sparks show the way

This month’s editorial is written by Adam Ford and compares the workers that are winning, and those who are not

The wildly different trajectories of two recent industrial disputes provides us with an almost perfect lesson in both how they can be won and how they are generally lost. In both cases, the workers were members of the Unite union, as are around three million others in the UK, and in both cases the industry concerned was what might be called a ‘blue collar’ one. But one won, and is winning, while another lost badly. Continue reading “sparks show the way”

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london busworkers: olympic 500 – phoney war or wages battle?

First published in Solidarity Forever, paper of London Regional Committee IWW(IWGB), which comprises the London Busworkers Branch (IU IU530)

The union Unite has raised the profile of the campaign to secure a £500 bonus payment for the 28,000 bus workers in London. Leaflets, posters and even executive members have appeared in some garages. The demand for the bonus is just. The increased revenue the bus companies will make during the Olympics will more than cover the cost of a bonus in recognition of the even more stress and demands placed on bus workers. However, this issue raises far wider questions. The campaign has placed on the agenda the more important issue of the steady deterioration of bus workers wages and working conditions. Continue reading “london busworkers: olympic 500 – phoney war or wages battle?”

make or break moment for ‘sparks’

Adam Ford writes on the latest turn in the electricians’ struggle

The grassroots ‘Sparks’ movement of electricians continues to organise direct actions and protests across the country, but it is running out of time before construction companies impose huge pay cuts. Meanwhile, the same Unite bureaucracy whose negotiator Bernard McAulay labelled the Sparks “cancerous” is seeking to gain control of the struggle, the better to strangle it. The rank-and-file workers need to develop a resistance strategy, and fast.


The dispute began back in August, when electricians angry about the proposed new Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) set up their own rank-and-file campaign committee, with the intention of pressurising Unite tops into adopting a more combative stance than usual. Non-unionised workers were urged to join Unite, with the idea being that they would be able to vote for official strike action. Since then, the national and local committees have organised various wildcat actions, such as brief site ‘occupations’ and road blockages. This momentum has built week on week. Continue reading “make or break moment for ‘sparks’”

proposed electricians’ pay cut sparks resistance

Adam Ford writes on the electricians’ struggle and rank-and-file organising

Electricians angry about proposed swingeing cuts to their wages are taking an innovative course of action in an attempt to resist the employers’ attacks. The success or failure of their initiative may serve as a useful pointer for other workers defending their livelihoods.


Eight major construction employers (Bailey, Balfour Beatty, T. Clarke, Crown House, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall) want to tear up the “archaic” Joint Industry Board, Pay and Conditions agreement. If they get their way, separate pay rates will be imposed for metalworkers (£10.50 per hour), wiring (£12), and terminating (£14). At the moment, all electricians across the board should receive £16.25. For metalworkers, this would represent a pay cut of 35%, at a time when inflation is running at around 5%. Deskilling and its corollary – increased workplace ‘accidents’ – would inevitably follow. Continue reading “proposed electricians’ pay cut sparks resistance”

UBS worker detained by UK borders agency

by Chris Kane

We have received shocking news that Lancaster Cleaning Services, a contractor for Union Bank of Switzerland, has once again colluded with the UK Borders Agency against cleaners. On this occasion Lancaster, having taken over the contract at UBS, has provided the Borders Agency with information on one of their workers who had just left their employment.  Acting on this information the worker’s home was raided and he is being held at an as yet unknown location.

The only crime this worker has committed is coming to this country and getting a job!  This is not first time Lancaster and cleaning companies have utilised the Borders Agency to attack migrant workers and attempt to intimidate others from organising to improve their working conditions. Deportations have taken place at SOAS and Willis specifically against union organised workers. UNITE activist Alberto Durango was arrested at the behest of Lancaster Cleaning company. This is however the first time it has been used by Lancaster’s in connection with the contract at UBS contract. Continue reading “UBS worker detained by UK borders agency”

BA strike: against the race to the bottom

by Gregor Gall
Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire

The BA dispute in shaping up to be the key union battle of 2010, being on a par with strikes in the engineering construction industry and Royal Mail last year in terms of their significance for the wider labour movement. This is maybe a little odd in that a relatively small number of workers are involved compared to those in the engineering construction industry and Royal Mail. This is a dispute about accommodating to or resisting the ‘race to the bottom’ under the neo-liberalism.

That said the dispute with BA as a employer and organisation has a significance way beyond the number of staff employed – the profile of the dispute is based on BA still being seen as the national flag carrier despite privatisation and the union being able to benefit from exerting leverage because travel cannot be physically offshored and strike action has an immediate and demonstrable impact upon the business’ operations. Continue reading “BA strike: against the race to the bottom”

no surprises as rat boards sinking ship

by Chris Ford

There is a long history of British trade union leaders becoming Members of Parliament. This has often represented the next step by individuals whose primary concern is the advancement of a cause very dear to their hearts – their own self-interest.

In some cases however there are those who have genuinely sought to take the workers’ struggle in the industrial front into the political arena: individuals with principle who have sought to maintain a loyalty and commitment to the labour movement, such as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. The coming general election should see a new recruit from union ranks – Jack Dromey, the Deputy General Secretary of UNITE. Continue reading “no surprises as rat boards sinking ship”