Monday 29 November 2010

Lewisham Labour Group votes for cuts

There was anger at tonight's Town Hall protests as Lewisham's Labour Group voted through the first tranche of their £60M cuts package at the full council meeting. Not a single Labour councillor voted against, one even claiming that they had a responsibility to carry out 'democratic socialist' cuts!

A rally outside heard from trade unionists, service users and students from Goldsmiths Collge who had marched down to Catford to support the protest. As they axed 400 jobs, the Labour Group also voted to cut the 'Opening Doors' centre for the unemployed.

I left after the rally finished to speak at the UCL occupation in Central London, but as I drove away, police cars were going the other way back to the Town Hall. Protestors report that riot shields and police horses were used against the crowd.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Should student protestors be treated as 'truants'?

Last week's walkouts by school students have posed a lot of difficult questions for teacher trade unionists.

Active trade unionists - and many others at the sharp end of government attacks - have been inspired by the mass turnouts at the student demonstrations. They have helped to change the debate from 'will' we fight the cuts to 'how' do we fight the cuts.

It seems that debate was taking place in the middle of Whitehall on Wednesday. The school students who linked arms around that police van, to try and prevent others falling into the trap of attacking it, showed clearly that they knew exactly why they were in Whitehall - and what strategy was needed to defeat the attacks on EMA and their hopes of a university education.

Many young people have also understood that they should link up with trade unions. For the NUT, the 'how' has got to mean urgently co-ordinating ballots for national strike action with other unions like the UCU and PCS against the joint attacks on pay, jobs and pensions. However, the timescales needed for national ballots mean that this action won't be taking place before the Government votes on tuition fees.

So, in their urgent struggle, students and school students are likely to be taking action again before Christmas. The UCU Higher Education Conference voted to call on other public sector unions and the NUS to mobilise activity on the day that Parliament debates the fee increases. As on November 10th, NUT Divisions should try and support local activities where they can.

These attacks are also an attack on teachers' jobs. If young people cannot afford to - or cannot see the point in - staying on post-16, then pupil numbers will fall. The Government's White Paper has alreday proposed cutting funding for school sixth forms.

However, what many youth (and their parents) have been asking is whether the NUT can support them when schools try to discipline them for attending demonstrations during school time.

First of all, the NUT has made it clear that teachers cannot encourage pupils to be absent from school. That has to be a decision for school students and their families. Teachers may also have concerns about young people, who might otherwise be in our care, being out of school - concerns that parents will need to think about.

However, where schools are considering taking disciplinary action against pupils who attended demonstrations, I think it is right for NUT groups to question where Heads and/or governors are coming down heavily on pupils. Parents may well also want to complain against sanctions being applied against their sons and daughters.

Not every teacher will agree. The self-organisation of pupils can be seen as a threat. But why should it be? It's true that there were some difficult days in some schools last week with excited pupils and disruption to lessons - particularly where schools were trying to prevent pupils leaving the school site. But some schools avoided such a confrontation by taking a more sympathetic approach and asking parents to discuss with their children about what they should do.

Ceratinly, rather than just trying to clampdown on walkouts, schools could follow the suggestion of a teacher writing in last week's London Evening Standard and provide space for pupils to discuss the issues involved.

Surely schools should distinguish between pupils who are just 'truanting' and young people who want to legitimately protest about an attack on their funding and futures.

What do you think?

Martin Powell-Davies

Support builds for co-ordinated strike action

All of the meetings that I have spoken at over the last few days have given enthusiastic support for the NUT linking up with other unions and taking co-ordinated national strike action next term. Now is the time to make sure that action takes place.

On Wednesday (while students and trade unionists - including Billy Hayes of the CWU were still trapped in the Whitehall 'kettle') I took the tube to Hammersmith to speak at a substantial meeting called by their Trades Council to set up their borough anti-cuts campaign. I pointed out that the local campaign to oppose Kenmont Primary School becoming an Academy was just one example of how we can link communities and trade unions together to defend our public services. But, to really make this Government think again, we urgently needed to put TUC policy of co-ordinating industrial action into practice.

