Industrial news: post, TGWU-Amicus merger, ESOL cuts, London buses, JJB

Submitted by cathy n on 12 January, 2007 - 2:12

Defend Mark O’Reilly

STOP press: North/ Northwest London CWU branch has perpetrated a bureaucratic stitch-up against Mark O’Reilly, a postal worker at Finsbury Park depot. Mark decided to challenge the incumbent union rep who has colluded with management over job cuts for over two years. Mark distributed a leaflet to workmates that referred to high work levels over the last Xmas period and demanded to know what the rep had done to alleviate the burden on staff.

The branch then told Mark that he was banned from standing as he had contravened rules against canvassing, and the current rep would be returned unopposed. Members are rightly up in arms at this affront to democracy.

T&G votes for "super union"
By Jim Denham

ON 19 December, at a special recall TGWU conference, 300 delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of creating a new “super-union” jointly with Amicus. Delegates voted on an “Instrument of Amalgamation”, drawn up by a “Joint Negotiating Committee” from the two unions, setting out the rules of the new union. Only a handful of delegates voted against.

All those who wished to speak in opposition were allowed to do so. No amendments to the Instruments of Amalgamation were allowed, because, T&G General Secretary Tony Woodley argued, the agreement had been reached with Amicus, and to amend it would entail going back to Amicus for further negotiations.

The proposed new rule-book is far from perfect; in particular, it leaves intact the power of the T&G’s often corrupt and usually right-wing Regional Secretaries or "barons" and their networks of patronage. The amalgamation discussions were an opportunity to undermine these regional structures, but T&G activists who attempted to do this (including supporters of Solidarity and the AWL) failed to rally the necessary support (see the website address below, which carries excellent pieces from T&G Executive member Tom Cashman and National Officer Graham Stevenson on these issues).

In fact, the December 19 conference was not about the details of the proposed new rule-book, but about the prospect of a two million-strong new union, with a promise from Woodley of 5%, rising to 10%, of its income devoted to organising and recruiting.

Campaign against English teaching cuts

ON 15 January, UCU, working with a number of other organisations including Unison, USDAW and the Refugee council, is convening a meeting to launch a campaign against new funding restrictions on English as a Second Language (ESOL). The changes proposed by the government are:

• The removal of the existing universal entitlement to free ESOL training up to Level 2.

• The restriction of fee remission to people receiving means-tested benefits and tax credits.

• From next academic year, asylum-seekers over the age of 19 will no longer be automatically eligible for publicly funded Further Education provision.

Take up of ESOL has risen in recent years, and in many cases demand exceeds supply. As UCU's head of equality (and left candidate in the upcoming general secretary election) Roger Kline points out: “These changes fly in the face of the government's stated concern for integration and social cohesion and will make life even more difficult for thousands of vulnerable people.”

Outgoing UCU co-general secretary Paul Mackney has written to the government pointing out that those most likely to be affected by the cuts are women and ethnic minorities. Even the DfES has felt pushed to undertake a Race Equality Impact Assessment on the changes.

The government wants to shift the burden of funding for ESOL onto individuals. It argues that employers and migrant worker agencies should pay, but there is no mechanism to ensure that they will. (The background is the crumbling of adult education in general: according to UCU, government figures show that the numbers of adults on courses in FE colleges fell by almost 600,000 last year, the equivalent of seven Wembley Stadiums!)

Travel expenses for 15 January for delegates from outside London will be met (up to a maximum of two per union branch).

There are a number of things trade unionists and activists can do to help the campaign: for more information see the UCU website.

• 4-6pm, Monday 15 January, 27 Britannia Street, London WC1X 9JP
• www.ucu.org.uk

London bus drivers meet

By Tony Fox

The current spate of strikes on London buses indicates a return to militancy of what is potentially one of the strongest industrial units in the country. This was reflected at the London Bus Conference on 7 December.

Two days of strikes by Metroline forced a 5.75% wage increase and must be seen as a victory. Australian multi-national bankers Macquarie are determined that the 4,300 staff in East London buses will pay for a big deficit in the pension scheme and managed to get a court injunction to prevent a strike scheduled for Monday 8 January, but that is surely not the end of the matter.

Although their wage claim was settled, the same East London shop stewards are proposing a campaign to achieve equality of pay rates and terms and conditions for all London bus workers through central pay bargaining. The motion on this, implicitly rejecting the current T&G's bogus campaign for “key worker status” has been passed by the London Advisory Committee (LAC) of shop stewards and the London company convenors' group - and it passed on 7 December without opposition. The conference also resolved to convene quarterly London Bus Conferences.

There will be many difficulties on the way. For instance, on the Go-Ahead group (London General and London Central), the big issue last year was the sacking of Peckham shop steward and Socialist Party supporter Andy Beadle for a leaflet urging his members to oppose a pay offer. He was transferred to New Cross garage, depriving his membership of their chosen rep and ridding the T&G hierarchy of a troublesome opponent.

The Alternative Busworkers' Charter has been produced in response to this situation, in an attempt to mobilise on a clear basis and move the centre of power away from conservative T&G full-timers and towards building a rank-and-file busworkers' movement in London affiliated to the National Shop Stewards Network launched by the RMT.

London busworkers will not regain the standards we had in the past until we organise to unite the strength of the London fleet and overcome the divisions imposed by competitive tendering and privatisation. But we have now made a start.

• For the text of the Alternative Busworkers' Charter, www.workersliberty.org/node/7484

Defend Chris Riley

GMB representatives are meeting with JJB management on 11 January to try and reach agreement on “normalizing” industrial relations at the Wigan depot that supplies the company's 430 stores nationwide.

The talks come after planned strike action between Christmas and New Year was suspended by the union as a result of bosses offering certain concessions. Management agreed to drop all charges against the senior rep at the site, John Stewart, and allow an extension to the strike ballot mandate from 28 to 56 days.

They also agreed to meet with union members to assure them that the intimidation and bullying that they have suffered since the wage dispute was settled would cease.
But the issue of sacked rep Chris Riley remains outstanding. Chris was accused by management of making threatening comments and subsequently dismissed. He lost his internal appeal, and JJB insist they won't reinstate him. Whatever the details of incident, the fact remains that Chris would never have been sacked if he wasn't a rep.

The GMB appear to have made the calculation that saving the workplace convenor at the expense of fighting Chris' case is the way to preserve the union at JJB. Over the course of the dispute the union has made real gains. It would be a shame if the last round ended with the GMB conceding to a flagrant attack on one of its reps.

• www.jjbfightback.blogspot.com