Why are we worth less?’ ask strikers at Tesco hub by ALISTAIR FARROW
WORKERS AT a Tesco distribution hub in Dagenham, east London have struck over pay. Their action is raising wider questions about how workers can take on and defeat the retail giants. Hundreds of workers in the Usdaw union joined a 24-hour strike from 10pm last Thursday. They are demanding pay parity with workers doing the same job 15 minutes drive away in Thurrock. Workers have been offered a pay rise of less than 3 percent by bosses. They are currently on £9.75 an hour. Workers at Thurrock get paid £1.38 an hour more. “We all pay the same rent, we all pay the same prices for shopping— why are we worth less than other people?” asked Tim. “Tesco said they want to be an ‘upper quartile payer’ for the sector,” Usdaw rep Simon Vincent told Socialist Worker. That would mean increasing pay by £1.75 an hour according to the firm, which describes the rise as an “aspiration”. “Well, I have an ‘aspiration’ to win the lottery, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Sam told Socialist Worker. Nearly 550 workers were involved in the strike ballot which saw a 63 percent vote for strikes on a turnout of over 70 percent. “Pay is the biggest issue, but everybody’s job is getting harder,” said Jack. “Morale is at an all-time low.” Negotiated Another demand of the dispute is over paid breaks. Two years ago workers negotiated a 15-minute paid tea break. “The performance clock was supposed to stop when you started your break,” said Sam. “Management reneged on that—now it’s part of our dispute to get that back.” Workers also told Socialist Worker about the brutal nature of their work. It’s a refrigerated distribution centre which is held at 1 degree centigrade. And if people are working in the freezer section the temperature drops to -21 degrees centigrade. “We can move up to 30 tonnes over the course of a shift and they say that’s not worth £10 an hour,” said Jack. Another worker said he can walk between 10 and 15 miles on a shift. And as bad as things are for contract workers, agency workers have it worse. “Our overtime pay rate comes in after 37.5 hours a week, but for agency workers it comes in after 48 hours,” said Tim. Agency For those first 48 hours agency workers get the minimum wage, which is topped up if they hit performance targets. Agency workers are effectively forced to work savage hours because of poverty pay. “The other week we had one agency worker who did 61 hours,” Tim said. Turnover is very high. Workers are issued a new “decamp”, or identification, number when they start. “6,000 people have registered on the system in the last five years,” said Sam. Just last month 53 workers stopped working at the site. “If Tesco paid a bit more money on wages people would stick around,” Jack said. A strike planned for this Thursday has been called off after Tesco agreed to talks at the Acas conciliation service. The action threatened backlogs throughout Tesco’s network. The firm drafted in scab labour and got managers from other sites to fill in. Workers’ names have been changed BACK STORY A walkout at a Tesco distribution hub threatens backlogs throughout the chain’s network lStrikers are demanding pay parity with workers doing the same job a few miles away lBut Usdaw union members are also fighting to defend conditions lWorkers say morale is at an all time low and say agency staff bear the brunt of bosses’ attacks lEscalating the action can have a huge impact on Tesco Just in time production makes the bosses more vulnerable to walkouts THE TESCO workers’ strike has had a big impact. The Dagenham site services some 80 percent of the smaller Tesco Express stores—nearly 300—in London. Just-in-time distribution is designed to keep bosses’ costs as low as possible in order to maximise profits. As little money as possible is spent on storage facilities at smaller stores. Products are unloaded and put directly onto the shelves as much as possible. In order to streamline distribution like this, larger and larger distribution centres are needed to coordinate deliveries from. This creates huge hubs, or choke points, in firms like Tesco’s distribution network. Vulnerable This means firms that use these techniques are increasingly vulnerable to strikes. And workers have taken advantage of that. Jack explained to Socialist Worker how the Dagenham site “was built five years ago to deal with the expansion of the Tesco Express stores.” He said that the size of the Dagenham site means other depots won’t be able to cope with the same volume. “They can’t service Express London without us,” said Jack. “The logistics are an absolute nightmare to move this work to other sites. “They can move some of the work we do here up to the site at Peterborough. But then they have to move work done at Peterborough up to Hinckley and from Hinckley to somewhere else and so on. “The problem is there’s only so much capacity in the system as a whole.” Historically low levels of strikes have allowed bosses to stretch their distribution networks as thinly as possible. Now they are terrified other workers will get ideas. “Their worry is the strike will spread to other sites,” said Jack. They have also begun to forget who produces and distributes the products they sell. Workers say bosses have ploughed millions of pounds into breaking the strike by getting extra agency workers and managers from other sites in. Some agency workers who live far away are being paid for their four hour round trips as well as an eight hour shift. All this means strikes spreading could have a devastating effect.
