Bosses cause blockage on the tube

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
Six striking tube workers with raised fists stand in front of large red and green RMT flags

Night tube strikers (Pic: Phil Rowan)

Night Tube strikes returned last weekend as the RMT union accused London Underground of blocking progress in talks.

RMT reps said they were willing to suspend the strikes if bosses agreed to a new set of proposals from the union.

But bosses refused.

Now workers remain determined to strike each weekend until June.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch described RMT members as “angry and frustrated”.

He added, “We are not backing down, the action goes ahead.”

With the dispute at a deadlock, the RMT must escalate action involving workers on all Night Tube lines.

Action down the line?

London Underground workers that voted 94 percent to strike over jobs, pensions and working conditions could soon walk out.

Around 10,000 workers across all roles on the Underground are set to strike after bosses refused assurances on working conditions. Workers are angry at the rising cost of living and the sense that they are being made to pay for the governments Covid-19 failures.

RMT union reps are considering what action to take and when it will happen.  Union leaders shouldn’t delay the action and should call hard-hitting strikes.

Strikes could sweep south east England train services

Cleaners for outsourcing company Churchill have begun balloting for strikes over pay and justice for these essential workers.

The RMT union  represents workers on four of Churchill’s contracts in the south east of Britain.

The ballot runs off the back of a long-running campaign for pay justice by cleaners. They have worked throughout the pandemic and picketed at the central London Churchill offices regularly.

Churchill has refused to make an acceptable offer despite two directors receiving a £3.8 million dividend last year.

Bigger national strikes possible in universities after reballot results

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Charlie No Comments
Six pickets with UCU union placardsplacards

Strikers at the London School of Economics in December (Pic: Guy Smallman)

More university workers can join a second wave of strikes against attacks on pensions and for better pay, conditions and equalities.

UCU union branches that didn’t reach the 50 percent turnout threshold that anti-union laws impose on strike ballots have been reballoting.

After the results, released on Monday and Tuesday, seven more branches can strike over cuts to the USS pension scheme and nine more branches can take action over the four fights dispute.

Workers at 58 universities struck for three days in December as part of two ­connected disputes.

The first is over cuts to the USS pension scheme. The second is over equal pay, casual contracts, ­workload and a real term pay rise, together known as the “four fights”.

UCU members at City university of London, Newcastle university, Queen Mary and Swansea university voted to take action over both disputes.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of Leicester and Strathclyde university all voted to join the USS fight.

And Northumbria university, Oxford Brookes, the university of creative arts (UCA), the university of Westminster and Writtle university college all voted to take up the four fights dispute.

Joseph from the University of Leicester told Socialist Worker how he and other branch members worked to get the vote out.

“Last time, we were six votes short of being able to strike over USS. This time we passed the threshold,” he said.

“We held reps’ meeting and sent out regular emails and texts and made a political argument that we needed escalate action.

“We did everything we did last time, just better.”

At a meeting organised by UCU Left on Monday, activists spoke about where next for the dispute.

Roddy from Imperial College told the meeting that university workers are now in a “strong position to fight.”

“Our opponents, the Tories, are in a terrible situation, and so we are in a stronger position than we were in,” he said.

Activists on the call argued for the need to escalate strikes and to keep the two disputes together at all costs.

The NUS student union has called a student strike for education on 2 March, which could coincide with strikes.

The only way to win better pensions, pay and conditions is to escalate.

South Yorkshire Stagecoach bus strike over but it could have won more

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A large group of South Yorkshire Stagecoach strikers stand on a picket line with flags and a cardboard 'solidarity bus'

Workers held large pickets throughout (Picture: George Arthur)

Workers at South Yorkshire Stagecoach have ended an all-out strike after accepting a pay deal.

Some 550 members of the Unite union began striking indefinitely earlier this month after a below-inflation pay rise, which followed a pay freeze.

But they voted to end the strike after bosses offered 10.7 percent over two years—covering February 2021 to May 2023. This is more than many are achieving, because they fought hard.

But in reality the increase is some 5 percent for each year of the deal. With inflation running at over 7 percent, that’s effectively a pay cut.

