Oxford Mini strike shows appetite to fight over pay

Posted on: May 25th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
BMW Mini workers on the picket line, one wears a high vis vest, two others wave red Unite union flags

Oxford Mini workers on the picket line (Picture: Shaun Doherty)

The recent strike by Rudolph & Hellman workers at the Oxford Mini plant has shown how some sections of workers want to see a real fight over pay and other issues.

A single strike day forced the company grudgingly into a new and much more serious pay offer. Bosses put forward an increase of 19 percent over two years plus a 2 percent bonus. Unite union general secretary Sharon Graham said it was “a brilliant win”.

Certainly that figure is far more than most people are getting at the moment. It almost matches the present RPI rate of inflation. When workers started the pay campaign, day shift workers were on £10.30 per hour, equating to £20,888 a year. This will increase to £24,336 immediately and then to £24,944 from 1 January 2023.

But the account on the national Unite website doesn’t tell you that the deal was only very narrowly accepted—by 111 votes to 102. Nearly half of the workers thought they could have won more and wanted to keep striking.

The local union newsletter to members does include the ballot figures. It says, “This result is enough to settle some of the pay issues. But Unite recognises this result leaves a large number of members feeling that the company could have done better.”

Why was it close? Like many deals, the headline figure did not apply to everyone. One department where there is no union rep is less organised, and bosses offered them less. But the issues that sparked most anger were the lack of sick pay and probationary pay rates which mean that workers are paid £1 an hour less than the usual rate.

The local union says, “Workers must now continue the fight for an improvement to probationary rates, as this practice creates a two-tier workforce that divides workers whilst providing the company with cheap labour and bigger profits.”

The pay campaign was hard fought. One leading union rep told Socialist Worker, “From day one the company pleaded poverty and gave no less than four ‘final’ offers—five if you include the final settlement.

“At every turn the company used anti-union tactics like trying to discredit the union subscription rates, telling workers they don’t need a third party to speak for them and using an overtime blacklist for those workers who struck.

“On top of this the company regularly circulated internal communications to workers stating the union had agreed to terms or offers made. The reality was the union and its reps hadn’t agreed anything and was steadfast in the position of delivering on an inflation-busting pay rise to keep up with the cost of living crisis.”

Unite officer Scott Kemp and organiser Lewis Norton engaged in an 18-month campaign at the Oxford Cowley Mini plant. It focused on Rudolph & Hellmann to stem the race to the bottom and re-establish a trade union culture within the contracted workforce.

Membership grew by 130 percent and the shop stewards have doubled following the dispute. Action is the way to fight to defend working class living conditions. And the battle has to continue until there are genuine gains.

Exclusive: police payout to nurse Karen Reissmann, fined for lockdown protest

Posted on: May 25th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Karen Reissmann speaking at NHS pay protest in March 2021 wearing a mask.

Karen Reissmann speaking at an NHS pay protest in March 2021. Police fined her £10,000 (Pic: Mike Killian)

Police have admitted they were wrong to fine Manchester nurse Karen Reissmann for organising a protest against low pay during a Covid lockdown. Karen thinks that with Tory lockdown parties on the front pages, Greater Manchester Police were reluctant to let the case go before a court.

Karen never paid the fine, which has now been cancelled. Karen organised a small, socially distanced rally in the city centre in March 2021. However, as she closed the event cops approached her to say they would be fining her £10,000 for breaching lockdown rules.

At the time, officers said that the union-backed gathering was illegal under Covid-19 legislation. That was despite organisers ensuring everyone who came was wearing a mask and standing in marked positions well away from others.

Greater Manchester Police agreed two days ago that the fine was unlawful and will pay a four-figure sum to Karen in compensation. They have also admitted that they were wrong to penalise fellow nurse Pat Gallagher. She was arrested on the protest and subsequently fined £200.

Karen told Socialist Worker that she was happy at the police decision but still angry that they tried to stop people protesting.

