CWU ballots until 17 March
By Ollie Moore
As Solidarity went to press on 3 March, Royal Mail workers were beginning a new ballot for industrial action, after a successful ballot last year was injuncted by the High Court.
The ballot will close on 17 March. It is about action to prevent a restructure that could see the postal and parcel delivery aspects of Royal Mail’s business separated into distinct companies, a move which the Communication Workers Union (CWU) says could threaten up to 20,000 jobs.
The CWU is also demanding that Royal Mail honour an agreement reached in 2018 which included a commitment to a reduced working week.
The CWU has held 800 “gate meetings” at Royal Mail workplaces across the country to build the ballot campaign, which the union says is a record number. A Royal Mail worker told Solidarity: “Gate meeting 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.” The industrial action ballot closes on 17 March.
In pay negotiations separate to the dispute, Royal Mail’s latest offer, for a 6% pay increase across three years, has been rejected by the CWU.
Tube workers ballot from 6 March
By Ollie Moore
Tube union RMT will ballot its entire membership across London Underground, around 10,000 workers, for strikes over pay and conditions. The ballot runs from 6 to 31 March.
LU workers are already almost a year in to what should be their new pay arrangements, with the previous deal having expired in April 2019. RMT’s claim was for a “substantial, above-inflation pay increase”, with a flat-rate minimum for the lowest paid, and for a 32-hour, four-day week. LU’s latest offer is for an RPI+0.2% pay rise for four years. The ballot marks the first time RMT, the only union to organise across all functions and grades of LU staff, has balloted its entire LU membership in nearly five years. That last ballot took place before the turnout thresholds required by the 2016 Trade Union Act were imposed, but had they been law at the time, the RMT’s ballot would have cleared them.
Driver-only union Aslef, a minority union across LU as a whole but a slight majority amongst Tube drivers, is also balloting over pay, in a vote running from 28 February to 12 March. If the ballots return majorities, Tube workers could strike in the run-up to the mayoral and GLA elections, due to take place on 7 May.
TfL workers strike on pay
By Ollie Moore
Unite members employed across Transport for London (TfL), including on the Woolwich Ferry, recently taken back into direct operation by TfL, struck again on 28 February, in a series of disputes over pay.
Workers in TfL departments including Dial-a-Ride, bus revenue, and streets and taxis enforcement are striking against a deal proposing a 1% pay increase and a cut in annual leave. A further strike is planned for 27 March.
RMT members working for London Underground revenue, who recently returned a majority in a ballot for industrial action against attempts to impose a two-tier workforce in their department, are discussing when to take action, and could coordinate with TfL revenue workers in Unite.
Free Our Unions
Poetry on the Picket Line, a collective of radical poets who perform in solidarity with strikes and other workers’ struggles, held a benefit gig for the Free Our Unions campaign on Tuesday 3 March.
The event also launched the new book of verse by Workers’ Liberty supporter and Poetry on the Picket Line member Janine Booth.
On 22 February, RMT London Transport Region organised a training session for activists on understanding and confronting anti-union laws, which used Free Our Unions materials. If you want help developing a similar training course for your own union, email the campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org
Getting the contract in-house
An outsourced UCL worker and IWGB union rep spoke to Daniel Randall from Solidarity about their campaign for improved conditions and direct employment.
Outsourced workers at University College London (UCL) are fighting for company sick pay, and for our union, the Independent Workers' union of Great Britain (IWGB) to be recognised, so we can bargain collectively. We want equal terms and conditions with directly-employed staff, and ultimately for our jobs to be taken in house and for UCL to employ us directly.
The security contract is held by a company called Axis. The caterers, porters, and cleaners are employed by Sodexo. We last struck in November 2019, alongside university workers in the University and College Union (UCU). There are currently discussions taking place about pay grades for outsourced staff, but those discussions involved Unison, not IWGB. Unison has a recognition agreement with UCL, and with Axis, despite only a small minority of outsourced workers being members of Unison. IWGB is the majority union amongst outsourced staff.
It's frustrating that our union is excluded from these discussions. Unison also excludes their own members from meaningful discussion and consultation; we're currently running a petition campaign to demand that outsourced workers are properly consulted in the current talks over pay, and we've even had some Unison members sign that.
Unison has actively undermined our struggle. In the run-up to our strike in November, Axis gave the Unison reps on the contract time off to go around discouraging people from striking, telling them they'd get in trouble or even be sacked. Although our strike was successful there's no doubt this had an impact, and intimidated some people out of striking. On the security contract, there are different types of workers – building attendants, operation and patrol officers, and control room workers. But the Unison reps are all building attendants, and many people feel they are only interested in one section of the workforce.
Axis manage the contract in a very unfair and nepotistic way. There's a lot of bullying and harassment from managers, and it seems like friends and relatives of certain managers are being given better jobs. Axis uses its relationship with the “client”, UCL, to intimidate and micromanage us. A manager will approach a security officer at a gate, who might be standing near a wall, and say, “the client has told us they don't want you standing there, you must stand here, in the middle,” even if it's pouring with rain. Axis's contract expires in late 2021. We want to have a big push to get the contract taken in-house. UCL is also due to get a new provost soon, who doesn't have a good record, so we don't expect this fight to be easy.
We have a very good relationship with the local UCU branch. We've been to their meetings and they've been very supportive of us and our dispute. I think we've even been a source of inspiration for them; our picket lines and protests have a lively, party atmosphere, which I think other unions can learn from. There have been some discussions about the idea of one union for all campus workers, but not many. Some UCU members are also members of IWGB, in part as a way of showing support for us. But forming a single union is a long way off, I think. One of the reasons people wanted to join IWGB is that it is completely independent. It has no ties to the institution. However, we still want to work as closely as possible with UCU, and other unions that support us.
IWGB is still growing in the workplace. Hopefully that will continue. Some outsourced workers are still under-confident about standing up for their rights, or unsure as to what their rights even are. Continuing to build the union will help with that.
We will keep fighting and, when necessary, strike again.