lessons of the tower hamlets esol strike

Two workers who took part in the recent strike over cuts to teaching roles and student places in English for Speakers of Other Languages and other subjects spoke to The Commune about the lessons of the dispute.


Tell us about what unions workers are in, their organising capacity, and of their previous relationship with management

All teachers are in the University and College Union. Support staff/admin staff are mainly in Unison or no union. UCU has always been strong in the college and in the two years before the strike successfully campaigned to make 60 hourly paid teachers into permanent employees with higher pay and more rights. UCU also led an unofficial walkout earlier in the year to support our longstanding caretaker who was sacked. Continue reading “lessons of the tower hamlets esol strike”

tower hamlets college: strike solid!

by Joe Thorne

On Wednesday, at the end of the third week of the strike, a mass meeting of Tower Hamlets College UCU members voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike: 156 for continuing action, 14 abstentions, no votes against.

The struggle suffered a setback on Monday when it emerged that the ballot for strike action of UNISON members (i.e. of admin workers at the College) failed 13 to 12.  Apparently, however, a mass meeting of UNISON members last week voted 60 strong for strike action, with 3 abstentions.  Some UNISON members did not receive a ballot paper (often the case in strikes – members not receiving ballots need to be chased up, and replacements must be arranged).  But, in part, the result is also a reflection of an the atomising procedure that is the secret ballot: which is established in law specifically because it makes it harder to organise collective action.

However, the strike remains strong.  Picket lines are always welcoming, receptive, and worth a visit.  (Locations and other ideas for how you can help on our previous report.)  The strike fund stands at an impressive £25,000, though with 250 striker in their fourth week without work to support, it does need to be augmented.  The strike has a number of positive features which the whole movement can learn from: Continue reading “tower hamlets college: strike solid!”

jlg france ‘explosion threat’: putting the squeeze on management

Workers at platform-crane manufacturer JLG in south west France won a 30,000 euro pay-out for each of 53 staff made redundant after three weeks of strike action. The tactics employed by the workers – including blocking a high-speed TGV train in a station and placing gas canisters around four cranes on site, threatening to blow them up – won wide attention in the French press and, as this Sud Ouest article demonstrates, showed the value of determined collective action.


“They had no other choice.” Christian Amadio, secretary of the comité d’entreprise at JLG France, is modest in success, despite the oviations by dozens of workers waiting outside the Tonneins mayor’s office until after 1am on Thursday-Friday night. The negotiations were long – more than 7 hours – and bitter. But they paid off in the end. “We won what we fought for. No more.” The agreement is based on a 30,000 euro pay-out for each of 53 workers who will be laid off according to plans announced by the platform-crane manufacturer in April. The names of the laid off workers will be announced in mid-September. Continue reading “jlg france ‘explosion threat’: putting the squeeze on management”

vestas – the struggle on the horizon

By Joe Thorne

An important struggle is brewing on the Isle of Wight: we all need to take note, both of what has happened so far (and the lessons we can learn from it); and the possibilities in the coming weeks.

A factory, the only remaining manufacturer of wind-farm turbines in the UK, is due to be closed by its owners, Vestas, who are making all 500 workers redundant.   The company, like so many of those making redundancies at the moment, is using the recession as cover for cuts which are motivated by nothing other than ordinary cost cutting.  Jobs are being moved to the USA.

But this is not only about jobs.   News of the planned closure has also ignited outrage in the movement against climate change.  When we should be converting to an economy based on renewable, low-carbon energy, the closure of the Vestas factory is just what doesn’t need to happen.  So Vestas is not just a class fight – though it is that.  It is a class fight which raises issues of climate change, and the tension between capitalist production, and social production.

Workers are now discussing occupying one of the two sites on the Isle of Wight, and need the support of workers and climate change campaigners everywhere. Continue reading “vestas – the struggle on the horizon”

70,000 strike for 13% pay rise at world cup stadium sites

This week 70,000 workers started an indefinite strike action on the sites of the stadiums being built for the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa. These construction workers are organised by the country’s National Union of Mineworkers, and the union’s spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka spoke to The Commune about the action.


What are conditions like on the World Cup stadium sites?

