Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 8 July, 2016 - 2:21 Author: Gerry Bates, Simon Nelson and Ollie Moore

On 7 July the International Dockworkers’ Council (IDC), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) called a one-hour world-wide strike, from 8 a.m. local time.

Under the slogan “Defend Dockers Rights,” the Global Day of Union Action was organised to call for: Improved health and safety in the workplace, an end to job deregulation, respect for bargaining rights and collective agreements, the need for universal labor standards in GNTs, the concerns over automation processes in terminals, and social justice.

IDC coordinator Jordi Aragunde said: “This is the first time the world will carry out a collective action which highlights the contribution of dockworkers to the world economy”.

Minnesota nurses strike for control

Nurses in Minnesota staged a week long strike starting on 19 June at hospitalsrun by health care company Allina, in a showdown over nurses power on the job.

Allina wants to change how it makes staffing decisions; they want an automated system based on patients′ electronic records, rather than human decisions. This would stop ″charge nurses″ deciding staffing ratios based on an evaluation of patient need.

Nurses are arguing that charge nurses consider factors not documented in medical charts — family and psychosocial issues, the intensity of nursing required, the experience and skill of particular nurses. The dispute spreads way beyond staffing ratios. It is also about workplace violence, cost-cutting by health companies, nurses′ health insurance, and about defending the union.

″The company’s unwillingness to budge an inch leads me to believe they really are trying to get rid of the union,” said 30-year nurse Gail Olson, a bargaining team member. “For patient safety sometimes we slow things down. They don’t want to tolerate it anymore.”

Nurses have had a huge amount of support from the local community with people turning up to the picket line with ice lollies, water and hats to help nurses on the picket line deal with the heat. A letter of support to the nurses was signed by over 50 local officials, campaigns and businesses. Nurses went back to work after seven days with no progress made on the contract, but are continuing negotiations and have plans to strike again if Allina doesn′t back down.

Progress for left at Unison conference

Unison members met in Brighton for Local Government and National Conference between 19 and 24 June 2016.

The vast majority of debate was consensual and disappointingly routine. Several motions were ruled out on the basis of ″legal jeopardy″. Despite this, some gains were made by the left. In Local Government conference a heated debate and card vote was taken to reprimand the NJC for ignoring members′ rejection of the 1% pay offer.

The motion also called for a full investigation as to how the decision was made. Conference also voted to have a national ballot on forced academisation of schools and seek to combine any action with the teachers′ union. The resolution moved by Barnet Local Government Branch included speeches by Workers’ Liberty supporters who emphasised the need for joined-up and coordinated strike action. National Conference saw amendments on nationalisation of the banks fall with the leadership making spurious arguments about ″not wishing to bail out bankers any further″, precisely the sort of policy that nationalisation is aimed at stopping.

Nonetheless Unison again committed itself to progressive taxation to halt the cuts. The Union must stand up for those councillors that seek to fight the cuts imposed by the Government and enforced by Labour councils. An important debate on branch funding was lost on a card vote, meaning that a more democratic and better funded system for branches was lost in favour of a reformed system that will pass more control to regional officials and limit the ability of branches to increase their funds. On 21 June over 250 delegates met to discuss the kind of Union we needed and highlight the growing opposition and disaffection with the current leadership.

The meeting was organised and supported by a number of delegates and figures from the North West Region and chaired by Paul Gilroy from the NEC. Speakers from the platform were Paul Holmes, NEC and Labour Party Member, Roger Bannister, NEC and Socialist Party, Karen Reissman, SWP and NEC member, and Paula Barker, North West convenor. This reflects a step forward with the Socialist Party agreeing to take part in further discussions on some kind of ‘left’ group within the Union. It also clear there is now a split within former supporters of the current leadership, and this provides opportunities to lead a real fight within the union.

Whilst the SP and SWP stressed the importance of having joint agreements on elections, others stressed the need for any organisation to go further, to organise in branches, take up democratic demands and seek to build a real rank and file. Regional meetings will be called in the future and Workers’ Liberty will seek to have discussions with activists both beforehand and there about the kind of union we need.

Driver-only operation fight continues

ScotRail workers are preparing for strikes against “Driver-Only Operation” on 10-11, 14, and 17 July.

Talks between ScotRail bosses and the RMT were continuing as Solidarity went to press, but with the company remaining intransigent on its plans to downgrade the safety-critical role of the on-board guard, further industrial action is likely.

Meanwhile, a dispute over similar issues on Southern, operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), is fast developing into a mini-labour war, with unions and the Labour Party calling for GTR to be stripped of the franchise.

Southern have recently cancelled 341 train services in an attempt to improve reliability. In a win for the union, the company was forced to u-turn on its decision to remove travel passes from staff and prevent them from swapping shifts, which it had done as a punitive measure in response to strikes.

The fight against DOO suffered a setback on Gatwick Express (also operated by GTR), as drivers’ union Aslef dropped its legal challenge to an injunction against its recent strike ballot, and so effectively accepted the extension of DOO to Gatwick Express’s 12-car trains. It will also pay a £250,000 legal bill to cover GTR’s costs.

A rail worker and supporter of the Off The Rails blog told Solidarity: “Our unions are firefighting at the moment, attempting to resist DOO in a defensive way as its proposed, or extended, by individual Train Operating Companies or franchises. We need to take the offensive, and work out a coordinated national strategy to push DOO back.”

ISS must investigate chemicals

Cleaning contractor ISS, a multibillion pound corporation which provides cleaning services on London Underground’s Jubilee, Northern, and Piccadilly Lines, has withdrawn the graffiti remover it issues to cleaners, after evidence emerged that it is harmful, including potentially to unborn children.

The rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker said: “It’s scandalous that cleaners have had to work with a dangerous chemical. “ISS should now conduct a full investigation, with full participation by union reps, into the chemical’s effects on cleaners, and be prepared to pay compensation if any ailments can be linked to it.”

Tube cleaners currently face extreme uncertainty at work, as competing contractors jockey for position ahead of London Underground’s consolidation of all its existing cleaning contracts into one “super contract”. It is thought that it might award the contract to an entirely new outside contractor such as Mitie, rather than to Interserve, ISS, or Vinci, the companies currently providing cleaning services on the Tube.

Both Interserve and ISS are in the process of making cutbacks, which could see cleaners’ jobs slashed.