Trade union news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 22 August, 2012 - 1:47

Parking attendants employed by contractor NSL in Camden, London, will strike again on 9 and 10 August.

Workers are fighting for the London Living Wage of ÂŁ8.30 an hour, as well as for sick pay. They also have other grievances around terms and conditions.

Unison has 80% density amongst NSL workers in Camden and has had strong turnouts in previous strike days. Workers fought hard to win recognition. Despite these achievements, they have found it difficult to get Unison officialdom to sanction further strikes.

The dispute has a significance beyond the borough of Camden, as many London boroughs outsource their parking services to NSL.

In Islington, Unison has 50% density amongst NSL workers and is pursuing a recognition fight.

Members of the public sector union Unison working in Higher Education have rejected an employers’ pay offer and are building towards strikes. A Unison rep from a London university spoke to Solidarity about the campaign.

Higher Education pay strikes

HE employers offered a 1% pay rise for this year; how have Unison members responded?

Our branch has had a consultation on the annual pay offer. We do this every year. Usually most people vote in favour of accepting the offer, rather than take industrial action. This year members voted overwhelmingly to reject the offer, understanding that this would probably mean being balloted for industrial action. This is a big change and shows members are finally getting fed up with below-inflation pay offers.

Nationally, around two thirds of Unison HE voted to reject, but in the London HE branches I have been in touch with, it was 90 - 100% voted to reject.

What are the next steps following rejection and the indicative ballot?

The latest news is that the HE Service Group Executive (SGE) have announced that unless the ACAS talks result in a big improvement from the employers’ offer of 1%, Unison HE members will be balloted in September.

Despite the result of the consultation, it is going to take a lot of work to make sure that we get as many members as possible to take part in the ballot and to make the case for voting yes to industrial action. We have begun organising meetings to get the word out to members, and we'll be producing our own leaflets and posters. The most important thing to do is to talk face to face with co-workers, letting them know that you're in favour of taking action and why. This should be a dialogue between education workers, not just a top-down recommendation from “the union”.

According to reports from the SGE meeting, a strike could take place around the time of the TUC demo on 20 October, and possibly also around the time of the National Union of Students (NUS) demo. The idea of timing action around the NUS demo is to make the link between students’ and education workers’ struggles, and to get as much student support for our strike as possible.

Locally, we are having joint meetings with the other unions, as we are working on the assumption that we will get balloted at the same time. We'll be holding an open meeting at ULU on 12 September from 1-2pm.

New battles for Southampton council workers

Mike Tucker, secretary of Southampton District Unison, spoke to Solidarity about the situation for workers in the city following the election of a Labour council in May:

Since the change of administration in May, we’ve been negotiating to secure the reversal of the pay cuts made by the previous Tory council.

We’ve made significant progress there and the deal will be made public within the next weeks.

There’s been a general improvement in industrial relations at the council. Management engage with unions now and the normal channels of consultation are being respected again. The new administration has also withdrawn proposals to evict the unions from the offices and to make myself and my colleague from Unite redundant.

Soon after taking power, the council introduced a mini-budget that included some cuts. There was particular opposition to the proposal to cut the subsidy to a local swimming pool on a working-class housing estate. We have members working at that pool and are opposed to that cut. Two councillors voted against the budget — an action we supported. We’ve been working with those councillors since then to maintain a campaign against the closure of that swimming pool, including building a mass meeting on that estate and a lobby of the council meeting on 12 September which is due to ratify the cut to the subsidy. It’s unfortunate that one of the Labour council’s first actions was to propose a cut that would hit our members and working-class communities, but it’s important to note that the councillors’ revolt was around this specific issue rather than something more general.

Southampton council is the only local authority where pay cuts are on the point of being reversed. In conditions of austerity that’s hugely significant and we believe a validation both of the sustained industrial action we took and the work the unions did to help elect a Labour council. We reject entirely the notion that there is no difference between Labour and Tory administrations, and the progress we’ve made since Labour took office proves this very clearly.

However, the economic situation remains unstable and we’re well aware that at some point in the near future, Labour will make proposals that will negatively effect our members and which we’ll oppose.

We support the election of a Labour council but our fundamental role is to help our members defend their pay, conditions, and jobs, and we’ll continue to do that regardless of which political party has power in the council.

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