Socialist Worker

Right to work: conference call for all workers

by Jonathon Shafi
Issue No. 2184

Young workers who are unionising new workplaces will be joining other delegates at the upcoming Right to Work conference.

Unionisation in some industries, such as call centres, is very low – but the results of a campaign can be significant and give others in the sector the confidence to unionise their workplace.

A delegation of trade unionists from the major Atlantic Quay call centre in Glasgow will be traveling to Manchester on 30 January to take part in the conference.

James, a call centre worker for a bank in Glasgow, has been part of building a union presence in the complex.

James told Socialist Worker, “Call centres are known for being target-driven and isolating workplaces. There is constant surveillance, performance tracking and pressure by the bosses.”

He recalls the story of a recent dispute in his workplace, which started when his centre became over-run with calls after a system failure in the bank’s bill payment system.

He said, “Management said that everyone was expected to ‘chip-in’ with some overtime and that taking breaks, ‘would not help the team out’.

“So not only were we instructed that overtime paid at the basic rate was mandatory but that if we were true ‘team players’ we would sacrifice our only break for the sake of our colleagues.”

The situation got to the stage where one worker was berated for having a “far too lengthy” toilet break.

“Many day staff were asked or told to stay on through the evening with some having completed 14-hour shifts,” James continued.

In response union members had a meeting and drew up a list of demands. A majority voted to take some action against management.

Workers then put an ultimatum to management – demanding that they get paid double-time for any weekend overtime and time-and-a-half during the week, given the increase in the workload.

Otherwise they would start a work to rule and refuse to do any non-contracted hours.

Just two days later management capitulated and gave unlimited double-time and extended breaks, from 20 minutes to half an hour.

This victory wasn’t a one off event and can give confidence to others in the same position.

James said, “From this we are putting out a regular newssheet called the Atlantic Worker. We ran one headline reading, ‘Proposed Strike Wins Demands’.

“We hand out about 300 copies a month carrying the latest developments at the call centre, details of how to join the union and useful contacts. In this month’s edition we are advertising the Right to Work conference.”

This is the sort of action and initiative that is needed in every workplace – building the union means you are ready for management attacks. The simple lesson is that fighting back works.

Workshops

One of the key workshops at the Right to Work conference will be on organising a union.  

Sean, a call centre worker in north London, will also be attending. “There was no union history when I started but I managed to organise our first meeting of 13 people within a couple of months,” he said.

“The atmosphere was great and it brought a sense of solidarity once people realised that the issues they had were shared with everyone else.

“The high turnover meant that after a month a lot of the people involved had gone. Despite that our second meeting was just as successful with lots of new people attending. It shows that it is possible to get organised in places like these.

“Several of us are coming to the conference – to meet and share ideas with workers in a similar situation around the country. I’m confident that seeing what can be done will inspire everyone.”


Camden open letter

Union and campaign activists in the north London borough of Camden have signed an open letter calling for support for the Right to Work conference.

Some 520 people from across the country have now booked their places.

Trade union delegations include seven delegates from Fujitsu in Manchester and a delegation of seven from an east London hospital. The NUT union in Bristol is sending four delegates.

Manchester Green Party has agreed to support the conference.

Supporters are ensuring in addition to trade union delegations there is the maximum turn out from the colleges, local campaigns and from the unemployed.


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Tue 12 Jan 2010, 18:09 GMT
Issue No. 2184
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