Workplace and union reports: Royal Academy, Unison election, Sheffield couriers

Submitted by AWL on 3 November, 2020 - 1:27 Author: Hector Lopes, Sam Greenwood and Michael Elms
Tube cleaners protest

Royal Academy jobs fight

In the week ending 30 October, staff at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly held five days of demonstrations outside the building, calling for the RA to reconsider their proposal to make more than a hundred staff redundant.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Prospect union has seen RA staff join at speed and reach over 150 members by the start of the demos, between 30% and 40% of total staff, numbers that mirror the scale of the proposed redundancies. The daily demonstrations, typically hosting between ten and thirty people, were joyful and replete with RA staff as well as solidarity from arts workers from the Tate, Southbank Centre and other arts institutions, all recently hit with commensurate levels of sackings.

The consultation period is set to take 45 total days. With the proposed scale of redundancies and the history of other recent struggles across the sector, it seems unlikely that the job losses will be significantly reduced if industrial action and militancy is not ramped up to oppose them. While it seems Prospect is not up to the task of building that militancy, RA staff may well be bolder.

Unison: Vote Paul Holmes!

Voting has now begun in the election for general secretary of the big public services union Unison. Ballots have been sent out from 28 October. Voting closes on 27 November, with the result announced on 11 January 2021.

Workers’ Liberty is backing Paul Holmes. Paul is a rank-and-file candidate who has received 99 nominations from branches, two from regional councils, and one from the Local Government Service Group. That is a record number of nominations for a rank and file candidate and shows the reach of Paul’s campaign and how it has resonated with workers in the union.

Paul has a record as a militant trade unionist who has organised workplace struggles. He is proposing to take only a worker’s wage if elected, and has proposed policies to shift the power balance in the union towards members and branches.

The favourite to win is Christina McAnea, currently an assistant general secretary responsible for collective bargaining. Under her watch Unison has not fought for workers’ terms and conditions and has accepted derisory pay offers. Paul is arguing for a £15 minimum wage in all pay claims.

Sheffield couriers open a second front

A group of UberEats drivers in Hillsborough in Sheffield have got organised, spreading the region’s campaign of food courier organisation, in which Workers’ Liberty activists have played an important role.

On Thursday 27 October a group of UberEats couriers stopped UberEats deliveries coming out of the Hillsborough branch of McDonald’s. They delivered a letter to the Business Manager complaining of disrespectful treatment, being denied use of the toilets, and of unnecessarily long waits on food delivery collections. As couriers are paid by the delivery and not by the hour, and this McDonald’s represents a high portion of their business, these long waits made a substantial dent in their weekly earnings.

After an hour of lively and effective picketing, conducted in many different languages, and conversation with McDonald’s staff, the Business Manager came out and offered the workers everything they were asking for — while also making veiled threats about calling on the police to disperse the picket under coronavirus regulations, and his use of restaurant CCTV.

Undeterred by the threats, the couriers heard him out, set a time for the manager to meet their representatives the following week to monitor progress on his pledges, and dismissed him, holding elections and further discussion on their own time. Satisfied with their progress, they voted by show of hands to suspend their action and return to work. The impressive organisation of these couriers is now being further bolstered by the assistance of the IWGB union, and the existing IWGB branch made up predominantly of Deliveroo couriers working in central Sheffield has given this new group a warm welcome.

At time of going to press, the UberEats couriers report that the change in the way they are being treated at Hillsborough McDonald’s could not be more stark.

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