News & reports, politics, industry, the unions

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Union recognition


"THE UNIONS are back." Trade unions are reporting a growing mood for union recognition. The MSF union published a list of workplaces that are on the verge of winning union rights. They include:

Despite the weaknesses in the government's Fairness at Work bill there are signs the government's legislation has boosted activists' determination to fight for union recognition. Another union which has suffered massive union busting attacks over the last two decades is the National Union of Journalists. National and provincial newspapers have derecognised the union. In many places individual staff have kept hold of their union membership despite great hostility. A key recognition battle is taking place at Rupert Murdoch's News International plant at Wapping in east London. In 1986 Murdoch, backed by the Tories, smashed union organisation at the Sun and the Times in a bitter year long dispute.

DIMBLEBY’S DERECOGNISED unions in the 1980s. Now the National Union of Journalists is fighting to get back in

But now it seems the tide might be turning. Mass leafleting outside the plant has already taken place. Tash Shifrin was one of those involved. She was struck by the excellent response: "Nearly everyone took a leaflet. Several people contacted the union to find out how to join." But Murdoch is fighting back. He is trying to cajole the 2,000 plus employees into a staff association, in an open bid to keep out the unions. The establishment of a News International Staff Association, created and financed by management, is being put to a ballot of staff.

Socialist Worker spoke to one of the workers in News International. He said, "Management sprang the ballot on us three weeks ago. The NUJ quickly put a 'Vote No' leaflet out. They are all over the plant. Everywhere I go people ask, are you voting no? Murdoch's campaign has made trade unionism a live issue. I think it will be hard to stop Murdoch getting his way, but lots of people want to join a real trade union."

Raven Trailers

SOCIALIST AND trade union activist John Tipple has won an important victory for union recognition. John worked as a fitter for Raven Trailers, an Ipswich company that refused to recognise trade unions. He told Socialist Worker, "I started work for the company in March. A number of workers had great expectations that they would be able to join a union under the new law. I immediately contacted the GMB union and asked to join. I also asked for permission to start a unionisation drive in the factory."

Three weeks later the GMB union contacted John and gave him the green light to recruit to the union. Graham Carter, another workmate, agreed to help. Within 24 hours over 30 percent of the workforce joined the union. The next day Raven Trailer management gave John and Graham a week's notice, claiming there was no work. Management then sacked them on the spot.

John recorded the conversation management had with them. "It was a clear case of victimisation," said John. John and Graham took their case to the first stages of an industrial tribunal. They won. Raven Trailer management have agreed to reinstate John and Graham and are going to allow the GMB union to address the workforce.


SOCIALIST Worker talked to NUJ union organiser Jeremy Dear about the fight for union recognition. He rattled off a list of 11 newspaper groups where union chapels (workplace branches) were being reformed. These included the Ealing Gazette, Big Issue, Dimbleby's, Brighton Evening Argus, AFX News and the Cambridge Evening News.

JEREMY DEAR: "All of these chapels came about in the last seven months. Existing union members and non-members contacted us, saying they desperately needed a union. It's the easiest it has been for ten years—we cannot keep up with the demand. On the Ealing Gazette one union member rang up for advice. We booked a room in a pub and sent a letter to every individual and 18 out of 20 staff turned up. All agreed to join the union. They formed a chapel and next day went in and put a collective demand to management. Independently of us people are doing things. There are people who've never been in a union before but who feel to get justice they need to join up. The legislation has helped the mood. Our slogan is, 'The unions are back.' The legislation is a peg. We say once you get recognition then you have to fight. Some employers, like Johnstons Press in Scotland, are saying they will recognise the unions once legislation is in. But there are others trying to behead the union. Somewhere there is going to be a fight and the whole trade union movement has to get ready to back those forced to take action for recognition."

Tuesday 4 May
Pricecheck, 150-154 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 (Kentish Town tube)
Bring union banners
Saturday 1 May, assemble 12 noon, Clerkenwell Green, London
Speakers include Tony Benn MP, Bob Crow (RMT assistant general secretary) and Neville Lawrence

Postal workers

ABOUT 60 postal workers in Leeds walked out on Monday of this week. The workers at the Princess Street office say they were asked to carry loads in excess of the legal limit. "We are supposed to carry a maximum load of 16 kilos," said one, "but we have been regularly forced to carry 20 and 25 kilos." Management would not give them extra time for the deliveries. Talks were taking place on Tuesday.



SOME 200 students at Sussex University occupied the college on Tuesday of this week over fees. Full report next week.

Sheffield council elections

by Greg Challis

Labour has been in power in Sheffield continuously since 1926, apart from one year. But now the Liberal Democrats are cashing in on years of betrayal and are hoping to win control of the council on 6 May. The Liberal Democrats are no alternative to New Labour's policies of privatisation and cuts.

Socialists are campaigning in the election on a platform of: Tax The Rich, Stop Labour's Privatisations, Welfare Not Warfare. The Socialist Workers Party decided to stand a candidate after the inspiring strike against privatisation by housing benefits workers. Phil Turner, chair of the National Union of Journalists in South Yorkshire and a union rep on a local paper, is the Socialist Workers Party candidate for Netherthorpe ward. It is a solidly working class area where last year the Liberal Democrats unseated council leader Mike Bower of the Labour Party.

"People like our demands to tax the rich, for a shorter working week and a £4.79 an hour minimum wage. And they are keen to talk about the war in the Balkans. Many have deep reservations about or are outright opposed to what Blair and Clinton are doing."


ABOUT 100 lecturers at Waltham Forest College were due to take one day strike action on Tuesday of this week. The action follows a two to one vote for a rolling campaign of industrial action over pay. The college management are refusing to fully implement even the meagre 2.7 percent increase agreed nationally by the lecturers' Natfhe union and the Association of Colleges earlier this year. The strike action follows a successful joint demonstration over pay with the admin staff union, UNISON.