“It was outrageous that we were fined in the first place,” she said. “But to know that my fine, which was for fighting in defence of the NHS, was 200 times the amount that Boris Johnson was fined for attending parties is absolutely shocking.”

Karen says that the police tried to use publicity surrounding her case to put others off from protesting. “The price of that decision is that things in the health service have got worse. We went into the pandemic with 100,000 unfilled vacancies.

“During the height of Covid, the government first offered us just a 1 percent pay rise. Now look at the situation—we’ve got 110,000 unfilled vacancies, and millions of people on waiting lists for care.”

The period after the protest were traumatic for Karen as she faced the possibility of being struck-off the nurses’ register.

A smiling Karen Reissmann

Karen Reissmann

 “For eight months my livelihood was under threat as the Nursing and Midwifery Council investigated me,” she said.

“What stopped me being demolished by the situation was the support that I received from ordinary people across Britain – mostly people I’d never met before. They wanted people to stand up for the health service. The £10,000 fine, and extra for legal costs, was raised within hours of my arrest.”

Karen says that the money raised, together with the compensation, will go to a campaign being run by the Hazards Centre in Manchester which encourages people to fight for their right to work without the stresses that make so many workers mentally distressed and unwell.

And, she says, the best way to defend the right to protest is to go on a protest. Look at what is happening to working class people during the cost of living crisis,” she said. “If we don’t protest things are just going to keep getting worse.

“We need to be on the streets of London on 18 June to join the union protest against low pay – and we need lots of local demonstrations too. More than that, we need strikes”

Law firm Bindmans, which represented Karen and Pat, insist that Covid regulations did not introduce a blanket ban on protest. “Protest is an important right in a functioning democracy and constituted a ‘reasonable excuse’ for gatherings,” its statement says.

“Greater Manchester Police got it wrong in imposing criminal sanctions on Ms Reissmann and Ms Gallagher. The gathering that Ms Reissman organised was not frivolous—it was an important public statement about how NHS workers were being treated. It was a privilege to work with these NHS stalwarts as they stood up for the NHS and the right to protest.”

Socialist Worker has approached Greater Manchester Police for comment.

PCS union conference opposes ‘competing powers’ intervening in Ukraine

Posted on: May 25th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A crowd shot of PCS union conference

Delegates debate at the PCS union conference

Civil service workers at the PCS union conference voted on Tuesday to oppose “the involvement of competing powers in Ukraine.” The motion—proposed by the union’s leadership—also condemned Britain and the US’s war aims as “escalating interventions by the UK and US governments.” 

Yet delegates at the conference also rejected a motion—backed by Socialist Worker supporters—that went further and explicitly criticised the West’s military alliance Nato.  

It branded the war “a proxy conflict between Nato and Russia,” adding, “Nato is not a ‘defensive’ alliance, as it claims, but a vehicle for securing US and Western interests.” Its resolutions included calling for Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Ukraine, to campaign against Nato expansion, and to support protests by the Stop the War Coalition.

The votes came after a debate on three motions, where the main argument focussed on whether it’s right to criticise and campaign against Nato. Introducing the anti-Nato motion to conference, Pete Jackson from DWP Birmingham South branch said, “For our government this is a proxy war.

“Nato leaders see the chance to wear down the Russian military machine, to wear down the Russian economy and to really score a major victory here in their battle to control the world’s resources. That’s part of the agenda when our government says that it’s decided it’s going to support the Ukrainian people.”

The union’s assistant general secretary John Moloney said the leadership’s decision to include condemnation of the US and Britain in its motion reflected a shift. He said the motion addresses the concern that “for reasons of their own Western powers, in particular the US, will seek to pressurise the Ukrainian government and people”. And the pressure on Ukraine would be to “adopt war aims that are not of their choice”. 

But general secretary Mark Serwotka argued it was still wrong to target Nato. He argued that the union’s focus should be on solidarity with Ukrainian people and opposing Russia’s invasion.

Union leaders across the trade union movement have recoiled from criticism of Nato after Labour leader Keir Starmer threatened left wing MPs for doing so.

