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Second victory on fees

THEY DID it in Goldsmiths' and now we have won a brilliant victory here." That was the message coming from students at Guildhall University in east London. Their occupation victory against fees last week came hot on the heels of a similar victorious occupation at Goldsmiths' College. The Guildhall students won in just three hours! College management agreed that no student would be expelled for not being able to pay their fees. It also extended the deadline for students to notify the college of any financial problems they have with paying their fees.

The occupation began after students heard the head of the college say that 315 students had not paid their tuition fees and he would kick them out by 16 April. Over 150 students immediately voted to occupy their college on Wednesday of last week. John Barrie, a student involved in the occupation, said, "What does the head of our college know about hardship? He earns £80,000 a year." Sarah, a first year student, added, "I was prepared to occupy the college all over the Easter holiday. The expulsion of students who can't pay their fees is a scandal that everyone should oppose. Our management shouldn't be carrying out the government's dirty work."

New Labour introduced the fees, of up to £1,000 a year, and abolished the student maintenance grant. Across the country thousands of students face expulsion for not being able to pay their fees. But students at Goldsmiths' and Guildhall have forced their college managements to back down from expelling those who cannot afford to pay. There have also been occupations at University College London and Camberwell Art College in the three weeks before the end of term.

Students at Oxford University organised a series of brilliant demonstrations in support of students who were refusing to pay their fees. These occupations and protests have boosted the confidence of students everywhere to take up the fight against fees. The decision not to expel students who cannot pay their fees at Goldsmiths' and Guildhall has set a precedent for every college and university in the country.

From now on NO student should be expelled. Occupations are the best way to ensure that it does not happen. When students return from the Easter holiday they should be publicising the victories at Goldsmiths' and Guildhall and building occupation meetings in their colleges.

Tameside Care

SOME 200 strikers and their supporters marched through Ashton-under-Lyne last Saturday to mark the first anniversary of the Tameside Care workers' dispute.

Council workers

HOME HELPS in Brent, north west London, won a victory last week after voting to strike. But they immediately found themselves plunged into a new battle with the Labour controlled council. The home helps had been facing new contracts, which included more "flexible" working and attacks on extra pay for working weekends. Last week the workers returned an 85 percent vote to strike, forcing the council to back down. But the council now says it wants to privatise the home help service. A determined stance backed up by action if needed can beat off that threat, too.

The whole council workforce in Brent could be striking soon over a separate issue. The biggest union meeting of council workers in the borough for years voted on Thursday of last week to hold a strike ballot. The council wants to push through a series of attacks under the guise of the national single status deal agreed between council unions and employers.

The deal was supposed to bring manual workers' conditions up to those of most white collar workers. But many councils have been trying to use the deal to push through attacks on workers' conditions. In Brent the council wants to cut the extra pay workers get for the cost of living in the capital from £2,409 a year to £1,281 a year. It also wants to increase the working week for those white collar workers now on 35 hours to 37.


SOME 1,200 angry council workers, members of UNISON, attended a mass meeting in Liverpool last week. The council is using the pretext of the national single status deal to try and impose draconian attacks on workers. Scrapping shift and overtime payments could cost some workers up to £1,500 a year. The council also wants to increase working hours for those white collar workers now on 35 a week.

A motion to reject the council's plans and to ballot on action if the council seeks to impose them was unanimously passed. A call for an immediate ballot to force the council to back down was defeated but won a warm hearing.


REHOUSING workers in Camden, north London, were set to launch an all out strike on Tuesday. The Labour controlled council was threatening possible legal action to delay or block the action. The 23 workers rehouse people who are often in desperate situations. But the council wants to axe two jobs, and that comes after years of earlier cuts.

"We just won't be able to cope," says rehousing worker Phoebe Watkins. "The council has given up caring about the service. We are fighting to be given the resources we need to do this important job properly." The strikers have already been on strike for a week recently. Solidarity will be vital if they are to win an indefinite strike.


GLASGOW COUNCIL workers voted narrowly, by 2,053 to 1,752, against striking over the attacks from the city's Labour controlled council last week. National officials did nothing to generate the kind of campaign that could have won, and the lack of publicity reaching the workplaces in the city was a major factor in the no vote. There was also no recommendation from the union on which way to vote posted out with the ballot papers.