Strikers fought with great determination. They began with two week-long strikes towards the end of last year, then quickly escalated to all-out action. This is significant and rare compared to other Unite and Stagecoach disputes. But Unite union officials undermined the action.

Firstly Unite dropped the demand for an equal rate of pay across depots in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham.

This ended in the union suspending action by workers in Rotherham and Barnsley to consider an offer, leaving those in Sheffield to fight alone.

Also Unite suspended a strike of 400 workers on Cambus, in Cambridge, a subsidiary of Stagecoach. The strikes should have joined to hit the bosses harder.

The fight helped to grow the union’s strength—membership grew from 27 to 150 workers in the build up to the strike. And big picket lines showed workers’ determination throughout the indefinite action, with lots of solidarity from members of other unions.

The action had the potential to win a genuine pay rise.

Around 300 workers at First Manchester busses were set to strike for three days between Tuesday and Thursday of this week.

The members of the Unite union are fighting after bosses refused to backdate any pay increase to August 2021. August is the month when the annual pay increase was due.

More than Nottingham bus drivers have won a 8.3 to 9.3 percent pay rise equating to £1 an hour. The top rate of pay will rise to £13.10 an hour.

Drivers who work for council-owned Nottingham City Transport (NCT) previously rejected a poor offer from bosses.

The revised deal will come into effect on 31 January, two months before the usual anniversary date for pay rises. NCT drivers are now some of the highest paid drivers outside of London.

Climate chaos damaging babies’ health

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Yuri No Comments
Forest fire sweeps a hill side in Greece in 2007 part of climate chaos. Picture: LotusR/Flickr

Forest fire sweeps a hill side in Greece in 2007. Picture: LotusR/Flickr

A new report has found that the last seven years were the hottest on record and that temperatures have already risen by 1.2 degrees from pre-industrial levels.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2021 was the fifth-warmest year ever, with record‑breaking heat in some regions. 

Rising heat has deadly consequences. Six separate studies have found the climate crisis puts both mothers and their babies at risk during pregnancy and after birth. 

One found that births are 16 percent more likely to be premature in areas suffering heatwaves. 

Another study found the prevalence of Fetal gastroschisis, a condition where babies’ intestines extend out of the belly, increases in areas with frequent wildfires.  The scientists that complied the studies wrote, “The evidence is clear. Climate hazards, particularly heat and air pollution, do adversely impact a wide range of reproductive, perinatal and paediatric health outcomes.

“The expected pace of continued climate change and resulting impacts on our physical and mental health and wellbeing calls for decisive and immediate action on adaptation.”

Scientists also concluded it is the poorest and most marginalised mothers and children who are disproportionately harmed by the climate crisis. 

No wonder ever more people are fearful of climate change. 

A new US survey found that six in ten Americans are concerned about climate change, with 33 percent saying they are “alarmed” by the crisis. In the last decade the number saying they are “alarmed” has doubled. Just 9 percent were dismissive of the threat.  The percentage of those “dismissive” has shrunk rapidly in recent years.

Protests against Shell are spreading

Protests are pushing back oil and gas giant Shell. Thousands protested on the beaches of Mar del Plata a tree‑lined coastal city in Argentina earlier this month.

Activists are angry that centre left president Alberto Fernandez has given the go-ahead to Shell and Equinor firms to conduct “seismic exploration” of the Argentine Sea for gas and oil drilling. 

Juan Manuel Ballestero, a surfer and lifeguard on the coast, said that he was against further exploration because of “disastrous data on oil spills in Brazil and Mexico.”

Coventry bins strikers won’t take rubbish pay

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Coventry bin workers on the picket line with Zarah Sultana MP

Coventry bin workers a joined on the picket line by Zarah Sultana. (Picture: Richard Milner)

Bin workers in Coventry have been on strike for a pay rise since the beginning of the year.

