Sixth form colleges strike
The NEU’s (National Education Union’s) last strike day in sixth form colleges over funding and pay was 20 November last year. The next is 12 February.
In December the union executive and many NEU activists were, I think, hoping that an imminent Labour government would resolve the dispute in our favour.
The reason for the delay being around a month after most colleges came back is to build up momentum again after the election and Xmas break.
The upcoming three days (12 and 27 Feb, 10 March) are within the six month “shelf-life” of the first ballot, but at the same time we are preparing to ballot to extend the dispute for a further six months. Indicative ballot results in the affected colleges so far look good.
In October, I said that the ballot could be a way to rebuild the union in the sixth-form sector. And in fact, since action started, more colleges have joined following re-ballots.
We need a National Organising Strategy, to put reps in every college. Lay activists (who work in and know the sector) are in the best position to do this, not Full-Time Officers (who may not).
Because this is a dispute with the Secretary of State for Education any commitment to increase funding would lay the groundwork for GMB and Unison to negotiate a rise at the same level – it’s essential that a rise for teachers should not be funded or divisively agreed at the expense of support staff pay.
10 March is the third of our currently planned strike days, and is also one of the UCU’s strike days. This offers an opportunity for building joint lay-led solidarity and action.
Council workers: start fight now
Local government employers have come up with a pay offer of 2%, and all three unions have rightly rejected it.
The Unison, GMB, and Unite unions submitted a claim in summer 2019 for a 10% increase and £10/ hour minimum for the one-million-strong workforce.
For a number of years in Unison the membership have mandated the union to lead a fight to reverse years of pay freezes and real-effect pay cuts, and to use the threat of strikes early enough to impact on the pay round.
But now as in previous years, workers are desperate to receive a pay increase due in pay packets in less than two months’ time (1 April); and the union leaderships appear to have yet again played into the employers’ hands by ignoring conference policy to build a fight and to force the employers to make an offer early in the autumn to enable a serious campaign to be built.
Other groups in the sector have been offered better pay deals: teachers in England got 2.75% last year and may get more this year, and local government workers in Scotland received 3% last year and 3.5% this year as part of a multi-year deal.
The 2% offer would see a classroom assistant receiving a lower percentage pay deal this year than the teachers in the same school, or a bin worker in Berwick receiving a lower pay deal than a bin worker in North Berwick, a few miles over the border in Scotland.
Unison, GMB and Unite members need to coordinate to force their leadership to fight for the 10%/ £10 minimum pay offer and build a serious campaign urgently.
Ballot for action now, rather than wait for any minor increases that the employer might have in their back pocket.
Bakerloo drivers to strike
Drivers in the RMT on London Underground’s Bakerloo Line will strike, in a local dispute over working conditions, from 11:59 on Friday 21 February to 11.59 on Saturday 22 February, and from 11.59 on Sunday 23 February to 11.59 on Monday 24 February.
The aim of the rolling strike is to maximise the impact of the action by calling out key shifts across several days.
The dispute has arisen from London Underground’s refusal to withdraw a timetable which drivers say has led to such short gaps between trips that they don’t have time for a toilet break or a drink of water.
The union is demanding a new timetable and a review of incidents that have taken place under “Working Timetable 44”.
School workers meet
Workers’ Liberty school workers met on Saturday 8 February to discuss perspectives after then General Election defeat and preparations for the NEU Annual Conference.
We overwhelmingly agreed a motion that committed us to fight for the NEU to organise a “Defend Education” demonstration and to approach UCU, other school unions, and the National Union of Students to join us to campaign for decent education funding and high-quality teaching. This should include advocacy of national contract for all education workers. We will seek to get this discussed at national conference.
We also agreed to advocate that Education Solidarity Network (ESN), the rank-and-file organisation we support in the union, adopts our political perspective: a mass mobilisation of workers, students and parents in defence of free, state-run education for all.
