RMT members on Northern rail struck again on 28 April. The strike was every bit as solid as the previous two days’ action, reducing the company’s service to 40% of its usual level, with scab labour being provided by managers.
The union is yet to announce its next move. It will need to think carefully about what to do next, taking into account the various different situations at different Train Operating Companies around the country.
At Southern, talks have been held between RMT and the employer but no resolution is yet forthcoming. This is against a backdrop of RMT members starting to come back to work and the company being able to run around 95% of its usual service. The drivers’ union, Aslef, is still supposedly in talks with the company but no details are coming out. It is clear that rather than playing the decisive role it should be playing and taking its members out, Aslef is intent on settling the dispute at a loss to its members there, as a way of escaping the impending case the company has brought against them in the Supreme Court.
The deals it has been putting to its members amount to a surrender of the Driver Only Operation issue there, and the tactic is to keep tweaking or rewording the deal until the members give up and vote yes.
At Virgin Trains East Coast, things look brighter. RMT had announced two days of strike action on this franchise on 28 and 29 April, coinciding with the day’s action at Northern. However, this strike was pulled after talks appeared to produce the basis of an acceptable settlement, with the principle of a second Safety Critical member of staff on every train kept intact.
At Merseyrail, where RMT had taken its members out on strike with Northern and Southern members on 13 March and 8 April, talks took place that appear to have been a stalling tactic. By the time these talks broke down, the deadline had passed to give notice for 28 April. However, it is likely that Merseyrail Guards will strike with those in Northern next time.
As this dispute rumbles on, the decisive role drivers can play in making industrial action in the rail industry as effective as possible is increasingly clear, and so is the cowardice of the leadership of their union, Aslef. If Northern and Southern drivers can follow the lead of their fellow Aslef members at Merseyrail and respect RMT picket lines in large numbers, this dispute can still be won in impressive fashion. The necessary culture of solidarity required for that to happen does not yet exist other than at Merseyrail, but it can and should be built.
Aslef is clearly not in a state to be relied upon to protect the future of the industry so workers must do it without them.
Teachers turn up heat on council
On Wednesday 3 May, National Union of Teachers (NUT) members at Forest Hill school in Lewisham struck for the 7th time in their on-going dispute against a management proposed restructuring to deal with £1.3 million deficit.
The management’s proposal sheds 15 teaching jobs, significantly increases teachers’ workload, radically reduces the depth of the creative aspects of the curriculum, ends any specialist English as an Additional Language (EAL) support, and massively diminishes the support for students with Special Educational Needs.
The strikes are part of a campaign to pressurise Lewisham’s Labour Council to intervene to assist the school and protect education in the borough. After the strike on 3 May the teachers have announced a week’s hiatus in their strikes to allow management to provide various documents to the teachers including an equality impact report (which they have to supply) and the detailed books (which are subject to a freedom of information request). In addition the campaign will use the time to build for a public meeting on 11 May at Forest Hill Methodist Church.
Further strikes are planned, and the NUT group has now set a calendar of strikes through to the end of term. Beginning on Tuesday 16 May, they will be striking Tuesday one week and Wednesday-Thursday of the following week. The clear message to the council and the management is: we aren’t going anywhere.
There are increasing signs of splits within the Labour Group on the council. We have heard reports that a lively discussion followed a representation from a Forest Hill teacher and another NUT member (both Party members) to the council group on Monday 24 April.
RMT protests at sweatshop hotel
Members of the RMT union protested at Liverpool’s Adelphi Hotel, owned by the Britannia Group, in support of low-paid hotel workers, on Friday 28 April. The protest, which saw a brief occupation of the hotel’s lobby, aimed to draw attention to working conditions RMT reps have called “sweatshop-like”.
RMT organises workers at the Adelphi, as the hotel was formerly owned by British Rail. The Britannia Group saw its profits more than double to £33.3 million in 2016, up from £14.2 million the previous year. The Adelphi itself increased profits by 40%. Britannia Group shareholders received a £35 million dividend payout.
RMT says that, despite Britannia’s soaring profits, workers at the hotel are paid less than a living wage. Many are on zero-hour contracts, and are subject to productivity-based speed-ups: chamber maids have recently had the time allocated to strip down and clean rooms after guests’ departure from 25 to 20 minutes. Union reps reports workers, many of whom are from migrant backgrounds, collapsing with exhaustion in the linen cupboards. Workers who drive to work are not provided with parking, and have to pay to use the hotel’s car park. Many report facing bullying and harassment from bosses, as well as sexual harassment from guests.
RMT members at the hotel struck in December. The union says its campaign will continue until workers win living wages, secure employment, and decent working conditions.
Picturehouse can afford to pay!
Workers from five Picturehouse cinemas in London struck on Monday 1 May in a repeat of the largest cinema strike in UK labour movement history in April. The strike takes the total number of strike days at Picturehouse cinemas in the last eight months to over 40.
Workers from the five sites, Ritzy in Brixton, Crouch End, East Dulwich, Hackney, and Picturehouse Central in Soho, joined the May Day march in central London before going to picket Picturehouse Central in the evening. Community campaigners and supporters held ″community pickets″ at Crouch End and East Dulwich which meant customers knew there was a strike on, and which turned away many customers who would have otherwise used the cinemas.
Bectu, the workers’ union, is now unfortunately conducting an unnecesary re-ballot of members before strikes continue, as they continue to interpret anti-union laws in the most extreme way.
A Bectu member from East Dulwich Picturehouse spoke at the closing rally of London May Day and said: “there is no question they can afford to pay us the Living Wage. They can afford to pay us sick pay, they can afford to give us maternity and paternity pay, but they choose not to. Cineworld made over £98 million in post-tax profits last year. CEO Mooky Greidinger personally took home £2.5 million last year.”
″He alone could afford to pay Picturehouse workers the Living Wage and still take home £1 million.″
Tube news round-up
Uncertainty for ISS cleaners
Multinational cleaning contractor ISS, one of the two major companies to which London Underground outsources cleaning services, has informed its workers that its contract will not be renewed past the end of 2017. It has sent all cleaners a letter informing them their employment will be transferred over to a new contractor under TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Earnings)) regulations.
As yet there is no indication who the new employer will be, leaving thousands of workers in the dark as to who will be paying their wages come 2018. The rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker commented: “RMT reps have consistently pressed ISS, and LU, for info, and have been stonewalled. Cleaners are worried about who will be paying their wages come the new year.
“Of course, the question of who the cleaners’ employer will be could be settled in a very simple, direct way if LU took cleaning services back in house.”
London Bridge station staff to strike
Station staff at London Bridge Tube station will strike on 7-8 May, and conduct indefinite industrial action short of strikes thereafter, as they attempt to win the reinstatement of sacked colleague Lee Cornell. Lee was dismissed after he intervened with a fare evader who pushed a pregnant colleague. Lee was then punched twice in the head, but rather than supporting an assaulted staff member, London Underground have sacked him for defending himself. London Bridge workers’ action-short-of-strikes will consist of refusing to service ticket machines, and refusing to challenge passengers about tickets.