On 21 March cleaning and catering workers employed by multinational corporation Aramark at the South London and Maudsley NHS mental health trust, which has sites across South London, struck for a £10 an hour minimum wage, full sick pay and proper unsocial hours payments.
Colin Little, the GMB rep at the Ladywell Unit at Lewisham Hospital, which is part of SLaM, spoke to Solidarity: “We all work for Aramark. We’ve come out together to fight for £10 an hour, for fairer wages. We’re not getting fair wages or sick pay. These guys work very hard, all of us work very hard, as a team, supporting each other.
“Before now Aramark never listened to us or talked to us about our desire for better terms or conditions. So as a union we decided to meet up and contact them, and have a meeting with them. We had a meeting with them, and they offered better pay, but when they made a proposal it was only 5%, 20p, which is rubbish. They promised better at the next meeting, but only came up with 40p. Also you have to work for one year to get any sick pay.
“We decided to come out here today to fight, to get better pay for all us. We’re going back to work tomorrow, we’ll be in touch with the union, and we’ll plan another strike. We’re looking at 6 April. We’ve turned their offer down and so we’re going to continue till we get a better offer.
“We want everyone to come out and support us, and to spread the word the way Aramark treats its workers and about our struggle. We know many workers, not just us, are not happy. We need people to make their voices heard.”
At the Ladywell site, strikers were joined by activists from Lewisham Momentum and the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, as well as several junior doctors.
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Battle to stop libraries closing on 1 April
Library workers in Lambeth struck on 22 and 23 March in their ongoing battle to save ten libraries. The campaign has already had some victories with the confirmation that Tate library will remain open as a library. However the council is now focussing its plans on Minet and Carnegie libraries, which it will close on 1 April 2016.
Lambeth Unison has held a consultative ballot of all council workers which has returned 85% in favour of council-wide strikes to support the library workers. Librarian and Unison steward Tim O’Dell said: “Councillors hoped they could push things through quietly but they’ve got a fight on their hands – the community are preparing legal action and have organised a major campaign – and we, the staff, are taking the only action which we can – to strike. We have just three weeks before they start removing books and padlocking doors. They can’t be allowed to give away our libraries”
Library workers from Brixton library organised a ″Picket and Rhyme″ children′s storytime event (renamed from the library′s usual ″Wiggle and Rhyme″) on the picket line outside Brixton library on 22 March.
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Piccadilly line drivers fight dictatorial bosses
Drivers on London Underground’s Piccadilly Line will strike on 23-24 March, 19-20 April, and 20-21 April.
The drivers, who are members of the RMT union, are battling an authoritarian management. Workers say bosses routinely flout their own disciplinary policies; one of the strike’s demands is that warnings issued at the Oakwood depot be withdrawn. The dispute stretches back beyond October 2014, when a planned strike was called off after unfairly sacked worker Paul Okoro was reinstated.
The RMT says the issues have flared up again since, and that management’s reckless conduct in negotiations is making strikes inevitable.
The rank-and-file socialist bulletin Tubeworker said: “Workers in pretty much every function, grade, and area will recognise the picture from the Picc: managers drunk on power, wielding disciplinary sanctions in an arbitrary and authoritarian fashion. “That seems to be the flavour of the month (year?) for LU managers right across the board. A solid strike on the Picc could stop managers at Picc depots in their tracks, and send a strong signal to dictatorial bosses elsewhere on the job.”
Job losses in energy industry
Job loss announcements in the energy sector last week are proof that the privately-run sector is failing workers, service users, and future energy security.
Npower announced large losses and plans to reduce the workforce by 2400. Workers and unions are still in the dark as to where the company plans these job cuts to hit and when. It could include workers for other companies who work on behalf of Npower. Npower is doing particularly badly, with poor consumer service and failed outsourcing. But the problems at Npower are repeated across the industry.
The whole structure created by privatisation is a byzantine mess designed to give the illusion of competition over the delivery of identical electricity and gas to the home. At the same time the private companies were unwilling or unable to make the massive investment needed to move their processes and systems into the modern age. High prices and poor service have become the universal complaint.
