Industrial news in brief

Submitted by AWL on 18 December, 2019 - 8:38 Author: Duncan Morrison, Ollie Moore and Jay Dawkey

Lewisham members of the National Education Union (NEU) in primary schools are to take part in an indicative ballot over boycotting high stakes testing. The ballot will run from 6 January for two weeks.

There will be two questions on the ballot, one about “action short of strike” (i.e. the question about the boycott) and a second asking members if they will strike in the event of victimisation of members who take part.

The ballot information summarises the boycott as follows:

“Leadership and teacher members will refuse to administer the year 2 SATs, the year 6 SATs, the phonics test and the year 4 multiplication tests in May and June 2020; teacher members will refuse to undertake additional or booster classes; classroom assistants/cover supervisors will refuse to invigilate tests, support any additional or booster classes, or provide cover for teachers to enable them to carry out the testing of individual children; other support staff will refuse to do any administrative, clerical or other support work such as collating test-related documents, handling post which delivers test papers, setting up rooms for testing to be undertaken”.

This indicative ballot is the result of insistent pressure by Lewisham District to get a boycott. If the indicative ballot is successful, then we will have a formal ballot shortly afterwards.

• Duncan Morrison is Assistant Secretary of Lewisham NEU, writing in a personal capacity.

Royal Parks workers win

Outsourced cleaning workers in London’s Royal Parks have won a pay rise to the London Living Wage, currently £10.75/hour, following a campaign of strikes. The workers are currently paid £8.21/hour, and the pay increase will be backdated to 1 November.

The workers, who are members of the United Voices of the World union (UVW), struck on 24 and 31 October, and had threatened to escalate their action before the Royal Parks board met on 12 December and agreed to meet the workers’ pay demands.

An Employment Tribunal against the outsourced contractor, Vinci, will continue after the union accused it of depriving workers of their holiday entitlement.

UVW members employed by outsourcing giant Sodexo at St. Mary’s Hospital in West London have set bosses a 31 January deadline to make concessions towards their demands of equal terms and conditions with directly-employed NHS staff. If these demands are not met, the workers plan an indefinite strike. Strikes planned for December were suspended after the board of the NHS Trust which administers the hospital agreed to negotiate on the workers’ demands.

Kitchen porters at “LouLou’s”, an exclusive private members’ club in Mayfair, central London, suspended strikes planned for 11 and 12 December after sick pay entitlement was increased. The workers are members of the Independent Workers’ union of Great Britain (IWGB), and had previously won a pay increase to the London Living Wage. The club is owned by Robin Birley, an ultra-rich aristocrat and donor to numerous right-wing and anti-migrant causes, including Ukip and Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign.

South Western Railway strikes continue

Guards on South Western Railway (SWR) are continuing strikes throughout the month of December, which resumed on 13 December after pausing on general election day. Official company figures claim that 40% of all services had been cancelled entirely, with amended timetables running on many others.

The strike is the longest single strike in British railway history. Guards are being supported with strike pay and hardship payments, and strong pickets have been mounted across the SWR network, including at Waterloo station in central London.

Rail union RMT published a “six point plan” for ending the dispute, arguing that the disagreement with the company now focuses entirely on a three-second period during the dispatch procedure where SWR want to transfer control of the train doors to the driver, with the union arguing control should be retained by the guard. SWR bosses have insisted that “every second counts” in their efforts to run the maximum number of trains, which the union has argued exposes their profit-driven approach which subordinates safety, accessibility, and jobs to the maximisation of revenue.

On West Midlands Trains, where RMT guards had been striking every Saturday from 16 November, strikes have now been suspended to allow guards to vote on whether to accept a new offer from the company. The proposal would give the technical capacity for control of the doors to the driver, but retains the need for a guard to give the driver a signal before the train can depart.

The RMT’s NEC is recommending acceptance of the deal. Guards’ strikes on West Midlands Trains were bolstered by solidarity from members of the drivers’ union Aslef refusing to cross RMT picket lines, the only train company other than Merseyrail where such solidarity has occurred to any significant degree.

Workers’ Liberty members working on the railway and active in rail unions produce a rank-and-file bulletin, Off The Rails, the new issue of which surveys various disputes against Driver Only Operation. The bulletin is online at workersliberty.org/rails.

One of the issues it takes up is the need for strikes to involve effective picketing which aims to dissuade scabbing and directly appeal to Aslef members not to cross picket lines.

As we all know, there are picket lines, and there are picket lines.

A group of strikers shuffling nervously in a huddle, away from the actual entrances to stations or depots, isn’t likely to have much impact.

Where picket lines are most successful is when they’re lively, assertive, and mounted at the points where workers actually go into work. This allows pickets to have a conversation with workers coming in, and potentially turn them around.

At depots with multiple entrances and potential booking-on points, this might require some creative picketing, but it can be done.
Strikers shouldn’t be cowed by the anti-union laws. One “picket supervisor” can supervise multiple picket lines as long as they can access them in reasonable time.

Bakerloo

RMT members working as drivers on London Underground’s Bakerloo Line have voted for industrial action to win a workable timetable.

The workers voted by a 95% majority for strikes, and by 98% for action short of a strike, on an 80% turnout.

Workers argue that the line’s current timetable, “Working Timetable 44”, has led to drastically worsened workplace conditions, including times between journeys being so tight that drivers do not even have time for a toilet break. The timetable has also led to trains bunching up along the line, leading to gaps in the service which in turn creates overcrowding on platforms.

The union is demanding a reversion to the previous timetable while the issues with the current one are addressed; adequate provision of station staff on platforms to assist and manage overcrowding; and for a moratorium on disciplinary procedures against drivers for signalling issues created by the timetabling

Serwotka wins

The election for general secretary of the PCS civil service union closed on 12 December. Mark Serwotka, the long-time incumbent, won, with an 18.6% turnout (30,820 ballot papers returned out of 165,941 sent out).

Serwotka got 16,420 votes. Marion Lloyd of the Socialist Party (who long ran the union in alliance with Serwotka, but have fallen out with him recently) got 9,278.

Bev Laidlaw, who ran on behalf of the Independent Left with a militant rank-and-file oriented platform, got 5,059.

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