The NEU Annual Conference, which this year is in Bournemouth on 6-9 April, decides the policy and direction of the union in the coming year. We are hope motions that AWL comrades have written on support staff representation, boycotting testing in primaries, fighting the anti-laws and ending the deal with the NAHT that helped scuppered the Harbinger dispute last year, will be prioritised for discussion at conference.
We are also hoping that motion 20 on a National Contract for All School Workers, which is an ESN-supported motion will be debated. We will write amendments to other motions if prioritised.
At the conference we will be organising a fringe meeting on the Tuesday night on Industrial Unionism and how it applies to the NEU. We will also produce a conference bulletin.
Activists meet to plan resistance to anti-strike laws
Rank-and-file activists from several unions, including PCS, NEU, Unite, Unison, RMT, UVW, and IWGB, met on 11 February to plan activity in opposition to proposed new anti-strike laws, at a meeting called by Lambeth and Islington Trades Councils, and supported by the Free Our Unions campaign. Representatives of the National Shop Stewards Network also attended. Plans for a range of activity, including rallies and demonstrations, were discussed, as well as proposals to lobby Labour leadership candidates, GLA candidates, and Mayor Khan to commit to supporting resistance to anti-union laws, and to setting the “minimum service requirement” under new law to zero wherever Labour is a transport employer (such as the Labour-controlled GLA, which administers Transport for London)
3 March for posties’ ballot
The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has announced it will be “serving notice” of a new national ballot of Royal Mail members on 25 February.
As anti-union laws require that unions give seven days’ notice to employers of a ballot, presumably this means that the actual ballot will start the following week, on or around 3 March.
There’s no good reason why it’s taken this long to gear back up for a national ballot. Deputy General Secretary Terry Pullinger signalled that the ballot might start sooner, then rowed back from that by saying the union would encourage local disputes.
Local disputes are important; the threat of strikes at Bootle and Seaforth DOs, planned for 18-19 January, forced the bosses to back off from sacking a rep and taking disciplinary action against other members, following an unofficial walkout there last year. Wherever members want to take action over local issues, including over specific local breaches of national agreements, they should be encouraged and empowered in doing that.
But local disputes are not a substitute for a national fight with the employer. It’ll take national industrial action to force Royal Mail to back down from its plan to restructure parcel delivery, and to force it to implement previous agreements over issues like working hours. It’s vital that workplace reps and local branches keep the pressure on the union’s national leadership to ensure horizons don’t narrow.
Once the ballot starts, everyone needs to be in campaign mode. While we shouldn’t be reckless, we can’t let the previous injunction inhibit us from organising an active, vibrant, and assertive campaign.
We also need to discuss how to respond if our ballot is injuncted a second time. Last time, workers in some workplaces discussed the prospect of an unofficial “work-to-rule”, something which we can effectively implement at any time without needing a ballot, as it only involves working to our contracts, agreed hours, and formal rules and procedures. Tactics like that should be discussed again.
Royal Mail workers have retained traditions of unofficial, “wildcat” strike action better than perhaps any other group of workers.
Usually unofficial actions take place over local issues, such as the victimisation of individual reps or members, rather than around national disputes. A few wildcat strikes in a few offices aren’t a substitute for national action, but where members feel like unofficial action could be pulled off in an effective way, that should be discussed.
The first task is to ensure the national ballot starts as soon as possible, no later than the 3 March date suggested by the union’s recent announcement. A programme of gate meetings across the country can provide a space for rank-and-file posties to discuss strategy for the dispute.
Grassroots coordination, and linking up with other unions to resist anti-union laws, will put us in a stronger position to respond should our bosses turn to the courts again to scupper a strike.
FCO outsourced workers
A month-long strike by outsourced workers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office continues. The workers, who are members of the PCS union, are demanding living wages, union recognition, and greater equality with directly employed staff. The TUC launched its “Heart Unions” week from the picket line, with TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady addressing a rally, along with Labour MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.