Serwotka said, “If we call for people to protest in our country against the role of Nato it is not sending the unequivocal message we need to send.” He said it was “that we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.”

“There’s plenty of time for people to discuss the role of Nato including whether Britain should be a member of it,” he said. “But now is the time to stand with those people who occupied, being murdered and being besieged.”

His argument echoed that from left wing MP John McDonnell. After Starmer’s threat, he backed out of a Stop the War Coalition meeting claiming that it would “distract” from support for Ukraine.

In the debate from the floor, Chris Martin from London headquarters went further and criticised the anti-Nato motion because it opposed sending arms to Ukraine. Mohammed Shafiq seemed to reflect the view of more delegates when he said the leadership’s motion was a “balanced position”.

Pete replied, “Our ruling class very enthusiastically wants to send arms to Ukraine. You have to ask yourself, is there a reason for that? Do they have another agenda? The agenda is the way the world is partitioned and continues to be partitioned. I don’t think it’s the case that as a trade union we can’t take a position on that.

“Nato is not a defensive body. Nato is an aggressive, imperialist body just as much as Putin’s Russia is. We need to support protests that oppose the war, but we need to be prepared to support protests that oppose the war and Nato’s attempt to shape that war.”

He added that delegates could support all the motions if they wanted to be balanced. But “only one of them talks about Nato, and only one of them therefore really puts the finger on our ruling class.”

Delegates back strike vote over pay 

Delegates at the conference also voted to have a national strike ballot over pay, pensions and redundancy payments, starting in September this year. Government bosses have offered civil service workers pay rises of only 2 percent for 2022. Moving the motion, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka called on union activists to “get back to your branches, organise, mobilise, and send Boris Johnson a message.”

But Serwotka also warned that activists had to do a lot of campaigning to ensure a ballot beats the 50 percent turnout threshold in Tory anti-union laws. PCS members voted by 97 percent to support strikes on a 45 percent turnout in a survey earlier this year. They also backed strikes in two previous national ballots, which fell agonisingly short of the 50 percent turnout threshold.

Another motion, which was defeated, called on the union to hold the ballot no later than 1 July. It also said the union should “draw up plans for disaggregated ballots.”

But Serwotka and some delegates from the floor argued this wouldn’t be enough time to campaign for a ballot that beats the turnout threshold. Serwotka also said the decision on whether to hold disaggregated ballots should be made at a later date.

One delegate, Julian Sharp, said, “We need the time to organise to make sure we get the turnout in a legal ballot.” He added, “Coming from a small branch, I want to see as much unity as possible in any industrial action we take. And therefore I’m instinctively in favour of aggregated ballots. But I think this is a tactical question that needs to be debated and decided at length.

“We need to explain our strategy to every member and every person who participates in the ballot. Action wins. If we want to win a proper pay rise, if we want to oppose the job cuts, if we want to oppose the cuts in our pension, we need to take industrial action.

“It needs to be hard hitting industrial action, not token action, but action that really hits this government.”

Get behind the rail workers as they vote for national strikes

Posted on: May 24th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
A picture of Network Rail bosses and Rishi Sunak in orange attire illustrating a story about the national rail strike ballot

Tory chancellor Rishi Sunk (right) and other ministers are scared of a national rail strike (Picture: HM Treasury/Flickr)

Railway workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes across Network Rail and the train operating companies. This could become a major focus in the battle to defend working class people in the middle of a social emergency. It comes as prices are soaring and the value of pay, pensions and benefits is collapsing. 

The RMT union balloted 40,000 workers and overall they voted 89 percent in favour of strikes on a 71 percent turnout. It’s the biggest backing for industrial action by railway workers since privatisation in the 1990s. 

RMT workers at Network Rail, which covers the whole of Britain, and 13 train companies voted for strikes. These were Chiltern Railways, Cross Country Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c and Great Western Railway. And Northern Trains, South Eastern Railway, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast and West Midlands Trains.

At GTR—including Gatwick Express—and Island line on the Isle of Wight workers backed action but did not achieve one of the thresholds under the anti-union laws.