On Thursday, I had the chance to contribute at a meeting of over 500 at Goldsmiths University. UCU delegates returning from their Higher Education Conference were able to report on two key decisions:
a) That the UCU should approach the NUS and all the public sector unions to seek a joint mobilisation on the day that Parliament debates tuition fees (a date in December yet to be finalised).
b) That the UCU should ballot for national strike action at the end of January over the threats to lecturers' pay and pensions.

NUT members should participate where they can in the UCU December protests - just like many NUT Associations did on November 10. But, to the enthusiastic support from the meeting, I pointed out that a joint NUT/UCU ballot in January/February could lead to a mass shutdown of schools and colleges so that teachers, lecturers, students, school students and their parents would be able to march together in a massive show of strength against the attacks on our pay and pensions - and on education as a whole.

The same message was well received on Friday evening when I spoke at meetings inside the student occupation of SOAS in Central London and of the Day-Mer youth group in Tottenham. Mark Serwotka's call for joint NUT/UCU and PCS action at Saturday's Coalition of Resistance Conference went down even better!

As Mark pointed out, it was time that trade union leaders stopped giving excuses as to why action could NOT be organised and started to find ways that we COULD organise co-ordinated action. Repeating again his call for 'not a single job to be lost, not a single penny cut from pay', Mark made clear the responsibility on trade unions to organise the mass action that has the power to defeat the Con-Dem Government's attacks.

The students have inspired an older generation to fight. Now they are looking to trade unions to take the action that we have promised we will organise. It is hard enough to explain to angry students why the anti-union laws mean that a careful ballot and clearly identified dispute must be in place before strike action is called. However, there is no reason to delay any longer than the limits placed on us by the legal requirements.

Of course, above all, we have to have support of our own members. However, teachers themselves are also being affected by the growing mood of anger - and the attack on pensions, paying more for less and retiring older, is something teachers are certainly angry about. Motions passed by Lewisham NUT - and most recently Bolton NUT - confirm that support for action.

The NUT Executive meeting in December must not hesitate. Our November decision to ballot over pensions has helped show a way forward. The UCU and PCS are ready to co-ordinate with us. Now we must agree a firm timetable for ballots and co-ordinated action.

Thursday 25 November 2010

A Letter to the Evening Standard

Dear Editor
Your article suggesting that ‘crazy’ teachers allowed school students to join Wednesday’s demonstration misses the point entirely. Teachers did not encourage pupils to be absent from school. That was a decision made by the students and their families.

But is it any wonder that so many decided to protest? Their hopes of a university education are being snatched away from them along with the Education Maintenance Allowance that so many of our poorest students rely on.

Young people who took a collective decision to protest about such a threat to their futures should not be treated as if they were just unthinkingly 'truanting' lessons. The footage of 15-year olds in Whitehall standing arm-in-arm to persuade others not to fall into the trap of attacking the conveniently abandoned police van shows an admirable degree of bravery and understanding.

It is the Metropolitan Police who should be explaining why they provoked such tensions by refusing to allow the march to proceed along the route agreed with the Youth Fight for Jobs campaign.

Teachers will continue to work to get the best exam results for our students. But it is for Government to provide the jobs and university places that previous generations would have expected in return.

Martin Powell-Davies, Member of the NUT Executive for Inner London.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Police Tactics provoke tensions in Whitehall

Having been invited to speak as a member of the NUT Executive at the rally to be held before today's march in London to protest about tuition fees and EMA cuts, I arrived in Whitehall to find that the march was already stationary at the entrance to Parliament Square and surrounded by police cordons.

It was clear that some protestors were angry - the 'kettling' tactics were only making things worse. However, most of the young people there were entirely peaceful - just frustrated at not being able to continue the march.

What was the justification for the cordons - put in place before the police van was rocked which I have just seen the BBC give as the reason for the 'kettle' - not after? A route had been agreed beforehand by the police with the march organisers - it seems that the police then decided to ignore that agreement.

I manged to blag my way through and back out of the police lines and talked to a few demonstrators. One was clear that she had seen what seemed like 'provocateurs' deliberately pushing over fences and that she had warned youngsters not to join in.

If I had spoken to the rally, I was going to point out that a previous Tory PM had been thrown out twenty years ago - not by a poll tax 'riot' but by the mass action of millions of people organised against the poll tax in every part of Britain.

