Pegg wrote: “The people of Derby fully understand why as a council we have had to make certain cuts and in the main they accept it. What the people of Derby don’t do is trust the Leader … hard working councillors are going to lose their seats at the forth coming elections.”
Cllr Pegg may tell himself that the problem with the council is solely the style of its leader. In truth the cuts the council has energetically pursued in its library and care provisions as well as to the wages of its school support workers have all done damage. It is not only the council leader that has to go but also the cutting policy of the whole council.
Unison workers have meanwhile taken heart that Derby North MP and former council leader Chris Williamson has felt necessary to go public with his displeasure with the council’s action. “I support the teaching assistants and the fantastic job they do. It is completely wrong that some are faced with pay cuts of up to 25%” But what Unison’s Derby school support workers need most is national support and solidarity that might stop the council doing the dirty business of the Tory government.
Bus drivers strike over pay
Bus drivers on First Buses in Manchester, Bolton and Bury will struck on 2 October and will strike again on 9, 16, 23, and 30 October over pay. Workers have been offered a below inflation pay offer by First, effectively a pay cut. There is also a £1.88 per hour gap between the highest and lowest earning drivers, with drivers effectively being paid different rates for doing the same job. Over 600 drivers are involved in the strikes.