Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 11 September, 2019 - 7:39 Author: Ollie Moore, Jay Dawkey, Cath Fletcher and David Pendletone
four fights

UCU ballot opens

University staff belonging to UCU are being balloted for strike action this autumn over pay equality, job security, workload and pay deflation.

Working conditions in higher education have been deteriorating. The gender pay gap is over 15%; over 100,000 staff across the sector are on fixed-term contracts; academic staff work over 50 hours in a typical week; and in the past ten years pay has declined by 20% in real terms.

In 2018 an impressive strike forced pre-92 universities to back down on massive pension cuts, but since then employers have refused to compromise and now they’re trying again to impose higher pension contributions.

Staff in those universities are also being balloted on that issue. The 2018 strikes mobilised many new activists into the union, who have since taken over the leadership, promising serious organising against the employers not just warm words. A good turn-out in the ballot is vital to meet the threshold and stop further cuts to pay and conditions.

The ballot opens on 9 September and runs until 30 October. Vote Yes/Yes!

The London Transport Region of rail workers’ union RMT, the union’s largest region, discussed Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, and no deal Brexit plans, at its meeting on Thursday 29 August.

The meeting endorsed a policy from the RMT Jubilee South branch, opposing both Johnson’s manoeuvres and the prospect of a no deal Brexit.

The motion argued that a no deal Brexit “will have a significantly detrimental impact on our members’ lives, especially our migrant members”, and that Johnson’s plans represented “a lurch towards authoritarian nationalism.”

The motion also argued for Labour MP Kate Hoey, who has campaigned alongside Nigel Farage, demonised migrants, and publicly supported Johnson and no deal, to be expelled from the RMT’s Parliamentary Group.

Noise ballot success

RMT Drivers on the Northern, Central, Victoria and Jubilee lines have returned a yes vote for action short of strike due to excessive track noise.

Tubeworker congratulates the workers who voted yes and bizarrely those who voted no. Without them the ballot would not have made it over the ridiculous 50% threshold that the Trade Union Act imposes on unions.

Since the issue was first raised miraculously management say they have found an extra £10 million to “tackle the issue”.

Why they couldn’t see problems with the Pandrol Vanguard system in the first place we don’t know. Either way workers should not have to endure track noise any longer.

Tubeworker says the RMT should start the slow down in noisy sections immediately. Neither drivers of passengers should be suffering any longer.

Station staff can use the opportunity to explain exactly why the service is being disrupted, and this kind of action will be very disruptive, let’s use the opportunity to push the bosses back and put safety first.

TUC says: “Free Our Unions”

The annual conference of the Trade Union Congress, held in Brighton from 8-11 September, unanimously passed a motion from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) committing the TUC to fight for the abolition of all anti-union laws, and positive legislation to ensure the right to strike.

The TUC’s position will be a welcome source of pressure on the next Labour government. Despite successive Labour conferences passing policy in favour of the abolition of all anti-union laws, Labour leaders, and the party’s 2017 manifesto, only refer to repealing the 2016 Trade Union Act.

As Solidarity went to press on 10 September, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack was due to speak at a fringe meeting organised by the Free Our Unions campaigns, on a panel that also includes UCU general secretary Jo Grady, Lambeth Unison joint branch secretary Ruth Cashman, and a PCS activist and striker from the BEIS outsourced workers’ dispute.

Michelle Rodgers, the national president of the RMT, which backed the Free Our Unions campaign at its 2019 AGM, was due to chair.

Keep HSST boycott alive

School workers cannot let the momentum of the ballot on a boycott of all high stakes summative testing in primary schools be wasted. We must build for as wide a boycott as possible in 2020.

But there is a problem. The National Education Union (NEU) executive, meeting on 13 July, blocked calls for a conference of rank-and-file primary members and district officers to consider the way forward. Instead they promised to consult the districts that reached or got close to the vote thresholds. As yet that hasn’t happened.

The NEU held an indicative ballot of its primary school members between 4 June and 2 July. The national turnout was 39%, with 97% voting against the testing system and 59% voting yes to boycott.

The result demonstrated an almost universal despising of the testing system and a real will to fight to remove them. However, the anti-union laws which require a 50% turnout and 40% of the entire membership to vote yes to any action meant that much more work be needed to get an active boycott.

The Education Solidarity Network (ESN), a rank and file activist organisation which Workers’ Liberty school workers are central to, is intending itself to organise a conference of primary activists and district officers to discuss how we can get a boycott for this academic year.

The indicative ballot suggests that a number of districts could get a boycott if it were seriously built for. The testing system is vulnerable to even a partial boycott as its most significant purpose is to gather data for league tables.

The more partial the data, the more discredited the tables are.

“I’m in the House of Lords at last”

Christine Blower, former general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), has been made a peer in the resignation honours list.

She follows other once-left union leaders into the halls of privilege, people like Hugh Scanlon, once left-wing leader of the engineering union (now part of Unite), who become Lord Scanlon soon after retiring from the union in 1979.

It’s a sad and telling milestone for the decay of the once-radical left in the union, which is now merged with the smaller ATL to form the National Education Union, NEU.

Christine Blower had a substantial record on the left of the NUT. Not just the usual Morning Star type “Broad Left”, but a more radical left.

She had been associated with the far-left group Big Flame, and she was prominent in the Socialist Alliance (a coalition of almost the whole radical left, including Workers’ Liberty) in 2000-3. When the SWP trashed the Socialist Alliance in 2003-04 in order instead to line up behind George Galloway in Respect. Blower refused to go with them, for left-wing reasons.

The NUT had been increasingly militant at rank and file level since the late 1960s, but run by a series of truculent old-style right-wing general secretaries (Edward Britton, Fred Jarvis, Doug McAvoy).

Blower challenged McAvoy for general secretary in 1999 and lost. She won deputy general secretary in 2005, against a candidate of the Morning Star Broad Left (which was increasingly becoming the right wing in the union).

In 2008 a new soft-right general secretary, Steve Sinnott, died unexpectedly, and Blower got the job.

Soon the ostensible radical left — the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance and the CDFU — had a clear majority at the top of the union.

Workers’ Liberty voted with the left in all those polls. But we warned that “the job… [is] to build the sort of genuine rank and file that can ensure that we don’t rely on the strengths and weaknesses of individual leaders to organise a militant and effectively organised union”.

Too true. The record of the supposedly radical left in the NUT and NEU since then has been no better than the record of the supposedly Marxist Socialist Party in its era of domination in the PCS civil service union.

Outsourced workers’ strikes continue

PCS members at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are continuing an indefinite strike for living wages.

As well as organising lively picket lines, a group of strikers also joined anti-prorogation protests in Parliament Square, near their workplace, on Tuesday 3 September.

As BEIS is one of the departments responsible for delivering the government’s climate change policy, the union also plans to highlight climate change issues on the picket line on 20 September, to coincide with the global climate strike called by school student activists.

Outsourced cleaners in HMRC offices on Merseyside are also striking from 16-20 September, and will be joining local climate strike mobilisations.

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