Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 14 June, 2017 - 2:04 Author: Gemma Short and Peggy Carter

Cleaners at the London School of Economics are celebrating a victory. They will be brought in-house and become employees of LSE from Spring 2018.

The victory comes after a series of strikes and protests over 10 months. Three more strikes had been planned for LSE′s July graduation days. LSE became increasingly embarrassed by the strikes and protests, and lashed out at workers, issuing legal threats and trying to intimidate workers into not striking. As a result of being brought in-house from infamous contractor Noonan, the cleaners will get 41 days annual leave, six months full-pay sick pay with six months half-pay sick pay, plus proper employer pension contributions of up to 13% of their salary.

This is a significant victory which will hopefully impact upon disputes in other HE institutions where cleaning, catering and other staff are outsourced. Workers at the University of London won pay increases and some improvements to conditions in 2012-13, but remained outsourced. Similar disputes at other institutions have so far failed to break the hold of outsourcing companies and bring workers back in-house despite significant gains in pay and conditions. As Solidarity goes to press students at SOAS university, London, have occupied the Director′s office in protest at the university closing a cafeteria leading to redundancies.

Workers and students at SOAS have run a long campaign against outsourcing and poor pay and conditions amongst outsourced staff. The shock announcement to close the cafeteria was made on the 9th anniversary of the deportation of the SOAS 9 — when cleaning company ISS called cleaners into a meeting where immigration police were waiting to arrest and deport people. Unison will be balloting catering workers over the closure and redundancies.

• For updates on the struggle at SOAS, see here

Beating the anti-union laws on the Tube

Tube union RMT has balloted its members working on London Underground stations for industrial action to win the reinstatement of Lee Cornell, a Customer Service Assistant at London Bridge who was sacked after an altercation with an aggressive customer who had pushed a pregnant colleague. The ballot closes on 13 June. Solidarity spoke to an RMT rep about the campaign to get the vote out.

This has been quite a monumental effort for us. It’s our first combine-wide ballot since the Tories’ Trade Union Act was imposed, so presented some real challenges. We’d already failed to meet the new thresholds in a local ballot in the same dispute on the Waterloo area, so it was very obvious we had to step things up.There’s been a well coordinated campaign to mobilise members to vote, and to vote yes. Local workplace reps like myself have been working through our membership lists, speaking to as many members in person as possible about the ballot, and ticking them off once we know they’ve voted.

There have been regular texts and emails from union head office, and some phonebanking was organised at RMT HQ.Union branches have been organising walkabouts on the stations they organise to make sure as many members as possible are reached, and the dispute is kept high profile.

There’s no denying that there’s been a certain complacency historically: some members, who are totally union-loyal and always take part in industrial action, have had the attitude that there’s no particular need for them to return their ballot, as there’ll almost certainly be a majority for action, and they’ll support the strike when it’s called. With the new laws in force, those attitudes have to be confronted and changed.

More long term, we need to think about ways of defying and subverting these obviously unjust laws, even while we’re working hard to hit the ballot thresholds. We’ve been conducting our campaign in the face of some quite outrageous spin and distortion from management, putting about lies and propaganda via employee bulletins, which we’ve had to work hard to counter. On the whole I think this has backfired on management; one claim they pushed particularly hard was that RMT officers had refused their offers to view CCTV of the incident that led to Lee’s sacking, which is a straightforward fabrication.

Members can see the bosses are trying to lie their way out of a corner and I think it’s galvanised people’s will to fight for Lee’s reinstatement.The issues at the heart of the dispute are simple: our workplaces are not always safe environments, and are becoming less so as LU and other railway companies look to cut back on staffing levels. Lee was defending himself and his colleague from assault by a violent customer, and rather than backing him up, his employer has sacked him. That’s an unacceptable injustice.

Cabin crew strike again

Mixed fleet cabin crew working for British Airways at Heathrow will strike again from Friday 16 June to Monday 19 June.Workers in the mixed fleet had been striking over poverty pay levels, but strikes had been suspended for talks.The latest strikes have been prompted by British Airway′s attempts to victimise those who took part in earlier strikes. According to the workers’ union Unite, talks had been near to resolving the dispute over pay, but British Airways was refusing to restore travel concessions that had been removed from striking staff.Unite commented “BA is almost alone among the employers this union has dealt with in that they can accept the case for a pay deal but want to punish the very people who made the case.″

Manchester Met strikes

UCU members at Manchester Met University will strike on Tuesday 20 and Wednesday 21 June.Workers were due to strike on 24 and 25 May in a dispute over 160 job losses and the closure of the Crewe campus, but strikes were called off after the Manchester Arena terror attack.The university has so far refused to attend talks with the union.