A major industrial and political battle against academy status is under way in Newham, East London.
The campaign started when staff and parents at Avenue Primary School united to fight plans to academise their school. They are demanding a simple yes/no ballot for staff and parents before any school, not just theirs, can embark on a process of academisation. As part of the campaign NEU members were balloted for a programme of strike action. Later staff and parents at another Newham school, Cumberland Primary, set up their own campaign to oppose academy plans and NEU members there were also balloted.
The action ballots in both schools were successful, giving a huge boost to anti-academy campaigners across the authority.
This mattered a lot as there were further plans for academy conversions in other schools. This school term a third school has joined the fray. Keir Hardie Primary School in Canning Town was due to convert to academy status and join a newly formed academy trust, the Agate Momentum Trust, from January 1st 2018 together with two other local primaries (Hallsville and Scott Wilkie). Building on this success an action ballot to oppose academy conversion was carried and won overwhelmingly.
The most recent result of these developments was a day of co-ordinated action across all three schools on Thursday 22 February. By that time Avenue Primary staff were on their seventh day of strike action and Cumberland on their third. Supplementing the strikes has been a political campaign to commit Newham Labour Council to oppose the academy plans.
This may well turn out to be crucial. As with many Labour councils, the pressure of the Corbynite surge in the Labour Party is giving rise to growing internal opposition to academies. It was significant that the picket lines and strike rally on 22 February received a strong message of support and solidarity from Corbyn himself.
On 26 February the anti-academies campaign organised a march and lobby outside a full Newham Council meeting. As a result the Council meeting passed a motion from two Labour councillors supporting a parental ballot over transfer proposals and calling for existing academies to recognise unions and apply national terms and conditions “until such time as the government abolishes the academy system”.
The campaign against academy conversions in Newham is of huge importance, especially as it comes at a time when the prospects of a serious fight to halt this project seemed to be wilting on the vine. The local campaign has not yet won and has much to do, but it is rich with lessons for anti-academy campaigners everywhere.
Most significantly the industrial action and parental campaigning have been massively strengthened and enabled by a new leadership in the local NUT section of the NEU and by a serious focus on challenging support for academies in the Labour council.
Daily Mail cleaners strike
Cleaners who work in the offices of the Daily Mail newspaper are preparing to strike over low pay.
The cleaners, employed by outsourcer Mitie, are paid £7.50 an hour, but are demanding the real Living Wage of £10.20 an hour. The Daily Mail has also just renewed their contract with Mitie, but demanded it cost £30,000 less a year — so Mitie sack two cleaners and make the rest work harder to get the job done for the same pay.
Cleaners, who are organised by the United Voices of the World Union, are all migrant workers. The Daily Mail is infamous for attacking migrant workers, and particularly for blaming them for bringing down wages. Yet it is clearly responsible for the low wages of its own cleaners.
UVW secretary Petros Elis said: ″The cleaners are demanding a pay rise and are willing to strike to win so they can live and work in dignity.
We don’t expect any more or less from the Daily Mail because of who they are, we just expect them to do the right thing and ensure justice for their cleaners.”
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EDF workers strike over tracking
Smart meter installers and fixers working for energy giant EDF are striking for the third week.
270 workers voted by 92% to strike over new monitoring of workers. Despite previous agreements, EDF managers want to fit trackers to workers’ vans that will monitor driving style. These same managers have refused to have the same devices fitted to their own company cars. EDF refuses to give assurances that this constant data collected on driving will not be used to discipline workers for using too much fuel or braking too hard. This big-brother monitoring is being introduced alongside random drug and alcohol testing — which again managers will not accept for themselves.
The strike will hit the tight timetable for EDF Energy’s programme of smart meter installation across London, the south east and south west. It is directly affecting the government-set target for fitting smart meters.
Picket lines have been large and lively. One striker on the Bexleyheath picket told Solidarity “This management are a bunch of control freaks and we have had enough of it.”
The roll out of Transport for London’s “Transformation” programme is making life difficult for workers.
Workers are being given contradictory messages by managers, first being told their jobs are safe, then finding out they might be “mapped” into new roles, with few guarantees and protections.
Stations staff at the north end of the Bakerloo Line, where ticket offices remained open, have been covering ticket seller jobs, and have now been told that the company intends to cut their pay and demote them when ticket offices close.
LU wants to use us to cover work when it needs us, but won’t guarantee any protections during restructures. The lesson for unions is clear: we have to confront the entire logic of cuts. Scrap “Transformation” now!
• More on the Tubeworker blog
Housing workers’ victory in pay battle
Unite members at housing repair contractor Mears in Manchester have ended their strike with a victory.
Workers have had over 80 strike days since May 2017 in their fight to end pay disparity with workers doing similar work for other contractors. In some cases workers were paid up to £3,500 less.
The deal, supported by a ballot of Unite members, increases pay across the board by 20%. The deal will also equalise pay within and across trade groups; equalise pay with similar organisations in the sector; and get rid of the so-called ″sackers′ charter″ which would have changed workers′ contracts to make it easier for bosses to sack people.
Unite regional officers Andy Fisher said: “This is a victory for solidarity and direct action. Our members have stuck together through thick and thin.
“The strike has brought the workforce closer together as a workforce.
“They will be primed to push back against the employer if fresh industrial relations issues develop in the future.”
Picturehouse workers strike
Workers at four Picturehouse cinemas in London will strike on Wednesday 8 March.
8 March is International Women′s Day. Picturehouse workers have chosen to strike on that day to highlight our demand for maternity pay, to celebrate the role of women in the strike, and to honour the history of working women′s struggles. This is something other unions and disputes should consider doing!
Workers at Hackney, Crouch End, East Dulwich Picturehouses and Picturehouse Central in Soho will strike.
The Ritzy cinema in Brixton is expected to strike on a different day in the coming weeks.