TGI Fridays strikers tip the balance in pay fight by ALISTAIR FARROW
TGI FRIDAYS workers and their supporters protested in Covent Garden, central London last Friday. Workers at the West End restaurant were joined on strike by those at the Milton Keynes on the same day. They are courageously fighting against a firm whose boss, Karen Forester, took home £1.3 million last year. The strike is “over a tip policy change which could cost waiting staff £250 a month in lost wages,” said the workers’ union, Unite. Kitchen “In January this year we were given two days notice that 40 percent of our tips would be given to kitchen staff,” said Natalie from the Covent Garden restaurant. “Kitchen staff should have higher pay in the first place,” said Bonnie from the Milton Keynes restaurant. “The company has pitted us against each other,” she told Socialist Worker. “Most of the kitchen team are with us, but are not in the union.” Bonnie described how bosses had “stopped our free meals when we’re on a 12-hour shift. Now they’ve pissed us off, they’ve taken it too far.” Workers from the recent McDonald’s strikes came down to offer solidarity. “The support we got for our strikes was important to pass on,” said Lewis. “Other workers need to feel the support of the wider trade union movement.” Workers at two other restaurants—the Trafford Centre, Greater Manchester and Piccadilly in central London—have also voted to strike. The yes vote was 100 percent on a 63 percent turnout, with the first strike planned for Friday this week. The results of another two ballots at Enfield in London and the Gateshead Metrocentre were due to be announced this week. Six restaurants could be on strike from Friday 1 June. “When we all come together and are unionised we are stronger,” said Natalie. “We will be heard across the hospitality sector.”
HUNDREDS OF people joined the With Banners Held High festival last Sunday in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Those taking part included Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Jon Trickett MP. Picture: Neil Terry UNIONS’ FESTIVAL PCS union is ready for national ballot over pay >>>continued from back page increases above 1 percent over four years in exchange for worse terms and conditions. Some activists worry that this will mean members in the DWP will be less willing to strike against the pay cap. Yet speaking in a personal capacity Steve West from the DWP GEC told Socialist Worker, “Whenever I speak to members they’re all up for a fight over pay.” And Kate Douglas, from Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire DWP, told the conference that a strong campaign involving activists and members makes a crucial difference. Deal “Members in my branch feel very strongly about pay and feel quite let down by the four-year employee deal on pay,” she said. “But since the indicative ballot last year my branch has worked really hard. We have recruited nine new reps since February alone. We’ve got membership density of 95 percent in some offices.” She added, “Now is the time to fight. The government clearly is not going to move voluntarily.” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told activists that a strike vote wouldn’t just be “a mandate to protest as some form of letting off steam”. He said members should “take a leaf from the lecturers in the UCU to take action that will have an effect that they cannot ignore.” He added that a ballot would need to take place quickly to avoid being overtaken by annual pay talks. Yet he also said a strong ballot result could be “leverage” in talks. Marianne told the HMRC conference, “Look at what we oppose—a Tory government in chaos. Brexit, Grenfell, Windrush. They’re a minority government propped up by the DUP. “Could they really withstand sustained industrial action from the whole of the civil service?” Serwotka said the union would wait for a response from the government and then “re-consult” members on taking action. He also suggested the action could take the form of “targeted” strikes in the DVLA and the Border Force. But the best way to show the government—and PCS members—that the union is serious about fighting would be to call immediate, hard hitting action involving the whole membership.
