Lecturers’ strike on 24 April
The UCU has announced plans for strike action for Further Education lecturers to coincide with the action planned by the NUT on 24 April.
(Universities cannot join the action since they are entering the third year of a three year deal, although rising inflation might cause that deal to fall apart later this year.)
Although the 2007-8 pay claim remains an issue of dispute, the union is bringing forward a demand for 2008-9 for 6% (with a minimum of £1,500). They are doing this jointly with other unions in the FE sector.
Accelerating the 2008-9 pay claim is necessary since some branches have already accepted pay increases for 2007-8 and therefore could not be balloted on that issue. The union have said that if college principals’ do not agree to the 6% figure by 5 March, they will start a ballot on 14 March.
This is good news — co-ordinated strike action across the education sector will help demonstrate what is necessary across the larger public sector.
UCU in Further Education now has a left wing majority on its leading committees, one which is willing to build action. It is important now to build for the ballot and to campaign in local branches. Unfortunately there are credible rumours that some well-organised branches have chosen to opt out of action by not supplying up-to-date membership lists.
Nonetheless the argument for spreading action across the public sector has to be made. Many UCU branches are weak, especially among hourly (poorly) paid lecturers. Even the strong branches are largely based on full-time “main grade” staff. The SWP-led UCU left needs to focus much more closely on building an organisation of activists based in the branches, to push both the arguments for co-ordinated public sector action and to create strong and confident branches.
Birmingham strike against single status pay cuts
On 5 February some 20,000 council workers took strike action in Birmingham in protest at the imposition of a “single status” wage package which will see pay cuts for 5,740 people.
Some will see as much as £18,000 a year taken out of their salaries. Two thirds of the losers are women, who the “single status” scheme is meant to assist. At a rally on 12 January, Unison deputy general secretary Keith Sonnet pointed out the hypocrisy of council chiefs: “It can’t be fair that more than 100 workers face a pay cut of £10,000 when the council leaders can vote themselves over £65,000 in allowances.” Even those workers who are benefiting from single status are far from happy. 3,000 women will see their salaries increase by less than £100.
On the day of the strike over 3,000 teachers, carers, refuse collectors, street cleaners and other council workers staged a lunchtime demonstration in the city centre. The effects of the strike were far-reaching, forcing the closure of 120 schools, 24 libraries, 11 leisure centres and 22 neighbourhood offices. The strike was the biggest to take place in the city since the 1970s.
Displaying its arrogant disregard for the workers, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration which rules Britain’s largest local authority has offered a take-it-or-leave-it pay deal to the 55,000 employees, threatening those who do not accept by 1 April with the sack. As yet, some 16,000 people have refused or failed to return their contracts. Hoping to appease one of the more powerful sections of the workforce, the Tories and Lib Dems also used the “carrot” approach, offering refuse workers a paltry compromise deal which would see their pay cut limited to “only” £2,000 a year. Spurning this pathetic concession, they were out in force on the picket lines on 5 February.
The strike was called by Unite, Unison, Amicus, GMB and UCATT unions, displaying the unity of the labour movement locally in fighting against the single status deal.
The fight against pay cuts for council workers is a national one, and not only because of the single status scheme being rolled out across Britain. While the Labour group on Birmingham council has offered some — very weak — support for the council workers, asking that they be treated “in a considerate and equitable manner”, elsewhere Labour councils have been just as happy to slash wages and privatise services. As if to prove the point, the government’s new local government funding figures will require councils to cut their budget by 3% by making “efficiency savings”, no doubt by cutting pay and services.
Single status was introduced with the claim that it would give women workers the same deal as their male counterparts. In fact, low-paid women workers are in many cases those who lose out most from the scheme. We say yes to equal pay, but we demand that this should be a levelling-up exercise, increasing the salaries of the worst-off without any attacks on services, jobs or other workers’ pay.
Remploy strikes planned
Disabled workers employed by Remploy have taken part in and plan further strike action in opposition to management plans to close 28 factories and cut 1600 jobs.
Remploy workers at factories in Birkenhead and Aintree were on strike on 6-7 February . Further strikes are planned for 13-14 February and 21-22 February. The York factory has voted for strike action and will join the strikes on 13-14 February.
There are a further five official strike ballots in the pipeline. Results are expected in the coming weeks for the Remploy factories in Hartlepool, and St Helens, and Treforest, Ystradgynlais near Swansea and Brynamman in South Wales.
The dispute has been hotting up since November, when Remploy, which provides employment for people with disabilities, received approval for its “modernisation” programme from Peter Hain, at that time work and pensions secretary. It is currently looking to slash its budget by £59 million, to the detriment of disabled workers.
Indeed, Remploy had previously planned to slash another 15 workplaces, but under criticism from the unions, claimed that it wanted 55 factories to remain open — up from 40 — subject to satisfactory progress towards an “acceptable loss per disabled employee”.
In response to the bosses’ plans, Unite and the GMB balloted their members for strike action — the first at the firm in 60 years — and secured a 73% ‘yes’ vote in Aintree and 100% in Birkenhead.