Young people have every right to be angry. That anger needs to be channelled into an organised movement of trade unions, students and communities to challenge a government that is trying to steal away young people's future and the public services and benefits that have been won by the trade union movement over previous generations.

Monday 22 November 2010

Ireland: The Bond Market Demands Its Ransom Again

The demands that will be placed on the people of Ireland as a result of the EU/IMF deal - more cuts, more job losses, more privatisation - are a stark warning to trade unionists in Britain about what happens if trade unions step back instead of organising mass action to defend jobs, pensions and services.

It's also a stark warning that the Con-Dem austerity measures will only make matters worse for ordinary people. But the bond-markets are laughing all the way to the bank after they successfully attacked Greece, then Ireland and will now move on to Portugal and Spain.

But as Irish Socialist MEP Joe Higgins declared, " RTE says that 'Everyone is really a hostage to the bond markets!’ but isn’t mass hostage taking a grievous crime against humanity?  Isn’t  it official policy that you don’t pay the ransom demanded?" Shouldn't the bond holders take the losses instead of working people?

As Richard Murphy of the Tax Justice Campaign pointed out at the recent SERTUC Public Services Conference, of the £200 billion of 'quantitative easing' designed to boost the economy, around a quarter went straight into bankers profits - to reflate their earnings, not the economy. He has calculated that £120 billion goes wasted in tax evasion, tax avoidance and uncollected taxes.

A small group of bond-holders and bankers are trying to hold the rest of us to ransom. It's time to stand up to the bullies - with co-ordinated trade union action.

Fees protests gather strength

Young people - and their parents and teachers - have every right to be angry. Their hopes of a university education are being snatched away from them by a Government that wants them to pay £9,000 a year tuition fees. When you add on the other costs of funding a young person through college, how many working-class - and middle-class - families can afford to take on that kind of debt mountain?

Of course, the real debt mountain has been created by the banks and the bond markets - but  they want us to pay for it.

On top of that, the Education Maintenance Allowance is being scrapped to be replaced by  'targeted support'. But, as the latest TES FEfocus editorial correctly put it, "The new "targeted" support is just a euphenism for cuts ... [it is] an admission of defeat disguised as a policy. It says that you cannot create the conditions where all young people will want to stay in education or have the money to afford it. This is not a situation that a wealthy, advanced country like the UK should ever have to face".

That is the brutal truth - that the Government are admitting that they have no intention of offering young people a decent future. That shocking truth has perhaps hit home the hardest on those young people in sixth forms that had, until now, always expected to go to university. Small wonder that some have decided that they will be joining older students on the protests organised for Wednesday November 24th.

Haberdashers' Aske's School in my Authority, Lewisham, is one of the schools where the press have publicised that students are planning to protest on November 24th. As I told the South London Press, this would be a decision for the students and their families to make, not their teachers. Teachers cannot encourage pupils to be absent from school.

However, I think many people will consider that young people who take a collective decision to protest about such a threat to their futures should not be treated as if they were just unthinkingly 'truanting' lesons. That's why I have contacted the school and asked that they do not take disciplinary action against those who do take part in the protest.

Britain is indeed a wealthy country. That wealth should be invested in the futures of our youth, not squandered on the gambling debts of the bond traders and bankers.

The 50,000 strong demonstration on November 10th showed how a younger generation can help inspire an older generation to use the power of organised trade union struggle to oppose these devastating cuts - and to demand that a decent education should be a right for all, not just a privilege for those that can afford it.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Unions and Campaigners Lobby Lewisham Council

Trade unions and campaigners held a lively lobby of Lewisham Council's Mayor and Cabinet meeting this evening. The meeting was held to push through the first part of their £60M cuts package.

Users of the services being cut - like the five local libraries - joined with trade unions and their banners from NUT, GMB, UNITE, UNISON and UCU.

Most of the cuts were agreed - but only after the meeting had to be adjourned for half an hour after protestors disrupted the meeting. The pressure from the libraries campaign meant that these closures were 'deferred' for the time being. However, the cuts targets won't have gone away and so these - and other services - are still vulnerable.

