A solidarity rally to mark the beginning of a three-day strike at Shrewsbury Colleges Group on Tuesday heard from workers in dispute and fighting back.
NEU union members at the group are striking to defend victimised union rep John Boken. He was targeted by bosses after he raised complaints about racism in the college.
He faces a hearing on Monday of next week. Union members there are determined to defend him.
NEU rep Jean Evanson told the rally that trade unionists across Britain have sent “hundreds” of messages of solidarity to John. “This is our second day of strike on the victimisation of our trade union representative John Boken,” she said.
“His victimisation is the latest in a history of bullying at our college.”
The strike comes as workers in other sectors face attacks. Bosses hope to use the pandemic as an excuse to drive down pay and impose worse conditions.
Ian Brown, a British Gas striker, told the rally workers are fighting plans to dismiss all 21,000 employees if they don’t agree to worse conditions. He described the fire and rehire plan as bosses holding “a loaded gun to my head”.
“We have been on strike for 30 days since January,” he said. “The company is looking to individualise contracts. This is pure opportunism – this is not a company that is struggling.”
He added that the victimisation of John Boken will sound familiar to many other workers – and that all workers have an interest in uniting.
“We’ve suffered attacks on reps over many years,” he said. “We need to stand together. Companies are looking at British Gas and if they get away with it at British Gas, it’s coming your way.”
Tracy McGuire is an NEU rep facing redundancy after she raised Covid-19 safety concerns. “I was targeted for redundancy on the day that I invoked Section 44,” she told the rally. “Trade unionists are being attacked because they’re doing their job effectively – defending members against attacks. That brings out the need to fight.”
Simon O’Hara, an NEU rep previously victimised, said, “There’s been a concerted attack on our reps and we have to defend them.”
As well as targeting reps, the bosses and the Tories hope to drive down pay and conditions for all workers.
London health worker Janet Maiden described NHS workers’ fury at the Tories’ 1 percent pay recommendation – a real terms cut.
“What the Tories have done is a slap in the face,” she said. “Somebody like the CEO of Serco, Rupert Soames, was paid £5.7 million for messing up test, track and trace.
“Yet a nurse is being offered the equivalent of £3.50 a week pay rise. Either we take it lying down or we organise and fight back.”
Shrewsbury colleges striker David said the attacks on workers and union reps is driven by “preparation for another round of austerity”.
“We have to show each other maximum solidarity,” he said. “We need to build a culture of resistance within the trade union movement, rather than settlements when people are victimised or formal processes controlled by management.”
A growing number of disputes is shining a light on rising attacks on workers. But they also show that it’s possible to resist – and we need much more of it. As Jean said, “Our strike is disruptive and it is having an effect. It absolutely is the right thing to do.”
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