In Brief: Northern Rock, Shelter, Tube, Driving examiners strike

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2008 - 9:07

Driving examiners strike

The pay and jobs disputes in the Department for Transport (DfT) continue. Following a one day strike on 29 February by seven of the eight bargaining units within DfT, staff in the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) took a day of action on 6 March. The union in DfT has followed this up with targeted action in the Driving Standards Agency. This targeted action will mean that administrative staff take a half day’s strike on 20 March. Driving examiners take a 2.5 hour strike on the 20th and a 1.5 hour strike on the 25th. The union calculates that this action will nearly have the same impact on the agency’s work as a full day strike. More industrial action is planned in March. To keep up to date visit

PCS: Change in tactics needed

On 17 and 18 March PCS members in DWP took two further days of strike action. Since December 2007 they have been out for four days.

The dispute has been triggered by the imposition of a three year deal which means that in year two and three (i.e. in 2008 and 2009) large numbers of staff will not see an increase in their basic take home pay. Given inflation, therefore those staff are having imposed on them a cut in real living standards.

An extra twist to the dispute has been the recent announcement that DWP propose to cut 12,000 staff and 200 offices in the next three years; this is on top of the 30,000 staff cut already. Whilst supporting the need for a fight, supporters of the independent Left (IL) — an activist group in the union — are demanding a change in tactics. Having one or two strike days separated by long periods of inactivity is not going to win. IL is campaigning for selective action alongside national action.

Amazingly the Socialist Party, the ruling group in DWP and in PCS, actively oppose such tactics, mainly because the idea of selective action is associated with the IL. Now, in parallel with the dispute there are elections in the DWP. The IL is standing a full slate against the SP. The IL needs to win because members desperately need a change in tactics.

Northern Rock: Job cuts planned

Having been bailed out by a £25 billionn government “loan”, then nationalised (sort of), stricken bank Northern Rock is seeking to speed up repayment and a move back to the private sector by... cutting jobs, of course. More than 2,000 workers are facing redundancy, with the Unite union focusing on ensuring these are voluntary, not compulsory.

Northern Rock currently employs around 6,000 people — these cuts represent an entire third of the workforce. It seems that although the government can find hefty subsidies, loans and safety nets to protect shareholders' investments, when it comes to rescuing the work of 2,000 people, neither the money nor the political will are there. Perhaps the board of Northern Rock ought to consider a pay cut...

Shelter Bosses back down

After two days of strike action, bosses at Shelter, an organisation providing services to the homeless, have agreed to put “on hold” their plans to cut workers’ pay and conditions.

The bosses made the concession at a meeting with TGWU-Unite shop stewards on Monday 17th. The dispute now goes to negotiations at the official conciliation service ACAS, and further strikes planned for 19 and 20 March have been suspended.

Workers unused to striking, in a sector unused to strikes, have shown that the solidarity they displayed in the strikes on 5 March and 10 March, and in the prospect of further strikes on 19-20 March, can win victories.

Not, of course, until they had been given a sharp lesson in capitalist ways by the Shelter bosses, who are trying to shift the organisation from a charity to something more like a contractor bidding for public-sector contracts. The Shelter bosses had given themselves big pay rises and a lavish refurbishment for their main office in London, while proposing to cut wages and conditions drastically for ordinary Shelter workers.

Supporters of the Shelter workers should remain vigilant in case the bosses prove obdurate in the talks at ACAS. But a first victory has been won.

Fight tube casualisation!

by a tubeworker

Talks about the casualisation dispute are still going on, TSSA has had a thumping 81% Yes vote in its ballot, and RMT’s ballot papers are in the post.

It seems that management made some concessions, including withdrawing planned changes to the “refusal to work on safety grounds” procedure and kicking the ticket office cuts into the long grass. This shows that we can make them step back just by threatening strikes — and that tells us that we can win even more by keeping the threat open, and more still by actually striking.

There are perils for trade unions in pursuing a dispute based on a “shopping list” of demands – not least that management may cave in on one demand dependant on the union caving in on another. That said, this dispute’s demands are closely linked, and sometimes we don’t have the luxury of fighting on one issue at a time. If management attack us on several fronts, we have to defend ourselves on all those fronts.

LUL could back down on eight of the nine demands if they like, but if they hold firm on, say, replacing station staff with security guards, then we should still strike. Security guards on stations at night means loss of supervisor jobs and no qualified railway staff on hand to help other grades in the event of an incident. That’s why drivers must support the RMT strike ballot. If you have a one-under, security alert, signal remaining at danger, PEA ... then you’d expect to have a station supervisor available to help. Under LUL’s plans, you won’t.

It is good to see ballots going ahead, but union leaders have been sluggish. Local reps have felt frustrated by a lack of updates. Leaders need to get members on a war footing, but don’t always look like they are on a war footing themselves. One way to help turn this around would be to set up a rank-and-file strike committee to organise publicity, talking to staff, responding to management’s propaganda etc.

Our priority now must be to get the biggest possible Yes vote in the RMT ballot, and to make sure that union officials do not back down on our core principles – no staff cuts, no casualisation, LUL work to be done by directly-employed LUL staff.

Management have a game plan for the 2012 Olympics and beyond: they want a defeated workforce willing to do what we’re told. For them, the best way to achieve this is to have a small core of ‘flexible’, overworked LUL staff, supplemented by agency staff who they can pick up and drop as they choose.

We can either let them do this to us, or we can fight. Hobson’s choice, really!

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