Unermployed users of the 'Opening Doors' employment advice centre pleaded to the councillors to save their service - but to no avail. The irony of cutting a service to help the unemployed at the same time as putting through 400 more job cuts was clearly lost on the Mayor and Cabinet.

But the size of the Lobby - joined by students and school students too - shows that the fightback against the cuts is growing.

I appealed to the union delegations present to go back and demand that their Executives agree to co-ordinate strike action alongside the NUT in the New Year.

Monday 15 November 2010

Lewisham NUT votes to build for action

The following motion was agreed unanimously at tonight's Lewisham NUT General Meeting:

Lewisham NUT welcomes the fact that trade unions, students and local communities are starting to organise against the austerity package demanded by this millionaire Con-Dem government which, if implemented, would mean:
* mass privatisation of services
* over a million job cuts
* a tripling of student fees
* drastic cuts to welfare benefits
* attacks on national pay and conditions
* making workers pay more to retire older for less pension

We believe that these cuts will only be defeated by powerful united action led by the trade unions, and backed up together with campaigns of service users, welfare claimants, students, pensioners and others.

We applaud the decision of the NUT National Executive to bring to the December meeting of the Executive a timetable of campaigning and action to take place before the Hutton Commission produces its final report in Spring 2011 which includes:
i)    The production and distribution of campaigning materials for use with members and the public;
ii)    Plans for meetings, rallies demonstrations and lobbying activities;
iii)    A ballot for strike action to take place in the spring term.

We are pleased that the Union is seeking the maximum co-ordination with other public sector unions in all of the above activities and call on Lewisham NUT members to:
a)     encourage members of other trade unions to call on their national unions to support  co-ordinated action with the NUT and other unions.
b)    call meetings in their schools to explain the decision of the NUT Executive and to prepare for a ballot in the Spring Term, including updating membership lists and home addresses.

We congratulate the NUS and UCU for the excellent turnout of over 50,000 at the demonstration against cuts and the increase in tuition fees on November 10th but are angered by the attempts by the Evening Standard to falsely accuse members of Goldsmiths UCU of supporting ‘violent protest’.

We agree with the Goldsmiths UCU Executive that “it is deeply ironic that a statement put out as a counter to the largely misrepresentative media coverage of the demonstration was itself severely misrepresented” and endorse the original statement’s view that:
 “the real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented” and that “today’s events demonstrate the deep hostility in the UK towards the cuts proposed in the Comprehensive Spending Review. We hope that this marks the beginning of a sustained defence of public services and welfare provision as well as education”.

We believe that trade union industrial action has a central role to play in that campaign and congratulate members of the FBU, RMT and TSSA for the action that they have taken in London in defence of their jobs and our services. In solidarity, we agree to pay a total of £500 to the hardship funds of the three unions made up of £200 to the FBU, £200 to the RMT and £100 to the TSSA.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Cutting pensions: A political decision, not an economic necessity

The battle is on to defend our pensions. We'll be balloting for action in the spring term. Here are some key arguments to help you build for that action:

Taken from the NUT website:
(look under the Protecting your Pensions section for a powerpoint and speaker's notes).

John Hutton's own report recognises that the cost of public sector pensions is falling as a result of the reforms to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) and other public sector pension schemes agreed back in 2005/6.

Graph taken from John Hutton's first report:

Yes, spending will rise in the short term, as an ageing workforce with protected pension rights reaches retirement age.  The most recent projections confirm, however, that while the cost will go up in the short term from around 1.7% of GDP in 2006-7 to around 2 per cent of GDP, it will then fall back to around 1.4 per cent of GDP (assuming the switch from RPI to CPI indexation goes ahead). 

In previous years, of course, when contributions into the pension scheme exceeded pension payments from the scheme, the Government simply kept that money.

Public sector pensions are affordable.  Costs will fall as planned.  The attack on our pensions is a political decision not an economic necessity.

In short, this information from the NUT website shows that, even using Hutton's own economic arguments, the attack on our pensions is just plain robbery. 

Of course, if the wealthy financiers that caused the crisis were made to pay their way, then our pensions and public services could be improved - not cut at all. But good arguments alone can't shift this government - but co-ordinated national strike action can.