The UNISON union in Scotland is sponsoring several Labour candidates in May's Scottish parliamentary elections, and officials do not want strikes against Labour councils in the run up to that vote. The size of the strike vote shows a big minority want to fight and are not happy with the attitude of their leaders.


LEADERS OF the 1.3 million strong UNISON public sector workers' union made sure they got national media coverage for one story last week. It was not the official strikes by UNISON members at London's UCLH hospitals or Sheffield's housing benefits department. Nor was it any of the other battles UNISON members are engaged in and down the country. UNISON leaders publicised an attack on the union's 18,000 strong Birmingham council branch.

They suspended the branch, and sent a team of officials in to run it. They cited a series of allegations about the "running of the branch". The nature of these is best judged when you realise that allegations of "misuse of funds" mean paying for branch members' transport to join last year's lobby of the Labour Party conference, which was backed by over 200 other union branches!

The union leaders do not want to rock the boat for New Labour. Birmingham UNISON has campaigned against the city's Labour controlled council closing elderly people's homes and privatising schools and council homes. An activists' meeting in Birmingham last week began organising to defend the branch. And UNISON members were to lobby the UNISON regional offices in Birmingham on Monday.

Meanwhile UNISON leaders also stepped up their witch hunt against the Sheffield council branch of the union last week. They annulled recent elections for the branch's officers, and sent a smearing letter targeted at branch secretary Annette Carey—a housing benefits striker and Socialist Workers Party member—out to every UNISON member in the council. They also demanded Annette attended an investigation last week, despite an important strike meeting the same day. That investigation, which also targeted other union members in the council, is over the local branch backing unofficial strike action against compulsory redundancies last year.

Annette said she would attend a hearing, but not at the cost of leaving the strike at a crucial juncture. The union's leaders have now axed her right to rebut the attacks on her and say she will not cooperate with their investigation. UNISON members need to demand their leaders start fighting the attacks their members face and stop attacking those who want to build resistance.


ANGRY PARENTS and carers in Hackney, east London, lobbied councillors last week over huge rises in charges for nursery places. At the council's own nurseries a new "out of core hours" charge of £5 a day for any child who arrives before 9am and leaves after 5pm has caused particular resentment. Now the council is proposing to cut its funding for other nurseries as well.

"This is a terrible blow against working parents and goes right against all the talk about 'welfare to work'," said one parent. At least six parents have already given jobs up because of the new fee structure and the increases. Several councillors at the Early Years Committee last week said they were sympathetic. But when it came to the vote almost nobody dissented from continuing with the cuts. A campaign against the fee rises is continuing.

Sky Chefs

LUFTHANSA Sky Chefs workers in Paris struck for 24 hours last week in protest at the sacking of 273 colleagues at Heathrow in London. This contrasts sharply with the miserable support given to the strikers by leaders of their own TGWU union. Even a cultural event on Monday of last week had to be called unofficially since Alan Green, TGWU airport officer, refused to back it. The strikers are planning to join the march in Newcastle against low pay on 10 April. An event is planned on the picket line for 3 May.

Welsh Labour Party

Fistful of fives

THE WELSH Labour Party conference last week in Llandudno saw continuing anger over the manoeuvring and stitch ups by the party leaders during the election between Alun Michael and Rhodri Morgan to be prospective leader of the Welsh Assembly. Tony Blair admitted in his speech to the conference it had been a "difficult" contest, but he wanted everyone to forget it all now. Party leaders pushed through a series of changes designed to clamp down on dissent in the Assembly and to make the voice of the constituencies even weaker.

Executive member Chris Roberts denounced the changes to the make up of the executive as reducing the power of ordinary members, and said they would lead to a "huge war between the party and the executive". Sue Roberts, Labour's candidate for Cardiff North, appealed to the party centre to "loosen your grip".

Labour unveiled the five pledges it will focus on to fight the Assembly elections. They are incredibly limited. The ones which promise extra funding for schools and hospitals are simply the Welsh portion of increases which have already been announced by chancellor Gordon Brown. Another is to "work hard with business to create jobs". The only slight improvement offered is free bus travel for pensioners—although in many parts of Wales pensioners would have to be pretty hardy to endure the average wait for a bus.

Rhodri Morgan, the "rebel" candidate against Alun Michael, helped the leadership out by saying at a fringe meeting that as "a patriot" he was not going criticise party leaders during the election.