Workers are fighting over pay, no compulsory redundancies, and a guarantee there will be no detrimental changes to working practices.

Daniel Kennedy, an RMT workplace rep in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker, “This result is a testament to the strength of feeling among railway staff. We were hailed during the dark days of the pandemic for continuing to keep the country going. But we are now demonised by the right wing press and politicians for daring to challenge the notion that workers ought to pay for the challenges it brought. 

“Huge credit is due to the union, its officers and activists for galvanising the vote, despite overwhelmingly unfavourable anti-union laws. 

“Network Rail and train companies have already been training managers to try to break potential strikes. But, as I’ve said to colleagues, I will do everything in my power to prevent any train from running on the network on any day of strikes.” 

Right wing newspapers reacted with a mix of rage and fear to the strike vote. The Telegraph warned its readers, “The decision of train signallers to strike was critical. There are about 5,000 train signallers employed by Network Rail and they play a key role in allowing trains to depart from and arrive into stations.

“It takes between six and eight months to train up a signaller and the contingency workforce only runs into the high hundreds.”

The Daily Mail feared “power blackouts, petrol shortages and empty shelves”. The Tories, who have been blustering about new anti-strike laws, suddenly don’t look so strong. The RMT says it hopes for a deal, but will schedule strikes from mid-June. These should be hard-hitting from the start and escalating, not token action.

This strike could link up with action on London Underground. Around 4,000 tube station workers are set to strike on Monday 6 June. And they will ban overtime from 3 June to 10 July, which will significantly reduce services.

The strike could force the closure of almost all stations in zone one, on what will be the first day back to work after the four-day Platinum Jubilee days off.

Rail strikes can be a focus for everyone who is desperate for a fightback against the Tories and the bosses. If workers use their power, they can humble the bosses and show that working class people don’t have to pay for the crisis.

The myths about monkeypox 

Posted on: May 24th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
monkey pox

The monkeypox virus under a microscope

Mainstream media panic over monkeypox is risking a new epidemic of racism and homophobia. Lurid myths of a disease that in many editors’ minds spreads mostly among gay and bisexual African men are making the outbreak harder to tackle. Some news outlets have even asked whether its spread is a “new Covid” that will sweep the world.

That is nonsense. For a start there are already highly effective vaccinations and treatments for monkeypox. And, it is far more difficult than Covid to spread because it does not infect through aerosol transmission—it is not caught by breathing tiny virus droplets in contaminated air.

The World Health Organisation says most of those infected will recover without treatment. But it can be more severe, especially in young children, pregnant women, and individuals who are immunocompromised. The monkeypox virus originates in tropical rainforest areas of west and central African where it is relatively common. 

Most people that catch the virus do so after contact with infected animals or their faeces. In part, that reflects the way humans are increasingly encroaching into wild areas.  The virus is not primarily transmitted between humans through sex.

It spreads mostly through close physical contact, and by contaminated clothes and bedding. Suggesting that the virus primarily affects African men that have sex with men stigmatises them, making the disease harder to stop. It also creates a false sense of security for others.

New ‘action plan’ won’t change cops’ racism 

Posted on: May 24th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
Met police

The police can’t hide that they are racist to the core

The police assured us this week that they really, really are going to tackle their own racism. Their Race Action Plan is supposed explain why, for example, black people are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, and five times more likely to have force used against them.

The 1999 Macpherson Report, written after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, found that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”. But during a briefing with journalists the officers introducing this week’s new scheme refused to say whether policing is institutionally racist. That means the new plan is already weaker than the findings from 23 years go.

And there was plenty of other evidence this week of the true nature of the cops. We learned that while spending time with friends, Olivia, a 14 year old girl with autism and learning difficulties, was brutally strip‑searched by police.

She was discovered to be in possession of a sharpened stick which she used to self-harm, her mother said. Officers then handcuffed Olivia, before pinning her down, cutting her underwear and strip-searching her in the presence of male officers. The child, who is mixed race, later tried to commit suicide after the terrifying ordeal. Olivia later appeared in court accused of possession of a bladed weapon and was acquitted. 

