Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 26 February, 2020 - 8:42 Author: Ollie Moore and Katy Dollar

UVW at St George's

Outsourced security workers in the United Voices of the World union (UVW) at St. George’s University in Tooting, south London, are continuing their campaign for equality.

UVW members and supporters recently occupied the lobby of the main St. George’s building during a university open day, holding an impromptu rally addressed by St. George’s strikers, UVW reps from victorious anti-outsourcing campaigns at LSE and St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, and an RMT activist.

UVW is also preparing what it describes as a “landmark legal case” to challenging outsourcing in court. The union’s lawyers will argue that outsourcing is a form of discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act, as outsourced workers are often black and minority ethnic (BAME) and/or migrant workers.

UVW organiser Petros Elia said: “An internal report from the university found that in-housing them would not only provide a better service but would also lead to cost savings. The decision of public institutions such as St George’s to outsource workers who are migrant and BAME is done for the sole purpose of slashing their pay and terms and conditions”.

Kazi Mohammad Oli Ullahwe, a striking worker and Bangladeshi migrant, said: “We’ve asked for equality and they’ve refused to negotiate. They say it’s not viable to make us university employees, but they have not explained why. They don’t treat us as equals. They treat us as second-class workers. All of us are ethnic minorities and we all feel discriminated against and harassed. Between our strike and this lawsuit, we will win justice and equality”.

Huge votes in Tower Hamlets

Amongst core council employees in Tower Hamlets, the public services union Unison has won a yes vote of 89.6% for industrial action, on a turnout of 52.5%.

Amongst UNISON community school staff, there was a yes vote of 98% on a turnout of 51.6%. These are overwhelming votes which beat not only the 50% threshold imposed by the most recent Tory legislation, but also the higher threshold for “essential services” of over 40% of the total membership balloted in each case.

The school workers union, the NEU, has got a similar result, with a 95.4% yes vote on a 51.5% turnout.

These ballots concern changes in terms and conditions which Tower Hamlets, a Labour council, has been trying to push through.

The council even, for a while, sought a court injunction against the NEU’s ballot under the anti union laws. That caused a backlash across the labour movement including in Tower Hamlets Labour. On the day of the court case, Tower Hamlets Council withdrew, presumably under political pressure both locally and nationally.

It is unclear why the Labour authority has decided to pick such a high profile fight with the unions. Central government’s extension of last year’s local government settlements means that there are no immediate budget pressures. None of the unions predicted such a serious attack.

Strikes look set to go ahead unless the council backs down completely. The GMB is now balloting, with its ballot due to close on 4 March.

The solidarity Labour Party members showed local trade unionists over the court injunction should continue throughout the dispute.

• Messages of support to: Unison secretary; GMB secretary; NEU secretary

CWU: still up for the fight

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is balloting members in Royal Mail for strikes to resist their employer’s plans to restructure its business, threatening as many as 20,000 jobs.

The dispute also demands a reduction in the working week, which was agreed in a previous settlement but has not been implemented, and an end to a culture of management bullying. The ballot runs from 3 March to 17 March. A postal worker in west London spoke to Solidarity about the dispute.

“People are definitely still up for the fight. There was a strong enthusiasm for striking over Christmas, which we weren’t able to do due to the injunction of the previous ballot.

“People were disappointed about that, but the will for a fight is still very much there. Some people are nervous about potentially losing money due to striking. But there’s also a strong culture of loyalty to the union.
“I work between two offices — one feels very machine-like, like a large factory or warehouse. The other is a smaller, more traditional delivery office.

"There, I was casually chatting with a workmate with whom I usually find it difficult to get to talk about politics, and they initiated a conversation about the dispute and how up for striking they are. The question of working hours is central. People know the bosses could come for our time off and leave entitlements as the business restructures and jobs are cut.

“The union’s centralised messaging and social media campaigning is really good. The CWU has a really slick social media operation. Lots of meetings and press conferences are live-streamed, and the Deputy General Secretary for the CWU’s postal section, Terry Pullinger, uses social media to communicate with members.

“In workplaces, the basic work of getting the vote out in the ballot will fall to the reps. They’ve started putting up posters round the office, but face-to-face conversations that are key to ensuring people vote. We have some rep vacancies in our office, which might hinder the campaign to get the vote out.”

“It’s telling that the larger, more factory-like of the two offices I work in has the less militant culture. Royal Mail’s plan is to make that type of office the norm, closing down smaller offices and consolidating them into big warehouse-style depots. They can be really depressing, bleak places to work; they’re isolated from local communities, there’s not much social life in and around the workplace. You really feel like you’re working in a factory.

“Of course, that could all backfire on the employer if we’re able to organise effectively. If you concentrate large numbers of workers in a single workplace, those workers have immense potential power. We could knock out postal deliveries in half of west London if we strike, whereas strikes in smaller offices might only effect a handful of neighbourhoods.

“‘Gate meetings’, where workers gather outside the workplace to discuss the dispute, are taking place across the country, we have one planned for 25 February. That’s a collective space where workers can discuss.

