Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 2 November, 2016 - 1:41 Author: Ollie Moore, Charlotte Zalens, Peggy Carter and Gemma Short

Station staff on London Underground are balloting for strikes, and industrial action short of strikes, against job cuts.

The ballot begins on 1 November and closes a fortnight later. Both the RMT and TSSA unions are balloting their members. London Underground’s “Fit for the Future” restructure programme on stations has seen nearly 1,000 jobs axed and thousands of workers forcibly regraded and displaced.

Workers say that new rosters are unworkable, and recent incidents at North Greenwich and Canning Town stations have highlighted the risks of de-staffing. Unions are demanding a reversal of the job cuts and ticket office closure programmes.

In a separate dispute, RMT is also balloting driver members on the Piccadilly Line. That ballot also closes on 15 November. The dispute involves a number of issues, including management bullying of RMT safety reps Gary Fitzpatrick and Carlos Barros, as well as abuse of attendance and discipline procedures.

An RMT statement said “only a serious threat of industrial action seems to focus [management’s] mind”. Hammersmith and City Line drivers also have an ongoing dispute, creating the possibility of coordinated action involving station staff and drivers on at least two lines.

Drivers’ union Aslef is also balloting its members over a number of breaches of train operators’ agreements. After London Underground confirmed it had been testing driverless train technology on the Jubilee Line, union activists have called for a wider dispute against possible de-skilling and job cuts on trains.

Ritzy workers give bosses a fright

Workers at the Ritzy Picturehouse cinema in Brixton, south London, struck again on Monday 31 October. The strike coincided with national Living Wage week, and an announcement by London Mayor Sadiq Khan that the London Living Wage will go up to £9.75 from next year. Workers held a ″night of the living dead″ picket line and protest outside the cinema in Windrush Square, Brixton. The picket line was joined by supporters from across London and by a lot of pumpkins.

Durham teaching assistants plan strikes

Durham teaching assistants will strike on 8 and 9 November as part of their fight to stop a 25% pay cut.

Teaching assistants in Unison voted by 93% in favour of strikes, those in the ATL by 84%. Over half term teaching assistants and their supporters have been holding a vigil outside Durham County Hall which ended in a rally on Friday 28 October.

Teaching assistants in Derby fighting a similar battle suspended their strikes for negotiations with the council, those negotiations have now been extended another week, meaning teaching assistants in Derby and Durham will not strike at the same time.

Durham teaching assistants will hold a lobby of councillors at 9 a.m. on Wednesday 9 November, followed by a rally at noon, they ask trade unionists and supporters in the area to join them.

Details of the rally

Southern workers protest at Parliament

RMT members and supporters demonstrated outside Parliament on 1 November, in support of Southern guards’ fight against the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”.

A rally following the demonstration was addressed by speakers including Paula Peters from Disabled People Against Cuts, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Guards will strike again on 4-5 November, with further strikes planned for 22-23 November and 6-8 December. Drivers’ union Aslef is also balloting its members on Southern, in a vote due to close on 18 November.

Southern has given guards a 4 November deadline to sign up to new contracts as “On Board Supervisors”, a role with no safety-critical function. The company has threatened to sack guards who do not accept the new roles.

IDS not a friend of workers or claimants

Former Work and Pensions secretary of state Ian Duncan Smith has seen Ken Loach’s new film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, and he’s not happy with the way Jobcentre workers are portrayed in the film.

In an interview with Radio 4 he particularly bemoaned an instance where the main character wanted assistance with drafting a CV but was referred to on-line advice. “This is the sort of thing jobcentre workers do day in day out to help the unemployed”, he claimed. Either he is very badly briefed or he is telling lies. Unlike his approach to claimants, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Due to savage cuts in staffing levels and a fundamentally anti-claimant regime which has as its starting point that it is your fault that you’re out of work, jobcentre workers spend most of their time effectively policing the unemployed. The carrot part of the job ended years ago to be replaced with a big stick.

DWP consistently denied that there were targets for staff on the number of sanctions they had to issue until that lie was exposed by an e-mail leaked to the Guardian saying that the East London district manager was not happy with the position of jobcentres in East London in the London league table of sanctions. Staff have been through performance procedures, put on warnings and sacked for not issuing enough sanctions, or “not doing your job properly” as DWP would say. It is a gross exaggeration to say that all staff working in Jobcentres buy into the anti-claimant ethos. Many genuinely want to help. But it would also be wrong not to acknowledge that a significant number of staff that do buy into the scrounger image promoted by DWP, the right wing media and the Tories.

The PCS union has a role to play in countering this and promoting claimant/worker solidarity.

Post Office strike

Post Office workers struck again on Monday 31 October in defence of jobs and pensions.

As previously reported in Solidarity, Post Office bosses plan to close the Post Office pension scheme, leaving many current workers out of pocket come retirement and leaving new workers with a worse pension.

Closures and redundancies also continue within the Post Office, before the last strike bosses threatened to reduce severance pay to workers who strike. The attack on workers’ terms and conditions is more than just an attack on them. It is part of a wider picture of a ″managed decline″ of the Post Office.

Striking Post Office workers carried a symbolic coffin around Parliament Square and to Post Office headquarters. The CWU plans more strikes in the lead up to and during the Christmas period.

Uber loses in court

On Friday 28 October, taxi app company Uber lost a court case about their use of ″self-employed″ workers brought against it by a group of drivers.

The case is a useful precedent in a situation when an increasingly large number of companies seek to avoid minimum wage requirements and social benefits by their staff being spuriously self-employed.

The case heard that self-employed workers at Uber were a ″slave″ to the app, with workers being ″deactivated″ for missing too many job alerts or getting bad ratings. This practice is not unique to Uber and Deliveroo. Cleaning contractors on London Underground have been using it for a while, and cleaners organising in the RMT union have been fighting for rights for those workers.

Recent strikes within Deliveroo show that workers can fight back despite the attempt to erode their collective bargaining power.