Teaching assistants in Derby struck again from 27 February to 3 March in their fight against contract changes leading to pay cuts by Derby′s Labour council. There has been 62 strike days so far in the dispute.
The previous strikes have been up to two days at a time, and this latest week was an escalation. Support for the strikes among the 600 organised school support workers remains as strong as ever. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has openly supported them and this is used to some effect by the strikers.
An icon of Jeremy Corbyn is usually carried at the front of their marches: primarily to goad the Council Leader, who at the time of Corbyn’s election as leader nominally supported him. Local Constituency Labour Party have started registering their support. Nearby Erewash CLP in Derbyshire, as well as Broxtowe CLP in Nottinghamshire, have registered support for the Derby workers. But so far there appears to be silence from all of the visible elements of the Labour Party in Derby.
Derbyshire Momentum is attempting to organise Labour support in Derby for the striking council workers. However, despite having a number of activists with national profiles, Derby Momentum has little actual existence on the ground and no known intervention in Derby Labour Party. Pauline Latham, MP for Mid-Derbyshire, has expressed “absolute sympathy for the teaching assistants striking on this matter” and urged Council leader Ranjit Banwait to “resolve the dispute″. But there has been nothing from Derby South MP Margaret Beckett other than an ambiguous expression of “sympathy with everyone”, presumably including the Council, and “encouraging both sides to reach a settlement”.
There have been calls made by Broxtowe CLP as well as the Derby strikers for Labour’s NEC to discuss the issue and give explicit support. Unison organisers hope and expect that their NEC delegates will raise it there. This is exactly the sort of situation where Unison’s national links with the Labour Party should come into play. But the left in Unison, influenced by traditions of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party, has unfortunately never given the Labour Link the importance it deserves, leaving it dominated by the right wing of the union.
Council elections will take place next year in 2018. Candidate selections are coming up. A condemnation of the council’s provocative stance could encourage passive left-wing Labour members to get involved as well as recruit TAs and reshape the face of Labour’s candidates before that election. A Derby council by-election is taking place on Thursday 2 March after the death of a UKIP councillor.
The Labour candidate, Nadine Peatfield, is thought to be on the left. So far, she has not ventured out to support the teaching assistants. Unison will be meeting with her the day before the election. They are hopeful that she will support them and, if she does, it may reduce the likelihood that voters will think that the only Party supporting the school workers is UKIP! The confidence of the Unison school workers remains high.
Conducting an imaginative campaign of vigils, encircling the Council building, as well as strikes. But they need solidarity: nationally within Unison and from other local government workers but also importantly from across the Labour Party. This battle also raises questions about how cuts are opposed strategically. Bluntly there is no strategy by any local government union to oppose these cuts. Unless a strategy is found, Labour councils will find themselves increasingly involved in confrontations with their own workers and communities, while claiming they have ″no choice″.
Tube news round-up
Night Tube drivers balloted
RMT and Aslef are balloting drivers on the “Night Tube” services for strikes, in a dispute over career progression. Unions argue that a block on Night Tube drivers, who work 16 hours per week, transferring into full-time roles is unfair. They also want the system of overtime payments, which currently only kick in if a driver works past 35 hours per week due to delays or late running, overhauled, as Night Tube drivers are effectively excluded from it.
The rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker commented: “Tubeworker welcomes the move into dispute over this clear discrimination. Now, RMT (the only union to organise on both trains and stations) must press for a clear and fair promotion path for ALL London Underground workers. Night Tube station staff are asking, ‘What about us? Many Night Tube station workers, like their driver colleagues, took the job as a stepping stone to full-time work for the underground. Others, like numerous other station staff, hoped to become drivers.
“It must be made clear to London Underground that station staff must be prioritised to fill part-time driver vacancies created by Night Tube drivers moving into full time roles.”
London Bridge staff to ballot
Station staff at London Bridge will be balloted for strikes, after one colleague was sacked, and two others disciplined, after they, and another member of staff (who is pregnant) were assaulted by a fare evader.
An RMT statement said: “The three members, Lee Cornell, Saeed Souissi, and Dave Sharp have been subject to disciplinary sanctions including summary dismissal, suspended dismissal and a 52-week final warning after having to deal with an abusive, violent, fare-evading passenger at the station.
“London Underground showed complete disregard for its own Staff Assault Policy and Procedures, and these members have been wrongly punished and treated deplorably by the Company.”
Central Line drivers strike
Drivers on London Underground’s Central Line struck again on 21-22 February, as they attempt to resist the forced displacement of drivers from depots in Essex to depots in West London. The strike severely disrupted Central Line services through the capital. Both RMT and Aslef members were involved. Many driver activists are now arguing for the dispute to escalate to involve drivers across the Tube, at other affected depots.
Cinema strikers protest
Workers from four Picturehouse cinemas in London struck again on Saturday 25 February. The workers from the Ritzy in Brixton and Hackney, Crouch End and Central Picturehouses gathered outside the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square for a demonstration. Picturehouse has just bought the Empire for £94 million, yet claim they can′t afford to pay their workers a living wage. The strikers were joined by supporters from other trade union branches and from the Labour Party.
The protest was addressed by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who said: ″At the moment large numbers of people who are in work cannot survive on the wages they get, especially in London. Two thirds of children in poverty are living in families who are in work. Wages are too low, and profits are too high. We have a simple message for the government and employers — we will not go away we will continue this campaign until we achieve the living wage, trade union recognition, and respect for workers′ in our society.
″There are individuals here who have couragely stood up and recruited others into this campaign. There is a secret we discovered a century and a half ago at the beginning of the industrial revolution, we inscribed it on our banners, unity is strength, an injury to one is an injury to all, the workers united will never be defeated.″
Picturehouse is still refusing to negotiate with the workers′ union, the Bectu section of Prospect, and workers will strike again on Wednesday 8 March.
Aslef drivers reject Southern sell-out
Members of rail workers’ union RMT at three train companies will strike on 13 March, as the fight against “Driver Only Operation” (DOO) spreads. The spreading of strikes to new companies and the coordination of action creates further potential for a national rail strike against DOO.
Workers at MerseyRail and Northern, who voted for strikes by 81.8% and 83.6% majorities respectively, will strike, along with guards and RMT drivers on Southern, from whom the 13 March strike represents a month of cumulative action.
Southern workers took their 29th day of strike action on 22 March. Some Aslef drivers, who recently voted by a 54.1% majority to reject a deal drawn up by their leaders in conjunction with Southern bosses which aimed to resolve the dispute, respected RMT picket lines.
The rank-and-file rail workers’ blog Off The Rails said: “The big question now is: ‘what next?’ The Aslef leaders who carved up this shoddy deal will surely be hoping to merely use the rejection to leverage further negotiations, tweak the settlement somewhat, and put a new deal out to referendum without taking any further action.
“That cannot be allowed to happen [...] Aslef should coordinate with RMT to name more joint strikes as soon as possible. The only way Southern can be forced into making an acceptable offer is through further, sustained strikes.
“That’s bound to provoke some frustration from passengers, but our unions can work with commuter groups to mobilise and direct passenger anger where it belongs: at the bosses.”