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Covid-19 crisis: Protect the right to strike!

Already in the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen examples of workers taking industrial action, often to improve workplace safety. Outsourced cleaners, caterers, and porters at Lewisham Hospital walked out to demand the payment unpaid wages. Workers in Lambeth libraries took action to demand the closure of their workplaces. Postal workers in Bridgend struck, after bosses refuse to revise shift patterns and staffing levels to ensure safe distancing in the workplace.

Continue reading “Covid-19 crisis: Protect the right to strike!”
Featured

Resist the Tories’ new anti-strike law!

In his government’s first Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson has announced that he plans to introduce new laws to restrict strikes. There could be little clearer indication of the class loyalties of his government than this.

Continue reading “Resist the Tories’ new anti-strike law!”

The Tories still plan new anti-strike laws

In May, Bloomberg journalist Alex Morales asked Business Secretary Alok Sharma at the Downing Street press briefing whether, in light of government rhetoric about “working with unions” and valuing essential workers, the government still planned to bring forward new laws to restrict transport workers’ right to strike.

We can only assume Sharma’s non-answer means “yes.” The trade union movement must resist the coming attack.

Sign the solidarity statement: no to strike-breaking in Tower Hamlets!

TO ADD YOUR NAME, COMPLETE THE GOOGLE FORM HERE.

On 3, 6 and 7 July, thousands of Tower Hamlets council workers are striking to stop the council’s “Tower Rewards” plan to sack its entire workforce and re-employ them on worse terms and conditions.

This attack on the workers is bad enough. But on 3 July the council called the police on bin workers, members of Unite, who refused to cross a Unison picket line. Then on 6 July the police were called again, harassed pickets and supporters and arrested one.

Earlier in the dispute the council tried to use anti-union legislation to stop the National Education Union balloting on striking alongside Unison.

It is utterly shameful that a Labour council is using the Tory anti-union laws to try to prevent workers from striking. With the arrest on 6 July, things are spiralling. Tower Hamlets council must stop such behaviour, publicly ask the police to get out of the dispute, withdraw Tower Rewards and come to an agreement with its workers instead of attacking them.

(GDPR statement: This statement was launched by Free Our Unions, the grassroots campaign against anti-union laws. Your data will only be retained if you consent to being added to the Free Our Unions mailing list, and will not be passed on to any third party.)

TO ADD YOUR NAME, COMPLETE THE GOOGLE FORM HERE.

Initial Signatories (all in a personal capacity):

Alena Ivanova, Bethnal Green and Bow CLP; IWGB
Ruth Cashman, Joint Branch Secretary, Lambeth Unison
Ana Oppenheim, National Coordinating Group, Momentum
Riccardo La Torre, National Officer, FBU
John Moloney, Assistant General PCS
Alex Heslop, Bethnal Green and Bow CLP; Labour Link Officer, Southwark Unison
Andrew Berry, Unison National Labour Link Committee; Islington North CLP
Philip Lewis, Health and Safety Officer, Camden Unison; Hornsey and Wood Green CLP
Pete Firmin, Chair, Hampstead and Kilburn CLP; CWU (retired member)
Dan Jeffery, Chair, Lambeth Unison; Streatham CLP
Gina Hayden, Ealing and Southall CLP; Unison Labour Link
Liam Cooper, Chair, Wandsworth Unison; Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Martha Levi Smythe, Unison steward; Hackney North CLP
Elaine Etim, Lambeth Unison
Erin Healy, Unison; Streatham CLP
Jeremy Drinkall, Schools Convenor, Lambeth Unison; Camberwell and Peckham CLP
Yousaf Hassan, Unison; West Ham CLP
Daniel Randall, Assistant Chair, RMT Bakerloo branch

Police called on striking Tower Hamlets workers?

As Tower Hamlets council workers begin a three-day strike to resist mass sackings, reports are coming in suggesting bosses from the Labour-run council have called the police on one of the picket lines.


This disgraceful action seems to have been a response to bin workers in Unite refusing to cross the Unison picket line, an elementary act of class solidarity which bosses will no doubt claim constitutes secondary action and breaches anti-union laws.

If these reports are accurate, they heap further shame on the Labour council – not content with attempting to sack its entire workforce and re-engage them on worse terms and conditions, it apparently wants to collude with the police to use Tory anti-union laws to break strikes, too.