SOCIALIST WORKER will be running May Day greetings from trade union and other bodies this year.

Civil rights conference

Rally kicks off new fight for civil rights


Picture: JESS HURD

IMRAN KHAN (left) and Mike Mansfield at Sunday’s conference

THE RACISM and injustice at the heart of the British state were laid out for all to see at the launch meeting of the National Civil Rights Movement (NCRM) in London last Sunday. The meeting reflected the anger amongst ordinary people that crystallised around the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

As Lawrence family lawyer Mike Mansfield, one of the driving forces behind the NCRM, said, "The question is asked, is there a need for a civil rights movement in this country? Yet this is a country that is sending bombers abroad—a country willing to criticise other countries about their failures while ignoring the failures in their own backyard. This movement isn't just about racism. It's about a whole panoply of rights, hinged on the right to life and a certain type of life—access to education, non-selective education, access to employment, access to housing."

Over 500 delegates listened in silence to representatives from many campaigns against injustice. Kwesi Menson spoke for many when he laid into the police who had refused to believe that his brother Michael had been the victim of an attack. "Did they really think our lives were so cheap that we would go away?" asked Kwesi. "Is it really acceptable for a black man, anybody, to be attacked in the streets and their lives written off?" It won't do for families like ours to be isolated. That is why we need a civil rights movement."

Sukhdev Reel said, "We need a national civil rights movement. It will encourage victims to stand up. It's a chance to channel the anger, grief and frustration into positive action."

There was anger at New Labour's anti-asylum bill. As Imran Khan, speaking for the Lawrence campaign, said, "It's interesting to note this government saying they are committed to anti-racism while it treats refugees and asylum seekers as second class citizens." He also hinted strongly that the Lawrences were far from happy with the "Action Plan" put forward last week by home secretary Jack Straw in response to the inquiry. The government was to hold a full parliamentary debate as Socialist Worker went to press.

Later on the conference elected a 60 strong steering committee to guide the organisation. Speakers from the floor made their voices heard. Many talked about making the police and the justice system accountable to ordinary people. Others, such as a speaker from Manchester, said that it was not only police racism that black people were angry about. "We've got an education system that is failing black people, poor housing, unemployment. Organise, get people on board and change the world."

Stafford Scott, an activist from Broadwater Farm, Tottenham, talked about the uprising on the estate in 1985. "People rose up that day because they felt they wouldn't get justice. The intention was to teach the police and the government a bloody good lesson. It hasn't been learnt. We are watching those in power to see what they'll do."

Another national conference will be held in September in the north of England.

University of Central England

OVER 70 students met at the University of Central England on Monday of last week to discuss institutionalised racism. They looked at police racism, institutionalised racism at the university, and how to end it. Students were outraged that one of the organisers of the meeting had received racist death threats from what appeared to be another student. They were angry that the university vice-chancellor did not guarantee to expel students involved in making such threats. They cheered a call to run organised racists off the campus and occupy the vice-chancellor's office, if necessary, to force the university to take action.





ASSEMBLE 1pm, Dominion Centre, The Green, Southall, London

RALLY Southall Park


British Library

THE strike at the British Library has been ended by the PCS union after management offered negotiations. Strikers had picketed out the reading room and basement staff at the prestigious St Pancras site for the past three weeks. The dispute centred on a regrading that would have meant about 40 of 120 workers losing around £1,000. That £1,000 has been safeguarded at least until the end of next year.

The strikers had been balloted for a month's rolling action. But they went back when a joint working party was offered. "People say we have moved forward," said one of the strikers. "In a nutshell, we've held them off." However, the strikers were unhappy with the agreement struck between union officials and management that they would not strike on this issue again this year.


Ballot now

FIREFIGHTERS face the biggest attack on their pay and conditions for over 20 years. If the attacks go through they will fling the door open to further cuts in a fire service which is already slashed to the bone. Leaders of the Fire Brigades Union last week rejected the employers' proposals to tear up national terms and conditions. They have called a national lobby of talks with the employers in two weeks time, and say there will be an immediate strike ballot if employers try to impose changes.

