'WE ARE out because we are low paid and we deserve more.' That was the simple message from pickets at Old Palace School in Tower Hamlets, east London, last week. They and hundreds more staff employed by local councils across London were out on strike all week as part of the fight to win a decent London weighting allowance.
For over a year now they have been fighting against the New Labour dominated council employers. The workers have staged several London-wide strike days and are now mounting a campaign in which selected groups in each borough come out for a week at a time. Next week sees the fight stepped up further, with 1,500 workers in 22 London boroughs striking for four weeks, from 14 July to 8 August. Despite the drawn-out fight there was no sign of battle fatigue among the low paid workers in schools like Old Palace. Rather the picket line was lively, spirited and determined.
'We take home less than £800 for a full working month,' said Vera Babbington, a teaching assistant. 'We do a responsible job which we enjoy and we deserve more than we get.' Many of the strikers referred to the day earlier in the dispute when council workers, schools staff and teachers all struck over their common London weighting fight.
'The best thing was when we were all out together,' said Vera. 'It is the best way to have much more impact.' School support staff were also out in Haringey, north London, last week. On Monday 90 Unison members at Fortismere, Seven Sisters and Nightingale schools braved the rain to picket their workplaces before attending a rally at a local church hall.
Lisa Striebig, Unison shop steward at Fortismere, explained how she is building the union at the school:
'I asked the branch chair to come in, and we just walked about talking to everybody we could find. Then I followed up by going round and signing people up one by one.'
On Friday a van with a very unfriendly driver full of SATs results was turned away by determined picketing.
Paul Burnham and Paul McGarr
OVER 30,000 postal workers are set to hold an official ballot for strikes over London weighting. The decision follows a meeting of London delegates of the CWU union in central London last week.
They voted unanimously to ballot their members following management's pathetic offer of a £100 per year increase to the London weighting allowance. The union's claim is for an increase of more than £1,200 for inner London and over £2,000 for outer London. In May London postal workers voted by 99.5 percent for action over weighting in an unofficial ballot.
The latest developments mean that the vote may be turned into strikes. Norman Candy, the CWU London divisional representative, told Socialist Worker, 'Our members are outraged at this derisory and insulting offer from Royal Mail. We wanted to have weighting addressed properly to take account of the soaring costs of living in London. We didn't want it to rise just by the amount of the overall pay deal. Now we've got an offer which may be even less than the national pay deal! A strike now looks inevitable. We asked for parity with workers in the rest of the country and we've been offered less than £2 per week. The Post Office chairman, Allan Leighton, has just awarded himself a £165,000 bonus for working a two-day week. Adam Crozier, the chief executive, got £144,000 for two months work and even the ex chief executive got a £510,000 golden goodbye. We get low pay and redundancies and they get a fat pay cheque. Londoners can recognise a 'three-card trick' when they see one.'
It is vital that the union's executive gives the go-ahead for the ballot and throws the whole resources of the union behind it. If London workers win a victory over weighting it will be a great boost for every postal worker in the battle for decent pay.
THE UNITED campaign by university workers for a rise in their London allowance to £4,000 is under way again. This follows a U-turn by the leadership of the AUT lecturers' union, which has spent the past few months arguing that the issue should be resolved by local negotiations. This has proved a complete non-starter. At King's College London it produced an insulting offer. There is now to be a ballot for a two-day strike involving all campus unions in the pre-1992 universities. For lecturers this will mean working to ensure a yes vote and then building for action when the registration period opens in September.