Labour Party members: vote for this policy submission!

Free Our Unions is encouraging supporters who are members of the Labour Party to vote for this submission to its Policy Forum. Please share the link in your local Labour Party and union networks.

https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/repeal-all-anti-union-laws

Although successive Labour Party conferences have passed policy calling for the repeal of all anti-union laws, Labour leadership figures routinely focus only on repealing the most recent, the 2016 Trade Union Act.

Ensuring a strong vote for this policy submission will help keep the pressure on the Labour leadership to respect conference policy and fight for the abolition of all laws restricting workers’ and unions’ ability to organise and take action.

Tower Hamlets council workers to strike against sackings

Council workers in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets will strike on the 3, 6, and 7 July. They are fighting to stop the Labour-run council sacking its workforce and re-engaging them on worse terms and conditions. At an earlier stage of the dispute, the council had sought an injunction against one of the unions involved to stop it from balloting.

Visit the website of the local Unison branch for details of picket lines, and to see what you can do to support the dispute.

Please sign and circulate this open letter, launched by local labour movement activists, in support of the strike.

Labour Party Policy Forum proposal: repeal all anti-union laws

Supporters of Free Our Unions active in the Labour Party and in Labour-affiliated unions have been promoting the below text as the basis for a submission to Labour’s ongoing Policy Forum policy submission process.

We encourage anyone who wants to see Labour take a strong stand against all anti-union legislation to adapt and use our text.

The process closes on 30 June. For more information, see here.

REPEAL ALL ANTI-UNION LAWS: FOR FREE TRADE UNIONS!

The Covid-19 crisis has reinforced why our party must campaign for repeal of all anti-trade nion laws – not just the 2016 Trade Union Act, but right back to the Thatcher government’s first one in 1980 – and their replacement with strong legal rights for workers and unions, including a strong and unrestricted right to strike.

Particularly faced with urgent issues like safety (but more generally too), we cannot and should not have to go through an elaborate and time-consuming process in order to take industrial action. We must insist that going on strike should be at least as easy as it was in 1979.

The anti-union laws – all of them, not just the 2016 Act – suppress the right to strike, suppress workers’ organisation, and prevent workers for standing up for their rights and for safety. While they remain, our movement is fighting with its hands tied behind its back.

We must begin by working with the unions to launch a stepped-up campaign to defeat the Tories’ proposed attack on transport workers and unions through the introduction of “minimum service” requirements, which involves abolishing even a residual right to strike for a huge swathe of workers.

Conference policy is very clear:

• Conference 2005 defied the Blair leadership to pass a motion calling for legalisation of solidarity action.
• Conference 2015 unanimously passed a motion calling for the next Labour government to “legislate for strong rights to unionise, win recognition and collective bargaining, strike, picket and take solidarity action”.
• Conference 2017 unanimously passed a motion calling for repeal of the 2016 Act and “anti-union laws introduced in the 1980s and 90s”; and a “strong legal charter of workers’ rights”. (It also said: “the most effective way to maintain good rights at work is collectively through a union. Strong unions, freed from legal shackles and bolstered by positive legal rights, will be key to tackling poverty, insecurity and inequality… For unions to be effective, workers need an effective right to strike…”)
• Conference 2018 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for a “radical government” committed to “abolishing anti-union laws”.
• Conference 2019 overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for “repeal of all anti-union laws”, specifically mentioning the right to take strike action for political reasons: “so that workers can freely take action over the climate”.
• Conference 2019 also voted to reference back the part of the NPF report on this issue, on the basis that it was not strong enough on the right to strike and repealing the anti-union laws.

The following Eastern Region FBU policy elaborates the position we believe Labour should adopt and campaign for, based both on conference decisions and what is necessary and right:
• Complete and speedy repeal of all anti-union laws.
• Strong legal rights for workers to join, recruit to and be represented by a union; strike/take industrial action by a process, at a time and for demands of their own choosing, including in solidarity with any other workers and for broader social and political goals; and picket freely.
• The right to reinstatement for workers found to have been sacked unfairly. A complete ban on dismissal for industrial action, however long it lasts. Full rights from day one of a job.
• Strong rights for unions to access workplaces, win recognition, and establish collective bargaining, including sector-wide bargaining.
• Unions’ right to decide their own policies and activities, determine their own structures and rules, and spend their funds as they choose, free from state and employer interference, in line with ILO Conventions and the European Convention on Human Rights.