Working conditions are dangerous and workers are badly paid although the stadiums are making big profits for the owners of the means of production. Most only get 2,500 rand a month and some only 2,200. We want a 13% increase in the minimum wage for the workers on the sites. The building of the stadiums has been outsourced by the state to private companies, who have expensive contracts for the World Cup but exploit the workers. Continue reading “70,000 strike for 13% pay rise at world cup stadium sites”

mitie cleaners take on city of london bosses

Today was the latest in a series of demos organised by Mitie cleaners working at Willis Group in the City of London, unfairly dismissed after standing up to management attacks. Such protests take place at the Willis building on Bank’s Lime Street every Friday at 1pm (email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for info). Jake Lagnado wrote this piece for The Commune about the importance of this fight.


The story

In mid-2007 around 25 cleaners at multinational insurance brokers the Willis Group based in the City of London began to organise under the umbrella of Unite’s Justice for Cleaners campaign, for the campaign’s main demands of the ‘living wage’ rather than the minimum wage. Continue reading “mitie cleaners take on city of london bosses”

enfield ford/visteon occupation ends with no conclusion…

Some supporters at the occupation at Enfield Visteon produced this article on the end of the action

The occupation was an inspiration for many – the spirit of the workers who refused to submit to being blatantly robbed by their bosses seemed to be what many had been waiting for, for far too long – the early possible signs of a resurgence of class struggle. Now that the occupation is ended without any clear victory in sight, some reflection is needed on the strengths and weaknesses of what has happened. It is always easy to be wise after the event, and necessary to be careful not to forget who initiated this struggle and took the risks. Any criticisms are as much of ourselves as supporters as of the occupiers. Still, we’ll never get very far in developing our struggles if we don’t reflect on where we went wrong and how we all might do things better next time. Continue reading “enfield ford/visteon occupation ends with no conclusion…”

hmrc call centre workers plan strike action

by Steve Ryan

Workers in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) contact centres have voted massively to take strike action. Interestingly in a time of recession, the strike is not about pay, but conditions. Over the past few years the government policy of handing over public services to private sector managers (usually failed ones ) has led to a deterioration in working conditions, call centres being a prime example.

The centres are desperately understaffed meaning workers are micro-managed to achieve impossible turn-around times. Toilet breaks etc. are strictly monitored and bosses swan around with walkie talkies to chase up workers who appear to have been off line too long. Even so only half of calls are answered and a recent TV programme on HMRC was deeply critical of the service provided. Continue reading “hmrc call centre workers plan strike action”

solidarity, power, direction: lessons of france’s 19th march strike

Pete Jones reports from Paris on the 19th March strike day

Three hundred and fifty thousand people (according to organisers) marched on Paris on Thursday March 19th to vent their frustration at Nicolas Sarkozy’s mismanagement of and complicity in the current economic malaise. Paris factory workers also used the day to picket their workplaces, hoping to put further pressure on the government following a month of factory closures thanks to industrial action.


The march from République to Nation in the unseasonably warm sunshine was very pleasant but its final relevance is up for debate. In contrast, the day’s demonstrations finished with limited but significant rioting at Place de la Nation. Following a series of seemingly arbitrary arrests around five or six hundred youths confronted police chanting ‘Release our comrades!’ and throwing bottles and metal grills. The police responded by firing tear gas to clear the packed Place, eventually arresting around 300 people of whom just 49 will be charged. Continue reading “solidarity, power, direction: lessons of france’s 19th march strike”

workers in ukraine occupy the kherson engineering factory… and the local council

An abridged version of an article from a comrade in Kyiv

Over a month after 300 workers at an engineering plant in the Ukrainian town of Kherson launched an occupation of their factory in defence of their jobs and demanding the payment of unpaid wages, the movement took a step forward early this month with the occupation of the provincial government building. This followed large demonstrations through the town, also including other trade unionists and young activists.

On Monday 2nd March workers from the Kherson Machine Building Plant (KHMZ) occupied the ground floor of the building of the Kherson provincial state administration and provincial council. About 500 workers arrived at the building in the centre of Kherson and demanded a meeting with management and the council, in order to seek payment of wages in arrears. Continue reading “workers in ukraine occupy the kherson engineering factory… and the local council”

protest by bmw/mini workers at cowley

report and photos by David Broder

A picket of the BMW-owned Mini factory in Cowley, near Oxford, was called for six o’clock this morning in response to last week’s sudden laying-off of 850 agency staff. The workers were informed that they had lost their jobs just one hour before the end of their last shift – provoking outrage at both management and the UNITE union, who colluded in keeping the affair a secret for the last three weeks. This sleight of hand was a blatant effort to stop workers effectively reacting to their redundancy, for example by occupying the plant as some workers suggested.


