On Saturday 14 May the BMA held a junior doctors′ conference, followed by a meeting of the junior doctors′ committee on the next day. It was hoped that these meetings would have heard the outcome of renewed negotiations held between the government and the BMA between 9-13 May. However a last minute agreement (brokered by Brendan Barber of all people!) to extend the talks for another week meant that junior doctors did not get a chance to give judgement on any proposed deal.
An announcement from the negotiations is expected on Wednesday 18 May; at the moment it is impossible to tell what the result will be but it does look like there has been movement in the talks.
Junior doctors will need to analyse any deal carefully. And any deal will be put to a referendum of BMA junior doctor members and to medical students within two years of finishing their degree.. Junior doctors conference voted for greater collaboration with other unions and organising health based events with other unions — a step forward. However a motion in favour of the BMA affiliating to the TUC, put by left-wing activists, was defeated with arguments that the TUC was ″too political″ and ″too left-wing″.
BECTU votes for right-wing merger
Delegates to BECTU conference, held this year in Eastbourne on the 14-15 May, voted overwhelmingly to endorse a merger with the right-wing union Prospect, with only a handful of branches voting in opposition.
The merger has been proposed as a solution to a pensions deficit of £7.5 million. This means that between the end of June and the end of August, BECTU members will be balloted on whether the merger should go ahead.
Prospect is a considerably more right-wing union than BECTU, for example, coming out in favour of much of the regressive Trade Union Bill. Also, one of the stipulations of the deal is that BECTU will give up its affiliation to the Labour Party.
It looks very likely that the merger will go ahead, with both the BECTU Executive and conference endorsing it. If it does, then it will be a sad day indeed. At a time when the Labour Party is shifting left under Corbyn, it is more important than ever that the historic relationship between unions and the Labour Party remains in tact. BECTU would be giving up its political representation in parliament, and limiting its ability to represent and organise its members on the big political issues. It would also be turning its back on a party that is making big steps to becoming the kind of Labour Party that trade unionists have been crying out for for many years; the kind of Labour Party that we all need.
School janitors step up strike
Glasgow school janitors are on strike from 16 to 20 May as part of their ongoing dispute with Cordia — an arm’s length company of Glasgow City Council — over Working Context and Demands Payments (WCDP). WCDP, worth between £500 and £1,000 a year, are paid to employees who undertake dirty duties, heavy lifting, and regular outside working. The janitors meet all the criteria, but Cordia is refusing to pay them WCDP.
This week’s strike follows on from earlier three-day strikes in March and April, and a boycott of the disputed duties which began in March. The janitors, all members of Unison, will be staging lobbies of the City Council and the Scottish Parliament, and also holding a teatime street rally in Glasgow. Cordia’s response to the janitors’ campaign of industrial action has been to use non-union and non-janitorial employees, and to pay them enhanced payments.
According to Unison, the money spent by Cordia in an attempt to break the boycott and strikes is greater than the cost of awarding the janitors WCDP. 5,000 Unison members employed in Glasgow City Council’s Residential and Emergency Services and other departments are also currently being balloted on industrial action in response to plans to slash terms and conditions of employment. The ballot closes on 20 May. In an attempt to undermine support for a ″yes″ vote, the Deputy Director of Social Work has issued a letter to staff wrongly claiming that Unison has agreed to the scrapping of six days of public holidays. 1,500 GMB members are also being balloted on strike action to prevent imposition of the Council’s attacks on terms and conditions, which would see their pay cut by £1,500 a year. The GMB ballot closes on 19 May.
Glasgow City Council is Labour-controlled, and Scottish council elections are taking place next May. The Labour Group’s readiness to pass on funding cuts imposed by the SNP government in Holyrood, and its willingness to turn a blind eye to the strike-breaking tactics of the Council’s arm’s length companies, will cost it dear. Momentum and the Campaign for Socialism need to organise a campaign within the Glasgow Labour Party, in alliance with council unions, to build support for the janitors and other council workers. Not just because the Labour Group’s current policies play into the hands of the SNP. But more importantly because, like any other Labour Group, Glasgow Labour Group should be fighting cuts rather than implementing them.
Topshop cleaners protest across country
Hundreds of trade unionists and other activists blockaded London's Oxford Street on Saturday 14 May, to demand justice for cleaning workers at Topshop. Two cleaners, employed by contractor Britannia, have been suspended and sacked on spurious grounds after they joined the United Voices of the World trade union and began campaigning for living wages and other workplace rights.
The demonstration, which saw banner drops and pickets at Topshop's flagship stores, demanded their reinstatement, as well as real living wages for Topshop cleaners. Topshop boss Sir Philip Green is one of the wealthiest capitalists in Britain, earning an estimated £10,000 per hour, compared to the £6.70 per hour earned by those who keep his shops clean.
The demonstration was attended by Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, who had earlier spoken at a meeting of the Hungry for Justice campaign, a Bakers, Food, and Allied Workers' Union (BFAWU) initiative to win a £10/hour minimum wage, an end to zero-hours contracts, and union rights for workers in the fast food industry. Delegates from Unite New Zealand, which has successfully campaigned for significant wage increases and the abolition of zero-hours contracts, also attended.
Strikes against Sheffield job losses
PCS members working at a Department of Business, Innovation and Skills site in Sheffield (the largest office), Warrington, Bristol and Darlington will strike on 19 May over plans to close the office and move work to London. Workers voted by 97% in favour of strikes against the closures, which they argue will actually cost money as the government will need to recruit and train workers to do the equivalent jobs in the London office. The plans have caused outrage at a time when the government claims it is trying to create a ″northern powerhouse″. In April a demonstration was held in Sheffield which condemned the plans as actually creating a ″northern poorhouse″. • Sign the petition: bit.ly/bispetition •Tweet messages of support @pcsbis using the hashtag #KeepSheffieldOpen
Strikes in Sheffield food company
Workers at Pennine Foods in Sheffield will strike on Thursday 19 and Friday 20 May in a dispute over changes to pay.
The union, the Bakers′, Food and Allied Workers′ Union (BFAWU) says that Pennine Foods is trying to recoup the cost of raising the minimum wage to the government′s new ″living wage″ by making workers sign new contracts which remove extra pay and lieu days for weekend work. Further strikes are planned every fortnight for June and July.
Southern strikes continue
Members of the RMT union on Southern plan further strikes on Wednesday 18 May as part of their dispute against the extension of "Driver Only Operation".
Southern management has consistently attempted to bully workers out of striking, threatening severe pay deductions and the removal of various benefits, including travel and parking permits. RMT has said it will pay strike benefit of £80 to all workers involved in the strikes, and is considering legal action against Southern. The union also plans a demonstration outside a meeting of railway bosses at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster on the morning of Wednesday 18.