We would like to conclude by quoting from a pamphlet written by Bob Crow, then RMT Assistant General Secretary, and John Hendy QC (in 1998):

“In order for the unions to fulfil the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their members’ working lives, unions have to have the legal freedom to operate. That means they must demand that the anti-union laws are repealed.

“No doubt the demand for repeal will draw contempt, criticism and scare stories from the press. But the arguments in favour of repeal and replacement are formidable and irrefutable. Furthermore, the movement has its own culture, history, images and analysis which are as persuasive as anything the media can create.

“More importantly still, if the movement does not go on the offensive with its ideas and vision, there is left a void which is filled only by the ideas and vision of its enemies.”

Support Goldsmiths workers’ action

Education workers at Goldsmiths university in south London have launched a marking boycott, as part of a fight to resist job cuts. Workers in the Associate Lecturer and Graduate Trainee Tutor roles launched the boycott, and have since been joined by fixed-term teaching staff.

Their action has been taken “unofficially”, in confrontation with the anti-union laws. Free Our Unions sends our full solidarity to the workers. We reproduce their statement, from the website Precarious@Gold, below. A link to donate to their support fund can be found at the bottom of the article.

Overview:

Goldsmiths senior management team (SMT) is laying off 163 academics on fixed term contracts, along with 309 Associate Lecturers (ALs) and Graduate Trainee Tutors (GTTs). Having refused all of our requests to have our contracts extended until the autumn and be furloughed for that period (a solution which would have allowed Goldsmiths to retain its staff at low cost until student recruitment figures made clear whether we could be kept on longer term), the University is now simply allowing fixed term contracts to expire. 

These are redundancies on a huge scale: they will leave hundreds of academics unemployed during a recession and a pandemic, significantly increase workload for remaining staff and threaten the viability of undergraduate and postgraduate courses across the university. Furthermore, figures we have collected suggest around 75% of those being laid off are from a black and minority ethnic background: if these job cuts go ahead, Goldsmiths will lose a large proportion of its BAME teaching staff, leaving students with fewer nonwhite role models and a significantly narrower curriculum.  

We, Goldsmiths academics on fixed term contracts, will not accept this treatment. From today, Monday June 15th, we will join the marking boycott begun by our AL and GTT colleagues. In addition, we will work to rule until further notice. Our demands are for an extension of our contracts until October 31st, for SMT immediately to provide each of us with details on the timescale and process for review of our contracts, and for the University to meet and negotiate with us as a group. Further details, including a full list of demands, are below.

We do not want to take this course of action. We are deeply committed to working hard for our students and have no desire to cause them disruption. However, each time we have attempted, as individuals, to discuss our contractual situation with SMT, we have been ignored, told that no decision can yet be taken or given other unsatisfactory answers. We therefore have no choice but collectively to withdraw part of our labour. We also feel that our action, if successful in persuading SMT to renew contracts, will protect rather than undermine the Goldsmiths student experience in the long term.

Our demands:

  • Contract extensions All casualised contracts, including AL, GTT and FTCs, should be extended until the end of October, when it will be clearer from student recruitment figures and other financial indicators whether contracts can be renewed for a longer period. Given that the University has refused to furlough its casualised academic staff, it is up to SMT to investigate and offer financially viable ways to extend our contracts.
  • Clarity SMT must immediately contact all casualised workers whose contracts are due to expire this summer / autumn, including ALs, GTTs and fractional and full time workers on fixed term contracts, to give them a timetable for the review of whether their contract should be renewed, to arrange review meetings, and to make clear the criteria for the review process. Since arranging these meetings is well overdue, SMT should contact workers by June 19th.
  • Negotiation The University must  arrange to meet, at the earliest possible opportunity, representatives of University and College Union (UCU), along with elected representatives of those fixed term and casualised workers due to be laid off, to discuss with them planned levels of staffing, workload and student provision for the next academic year
  • Workload impact The University must publish estimates of the impact on workload for remaining staff of cutting 472 teaching roles.
  • Equality, diversity and racial justice The University must provide figures, where available, on the ethnic, gender and disability characteristics of the 472 staff to be laid off, and publish, by the end of June 2020, an equalities impact assessment of the plans to lay off 472 casualised workers.
  • Redundancy The University must  publish details of a system of enhanced redundancy payments to be offered in the event that any job cuts go ahead
  • AL hours The University must honour additional hours worked by ALs/GTTs during the lockdown: HR must ensure that Departmental Business Managers contact all ALs/GTTs and request pay claims for all hours worked in addition to contracted hours during the lockdown. 
  • Reduce pay inequality The University should enact temporary salary cuts to Senior Management, explicitly ringfenced to fund the contract extensions of ALs and GTTs (approx £2.1 million per year budget for ALs/GTTs). This should include the Warden’s Office, Executive and Governance Services, Finance Services, Goldsmiths Strategic Venture, Strategic Planning & Projects, Organisation and Strategic Services and Planning).

