Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 10 October, 2018 - 12:25 Author: Sacha Ismail, Anne Field, Claudia Raven and Ollie Moore

Last week we reported the wildcat strike by workers at the “community owned” Ivy House pub in South London, members of the Bakers’ Union.

In this case “community owned” meant more “Big Society” than “workers’ control”.

Shortly after the last Solidarity went to press on Tuesday 2 October, the Ivy House workers, who had kept the pub shut down completely for three days, won completely. The union is recognised, zero hours contracts will be replaced by fixed hours ones, and the four sacked workers are reinstated with back pay until a disciplinary process has ended.

The nature of the Ivy House and its relationship to the surrounding community made life quite difficult for the employer and gave the workers some advantages – but they still faced the same disadvantages and difficulties as other service workers on zero hours contracts in a small workplace. Despite the pub’s image and circumstances, the Ivy House management moved fast and ruthlessly to get rid of and replace the sacked workers.

They were stopped only by the decisive action the workers took – not only walking out “unofficially” without going through the long and onerous legal balloting procedure but moving their action forward four days at short notice to forestall management.

If the Ivy House workers had gone through an official ballot, they would most likely still be balloting now and not able to go on strike until the end of October!

So the Ivy House battle and the victory pose big issues about helping the unorganised organise and reviving the trade union movement; but also about defying and fighting to scrap the anti-union laws.

• For an interview with the workers by the New Socialist see here

Equal pay strike at Glasgow Council

The GMB and Unison have served notice on Glasgow City Council of a two-day strike (23 and 24 October) as part of their ongoing campaign to win equal pay claims for thousands of female City Council employees.

The unions’ strike ballots resulted in pro-strike majorities of 98% (GMB) and 99% (Unison). Up to 8,000 Council workers could be taking part in the strike.

The strike might be described as a “Labour legacy” dispute.

Prior to losing power in last year’s council elections, successive Labour administrations introduced the pay and grading scheme deemed discriminatory by the courts, created Arms-Length companies in a bid to frustrate equal pay claims, and spent some £2.5 million in fighting the claims in the courts.

In its council election campaign last year the SNP promised to resolve the dispute. But the new SNP administration initially continued to fight the equal pay claims in the courts. It then dropped legal proceedings and promised to resolve the claims through negotiations.

Although the SNP has now been in power for nearly 18 months, there is still no sign of the claims being paid. Hence the strike ballot of Unison and GMB members.

The now SNP-controlled City Council responded to notification of the strike by dismissing the unions’ timescale for reaching agreement as “unrealistic” and telling them that there would be no further negotiations with them until the strike had been called off.

The Council expressed its readiness to continue negotiations with Unite (which has a small number of members with equal pay claims) and Action4Equality (run by lawyer Stefan Cross and representing thousands of the women workers).

But Unite and A4E refused negotiations in the absence of the GMB and Unison.

Individual SNP councillors have also denounced the strike on social media, claiming that the unions did nothing when Labour was in control of the City Chambers, and that the strike would cause suffering to those most in need of Council services.

Labour Party members should be to the fore in supporting the strike — physically demonstrating their support for the women workers, and their opposition not just to the SNP administration but also to the record of its Labour predecessors.

Bolton hospital workers strike over insulting pay offer

More than 600 Bolton hospital cleaners, porters, facilities and catering workers have decided to go ahead with a 48 hour strike for pay after an insulting offer from management.

The staff are employed by Bolton iFM, a wholly owned subsidiary of the hospital trust, and have been denied the pay rise that directly employed NHS staff on Agenda for Change terms have earned.

Under the Agenda for Change pay award this year, the lowest paid staff have seen a 10% raise. Staff were transferred from private contractors and the NHS into Bolton iFM in 2017, and the company signed an agreement stating that it would implement the nationally agreed NHS pay rates in full to all staff. When this agreement was broken, with staff remaining on the national living wage of £7.83 an hour, 97% voted to take strike action, with a turnout of 65%. Bolton iFM is now offering “at least” the living wage rate, calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, currently set at £8.75 an hour. This is still less than the current lowest NHS pay rate of £8.93 an hour.

The trust and its wholly-owned subsidiary could access funding in the short-term from the government to cover the costs of the pay rise, but so far have failed to make an application.