Hackney NUT fighting Academies

I am posting this message circulated from Hackney NUT - please send in messages of support

No More Academies in Hackney
Keep our schools community schools

NUT members in Hackney have been campaigning since the summer against moves to turn all three remaining non-church comprehensives into Academies. We already have 5 Academies in Hackney, and that is 5 too many. Now they want Clapton School for Girls, Haggerston school and Stoke Newington school to join them.

We have campaigned in our own schools, and with parents. Last weekend parents and teachers in Stoke Newington leafleted and petitioned  our local market, and teachers from Clapton school set up a stall in central Hackney. Both gained a lot of support from parents and local residents.

The NUT has held indicative ballots in Clapton, Haggerston and Stoke Newington Schools, over opposing Academy status. In the ballot, teachers voted as follows, on the question: 'are you prepared to take sustained and discontinuous strike action in furtherance of the dispute over closure of your school and the enforced consequential change of employer':
Clapton Girls School Hackney
YES Vote 38 (73.%) 
No Vote 7 (13.46%)
Stoke Newington School Hackney
YES Vote 63 (83.79%)     
NO Vote 2  (2.66%)
Haggerston School Hackney
YES Vote 30    (71.4%)     
 NO Vote 2     (4.76%)

The ballot results were fantastic, and a credit to the membership in all three schools. We now need to decide how to take the campaign forward in all three schools. Please send messages of support to to NUT reps in all three schools:
Clapton: Annette Lynch and Des Barrow; Haggerston: Kate Ford; Stoke Newington: Jane Bassett

Other updates from the November National Executive

The key decision taken at November's NUT National Executive was obviously the unanimous vote to ballot for strike action over pensions in the spring term, but here is a summary of some of the other discussions:

National Demonstrations
The Executive congratulated the NUS and UCU  for the excellent turnout on Wednesday's demonstration. The NUT will be talking to the UCU about co-ordinating our actions together. The NUT will also be building for the TUC's national demonstration on 26 March. We had supported the PCS union in their argument that the TUC needed to show a greater urgency and organise a demonstration before then. Unfortunately, most other public sector unions have not supported us - but plans are still being discussed.

Action to Defend Central Services
Schools are waiting to hear firm news about their budgets but many boroughs face immediate cuts to their advisers and other central teams. The NUT Executive agreed that we must expose the educational damage that these cuts will cause - and that we will support ballots for strike action - across the whole of a Local Authority if necessary - to  oppose them.

Health and Safety threatened
The Executive discussed Lord Young's review of Health and Safety. Tabloid attacks on supposed 'bureaucracy' hide the Government's intention to undermine vital legal protections for teachers and school students. The 35% cuts to the Health and Safety Executive budget confirm our fears.

More attacks on pay and conditions on the way
Michael Gove has written to the School Teachers' Review Body signalling that he wants a further review in the spring into "the introduction of greater freedoms and flexibilities... to reduce the rigidity of the existing pay and conditions framework". He may try to rush through these attacks by September 2011. The Executive agreed to seek joint teacher union opposition to these attacks.

Sixth Form Colleges Consultative Ballot
For September 2010, most teachers still received a 2.3% award - at least a small increase on our salary slips. But teachers in sixth form colleges - where negotiations are ongoing - have been offered a derisory 0.75%. Ballot papers will be going to affected NUT members recommending rejection of the offer and also recommending that they show their support for strike action on the issue.

The new booklet summarising NUT policy and teachers' rights on workload has been issued to school reps. An updated classroom observation policy is also available on the NUT website. The Executive also agreed that we will be making lesson planning a particular focus for campaigning in the New Year.

Thursday 11 November 2010

NUT to ballot for action to defend pensions

Teachers’ pensions are under attack. But the NUT is going to fight to defend them.

The November NUT Executive agreed unanimously that we prepare a campaigning timetable building up to a ballot for strike action in the spring term.

The Government are trying to claim that our existing pensions’ scheme is ‘unaffordable’. The most recent valuations of the Teachers’ Pensions Scheme confirm that’s just not true. They just want to rip-off our pensions to pay for their debts.