Soon after the job losses announcement the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) reported that service users are being overcharged by £1.7 billion a year! The CMA highlight that the poorest and most vulnerable customers get the worst deal as they often end up being forced on to pre-payment meters that charge more per unit of energy. They have no security of supply if you run out of money or the corner shop is shut. Did the CMA judge that pre-payment meters should be got rid of? Did the CMA call for the nationalisation of energy? No!Their recommendations were minor tinkering with fixing pre-payment energy prices and, more bizarrely, giving more customer information to the energy industry. According to the CMA, if 37 energy companies can send you junk mail it will fix a fundamentally broken and flawed sector.
Jeremy Corbyn stood for leadership of the Labour Party promising to take energy into public ownership. Since he won the leadership these promises have gone quiet. The entire labour movement and beyond need to be fighting for the public ownership of energy, but under democratic and workers control. That is the only way to eradicate fuel poverty and provide secure, clean and carbon-neutral energy.
FE pay strikes called off
Following a one-day strike by lecturers and support staff in FE colleges over pay on 24 February, both UCU and Unison have said they will not call any more strikes over the 2015/16 pay claim. Instead the unions say they will try and initiate discussions on a draft pay claim for 2016/17.
Such a swift turn-around begs the question of why the union even called the 24 February strike at all. FE workers are becoming increasingly demoralised and demobilised as dispute after dispute is called off after one or two strikes, and no wins. NUT members in sixth form colleges struck over funding on 15 March, this was a perfect opportunity for workers across the post-16 education sector to organise and strike together about the chronic underfunding of the sector, but it wasn′t taken. If UCU and Unison plan a dispute over 2016/17 pay, a serious organising drive of the membership on college level is needed, and a well publicised and series strategy to win to give members confidence that the union will not just stage another one-day strike.
Sixth Form colleges strike over funding cuts
Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Sixth Form colleges (SFCs) struck on Tuesday 15 March in response to ongoing underfunding of the sector. Since 2011, SFCs have seen year on year cuts amounting to a reduction of approximately 14% in cash terms and far more in real terms. Even though the government, under union pressure, has called a halt to its cash cuts and claims to have “protected” funding, this is bogus. In fact it has been frozen and, with increases in national insurance and pension contributions in the offing, colleges will see a further real terms cut of 8%.
Additionally, SFCs, uniquely among educational institutions, have to pay VAT on goods and services, meaning the average college loses £250-300,000 per annum. NUT members have had enough. In a ballot 86% of voting members called for strikes and a vigorous campaign to demand restoration of funding to pre-2011 levels. The Department for Education challenged the NUT′s ballot, claiming that the strike was a political strike and therefore illegal, in a high court case held the day before the strike. In a significant win for the whole labour movement, the court ruled in favour of the NUT as the ballot question had referenced the risk to members′ terms and conditions from funding cuts. Other unions should look to using this tactic to stage political strikes, rather than using the law as an excuse.
On 15 March, NUT’s 2000 SFC members turned out in force. Reps reported colleges being effectively closed as many students voted with their feet and didn’t bother to turn up, knowing most of their lessons would be cancelled. Lively pickets and leaflet distributions took place, with a very good response from the public, who were surprised and angered to hear how deceitful and disingenuous this government’s claims about education are. In London between four and five hundred activists (nearly a quarter of our membership) attended a rally and then marched to the Department of Education, where a very noisy protest blocked the road and sent a clear message of anger and determination from teachers to defend education. Union leaders told members that this was just the start of a high profile campaign to expose this government and turn back their disastrous policies.
Dockers want union agreement
Dockworkers at London Gateway docks are fighting for a collective bargaining agreement. The dockworkers, organised by Unite, have been campaigning for a collective bargaining agreement since the docks opened in 2013, but dock management DP World are insisting on an unnecessary ballot to avoid having to make an agreement. The campaign is part of a wider picture of trying to re-establish union-negotiated terms and conditions in docks around the country, and around the world, after bosses have largely eroded them.
Support dockworkers by signing their letter to management.