University staff represented by the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are set to strike again in disputes over pensions, pay, equalities and casualisation with a series of walk-outs scheduled over fourteen days beginning Thursday 20 February.
A further fourteen institutions are joining the sixty who struck in the autumn after reballots got them over the 50% threshold. In Scotland members of EIS (another, Scotland-only, union) have also rejected the employers’ offer, bringing the total number of mandates for action to seventy-six.
Despite eight days of strike action last term the employers have failed to make significant improvements in their offers. The headline pay rise is stuck at 1.8%, well below the RPI measure of inflation, while on the wider issues of casualisation, workload and equality they’ve come up with only slightly warmer words.
There’s been lively debate within UCU over the best strategy for the disputes. A hasty email from General Secretary Jo Grady following the employers’ latest offer prompted a row when it appeared she hadn’t consulted with the elected negotiators before sending her take out to members.
The fast-moving social-media-led campaigns around the 2018 strikes and Grady’s election have built up expectations — especially among newer activists — about the speed of communication and decision-making in the union. But whatever the frustrations there is no substitute for proper democratic debate on strike strategy.
In the upcoming elections for the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the union, Solidarity will be supporting candidates who are committed to union democracy and who have a track record of militant workplace organisation. More on the elections next week.
NHS workers win direct employment
Outsourced workers at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, have won their fight to win direct employment. Nine days of strikes, spread over three blocs, since October 2019 have secured one of the most significant victories against outsourcing in the public sector.
The workers, who had been employed by outsourcing giant Sodexo, will be transferred onto NHS contracts from 1 April, initially for a one-year trial period. This will give workers access to NHS terms and conditions, including the NHS pension scheme, and means a pay rise of up to £10,000 per year for some workers, who were earning minimum wage when their campaign began.
The agreement covers all workers employed on the Sodexo contract across the Imperial NHS Trust, which includes four other hospitals in addition to St. Mary’s. A statement from the workers’ union, United Voices of the World, said: “Our members were told they would never win this fight, but with the full backing of UVW and mass picketing, blockades and occupations they’ve won against all odds. This victory sets a historic precedent which we hope other workers will follow in demanding an end to outsourcing across the NHS.”
Royal Mail: ballot notice 25 February
Royal Mail workers in Bootle, on Merseyside, have called off a planned series of strikes after bosses dropped disciplinary charges against their CWU rep, and made concessions in 21 other disciplinary cases.
The workers were facing charges following a wildcat strike last year, when workers walked out to protest the racist treatment of a Muslim colleague. The strikes, which would also have involved a neighbouring office in Seaforth, were due to take place on 18 and 20 January.
There are other local disputes developing involving Royal Mail workers elsewhere in the country. Terry Pullinger, the CWU’s Deputy General Secretary for its postal section, said the union will encourage local disputes and ballots while it prepares its membership list for a potential relaunched national ballot. But this is a step back from Pullinger’s previous comments, in which he said that a national re-ballot was planned “now”.
Clearly any group of postal workers in any depot that wants to fight over local issues should be encouraged and empowered by their union to do that. CWU has now set formal notice of the new ballot for 25 February. Not a day too early. The outcome depends decisively on national action.
Transport for London workers strike
Members of Unite working for Transport for London in revenue, enforcement, and Dial-a-Ride struck on Friday 31 January, the first of four planned strikes on the last Friday of each month, until April. TfL has offered them a 1% pay rise, well below inflation. The workers held a lively picket outside Palestra, in Southwark, where many of TfL’s central administration is now based, where they were supported by RMT London Underground reps. Links between these workers and RMT are especially vital, as part of LU’s plans for restructuring revenue involves having a new grade of TfL endorsement staff — Transport Safety Enforcement Officers, TSEOs — working on LU stations, in order to provide what TfL calls “a physical intervention” against fare evasion and antisocial behaviour. This will expose TSEOs to significant risk, and TfL plans to pay them just £27k, less than an LU CSA1, less than existing TfL revenue staff, and far less than an LU Revenue Control Inspector. RMT has begun balloting Revenue Control Inspectors for industrial action to resist attacks on their grade. The ballot closes on 20 February. TfL and LU revenue staff, in Unite and RMT, must work together and coordinate action to fight for decent working conditions and to protect jobs.
Rail Gourmet workers strike
Catering workers employed by Rail Gourmet at Paddington station, in West London, struck again on 30-31 January. The workers had previously struck on 10 January, in their fight for fair rostering practices and proper payment of allowances and bonuses.
Rail Gourmet is part of Select Service Partners, a large corporation which is essentially a huge employer of fast food and retail workers across the railway industry. RG has contracts with several mainline TOCs to provide onboard catering services, while SSP provides staff to railway station concessions of huge corporations including Burger King and Starbucks.
Drawing inspiration from fast food workers’ struggles in New Zealand, the USA, and here in Britain via the “McStrike” organised by the Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), hopefully the Paddington strike can be the start of a wave of organising and action in the industry-within-an-industry represented within which RG and SSP workers are employed.
RMT ballots revenue workers
RMT has begun balloting Revenue Control Inspectors (RCIs) across London Underground, for strikes and action-short-of-strikes, in a ballot that closes on 20 February.
RCIs are defending their jobs against a restructure that will see a two-tier workforce created in revenue, with a new “Revenue Control Officer” grade imposed, paid £33k, almost £20k less than existing RCIs. LU also plans for new “Transport Safety Enforcement Officers” (TSEOs), who will be employed by TfL rather than LU, and paid £27k to work on LU stations. The long-term dangers are clear: RCIs will be phased out, and revenue work will be carried out exclusively by RCOs and TSEOs. A strong yes vote, and solid action, could throw a spanner in LU’s plans. Vote yes for strikes and action-short!
Organising to resist new anti-strike laws: campaign meeting
Johnson’s government has pledged to introduce even more restrictive anti union laws to make effective strikes on transport unlawful. This is a direct attack on workers’ democratic rights.
Although the clear target is the RMT and other unions on the underground, the proposed laws will target all transport workers, including trains and buses. An initial meeting at Islington Trades Council agreed to establish a network of trade unionists and campaigners to oppose the new law and counter the anti working class arguments from the right wing and the millionaire press.
The more union branches and campaigners come, the stronger we are.
There are plans for rallies across the capital and a protest march as well. But we need to be creative and think how we can resist this new law, not just protest it.
Come and join us and let’s show Johnson he can’t just push people around.
Tuesday 11 February, 7 p.m.
Lambeth Unison offices, Blue Star House, Stockwell Road, London SW9 9SP
Meeting supported by Lambeth Trades Council, Islington Trades Council, Lambeth Unison, and Free Our Unions