The Durham teaching assistants and Derby school support staff disputes have been the most significant in local government over the last year. Similar pay cuts of approximately 25%; threats of, or in Derby’s case the actual, imposition of new contracts; Labour councils doing the dirty work for the Tories and spearheading these acts; but on the workers side a strong determination to resist.
In Derby, the workers have struck for over 60 days. In Durham, fewer strike days but a concerted campaign that has drawn national attention. The last Derby strike of 15 consecutive days was called off on 17 March whilst a ballot is being held on a new deal proposed after an dramatic backdown by the Labour council. On Saturday 25 March the Durham TAs held an 800 strong march through Durham. The teaching assistants themselves were the most visible group there, alongside Unison.
There was a small Labour mobilisation, with a number of Red Labour and Momentum banners. The Derby strikers also came in force. At the rally in front of a number of Durham Miners’ banners in Redhills Miners’ Hall, Durham TA Megan Charlton made the most explicit allusions to the place of the campaign within the wider labour movement, acknowledging the support of grassroots Labour members against the actions of the Labour-controlled council. However, the final speech by Gillian Iveson was a call to arms against the Labour Party, encouraging those in attendance to vote against Labour in the upcoming council elections.
Local and regional groups which have seized the opportunity to attack the Labour Party throughout the struggle showed up, including the Spennymoor and Derwentside Independents, and the North East Party. Whilst anger at the Labour Party is fully understandable, the way to challenge capitulations from the elected representatives of our movement is not to turn to local populists, but to join the Labour Party and make these councillors accountable for their actions. Both campaigns, in Derby and in Durham, are inspiring instances of working-class women taking their fates into their own hands, and organising for themselves.
The actions of both the Durham and Derby Councils have been shameful. Megan Charlton made reference in her speech to the battles looming against this year’s massive cuts in education funding in schools. The actions of the school workers in both Durham and Derby show how they can and should be fought. But we need to fight with both hands. We must oppose Labour councils undermining the unions’ actions in defending their jobs and services, and use the whole weight of the labour movement against them and the Tories if they do.
Tube station staff balloted for strikes
Tube union RMT is balloting station workers for strikes to win the reinstatement of Lee Cornell, a Customer Service Assistant at London Bridge station, who was sacked after being assaulted by a fare-evader. Lee intervened with the fare-evader after he assaulted another member of staff, Kirsty Watts, who is pregnant. Lee was then punched in the head.
Two of Lee’s colleagues, Dave Sharp and Saeed Sioussi, attempted to defuse the situation and have been given final written warnings. An RMT activist told Solidarity: “What LU are effectively telling station staff is: if you see a colleague being assaulted, don’t intervene. If you are being assaulted, don’t make any attempt to defend yourself or restrain your attacker. If you do, you’ll be sacked. It makes a total mockery of their claims to support staff who are assaulted; it’s no coincidence that LU has recently recalled all the posters normally displayed at Tube stations which say they’ll defend staff against assaults!
“It seems to many of us that LU management, severely rattled by the strike of station staff at the beginning of the year, are looking for ways to reassert their power and control, and pick a fight with the union. We’ll do whatever it takes to get Lee’s job back.”
RMT has called a demonstration at London Bridge station at 8am on Monday 3 April. The union says it is prepared to escalate the dispute as far as necessary in order to win.
Cinema strikes win celebrity support
Workers at three Picturehouse cinemas in London will strike on Friday 31 March in their ongoing fight for the living wage, sick pay, maternity/paternity pay, and union recognition. Workers at another cinema, East Dulwich in south London, are currently being balloted to join the dispute. That ballot ends on 29 March after Solidarity goes to press.
The strikes in Picturehouse have spread fast since the dispute started, which is clearly rattling management. A boycott of Picturehouse, and parent company Cineworld, has been called by the workers.
A raft of celebrities from the TV and film world, including Sir Ian McKellen and Susan Sarandon, signed a letter on Monday 20 March to Moshe Greidinger, Cineworld′s millionaire chief executive. The letter said: “we find it disappointing that you fail to pay your lowest paid staff the living wage. We therefore support your workers in their call for a public boycott of Picturehouse and Cineworld.”
• The Picturehouse strikers have a new website with resources for supporting them.
• Lewisham Momentum will be leafletting Greenwich Picturehouse for the boycott on Friday 7 April.
Not our deficit!
National Union of Teachers (NUT) members at Forest Hill Boys’ School in Lewisham will strike for two days (Wednesday 29 and Thursday 30 March) in their escalating campaign against vicious cuts being imposed by management to fulfil conditions of repayment of a loan to Lewisham council. The proposed restructure would mean a loss of 15 teaching jobs, an escalation in teachers’ workload and a greatly diminished education for the students.
Outrageously, it even means the cutting of the English as Another Language (EAL) provision for pupils in a south London school! Management claim this provision can be dealt with by the Modern Foreign Language Department. The French teacher cannot effectively support a student who only speaks Somali!
This week’s industrial action follows from a day’s strike, a demonstration and two lobbies of the council and a public meeting, in just the last week! We are backed by an increasingly energetic parents’ campaign and now the students are showing an interest in becoming involved as well.
The first strike day, as the NUT group intended, closed the school with only Year 11 pupils in for their GCSE preparation. There are plans for further strikes and a Saturday demonstration after the Easter break. The NUT balloted on no compulsory redundancies and no increase in workload. We have suggested various ways the council might find the money including renegotiating the PFI deal But our bottom line remains: No cuts, it’s not our deficit, open the books!