The employers, representatives of local fire authorities which are overwhelmingly controlled by New Labour, want:

"This is a blow at the fundamentals of the union," says Neale Williams, FBU secretary of eastern command group three in London. Many fire authorities say they need at least a 5 percent increase in government funding to stave off cuts. The government is insisting on a 2 percent "efficiency" saving to help make up the difference. "It's a recipe for attacks on firefighters AND cuts," says Dick Duane, FBU vice-chair in Essex. Deaths by fire have increased by 33 percent in London in recent years. They will rocket further if the employers get their way.

Every firefighter needs to build for a huge turnout on the national lobby. FBU leaders should not delay in balloting for action. Some fire authorities, like London, are proposing their own attacks on national conditions. That should be a trigger for an immediate ballot for national action. Talks between union leaders and employers were due on Monday . FBU union branches need to pass resolutions calling for their union leaders to stand firm.

This is no time to get trapped into conceding conditions in negotiations. There should be a ballot for action now. Local strikes in Merseyside, Derbyshire and Essex over the last three years have won massive public backing. Ordinary people trust firefighters more than New Labour politicians. Most people want higher taxes on the rich to pay for public services. A fight to defend firefighters' conditions and for funding for the service can win.


Reid Kerr

OVER 700 people demonstrated last Saturday in Paisley, near Glasgow, against compulsory redundancies at Reid Kerr College. Alongside lecturers and students from the college was a tremendous level of solidarity, with banners and delegations from elsewhere. People were fantastically angry with New Labour. The Scottish Office, under Donald Dewar, has taken over the running of the college and is forcing the redundancies through.

Rossina Mohammed, a member of the EIS lecturers' union in North Lanarkshire, said, "We're here to show solidarity. New Labour does equal Old Tories and people are sick of it." Margaret Ferguson, chair of the Reid Kerr EIS branch, was furious that the government was handing education over to unelected quangos. Jackie Forrest, a member of the Socialist Workers Party standing in the elections for the Scottish Parliament, won applause at the rally for attacking New Labour and arguing for workers to resist the attacks the government is launching.

The demonstration was a marvellous boost for Reid Kerr workers. Their next move needs to be to demand EIS union leaders call strike action, which Reid Kerr staff voted for by nine to one but union leaders called off two weeks ago.


ABOUT 70 parents, pupils and teachers confronted New Labour councillors at an angry meeting over the merger of schools in Telford and Wrekin last week. They handed a 1,000 name petition to the head of education condemning the mergers. Councillors have agreed to go ahead with the mergers, but parents plan to take their fight to London and confront education secretary David Blunkett.


Crown Woods

UP TO 200 parents, students and teachers marched through Eltham, south east London, last Saturday to protest at the threatened sacking of 18 teachers and six support staff. Linda Neal, the head teacher pushing the cuts through, claims they are necessary to clear a £500,000 deficit. Greenwich local education authority has given the school leeway to clear the deficit over five years, but the head wants to clear it by next year. Angry students led the march. Teachers have voted for the NUT union to begin a ballot for strike action.


AROUND 100 students at Kidderminster College in Worcestershire demonstrated on Friday of last week against plans to axe the equivalent of 12 full time lecturers' posts. The president of the student union at the college, Richard Allen, said, "We can't afford to lose the quality of staff we have here." Earlier 95 percent of teachers voted against the college principal in a vote of no confidence.

University lecturers

UNIVERSITY lecturers are set to ballot for strike action after rejecting a 3 percent pay offer. David Triesman, the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers union, predicted "a spring of discontent in education" last week. Lecturers have seen years of attacks on pay and conditions. There has been a huge increase in short term contracts and "casualisation". An angry national meeting of union reps rejected the pay offer two weeks ago.

Now the AUT is to send out ballot papers and the result will be known by the end of this month. The vote comes as school teachers' anger is growing at government attempts to force through performance related pay, which will further spread the market through education. Triesman says, "We know there is widespread irritation among school teacher unions. I will ask for a meeting of all education union general secretaries to discuss how best to coordinate the call for decent treatment." AUT president Chris Banister has called on lecturers not to accept local pay deals from some universities.

There are further talks between union officials and the university employers due on 13 April. Lecturers need to push now for the biggest possible vote for action in the ballot. They also need to make sure their union leaders do not just use the ballot as a negotiating tool to settle for a slightly improved offer. The AUT has been arguing for a 10 percent pay rise. Lecturers deserve nothing less.