Our action:

From June 15th, academics on fixed term contracts will join the marking boycott begun by ALs and GTTs, and will continue this action until our demands are met.

  • We will boycott any outstanding assessment responsibilities, including marking and moderation, until the University meets our demands.
  • If called upon to mark work that has not been marked as a result of the AL/GTT marking boycott, we will refuse.
  • We will work to rule, i.e. perform only our contractual duties, until further notice.

Background:

The University has produced figures showing that 472 casualised workers, made up of 309 Associate Lecturers and Graduate Trainee Tutors and 163 academics on full time or fractional fixed term contracts, will be laid off during the summer and autumn of 2020.

Though SMT has refused to provide a demographic breakdown of those whose contracts will be terminated, figures we have collected suggest that 75% of those to be laid off are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and an overwhelming majority are women. This confirms the findings of other reports that show BAME people and women are heavily overrepresented among casualised academics. Goldsmiths has claimed it wishes to “address the BME degree attainment gap and wider racial justice issues”, but sacking hundreds of BAME teaching staff will leave all students, and particularly the 45% of Goldsmiths’ student body that is BAME, with fewer role models, a narrower curriculum and an impoverished all round educational experience. 

Communication from the University has been very poor over this issue, and academics on fixed term contracts feel they have been treated callously and with disrespect. Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us had been told verbally by our heads of department that we would likely have our contracts renewed. Since then, the University has instead announced that all hiring was on hold and that SMT would “review” whether each fixed term contract should be renewed. None of our contracts have thus far been reviewed, however, and nor have any of us been given a timescale or process for this review. Our contracts end in a matter of weeks and we still have no clarity on whether we will be unemployed next academic year.

In order to offer a cheap solution that would allow the University to retain its staff, many fixed term workers requested to have our contracts extended for a short period, until October, and be furloughed for that period under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The Associate Lecturers campaign similarly requested that ALs be furloughed for the same time frame. All requests were refused, with the HR Director Carol Ford, in an email to all staff sent June 8th, wrongly claiming that academic staff are not eligible for furlough, despite the fact that other universities including the University of the Arts London has furloughed casualised academics and the Universities Minister confirmed on April 8th that university staff could be furloughed.

The university seems intent on allowing our contracts, most of which end between June and September, to expire. This suspicion is reinforced by Carol Ford’s suggestion in her June 8th all-staff email that the University would “not be able to confirm AL/GTT requirements for the next academic year until student numbers and choices for the 20/21 academic year are clear”. We cannot wait until the autumn, well after most of our contracts expire, to find out if we will have a job at Goldsmiths next academic year. 

The University is not being open about the fact these layoffs constitute redundancy for a huge proportion (perhaps around half) of academic staff, which will surely mean significant increases in workload for remaining staff and/or cutting courses and reducing the teaching time to which students are entitled. As such, the University’s plans should be the subject of collective consultation with the unions – including the Student Union. 

Please donate to our solidarity fund for causalised staff facing job losses: https://opencollective.com/goldsmithsmutualaid

Solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter strikers!

As protests continue in the USA and worldwide against racism and police brutality, we are beginning to see organised labour take action as part of the movement.

During protests in Minneapolis and New York, members of transport workers’ unions refused to drive buses for arrestee transport. On 9 June, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), a dockworkers’ union with a long history of striking over political issues, conducted a work stoppage to protest the murder of George Floyd. The stoppage, which involved locals in numerous west coast ports, lasted nine minutes, the length of time police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.

