SOAS Unison branch secretary Sandy Nicholl has been suspended from his job, leading to staff and student protests for his reinstatement. Sandy spoke to Solidarity:
SOAS students have been in occupation for over three weeks against threats to cut up to 180 courses, one third of those on offer, as part of a £6.5 million annual cuts package. These cuts could see up to 50 academic jobs going together with a similar number of support staff posts. The students also oppose the proposals by SOAS to sign a new contract extending the outsourcing of the cleaning staff, demanding instead that these mainly Latin American migrant workers are brought back in house on the same terms and conditions as all other directly employed staff. My union branch has a proud tradition of supporting the right of our students to protest and of opposing any attempt by management to restrict this.
On Tuesday 27 October, management brought security company CIS to deny re-entry to the occupation. SOAS Unison, UCU and the Students Union held a protest rally at 3 pm that afternoon against this curtailment of the student occupiers right to protest. Over 300 staff and students marched past security into the occupation. I am alleged to have assisted students gaining access to the building which is both untrue and absurd.
Late afternoon on Wednesday 28 October I was called to the senior management office together with my trade union rep and told I was being suspended pending an investigation into gross misconduct that could lead to my dismissal if upheld.
On the Thursday, 29 October, at 8.45 am, the SOAS Unison branch met to discuss the suspension and a decision was taken not to return to work until my suspension was lifted. Students and staff arriving at the college were approached and asked to join the protest. By 10.30 am SOAS management decided to close the School and to send any remaining staff home. Over 700 people attended a lunchtime rally condemning my suspension and in support of the demands of the student occupation. The following morning a second meeting was held of the SOAS Unison branch which upheld the decision of the previous day and members refused to go into work.
At 10 am, a meeting of the SOAS UCU branch also agreed to cancel classes for the day and to effectively join the walk out. Many students stayed away or joined the protest outside of the School with another very large rally being held at lunchtime. A packed SOAS Unison branch meeting on Monday 2 November unanimously voted to demand that Unison immediately initiate a ballot for industrial action to begin if SOAS upholds the allegations and dismisses me. It also voted to walk out at 10.30 am on Tuesday 3 November to protest outside the disciplinary investigation meeting scheduled for 11 am that morning. The response of my union branch in taking decisive action against my suspension has forced SOAS management onto the back foot. We will not let management divide us and will continue to support those students protesting against the attack on their education and the possibility of significant job losses for both UCU and Unison members.
• Sign the petition here
Barnet strikers join TUC lobby
Unison members in Barnet Council struck again on 2 November in their ongoing battle over privatisation.
Social workers, coach escorts, drivers, occupational therapists, schools catering staff, education welfare officers, library workers, children centre workers, street cleaning and refuse workers struck for 24 hours. These workers are some of the only ones left directly employed by Barnet council after mass privatisation, as the council aims to reduce its directly employed staff to less than 300 in its bid to become the first commissioning only council. Social care for adults with disabilities, housing options, parking services, revenues and benefits, IT services, HR and payroll, pensions, health and safety, finance, estates, property services, procurement service, environmental health, planning, building control, Hendon cemetery and crematorium, highways services, trading standards and licensing, legal services, registrars and nationality services, CCTV, the music trust, public health and mortuary services have already been privatised.
Picket lines were held at Mill Hill Depot, Barnet House, and Edgware Library. Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis visited picket lines in the morning. Despite living not far away in the neighbouring borough, and having been invited many times, this is the first time Prentis has visited Barnet picket lines. He was met with a frosty reception, and gave nothing but generic empty promises about supporting the struggle.
After picket lines, workers went to join the TUC lobby of parliament against the Trade Union Bill and were greeted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who came to show his support for their strike again.
Support FE strikers
UCU and Unison members in FE colleges will strike on 10 November.
UCU members in Further Education voted 74% in favour of strikes after the Association of Colleges rejected the union′s claim for a £1 per hour pay rise. Unison members also voted to reject the pay freeze, voting by 95% in favour of strikes. The college bosses’ association instead recommended that all colleges impose a pay freeze.
In the last six years FE lecturers have seen their pay decrease in real terms as employers have offered a series of below-inflation pay rises — totalling less than 3% since 2009. Both unions are also seeking a guarantee that workers won’t be paid below the living wage. Students and other trade unionists should join picket lines to give confidence to FE workers who have faced constant attack.
UCU ballot at Manchester
UCU members at the University of Manchester are balloting for strikes after management announced redundancies and ignored agreed procedures for redeployment and consultation.
219 staff in the IT department were given notice of potential compulsory redundancy, with unions only being given 40 minutes notice. The university has also told staff on their redeployment register that it will be making them redundant if they cannot find them a new job within 3 months. The ballot opened on 2 November and closes on Friday 20 November.
Strike shuts down DLR
Workers on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in east London have struck for 48 hours, completely shutting down DLR services.
Although part of the Transport for London aegis, the DLR is operated by a private contractor, Keolis Amey Docklands (KAD). Since KAD took over the contract from previous operator Serco, it has stepped up disciplinary action against staff, casualised working conditions by using agencies, and risked safety by licensing managers to work in the control room. DLR workers, who are members of the Rail, Maritime, and Transport workers’ union (RMT), mounted solid pickets at Beckton and Poplar. The action is all the more effective because nearly all DLR staff are union members, and are in one union, rather than being divided into several. The strike was voted for by a 92% majority, trouncing the Tories’ planned thresholds for strike ballots.
It also represents an acute embarrassment for right-wingers who claim that driverless trains will make strikes impossible; although DLR’s trains are technically “driverless”, human labour is still necessary to run the system — to supervise the trains, to operate signalling system, to work on stations and in depots, and more. When that labour is withdrawn, the system stops.