On 16 June over 100 people attended a short-notice demonstration called at Brixton’s Ritzy cinema, in protest at the sacking of three trade union reps. Three reps for the Bectu union at the Ritzy were sacked for failing to report to management the contents of an email sent from a Bectu branch email address to members’ private emails, which mentioned actions that community supporters of cinema workers’ strikes planned to undertake. One other rep remains suspended and awaiting disciplinary.
The implication is chillingly feudal: that workers should be compelled to report everything to their employers, that the distinction between work time and workers’ private lives can be dissolved at the whim of the bosses. Bectu plans further strikes at five Picturehouse sites on 1 and 7 July. The long-running dispute to win living wages, maternity and paternity pay, better sick pay, and union recognition has now seen 50 strikes. Activists are pushing for Bectu to escalate the action, and organisers are undertaking a tour of Picturehouse sites across the UK in an attempt to spread the dispute.
Community campaigns in support of the dispute and in defence of sacked and victimised reps have been formed in south London and Hackney. A Picturehouse striker told Solidarity: “Picturehouse have chosen time and time again over the course of our nine month long dispute to resort to intimidation tactics, rather than negotiate: first by legal threats and now by dismissing our reps.
In spite of this the strike has continued to grow throughout, with more workers across the chain joining our union. “We remain confident that with the continued support of the labour movement, we will win.”
Support the victimised reps:
• Send messages of protest to Cineworld
• Send messages of support to Ritzy Living Wage, twitter: @RitzyLivingWage and @HPHLivingWage
• Donate to the strike fund
• Sign the petition
Held back by the anti-union laws
Today (14 June) we received the disappointing news that the ballot for action to win reinstatement for Lee Cornell, and justice for Dave Sharp and Saeed Sioussi (the “London Bridge 3”), had failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold required by the Tories’ Trade Union Act. Despite returning a majority of 80% in favour of action, the 35% turnout is not enough for the union to call a legal strike, meaning cross-combine action in this dispute is impossible without a re-ballot that does hit the thresholds.
This is the Tories’ anti-union laws — not just the 2017 Act but previous legislation — doing their job. They are not designed to promote democracy, but to shackle unions and prevent workers from fighting back. The thresholds demanded of unions (50% turnouts, and 40% of all those balloted voting yes in certain “essential services”, including transport) are not applied to any other area of democratic life. Previous legislation, which forces unions to conduct ballots postally, also has an effect.
The fight to get Lee back to work must go on. His Employment Tribunal will go ahead, and should be supported by solidarity demonstrations. RMT still has a mandate for local action at London Bridge, and further strikes there should be called. The union can also picket in support of the ongoing action-short-of-strikes, which will maintain the profile of the dispute and be a thorn in the company’s side. This outcome is undoubtedly disheartening, most of all for Lee, Dave, and Saeed, and for the reps and activists who have worked so hard to try and leap the Tories’ arbitrary hurdles. While we should learn from this disappointment and redouble our efforts in future to make sure we do hit the thresholds, we should not sink into recriminations and bitterness at colleagues who didn’t return their ballots.
The “blame” for this setback lies with the Tories who imposed the laws, and the employers who lobbied for them. The whole trade union movement, which met the imposition of the laws with only the most token levels of opposition, must start fighting back, calling demonstrations and rallies against the laws, and looking for ways to subvert and defy them. Politically, getting involved in the Labour Party and campaigning for a Labour government — now a real possibility for when the Tory/DUP lash-up inevitably collapses — is a key priority.
A Labour government will repeal the Trade Union Act, and should be pushed to go beyond that and legislate for genuine trade union freedom: restoring the right to workplace meetings, workplace ballots, and to take solidarity action.
Fight at Forest Hill School continues
Forest Hill School in Lewisham, south London will strike again on Tuesday 20 June, and then again the following week on 27, 28 and 29 June. The strikes are the latest in a long running dispute against swingeing cuts at the school, after a hiatus for the exams. Kevin Courtney, National Union of Teachers (NUT) General Secretary, has pledged to join the picket line on the 20th.
The intransigence of the so-called “Labour” Lewisham council and the school leadership in this dispute are shocking. Unlike, the neighbouring borough of Greenwich, where the council has utilised various methods including using other funds and extending deficit budgets to support schools with a shortfall, Lewisham has not even entered into meaningful negotiations. This was shockingly highlighted when the newly elected MP for the area, Ellie Reeves, invited the council, the school leadership, the parents and the unions to a meeting to discuss Forest Hill. Paul Maslin, the cabinet member responsible for schools on the council and Mike Sullivan, the head-teacher, didn’t even deign to respond to the invitation. This demonstrates their contempt not just for the teachers, the pupils, the local community but also their elected representatives.
Forest Hill teachers and Lewisham NUT more broadly are discussing how to continue the campaign. Meanwhile, the school now needs to recruit a large number of teachers as the existing staff have voted with their feet, and many will be leaving before the new school year.
BA blacklisting workers
Mixed Fleet cabin crew at British Airways have called a two-week strike for Saturday 1 to Sunday 16 July. As previously reported in Solidarity, workers in the mixed fleet had been striking over poverty pay levels, but strikes had been suspended for talks. Strikes were called for 16-19 June when British Airways attempted to victimise those who took part in earlier strikes, but were called off for talks. The workers′ union Unite says that British Airways has formed a blacklist of strikers which it is using to take away bonus payments worth hundreds of pounds and staff travel concessions.
UoL security guards strike
Security officers at the University of London will strike for the third time, and fifth day, on Thursday 22 June. Workers are demanding that outsourced contractor Cordant pays them a pay rise promised six years ago, ends the use of zero hours contracts and gives workers itemised pay slips. During previous strikes the University of London has brought in unlicensed and untrained replacement workers.
The workers′ union, the IWGB, is investigating the legality of this strike breaking. On 22 June, security officers will join with SOAS cleaners, caterers and their supporters for a joint demonstration.
Southern overtime ban
Train drivers’ union Aslef has announced an indefinite overtime ban on Southern from 29 June, after talks over pay and conditions broke down. The move marks a welcome return to industrial action from Aslef, whose members have twice rejected deals from Southern management aimed at resolving a dispute over the imposition of “Driver Only Operation”. Larger rail union RMT, which organises guards on Southern, is still in dispute over the same issue. The overtime ban could lead to the cancellation of dozens of trains.
Unite sacks Coyne
Unite has sacked West Midlands regional organiser Gerard Coyne after an investigation concluded he had misused data. Right-winger Coyne had stood against Len McCluskey for the general secretary position, losing by just under 6,000 votes.
Coyne was suspended after the ballot had closed but before results were announced. Whether or not Coyne had misused data, the handling of this by McCluskey supporters has some of the elements we criticise in right-wing undemocratic union bureaucracies. It is not OK that Andrew Murray, McCluskey′s chief of staff, who had been seconded to Corbyn′s office during the general election, was the investigator.