Hundreds of Derby teaching assistants and their supporters protested outside Parliament on Wednesday 14 September. The lobby of Parliament was part of a strike by teaching assistants in their fight to against the council changing their working week, resulting in a 25% loss of pay.
Strikes in August finally brought the council to the negotiating table, but their offers since have been so miserly that workers have rejected them by large majorities. The council has also attempted to make divisive offers that would benefit only a section of the workforce.
Teaching assistants were further angered by a letter from Derby City Council′s Chief Executive Paul Robinson encouraging them not to strike. In a letter of reply published by the local press, teaching assistant Lesley Clarke said: ″I find your so-called generous offer is both derisory and insulting. It is divisive as it is only applicable to a small group of school support staff. Even with your offer of £2,000 and your exceptional step of offering to refund me all of my strike money I can assure you that I would be and still am very much out of pocket.
″I am very angered that in your letter you have tried to undermine Unison and its members in what is legitimate industrial action being taken by Derby City Council support staff whom have been so badly treated by your inept council.″
″We all care about our children and their education and it is wrong of you to assume as you stated in your letter that we are a massive inconvenience, as we do have the support of a great many of our parents and carers. I found your letter to be not only patronising but an insult to my intelligence. I am able to make informed choices and make decisions about issues that are relevant to me given the correct facts and information.″
Teaching assistants have had a huge amount of support both nationally and locally, and were met by Jeremy Corbyn when he was in Derby for a leadership contest rally. The campaign has also raised thousands of pounds for their strike fund.
• More information and to send messages of solidarity: Unison Derby City Branch
Manchester to sack all firefighters
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) has announced plans to sack all its frontline firefighters and re-engage them on worse contracts.
The mass sacking, which public authorities are allowed to do due to a quirk of industrial law, is being prepared so GMFRS bosses can introduce a new 12-hour shift pattern. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the plan would destroy fire fighters’ work/life balance.
This is the third time GMFRS have altered fire fighters’ shift systems since 2006. Over 1,000 workers will be affected by the plans, which also involve 250 jobs cuts. Firefighters are increasingly worried about the impact of repeated cuts on public safety. GMFRS′s own figures show a 140% increase in all rescues over the last 12 months, and a threefold increase in fire deaths.
Greater Manchester brigade secretary Gary Keary said: “We are staggered that GMFRS would jeopardise relations with its workforce in this aggressive way. To start the process for dismissing firefighters to then simply re-engage them on an un-negotiated contract is really appalling, and a serious breach of the agreed mechanisms for industrial relations in the UK fire and rescue service. We at the FBU will do everything we can to resolve what could turn into a bitter and damaging dispute using agreed procedures. Since the notice of the sacking proposals was issued, we have been contacted by lots of angry FBU members. We will continue to consult with them regarding the best way forward.
″This is the third change to shift systems in Greater Manchester since 2006 — surely firefighters are entitled to some sort of stability in their working lives.”
Tube drivers’ strike is solid
Drivers on London Underground’s Hammersmith and City and Circle Lines struck from 14-15 September, almost entirely shutting down the service. The Circle Line was reduced to running just one train every 20 minutes.
The drivers, who are members of the RMT union, were striking against an increasingly authoritarian management, which the union says has been abusing disciplinary procedures and even timing drivers’ toilet breaks.
An RMT statement said: “This dispute is about the basic issues of protecting working conditions of our members and defending agreements from attempts to drive a coach and horses through them. The management are out of control and the anger at their failure to follow procedures has boiled over.”
RMT has also had a recent dispute with management on the Piccadilly Line over similar issues, with reps on stations also reporting similar management abuse of procedures. RMT reps and activists are meeting on 26 September to discuss possible new disputes against cuts on London Underground.
Bosses cut benefits to meet minimum wage
Unite members working in Menzies Distribution centres —which ship newspapers and magazines to newsagents — are due to hold two 24-hour strikes later this week: from 23.00 on 23 September, and from 19.00 on 26 September.
In April Menzies Distribution imposed a pay rise which increased pay to £7.25 an hour, just 5p an hour more than the Tories “National Living Wage”. At the same time, it scrapped double time pay and time off in lieu for seven of the eight statutory bank holidays, replacing them by the ordinary rate of pay. In a ballot on industrial action held in June, 86% voted for strike action, and 91% for action short of a strike. Despite Unite entering into further negotiations, Menzies Distribution refused to budge.
A work to rule has already been in operation since 8 August, and a ban on overtime will commence on 23 September. This will be the first strike by Unite members in Menzies Distribution and will involve 300 packers, pickers and drivers. The company has responded by claiming that it has “robust contingency plans” to beat the strike.
The main distribution centres are in Ashford, Aylesford, Bromley-by-Bow, Greenwich, Norwich, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Irvine and Paisley. Unite activists should make a point of providing support for their fellow union members, especially on picket lines.
Win for library campaigners
Library users and workers in Bromley have had a victory in their battle against the privatisation of eight libraries.
The preferred private bidder for the libraries has now pulled out of the process, likely as a result of a sustained campaign by library campaigners. The fight to keep Bromley libraries in public hands continues, and more strikes and protests are being considered. Post office workers strike
Post office workers strike
Speaking to a packed London rally as post office workers struck on Thursday 15 September Andy Furey, CWU assistant general secretary, said “For the first time ever, we’ve had Counters, Supply Chain and Admin members out on the same day ... despite senior management’s dirty tricks, the National Day of Action has been overwhelmingly supported by our members.”
The strike is part of a dispute over the closure of the post office pension scheme, leaving many workers at risk of being out of pocket come retirement. Bosses had been threatening to reduce severance money to those striking and withdraw some special payments. They were forced to publicly back track when the ″bribes″ were exposed. Post office workers are planning more strikes, but also want to combine strikes with political action and are calling on the public to put pressure on the government.