This new case comes after the strip-search of a black child, known as Child Q, at her school in east London. More than 13,000 young people under the age of 18 have been strip-searched in England and Wales since 2017. Over two‑thirds of children who have been strip‑searched by the Met over the past three years were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

And the cop who murdered Sarah Everard last March is set to appear in court over multiple counts of flashing this week.  Wayne Couzens is currently serving a life sentence for the kidnap, rape and murder of Everard. The token measures in the Race Action Plan won’t be enough because the racist rot is in-built. It flows from the police’s job to hold up and protect a racist system.  Policing doesn’t just reflect that system, it attracts those who enjoy implementing it and using the power it gives them.

As Sue Fish, the former chief of Nottinghamshire Police, admitted recently, a series of revelations have shown “the toxic racist and sexist culture which is endemic in policing”. And when they are not busy murdering women or assaulting children, the police help to defend a Downing Street that’s corrupt to the core. Then only effective police action plan is to abolish them.

  • Conference For The Black Child, Sat 11 June, Called by Stand Up To racism and others. For details and to register go to bit.ly/ChildQ1106

Boris Johnson’s partygate crimes—empty apology after Gray report published

Posted on: May 24th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Boris Johnson and blurred-out figures in Downing Street with a table of bottles of alcoholic drinks

A picture issued with the Sue Gray report shows Johnson carousing in Downing Street

Each day there is new evidence of Boris Johnson’s lockdown crimes. And each day he lies and blusters in an effort to escape.

He was plunged back into crisis on Monday after pictures emerged of him ­drinking at a party during a Covid lockdown. He is pictured toasting colleagues while standing by a table laden with wine bottles, glasses, food and other drinks.

A lockdown was in place at the time the photographs were taken, with indoor gatherings of two or more people banned. The police fined other people believed to be in the same photo, but they let Johnson off.

This is how the establishment works, covering up for one another and hiding their crimes. Probably Johnson will escape again.

Civil servant Sue Gray released her full report on Downing Street parties during ­lockdown on Wednesday. The Times newspaper claimed Johnson had met Gray to pressure her not to publish the report. But in any case it did not provide the truly devastating criticism that Johnson deserved. 

It did detail the abuse of cleaning staff and security workers, top government officials partying in Downing Street until 4.35am on one occasion, people being sick in the offices and leaving wine on the walls. For months Number 10 press officers denied any parties took place. Gray has confirmed there were parties in the press office. 

Johnson’s only response was to make another fake apology to the Commons. Afterwards he told a press conference, that some events identified in Gray’s report were held for the purpose of “saying goodbye to valued colleagues”. This was a time when people couldn’t visit dying relatives, or attend their funerals.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former senior adviser who himself broke the lockdown, said of his former boss, “He doesn’t think he did anything wrong. As he said repeatedly in 2020 ‘Everyone better remember I’m the fucking Fuhrer around here’.”

An instant opinion poll by YouGov showed 59 percent of people thought Johnson should resign, 30 percent that he should stay.

Behind the day-to-day events and the constant revelations is a relentless pattern of protecting Johnson. Met police last week loyally informed him he wouldn’t receive more fines over parties that broke ­lockdown regulations.

Its statement detailed 126 police fines connected to Downing Street events. There were five parties where Johnson was present and where other people have been fined, but where the prime minister escaped without penalty. 

They were parties until Johnson arrived, when they apparently became “work events”. They are the 20 May 2020 party, infamous for the invitation telling people to “Bring your own bottle”, and Johnson’s birthday party on 19 June 2020.

There’s Lee Cain’s leaving party on 13 November 2020 and the Number 10 flat party celebrating the end of Dominic Cummings the same day. And then the 17 December 2020 leaving event for Captain Steve Higham and the 14 January 2021 leaving event for private secretaries.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK group said, “Conservative MPs promised they would make their mind up about the prime minister when the Sue Gray report is released. Every day they do not act they allow a man who gaslit us and lied to the faces of the bereaved when he claimed he did ‘everything possible’ to save our loved ones to remain in the highest office in the land.”

