Socialist Worker

A fire down below

Issue No. 1675

WORKERS EVERYWHERE are under pressure. We face heartless managers, constant demands to work harder and insulting pay, no matter what industry we are in. Bitterness is rising even though all too often it does not surface in collective action. Last week, in three different areas, it did.

Wandsworth council

OVER 1,000 workers struck against Tory controlled Wandsworth council as anger over years of cuts and attacks on workers' conditions boiled over last week. They now plan a mass lobby of the council next Wednesday.

The south London council was for the 18 years of Tory government a flagship for everything Thatcher and Major stood for. The Tories may have gone from national government and most local councils, but New Labour councils and Blair's government are following in Tory footsteps. Blair recently called for a crackdown on sickness levels in the public sector, demanding a 30 percent reduction.

Wandsworth council has taken up Blair's call in the most vindictive manner. It plans to force workers either to pay back or to work back days off sick, and threatened to dock three days annual holiday if unions did not accept it. Geoff Martin, convenor of the UNISON union for Greater London, told a 300 strong strikers' rally last week, 'It's not just Tory authorities, it's also New Labour authorities like Haringey who are attacking workers' conditions.'

Workers in Haringey, North London, planned to strike next Tuesday. They and Wandsworth workers plan to join each other's protests next week. Everyone who can should get to next Wednesday's lobby, and send a message to the Tory council and New Labour that workers have had enough and won't stand for their attacks.

Lobby, Wednesday 8 December, 6pm onwards, Wandsworth Town Hall, Wandsworth High Street, London.

Glasgow post

'THE EVENING shift just exploded when we heard our union officials had signed a deal with management behind our backs. We just walked out. The day shift followed us.' That is how Ian - a postal worker from Springburn, Glasgow - describes the start of an unofficial strike by 3,000 postal workers that brought deliveries to a halt across Glasgow and much of the west of Scotland.

The strike began at the Springburn Mail Centre in Glasgow on Wednesday of last week. Full time CWU union officials had agreed a number of damaging changes to Christmas working arrangements and overtime payments. In a magnificent display of solidarity, delivery workers at 22 offices walked out in support of the strikers at the sorting office. One manager told reporters, 'It's sheer bloody madness. Offices are shutting down all over the place.'

Management called in CWU officials to try and end the strike. One official, Mike Hogan, immediately caught a plane from London. Over 600 strikers packed into a meeting called by union officials on Thursday. Gerry, a worker at the Springburn Mail Centre, said, 'In all my years as a postal worker I have never seen such an angry meeting. With the Christmas rush coming up we had management by the balls. The officials tried to get us to go back to work, but they were shouted down. We forced them to go back and renegotiate a new deal with management.'

Management made some minor concessions, and union officials called a second mass meeting for the following morning. In a scandalous manoeuvre, the officials refused to allow the striking delivery workers into the meeting. The officials browbeat the strikers for three and a half hours into returning to work. The strikers eventually voted 161 to 73 to end the action.

One striker said, 'Many of us were not happy about going back to work. Loads of us didn't even know that a union meeting had been called. Loads of us refused to stop picketing. One full time officer drove up to our picket line and urged us to go home. We told him to piss off. I've never seen someone drive away so quickly. He was ashamed of himself. He knew he had sold us out.'

The strike ended on Friday. But the majority of strikers did not return to work until after the weekend.

Yorkshire Traction buses

BUS DRIVERS, engineers and clerical staff united on the picket lines last Saturday in their battle over pay with Barnsley based Yorkshire Traction buses. Around 700 workers across west and south Yorkshire joined the one day official strike.

Five years ago the workers held a ballot to strike over pay. The boss of Yorkshire Traction, Frank Carter, sent letters to each worker threatening to sack them if they took action. 'Unfortunately it frightened staff enough to withdraw the action,' said David Levitt, the branch chair of the workers' TGWU union. But people can only take so much. There comes a time when even the meekest ones feel they must stand up and be counted.' So when Carter returned from his holiday in the Caribbean last week, he found that workers had rejected his latest 2.7 percent pay offer by 474 to 83 votes and had voted by six to one to strike.

There were picket lines across depots in Barnsley, Huddersfield and Rotherham on Saturday. The picket line at Shafton, near Barnsley, is close to the Grimethorpe pit that shut under the Tories' mass pit closure plan of 1992. The devastation was portrayed in the film Brassed Off. A number of those sacked miners are now working on the buses.

One of them said, 'Carter can get away with paying low wages because there is high unemployment. He divides everybody with the pay rates. This is the first time everybody's been united. We're all just fed up with the conditions.'

Yorkshire Traction management used managers and inspectors to take out around 15 buses from the Barnsley depot. This enraged the 40 pickets, who stood in front of each bus and shouted, 'Scab!' Several eggs were thrown at windscreens.

The drivers on the lowest rate are contracted by Yorkshire Traction to drive long haul journeys for National Express coaches. They get as little as £3.70 an hour basic pay - only just above the minimum wage. Another driver said, 'I get £138 for 38 hours flat. I've got to put in six days a week to get a decent wage.' A clerical worker said, 'I don't see how Frank Carter can say he is not making money. He has enough to buy bus companies.' Workers were set to hold another one day strike on Friday of this week.

  • FIRST GROUP, Britain's biggest bus operator, faces more strike action from workers over pay. On Friday of last week bus drivers for First Badgerline across the West Country held their first in a series of one day strikes after rejecting the company's 4.25 percent offer. The company made £55 million in the six months to October this year. Pickets were out in Bristol, Bath and Weston-Super-Mare. Another one day strike was due to take place on Wednesday of this week.

  • TGWU UNION officials suspended a strike by bus drivers and conductors at First Group's Centre West company in west London, which was planned for Monday of this week.


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    Article information

    Features
    Sat 4 Dec 1999, 00:00 GMT
    Issue No. 1675
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