The latest news from current workers' struggles.
EWS FREIGHT STRIKE
by a rail worker
1,300 engineering and groundstaff at rail-freight company EWS (England, Wales, Scotland) are set to strike for 48 hours from Saturday 6 November. The workers’ union, the RMT, is in dispute with the company over jobs, working hours and conditions. The union has already imposed a ban on overtime, rest-day working and higher-grade duties.
EWS wants to introduce a new driver restructuring initiative. This will involve drivers taking on rolling stock technicians’ duties and other work. Groundstaff know that this would encroach on their work. EWS wanted to exclude groundstaff union reps from talks on driver restructuring.
After RMT members voted for strike action the EWS bosses obtained an injunction banning planned strike days. However the union won an appeal against the injunction and the strike was declared legal.
Other unions need to get on board with the fight. ASLEF has voted overwhelmingly to reject the driver restructuring but plans no action. ASLEF will respect picket lines.
Groundstaff and engineers are organised by the RMT, but ASLEF represents the majority of EWS drivers.
HOSPITAL CLEANERS' TWO-TIER PAY FIGHT
Hundreds of contract cleaners and porters at Heartlands hospital, Solihull look likely to take strike action over pay and working conditions. The staff, employed by private company Initial Hospital Services, are campaigning to get the same pay and workplace rights as staff employed by the NHS trust.
NHS union UNISON have been campaigning against the two-tier system nationally. It means that two groups of workers do identical jobs for different pay, and happens in the public sector when one group of workers are directly employed while another have their jobs contracted out. Union leaders claim to have extracted a pledge from New Labour to end the practice, as part of the “Warwick Agreement” signed earlier this year.
Cleaners employed by Initial Hospital Services at Heartlands currently earn £4.85 an hour while porters earn £4.95. Neither is entitled to sick pay, pension provision and other benefits. However those employed by the Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull NHS Trust at
Solihull Hospital earn nearly £1 an hour more with benefits.
A one-day stoppage involving about 360 union members is planned for the first week in November. They also look likely to begin a work-to-rule, refusing to cover for sick or absent colleagues or work overtime.
Negotiations have broken down following an offer from the employer that amounted to an increase of only 8p an hour, leaving workers still 76p worse off than NHS staff. There was also no offer for porters.
UNISON members are also angry at the proposed sick pay and annual leave entitlements offered by Initial, particularly as the sick pay scheme would be reviewed after three months and withdrawn if there is any “perceived abuse”.
Department of Health figures published recently showed that Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull NHS Trust had the seventh worst rate of MRSA infection among general acute hospitals in England in the past three years.
VOTE FOR JOHN ROGERS
Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty activists are backing Jon Rogers as the left candidate in the forthcoming General Secretary election in UNISON. Jon has already got the backing of the London Region of the union.
Jon is the candidate of the United Left in UNISON. He is a serious and dedicated UNISON activist, well-known and respected in much wider circles than just “the left”, and able to attract support from many middle-ground branches.
Unfortunately Jon is going to be opposed by a candidate from the Socialist Party, Roger Bannister. The SP walked out of the United Left at the UNISON conference this summer, without ever putting their criticisms of the UUL to the UUL itself. We have criticisms of the UUL too — it is too much of a left “stitch up” and not enough of a genuine rank and file body. The Socialist Party didn’t seem to have a serious dispute about politics, rather they felt they were getting “swamped” in the UUL and their own group interests would be better served outside it.
The political difference between Jon and the SP is over the political fund. The SP are calling for a “no” vote in a forthcoming ballot over the political fund. They say they mean no support to New Labour. But it is a line also put forward only by the most right-wing trade unionists, and means no political fund at all.
In an election where the most likely result is clearly the re-election of the present general secretary, Dave Prentis, who has managed to maintain a “left face” despite not winning much for the UNISON membership, it is important for the left in UNISON is to run a campaign which enables the left collectively to reach out to wider sections of the rank and file of the union and say “you can’t rely on this leadership to deliver, you need to organise collectively to force them to act in your interests, or to replace them if they fail to act.”
That job cannot be done by someone who is identified as the candidate of only one political faction of the union left, and nor can it be done by someone who is simultaneously arguing for the membership to reduce their collective political voice.
Nominations for the General Secretary position do not close until 10 December. The ballot will start on 25 January 2005. The Political Fund ballot will start on 21 February 2005.
LYNX WORKERS FIGHT PAY CUT AND FOR 48 HOUR WEEK
TGWU members at the Nuneaton-based national distribution company Lynx will strike on 5 and 8 November in a dispute over pay.
The union has said that the two year offer from the company is “little more than a thinly disguised pay cut”. The offer is a 2% rise in the first year with inflation plus 1% (subject to a maximum of 4%) in the second year. The union wants a higher pay rise and a reduction in the working week to 48 hours with no loss of pay. A 48 hour week has already been agreed in a number of haulage and distribution operators in line with the new 48-hour week under the EU Working Time Directive.
The strike ballot involved 240 members across the UK, but since the declaration of the result 100 people have applied to join the union. TGWU members include drivers, warehouse staff and engineers.
The dispute will cover Lynx operations at Inverness, Bothwell, Dundee, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Leeds, Nuneaton, Leyland, Chingford, Hellaby/Sheffield, Manchester, Gateshead, Norwich, Croydon, Exeter and Gateshead. The main concentration of the strike will be at the company's Nuneaton hub operation.