Rail union RMT has begun re-balloting its members on South Western Railway (SWR) for further industrial action to defend the role of the guard. SWR guards concluded a month-long strike on 1 January, and are now re-balloting as the six-month mandate of their current ballot, stipulated by anti-trade union legislation, has now expired.
The new ballot closes on 23 January. If it returns a majority and meets the required thresholds, SWR guards could take further action. No direct negotiations have been held between SWR and RMT since November.
Elsewhere, RMT members on the Tyne and Wear Metro struck on 20-21 December, in a dispute over rostering arrangements.
Further strikes were planned for 6-7 January, but have been suspended after negotiations with Nexus, the company which operates the system, resumed.
University workers look to spread strike
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at a total of 36 universities will vote on whether to take industrial action over pay, pensions, and working conditions, in a ballot that runs until 28 January. This includes institutions that failed to hit the required thresholds in a previous ballot, which led to workers at 60 universities striking for a week in November 2019.
In some areas, activists have been visiting other workplaces local to them to help with the ballot campaign.
A recent sectoral conference of the union voted for a further two weeks of strikes, commencing on 20 February. If the new and rerun ballots meet the thresholds, workers at those institutions could join the strikes.
Negotiations between the UCU and the University and Colleges Employers Association continued on 17 December. Bosses have remained intransigent, particularly on pay, saying they have “no mandate to reopen discussions” on their pay offer.
Some rank-and-file activists in UCU are arguing for future negotiations to be conducted transparently, with live-streaming to all union members. Ensuring mass democratic scrutiny over union officials during elections has often happened at high pitches of struggle, for example during the Solidarnosc movement when union leaders’ negotiations with the Polish Stalinist state were broadcast over tannoy to workers in the occupied Gdansk shipyard.
But even in moments of less intense struggle, there are precedents for open and transparent negotiations: in the USA, contract bargaining between university workers’ unions and university bosses often takes place in public forums that workers can attend and observe.