OVER 500 MSF union members in the NHS lobbied parliament on Thursday of last week to demand a decent pay rise. They have been offered an insulting 2.8 percent pay rise with no increase on allowances. The excellent turnout reflects the anger felt by NHS workers. Unfortunately the union leaders did little to build for the lobby. Activists need to press for a serious pay campaign, including the strike that will be needed to win.

"WE WANT trade unionists to come and show their support." They are the words of a sacked Sky Chefs worker at Heathrow airport. The workers plan a May Day mass picket on Monday of next week and would like delegations of other workers to bring their union banners. The workers were boosted last week when a visit to the picket line by Ken Livingstone MP attracted lots of publicity.

UP TO 1,000 people marched round the village of Selston in Nottinghamshire against a giant landfill site near their homes last weekend. This follows a similar protest in Kirkby in Ashfield on the other side of the site. Trade union delegations took part, including local Rolls Royce workers. A march is planned in the centre of Nottingham in June to unite all the local groups fighting a number of waste and opencast sites in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.


HUNDREDS OF firefighters lobbied a meeting of West Yorkshire Fire Authority in Bradford last week. They were calling for the national employers, which are overwhelmingly New Labour controlled councils, to drop planned attacks on national conditions. Mike Harper, executive member of the Fire Brigades Union for Yorkshire and Humberside, said, "The real problem facing the fire service is a lack of adequate funding, not the conditions of service of our members." Further regional meetings and protests are planned by the FBU to build momentum for a ballot for national strike action if the employers do try to impose the attacks.


Glasgow sackings outrage

GLASGOW'S NEW Labour council launched a major assault on its workforce on Monday. It sacked two workers and disciplined 25 others for daring to show the most elementary form of solidarity with a colleague. If the council gets away with this attack it will not only be a massive blow to the UNISON union in Glasgow. It will also encourage employers in councils, hospitals and elsewhere to go on the offensive against workers' rights and trade unions.

Glasgow council had suspended union rep Roddy Slorach several weeks ago. Roddy is standing as a Socialist Worker candidate in the Scottish Parliament elections. The council accused him of misuse of council facilities for sending a fax out about an anti-war meeting in the city. That meeting had been backed by Roddy's own social work department UNISON shop stewards committee. Just over a week ago Roddy had his disciplinary hearing. His work colleagues wanted to show their support for him. So 27 of them briefly left work to lobby the hearing.

The council retreated from trying to sack Roddy himself, though it has put him on a final written warning. But then on Monday the council stuck the boot in. Two of those who had attended the lobby were sacked—shop stewards Pat Maughan and Iain Fergus. Among the charges against them were 'intimidating council officers'. This amounts to having popped their heads round the door of the hearing to let Roddy know they they supported him. The other 25 workers on the lobby have been given final written warnings, which leaves them under the threat of being sacked on the most minor pretext in future.

The council clearly hopes to teach all of its workers a lesson. Anyone who dares to criticise New Labour or dares to show basic union solidarity will be hammered. The leadership of the local UNISON branch has called a meeting of the social work department for 10 May. This is too little, too late. A campaign for a much swifter response and action to force the council to retreat is needed. Fortunately on Tuesday evening a 100 strong meeting of social workers from the sacked workers' office decided to do exactly this—and were backed by a number of stewards from other offices.

The meeting decided to build a protest lobby of the council on Thursday, at 12.30pm in the city's George Square. It also decided to launch a petition demanding the mass meeting is brought forward and held as soon as possible. Nor is this a local matter. New Labour promised "fairness at work" when it was elected. Yet the way the council in Glasgow is behaving is worse than any Tory employer. UNISON general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe needs to stand up for his members' basic rights. He should be telling Glasgow's New Labour council this kind of bullying and summary sacking will not be tolerated, and that the union's full weight will be thrown into a fight to defend workers' rights.

Health conference

FRANK DOBSON, the Labour health secretary, infuriated delegates when he spoke on the first day of UNISON's health conference this week. The 800 health workers gathered at the conference in Brighton face the brunt of New Labour's Tory policies, like the Private Finance Initiative. Before his speech Dobson was greeted with polite, if unenthusiastic, applause. But it soon became clear Dobson had absolutely nothing to offer. He justified PFI schemes, which allow private firms to make a fortune from our health service. He even justified the derisory 2.8 percent pay offer to ancillary, clerical and other health service staff not covered by the pay review bodies as being "steady improvement".

Delegates were having none of it. Everyone who spoke in the question and answer session after Dobson's speech was critical of the government. Kirsten Hay from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary received massive applause when she asked Dobson, "We're facing a massive PFI scheme. Why is the government letting private contractors rip us off completely?" Lena Holmes from Wolverhampton said, "I'm an avid Labour supporter and I will be on the streets in the next few weeks canvassing and to trying to get recognition for the fairness of the Labour government." But then she added, "I've great difficulty doing that," citing the divisive 2.8 percent pay offer.

Dobson had no answers, except to justify PFI and the 2.8 percent pay offer to loud mutterings and even hisses from a large number of delegates.


Brent council: Workers in north west London have voted for strikes by a three to one margin in a ballot result announced last week. The workers are fighting attempts by the Labour council to cut the London weighting allowance they get for the extra costs of living and working in the capital. The council also wants to increase working hours for some workers to 37 a week from the current 35.

INVERCLYDE COUNCIL: Some 1,200 workers at Inverclyde council are set to strike next Wednesday over the council abandoning its "no compulsory redundancies" policy.



Saturday 15 May

Assemble 1pm, Malet Street, London WC1