Short industrial reports

Submitted by cathy n on 25 August, 2008 - 8:03

• TEACHERS: NUT members in two Leeds schools voted for strike and non-strike action in June in opposition to increased workload. One school was proposing an increase in teaching contact time of 1 hour every fortnight, the other 1 hour per week.

Members voted for action by overwhelming majorities in both schools. The action was due to start on Tuesday 15 July with a one day strike and a refusal to attend any meetings outside of school sessions. We also named a second strike day in both schools in September to ensure that the management knew that we would not be deterred by the fact that this new timetable would be up and running at the start of the new term.

On Thursday 10 July the Head of one of the schools contacted Leeds NUT to say that he was withdrawing the proposal. He guaranteed that no teacher would have the increased teaching time and agreed to send confirmation of this in writing. Our rep and members are delighted, proud of themselves and of the Union.

The action in the other school went ahead. Strike action took place on 15 July and the school was closed. There will be a second strike day on 9 September and there may be more to follow. NUT members also started non-strike action with a refusal to attend any meetings outside school sessions. This will continue in the Autumn term and could be escalated with further non-strike action.

The original plan was to have joint action in both schools with the NASUWT. Their ballot results in both schools, however, were nothing like as good as ours and General Secretary Chris Keates wouldn’t sanction strike action. There is a pattern developing with this union since it formed a social partnership with the Government and employers. Time after time they are struggling to deliver support for members in disputes because, in many areas, the NUT have recruited the best of their members who are willing to fight and they have recruited and kept the managers and people who won’t fight.

The other lesson of this dispute is that solidarity lives long in the memory. In 2005 our main professional grade (mpg) members in the school where we won stood solidly with their more senior colleagues who stood to lose from the shift to TLR payments. This time round the losers were only the less senior teachers and they were fully supported by those with responsibilities who faced no increase in contact time.

That solidarity is the essence of effective trade unionism and is the only real protection against excessive workload in schools. 

• TUBE CLEANERS: Since London Underground cleaners took three days strike action, cleaning companies have responded with brutal intimidation and victimisation of those who took part in the strike. Cleaning members of RMT have received letters, suspending them without pay until they can prove their right to work in this country. Others have been suspended without pay for spurious allegations of misconduct. The RMT is asking any cleaners who have suffered since the strike to come forward so they can build a response.

The cleaning companies have the law on their side. They are able to use immigration law to bully workers. They can even break the law (victimising trade union activities is supposedly illegal), secure in the knowledge that the unions' only comeback is a lengthy, uncertain employment tribunal process. The RMT has been slow to tackle the immigration attacks head-on, seeking advice on how to pursue a legal route. A group of activists from the Campaign Against Immigration Controls Trade Union Conference are inviting RMT cleaners to a workshop to develop collective, industrial strategies to defeat immigration attacks. We need a strategy before going into the next strikes.

Mayor Boris Johnson told Feminist Fightback and RMT demonstrators at Mayor's Answers last week that the cleaners “would get the living wage by August”. This offer only extends to Metronet, which TfL has now taken over. Pressure still needs to be put on Tubelines, which covers one-third of the cleaning contracts. We will need to go ahead with the future strikes pencilled in for the beginning of August to turn Johnson's promises into reality and to win a living wage for all cleaners on the underground.

• JEROME BOWES: On the weekend of 26-27 July station staff on Charing Cross group will strike to demand that London Underground (LUL) reinstates Jerome Bowes, a tube worker sacked after being assaulted on New Year’s Eve. 90% voted for strike action.

The message to LUL is clear: stop treating victims as villains!

All duties due to book on after 7pm on Sunday 27 and before 5pm on Monday 28 July will strike.

It is essential that the action is as solid as possible - with TSSA members supporting RMT workmates - to make it impossible for management to open the three stations involved: Elephant & Castle, Lambeth North and Charing Cross. Two of the three stations are busy interchanges, so we have the potential to cause a big impact.

Drivers should also respect picket lines and refuse to drive through the striking stations.

Management appear to be digging in. Rather than use Jerome’s Appeal as a way of backing down without losing face, they did the opposite: held it much more quickly than they usually would, and upheld the dismissal. In doing so, the company has upped the stakes. It is asserting its right to dismiss staff who won’t accept that being a punchbag is part of our job.

A second strike should be timed to coincide with planned action by other workers, including cleaners and Rickmansworth station staff.

• UNISON DEMOCRACY: Unison activists held a meeting in Westminster on 23 July to protest about the continuing attacks on the socialist left inside the union. Speakers included John McDonnell MP.

For example four London members, including Socialist Party activist and NEC member Glenn Kelly face disciplinary action over the production of a leaflet critical of Unison’s Standing Orders Committee. This action could lead to the four being kicked out of positions to which they have been elected.

Meanwhile Tony Staunton, former secretary of Plymouth local government Unison, has not only been expelled from the unions, but is being taken to court for allegedly misusing union funds - because his branch bought a computer which he used at home. This is straightforward harrassment by the bureaucracy.

The left in the union must unite – not only to defend the left activists, but to campaign for a democratisation of our undemocratic structures.

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