Carrie Johnson, the wife of the prime ­minister, has also been told she isn’t going to receive any further fines. Partygate may not bring down Johnson—although it should have done. It was a symbol of his contempt for everyone except his charmed circle. It was a sign of the fatal ­recklessness of the Covid policies. It’s about more than lies, it sums up a ruling class attitude. 

Johnson survives because of the lack of effective opposition and because Labour leader Keir Starmer has essentially agreed with him on so many issues, from “national unity” during coronavirus to the war in Ukraine. 

Johnson must not now be allowed to escape the fury over the ­government’s lack of action over the cost of living crisis.

Workplace round-up: bin strikers refuse to back down on pay

Posted on: May 24th, 2022 by TTE No Comments
Refuse workers in Rugby, West Midlands

Bin workers in Rugby picket to tackle low pay

Refuse workers in Rugby, Warwickshire, will continue their walkout after the council offered them a poor pay offer. The council offered to raise drivers’ maximum annual wage from £23,400 to £30,940 and street cleaners from £19,200 to £24,587. Workers are still angry that, despite these increases, they still will remain some of the lowest paid in the area. 

Meanwhile, refuse workers for Wealden council, Sussex, are continuing strikes until 11 June after more than three weeks on the picket line.  The GMB union members, who are outsourced to Biffa, are battling for better pay. 

Dave Lennon, GMB union rep, told Socialist Worker, “I’m on £9.50 an hour at the moment, the minimum wage, and if we got £12.50 it would help with the cost of living. He called for “solidarity and support, because we’re all in it together”. 

Meanwhile, rubbish could pile up at the Isle of Wight festival as refuse workers ballot for strikes. It closes on 27 May, meaning strikes could begin as early as 13 June.

Co-op drivers to deliver pay strikes 

Drivers and transport clerks working for logistics giant GXO, on the outsourced Co-op supermarket delivery contract, are set to strike over pay.

Over 330 workers in the Unite union based at the company’s depot in Elton Head Road, St Helens, Merseyside are involved in the dispute. They voted 97 percent vote in favour of action.  The union has notified 40 strike days, beginning with a 48-hour strike next Tuesday. 

The drivers deliver to 466 Co-op stores spreading from the Lake District and Leeds in the north, as far south as Hereford and Aberystwyth in west Wales.

Unite union could join Dundee fight

Unite union members could join the fight over pensions at the University of Dundee. Over 100 workers began a strike ballot this week, with action planned for the start of the new academic year in September.

University bosses want to close the Defined Benefits Pension Scheme to grades one to six and replace it with a worse system dependent on stock market gyrations. Unison union members have already held a series of strikes over the issue.

Cleaners protest outside Royal Opera 
Caiwu union members protest, around 20 in the picture, wearing high vis jackets

Cleaners and porters in the Caiwu union who are outsourced to DOC Cleaning protested last week over pay and working conditions at London’s Royal Opera House (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Post Office walkout over paltry pay offer

Post Office counters workers are set to walkout on Saturday of next week over pay. Supply chain and admin workers will down tools on Monday 6 June.

This is the second set of nationwide strikes by the CWU union members. “The latest offer is for a 2.5 percent rise with effect from 1 April 2022, plus a £500 lump sum,” said CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey. “Not only is this way below the April 2022 RPI inflation figure of 11.1 percent.

“It also offers absolutely no back pay for whole 2021-22 period—for which the Post Office is imposing a pay freeze.”

Protest against hard right Tory MP

Around 50 local campaigners came together in Broadstairs, Kent, last Saturday for a cost of living protest outside the constituency office of Tory MP Craig Mackinlay

It was called by Thanet Left and supported by Kent Climate Action Coalition. Mackinlay is opposed to a windfall tax on the gas and oil companies’ profits and is also the leader of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group of Tory MPs. It opposes effective climate action. 

Steve Wilkins