RESTAURANT WORKERS PROTESTING IN Covent Garden SERVICE WORKERS REFUSE WORKERS A victory on Kirklees bins UNISON UNION members working for Kirklees council’s refuse collection service appear to have won a significant victory in their long battle against alleged management bullying and racism. Management met with union representatives after a big strike vote. The bin workers voted for an initial five days of strikes starting on 4 June. The council previously responded to workers’ grievances by threatening privatisation. Bosses were clearly terrified of the planned strikes and conceded to the six demands. Three managers have been removed from the service while awaiting the outcome of an investigation. Workers will also be paid for up to half of their outstanding leave which management had refused to let them take. Managers have also accepted that current rounds are unworkable and will be reviewed. Workers voted to suspend their action subject to confirmation of the deal. At a meeting workers expressed joy at their victory but were left wondering whether they should have asked for the “whole baker’s shop”. Nick Ruff Kirklees Unison branch chair (pc)
TELECOMS TRAFFIC WARDENS PROSPECT UNION
reps at BT met last week to discuss their response to major job cuts. The firm announced 13,000 job losses earlier this month. Some 100 union reps attended Prospect’s BT divisional conference in Nottingham. They voted to “keep all options open” in their campaign to defend jobs. The “priorities” for the response to the cuts include “campaigning for job security and actions to minimise compulsory redundancies and maximise the effectiveness of redeployment.” BT has said it will create 6,000 more jobs in other grades. But this does not compensate for the cull of others. The introduction to an emergency motion said, “BT’s plans to cut 13,000 jobs are unworkable, are not thought through. And it will cause very serious damage to the company’s operations in both short term and longer terms.” It’s difficult to see how anything but strikes can push back such a huge attack on workers. BT had 240,000 workers when it was privatised in 1984. It now has fewer than 100,000. But shareholders’ dividends are being protected. TRAFFIC WARDENS in Hackney, east London, struck on Monday and Tuesday last week for a 5 percent pay rise. They are also fighting for improvements to the long-service award, better holiday allocation and fair implementation of sickness procedures. There were lively pickets, and a demonstration outside Hackney town hall. They are outsourced by Hackney council to parking management company APCOA. The action follows a 100 percent vote for strikes by the 40 wardens. The Unite union members put in a claim for a 5 percent cost of living pay increase in April but bosses refused. They are now fighting for proper pay negotiations every April. This is what would happen if these workers were still directly employed by local government ins
More colleges join fightback over pay by SADIE ROBINSON
WORKERS AT two London colleges struck on Tuesday as part of a rolling programme of walkouts over pay. The UCU union members at Lewisham Southwark College (LSC) and Lambeth College won support from students and other trade unionists on the picket lines. It was the start of a twoday walkout for workers at LSC and a three-day strike for Lambeth workers. UCU members are fighting a below-inflation 1 percent pay offer. But workers also have specific disputes at the different colleges. As Joe, a striker at LSC explained, “We are the only college in London that doesn’t have London weighting. We don’t get any pay increments either. “People leave to get better paid work elsewhere.” Striker and Esol teacher Sukriya added, “For the last ten years we’ve had no pay rise. And inflation has been going up. “People are struggling to pay rent and bills, even those without children. No one can afford a holiday anymore.” The strikes come as new figures show that more than a third of college principals enjoyed pay rises of 10 percent or more in 2016/17. Some 17 of them “earned” over £200,000. There was a sense that workers feel unappreciated and undervalued by bosses. Support worker David was on strike and picketing for the first time. “Every day I feel quite used by the college,” he said. “I’ve been here nine years, been pumped full of training and have had no real pay rise. “To me, it’s a slap in the face. I feel that I must be better than when I started.” And strikers said recent mergers have made things worse. “Before the merger we were promised the earth,” said striker Ali. “We were told there would be more money and no more reorganisations. “After the merger, suddenly there was no money. And we’re now looking at another reorganisation. In the 15 years I’ve been here that will be the sixth.” U C U m e m b e r s a t Westminster Kingsway, City and Islington and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London were set to walk out for three days from Wednesday. And they plan a four-day strike from next Tuesday. Union members at Havering College are set to join the action with walkouts next Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Bosses