In March, the University of Manchester announced plans to restructure its subsidiary company, UMC, making 46 redundancies in catering while moving the remaining staff on to “term-time only” contracts.
This latter move would have meant cuts of about one third to their total pay. But now, as a result of solid negotiating by Unison, and agitation, occupations and disruption by students, management have backed down. There will be no compulsory redundancies, no loss of hours and no pay cuts.
These victories in the fight against the university’s contemptuous treatment of its workers should embolden us all.
It is clear that despite framing the restructure as a question of affordability the university simply sought to protect its profits. UMC served as an underhand way of employing people below the living wage which the university claimed to adhere to
It functions as an internal outsourcing project, and though the worst excesses of the restructure have been defeated, the trade union should continue a campaign for UMC workers to be brought back in house.
We also must not forget that some staff felt pressured to choose “voluntary” redundancy, either because of an understandable fear of facing increasingly precarious working conditions, or a lack of faith in the ability of the union to fight their corner.
This is an important reminder of the continuing need to build a strong movement. Indeed the drive towards marketisation in higher education is putting all jobs at risk.
UCU members in Higher Education will strike on Wednesday 25 and Thursday 26 May in a dispute over pay.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the university employers’ body, only offered a 1.1% pay rise when lecturers’ pay has fallen 14.5% in real terms since 2009.
Meanwhile pay and benefits for university leaders have increased. The average pay and pensions package for a vice-chancellor is now over £270,000, and universities are heavily investing in flashy capital building projects.
However amongst UCU members, pay may not be the issue with the most grip.
The gender pay gap and issues of casualisation must be kept prominent in the campaign. UCU’s record in the past few pay disputes has been poor. Few resources have been put into developing campus organisation in advance of strikes, leaving weaker branches struggling to sustain the action. The leadership has then used those struggling branches as an excuse to call off strikes.
Labour movement solidarity on picket lines and in meetings may make all the different in given UCU members the confidence to go on the offensive for better pay and against marketisation in education.
Rail workers’ disputes spread
RMT members in Southern struck again on Wednesday 18 May, continuing their resistance to de-skill the role of the guard and move towards “Driver Only Operation” (DOO) of trains.
The strike was extremely solid, leading to widespread disruption of Southern’s services. Reports from picket lines, as well as opinion polls and interviews in the press, indicate strong support from the public despite the disruption, with passengers clearly opposed to the idea of removing or de-skilling safety-critical staff.
Drivers’ union Aslef is also supporting the dispute, with 84.4% in voting in favour of strikes on an 82.2% turnout. However, Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which operates several franchises including Southern and Gatwick Express, where Aslef is also balloting, have sought High Court injunctions against the union, claiming it has breached the anti-union laws which stipulate balloting procedure. GTR was granted an injunction against a ballot on Gatwick Express after it claimed that Aslef unlawfully encouraged its members not to engage in DOO on new 12-car trains.
RMT has also announced a new ballot of its members on ScotRail over similar issues.
The move to DOO, recommended in the McNulty Report into the staffing and operation of Britain’s railways, commissioned by the last Labour government and of which the Tories are enthusiastic supporters, could see thousands of rail workers de-skilled and downgraded. In the longer term it could lead to thousands of job losses. Both Aslef and RMT are committed to launching disputes in response to any attempt, on any franchise, to extend DOO, but this necessarily means disputes are scattered and defensive. Rail unions must urgently find a way to launch a counter-offensive, possibly by declaring disputes wherever train company bosses refuse to give guarantees not to extend DOO (rather than waiting for them to do it when new fleets are introduced).
Train operating companies, with the full support of the Department for Transport, are attempting to remodel the railway industry in a profound and fundamental way, attacking workers’ terms and conditions and making services less safe for passengers.
National — and, very likely, lengthy — industrial action by rail worker of all grades is perhaps the only thing which can prevent them.
CalMac ferries stay public
Union activists in Scotland celebrated a win on 19 May, as the Scottish government announced that the operation of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Service would remain in public hands.
The RMT union, which represents seafarers, fought a long battle to “Keep CalMac [Caledonian MacBrayne, the incumbent public-sector operator of the ferries] Public”, against calls from many, including some in the SNP leadership, to privatise it. RMT members working on the ferries struck last summer in a dispute to protect their terms and conditions.
An RMT statement said: “The Scottish government has accepted the union’s argument over [...] the benefits of lifeline ferry services in the west of Scotland remaining in the public sector with CalMac.
“It is also a complete vindication of RMT members’ decision to take industrial action in June last year.”
The “Keep CalMac Public” campaign was backed by the Scottish TUC, the Scottish Labour Party, and many others.
Glen Hart reinstated
London Underground Station Supervisor Glen Hart has been reinstated following a suspension of almost two years.
Glen was first suspended after he closed his station during a union overtime ban in Autumn 2014. As Glen had followed both company and legal protocols to the letter, LU was forced to drop its case against him, but soon concocted another one on the ludicrous basis that Glen had been rude to a manager during the investigations surrounding his initial suspension. The manager making the claim was, conveniently, the only witness.
Glen’s union, RMT, mounted a campaign to defend him, including demonstrations and a ballot of all RMT members across London Underground, which returned a majority in favour of strikes. After months of wrangling, LU has finally seen sense and reinstated Glen to his job without disciplinary sanction.
An RMT activist told Solidarity, “this outcome is a testament to Glen’s resolve and the resolve of his fellow workers and union members, who stood by him throughout this ordeal.
“Glen probably could have been back at work sooner if he’d admitted some kind of culpability, but he — and all of us — knew he wasn’t guilty but rather was being fitted up and victimised.
“Hopefully Glen’s reinstatement will strike a blow against LU’s increasingly heavy-handed, personalised, and authoritarian style of discipline.”
Left makes gains in PCS
Independent Left activists in the PCS union won seats on the Unions National Executive.
Bev Laidlaw, Tom Bishell and Sarah Malone won seats from the leadership “Left Unity” group. Two other Independent Left activists, Gerry Noble and Chris Marks, got large votes but were not able to get seats due to the union′s rules on the number of seats which can be occupied by members from the same section.
The gains for the left might give an opportunity to turn the union around from its “big talking, little action” routine of the past five years.
PCS conferences meet in Brighton as Solidarity goes to press. Affiliation to the Labour Party will be discussed, as will a motion to overturn the DWP group executive′s decision to recommend a deal on pay and performance management to members, and international motions on Kurdish solidarity and on Europe.