Catering staff at the University of Manchester have won a deal for no compulsory redundancies, no loss of hours, and no pay cuts. Their employer, UMC, a subsidiary company wholly owned by University of Manchester, had said in March that it would sack 46 of its 280-odd catering workers and move the rest to term-time only contracts — meaning a pay cut of about one third. Hannah McCarthy, the student union Campaigns and Citizenship Officer and vice-chair of Manchester Momentum, spoke to Solidarity.
This is far from a complete victory. There will still be restructuring. But there will be no compulsory redundancies and workers who lose hours will have them made up to full-time in alternative university employment. Also it was revealed during the dispute that many people hadn’t received additional shift payments, and now they’ll get five years’ worth of back pay.
If there are any reductions of hours in the future, staff will receive “buy out” payments... A group including student activists and workers at the university was brought together by an earlier dispute involving lay offs in IT and changes to the redeployment policy - imposing a time limit of six months where there was none before.
We’ve published an independent, class-struggle focused publication for workers and students at UoM, the Bee Hive. We used those links to call students and some directly employed workers together to prepare to build solidarity. We quickly launched a petition, got social media stuff going, and discussed actions including the possibility of disrupting summer graduation ceremonies. We got lots of students out in support, leafleting around campus every week, but also making the effort to constantly talk to workers around campus to build links and boost their confidence. I think people have an impression of students as self-interested consumers, and so the support the workers got was quite unexpected.
It gave them a boost to see students as on their side and not in line with university management. We weren’t sure how workers would feel about us taking militant direct action, particularly because union officials often frown on that, but they welcomed it, particularly because we have more leeway to do those things than they do. We burst into the Vice Chancellor’s office and disrupted management meetings where they were talking about spending on new vanity project buildings. We had joint rallies with the workers and some joint meetings. The workers voted overwhelmingly in a consultative ballot [96% to strike] but in general the union [Unison] was very reserved about the possibility of strikes.
Obviously it’s tough for low paid workers to go on strike but I think people were angry and determined enough with a bit more leadership. Sometimes union officials saying ‘We’re member-led, it’s up to you’ functions as a way to avoid giving leadership and thus undermining the possibility of a confident fight.
We’re going to hold together the group of students who want to mobilise around labour disputes, and strengthen our links with workers. Similar attacks will continue as the universities restructure on neo-liberal lines, and workers also need to look for opportunities to push forward. We drew in, for instance, a lot of people focused on the Living Wage. We were able to have discussions linking the immediate issues to bigger things, about the way the university is run but also the economic system we live under. It was impossible not to draw some socialist conclusions, because once you get beyond the social responsibility marketing nonsense, a dispute like this shows the reality of the way the university works as a capitalist entity and the nature of its management.
Lecturers strike for fair pay in HE
UCU Higher Education members struck for two days on 25 and 26 May in a dispute over pay. Strikers demanded ″Fair Pay in HE″: a better pay rise than the 1.1% on offer, an end to the gender pay gap (women in the sector are paid, on average, £7000 less than men), and action against casualisation. This is a difficult time of year to organise action in universities.
Most teaching has finished, and it’s therefore hard to judge how many staff were formally on strike and how many opted to stay at home without declaring their participation. It also means disruption will be limited, although the work-to-contract will delay exam marking to some degree. A more serious threat to the exam process, in the medium term, is UCU’s call on external examiners (academics who monitor the quality of examining for another institution) to resign their posts.
Reaction to the strike has been mixed, with many members querying the focus on pay as opposed to the more pressing issues of workload (in the case of permanent staff) and casualisation (which precarious staff fear has been tacked on as an afterthought).
A lot of work will be needed by local branches to convince members that the pay fight is one worth having, both in the next few weeks before campuses empty for the summer, and in the run-up to the start of the autumn term. UCU has asked branches to identify a third strike day and to time it to maximise local pressure (for example, to hold it on an Open Day). Combining these strikes with action to engage members — protests, rallies, stunts — is essential to keep up momentum over the summer.
No to the DWP “employer” deal
From 6 to 22 June, workers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will vote on the so-called “employee deal”. A far better name would be the “employer deal”.
The dominant Left Unity faction in PCS claims that the deal busts the Treasury’s pay cap. Yet DWP got everything it wanted. The famous safeguards are DWP just saying it will obey the law; the money on offer overall is not much more than 1% of the pay budget per year; AAs and AOs (the lowest grades in the department) are just getting a fraction over the minimum wage (misnamed as the living wage); many staff on the max are not getting 1%; staff getting a box 3 in their annual staff report are getting nothing; and if you opt out, which many women (as the main carers) will have to, then you get 0.25% (hurrah for equality).
In return, DWP can make staff work a certain number of Saturdays (the union is literally selling the weekend) and late Monday to Friday. This will greatly decrease its overtime bill. The deal also changes the mobility clause. We all know that the department intends to close many offices in the next years. The “new” mobility clause allows them to more easily force staff to move even if this causes great hardship for carers (the double whammy to women) and reduces the need for redundancy pay outs (another saving for DWP).
Since coming to power over ten years ago, the DWP Group Executive majority and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka have not won one material lasting benefit for members. They are talking up this deal because they are desperate to claim that they make a difference. The union leadership also know that DWP will try to get workers to sign up to the deal individually if the union does not agree it. They fear that. But in fact it would allow a generalised campaign among the members and deliver the one thing DWP really fears — chaos.
Only a deal agreed by the union can deliver a uniform change in terms and conditions for all staff; individual sign-up, particularly if there is a vigorous campaign by the union, would mean many staff, possibly a majority, not signing up. In many offices there would be not enough staff to work Saturdays, and a majority on the existing mobility clause. Such a mixture of terms and conditions would allow the union to campaign for industrial action to get all staff onto a good deal.
The PCS Independent Left is implacably opposed to the employer deal. By agreeing a bad deal, the union ends up championing the deal, misleading members as to its nature, policing the deal, and attempting to quash dissent. It demoralises members and activists.
Train bosses hire scabs
Abellio, the company which operates ScotRail train services, are attempting to rush staff from elsewhere in their UK operations through a four-week training course to use them to undermine potential strikes.
Rail union RMT is currently balloting its members on ScotRail for strikes against attacks on the safety-critical role of the guard, in a dispute that mirrors fights against “Driver Only Operation” also taking place on Southern Rail, Northern Rail, and Gatwick Express.
The RMT described the attempt to recruit scabs as a “declaration of war” which proved that the company had “no intention of reaching a negotiated settlement in the dispute”. Elsewhere, RMT has demanded Southern publish the sickness records and bonus and benefit schemes of its senior bosses, after franchise owner Govia Thameslink Railway continued its campaign of intimidation against staff by publishing sickness records in the press. RMT said the company had come “within in an inch of releasing the personal medical records of its frontline staff as part of their justification for the shambolic running of the Southern routes”.
Cabin crew vote to strike over safety
Cabin crew with airline Thomas Cook have voted in favour of strikes over health and safety. 74% of workers voted for strikes when balloted by their union Unite over dangerous changes to rest breaks.
The changes would see cabin crew only getting one 20 minute break in an 11 hour 29 minute duty period rather than 20 minutes every six hours, raising concerns of the health and well-being of cabin crew and the safety of passengers. Cabin crew have been voicing increasing alarm across the industry over intensification of work at the expense of safety.