at the Association of Colleges have said they won’t negotiate over the 2018-19 pay claim if the strikes continue. The UCU has asked branches to discuss a motion calling for a national ballot for escalating strikes over the claim. A national response from the union can push back the bullying bosses. And solidarity from other trade unionists can boost workers’ resolve. lFor a full list of forthcoming college strikes go to ucu.org.uk/FEfightsback AIRPORT WORKERS Coordinated air strikes can ground the bosses’ attacks at London Luton Airport WORKERS AT London Luton airport are preparing to deliver a devastating blow to bosses in their fight against poverty pay and poor conditions. Five different groups of workers, who work for three separate companies, are coordinating their action in a five-day series of rolling strikes. Bosses are offering a pay increase of only 2.5 percent. But since the airport had a pre-tax profit of £44 million, Unite union members think they deserve more. And Luton airport directors’ money increased by 59 percent. First to walk out are firefighters and security guards, who are both employed directly by Luton airport. The firefighters plan to strike on Friday and Saturday of this week. Then baggage handlers, who are outsourced to Menzies Aviation, plan to take action from 3am on 26 May until 2pm on Sunday 27 May. They voted by 92 percent to fight over pay, breaches of recognition agreement, poor working conditions and a lack of communication. And they are followed by security staff—who voted 86 percent to strike—on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Air operations and engineering workers employed directly by the airport will also strike on Tuesday of next week. And outsourced workers to Clece Care Service will round off the action by striking from 5am on 28 May until 5am on 30 May. They voted by 88 percent to strike over zero hours contracts, the living wage and allegations of management bullying. SOLIDARITY FROM trade unionists at Lewisham Southwark College Picture: Socialist Worker HULL COLLEGE Buoyant walkout to stop cuts to jobs and courses ANOTHER HUGE, lively and determined picket line assembled at the main entrance of Hull College on Thursday of last week. It followed picketing at all college sites in the city at the start of a two-day strike over job losses and course cuts. UCU union members had previously held a successful strike on Wednesday 9 May. Workers are fighting a plan to cut 231 full time equivalent jobs. Workers said they wanted students at Hull College to have the same opportunities as students who study elsewhere. They could escalate to a three-day strike if bosses don’t back down. This fight is crucial to safeguard education, jobs and pay. The college is a big employer in the area. UCU joint branch secretary Dave Langcaster was pleased with the buoyant atmosphere on the large picket. Striking catering workers provided food and drink while pickets were entertained with live music. Individuals and groups who came to show their support were warmly welcomed. Dave said, “We’re pushing the idea that it is for the community and future of the city of Hull.” Rob Goodfellow, joint branch secretary of the UCU at Hull College, told Socialist Worker, “Diana Johnson MP and Emma Hardy MP have both asked questions in parliament and Hardy is meeting with education minister Ann Milton.” The union believes that the management have shown ruthless and uncaring behaviour. Another lecturer said, “This is an example of the marketisation of education. “We are here because we recognise that this is another attack on the provision of education. “The academisation of schools has led to decisions being based on profit and they should be based on the needs of children and young people. It also leads to a narrowing of the provision on offer.” Eleanor Woyen and Wendy Dobbs EDUCATION Confidence on the picket Picture: Eleanor Woyen and Wendy Dobbs
ACTON HIGH SCHOOL Stopping academisation can’t be left to one school THE NEU union has called off a planned three-day strike at Acton High school in Ealing, west London. The strike was due to begin on Tuesday of this week, following a number of walkouts against a planned takeover of the school by the Ark academy chain. NEU members are also in dispute over allegations of bullying and management’s response to behaviour issues. They overwhelmingly voted to call off the action at a meeting last week. They won some things and didn’t feel further strikes could win more. Stefan Simms is divisional secretary of Ealing NEU (NUT section). He told Socialist Worker, “The strike wasn’t in vain— we did win some things. “The head and deputy head teacher have gone and the school is taking pupils’ behaviour more seriously now. “We did win some other minor concessions from Ark But we set out to stop Ark taking over the school and we failed.” Hard Stefan said that many teachers are now looking for jobs elsewhere because they don’t want to work for Ark. He added, “No matter how strong the union is in one school, it’s hard for any school to resist a forced academy conversion in the face of government and local authority support for a particular sponsor.”
