|Written by Margaret McAdam, ISL|
|Monday, 30 September 2013 11:08|
The pressure is building for unions to take coordinated strike action from workers in many sectors over the relentless attacks on pay, pensions and working conditions.
The recent TUC conference voted overwhelmingly for the RMT motion that called for a “national midweek day of actions” to be supported by all unions in a day of coordinated national action. But nothing will be done by the TUC’s leadership without pressure on the trade union leaders by the rank and file.
The unions organising industrial action this autumn must coordinate their strikes together if a day national of strikes is to happen.
A wave of strike actions are looming, beginning with the NUT and NASUWT teachers’ unions who have announced a continual campaign of rolling strike action beginning on 30 September and 14 October and culminating in a day of national strikes in November over systematic government attacks.
Education minister Michael Gove has been condemned for his “reckless and irresponsible behaviour” in refusing to engage with the unions about teachers’ concerns. He has pushed through performance related pay which empowers the school management to arbitrarily change pay and conditions of teachers. Gove aims to drive the conditions of teachers back many decades.
The FBU fire-fighters’ union voted by 78 per cent to take strike action over the plans that are in place to raise their retirement age, forcing them to work until they are 60. At the same time workers can be sacked if they become unfit for work. So for example, if a worker is forced to stop work at 55 they can lose half of their pension. Fire Services are also being hit with drastic cuts.
- Post Office workers
The CWU postal workers’ union plans to ballot for action over the planned Royal Mail privatisation, job cuts, closures and the pay freeze despite Royal Mail more than doubling its profits in 2012/2013 to £403 million.
- Higher Education
The UCU, Unite, Unison, GMB and the Scottish EIS university and college unions have rejected the government one per cent pay offer and all union members are to be balloted for strike action.
- Other unions
The PCS civil service workers’ union has been involved in a series of strikes over pay, pensions and jobs and the government limit of one per cent public sector pay rise. The RMT rail and transport workers union have been on strike in London. The BFAWU bakers’ union have been on strike in Wigan opposing redundancies of permanent staff and the employment of agency workers on ‘zero-hour’ contracts, as well as partial contracts.
There are millions, a recent survey estimates 5.5 to 6 million of workers on ‘zero-hour’ slave-labour contracts. There are 2.5 million seeking work and there are 11.5 million unemployed, a million of them youth.
There has never has there been a more compelling time to unite all the struggles into coordinated strike action. National coordinated action will strengthen workers and will win the support of the unemployed, students, pensioners, those with disabilities, and all who are fighting the vicious austerity benefit cuts and sanctions which are pushing people into destitution and dependence on twenty first century soup kitchens, aka as “food banks”.
Workers cannot wait
But we know there is no will from the major union leaderships to fight a definitive battle and defeat the austerity plans of the Con-Dem government. They seek to undermine the government to build and support for a Labour victory in the 2015 general elections.
A composite motion by Unite, Unison and PCS was passed stating that the “unions will promote political education and campaigning on the economic choices at the 2015 general election”. Thus they are prioritising the general elections and Labour, despite Miliband stating many times that the austerity will continue if Labour govern.
Workers cannot wait for a solution in 2015, because it will not happen. Responsibility lies with the rank and file in workplaces, schools, universities and with the anti-cut movements to win greater control over their leaderships and to fight for the organisation of a national day of strikes. In each and every struggle the union branches and community campaign groups need to link and build a national movement to fight any union leader who seeks to hold the movement back, or betray it, from defeating the economic policy of the government.
Local strikes increasing
· Post Office workers strike against local attacks
The Post Office management have increased their attacks on the working conditions of Postal workers, as the government prepares for its autumn Royal Mail
sell off. As a consequence the Postal workers union, CWU, have been inundated with ballot requests for strike action from union branches.
For example at Bridgwater Delivery Office, Somerset, 110 CWU members took strike action recently.
Most local issues are the same: excessive workloads; a bullying management and managers breaking local and national agreements with the CWU that protect health and safety, earnings levels, and permanent and full-time job opportunities.
Dave Chapple, Bristol CWU Branch Chair and shop steward at Bridgwater’s Friarn Street office, said to PO management, “You have made a serious mistake in trying to beat Bridgwater by starving us back to work. You have seriously underestimated our strength: after 8 days out, we are stronger than ever, thanks to the support we are getting daily from other Royal Mail workplaces, CWU Branches and trades unionists all over the country”. Dave Chapple’s branch won.
· Hovis strike wins
At Hovis, Wigan, workers struck and held lively pickets to fight zero hour and short term contracts.
Trade unionists, activists and students joined the picket lines from across the north-west. Wagons were stopped as everyone was shouting “scab”.
On one night at 5.00am only seven of the company’s fleet of over three dozen trucks, all driven by managers, and which have all usually left the bakery by 3.00am, had been able to get out.
A statement from BFAWU on the significance of their victory says: “Our members at Hovis have achieved an historic agreement with the company. Having already brought about the end of zero hours contracts leading to twenty-four new permanent jobs, the action taken by those workers has ensured that zero hours contracts will not be provided by a third party. It also means that attempts to use the Swedish Derogation model have been scrapped, with manning levels being reviewed and the possibility of recruitment should the need to use agency arise. This landmark action by two hundred and ten members of a modest sized Union along with meaningful negotiations with the company has brought about significant change that could potentially have a positive knock-on effect throughout the entire labour movement”.
· Fowler and King workers strike
Workers at an aerospace factory in Liverpool, which exports to Canada, have so far held strikes over three weeks in September. Around 50 workers at King and Fowler, based at Brunswick Business Park decided they had had enough of low pay and management greed.
The staff has not received a pay rise since 2008 and want to see their wages go up in line with inflation. They are paid minimum or very low wages while the director earns £750,000 a year.
· UCU victory at Liverpool University
The ISL applauds the workers who have achieved a big victory against the university who threatened dismissal without even redundancy pay in order to impose new contracts. It would have meant no defined maximum hours, removal of TOIL (time off in lieu), and the right to change contracts without negotiation.
The UCU has forced management to back down and have gained more, such as mutual flexibility – that is both sides must agree to changes in flexibility. Another big victory is their agreement to negotiate with the union to a greater extent than before.
UCU rank and file showed their determination and strength by fighting in unity and prevented the creation of division between the academic and the academic support staff such as librarians, computer staff and many others essential to the functioning of the institution.
The ballot result for strike action was the turning point in the dispute. It proved that the rank and file is willing to fight and it proved to management that there was going to be strikes in September and October over their attempts to “dismiss and re-engage”.
Bosses and government afraid of strikes
They did not want a strike as it would damage their image and it could be an example for the rank and file of Unite and Unison to put pressure on their leadership to strike together.
Liverpool University was a national test case, and won support from the rank and file across the country and the whole union. The strike could have been a starting point for national strike action over pay after the national ballot for strike action at the end of September. No doubt the national management and even the government do not want strike action that will increase the idea that it is possible to fight and win.
This victory is an example that should be repeated throughout higher education.
It also means that all UCU members must stay mobilised and organised. The management will try many tricks at Liverpool to unravel the agreement – don’t let them!
Vote yes for national strike over pay.