Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 12 July, 2017 - 12:39 Author: Simon Marks, Ken Worthington, Ollie Moore, Simon Nelson and Gemma Short

A primary school in Sheffield is to become the first to get rid of all its teaching assistants. As part of a cost-cutting restructure, unions claim the school is planning on sacking its nine teaching assistants.

The school also plans to introduce a post of ″fellow″ — unqualified teacher. Both Unison and the National Union of Teachers say they do not know of any other schools that have got rid of all of their teaching assistants. Both oppose the plans and are consulting with staff. In addition to cuts already made, schools are floundering while the plan for the new schools funding formula is unclear. The proposed new funding formula was widely opposed and made the Tories unpopular during the election period, leading to Education Secretary Justine Greening being given the go-ahead to re-think. Schools are making drastic funding decisions blindly, with varying results school by school.

Outsourced workers fight low pay

Low paid workers at four London hospitals are leading the battle against austerity and the 1% pay cap. They struck for three days on 4-6 July and are starting seven consecutive days of action as we go to press on 11 July. They plan to continue the escalation with a two week strike starting on 25 July. These newly organised members of union Unite are showing the sort of determination sadly lacking in much of the union movement.

The Unite Bart’s Health branch campaign kicked off last summer. Since then over 700 domestic staff, porters and security workers have joined Unite, and 28 new reps have been elected. Regular all-member meetings have driven the campaign at each hospital, and a stoppage by 150 workers at the Royal London Hospital forced management to reinstate a 15 minute tea break. These workers have been contracted to Serco. Many lost their NHS contracts in April. This is not only a battle against the pay ceiling, but also against a private profiteer whose chief executive, Rupert Soames, took home over £2 million last year and boasted in the FT about a projected profit of £82 million in 2016.

Serco are out to crush the newly organised branch by bringing in scab labour from Scotland and Norwich and threatening staff on probation with the sack if they strike. However, the striking workers remain strong and united. Picket lines in the first week of the strike were up to 140 strong and the planned demonstration will be a vital show of strength for the strike. If you want to support the fight against austerity you too should join the rally in support of the Serco strikers at the Royal London, St Barts, Whipps Cross and Mile End hospitals.

• Assemble 12 noon, Saturday 15 July, Turner Street, Royal London Hospital E1 1BB.

Social workers strike

Social workers in children’s services at Kirklees council, West Yorkshire, are on strike over workloads, pay, agency staff, IT systems and bullying. Around 200 workers have struck twice so far. On both days no workers crossed picket lines. Workers are striking over high and unmanageable caseloads (caseloads have doubled since 2012), management bullying, and bosses refusing to implement an agreed regrading of pay. Kirklees social services were rated as inadequate by Ofsted eight months ago, and the report highlighted serious issues with workloads.

One striking worker told a social work website that “the thing we fear most is bullying. Staff will speak out and some have been suspended for doing so. Staff and are told if they don’t get their work up to date they will be reported to the HCPC…yet while they try to catch up on this outstanding work they are allocated new cases”

In the aftermath of the Ofsted report a commissioner was appointed by the government to recommend whether social services should be kept in-house or commissioned to the private or charitable sector. It was recently announced that the service will be staying in-house; however, Leeds City Council will provide a management lead. Under the commissioners management staff have reported no improvement in conditions.

Paul Holmes, Unison branch secretary, said “Members have had enough. Enough of bullying, enough of stress, enough of vacancies, enough of poor pay, enough of agency staff and enough of austerity… Our members have had enough of doing a difficult job in stressful circumstances for inadequate pay.”

This is not an isolated case, Tory austerity is devastating local services and attacking workers’ pay and conditions. In the aftermath of the general election, this action should be a spark for public sector workers to organise and figh back against Tory attacks.

Teaching assistants reject deal

Teaching assistants in Durham have voted to reject the deal they were offered by the council which halted strikes several months ago. The deal would have still left 472 of the teaching assistants losing money. Members of both Unison and ATL have rejected the deal, despite unions urging them to accept it. There has been much anger from teaching assistants who feel that Unison has been negotiating more on behalf of the council than for them. At the time of going to press teaching assistants had not yet announced their next steps.

Drivers support guards’ strike

RMT members on Southern, Northern, and MerseyRail have struck again, as the fight to stop “Driver Only Operation” (DOO) continues. Southern workers struck on 10 July, Northern workers on 8-10 July, and MerseyRail struck on 8 and 10 July, with a further strike planned on 23 July. Activists in the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) campaign are working with RMT to organise picket line support.

Demonstrations in support of the strikes, highlighting the vital role of the guard in ensuring safe and accessible trains, took place in several cities. With the Tories’ minority government looking ever shakier, and Labour increasingly confident after their election surge, now is the time to turn up the pressure.