The first Hutton report made quite clear what the Government intends – to make us retire older and pay more for less pension.

October’s Comprehensive Spending Review made the threat clearer. The Government plans for all teachers to be paying another 3% of our salaries in pension contributions. That’s a big pay cut. It’s a cut that we cannot accept.

On top of that, the Government have switched the indexation of pension benefits from the Retail Price Index to the lower Consumer Price Index. That change alone could cost a teacher tens of thousands of pounds in retirement.

When the Hutton Commission issues its final report in March, it could include further attacks. Changed pension calculations – like using ‘career-averages’ – could cut pension payouts. Our retirement age could go up – to 65 for all of us – but perhaps to 67 and beyond – unless we make a stand.

We can’t wait for Hutton’s Final Report in March to reveal the full details of these attacks. To make Hutton and the Government think again, we have to take action before then – hopefully co-ordinated with other teaching and non-teaching unions too.

That’s why the NUT Executive agreed unanimously to produce a timetable for:

• Distribution of campaigning materials

• Meetings, rallies and demonstrations

• A ballot for strike action in the spring term.

We will approach other unions to seek maximum co-ordination in all of the above activities and then confirm our action timetable at the December meeting of the NUT Executive.

Get the news out to every school – the fight to defend our pensions is on!

This is the full text of the motion that was agreed:

The Executive recognises that:
a) the proposals of the Hutton Commission;
b) the decision to switch the indexation of pension benefits from RPI to CPI;
c) the inclusion in the Comprehensive Spending Review of an assumption that public sector workers will pay 3% more of their salary in pension contributions
together represent a much bigger threat to our pensions that the proposals we fought in 2005.

The Executive instructs the General Secretary to bring to the December meeting of the Executive a timetable of campaigning and action to take place before the Hutton Commission produces its final report in Spring 2011.

This timetable should include:
i) The production and distribution of campaigning materials for use with members and the public;
ii) Plans for meetings, rallies demonstrations and lobbying activities;
iii) A ballot for strike action to take place in the spring term.
In order to support this work the Executive agrees:
a) that the Union should use its electronic facilities to inform members about this campaign and survey their views on all aspects of it;
b) that Executive members should work with Regional and Wales Offices in supporting divisions and associations in building this campaign.

Finally, the Executive recognises that the Union should seek the maximum co-ordination with other public sector unions in all of the above activities and instructs the General Secretary to approach other unions with a view to this and bring a report to the December meeting of the Executive.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

50,000 students and lecturers march in Whitehall

Today's joint march by students and lecturers was a tremendous step forward in the battle against the cuts. Who can argue now that the movement can't fill the streets of London?

Whitehall was thronged with over 50,000 demonstrators - lecturers with their UCU members, a few NUT banners too, but, above all, tens of thousands of youth with their home-made banners and chants against the Tories - but most of all against the lying Nick Clegg " ... shame on you, for turning blue...".

Today's action will help encourage the UCU to vote for a ballot for strike action against cuts and attacks on conditions and education at their special Higher Education Conference later this month.  It was also an encouragement to those of us meeting for the NUT Executive who will also be discussing our plans for strike action against the pension attacks in the spring term.

Could we agree on a co-ordinated ballot that could result in a complete education shutdown of schools and universities - and perhaps other unions joining in too ?

Report to follow tomorrow on what the NUT Executive decides !

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Lewisham needs its jobs and services


In July, trade unionists and service users lobbied Lewisham Council to protest against the plan to cut millions of pounds from council services. Four months on, the Mayor and Cabinet are meeting to finally agree that cuts package.

Lewisham Teachers’ Association (NUT) is calling a lobby once again to say:

Council officers have written to the NUT and other unions to tell us that the cuts going to the Cabinet meeting  will mean 446 staff  losing their jobs.
But Lewisham already has the worst ratio  between job seekers and job vacancies in  the whole country.
These cuts will make it even harder to find jobs.

Vital services are at risk:
Five Local Libraries - New Cross, Sydenham, Crofton Park, Grove Park and Blackheath.
Community Safety & Wardens - 20 posts to go.
Amersham EY Centre - now identified for closure.
Health & Safety Team - support for schools cut.
‘Opening Doors’ - advice on how to find work - cut!