Senior Unite union rep Mick Shortland told Socialist Worker the workers have been “pushed” into this situation.
“We’re not going to allow the council to get away with the fact the salaries they’re paying aren’t enough,” he said.
“We want a substantial increase—and inflation is rocketing.
“The frustrating thing is the council knows in ­reality that they’ve got to give a higher rate of pay—as they’ve done for the latest recruits.
“We’ve had members and staff leaving that have been with local authority a long time because they’ve had better offers.”
The strike is going well. “There’s a great atmosphere on the picket lines,” Mick said.
“They’re well attended and we’ve had quite a lot of support from various ­organisations, unions and Unite branches.”
He added that the ­council has got to realise strikers “won’t just be railroaded with our tail between our legs and just go back into work”.
“We’re public service workers who were on the frontline through Covid. Management thanked the workforce—that seems to be forgotten very quickly.”
Instead, the council is trying to mislead the public with claims that HGV drivers earn more than they do. “I’ve seen quotes that drivers earn up to £54,000 a year as a salary and the public are falling for it,” Mick explained. 
“In reality the starting salary for a HGV driver is currently £22,183 a year—that’s £11.50 an hour.
“We’re angry about it. It means working 77 hours a week to earn what they say we earn.
“It takes 12 years to get to the top of the current pay grading. And even then the maximum figure for a HGV driver is £27,741.
“That’s including ­contractual overtime as well—three hours a week.”
Mick said the workforce has been trying to get the council to recognise the recruitment issue for HGV drivers for many years. 
“This came to a head in the summer when it became a national problem,” he added.
Strikes have been extended to the end of March.
“No one comes out and takes industrial action for the sake of it, and it’s not the warmest of weathers to do this in,” Mick said. “But the way it’s got to this situation is the council’s attitude to us—hence why we’re determined to continue.”
Mick pointed out that the Coventry strikers’ fight is the fight of every worker fighting for pay. 
“If we can improve our members’ salaries and wages, that can hopefully be seen,” he said
Send donations to Unite WM/7116 Coventry local government—sort code 60-83-01 account number 20302665.

Lessons to be learnt after Unison vote
Council and school workers in England and Wales voted by just over 70 percent for strikes over pay—but on a turnout of just 14.5 percent.
That falls far short of the 50 percent turnout demanded by the anti-union laws.
It’s the latest example of how such laws are used to stop workers fighting. But the shocking turnout is also a crisis for the Unison union and its activists.
Unison is one of the largest unions in Britain and organises workers in every council—some 375,000 of whom were
asked to vote.
The problem is not that workers are apathetic. They all face looming attacks on their living standards, and there’s a pool of bitterness among those who worked throughout the pandemic.
But the result suggests many have no real relationship with the union.
But a bigger, underlying issue is that at least a decade without a serious national fight against attacks on pay, pensions and jobs has weakened Unison.
One way to rebuild is by building solidarity with workers fighting back in other unions—and using them to encourage Unison.”
Nick Clark

Ending Covid rules good for profits—not people

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
A Covid mask on a railing

Plans to ditch most restrictions could be deadly

Boris Johnson is set to end all Covid protection measures in a desperate bid to sure-up support for his leadership among the Tory right.
The scandal-ridden prime minister is expected to axe advice to work from home where possible, and end face mask rules in the majority of indoor settings on 26 January.
The news comes despite Covid-related deaths averaging over 250 per day last week, and almost 20,000 people in hospital each day.
The move to end the very limited restrictions currently in place risks reigniting the virus.
In a race between capitalist countries across Europe to return to full profiteering, the loss of a few thousand lives and the potential collapse of the NHS means little.
Tory chairman Oliver Dowden spelt out the priorities on TV’s Sky News this weekend.
“I’m under no doubt the kind of burdens (restrictions) puts hospitality, wider business, schools and so on under, and I want us to get rid of those if we possibly can,” he said.
But it is not only the right that is itching to “set business free”.
In Spain the supposedly left government of Pedro Sanchez, which includes the anti-austerity party Podemos is set to copy Johnson.
Discussing Covid, the prime minister declared last week that people would “have to learn to live with it, as we do many other viruses”. 
The French health minister Oliver Veran said that a combination of a high level of Omicron infections and vaccinations means we are seeing the end of the pandemic.
It is far too early to make any such claim.
While true that Omicron is responsible for far less serious disease than its predecessors, there is only limited information about how it affects unvaccinated and only partially vaccinated people.
Letting the virus “run free” has other implications too, as Dr Hans Kluge of the World Health Organisation pointed out last week.
“I am deeply concerned that as the variant moves east, we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” he said.
Kluge’s point is that decisions about Covid policy taken in wealthy countries have huge potential implications for others—and that in itself creates a risk of more new coronavirus strains.
If in Britain the Omicron wave continues to slow, rather than ending all restrictions, it would be far better to prepare for the possibility of other new variants.
This would mean rethinking our approach to work and learning in an era of pandemics.