A sustained campaign of strikes, linking the imposition of DOO to private ownership and asserting the demand for renationalisation — shared by all rail unions and the Labour Party, and with huge support amongst the general public — could shake the Tories yet further. In some areas, Labour-controlled local authorities have some regulatory powers over local rail franchises. They have not always been as firm as we might like in supporting our campaigns to keep the guard on the train. Now’s the time to take a stand. If Labour councillors and mayors won’t back our strikes and use their powers to block or delay DOO wherever possible, local Labour Party members should, with our unions’ support, move to deselect them and replace them with people who will. Aslef also needs to take a stand.

The rank-and-file on Southern has, to its great credit, stood firm three times and turned over their leaders’ attempt to settle their dispute in exchange for shoddy deals. Aslef has recently reinstated its overtime ban on Southern; they need to reinstate strikes too. On MerseyRail, and in some depots on Northern, Aslef members have respected RMT picket lines. This must continue, but the dispute would undoubtedly be bolstered if Aslef joined it formally.

Tube workers strike for permanent jobs

Fleet maintenance workers on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line have returned a huge majority for strikes in their fight for permanent jobs, easily clearing the thresholds of the Trade Union Act. 144 workers were balloted, with 121 (84%) returning their ballot papers. 115 voted for strikes, and 119 for action short of strikes. Six workers voted against strikes, and two against action short, representing an 80% majority for strikes. The dispute aims to force LU and its engineering and maintenance subsidiary TubeLines to make all new jobs permanent, and abandon their current plans to recruit new staff on two-year fixed-terms contracts.

Defend the Picturehouse Four!

Cinema workers at five London branches of the Picturehouse chain struck again on Friday 7 July, as their battle for living wages, union recognition, and other benefits continues. Picturehouse bosses have raised the stakes of the dispute by sacking four Bectu union reps from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, the site where the dispute began. Three of those reps have had their appeals rejected, with a fourth waiting on an appeal outcome. All intend to pursue their cases at Employment Tribunal.

One of the sacked reps told Solidarity, “this act of blatant union busting tells you a lot about Picturehouse as an employer. They present an ethical, independent image, but they’re motivated by the same greed for profit as their parent company Cineworld.

“The substance of the sackings is outrageous: we’ve been sacked because an email, sent from a union address to members’ personal accounts, mentioned an activity that community supporters of our campaign were planning to undertake. Picturehouse claim this makes us liable for the action itself, and that not reporting it to the company constitutes gross misconduct.

“It’s a quite chilling illustration of the degree of power employers feel licensed to exert over their workers in the low-wage economy.

“The sackings won’t deter us, however: the demand for our reinstatement will be incorporated into the wider campaign, and we have every intention of staying involved in the strikes as organisers and supporters”.

Daily “community pickets” have been taking place at the Ritzy every weeknight from 5pm, distributing leaflets about the strike and encouraging customers to take their business elsewhere. Community pickets were also mounted at the Hackney and East Dulwich Picturehouse on the 7 July strike day. Workers’ Liberty members and supporters working at Picturehouse and active in the strikes are pushing for the union to name more strike dates as soon as possible, and to escalate the action beyond one day. Meetings are also planned with workers at other Picturehouse sites across the country, with the aim of spreading the strike.

Mike Ashley drinks and vomits while workers suffer

Billionaire Sports Direct and Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley has always been a controversial figure. Sports Direct is notorious for its use of zero hour contracts and employee search procedures that meant workers ended up earning below the minimum wage for the amount of hours they spent on site.

Ashley is back in the news with behaviour that now offends many of the business establishment. Jeff Blue, a former Merrill Lynch banker, is suing Ashley over a supposed promise of £15 million if he could get Sports Direct shares up to £8 in three years. Blue did this and says he is owed the money.

The difference in this case is that Ashley calls the deal “drunken banter” agreed in the pub after, as testimony lays out, frequent drinking sessions. Ashley has described himself as a “power drinker” who challenges clients, senior managers, consultants to drinking competitions until the first person is sick.

The press have made a great deal out of his reported vomiting in a fireplace following 12 pints and 12 vodka shots in quick succession. Ashley offends many in “his world” as he describes attending business events as boring, and says that Shirebrook,where Sports Direct HQ is, is so dull his only option is to go to the pub at the end of the day. Other exploits have involved him settling a £200,000 legal bill for Newcastle United with a bar game, “liars’ poker”.

The reality is Ashley is like most other people in “his world” but he does not have the decorum or good manners, as others see it, to keep his excesses and blasé attitudes to himself. We don’t care if Ashley drinks too much or has his business meetings down the pub, but it does say a lot about his attitude to Sports Direct and their staff. One member of staff gave birth in a Sports Direct toilet because they couldn’t afford to take the time off. Ashley, on the other hand, is happy to drink till he’s sick whilst taking the decisions that keep such terrible conditions.

Teachers’ pay still frozen

The government announced today (11 July) that teachers′ pay will continue to be capped at 1%. This is the first public sector pay award to be decided since the general election, and the pressure on the government by their own MPs and others to end the public sector pay freeze. It does not look good for those to come.