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MSF conference

Sharp clashes

by Helen Shooter

DELEGATES TO the Manufacturing, Science and Finance (MSF) union conference last weekend delivered a slap in the face to New Labour, rejecting many of its key policies. This was despite the MSF being described as "at the heart of decision making in the Labour Party" by Ian McCartney, trade and industry minister, in his speech to the conference.

The minister worked hard to win delegates' support. He talked about the minimum wage and Fairness at Work legislation. He stressed his own background as a member of the National Union of Seamen and how committed New Labour is to workers, and he won a standing ovation. Yet in the following debate delegates overturned the union's executive and passed a motion demanding the right to strike, the repeal of all anti trade union legislation and affiliation to the Reclaim Our Rights campaign.

The union's leadership was clearly shocked. Roger Lyons, the union's general secretary, tried to get delegates to vote against the motion by arguing that Reclaim Our Rights was a left wing front which would mean "from today we would be identified as anti-Labour". Delegates overwhelmingly rejected this.

The delegates then passed a motion criticising the market and demanding the renationalisation of public utilities. Again the union leadership criticised this motion for its "implied criticism of the Labour government". Again the conference ignored this and backed the motion.

The conference narrowly backed the union leadership's stance in support of the bombing of Yugoslavia, following a fierce debate. A motion calling for an end to the bombing was defeated by 315 votes to 246. Many delegates were unhappy with the bombing. Sue Michie from London was applauded when she said, "This is more about NATO's global domination than humanitarian aid. If it wasn't, why aren't we bombing East Timor, Turkey or Israel?" Around 60 delegates attended an anti-war fringe meeting that night addressed by Labour Party NEC member Liz Davies.

A motion condemning the government's Asylum and Immigration Bill was also passed. In addition, delegates passed a motion criticising the government's embrace of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

MSF WORKERS in the NHS had a high profile at the conference. They are campaigning for a decent pay rise. New Labour has offered technicians in the NHS, in areas like the Blood Transfusion Service, a lower pay rise than medical staff-just 2.8 percent. Around 600 of them marched on parliament two weeks ago in protest at their pay deal.

Fighting privatisation

Tower Hamlets

UNIONS AND tenants' organisations in Tower Hamlets, east London, have called a joint public meeting and lobby of the council. They are campaigning against proposals to hand all repairs over to four large private contractors. This will lead to the closure of local housing offices and redundancies for housing workers.


AROUND 50 people attended a lively public meeting against PFI in Kirklees last week. Kirklees council wants to introduce privatisation into 20 schools through a PFI initiative. The scheme would give the management of school buildings over to a private firm. The meeting agreed to form an action committee to fight the council's plans.


National Civil Rights Movement

by BRIAN RICHARDSON, steering committee member of the National Civil Rights Movement

THE STEERING committee of the National Civil Rights Movement met for the first time in London last Sunday. The NCRM has followed up its founding conference with a series of meetings around the country. There have been meetings of over 200 in Sheffield, 200 in Manchester and over 100 in Plymouth.

The aim is to highlight racism and injustice at the hands of the police and criminal justice system. It is also intended to build a support network with the aim of assisting the families and individuals involved. The NCRM now has nearly 700 members and has set itself the target of 3,000 by the end of the year. Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky Reel, and Kwesi Menson, brother of Michael Menson, have been elected co-chairs alongside Michael Mansfield.


MOHAMMED Ahmed, a 44 year old Asian man from Burley in Leeds, was stabbed in the stomach by three racist thugs on Wednesday of last week. Mr Ahmed was approaching his car when the racists began to abuse him and then pulled a knife and stabbed him. His wife then fought the attackers off. The injury was not fatal, but left him seriously wounded.

Anti-racists responded immediately with petitioning around the estate. The response from residents was fantastic. They were outraged at the attack and proud of their multi-racial community. A meeting is now planned.


Council elections

LABOUR'S LEADERS hailed the results of the English council elections last week as a triumph for Tony Blair and his policies. In fact Labour won just 36 percent of the vote on a 29 percent turnout. That means just one in ten eligible voters supported New Labour.

Labour spin doctors claimed that this performance has never been matched by any mid-term government since the war. Presumably they have chosen to forget the 1945-51 Labour government. In the 1947 local elections Labour won 42 percent of the vote (on a 53 percent turnout) and in 1949 took 43.2 percent.

Labour lost control of 30 councils last week, most notably Sheffield council to the Liberal Democrats. Other Labour reverses included Kirklees, Barrow-in-Furness, Dover, King's Lynn and West Norfolk, Selby, Stafford and Hyndburn. Overall Labour lost 1,130 seats and gained just 85.

Labour's vote would look much worse if it were not for the weakness of the opposition. The Tories remain in disarray (their votes in Scotland and Wales were even worse than at the cataclysmic 1997 election), and there is no "soft left" alternative on offer in England equivalent to the nationalists.


