The striking dinner ladies at Ladywood school in Grimethorpe returned to work on 29 November, claiming victory in their fight to defend their jobs. The school proposed to make all nine of the school meals supervisors redundant as part of a cost-cutting exercise announced in June. Backed by their union, Unison, the women decided to fight back and voted to take extensive strike action to save their jobs.
Starting in September they took a hugely impressive 36 days of strike action. For most of that time there was little or no sign of movement from the employer, but the women remained determined and strong. When the school made it clear that they intended to use their teaching assistants to carry out the lunchtime supervision normally done by these women, the teaching assistants voted to join the strike.
The women also had overwhelming support from within the local community. Ladywood Primary is in the historic mining village of Grimethorpe, just outside Barnsley where trade union traditions remain strong and class loyalty still counts for something. The strength and tenacity of the women together with the solidarity of their colleagues and community forced the school to shift its position. Last week Unison reached an agreement with the school management under which the threats of redundancy were withdrawn.
After the settlement was reached area organiser, Jordan Stapleton said “It was completely unacceptable to attempt to make the dinner ladies redundant when job losses were unnecessary. Where schools do need to make savings they need to know that low-paid women are not easy targets and the contributions they make to our communities cannot be underestimated.”
It looks like the number of jobs in the school will reduce over time, though. The Unison press release announcing the end of the dispute goes on to describe final agreement as one which will “address the deficit in the school’s budget without any redundancies, due to expected natural staff turnover”. This suggests that when some categories of staff leave they will not be replaced and that the problem of increasing the workload of remaining staff hasn’t gone away. Meanwhile the Grimethorpe women should be congratulated for their stand.
These women faced what seemed like the inevitable loss of their jobs. They decided to fight and got their union to back them. When the fight itself was long and gruelling, with no sign of movement at all from the employer, they stuck to the task. The fact that their jobs are saved, the school has had to back down and the women can see that their action has had an effect are all real and tangible successes. They have shown that collective action, solidarity and class unity are the only effective weapons we have to fight austerity. That’s a prize even greater in the long run.
Cammell Laird strikes till January
Workers at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead have been on strike since Monday 26 November in a dispute over plans to cut 40% of the workforce.
The initial three week program of strikes, involving different groups of workers across the shipyard walking out for 24 hours at a time, has now been extended from Friday 14 December to Friday 18 January 2019, while an overtime ban is in place until Friday 1 February 2019. The announcement to cut 290 jobs was made despite the shipyard winning two contracts, worth a total of £619 million, to support and maintain ships for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary over 10 years. Workers also fear that the cuts may be a backdoor way of casualising the workforce, by replacing permanent jobs with agency labour at a later date.
According to the workers union Unite, Cammell Laird has refused to put on hold ′ redundancies in order for an action plan to be put in place to fill the gap in work which the shipbuilder is using as the reason for slashing jobs. Workers have received wide labour movement and public support, with Labour banners a regular fixture on picket lines.
Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said: “The support that striking Cammell Laird workers have received from the community and local politicians is overwhelming. We would urge Cammell Laird to wake up to the strength of feeling and do the right thing by halting these job cuts and working with us to find solutions.”
• Donate to the strike fund
• Sign the petition
Support staff strike at John Roan
Parents and school workers at John Roan are continuing to show the way to resist forced academisation. The school in Greenwich, southeast London, is threatened with forced academisation after a poor Ofsted report. A vibrant community campaign, backed with significant strike action has brought support from local politicians and media attention.
Despite this, Labour¬controlled Greenwich council threatened legal action against the National Education Union (NEU) at the school for striking on the pretence that the NEU wasn’t striking against the Local Education Authority as it wasn’t academising the school, and that couldn’t strike against the incoming academy chain as the chain didn’t employ the NEU members yet.
After a chorus of protest against a Labour council behaving like that, it backed down. However, this has led to the status of the strike action being discussed by the union’s national action committee. Support workers at the school who are members of the GMB struck on 29 November and many NEU members refused to cross their picket lines.
This action got good coverage on the ITV London News. Support staff will strike again on 11-13 December, and NEU members say they will continue to refuse to cross picket lines.
• Greenwich NEU and Greenwich Campaign for State Education are holding a public meeting Take back our Schools, on Thursday 6 December, 7.30pm at Grand Salon, Charlton House, Charlton Road, Greenwich SE3 8RE
• A model motion is available here
• For updates, see here
Shelter strikes over pay
Workers at housing charity Shelter will strike for 72 hours from Tuesday 11 December in a dispute over pay. Shelter has imposed what the workers union, Unite, calls a derisory pay raise of 1%, plus a non-consolidated (one off) 1% payment.
Unite members are demanding a 3.5% increase in line with the retail price index (RPI) as of April 2018 (the annual pay date) or a flat rate of a £1,100 increase for all workers. According to Unite, Shelter’s workers have suffered a real¬terms pay cut of 11% since 2010, after a series of below¬inflation pay increases. Shelter recorded a surplus of £1 million last year and has £15.7 million in reserves.
One Unite member told Unite: ″I am very worried about the implications of this on my own financial obligations and responsibilities. We are here to support people on low incomes, but Shelter staff are now facing this themselves.″ Another said: “Shelter’s vision of a safe secure affordable home for everyone is a bit meaningless considering I am struggling to pay my mortgage every month.”
Durham bus drivers strike
Bus drivers at Arriva Durham County will strike from midnight Sunday 16 December until midnight Saturday 22 December in a dispute over pay. Drivers are demanding a pay rise of £1 an hour, backdated to March 2018.
According to their union, Unite, they are the second-lowest paid of all of Arriva's national bus operations. The strike will involve drivers in Darlington, Durham, Redcar, Stockton, and Whitby.