Clarence Thomas, former Secretary-Treasurer of ILWU Local 10, said: “Fighting police murders and white supremacy is a class question. Let’s not forget that the vast majority of black people, and the vast majority of victims of police repression, are working class.

“For many years now, ILWU, and Local 10 in particular, has been protesting the racist policing of African Americans. And we understand that the way these murders can be stopped is when there are economic consequences. The working class has leverage — and we need to use it.”

Now ILWU members plan to respond to a call from activists for strikes to mark “Juneteenth”, the 19 June commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Texas, where slavery continued for two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The ILWU’s Juneteenth strike is slated to last eight hours, and ILWU locals are also seeking coordination with the International Longshoremen’s Associaiton (ILA), the main east coast dockers’ union.

Anti-union laws features significantly in this picture. The ILWU is already facing the prospect of court fines that could bankrupt the union, thanks to a federal court ruling holding it responsible for losses incurred during a previous action the court deemed a “secondary boycott” – i.e., a solidarity strike, prohibited in the USA since 1947’s Taft-Hartley Act.

The Act also prohibits political strikes, a ban bolstered by a 2006 directive from the National Labor Relations Board general counsel, an office significantly empowered by Taft-Hartley, which said bosses could legitimately fire workers who took part in a 2006 migrant workers’ strike demanding a more liberal immigration policy. To get round these laws, the Juneteenth strike will be called in parallel with – i.e., on the same day and at the same time – as action in a separate, official, dispute. That is no firm guarantee, however, that employers and the state will not pursue further action against the ILWU.

All the more reason, then, for the international labour movement to organise solidarity. Free Our Unions is encouraging activists to post pictures in support of the strike; feel free to use this sign, or make your own.


Please also circulate this article in your own workplace/union to raise awareness of the issue, and propose practical solidarity initiatives. That might be something as simple as a photo call at work, or a meeting to discuss the issues, including how we might confront our own legal prohibition on political strikes and organise workers’ action against racism.

If organised labour enters the fight against racism as a strategic actor, enormous new possibilities are opened up. As Clarence Thomas put it: “The most effective way to stop police terror is by the working class taking action at the point of production: if the working class is to be heard, [organised] labour must shut it down.”

Further reading:

“West Coast Dockers Stop Work to Honor George Floyd”, Labor Notes, 11 June
“Dockworkers to Shut Down West Coast Ports in Memory of George Floyd”, The Nation, 11 June
“The Most Effective Way to Stop Police Terror Is Action at the Point of Production”, interview with Clarence Thomas in Jacobin, 6 June
“Protesters call for a black workers’ strike on Juneteenth”, Newsweek, 13 June
“Twin Cities Labor Mobilizes Against George Floyd Murder”, Labor Notes, 29 May
TWU Local 100 statement on the murder of George Floyd
“The Survival of the ILWU at Stake!”, CounterPunch, 12 February
“Labor Board Limits Political Strikes”, Labor Notes, 26 September 2008

Free Our Unions online forum, 24 June, 6:30pm

Workers’ action in the pandemic: organising against and around the anti-union laws

An online forum organised by Free Our Unions 

Wednesday 24 June, 18:30-20:30. Log in via Zoom here.

Facebook event here.

Britain’s anti-union legislation exists to prevent workers taking swift and effective action. Workers’ action during the pandemic has either simply ignored that legislation, or taken the form of refusals-to-work under health and safety legislation, legally distinct from “industrial action”. In the background is the Tories’ ongoing plan to bring forward new legislation imposing a “minimum service requirement” during transport strikes, effectively outlawing all-out strikes by transport workers.

This panel, organised by Free Our Unions, the grassroots campaign against anti-union laws, brings together worker activists from a range of industries to discuss how they have confronted, and/or been hampered by, anti-union legislation in their recent and ongoing struggles.

Speakers include:

Alex Marshall, TDL courier and chair of the IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch

Marie Harrington, London Underground worker and RMT rep; chair of the RMT’s National Women’s Advisory Committee

Gregor Gall, industrial relations professor and labour movement activist

More tbc, including school workers and NEU activists.

Chair:

Riccardo La Torre, firefighter and FBU activist