Socialist Worker

Determined to win decent pay for all

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1851

WORKERS IN schools, council offices and universities - some of them among the lowest paid in London - struck last week as part of their union's campaign for decent allowances for working in the capital. The council workers' action was over three days and involved about 1,000 Unison union members in selected schools and offices.

The university workers struck for two days in the 'old' universities (ones called universities before 1992). A strike rally on Wednesday brought 200 people together from both areas. The strikers were overwhelmingly women and concentrated in the worst paid grades. Star Primary was one of 16 schools in Newham, east London, where Unison members struck.

'The response here is 100 percent,' union rep Sue Hurley told Socialist Worker. 'We've got about 40 Unison members - about two dozen came on the picket line.'

'We work our guts out,' said Nicole Austin, a teaching assistant at the school. 'We do the dinner duty so we only get 30 minutes lunch. We work with individual children, but we are treated as dogsbodies. At the end of the week you take home just £160. I'm a single mum and that leaves me with £20 to spare after housing and council tax costs. There's another woman who would be £4 a week worse off if she was on income support. She does the job like the rest of us because she is dedicated. All we are asking for is £4,000 a year in London allowance. The police get over £6,000.'

Rose Holley has worked at Star Primary as a classroom assistant for three years. She says, 'Our job used to be called a learning assistant. Now they have changed the name and it means you spend less time working with the children. You end up doing everything. The head here even tried to get us in after the end of term to do the cleaning. All of us are against this new agreement with the government that will mean us being forced to take whole classes.'

'It's about teaching on the cheap,' says Sue Hurley. 'This will mean us doing the teachers' job without the training and the pay.'

Pat Ishmel, deputy convenor of housing in Hammersmith and Fulham, told the rally there was 'a 100 percent walkout in our area. We've recruited 20 new union members in the section since the campaign started. Our shop is really active - involved in leafleting, picketing and lobbying.'

Jacqui Freeman from the SOAS university said, 'Our human resources manager did us a favour by putting out an e-mail that was designed to frighten us but actually made people more angry and determined. We spoke to a lot of members of the AUT lecturers' union on our picket line. They were very clear that there should be united action across the unions in the universities. We are looking at imaginative ways to up the campaign as well as looking to further action - hopefully united with lecturers. Striking during enrolment week would be very effective.'

The university workers in Unison struck for two days. Dot Pearce from King's College reports, 'This was the fourth round of strike action in a campaign that began last autumn and has involved all the college unions - Unison, Amicus and the lecturers' AUT - striking together in November and February. This time it was Unison members striking alone. We need to build the sort of united action by all the college unions that can force an increase in our pay. As a postal worker we met on the picket line told us, 'We should all be out together over London weighting'.'

Many sections of public sector workers are furious over the level of London allowances. Teachers are campaigning now for action next term after the government has come up with half-hearted and divisive schemes over allowance payments.

Various strikes by different groups have shown the determination of the lowest paid to win a rise that will allow them to live in London. The Unison union is calling further selective strikes for council workers next week and next month.

Local branches of Unison and other unions are discussing how to draw the fights together. All are clear that their fight to get more money from the government is at the centre of a wider struggle to raise public sector pay across Britain.$ Postal workers

LONDON POSTAL workers were this week considering the latest moves in their fight to win better London weighting

The discussions follow the remarkable ballot, organised unofficially, which saw workers vote by 19,803 votes to 91 for action over pay. London CWU union officials met general secretary Billy Hayes last week. He pledged serious consideration of their case and he was due to come to a reps' meeting this week to spell out his position.

Such moves are interpreted by many as a snub to John Keggie, the union's deputy general secretary (postal). Keggie, who would normally handle such issues, is totally opposed to the London campaign. It will be a tribute to rank and file pressure if Billy Hayes takes up the issue, quickly submits a claim for £4,000 London weighting and guarantees a strike ballot if the claim is refused.

Socialist Worker supporters in the London post will be arguing that unless he can make such pledges then the London region should call a day of action, including strikes, this month. Anything else risks losing the momentum of the campaign.

The London reps should call a protest demonstration at Royal Mail headquarters to give postal workers a chance to show their anger about their poverty pay.

Postal workers have a few days left to get in their ballot papers for the CWU deputy general secretary postal election. They should vote for Dave Ward in order to derail Keggie and his 'partnership' agenda.

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Article information

Sat 17 May 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1851
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