Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2907

Industrial round-up: Low marks for UCU tops as bosses slash jobs

Plus a round up of PCS union conference and FBU union conference
Issue 2907
Goldsmiths university protest and the UCU union congress is upcoming

Goldsmiths university are fighting back against cuts

Members of the UCU union must stand up to the trade union bureaucracy at this week’s yearly congress. They must demand hard-hitting action to combat wide-scale job cuts, falling pay and racism at the top of their union. Only three months after Jo Grady was reelected as general secretary, the union’s office is seemingly in chaos.

Around 200 workers for the UCU union, who are members of the Unite union, are planning to strike on Thursday—during the union’s congress. The union workers are furious that industrial relations have, according to Unite, completely broken down. Workers say the UCU has undermined existing industrial recognition agreements, failed to agree on key working principles and had a heavy-handed use of disciplinary procedures.

UCU staff has also previously spoken out about what they describe as a “culture of fear” in the union’s office. The union leadership has also been hit with multiple accusations of racism. The UCU’s Black Member Standing Committee (BMSC) has been refusing to take part in union decision-making processes.

A statement released by the BMSC said that “pervasive structural racism plagues our sector and our union”. “We feel obliged to share our disappointment in the entrenched racism and systemic disrespect within our union,” it added.

“For too long we have witnessed an active undermining of our voices and dismissal of our concerns within UCU and lack of meaningful representation. Our attempts to address these injustices have been met alternately with resistance, indifference, procedural setbacks and deliberate stalling.”

All of this comes as university bosses are taking a sledgehammer to jobs in higher education. Thousands of workers are facing the threat of redundancy, and so far, those at the top of the union haven’t offered a real plan about how to fight back. Several branches have voted to strike or take action over redundancies, such as Goldsmiths university in London.

Instead of pushing for a national fightback, Grady and the leadership have pushed for branches to fight redundancies university by university. According to a UCU Left report on a National Executive Committee in March, the general secretary “has given up on any pretence of defending national bargaining”. But the report argued, “Britain-wide bargaining is vital for the protection of pay levels and employment conditions.”

And a motion put forward by Brighton university was carried at a Special Higher Education Sector Conference earlier in May. It called for the union to “develop a strategy which includes returning to UK-wide action in academic year 2024-25” and “to organise strike committees to synchronise action and deliver maximum solidarity for branches in dispute”.

This kind of action is needed to counter the bosses’ threats of redundancies. At the conference, UCU members must push their leadership to back a plan for strikes all across Britain.

PCS conference debates pay campaign strategy

Civil service workers met for their PCS union conference last week in the aftermath of a national strike ballot over pay that ended on 13 May. In the ballot, 83.7 percent were in favour of strikes. But in most government departments, less than 50 percent of members voted, meaning they didn’t beat the anti‑union law threshold.

In any case, it shows there is a strong mood to fight. The PCS conference discussed strategies for the national pay campaign. The trade union leadership backed a motion that set out strikes at some point for the departments that did reach the turnout threshold, but it had no detail on when that would be. It also lacked a call for re-balloting the departments that did not reach the threshold.

Another motion argued for strikes and re-ballots to be called. It rightly laid out that it would be a mistake to waste the mood for strikes. Delegates voted for a motion calling for strikes and re-ballots.

But the motion that passed only “instructs the GEC to consider” its recommendations—so it is not binding. PCS members must immediately pressure their union leadership to organise and announce strike dates as soon possible. A serious strike programme can also help with the re-ballots, as it encourages more to vote to join strikes.

Delegates back Palestine and hit out at Rwanda plan

Firefighters met in Blackpool for their FBU union conference from Wednesday to Friday last week. The conference happened after members accepted a deal to settle their national dispute at the start of May. The deal included a four percent pay uplift and a rise in maternity pay.

At the conference, a motion calling for an immediate and unequivocal ceasefire in Palestine was unanimously passed by delegates. And an important emergency motion was brought to the conference arguing for the union to lobby for the legal overturning of the Rwanda plan—backing the PCS unions’ legal battle. It made a demand for all those who get deported to be brought back to Britain, and for all those currently detained to be immediately released.

Unfortunately it was remitted before a vote. The motion was remitted on the basis that if a Keir Starmer government continues the Tories’ attempts to deport refugees and migrants, a motion to disaffiliate from the Labour Party would be brought to conference next year. The union has also called for the scrapping of the anti-union law that requires a minimum service during strikes.

Thanks to Lee Hunter, chair of Merseyside FBU branch, for providing Socialist Worker with details from the conference.

Barnet workers keep up battle for retention pay

Mental health social workers in Barnet are still battling their north London authority over a proper retention and recruitment payment. They walked out for three weeks on 13 May until Friday this week. This followed two weeks of action from 15 April. The strikers also plan to strike from Monday next week for two weeks and from 17 June for four weeks.

Last Thursday their national Unison union issued a legal letter to the council’s chief executive John Hooton about the council’s use of agency workers during the strike. The council previously tried to break the strike with agency workers, until pressure from the union branch forced the agency company to pull out.

But the council didn’t give up with its strike-breaking and attempted to outsource some of the strikers’ roles permanently. In negotiations bosses have already stated that it would be “easier and cheaper” to agree to the demands for recruitment and retention payment for workers. Yet it refuses to end the dispute.

“Our members want to work in a safe working environment with no waiting lists and fair pay. A recruitment and retention payment will help encourage existing staff to remain and help Barnet Council recruit experienced mental health social workers that they badly need before it is too late,” Barnet Unison said. Unison nationally must keep up the pressure on Barnet. Legal threats are important, but escalated action by other council workers is the way to win.

Asda strikes bosses’ pocket

More than 100 GMB union members held a two-day strike at Asda’s Hollingbury store near Brighton last week. There was a big and lively picket line last Saturday morning, where the strikers greeted shoppers. Many of them were turned away as local trade unionists and other supporters joined a rally dozens-strong at the gates.

Across Britain, Asda workers are fighting on a range of issues, including a lack of collective bargaining, poor health and safety standards, poor quality training, equal pay not being resolved in a timely manner and cuts in hours. And workers at Asda have more reasons to be angry at bosses. Thousands of retail and logistic workers across Britain have been paid incorrectly for most of this year.

Some have been overpaid and Asda has warned them they have until Tuesday this week to repay the money or it will come out of their wages in June. The issue is down to a new payment system Asda bosses have started to use because the previous system was too expensive. The Asda management has so far refused to meet with GMB representatives.

By Phil Mellows

Morrisons warehouse revolt

Some 1,000 Morrisons workers are striking over changes to pension contributions. Workers at warehouses in Gadbrook in Cheshire and Wakefield in West Yorkshire supply 500 stores. The Unite union members walked out on Thursday last week until Sunday morning, and are set to strike again on 13 June for 72 hours.

Bosses are forcing workers to increase their own pension contributions while the company reduces its own contributions by the same amount. And a new “pick rate” monitors the speed at which items are packed.

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