PEOPLE WERE shocked in last week's local elections to find that in certain areas Britain's Nazis were asking for votes, despite the murderous bombings in London. In Calderdale-which includes Halifax-black, white, gay and straight were united in protest at the five Nazi BNP candidates standing in the local elections. Around 200 people massed outside the election count chanting, "Brixton, Brick Lane, Soho, never again. Kick the Nazis out!" The presence of the Nazis, and in some instances, a worryingly high vote, should send the signal to everyone not to be complacent.

SIGN UP your workmates and friends to the Anti Nazi League. Phone 0171 924 0333.


AROUND 30 Pricecheck supermarket workers picketed the Kentish Town branch of the London based chain last week demanding union recognition


A DETERMINED campaign by parents and carers has forced Hackney council in east London to back off from some of its attacks on nursery education. A 200 strong lobby last week-involving black, white, Asian and Jewish parents and children-was hugely successful. It shamed a majority of councillors into withdrawing proposed cuts in funding for community nurseries and agreeing to reconsider some of the fee increases pushed through last year. Disgracefully, every Labour councillor present voted for cuts.

The council is likely to come back with more cuts and increases after a review in the next few months. A member of the Friends of Hackney Nurseries campaign said, "Nursery education is a necessity for working parents. We will continue to argue for the facilities that our kids deserve."

Postal workers

FORTY POSTAL workers at Royal Mail's Birmingham New Street Station have voted unanimously for strike action. They are angry at the "building site" conditions they are forced to work under as Railtrack continues its refurbishment of the site. The strike vote follows two walkouts at Birmingham's main sorting office in protest at the conditions.

Picture: JESS HURD

PICKETING AT Stonebridge Park on Tuesday of this week

GTRM/Balfour Beatty

by Martin Smith

"MANAGEMENT thought our strike was going to collapse. The response of the members today shows that everyone is more determined than ever to win." Those were the words of Steve Metcalfe, chair of Lancaster RMT, one of 4,000 rail infrastructure and maintenance workers on strike this week.

Infrastructure workers were striking to defend their jobs, pay and conditions. Bill Ashcroft, an RMT member at Stonebridge Park in west London, said, "The strike was absolutely solid. There were over 30 workers on our picket line. "Contract workers who were brought in to break our dispute were turned away. One group were all ex-miners. They remembered the solidarity they got during their year long strike. They refused to cross our picket line."

The week long strike at GTRM hit the Euston to Carlisle line and the four day strike at Balfour Beatty affected the King's Cross to Newcastle route. Last summer 10,000 infrastructure workers belonging to nine companies were involved in over 20 days of strike action against the effects of privatisation and attacks on their pay and conditions. Every company settled with the exception of GTRM and Balfour Beatty.

In the lead up to the strike, management told the press that the strike was "irrelevant" and would not be supported by the workforce. This was the same argument used by management during last year's dispute. But Jarvis, one of the nine rail infrastructure companies involved in the original dispute, admitted that last year's strike cost it over £8 million. John, a striker from Euston, told Socialist Worker, "This strike is a direct result of privatisation. GTRM don't care about the workers. They are only interested in making profit. They gave £18.5 million to their shareholders last year. But they say they can't find the money to pay us a decent wage. If GTRM got their way I would earn more money working for McDonald's!"

The bosses' drive to make super-profits has also led to a massive increase in industrial accidents. BICC, the company that owns Balfour Beatty, was third on a recent list of most dangerous employers. Over the last ten years it has been convicted 36 times for industrial accidents and serious injuries. Balfour Beatty was fined a record £1.2 million after a tunnel collapsed on a Heathrow rail link.

GTRM and Balfour Beatty were shaken by this week's strike. They can be beaten. Many RMT infrastructure workers have been on strike for over 30 days in the last nine months. They have demonstrated their commitment to the action and determination to win. If management refuse to negotiate after this week's strike, the leadership of the RMT union should step up the action. They should campaign and fight for an all out strike and call on all rail workers to respect RMT infrastructure workers' picket lines.



SOME 500 workers at Ledwood Construction have been sacked following an unofficial walkout from the site in Saltend, Hull. The workers are members of the GMB and AEEU unions.

Workers voted to walk out for a week in protest at the loss of their travel bonus and at health and safety conditions. Management's response was to sack all 350 workers on the spot. A 250 strong mass picket the next day saw scaffolders and electricians refuse to cross the picket line. So management sacked them as well.

By Friday 500 workers had been sacked and the mass picket had grown to 350. Around 200 steel erectors then refused to cross the picket line. The site is now virtually empty, leaving a power station less than half built. The workers are defiant, although there were rumours that a scabbing operation was to start this week. Now pickets should visit other factories and construction sites nearby to build solidarity.

UNISON witch hunt

by UNISON members

WHEN BRANCH officers and staff arrived at their UNISON union office in Sheffield council on the morning of Tuesday 4 May, they were expecting nothing out of the ordinary. To their amazement, they discovered the union office was sealed and the locks were changed. On the door was a notice telling them the union branch had been shut down. All union branch officers and all shop stewards had been suspended. The branch staff had been suspended too.