Cuts to Lewisham’s School Improvement Team will mean less support for schools.
The ‘Phase 2’ cuts round could see more services suffer - such as loss of vital support for Traveller Pupils and the possible closure of the Lewisham LLDCentre in Kilmorie Road. Schools need central support - not left to work alone.

The Lobby is also being called by Lewisham Anti-Cuts Alliance, Lewisham Trades Council and Save Lewisham’s Libraries Campaign.

Sunday 7 November 2010

The Great Unrest - 100 years ago

Lest we forget...
the history of our movement
A hundred years ago, in 'the Great Unrest', London's trade unionists took mass action to defend their conditions.
Let's mark its centenary with mass action again!

Stealing the future from our youth

The future prospects for today’s young people are the worst for generations – unless communities and trade unions organise to fight this Government’s cuts.

Of course we have faced unemployment and cutbacks before, but spending cuts of this scale have not been seen in Britain since the 1920’s. The hope of ‘progress’ – that your life will be better than that of your parents, and your children’s better again than yours – will be shattered. Everything that has been won by the labour movement – like the national health service, pensions, housing and disability benefits, affordable university education – is all under threat.

It is predicted that the cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review will mean the loss of at least 1 million jobs. Unemployment could rise to 4 million. And now the Tories are threatening that they will force the unemployed to work for their benefit. As usual, young people, working-class and minority communities will be worst hit.

The escape route through gaining qualifications at school and college will also be blocked. The Education Maintenance Allowance for post-16 students will be scrapped. Funding for courses for English for Speakers of Other Languages will be axed. Universities face a staggering 80% cut in the funding. To help balance budgets, university tuition fees will rise to £9,000 per year. How many families will want to risk their sons and daughters taking on those kind of debts?

Things are little better in schools. The axe may not have fallen quite so harshly as on some other services but big cuts are still being made. Even with the promised ‘pupil premium’ to help education, most schools will see their budgets fall. Class sizes will increase as teaching and support staff posts are lost. Cuts in council grants are already leading to significant job losses amongst the specialist Local Authority staff who provide support to schools.

To escape cuts, schools are being bribed with the ‘Trojan Horse’ of abandoning their Local Councils and becoming an independent Academy school. But, like every privatisation of services, Academies will make education worse, not better. Instead of elected councils planning education in the interests of the whole community, individual Academies will only look after their own interests – and those of their business backers. Again, the most vulnerable parts of the community will be the losers.

Government Ministers tell us that ‘there is no alternative’ but to swallow this harsh medicine. But throwing millions out of work won’t improve the economy, it will make it worse.

They say that ‘we are all in this together’. Yet, while ordinary families suffer, Britain’s corporation tax for big business stands at only 28% - the lowest in the developed world. Now they want to cut it even further to 24%! The UCU, the University lecturers’ union, point out that just raising corporation tax to the average 32% would be enough to fully fund universities and get rid of tuition fees altogether.

Ordinary Londoners, teachers and students are the ones that must be ‘all in this together’ – united against the attacks on education and fighting for the future of our young people. Unless we campaign, communities could be divided by racism, youth divided by gangs and destructive rivalry.

The Con-Dem government needs to be warned that British workers can take action just like our brothers and sisters in Spain, France, Greece and other countries. The ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher was turned to rust when she tried to attack the whole community through the hated ‘poll-tax’. These cuts are an even greater attack on all of us. Together, we can defeat them again.

Friday 5 November 2010

London FBU Suspension of Strike Action

Please pass on this information from Ian Leahair, FBU Executive Council member

The Fire Brigades Union and its members in London are overwhelmed by the many letters of support and solidarity received from trade unions affiliated to the NSSN and SERTUC, especially PCS, RMT, NUT, CWU and SERTUC, whilst the strike planned for the 5th and 6th November 2010 has been suspended, this in no way infers that the dispute has concluded.

In view of the media attention yesterday and the shambolic exploits of the chair of LFEPA Councillor Brian Coleman, we feel that it is necessary to put the record straight as the media is clearly not prepared to portray the truth, but instead concentrate on the lies, spin and rhetoric that spill from the mouth of the Tory bully (Coleman).

