As Solidarity goes to press, the annual general meeting of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers (RMT) is debating a series of motions at its annual general meeting on its relationship with the Labour Party. The RMT, whose predecessor union helped found Labour, effectively had its affiliation cancelled by the New Labour leadership in 2004, after the RMT leadership refused to censure Scottish branches which wanted to back candidates of the Scottish Socialist Party, then an active and growing force.
Since then, RMT has backed a number of electoral efforts against Labour, but since 2015 has been a staunch supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. RMT encouraged members to vote and campaign for Labour in the 2017 election. Most of the AGM motions, which were submitted as emergency motions responding to the events of the election, call for the union to organise a special general meeting to debate and decide on whether the union should seek reaffiliation to Labour.
Workers’ Liberty members active in RMT helped circulate and submit several of the motions. RMT’s National Executive Committee has indicated it will support the call for an SGM, making the proposal in its own political report to the AGM. If RMT was to reaffiliate, it would join the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in reaffiliating to Labour following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. The FBU disaffiliated in 2004 following a bitter pay dispute with the New Labour government.
RMT votes against free movement
A motion calling to RMT AGM on the union to defend free movement and support migrant workers fell by 41 votes to 21, with six abstentions. The motion said: “Migrants and immigration are not to blame for stagnating wages and squeezed services. No serious study has found any evidence that immigration has a significantly depressing affect on wages. [...] If and when employers do use one group of workers to undercut another, our answer is strong workplace organisation and united struggle. We will not accept one group of workers being turned against another.”
The motion would have committed the RMT to: “campaign against increased border controls being part of the Brexit deal; to support campaigns for migrants’ and refugees rights; [and] encourage [its] Parliamentary Group MPs to vote against any Brexit deal which restricts immigration and attacks workers’ rights.”
Those opposing the motion, including supporters of the Socialist Party, argued that the union should support increased controls on immigration.
Defend the Picturehouse four!
As Picturehouse cinema workers prepare to strike again on 1 and 7 July, seven Labour MPs have written to Picturehouse and Cineworld bosses to protest the sacking of three Bectu reps, and the suspension of another. Marsha de Cordova (Battersea), Chris Williamson (Derby North), Helen Hayes (Dulwich and West Norwood), David Drew (Stroud), Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green), Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton Kemptown), and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell signed the letter, which said: “Any suspensions or sackings of trade union reps who have been organising a strike for very basic rights – the Living Wage, full company sick pay, maternity/paternity pay and union recognition – intended to intimidate trade union members would be a matter of deep concern for the whole labour movement. No trade unionist or Labour Party member can tolerate the deliberate intimidation of trade union activists for pursuing their legitimate business.”
Three Bectu reps from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton have been sacked. A fourth was awaiting a disciplinary hearing as Solidarity went to press. The 1 and 7 July strikes will involve workers at five cinemas across London — Ritzy, Picturehouse Central, Crouch End Picturehouse, Hackney Picturehouse, and East Dulwich Picturehouse. A sixth site, Dukes Picturehouse in Brighton, also remains in dispute.
Supporters of the strike have been organising community pickets, leafleting in support of the dispute and encouraging patrons to take their business elsewhere. The pickets have clearly rattled Picturehouse management, who on one occasion called the police in response to a picket at the Ritzy. Activists say they plan to continue with the action.
Further demonstrations and community pickets are planned in support of the strikes, including at the Ritzy at 4pm on Saturday 1 July. Rail and transport union RMT was passed a motion of support for the strike at its annual general meeting in Exeter on Wednesday 28 June.
Strike organisers plan a series of meetings with workers at Picturehouse Cinemas around the country, with the aim of spreading the strike to more sites.
Support the victimised reps: • Send messages of protest to Cineworld • Send messages of support to Ritzy Living Wage, twitter: @RitzyLivingWage and @HPHLivingWage • Donate to the strike fund • Sign the petition • Find out more about the dispute
Lewisham council shames Labour
Teachers at Forest Hill school in Lewisham, south London. struck again in the last week of June in their ongoing dispute against cuts at the school and the effects on their working conditions. Parents lobbied Lewisham council on Wednesday 28 June demanding action in support of the school.
