Workers at Newham council reacted with fury last week when Unison union branch chair Michael Gavan was sacked for his trade union activity.
Michael was sacked for organising an “unauthorised mass meeting” of refuse and cleansing workers and on a second charge of representing the members and not the council.
Across the council stewards were bombarded with one question – when is the strike?
Meetings were held in a number of shops across the council as soon as the sacking was announced and shamefaced union members who had not taken part in the last strike pledged to support the action. Many said that they simply had not believed the council could stoop so low. They expected the union to call immediate walkouts and were ready to go.
Unfortunately stewards have not yet been able to answer their member’s question.
A campaign of action – including rallies, lobbies and more strikes – had been requested by the branch but regional officials have yet to endorse more strikes or to allow the branch to support Michael pending an appeal.
A debate has been raging with the officials for some months about the impact of the link with Labour on our ability to fight a New Labour council’s union busting.
Officials have been visibly angry when the branch executive – which under union rules is the body with decision making power – has consistently had a majority to continue the campaign.
The exec was due to meet on Monday to discuss the mood of the members and agree the next action – appealing to the unions Industrial Action Committee if necessary.
Unfortunately the regional officials stepped in and banned the meeting, despite protests from the elected branch secretary Irene Stacey.
On the same day they took control of the branch finances, meaning that even holding a rally or printing a leaflet about the sacking would be under their control.
Stewards followed our elected leader’s advice and met briefly to discuss the campaign, voting to build lunchtime rallies on two days next week and to continue to insist that we have a right to fight the victimisation of our union officers, even when it is a Labour council organising the union busting.
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