Contrary to the claims of Brian Coleman, the decision by the FBU in London to suspend strikes was based upon sound judgement and significant movement from management.

You will by now be aware that contrary to the claims made by the Fire Minister, The Mayor of London, The Chair of LFEPA and the Commissioner of the LFB that the Capitals public would be safe on what is the busiest night of the year for the London Fire Brigade. The FBU and our member’s in London do not accept such claims and we believe that the contingency plans and use of inadequately trained AssetCo staff are neither sufficient nor adequate to ensure the safety of the public at this time.

To support our claims that the LFB were prepared to put the public at risk through this weekend, we have evaluated how the AssetCo staff performed during the previous two strike dates, whereby we witnessed AssetCo staff not capable of correctly using equipment with no understanding of how they should tackle a fire appropriately. Further concerns arose in the driving abilities of those staff when three of our members including myself were injured on picket lines.

Since the 31st Oct there have been three days of negotiations which failed to deliver a way forward, management maintained that their bottom line was 11/13 with strings and that they wanted the FBU to enter into arbitration on the 5th Nov with the threat of mass sackings still scheduled to take place on 26th November 2010. However in light of the above the FBU proposed to management they agree in writing:

1. That their bottom line is 11/13 with no strings.

2. That any decision on mass sackings would not take place on the 18th November 2010.

3. That management agree to attend a Resolution Advisory Panel on 16th November 2010.

I am pleased to report that management gave a full written agreement to the above and therefore the London Regional Committee felt that this was enough to suspend the proposed strike action in order that the general public could enjoy both Diwali and the Fireworks festivities, safe in the knowledge that should that require attendance of the Fire Brigade then the public would receive an attendance of professionally trained Firefighters as opposed to a makeshift gaggle of un experienced and poorly trained individuals.

Furthermore, we believe that we are now better placed to enter into arbitration on our terms and not the terms of the employer, we also believe that we will now not be entering such arbitration with a loaded gun against our heads.
More importantly, management’s written agreement to the above, also secures that our members will be able to be consulted fully on any recommendation that may be derived from such arbitration, without the threat of mass sackings on the 18th November 2010.

Had Management have agreed to this position earlier then we would not have needed to take strike action, but clearly it has been our unity and strike action that has forced them to commit to such an agreement as outlined above.

Yours Fraternally

Ian Leahair
Executive Council Member for London
Fire Brigades Union

Tuesday 2 November 2010

FBU Pickets hospitalised - visit the picket lines on Friday

A solid picket-line formed outside Lewisham Fire Station all day with striking FBU members cheered by the constant tooting of passing cars - showing that many other workers had not been taken in by the press attacks.

Pickets explained that:
"this dispute has been brewing a long time. Management are always 'take' but no 'give', taking advantage of our goodwill every time. They want to run the fire-service as if it's a business".
"When the redundancy notices were followed up by threats of pay deductions, the mood hardened. We've people join the union this time who weren't on strike in the last dispute"
"The response has been great from the guys at the station - and from the public too"
"On Saturday, we thought that the AssetCo scabs might come to Lewisham - but it appears they have moved in on some other stations today. But when Boris Johnson tries to say they can provide proper cover, anyone listening to the chaos on the radio channels last Saturday could tell they didn't know what they were doing. It seems that they've changed tactics today because we haven't been able to pick up the radio traffic yet".

However, later in the day it became clear that the change of 'tactics' had taken on a more sinister turn. As I visited the Forest Hill picket line, news came through of a picket being hit by a manager's car on the Croydon picket line. Then, in Southwark, an AssetCo engine struck Ian Leahair, FBU National Executive member. Both pickets were hospitalised although fortunately Ian's injuries are not too serious.

These attacks on trade unionists engaged in lawful trade union activity will only help convince public opinion that the Fire Authority is acting in a bullying and unreasonable manner in this dispute, not the FBU. I have sent a letter of complaint to the Fire Authority and encouraged others to do so too.

Teachers and other trade unionists should make every effort to get down to the FBU picket lines on Friday and stand in solidarity with fire-fighters taking action to defend their conditions and our fire service.