THIS IS a wake-up call to all trade unionists. Over the last year I have been working for First Great Western trains at Intercity House in Plymouth, but employed by the Manpower agency. First Great Western set up the operation in Plymouth by sacking staff in Bristol and Paddington and inviting Manpower to set up at Intercity House, where they opened an office and brought in a management team.
Now the majority of the 500 staff are employed by Manpower, including rail enquiries, telesales, customer relations and other departments. This set-up has made it very hard to build the union. Supervisors have ripped down union leaflets I have put on noticeboards. The editor of the staff paper has told me that senior management asked him to ban the union advert I submitted to the paper.
Agency jobs mean lower wages and inferior conditions. Fear is instilled in 'difficult staff' through meetings with managers. You only have a few minutes warning and no one to represent you. You are taken to a room and 'bawled out' by a group of managers and supervisors. Many have been sacked. Others have resigned in disgust.
One woman was hauled in over time off sick. She had had a hysterectomy. Last autumn NatWest Bank set up a new call centre in Plymouth, and guess who is running it? Manpower.
Employment agencies have to be opposed when they move into workplaces, otherwise, like the Trojan Horse, they are within our defences and we will all become enslaved. The only way to stop them is to build strong trade union organisation at shop floor level.
DAVE ROBERTS, Plymouth
Pay rise an insult to nurses
NEWS BROKE before Christmas of the pay review body's recommendation that nurses, midwives and professions allied to medicine will receive a 3.6 percent pay increase for 2002. Sections of the media described it as an 'inflation busting pay rise'. This is totally off the mark.
Health workers are working harder than ever for patients. Yet the minimum pay for a Grade A untrained nurse will only be £9,735 a year. Newly qualified nurses will only receive £16,005. Poor pay together with the appalling bursary payments for student nurses are the main reasons why people are leaving the NHS. Staffing on wards is verging on the dangerous.
The reaction of the UNISON union to the pay award did not articulate the anger among many nurses. UNISON has to give a campaigning lead, using lobbies, demonstrations and the sorts of imaginative action taken by student nurses in London successfully defending their residences. We have to say that money is there for war in Afghanistan and against anyone Bush and Blair say is a terrorist. That money should pay for care.
The award also has big implications for other staff who are not covered by the pay review body. These staff have a role as important as nurses'. In the past they have been offered less than nurses. The Dudley hospitals UNISON branch that I am part of fought for almost ten months against a PFI project.
That spirit exists across the NHS. Medical secretaries in Scotland struck successfully for regrading. Health unions in Carlisle are successfully conducting a campaign for equal pay. If a poor and divisive deal is offered to staff not covered by the pay review body then UNISON needs to unite all staff and call industrial action if necessary.
MARK NEW, Unison national executive council (personal capacity)
United on the Belfast buses
BUS DRIVERS in Belfast are starting the new year with a new confidence. We've just had the most awesome two-day unofficial strike, which totally shook management.
It started the day after Boxing Day when we discovered that the Citybus company had withdrawn from some workers the pay we get when we are forced off work following an assault. One worker had been left with just £20 for the whole of Christmas. We have had a year and a half of bullying from management. But it seemed like people would just continue to take it.
Other union activists have complained to me for ten years that there is no mood for a fight. Then two weeks ago it just erupted. We walked out at 10.30am. Within an hour about 25 buses had been abandoned outside City Hall. Within a day not a single Citybus was running in Belfast.
The solidarity was incredible. This is a mixed Protestant and Catholic workforce. We all stood together. People who had scabbed on previous official strikes joined this unofficial action. One lad had only been in the job 12 hours, but he struck and joined the union on the picket line.
On the second day of the strike drivers in Ulster Bus refused to cross picket lines. Cleaners and other workers joined the strike. The quietest people spoke up the most, especially the women. We won. Now people are raising new demands.
Don't get ground down by management. Build union membership. Workers around you feel like you do, and they will take you by surprise.
SEAN SMYTH, Belfast
Why I joined
I HAVE been a socialist for the last 14 years since I first became politically aware. For some years I have been a member of the Labour Party. But over the past five years or so since Blair and his faction took control I have found it increasingly difficult to reconcile socialist beliefs with what the Labour Party has become.
I have now become convinced that the Socialist Workers Party holds the only realistic platform to build a mass movement to fight, not only the ruling class, but the 'class traitors' who run the Labour Party as well. I work as a senior staff nurse in cardiothoracic intensive care at a central London teaching hospital.
I have first hand experience of what Tory policies (and their continuation under New Labour) have done to the NHS. I am also a shop steward of the UNISON union. There is a real potential to build political awareness among all grades of health workers at present.
PHIL ADAMS-HOWELL, Central London
English lessons need more cash
I AGREE with much of your criticism of Blunkett's approach to the racial problem (Socialist Worker, December 22). But I cannot agree, as a professional linguist, with your claim that some people's lack of English is not a problem.
It is certainly not the only problem, but it is still a major one. An estimated one third to one half of the three million people living in this country from countries where English is not the national language lack effective skills in English. This certainly puts them at an extreme disadvantage.
It has been estimated that 1,765 hours of teaching are required to get from no English to the level of competence required for a job. That requires the commitment of extensive resources. Lack of them would appear to be a root cause of discrimination. Those who have not mastered English have to resort to interpreters in dealing with the authorities and others.
There are often not enough interpreters. There is no statutory obligation on any of the social services, including the NHS, to involve an interpreter. Immigrants who are not proficient in English are being disadvantaged in a number of ways.
It would seem more appropriate to campaign for improvements rather than pretend that there is not a problem.
NOEL ANDERSON, Middlesex
Members must lead
I HAVE just read the article on the debate at the conference of the Socialist Alliance in December. As a member of the United List (the Red-Green) in Denmark, I would strongly emphasise the lesson we learned.
It is essential to build a members' organisation, one person one vote, create active local organisations, and let the members decide the politics, not the leaders from the different groups in the coalition. If we hadn't done that I don't think that the United List (the Red-Green) would have become part of the political map in Denmark
Today there are 2,100 members. Most of them have never been members of the founding organisations. We have just been in an election campaign. Our result was 82,224 votes, four seats in parliament and a dozen candidates elected to town councils. Our campaign was anti-racist, for defending and improving welfare rights, and for taxing big companies.
But the right wing won the election overall. The struggle continues in Denmark to build a new alliance of all those who are under attack from the new government.
OLE DONBÆK JENSEN, Denmark
I'm enclosing a cheque for £100. Let's hope the year 2002 brings more justice for the world's poor and all those who have suffered and died for so long.