UNISON general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe and his "presidential team" had suspended the Sheffield council branch without warning. They removed elected branch officers and shop stewards. In their place a team of unelected regional officials is to be appointed to run the union in Sheffield.

UNISON leaders justify their action on the basis of a series of McCarthy style smears. The real motive is political. UNISON leaders want to cosy up to the New Labour government and New Labour councils. Bickerstaffe wrote to every UNISON member in Sheffield justifying his attack on the branch. Bickerstaffe claims there is "a small group of politically motivated individuals" aiming to impose their will on the union in Sheffield. This is an attack on the Socialist Workers Party one of whose members, Annette Carey, is the elected branch secretary of Sheffield UNISON.

There is "a small group of politically motivated individuals" determined to impose their will on UNISON. They are members and supporters of New Labour. Every UNISON member who wants the union to stand up over the real issues facing our members, to fight privatisation, to oppose cuts, and who believes in a "member led union" should rally behind those under attack by UNISON leaders.

The union leaders' witch hunt is already causing widespread unease. Now the branch secretaries of four UNISON branches-Liverpool, Lambeth, Newcastle City Council and Newcastle City Health-have come together to push for a concerted response. They have written to every UNISON branch asking them to sponsor a fringe meeting, "Trade Unions under Labour and Lay Democracy in UNISON", at June's union conference. Every UNISON member should make sure this is raised in their branch.

UNISON members have also produced a special broadsheet and a statement which is winning wide support across the union. They should both be circulated as widely as possible.

McCarthy smears

THE YORKSHIRE Post newspaper claimed last week that Sheffield UNISON has "secret bank accounts controlled by a shadowy left wing group". This is a lie. There is nothing secret about Sheffield UNISON's bank accounts. All of the accounts were set up with the full agreement of the Sheffield UNISON branch executive. The accounts include a strike fund for the housing benefits workers' recent fight against privatisation. Another is a defence fund set up when the Sunday Times ran an attack on Sheffield UNISON.

Local government

Victory for low paid

"FOR THE first time we've won something for the low paid. It's brilliant!" That was the reaction of Steve, a UNISON member in Nottingham, to the victory won by information technology workers over their Labour county council. The fight centred on staff shortages and coping with extra work in the run up to the year 2000.

Management originally offered just £750. But workers organised a campaign that included a walkout by 100 UNISON members. Now the council has agreed to pay a flat rate of £2,200 extra to all 140 workers, to have a major recruitment campaign and to negotiate further payments. Sadly, the final deal means some workers will get less than the amount offered in earlier proposed deals. But the workers continually insisted on flat rate payments and for all workers to be included, to the benefit of the low paid.


OVER 1,000 council workers in Brent, north west London, struck against their Labour council on Wednesday of last week. They were fighting the council's plan to slash the London weighting allowance workers get for the extra costs of living in the capital. The move could cost many workers hundreds of pounds a year.

Workers are also furious over the council's attempt to force some workers to work more hours each week for no extra pay. That attack is being pushed under the cover of the national "single status" agreement. National union and council leaders agreed in that deal to bring manual workers' conditions into line with white collar workers, and a key element of that was cutting manual workers' hours down to 37 a week. But some councils, including Brent, are at the same time trying to force those white collar workers who have previously won a 35 hour week to increase their hours to 37.

The response to the strike call in Brent last week was excellent, with good numbers of pickets at many workplaces. As well as council offices in all departments, four schools, two nurseries and a day centre were forced to close. Over 30 workers joined the UNISON union so they could join the strike, and some workers in the GMB union defied letters from their union officials instructing them to cross picket lines, and joined the strike. At a rally in front of Brent town hall over 300 strikers voted to escalate the action if the council does not back down. Unless the council retreats, workers now plan a two day strike.


SEFTON COUNCIL told 55 UNISON members last week that if they did not stop industrial action by noon on Tuesday then they would all be sent home without pay. The UNISON members work in housing and council tax benefits and have been taking action short of strike action over a grading dispute.

The action began after an 80 percent yes vote in a ballot, and was approved by UNISON's national industrial action committee. It involves refusing to answer telephones and deal with certain types of claims. Response The UNISON branch planned an emergency general meeting on Thursday to call for a ballot for strike action across the council in response to the suspensions.

Higher education

UNISON members in higher education debated the issue of pay at their conference last week. An emergency motion submitted by London Guildhall University was met with approval by many delegates who were angry at the leadership's refusal to lead a fight for a 10 percent or £33 a week pay claim. Delegates argued that if there was a "bottomless pit" to bomb Yugoslavia then there should be money to pay college workers, who are one of the lowest paid groups of workers. The call to reject the offer and hold a ballot was narrowly lost on a card vote.

Delegates also argued over the issue of outsourcing inside colleges. Jake Rollin, branch secretary of London Guildhall University, told conference how a successful campaign inside his workplace had forced management to backtrack on the privatisation of the building services department. A motion was passed calling on the executive to back any branch which organised against privatisation in higher education, up to and including strike action.