On Wednesday the 11, October Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons that the 1% pay cap will be lifted for NHS staff. After the government buckled under pressure and lifted the public sector pay cap for police and prison officers, the government had shown it was weak and it was only a matter of time before it was forced into lifting the cap for other workers.
Hunt has failed to say if the pay rise will be funded, or whether NHS employers will have to find the money within existing, too tight, budgets. So will NHS employers be left with the ″choice″ of making cuts elsewhere in order to fund pay rises? Hunt has also refused to say how high a pay rise NHS workers should get. He also said that the pay rise will be linked to ″productivity improvements″, which suggests the government wants workers to work more, or change their roles, just to get a near inflation-level pay rise. The long running 1% public sector pay cap has been well and truly breached now, and other workers should be demanding their turn.
Civil service workers are currently being balloted by the PCS union in an indicative ballot over pay. But the strongest section of the union, workers in the Department for Work and Pensions, are locked into a four-year pay deal, and the pay settlement date in HMRC passed in August and the government imposed the 1% cap. With the Office of National Statistics announcing that inflation has hit a five-year high of 5%, when many public sector workers have had real-terms pay cuts of 15% since 2010, we are overdue a fightback on pay.
Cinema workers empowered
On Sunday 15 October Picturehouse workers at five London sites struck, and protested at the closing gala of the London Film Festival. We had large “billboard” placards (as the closing gala hosted the premiere of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), visible across the red carpet crowds. We linked arms to physically block entrances to festival venues including the red carpets. We sent paper planes with our messages flying onto the red carpet. We let off smoke flares. We organised the demonstration specifically to be noisy and disruptive.
The summer is a quiet time for the cinema industry, and also therefore for the strike. The London Film Festival (LFF) represents the start of busy period of big releases, which we hope to target. After spreading to six sites in the last year the strike has not grown for a while; we have had the same number of sites and members for some time. However the LFF strikes show a considerable deepening of militancy and determination. For the first time our meetings discussed plans not simply to provide symbolic protest but to disrupt, representing a real turn in attitudes.
After the demonstrations during London Film Festival we feel empowered and energised by this more radical turn. To win the strike we need more sites on strike. We have the energy, commitment and persistence to get them recruited. We targetted the London Film Festival to get it to pull out of using Picturehouse cinemas, and to get other film festivals to follow suit. We certainly caused a huge amount of embarrassment and disruption to LFF. Festival organisers have already privately communicated to us that they are rethinking their use of Picturehouse. We will be targeting other festivals and events in the same way.
The business model of the Picturehouse is particularly reliant on special events, such as film festivals, more so than other chains. The summer is very hard time to recruit cinema workers to the union. Work is relatively seasonal, with a lot of sites running with minimum staffing levels in the summer months, and the company lets go as many staff as it can to keep the wage bill down. Most staff are doing fewer hours and their mind is not on their Picturehouse working life. Now dozens of new staff are being recruited shaking up the makeup of each site. Workers are taking more regular shifts, and their mind is very much on the job and the conditions they work in. Community support campaigns trying to recruit people to Bectu might find they start having better luck now with more people on shift and new faces.
Community support has been increasingly important to the strike. Both for putting pressure on the company and giving confidence to tired strikers who felt alone. The direct action and community picket lines has been wonderful to see. The company seems more worried at the moment about this unknown element than it does about us. From the company’s perspective the community demonstrators come out of nowhere and the company can’t use its normal tactic of legal threats and bullying. The company has been sending repeated demands to Bectu demanding Bectu put a stop to it and police community actions. Bectu of course can’t do this even if it wanted to, as these are outside of the union’s control: a situation the company cannot plan for. We are now planning our next set of strikes. Watch this space.
DOO strikes grow again
Guards on Northern, Merseyrail, Southern, and Greater Anglia struck on 3 and 5 October in the on going dispute over Driver-Only Operation (DOO) of trains. On Greater Anglia workers will begin an overtime ban for four weeks. This is a tactic which needs to be extended to all the other franchises involved in the DOO dispute. Workers on South West trains have voted for strikes and are set to join the next round of strikes: these should be announced now in order to build pressure on the rail companies and the government. On Southern Rail, drivers′ union Aslef has also been involved in the dispute, but has repeatedly pulled its members out of strikes for talks with the employer.
Statements about these talks are vague, simply stating that ″pay talks at Southern have had a breakthrough, we expect to finalise a proposed settlement soon.″ No deal should be done for drivers at the expense of guards on Southern. Guards′ union RMT has highlighted that Greater Anglia′s insistence on strike breaking almost resulted in serious incidents. Southern has continued to try and intimidate guards who strike. Both the RMT and Aslef should look to dig in for a long fight, and the labour movement should gather round to help.
School strips workers of sick pay
School workers at a London Academy will strike to win proper entitlements to sick pay. Workers at Charlton Park Academy, in Greenwich, found that, since becoming an academy, the school is abandoning sick leave conditions contained in the Burgundy Book (for teachers) and the Green Book (for support staff).
While some staff have TUPE protection which means they continue to have the previous conditions, new staff do not. For many staff this means being out of pocket within a month of ill-health. One member of staff who was injured at work found that she was on Statutory Sick Pay (£89.35) after only 20 days and had to pay her rent with a credit card. The attitude of the employer is Dickensian.
The Chair of Governors, Graham Harknett, wrote to parents recently to boast that the school had offered to pay staff an extra £15 per month to allow them to buy their own sickness insurance through money-market.com! The new Sickness Procedure also states that where a worker is signed off with stress, depression, or anxiety as a result of a grievance, performance, or disciplinary issue, they may find that sick pay has been stopped.
As one member of staff at CPA explained: “This is a bully’s charter — managers can bully us, threaten disciplinary and capability, and make us ill and then refuse to pay us our sick pay entitlements”.
Members of the GMB and the National Education Union (NEU) struck together last summer term and plan more strikes this term. The GMB will strike on 17 October and the NEU are currently balloting. A joint GMB-NEU campaign has been launched which includes public meetings, video clips and social media promotions as well as the strikes. School management have claimed accepting the unions’ demands for a fair and equal pay policy for all staff would lead to redundancies because of the cost.
This is scaremongering for which not a shred of evidence has been produced but it highlights once again how cuts and underfunding are used to force workers into a race to the bottom. Workers and their unions at Charlton Park Academy need your support and solidarity.
• Messages of support to NEU rep, Aliye Neal and GMB rep Tony Smith can be sent here.
• The campaign is also raising money to help GMB members who do not receive full sustentation for strikes. Please send cheques payable to Greenwich Teachers Association to Graham Trafford (Treasurer), Greenwich NEU, Eltham Centre, 2 Archery Road, London, SE9 1HA
University of London workers organise
Workers at University of London have been organising for better pay, an end to outsourcing, and respect at work through the IWGB union. A majority of those involved in the campaign are security guards, but increasingly admins, post room workers, and porters are unionising and joining the dispute. However, the university has ignored their requests to negotiate new terms and pay.
Now a student and community supporter campaign is starting, Justice for UoL Workers, to help push forward the demands of these workers. There will be an open meeting for this campaign on 25 October at 5pm, Nunn Hall in the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL.
Night Tube to ballot
Tube union RMT has declared a new dispute with London Underground involving its driver members, over issues relating to career progression. Night Tube drivers say LU has reneged on an agreement reached following a previous dispute and threat of strikes that was intended to guarantee drivers fair progression into full-time roles. RMT is preparing to ballot its Night Tube driver members for strikes.