Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 1 February, 2017 - 12:58 Author: Ralph Peters, Ollie Moore, Charlotte Zalens, Peggy Carter and Gemma Short

Teaching assistants in Derby held a rally, march and picket of the Derby Council meeting on 25 January. 400 TAs surrounded the Council House prior to the Council meeting. As previously reported in Solidarity, TAs are fighting a pay cut that for some is as high as 30% and a complete rewriting of their contract.

The dispute so far has consisted of 13 strike days after a 9-1 rejection by the workers of the Council's last offer, as well as a number of rallies and lobbies of the council. Stupidly the Labour Council refuses to budge, using claims that its budget will not allow it. But at the same time money has been found for expensive building work on the Council House which has angered TAs.

Representatives from the TAs went to meet Corbyn during his rally in Derby and he promised them his support. There are reports that there have been some telephone conversations between Corbyn and council leader which ended acrimoniously. Corbyn needs to clearly and publicly state his support and differentiate himself. So far, whilst saying complimentary things about the TAs, he uses the formula that Unison and the Council should sit down together and settle.

Talking to Unison representatives of the TAs, Prentis has promised national support — even indicating that Unison may reconsider its affiliation to the Party. Of course, this will not happen and would not do any good. What the Derby TAs need is for the issue to be raised on Labour’s NEC, where trade union votes should support the TAs. Threats of repudiation from the NEC could lead to councillors facing disciplinary action.

Certainly action from the Labour Party outside of the Derby Council is crucial. On the last lobby of the council, a UKIP councillor was working the crowds claiming that UKIP was the workers’ friend and recruiting. A number of the TAs admit to having joined UKIP! UKIP tried the same in Durham when the successful TA dispute was live there. Action was taken by trade unions there including the NUM, and UKIP were chased off. The same is needed in Derby.

Many Unison activists argue that the attack on TA jobs by the council will be a catastrophe for Labour locally. The TA action is very visible and very popular. There are friendly relationships with an organised parents’ group who know who is responsible for this dispute. Labour voters have dropped away in Derby dramatically as the right wing dominate. They are undoubtedly dismayed by a nominally left wing Party nationally that is confronting union members and low paid workers locally. But the dispute really raises questions about Labour’s handling of cuts to local government funding.

Derby Council is implementing the cuts — incompetently, insensitively and confrontationally. But all local government cuts affect workers. They reduce jobs. They hold down pay and damage services. Ultimately unless Labour can oppose them instead of implementing them, not only will workers suffer but so will Labour as votes fragment to the left or more likely to the right and UKIP.

Tube station staff strike for jobs

Station staff on London Underground will strike again on 5-6 and 7-8 February, in selective strikes aimed at impacting peak-time travel. The rush-hour strikes follow a walkout on 8-9 January, which saw most central London stations completely shut down.

Workers are demanding a reversal to a job cuts programme that has seen nearly 1,000 frontline posts axed, as well as a return to permanent staffing of all station control rooms. The RMT union says that de-staffing of control rooms has either caused or exacerbated a number of recent safety incidents at Canning Town and North Greenwich. RMT is also demanding the consolidation of the newly-created "Customer Service Assistant 2" grade, paid £7,000 less than existing CSAs, into the "CSA1" grade. The union argues that the new grade creates a two-tier workforce, paid significantly different wages for doing similar work.

The union also wants London Underground's ticket office closures reversed. London Underground's latest offer to the RMT makes a number of significant concessions, including a promise to reinstate 325 of the jobs cuts. However, many union reps and activists feel it still falls short.

A supporter of the rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker told Solidarity: "That the company has moved this far is a testament to the success of our ongoing overtime ban and our recent strike.

"The lesson is: industrial pressure wins concessions. So it stands to reason that, if we apply more pressure, we'll get more concessions."

The leadership of smaller Tube union TSSA, which is still formally involved in the dispute, had advocated suspending its previous strikes following an earlier offer from LU, but was forced into u-turn following a revolt by workplace reps. RMT also planned a public rally in support of the dispute in central London on Wednesday 1 December.

Tube drivers strike

Drivers on London Underground's Central Line struck on 25-26 January, in an attempt to stop the forced displacements of several drivers in depots at the east end of the line to other depots, including in west London. The strike, which RMT union activists described as "totally solid", severely impacted the Central Line train service.

Aslef, a driver-only union which has a slight majority membership amongst Tube drivers, is also now balloting its members at the affected Central Line depots for strikes over the same issue.

Southern dispute continues

RMT members on Southern rail struck again on 23 January, but a planned three-day strike by Aslef drivers on Southern was called off. The two unions are fighting the imposition of "Driver Only Operation" (DOO), a plan to make the driver the only safety-critical member of staff on board, reducing the role of the guard to that of an "on-board supervisor".

Unions argue that DOO is less safe, and that the move is a prelude to removing the second member of staff altogether. Aslef's leaders have begun extensive negotiations with Southern bosses, brokered by the TUC, but RMT, which represents the guards, has been effectively frozen out of the talks.

The union has written to the TUC to ask why it is dividing the workforce by helping facilitate Aslef-only talks. Meanwhile, a report in the Rail Business Intelligence magazine revealed that the Department for Transport is considering a temporary nationalisation of Southern's routes, to prepare it for re-privatisation under a new franchise operator.

A rail worker told Solidarity: "The immediate industrial solution to the dispute is for GTR [the parent company which runs Southern] to commit to a second safety-critical member of staff on all trains. The long-term political solution is real public ownership of the railways."

Ferry workers strike for safety

Workers at the Woolwich ferry, London, are staging a series of twelve strikes, each 24 hours, over a culture of bullying and sexual harassment, and health and safety concerns. The first strike was on Friday 27 January with a second planned for Friday 3 February.

The dispute escalated on Saturday 28 January when an ambulance had to be called for an engineer who collapsed while at work after inhaling fumes in the engine room of one of the boats a day after bosses emailed workers instructing them to continue working in the engine room despite concerns.

Further strikes are planned for 3 February; 10 February; 17 February; 24 February; 3 March; 10 March; 17 March; 24 March; 31 March; 7 April; and 14 April.

BA cabin crew set more strikes

Mixed fleet cabin crew at BA will strike for six more days in their ongoing dispute over low pay. The workers will strike on 5, 6, 7 and 9, 10, 11 February.

In the previous two strikes planes were grounded and BA has reportedly spent millions of pounds attempting to mitigate the strike. The workers' union Unite argues that this shows BA has money to use, but they won't use it to improve workers' poverty pay.

Unite has sent a letter to BA urging the airline to rejoin negotiations and make a decent pay offer.

King’s cleaners strike for jobs

Cleaners at King’s College London struck on 26 and 27 January. The cleaners, outsourced to Servest, are fighting a reduction in working hours and job cuts. 50 academics at the university have signed a letter supporting the cleaners' struggle.