Socialist Worker

More Action in education + Sainsburys strike called off + British Gas workers + Beis staff + Biscuit makers

Issue No. 2735

Activists in Tower Hamlets, east London, rallied last week to stop the proposed cuts to special education needs learning in the borough. Specialist teachers are fighting the Labour council, which wants to slash the learning support service by 50 percent.

Activists in Tower Hamlets, east London, rallied last week to stop the proposed cuts to special education needs learning in the borough. Specialist teachers are fighting the Labour council, which wants to slash the learning support service by 50 percent. (Pic: Mike Barton)


UCU union members at Brighton university began a two-day strike on Tuesday of this week to defend jobs.

The action follows two walkouts last week, and a 24-hour strike earlier this month. Bosses want to impose compulsory redundancies in the IT department.

Workers and students held teach-outs on their fourth strike day, and planned more events on Wednesday.

The third strike day on Thursday of last week saw John McDonnell MP, strikers, students and others address an online rally.

Chair of Brighton university UCU Mark Abel told the rally that attacks on education meant students and workers have a common interest in united resistance. 

He said university bosses were “digging their heels in” over the dispute. “But we can dig our heels in too,” he said. 

“We have to because there’s the future of this university at stake. Our message to the vice chancellor is—we’re not going to stand by and let you wreck our university.”

IT worker Charlie is one of those at risk of redundancy. He told the rally, “The cynical thing is, we’re expected to carry on as normal.”

Charlie said IT staff have lots of work as more people work from home and need support. 

“It’s not like a true redundancy when work’s dried up,” he said. “A lot of people are saying work’s increasing.”

Brighton student Rachael said, “It’s really encouraging to see how many students have got involved. It’s easy to feel defeated with the state of the world, but there are still reasons to have hope.”

Sussex student Ellie told the rally that over 200 students have pledged to withhold rents in January. “Students and lecturers are standing up for themselves,” she said. “We’re all under the same system and that is what needs to change.”

Consuelo, a cleaner at Soas University of London, said workers had stopped compulsory redundancies by threatening strikes. “It’s possible to win,” she said.

John McDonnell described the Brighton strike as inspiring. “It just raises the spirits of people,” he said.

McDonnell said bosses are using Covid-19 as an excuse to “undermine working conditions”. “It’s no wonder people have had enough and are fighting back,” he said. “This dispute is fundamentally important.”

Sadie Robinson

Donate to the Brighton strike at bit.ly/BackBrighton and tweet to @BrightonUCU

Ilford teachers battle on

NEU union members at Little Ilford School in east London held a two-day strike last week.

The workers are fighting the forcible expansion of the school from 1,470 pupils to 1,800. They say this will harm the quality of education and hit support for vulnerable children.

Last week’s walkout was the latest in a series of strikes that began in November.

Tim Bergin is an NEU rep at the school. He told Socialist Worker, “After seven days of strikes and a week of no action—to give the borough some time to reflect—the borough is still not communicating with staff in a meaningful way.

“Each day there have been 50 or more members on the picket line. On Tuesday of last week there were 

45 at the picket line, despite about 20 members who couldn’t attend because they were self-isolating. All sent messages of solidarity.”

Strikers marched to East Ham Town Hall on Wednesday, the second day of the walkout.

Tim said workers’ demands are “really simple”.

“Either the borough fully funds a proper expansion or they cancel it,” he said. 

“There is no middle ground. We are not asking for stained glass windows at the entrance or chandeliers in the dining hall.

“We will not give up this fight. We will go on until the borough comes to its senses and makes the right decision.”


Kingsway Walkout threat wins results

Workers at a Wirral school in Merseyside have won concessions after calling strikes.

NEU union members at Kingsway Primary School had planned to strike last week and this week.

The union had called the action after serious health and safety concerns at the school.

But shortly before the first walkout was due to begin the head teacher, Francine Foster, was replaced with an interim head. 

And the union said the employer promised to adopt the agreement and begin to implement it immediately.

In addition the NEU has not suspended planned strikes for 12, 13 and 14 January. 

NEU regional officer Bora Oktas said workers had “achieved recognition for their concerns” and also “won the support of parents”. 

He added, “The employer should not take our members’ flexibility for granted. 

“Unless there is early progress in implementing the terms of the resolution document, our members will strike in January.”


Macclesfield Sudden college sackings

The UCU union has said it could challenge the sacking of staff without notice at Macclesfield College. 

The union said the college could face unfair dismissal claims unless it reinstated the workers.

The college wrote to staff on 17 November to say that some jobs were at risk. 

It later informed affected staff that their roles were redundant with immediate effect. The workers were offered fixed-term or hourly-paid contracts instead.

The union said it has repeatedly asked for emergency meetings but the college hasn’t responded. It said over 100 students have been left without a lecturer because of the cuts.


Anger grows over teacher suspended while fighting for workplace safety

NEU union members are demanding the reinstatement of a victimised union rep at North Huddersfield Trust School.

Louise Lewis was suspended on 1 October, the day of a health and safety inspection at the school. 

The NEU said she had been trying to secure whole school and individual risk assessments for all staff.  

It said her suspension threatens “all union members in the school”. 

Hazel Danson is NEU district secretary for Kirklees district. 

“Our reps have done a tremendous job in trying to make schools safe,” she told Socialist Worker. 

“We feel Louise’s suspension was a reaction to her trade union activity. Any union worth its salt is going to take that extremely seriously.” 

She added, “It’s concerning as it’s not just Louise. 

“There does seem to be a bit of a pattern.”

A socially distanced protest was planned to take place  at the school on Wednesday of this week.

Send messages of support to [email protected] Sign the petition at bit.ly/LouiseLewis 

Union calls off Sainsbury’s strike

The Unite union has suspended a strike by Sainsbury’s delivery drivers in London and the south east.

Around 12 drivers, who work for subcontractor Harper & Guy Consulting Ltd at the Sainsbury’s Waltham Abbey distribution centre, were set to begin a series of pay strikes on Monday.

Unite suspended the action after bosses offered “an initial pay deal of 2.1 percent for 2020”. 

Ho-ho-hovertime ban at Eddie Stobart

The Unite union announced it wouldn’t call strikes over Christmas after lorry drivers at Eddie Stobart in Warrington voted for industrial action. 

Unite had warned of a “crisp famine” if strikes were called. 

The union has called for a three-week overtime ban from Boxing Day instead and backed off from walkouts as a “gesture of goodwill”.


British Gas workers fire up resistance 

A person in a giant bird costume joined protests outside British Gas bosses’ headquarters in Windsor last week. 

The protest came as GMB union members ballot for strikes against bosses’ plans to fire and rehire 20,000 workers. 

The ballot was set to end on Thursday this week.


Beis staff demand workplace safety 

Outsourced workers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) have voted overwhelmingly for strikes over safety.

The workers—cleaners, security and porters—are demanding that bosses at outsourcer ISS allow them to stay safely at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The same group of workers won concessions in a battle against low pay and outsourcing after going on all out strike in 2019.


Biscuit makers turn wheels of struggle 

Workers employed by DHL Supply Chain in Liverpool, who work on the Burton Biscuits and AB World Foods delivery contract, have voted for strikes over pay and victimisations.

The strikes could hit supplies of Burton Biscuits’ brands Wagon Wheels and Jammie Dodgers, as well as AB World Foods’ brands including Patak and Blue Dragon.

The 120 members of the Unite union were set for eight days of strikes between 19 December and 5 January.


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