Plans to create subsidiaries have now been defeated at Tees Valley after threatened strike action, and after strike action and Local Authority intervention in Wigan. NHS Improvement have now asked all trusts “paused” plans to create subsidiaries. Established subsidiaries in other trusts have cost more than £3.2 million in consultancy to set up and have been found to offer poorer conditions to new starters.

In the context of ongoing cuts, moving staff off NHS terms and conditions is seen as a clever way to reduce costs. Industrial action has forced a “pause” for now, but both industrial and political action will be needed to reinstate staff like those in Bolton to the NHS.

The Bolton strike begins at 7 a.m. on Thursday 11 October.

Central Line drivers strike

Drivers on London Underground’s Central Line struck on 5 October, with a further strike planned for 7 November.

The issues in the dispute, organised by the Aslef union, closely parallels those in an RMT drivers’ dispute on the Piccadilly Line; workers are resisting an increasingly authoritarian and disciplinarian management culture.

The RMT is also balloting driver members on the Central Line for strikes in two separate disputes, one paralleling the Aslef dispute and another to demand the reinstatement of Paul Bailey, a driver sacked after “failing” a drugs test, despite the test showing him to be within the allowed limit for cannabinoid substances.

A union activist told Solidarity: “It’s time for some joined-up thinking here. RMT should name new strikes in the Piccadilly Line dispute, and both unions should coordinate action on the Central Line.”

Meanwhile, a number of potential disputes are developing on London Underground stations, with the RMT considering ballots of station staff at Baker Street, over management bullying and the victimisation of a union rep, and on Bakerloo Line stations over understaffing.

Unison challenges council's institutional racism

Lambeth Unison are pushing Lambeth Council to act to tackle institutional racism at the Council.

A survey last year showed the majority of Unison black members at Lambeth Council felt they were treated differently from their white colleagues. We took the results to management who agreed to commission an independent survey into race equality and start work on reducing the race pay gap at the Council. Since that promise the Chief Executive has been replaced, the problem is not going away and the independent investigator has still not been commissioned.

It is not only the perception of black staff which points to a racism problem at the Council.

Staff at the top of the scales are overwhelming white, despite the workforce as a whole being 59% black and minority ethnic (BME). Once you get to grades with wages of ÂŁ40,000 and above, posts become more and more disproportionately filled by white staff. The latest release from the Council shows all but one of the top 25 senior managers are white. Human Resources have also admitted that while 46% of job applications are from people from a BME background, only 36% of people appointed are BME. On the other hand while 25% of applications are from white people, 34% of people appointed are white.

This problem is intensified by the bulk of job cuts falling on staff on lower pay, whilst management jobs are protected.
Following an anonymous letter from Black Workers sent to Councillors, unions and the press, Guardian ran on a report including a quote from our Assistant Branch Secretary Hassina Malik:

“In March 2017 we shared the results of the survey with the councillors and with the chief executive of the council. They agreed it was important to address the problems we had highlighted and said they would engage a third party – someone independent – to look into staff experience of institutional racism and the survey.

“More than a year later that person has still not been engaged. The council have reneged on their agreement to investigate and address institutional racism.” She said the situation in relation to race was “seriously escalating”.

Andrew Travers, the new Chief Executive of Lambeth Council has responded to media reports by sending an email to all staff saying that; “I do not accept the claim of institutional racism at Lambeth council.” This was mirrored by actions of Labour Councillors who in ward meetings tried to amend motions to remove any mention of institutional racism. They wish to concentrate on leadership programmes for black staff rather than broadening the discussion to issues with the organisation. The never spoken assumption behind this approach is that black staff aren’t engaged or promoted because they are worse candidates and the huge discrepancy between racial groups in pay is down to talent or confidence. This is absolute nonsense, the lack of black senior managers is not the whole problem but is a symptom of an issue affecting staff of all grades – racism in society and racism at work.

Despite professing to take the issues seriously, management continue to deny the experiences of black staff and their own stats show institutional racism.

We don’t pretend that Lambeth Council is the worst employer for black staff. We know it is better than many. But better than some others isn’t good enough — Unison will fight for equality for our members.

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