Today’s protest received a small degree of media coverage, after the widespread circulation last week of a video of workers confronting the union officials who had sold them down the river, such as site convenor Bernard Moss who told the Oxford Mail : “The problem we had was that we were under clear instruction we could not give out any information until the company said so. That caused a lot of concern from the workforce over the last couple of weeks. Although we are a trade union, we are employed by the company. If they give out an instruction, it would be a brave person to defy that. These days not many people would support a shop steward if he was sacked.” Clearly Moss has none too great an idea of the word ‘solidarity’ or the actual purpose of a trade union. Continue reading “protest by bmw/mini workers at cowley”

civil service pay dispute – defeat or victory?

by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

Public and Commercial Services union members were surprised at the sudden calling off of the planned strike on 10th November. The strike was pulled at the very last minute on the Friday before the 10th, leaving activists frantically trying to contact members. The National Executive Committee claimed the cancellation was due to a “major breakthrough” in the dispute.

Surprise turned to bafflement and in many areas anger when the “breakthrough” turned out to be a letter from O’Donnell – head of the civil service – rather than the hard cash members were expecting!

The NEC claim the letter is significant in that it confirms there is no 2% cap in pay negotiations and allows for efficiency savings to be “recycled” into pay. No other union has been given this concession. NEC were also adamant that the campaign continues , that there will be further talks and that action will not be ruled out if the letter proves to be a con.

The early signs are not good. A close examination of the letter shows that the 2% will only NOT apply in very special circumstances. No claim settled or imposed for 2008 is to be reopened. It also appear to bind the PCS to tacit acceptance of the efficiencies. It is unclear where the efficiencies to be released for pay will come from. NEC claim that reducing use of consultants would go some way towards this but as pay negotiations are still delegated many departments will be offering savings made from job losses and office closures-totally unacceptable for any union let alone a “left” union like PCS.

The first big test was in HMRC, where there is an unsettled dispute. Straight away the letter failed as pay offer for 2008 was quietly imposed, without any protest from the Group executive. Again there are promises of open talks for 2009/10 . Members however cannot pay the bills on promises!

Indeed the HMRC experience indicates that the campaign may be a defeat. Members expected action or a significant pay increase – in the event they have neither. This has led to further anger with the union.

The key will be whether  the dispute is allowed to wither away. Activists must now pressure the NEC to ensure that

> There are no further below inflation settlements -flat rate rises for those who lose by % rises

> That all departments open the books to members to identify the savings

> No savings from job losses to be used for pay -instead mount a national campaign against job losses and actualisation

> End performance related pay

> Progressions to rate for the job to be paid separately as elsewhere in the public sector

These demands would need to be backed up by coordinated and innovative industrial action beyond the one day strikes – members’ confidence will also need to be rebuilt.

Politically there also needs to be an open and frank debate about where the allegedly most left wing union in the TUC is heading. The preparatory ground for a Rank and File is already there.

factory occupation in chicago

In our recent pamphlet Strategy for Industrial Struggle Chris Kane argued for the revival of the occupation tactic to resist lay-offs and redundancies in the current recession. It is excellent to see that workers in Chicago are putting such long-lost tactics into action  – from socialistworker.org

WORKERS OCCUPYING the Republic Windows & Doors factory slated for closure are vowing to remain in the Chicago plant until they win the $1.5 million in severance and vacation pay owed them by management.

In a tactic rarely used in the U.S. since the labor struggles of the 1930s, the workers, members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Local 1110, refused to leave the plant on December 5, its last scheduled day of operation. Continue reading “factory occupation in chicago”

last week’s forum on the grunwick strike

Last Monday (24th November) we held an “uncaptive minds” forum on the 1976-77 Grunwick strike, where the film processing labs’ – largely Asian and female – workforce staged an arduous battle for union recognition, finding support from other workers, most notably postal workers who refused to deliver Grunwick’s mail and miners who amassed at the picket lines.

Pete Firmin from Brent Trades Council gave a talk and showed a film before a discussion on the lessons for today.

For a copy of the DVD shown – running time 1 hour 4 minutes, director Chris Thomas, produced by Brent Trades Union Council  – write to Brent TUC, 375 High Road, Willesden, London NW10 2JR. £10.00 including p&p.