HIGHER EDUCATION Union wins recognition THE UCU union has achieved a union recognition agreement with Coventry University Group (CUG) following a protest. CUG is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Coventry University with worse pay and conditions. CUG had previously refused to recognise the UCU and set up the Staff Consultative Group. The union held a protest last Wednesday and threatened to call for an academic boycott of the university. But a meeting last week reached an agreement in principle to have “voluntary recognition” of the UCU. It isn’t clear if the Staff Consultative Group will continue to operate. Luton Airport north of London Published by Larkham Printers & Publishers Ltd. Correspondence address: PO Box 74955, London, E16 9EJ. Printed by trade union labour at Reach Printing Services £1 No 2605 2
STRIKE AGAINST WIGAN SELLOFF by TOMÁŠ TENGELY-EVANS THE FIGHT to stop outsourcing in Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh (WWL) NHS Trust is gaining momentum. Around 600 hospital workers in the Unison union were set to walk out for 48 hours from Wednesday this week. Workers in the Unite union voted by 81 percent to join them on the picket lines. Support is pouring in from trade unionists, health campaigners and local Labour Party members. Wigan trades council had called for mass solidarity throughout the walkout on Wednesday and Thursday. Mary Callaghan, Wigan trades council president, sent workers a message of solidarity. “All delegates understand how you feel,” she said. “And we want you to know that not only ourselves, but the whole town is behind you in this very important dispute to keep your jobs in the NHS. “The whole of Greater Manchester is focused on the dispute here and the outcome could have a larger impact on the North West.” The hospital workers are low-paid porters, cleaners, security staff and other support workers. Bosses want to transfer their jobs into the newly set up WWL Solutions Ltd, one of the “wholly-owned subsidiaries” that manage estates in NHS England. While owned by NHS trusts—for now— wholly-owned subsidiaries are the latest in a long line of privatisation scams. Dave Lowe, a Unison delegate at Wigan trades council, said, “There is absolutely no reason for non medical staff to be employed by a separate, private company. “That is unless there is a hidden political and economic agenda to ensure more resources are waylaid to the sort of people that have messed up our railways.” The immediate aim of wholly-owned subsidiaries is to drive down workers’ wages and terms and conditions. They may be protected for a short period for those who transfer to WWL Solutions—a process known as Tupe. But any new starters will be on worse ones—starting a drive to the bottom. And, while working for a company owned by the NHS, the outsourced workers are no longer on the NHS pay roll. Attractive The lower wage bill will make it more attractive for private companies to swoop in at a later date. The aim is to bring in private sector figures, make the NHS run like a business, then bring in full blown privatisation. And this is interwoven with a bigger agenda by the Tories and developers to get their hands on valuable NHSowned land. Private sector managers are being brought in to lay the groundwork for asset stripping the service. In the face of this assault the WWL hospital workers are showing it’s possible to fight back. Their Unison and Unite unions should use their fight to launch a national campaign—with strikes at its heart—against outsourcing. Send messages of solidarity to email@example.com WORKERS AND their supporters protested against privatisation in Lancashire last month Picture: Fred Fitton PCS UNION Civil service workers’ conference votes for national strikes over pay by NICK CLARK in Brighton CIVIL SERVICE workers in the PCS union were set to take a step closer to strikes over pay as Socialist Worker went to press on Tuesday. Delegates at the PCS’s annual conference were almost certain to overwhelmingly carry a motion to launch a national strike ballot. Workers in government departments have suffered a pay freeze or 1 percent increases—well below inflation—for some eight years. And the Tories have told PCS to expect yet another real terms pay cut next year or sacrifice terms and conditions for a measly 2 or 3 percent. PCS activists at department group conferences on Monday had already begun rallying to launch the ballot. Marianne Owens from the PCS’s HM Revenue and Customs group executive committee (GEC) told her conference, “We want the pay rise that we deserve. “We’re not going to accept changes to terms and conditions in return for a paltry 2 or 3 percent. “That doesn’t come anywhere near what we’ve actually lost over the last decade.” More than 50 percent of PCS members will need to take part in the ballot to lawfully strike—a result of Tory anti-union laws. But activists can build a campaign to win a strike vote after a strong consultative ballot last year. More than 79 percent voted to say they would be ready to strike, on a turnout of almost 49 percent—over 70,000 members. Marianne said, “The consultative ballot was ground-breaking. Overall we just missed the 50 percent threshold, but it’s the biggest turnout we’ve had in a ballot in PCS’s history. “Our activists and members are no different to the activists and members in the CWU who achieved a 73 percent turnout in their recent strike ballot. “We’re no different to the UCU where they had a magnificent 88 percent yes vote for strikes with a 58 percent turnout. “We can see this 50 percent hurdle as a challenge. We need to go back to our branches and start to build.” Activists in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) group were also gearing up for a ballot. A pay deal in 2016 saw some DWP workers get pay >>turn to page 18