But for right wing Tories and supposedly left wing social democrats, forward planning along these lines entails too big a threat to the business of profit making to be considered.

Labour seeks to reassure bosses by pushing ‘live with Covid’

The Labour Party wants to prove itself as an alternative to the Tories—by parroting some of its most right wing politicians.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting wrote that people in Britain have to “learn to live with Covid”.
That’s the same slogan you’ll have heard from Boris Johnson and Tory ministers. 
 They mean people have to get used to thousands—if not tens of thousands—of coronavirus related deaths each year.
Streeting said the government and workplaces would have to adopt a series of measures to live with Covid.
These included demands left wing trade union activists would raise and fight for, such as improved sick pay, and safer, more ventilated workplaces.
He also said there should be a greater availability of Covid‑19 tests, and that surplus vaccines should be redistributed around the world.
But his announcement was a calculated appeal to the right.
He made it in the pages of the right wing Mail on Sunday, which jeered, “Now even Labour call for an end to lockdowns” and , “Tory MPs cheer major climbdown on curbs as opposition’s health spokesman says ‘We must live with Covid’”.
Labour wants to prove that it is more capable of restoring society and the economy to “business as usual” and full profiteering than the Tories.
That’s why Keir Starmer said on Saturday that Boris Johnson should resign “in the national interest.”
He wants to convince big business bosses that they can no longer trust the Tories, and should put their hopes in Labour instead. 
So Labour has to show it will keep up with the rush of governments across Europe to end all covid restrictions (see above) 
And that means—despite Streeting’s measures—in the end, Labour will put the interest of business and the bosses ahead of ordinary people’s lives.
Nick Clark

One year of Biden—his vulnerability grows

Posted on: January 18th, 2022 by Sam No Comments
Joe Biden on stage, campaigning for the Democrat Party.

Republicans are using economic and imperialist failures to undermine Joe Biden. (Photo: Marc Nozell)

