Thursday 14 April was the third annual #FastFoodGlobal day Of action. Workers in fast food, coffee shops and cafes across the world took part in rallies, stunts, marches and other creative actions for higher pay, better conditions and the right of unions to organise.
The Fast Food Rights blog reports that actions took place in over 40 countries, including France, Japan, Argentina, and the UK, with fast food strikes happening in 300 cities across the US. At many protests workers carried signs in different languages, with strikers in the US organising solidarity pictures with French fast food workers, and workers in Japan carrying signs in multiple languages.
The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) and their Hungry for Justice Campaign in the UK organised many activities in the run up to the day with petitioning for a £10 per hour minimum wage and talking to workers about union organising and defending their rights, in several cities including London, Wakefield and Glasgow. The protests were backed by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, who said on Twitter, “It’s Fast Food Global Day of Action. Solidarity w/ workers across the world who are fighting for decent pay & rights at work”.
In Wakefield around 40 trade unionists, activists and young people joined the protest calling for £10 per hour, the right for the BFAWU to organise and an end to zero hour contracts. As well as the march itself, a gig earlier in the week as well as support from comedian Mark Thomas had helped to boost the profile for the campaign. In the evening a live link was set up to speak to striking US fast food workers. More events and organising drives are planned in the coming months.
Lambeth councillor speaks out on libraries
Following the end of the occupation at Carnegie Library, pressure is still mounting to force Lambeth council to back out of its plan to close half the borough’s libraries.
Rachel Heywood, councillor for Coldharbour ward has been the first Labour councillor to publicly trash the council’s proposals. Heywood is one of the councillors who has been criticising the proposals within the Labour Group for some time, she joined speakers from Unison, the Occupation and Dulwich and West Norwood CLP to address the rally after the 2000 strong Don’t Steal Our Libraries march.
In a later letter she said; “Standing up to speak on my own in Windrush Square was a lot harder than walking with those passionate crowds. In doing so I defied the political leadership of Lambeth and put at significant risk my own role as a Labour councillor, one of which I am immensely proud. But on Saturday, and now, I knew I did the right thing, and I don’t regret it. In times of crisis organisations facing huge pressure can close ranks, pull up the drawbridge, and develop a siege mentality. Any challenge or difference of opinion is interpreted as an attack, and debate experienced as a direct assault.
“The elite, inside their castle, or town hall, can lose sight of what life is like outside the walls, whilst the people on the outside can longer see or understand why certain things are being done to them.”
Whilst the fight within the Labour Party intensifies, Lambeth Unison members at the council are broadening and escalating their industrial dispute. Lambeth Unison members in libraries have taken several days of both official and unofficial strikes.
Unison’s libraries shop steward explained: “We are balloting the entire council workforce for strike action and we have voted to escalate our action within the library service. We know that the previous Cabinet Member responsible has made veiled threats to use the anti-union laws against us, claiming we don’t have a legitimate dispute.
“We believe the ‘legitimacy’ of strike action is judged in whether it advances the interests of workers and their families, which this does. If the Cabinet Member is referring to the legal legitimacy of the dispute under the regressive Tory anti-union laws, such a matter can only be decided in court. If Lambeth Labour want to deal with their workforce and the community they should serve in the courts, that is their choice and we will defend ourselves appropriately.”
Library campaigners will be marching again on Saturday 30 April, as part of the continuing community campaign against library closures.
Tube workers striking against gentrification
Tube union RMT is preparing to ballot its members in the Lillie Bridge engineering depot for strikes, as Boris Johnson and TfL/LU attempt to accelerate the process of moving work out of the depot so it can be demolished to make way for luxury flats.
The proposed demolition is part of a wider plan to “redevelop” large swathes of the Earls Court area, so BoJo’s super-rich mates can speculate on the luxury accommodation that will be built there. Consultations and “feasibility studies” have been rushed through, or side-stepped altogether, meaning Lillie Bridge workers are in the dark about what will happen to them if and when the redevelopment takes place.
The union is demanding a binding, top-level agreement to guarantee that workers’ rights don’t become collateral damage for property developers’ greed. RMT has supported the wider Save Earls Court campaign, which has sought to block the redevelopment, which is in no-one’s interests but the rich. There is no timetable for the ballot as yet, but when it is announced, and when a yes vote is returned (as we confidently expect it will be), we hope housing campaigners and local community activists will be joining RMT engineers on the picket lines. A solid strike could seriously disrupt the developers’ plans.
Thousands march to save NHS
Between two and a half to three thousand people marched and rallied in Leeds against attacks on the NHS by the Government on Saturday 16 April.
Organised by Keep Our NHS Public the Yorkshire March for the NHS brought activists, trade unionists, Labour Party members and first time demo goers together for one of the biggest marches in Leeds for the last ten years. It was noticeable that Labour Party activists were much more prominent than at many demonstrations previously. Several branches had brought their banners and the majority of canvassing was cancelled for that morning, with activists and candidates in the election joining the protest and leafleting the public in support of the demo.
There were speeches from junior doctors, care workers, National Union of Teachers activists, and Richard Burgon MP, who rallied the crowd against the Tory attacks: “If we don’t defend the NHS by any means necessary, at the ballot box, in the streets, on the picket line and at demonstrations, then not only will history not forgive us but we won’t deserve to be forgiven… onwards to victory, comrades!”
University pay ballot: vote yes
Members of UCU, the academic and related staff union, are being balloted for industrial action over a miserly 1% pay offer from university employers.
The real value of pay in higher education has fallen by 14.5% over the past six years, while in the past year vice-chancellors and principals have received an average 3% rise, bringing their typical pay to £272,000. University bosses say they can’t afford a higher settlement, but, as a percentage of overall higher education spending, staff costs have fallen over the past ten years, from around 58% of the total to less than 55%. Instead of the basics of universities – teaching and research – money is going into showy capital projects.
UCU’s record in the past few pay disputes has been poor. Few resources have been put into developing campus organisation in advance of strikes, leaving weaker branches struggling to sustain the action. The leadership has then used those struggling branches as an excuse to call off strikes. Limited preparation on the ground means activists will need to put in a lot of work to make sure this dispute doesn’t go the same way. The ballot closes on 4 May.