Short industrial reports

Submitted by martin on 22 April, 2009 - 9:51

Glasgow school closures; Unison health conference; Trinity Mirror journalists' dispute; London Overground workers win 22% pay rise.


GLASGOW SCHOOLS: On 23 April a meeting of Glasgow City Council will vote on whether to go ahead with a sweeping programme of closures of primary schools and nurseries throughout the city.

The original proposals envisaged the closure of 13 primary schools and 11 nurseries, attended by some 2,000 children.

The Council, especially the Labour Group, have been on the defensive ever since. This is because their arguments in favour of closure do not stack up.

One Council argument is that the schools and nurseries earmarked for closure are in a poor state of repair, and it is only fair to move the children to ones in a better state. But if a school or nursery is in need of repairs, why not carry out whatever repairs are needed? But by no means all the schools or nurseries to be shut actually are in a poor state of repair. In fact, in some cases the Council is proposing to move children to a school or nursery in a worse state than the one currently being attended!

The Council also say that the schools do not have sufficient roles to justify keeping them open — the class sizes are “too small”.

The obvious response to this argument is that the class sizes in the schools earmarked for closure are not “too small” but that the class sizes to be created in the schools to which children are to be moved would end up being too big.

Both of the Council’s arguments turn on the question of why nurseries and schools exist.

Are they are a community resource to provide a quality education — which means ensuring that local communities have a school in their area, with class sizes small enough to ensure that children receive a quality education?

Or are they are more akin to units of production, to be scattered around Glasgow on the basis of some arithmetical calculation concerning the “optimum” ratio of schools to the total number of children of school age in the city, and with production costs kept to a minimum by maximising the pupil-teacher ratio?

The vast majority of the controlling Labour Group on the Council are of the latter view. But it is not a view shared by thousands of people throughout Glasgow who have been campaigning against the proposed closures.

96% of the over 7,000 written responses submitted during the "consultation" over the closures were against them.

There have been repeated demonstrations in front of the City Chambers and in the localities where the threatened schools and nurseries are located. The campaign has been high-profile and consistently in the public eye.

At the start of the Easter holidays parents of children attending Wyndford Primary School and St. Gregory’s Primary School went into occupation in order to escalate the anti-closure campaign. They demanded a meeting (still to be agreed as of 18 April) with (Labour) Council Leader Steven Purcell.

The Council Labour Group has voted 31 to 6 to press ahead with the bulk of the proposals — only two nurseries and one school were deleted from the closure list.

Apart from being wrong in principle, such a vote also raises the question of what was the point of the Council's "consultation" exercise.

The Council has found no support for their proposals, and had no good arguments to back them up.

Of the 79 councillors, 46 are Labour; the other 33 are variously SNP, Lib-Dem, Tory and Scottish Green. Although none of the opposition parties would be likely to behave any differently if they were the controlling group on the Council, they are likely to vote anti-closure. Seven rebel Labour councillors would therefore be sufficient to see the closure proposals thrown out. If the closure proposals are not thrown out, a lot more than seven Labour councillors could be thrown out of office in the next City Council elections.

Further details about the campaign against the closures at http://sosglasgow.wordpress.com.


HEALTH WORKERS: Unison’s Health Conference met in the spring sunshine of Harrogate on 20-22 April. The dark stormclouds gathering over the future of the NHS were largely ignored despite the first rumblings of thunder already being audible in the budget leaks. The line from the leadership and also the visiting health minister Alan Johnson was that it would be business as usual. More explicitly he said there would be no deep cuts into the public sector to help pay for the bailout of the banks. The carefully stage managed questions he received did not dare question his sincerity despite everyone knowing the chancellor was preparing to announce billions of pounds of savings in the budget.

These threats were picked up by speakers on the floor, finding support from other delegates. The left had pushed for the main debate of the conference to be around the NHS Pay Review Body. Rather than rely on the opinion of experts working to a minister's brief on what’s “affordable”, the union should negotiate directly with the government and employers.

Self reliance, having confidence in our own strength, demonstrating and exercising our industrial strength in support of the members’ interests are the most basic reasons for having a trade union. The consensus that has dominated Unison and most of the rest of the public sector unions is partnership working and a servicing model. The result a declining membership and withered branches with an increasingly centralised bureaucracy to pick up the slack.

There is a recognition of this, and a focus group on organising showed the success of organising in workplaces around a network of activists with direct knowledge and access to members. Speakers at the successful left fringe meeting from Visteon and Glasgow school occupations were also well received by delegates. Unfortunately the key debate was lost by a sizeable majority, and the union is tied to the Review Body.

Unison’s leadership seem to have also decided to stick with New Labour to the bitter end, but the members seem to be showing signs of wanting to take their futures into their own hands. Two big disputes in the Ambulance service that would affect most of northern England look likely to lead to action in the short term. When those green shoots of resistance do appear, the left inside Unison will have the opportunity to both demonstrate solidarity in action and have examples for members that struggle is possible.


JOURNALISTS: Members of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) at the Daily Record and its sister paper the Sunday Mail are escalating their campaign to stop job cuts and secure the reinstatement of staff already declared redundant.

The two papers are owned by the Trinity Mirror conglomerate, which also owns five other national newspapers and 140 regional papers. In 2008 Trinity Mirror made operating profits of more than £145 millions, around half of which came from local media, representing a profit margin of nearly 17%. Over the past ten years the group has paid out more than £520 millions to its shareholders.

Yet in Scotland alone, 234 editorial jobs in national and regional papers were axed by Trinity Mirror between June of last year and the start of the dispute at the Record and the Mail.

The campaign of strike action was triggered by plans announced earlier this year by Trinity Mirror to merge production of the two titles and cut overall editorial staffing levels from 276 to 206.

Over 40 members of staff applied for voluntary redundancy. But proposals from the NUJ which the union has described as “a compromise solution” to prevent the need for any compulsory redundancies were rejected by Trinity Mirror management.

The first 24-hour strike took place on 4 April, followed up by a work-to-rule and a second 24-hour strike on 10 April.

But on 8 April 24 members of staff at the two newspapers were told that they had been selected for compulsory redundancy. At a mass meeting of about 200 union members it was agreed to escalate the dispute including two further days of strike action, on 17 and 18 April, to demand the immediate reinstatement of the 24 employees declared redundant, and initiate legal proceedings to secure “protective awards” (paid to employees when a company has failed to engage in meaningful consultation about redundancies for the required length of time).

Although the NUJ is opposed to the compulsory redundancies in principle, an additional source of anger is the lack of transparency in the selection procedure for redundancy.

One member of staff, for example, was told that he had been selected for redundancy because he was bottom of a "selection list" according to technical ability, disciplinary record, and absenteeism. But the same member of staff had recently been nominated for two awards for his work, had a clean disciplinary record, and had been off work on only a handful of occasions throughout his years of employment with the company.

Defeat for the NUJ in this dispute would encourage further job cuts in other newspapers and media.

Messages of support for the NUJ members in dispute can be e-mailed to alicem@nuj.org.uk or texted to 07836.542.699. Donations should be made payable to the Alan Hutcheson Fund and sent to NUJ Scotland, Third Floor, 114, Union Street, Glasgow, G1 3QQ.


RAIL: Workers on London Overground are to receive a 22% average increase in wages after the successful conclusion of negotiations by the RMT.

The union had threatened strike action in the run up to the talks and this undoubtedly made an impact.

It has also been agreed that there would be no extension of driver only operated trains. Conductors have kept their jobs and a further 23 new posts have been created.

Conclusion: crisis or no crisis, fight and we can win!

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