Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 9 December, 2016 - 2:09 Author: Ollie Moore, Gerry Bates, Dale Street, Gemma Short and Charlotte Zalens

Members of the train drivers’ union Aslef on Southern began an overtime ban on 6 December, and are preparing to strike alongside RMT guards later in the month. The guards’ latest strikes began on 6 December and will continue until 8 December, with Aslef due to participate in further strikes on 13-14 and 16 December.

RMT guards will strike again on 19-20 December and 31 December-2 January, and both guards and drivers will strike on 9-14 January. Southern bosses, who succeeded in having an earlier Aslef ballot declared illegal by the High Court, have again sought an injunction against the drivers’ action. RMT members protested outside the Policy Exchange office in Westminster on 6 December, where Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was delivering a speech on “rail policy in the 21st century”.

As well as refusing to consider renationalising the Southern franchise, the government has recently announced plans to explore the privatisation of railway maintenance, currently carried out by Network Rail.

An RMT statement said: “Mr. Grayling and his government are hell bent on ripping to shreds the safety regime on our railway, not just by axing guards, but also by turning the clock back to the lethal days of the privatised Railtrack on our infrastructure.

“If the Tories think we will sit on the sidelines while they drag us back to the carnage of Hatfield and Potters Bar [fatal train crashes which occurred while railway maintenance was privatised] then they need to think again.”

Support Crossrail wildcat strike!

Workers at the Crossrail construction site on Tottenham Court Road, Central London, are striking in protest at the forced displacement of Terry Wilson, their site steward, to a different workplace. Terry was transferred after 200 workers protested at Crossrail’s headquarters to demand increased “second-tier” (bonus) payments, and occupied the site offices of Crown House Technologies and Laing O’Rourke.

The contractor which employs the workers, Crown House Technologies, has refused to meet with Terry since his election as steward, and the decision to displace him following the protest is a clear attempt to victimise a trade union rep and break up union organisation on the site.

The strike is the latest in a series of flashpoints on Crossrail construction sites over a number of years, which also included the long-running battle to win reinstatement for sacked union activist Frank Morris. The current strike is a wildcat action. Solidarity, including donations to the strike fund, could help it win.

• Send email messages of support to Terry at terrydw1ilson@aol.com, send cheques, payable to “Unite London Construction LE/0555 Branch” to Unite, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB (write “TCR Crossrail Strike Fund” on the back), or make an online donation to Account 20276649, Sort Code 608301.

Tube bosses forced to address staffing crisis

An overtime ban by station staff on London Underground has led to the closure of dozens of Tube stations. Members of the RMT union began the action on 23 November, since which time major stations such as Bond Street and Earl’s Court have been forced to close due to lack of staff.

A supporter of the Tubeworker bulletin told Solidarity: “The closures show that station staffing is in crisis. There are simply not enough of us to do the work. The company is forced to rely on overtime; when we refuse to work beyond our contracted hours, stations close. The key demand of our dispute is for an increase to the staffing level, and following these closures, no-one can argue it’s not needed.”

London Underground bosses have already made concessions in Acas talks, agreeing to a joint review with the unions that has committed in advance to resource additional jobs. Union sources say there is no intention to lift the overtime ban. An RMT rep told Solidarity: “The number of job cuts the review reserves will be directly proportional to how much pressure the company feels under. If we let them off the ropes, the number will be derisory. If we turn up the heat, it could be much higher.”

Tubeworker has called for unions to name strikes to escalate the dispute, possibly in parallel with the next walkouts by guards and drivers on Southern. Smaller Tube union TSSA, which balloted its members later than RMT, commences its own overtime ban from 8 December. Meanwhile, strikes by RMT drivers on the Hammersmith and City and Piccadilly Lines planned for 6-7 December were suspended, after the RMT said Acas talks resulted in significant progress. The disputes centre on management abuse of procedures.

No cuts at EHRC!

PCS and Unite members employed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) will strike again on Monday 12 December. The strikes are part of an ongoing dispute about cuts in funding, job losses, and a management-driven “internal re-organisation”.

Between 2010 and 2016 the coalition government cut funding for the EHRC by 75%. It lost its helpline service – outsourced to G4S! – its conciliation service, and its grants programme which supported local law centres and community groups. Staffing levels fell from 525 to under 200. In summer 2016 the Tories announced a further funding cut of 25% between 2016 and 2020. This despite an increased demand for the services of EHRC as a result of the post-Brexit 50% increase in hate crimes.

EHRC management announced plans for frontloading the cuts by axing jobs. A “voluntary exit” programme secured enough volunteers for redundancy. But then management announced an organisational restructuring, under which 26 posts would disappear. The cuts were concentrated in the lowest paid jobs.

The PCS union said: “Nineteen of the first 26 posts due to be axed are held by staff in the three lowest paid grades, meaning the government body responsible for protecting vulnerable workers is itself disproportionately targeting older, ethnic minority and disabled staff.”

While cutting jobs at the bottom end of the scale, management created five new posts at the top end, each on six-figure salaries, and none were advertised externally. To assist in implementing the organisational restructuring EHRC management also brought in an external consultant – paid at a rate of £250,000 a year.

PCS and Unite members voted overwhelmingly for strike in October. A planned one-day strike in October was called off to allow more time for talks. But a further breakdown in talks resulted in two 24-hour strikes in November. ACAS talks resumed and seemed close to reaching a settlement last week. But EHRC management is reported to have backtracked from previous commitments.

Unfortunately, while the leaflet produced by the PCS and Unite for the dispute rightly identifies the impact of the proposed cut in jobs, it then demands only “no compulsory redundancies” – even though job losses through voluntary exit would result in the same damage to EHRC services.

• Find out more and support the strike on Twitter: @savetheehrc

Picturehouse rejects living wage

Picturehouse has rejected the call of workers at another Picturehouse cinema branch, Picturehouse Central in Soho central London, for the London Living Wage. The workers’ union Bectu has now invited Picturehouse to negotiations with ACAS, but if Picturehouse refuses to negotiate or to offer a pay rise it is possible that workers at Picturehouse Central will be balloted for strikes and join workers at Hackney Picturehouse and the Ritzy cinema on strike.

Bectu reps lobbied Labour MP Chuka Umunna, whose constituency includes Brixton where the Ritzy cinema is, on 25 November. He gave his support to the dispute. Workers at the Ritzy and Hackney Picturehouse told Solidarity that they may plan their strikes to coincide with première screenings of the new ‘Star Wars’ movie, which opens on 15 December.

Durham TAs push back council

Durham teaching assistants achieved a huge victory on 30 November when Durham County Council announced it was suspending the imposition of their proposed new contract. The backtracking of the council follows a series of strikes by teaching assistants, a large scale social media campaign and several protests in Durham. It just goes to show that strikes win! Further negotiations are now scheduled in order to resolve the situation completely but the withdrawal of the threat to sack and reemploy teaching assistants is a huge win.