On Thursday this week it will be a year since Joe Biden was inaugurated as president of the United States. 
It was an unusual inauguration—25,000 National Guardsmen, armed to the teeth, were deployed to make sure there was no repetition of the far right attempt to seize the Capitol in Washington DC on 6 January.
Nevertheless, Biden’s presidency raised high hopes. He unfolded an ambitious economic programme. Its aim was to rebuild the infrastructure of the US economy, reduce economic inequality, and enhance the competitiveness of US capitalism. 
If successful, this programme would address three threats—climate change, the Chinese challenge to US global hegemony, and the far right whom Trump had advanced within the Republican Party. But now all this is running into the sand. Biden’s legislative programme looks as if it will fall victim to deadlock in the two houses of Congress. 
In 2020 the Democrats were able to win only a narrow majority in the House of Representatives and half the seats in the Senate. This gives exceptional power to two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The media describes them as “moderates”. In reality, whether out of conviction or opportunism, they accommodate the ascendant right within the Republicans. 
They forced Biden to whittle down his “Build Back Better” bill, which is designed to bring the welfare state in the US closer to west European standards. Then Manchin vetoed the bill altogether.
So Biden switched his focus onto voting rights. The Republicans have reacted to their defeat in 2020 by accelerating their efforts to disenfranchise poor people of colour, who tend to vote Democrat. 
But it looks as if Sinema and Manchin have scuppered voting rights as well, by refusing to support overturning the procedural device that allows the Republicans in the Senate to block the two bills backed by Biden. And then, making it a triple whammy, the conservative dominated Supreme Court voted six to three to strike down Biden’s attempt to instruct large employers to make their employees either get vaccinated or show they had a negative test. 
Meanwhile the talks between the US and Russia, to ease the Ukraine crisis went badly. The Washington Post commented, Biden “had received multiple reminders of the limits of his office—and the fragile state of his presidency”.
Biden’s vulnerability has been developing for a while. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan back in August saw his opinion poll ratings drop. They are stuck around 43 percent positive and 50 percent negative. 
Meanwhile inflation is rising and has reached the highest level since 1982. The Republicans and their Democratic allies such as Manchin blame this on Biden’s high spending, ignoring the fact the biggest stimuli took place under Trump.
Edward Luce wrote in the Financial Times, “You do not need to be over 50 to see today’s parallels with the US of the 1970s. That decade offers an instantly recognisable meme of rising inflation, political drift, spiralling crime and ominous geopolitics.” 
He implies Biden could end up like the hapless Democratic president Jimmy Carter, whose re-election bid in 1980 was swept aside by the Republican landslide for Ronald Reagan.
Luce warns, “Change is moving closer to impossible in the United States.” 
As he notes, the fetishised constitution adopted in 1789 is designed to prevent democratic change. But the more immediate problem is that the dynamic force in US politics today is a Republican Party dominated a year after the storming of the Capitol by Trump and his followers.
Their plan is obvious—to sabotage Biden’s programme and win back control of Congress in the mid-term elections in November. Then they can regain the presidency two years later, probably for policies similar to Trump’s but possibly more dangerous because more coherently and efficiently implemented. Who can stop them? Not Hillary Clinton, despite attempts to talk up her chances in 2024 by her supporters. 
Only a genuinely left-wing alternative to both Republicans and Democrats can begin to combat the far right advance.

Tories attack the BBC—even though they depend on it

Posted on: January 17th, 2022 by Nick No Comments
A collage in which a portrait of Tory culture secretary Nadine Dorries in black and white is imposed on a colour image of the BBC headquarters in London

Nadine Dorries wants rid of the BBC (Background picture: David Carroll)

Tory culture secretary Nadine Dorries has threatened an assault on the very existence of the BBC.

Dorries announced on Sunday a £2 billion BBC budget cut, a two‑year funding freeze and that licence fee funding would end in 2027.

She argued that Britain should “discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling” BBC television services and programmes.”

“The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over,” she added.

Sections of the Tory right have long pushed for an assault on the BBC. Many are ideologically opposed to the idea of a state‑owned broadcaster.

For many of them, this is linked to the myth that the BBC has a left wing or liberal bias, and that its programming has become too “woke.”

They are motivated by business interests too. Destroying the BBC and replacing it with charged subscription based broadcasting services is on the agenda for big business and right wing media outlets.

The Tory vision of media is for it to be dominated by right wing tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch.

But not every Tory is as keen as Dorries to do away with the BBC. A spokesperson from 10 Downing Street tried to downplay some of Dorries’ more ambitious claims.

They said the matter of future funding for the BBC was “subject to ongoing negotiations”.

As the state owned broadcaster, governments—especially Tory ones—can rely on the BBC in moments of crisis.

That’s because, even if not directly influenced by any government or party, the BBC reflects the perspective of the British state.

BBC political coverage is largely confined to what happens in parliament, speculation about elections and gossip about individuals.

Its notion of “acceptable” views is a very narrow range of opinions centred on support for the system as it is, big business and British military strength. Left wing and working class voices rarely feature.

This implicit bias revealed itself in the BBC’s treatment of Jeremy Corbyn while he was Labour leader.

The BBC treated every move by Corbyn with cynicism, and at times portrayed him as a Stalinist-style communist or as the Harry Potter villain Voldemort.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson was treated to softball election interviews and a degree of sympathy based on a shared fundamental perspective.

That’s why substantial sections of the left, who might be expected to support a publicly-owned broadcaster, are unwilling to defend the BBC.

But the threatened attacks are an assault from the right designed to put even more of the media in the hands of big business.