“Currently, though, they’re mainly used as a mechanism for reps and full-time officials to convey information to the members. That’s useful and worthwhile, but it’s missing an opportunity not to make those meetings forums for more participatory, democratic discussion about where to go with the campaign.

“At one gate meeting at one of my offices, someone just shouted out after the full-time official’s report, ‘we should strike for longer this time, one-day strikes aren’t enough.’ The official wasn’t having it.

“If we had a network of rank-and-file reps and activists, we could coordinate intervention into those gate meetings to articulate a more militant strategy than the one the leadership might be inclined to propose.

“In my workplaces, there’s yet to be any meaningful discussion about what to do if our ballot is injuncted again. The union will probably proceed more cautiously this time, and really do everything by the book, to try to minimise the risk of a second injunction.

“The risk is that this will lead to a lower turnout in the ballot.”

Tube pay: better late than never

Negotations with London Underground over pay and conditions have taken us as far as we can go. To win a deal that brings us closer to our demands, we need industrial action.

Aslef has already committed to ballot its members. Its ballot begins on 28 February and closes on 9 March. Tubeworker encourages all readers who are Aslef members to vote yes for action.

RMT reps from across LU are meeting on 26 February to discuss next steps. RMT has chosen not to ballot up to now. We think that has been a mistake. The delay has allowed momentum to slip. But late is better than never, and if RMT now launched a vibrant, assertive campaign around an immediate ballot, that momentum could be rebuilt.

Some have argued that LU’s latest offer, for an RPI+0.2% pay increase for four years, is adequate. We disagree. A 0.2% increase (the “RPI” element only keeps our pay in line with inflation) is hardly anything to get excited about, and the offer includes no concessions of any of our other demands, including a reduction in working hours.

It’s regrettable that the talks have dragged on for as long as they have, but simply wanting to get them done is not a good reason to accept an inadequate offer. LU’s narrative is that we have a choice between two offers — the one it made in October, with 1.4% pay increases plus three additional banked rest days in years two and four of the deal, and the more recent “money only” offer. We say: we can win something better than both. How many times have we heard LU say something is “full and final”, or absolutely set in stone, only to find that industrial action, or the threat of it, pushes them back? The threat of action by drivers over excessive track noise led to the discovery of an additional £10 million for track work; the threat of strikes by fleet workers forces LU to scrap a “full and final” plan to cut train maintenance; and a 2017 strike by station staff forced the reversal of 325 job cuts.

With GLA and Mayoral elections due on 7 May, we have some additional leverage. Mayor Khan will not want Tube strikes in the run up to this election, especially as he’s boasting about having reduced them!

For RMT to hit the thresholds required by the anti-union laws in a combine-wide ballot of its entire membership will be a challenge, but it can be done. In 2015, the last time RMT balloted combine-wide, both a 50%+ turnout and a 40%+ yes vote were achieved. Had the thresholds been imposed at that time, we would’ve cleared them.

Revenue Control Inspectors (RCIs) in the RMT union on London Underground have voted to take industrial action to resist the imposition of a two-tier workforce in the revenue department. There was a 100% vote for action short of a strike, and a 92% vote for strikes, on a 75% turnout.

LU wants to create a new grade of revenue worker, “Revenue Control Officer”, paid nearly £20,000 less than existing RCIs. They also plan to have additional revenue staff, employed by TfL rather than LU, working on LU stations, paid even less.

RCI reps will now meet to discuss exactly what action to take and when. One possibility could be a joint strike alongside existing TfL revenue staff, who are members of Unite and who are striking on the last Friday of every month until April, in their own dispute over pay.

Strikes by train drivers on London Underground’s Bakerloo Line across 21-24 February completely shut the service down for lengthy periods.

Drivers were striking to win a workable timetable; the current timetable has led to such short turnaround times between trips that workers often do not have time for a toilet break. The RMT says a small increase in the staffing level could facilitate significant improvements.

RMT organised lively pickets at Queen’s Park and Elephant and Castle, with an impromptu joint strike rally being held at the latter location when striking university workers from the London College of Communication across the road, along with their student supporters, joined striking LU workers.

As the tweet from the official Bakerloo Line account showed... “no service on the entire line, due to strike action”, confirming the words of the old labour movement hymn Solidarity Forever that “without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn.”

SWR guards out on 9 March

RMT guards on South Western Railway (SWR) will strike again to resist the imposition of “Driver Only Operation” (DOO).

They struck for a month in December, the longest single strike in British railway history. This time, only two strikes have been named, but spread across four days — from 10:00 on 9 March to 09:59 on 10 March, and from 10:00 on 12 March to 09:59 on 13 March.

A similar model of industrial was used in the RMT drivers’ strike on London Underground’s Bakerloo Line recently (see separate article). There, the format was effective in maximising disruption over several days, with only two days’ “cost” to the workers. Attempting to replicate this on the mainline is a gamble, and risks being seen as a de-escalation from the previous month-long strike.

Nevertheless, it is positive that RMT has called further strikes rather than allowing a stalemate to continue.

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