Meanwhile, motions calling for Paul Maslin, the cabinet member for Children and Young People on Lewisham council, to resign his position are going to a number of local Labour Parties. One has been passed by a branch close to where the school is based. NUT members and parents are incensed by Maslin’s intransigence and unwillingness to seek to support the school. This is in stark contrast to the approach of the neighbouring borough, Greenwich, which has intervened and sought positive solutions to the problems of its schools facing a funding crisis.
The dispute at Forest Hill has become more acrimonious since 22 June, when agency staff were used as illegal scab labour to keep the school open whilst the NUT was on strike. Both Maslin and Mayor Sir Steve Bullock have claimed that this was a mistake by the head for which he has apologised. They say the head was simply using the agency staff to cover long-term sickness and simply kept them on. There is however evidence that striking members who were not on long-term sick had their classes covered during the strike.
The council accepts no responsibility for solving the funding crisis or the associated workload problems and no responsibility for the use of scab labour. Labour supporters will wonder the point of electing “Labour” councils and of stopping academies stealing our schools. The NUT and labour movement activists in Lewisham will continue to fight to defend our schools against the Tories but also against “Labour” politicians who make grand speeches against the Tories’ education cuts but are willing to pass them on with out a murmur.
Activists at SOAS university, London, have ended their occupation with a victory as the university has committed to keeping open the refectory, which was threatened with closure, and reversed all planned redundancies. The university has also said it will move catering staff onto the better terms and conditions which other outsourced workers get; open up negotiations to end zero-hour contracts; negotiate with Unison for all catering staff to receive unpaid Living Wage increases in full.
Workers at the London School of Economics, who won an end to outsourcing and parity of terms and conditions with other LSE workers, will strike again on 12-15 July for the last of their demands – the reinstatement of sacked union member Alba Pasmino. Security workers at the University of London struck again on Thursday 22 June. Workers are demanding that outsourced contractor Cordant pays them a pay rise promised six years ago, ends the use of zero hours contracts and gives workers itemised pay slips. Porters and postroom workers are now balloting to join the strike.
Cleaners and porters at Barts Health NHS Trust have voted by 99% in favour of strikes for a pay rise. Strikes will happen on 4-6 July, followed by a seven day strike starting on 11 July, and a 14 day strike starting on 25 July. Workers previously went on wildcat strike when, on the day they took over the contract, outsourcer Serco cut breaks and imposed a pay cut.
Unison conference wakes up
With Labour’s election success and the press dominated by the residents of Grenfell Tower murdered by political decisions, Unison’s National Delegate Conference (20-23 June) was always going to be a bit more left and reflect a mood of confidence and combativity in the working class.
And it did. Delegates repeatedly overturned the Standing Orders Committee to push motions which called on Labour councils to not make cuts back on the agenda. Calls were made to break the anti-union laws.
The first debate of the conference was on the public sector pay cap and the demand for a £10 an hour minimum wage. From the platform to conference floor everyone agreed to back Corbyn and smash the pay freeze. Conference favourite Dave Prentis was clear pay cuts could go on no longer. “[Public sector workers] worried about their jobs, their families and can’t go through another five years of poverty pay. Now is the time to shout enough is enough. This is the year to smash the pay cap.”
This isn’t the first time the Unison leadership have promised to smash the pay freeze. In 2012, Dave Prentis smashed through a block of ice in the shape of a pound sign to symbolise Unison’s plan. But real terms pay cuts continued. With the new anti-union laws, Unison is very unlikely to pass required ballot thresholds to take national strike action. It is possible the Tories will voluntarily increase public pay, or an early election will bring a Labour government which will offer a pay rise but hoping for a government gift is not enough. Unison mustn’t assume it cannot improve turnout and give up on national action.
This is the Tories’ anti-union laws doing what they were designed to. They are not designed to promote democracy, but to shackle unions and prevent workers from fighting back. They are designed to make us police ourselves, to internalise the restrictions, and give up on our most powerful weapon. Public sector workers must talk about how we take these laws on head on, how we reassert our democratic rights and how we support those workers who break them. The Labour Party should not just commit to improving our pay they should commit to a bill of trade union rights which will allow us to fight for our own rights, those of other workers and wider society.
We hope that the newly founded Unison Labour Left will work on campaigns like this to reignite the link between Labour and unions.