Socialist Worker

'We're sick of being at bosses' beck and call'

Issue No. 1689

Strikers' message on Ayr by-election day

'We're sick of being at bosses' beck and call'

HELEN SHOOTER reports from Ayr and Glasgow

NEW LABOUR lost the Scottish Parliament by-election in Ayr last week. Labour's vote fell by 16 percent, letting the hated Tories back in. Donald Dewar, Labour's first minister in Scotland, tried to blame the defeat on "distractions" like the issue of getting rid of the anti-gay Section 28 law. But most working class people, and Labour's core vote, were not "distracted". The vote reflected the deep anger and disappointment with New Labour's Tory policies.

The turnout was lower than when Labour won the previously safe Tory seat by just 25 votes last year. But many Labour voters, in an area with poor communities alongside the rural rich, had no enthusiasm to go out and vote Labour again. Many of their votes went in protest to the Scottish National Party. It gained the most from disillusion with New Labour. The SNP vote rose by 9 percent to beat Labour into third place.

The Scottish Socialist Party, which has few members in the area, came fourth with 1,345 votes. It beat Labour's coalition partners, the Liberals, into fifth place. On the day of the by-election two groups of workers took strike action. Across Scotland lecturers were fighting back against attempts to make them work longer and harder. In Ayr bus drivers struck against Brian Souter, their multi-millionaire Stagecoach boss.

Taking on 'rat' Souter

DEFIANT BUS drivers set up picket lines outside depots across Ayr on the day of the by-election last week. It was the second one day strike by the 660 workers, members of the TGWU union. The drivers are fighting for a decent pay rise from their bosses at Western Buses, which is owned by Brian Souter's giant Stagecoach company. Souter has tried to present himself as being on the side of ordinary people in his campaign to keep the anti-gay Section 28 law in Scotland.

This multi-millionaire is prepared to spend up to �1 million to fund his bigoted campaign. Yet he is offering the bus workers who made those profits a rise of just 30p an hour. A driver, Grant, said, "I remember when Souter came down to the garage all nice to your face when he bought the company." Grant now describes Souter as "a rat. He can find �500,000 for Clause 28 but not any money for drivers and their families."

Another driver, Robert, agreed: "When he came here he walked into the mess room and he was very impressive. I said at the time he was a perfect gentleman. "He said he wouldn't touch our wages for two years. That lasted six months. The job has got harder, with longer days and worse working conditions." Souter has also poured in money to try to defeat the strike. He has bussed in managers and inspectors from around Britain to run a scab operation on the strike days.

His company has reduced fares on strike days to a lower flat rate. Around 50 drivers on Western Buses are in the RMT union. The workers have since voted to support the strike, and were set to join the picket lines on Monday of next week.

They want us 'any time, any place, any where'

"IT'S SPEED up on the production line." That is how John Penlington describes the way university management is piling the pressure on lecturers. John was one of the 1,500 lecturers on strike across Scotland on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. Management at Scottish "new" universities (former polytechnics) and colleges of art want to force lecturers onto a new contract called Partnership 2000.

This means an "unlimited" working week where lecturers could be called to work at any time. Lecturers will also have their annual holidays cut by 20 days. Every new worker has to sign this contract. John, a lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University, explained, "The management want us at their beck and call, and people are angry. For a lot of people it was the final straw."

The lecturers, members of the EIS-ULA union, were on the picket lines in force as they held their second round of two day strikes last week. Over 100 lecturers and supporters at Paisley University held a lively march and rally near the university on Wednesday. A speaker from the local teachers' union, the EIS, won huge support when he said, "What the management seem to forget is teachers' and lecturers' working conditions are students' learning conditions."

Some 120 lecturers joined a lobby of Glasgow Caledonian management. "It's about union busting," said Lynn Rooney, a lecturer from Caledonian University. "The union is the only thing that stands between us and privatisation." Many lecturers are bitter at the way university education is being run like a business. Caledonian University lecturer Rachel Russell said, "The management use the usual term-'flexibility'. That means teaching weekends and evenings. We even talk about line managers now."

The new head of human resources at the university, Bob Cunningham, has come from the soup manufacturer Baxter's. "I think he's brought his soup factory mentality with him," said lecturer Bill Hughes. We've started calling Partnership 2000 the 'Martini Contract'-any time, any place, anywhere. We'll be contracted to do whatever the university tells us."

Many students support the strike. Steven Anderson, a Paisley University student, reports, "We have taken petitions around the canteen on various days and 70 to 80 percent of the people we approached backed the lecturers." Unfortunately the student committee at the university voted by seven votes to four not to support the strike-angering many students.

The four days of solid strikes have forced the management to call for talks at the arbitration service ACAS. Negotiations were due to go ahead this week. Unfortunately the EIS-ULA union leadership has agreed to suspend the strikes in the meantime. It is crucial not to let university bosses off the hook. Partnership 2000 should be scrapped completely.

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Sat 25 Mar 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1689
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