Around the unions: in brief

Submitted by cathy n on 18 July, 2008 - 1:41

•RMT: The RMT has called a ballot of Charing Cross Group Tube workers for action in solidarity with Jerome Bowes, a member of station staff at Elephant and Castle unjustly sacked after an incident on New Year’s Eve.
Jerome was subject to verbal abuse after witnessing a fight between two passengers, and manhandled by a drunken passenger. When this passenger punched him, Jerome swung round in self defence and caught him, breaking a small bone in his own wrist. No managers were present, even at one of the busiest stations on one of the busiest nights of the year.
Although he was himself on the receiving end of abuse and an assault, Jerome has now been sacked by Tube bosses. This despite the fact that the witness statements from other staff all back Jerome. The RMT is therefore balloting its members on the Charing Cross Group as well as making an appeal through formal channels.

•ARGOS: Argos distribution and warehouse workers have voted to take strike action against a below-inflation 3.8% pay offer at a time of record profits for the retail giant. There was a 67% vote for action, with over 75% of staff taking part in the ballot. The bosses will only offer a 4.1% pay rise in line with the retail price index on the condition that workers accept an attack on their sick pay scheme, despite the fact that many of them earn as little as £17,000 a year.
Pay is not the only issue at Argos. Warehouse staff are under heavy pressure, directed by a computer voice system which also monitors their every move to assure ‘efficiency’. Similarly, Argos drivers have to drive high-sided lorries for up to 50 hours a week in all conditions. These conditions make the sick pay scheme all the more necessary.
Argos management have furthermore tried to sow division between existing staff and new Polish agency workers. But by organising English classes where management refused to do so, the Unite union has been able to win over Polish workers to join its ranks. This makes it all the more unlikely that management can use agency staff to undermine the strike.
The four distribution centres set to see strike action are Basildon in Essex, Bridgwater in Somerset, Heywood in Greater Manchester and Magna Park in Leicestershire.Staggered strike action is planned for 17 and 24 July, followed by four days of stoppages starting on 30 July.

• ACADEMIES: NUT and Unison members at the Hayward school in Bolton have voted to take strike action on 15 July in response to plans to take the school out of local authority control and turn it into an academy.
Unison members at the nearby Withins school are to strike on the same day, in their third day of action opposing the marketisation of the education system.
Both schools have already been subject to job cuts in what is seen by the unions as preparing the way for bigger attacks when the schools come under private control, although the local authorities claim that cuts are a response to falling student numbers. Barry Conway, secretary of the Bolton branch of the NUT, commented: “If [student numbers] are getting smaller, so should class sizes, which is a good thing. It should not mean staff cuts.”
The Hayward school is set to be put under the control of the owners of the Cohens pharmacy chain, while Withins will be run by the Church of England in collaboration with managers from Airtours.

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