Industrial news in brief

Submitted by Matthew on 21 March, 2013 - 11:26

Cleaners at the Barbican in the City of London will strike on Thursday 21 March, the day the antiquated body which runs the City of London Corporation (which owns the Barbican) elects its “Court of Common Council”.

The Corporation has a London Living Wage policy, but has staggered its introduction across various contracts. It has told cleaners at the Barbican, who are employed by Mitie, that they must wait until 2014 to get the Living Wage of £8.55 an hour. They are currently paid £6.19 an hour.

The City of London’s “City Cash” account holds over £1 billion, and Mitie’s own profits were at £52.9 million at the end of 2012.

As well as low pay, Barbican cleaners face bullying and harassment from managers. Their union, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), is pursuing an Employment Tribunal on behalf of one pregnant cleaner who was so badly treated that she was found bleeding in the work toilets after collapsing, and rushed to hospital.

Barbican cleaner Alex Visotsky said: “We are fighting for our right to be respected and to live and work with dignity and a Living Wage.

“Mitie says they don't have enough money to increase our salary from a poverty wage to a Living Wage but they do have enough money to pay their managers big salaries in order to watch over us and treat us badly.”

Cleaners will mount pickets at the Barbican from 5.30am on Thursday 21 March.

Fire cuts fight steps up

The campaign to halt the cuts to 12 fire stations, 18 appliances, and over 500 firefighter jobs in London stepped up with a day of action on Saturday 16 March.

Despite miserable weather, several hundred people marched to Clapham fire station, one of the stations under threat and where probably the best campaign has been organised so far.

The demonstration was organised as the 12-week consultation on the London fire safety plan began this month. London mayor Boris Johnson wants to shave some money off council tax bills – mainly to advance his own ambitions as a tax-cutter. But to do so means slashing vital services in the capital.

The campaign is already spreading. Two days before the Clapham demo, a public meeting was held on the threatened Westminster fire station. Further public meetings planned — around Belsize fire station at Hampstead Town Hall on 26 March and for Downham fire station on 22 April.

Every threatened fire station needs a campaign group, with twinning arrangements with other local fire stations and links to other local anti-cuts campaigns. The FBU in London is supporting these steps, providing leaflets and mobilising firefighters to take to the streets. Johnson has been tripped up twice by the fire authority, with Labour, Lib Dems and Greens waking up to oppose the cuts. No closures can take place this year, so there is time to build a grassroots campaign with solid labour movement support.

This battle symbolises the Tory arrogance that any service, however essential for working-class communities, can be done away with. It is also a winnable battle, because no one wants to lose a fire station from their neighbourhood.

Socialists should join the campaign and argue for militant tactics that can win.

Ambulance workers strike against derecognition

Ambulance workers in Yorkshire will strike on Tuesday 2 April after Unite was derecognised in the service.

Unite, which is a minority union in Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, opposed a £46 million cuts plan and found itself derecognised by Trust bosses. The plan included proposals to have Emergency Care Assistants, with only six weeks’ training, work in sensitive roles alongside more highly-trained paramedics. Unite raised concerns about the implications for patient safety.

Although the majority union, Unison, has not fought the cuts plan, many Unison members have vowed not to cross Unite picket lines, meaning the strike could have a much wider impact.

Unite members will also impose a continuous overtime ban from Tuesday 26 March.

Tube workers fight two-tier workforce

Tube workers face a two-tier workforce after London Underground bosses announced that reintegrated Tube Lines staff will not be allowed to join the Transport for London pensions fund.

700 Tube Lines clerical staff are set to be fully reintegrated into direct employment by London Underground Limited, but barred from joining the same TfL pensions scheme as their colleagues.

A statement from Tube union RMT said: “These attacks will be resisted using industrial action if necessary.”

Bureaucrats block grassroots challenge

Unison activists at the University of London are discussing the way forward after serious delays in releasing the results of this year’s branch committee election.

This is the latest episode in an ongoing attempt by the Unison bureaucracy to clamp down on the campaign of outsourced workers at the University of London for sick pay, holiday, and pensions – the “3 Cosas” campaign, which is run by Unison members but, sadly, without the support of the branch.

Late last year there was an attempt by the region and some members of the existing branch committee to set up a parallel to the 3 Cosas campaign in order to remove initiative and control from the membership. The outsourced workers and sympathetic University of London staff ran in the branch committee elections on a platform of greater union democracy and workplace representation, reinvigorating interest in the union throughout their campaign.

Although many members requested the standard practice of holding elections at the branch AGM on 8 March, where attendance and participation could be maximised, the Greater London Unison regional office insisted on organising a postal ballot.

Either through incompetence or malice on the part of the region, there were serious problems in the way the postal ballot was carried out. Dozens of outsourced workers were disenfranchised when, despite many requests, they did not receive ballots before the deadline. This was compounded by the region erroneously sending out two different coloured ballots, and issuing the ballots in English only when around half the branch do not speak English as a first language. Many members turned up to the most lively AGM in recent memory, only to be turned away when officials told them that they were not members of the union.

The region has cited members’ complaints as the reason for the announcement of results being delayed (it was not announced at the AGM, or by the new deadline of 15 March). A “statement regarding the outcome” is promised next week.

Meanwhile, 3 Cosas continues its campaign with a protest at Senate House on 10 April.

Teachers' summer strikes

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) have announced a programme of rolling strikes beginning on 27 June and continuing after the summer break.

The strikes, which are over pay, pensions, and workload, will begin in the northwest of England and will include a one-day national strike some time in the autumn term.

The unions are demanding that Education Secretary Michael Gove “responds positively” to their demands.

Rank-and-file activists in the teaching unions, particularly in the Local Associations National Action Campaign (LANAC), will be building to make sure strikes are as solid as possible. But they are also organising for an alternative strategy. Regional strikes in June and a possible national strike in September is far too little, far too late. By the time of any national strike, the new proposals for performance-related pay could already be in place.

LANAC members are fighting for national strikes to be brought forward.

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