Catalyst - Solidarity Federation

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Complete online archive of issues of Catalyst, the regular agitational newspaper of the UK anarcho-syndicalist organisation the Solidarity Federation.

29 issues were published between 2000 and 2012.

Submitted by Ed on February 25, 2011

Solidarity Federation's own archive can be found here http://www.solfed.org.uk/catalyst.

Issues 1 and 11 courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Catalyst #17

Solidarity Federation freesheet, produced June 08

Submitted by martinh on June 16, 2008

Catalyst #18

Issue 18 of Catalyst, Solidarity Federation freesheet. September 2008

Submitted by martinh on November 6, 2008

Catalyst #19 February 2009 - Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation

Submitted by AES on June 4, 2009

Catalyst #19 February 2009 - Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation

Victory at Metronet | Redundancy rights | Deaths at work | Trouble at Amey

Decent Jobs for All Workers

The Lindsey Oil Refinery strike – in which over 800 workers participated in unauthorised (wildcat) work stoppages lasting over a week, with thousands more power plant workers showing their solidarity across the country – will probably be remembered as a “xenophobic” strike which called for “British Jobs for British Workers”. But what politicians of all parties and the majority of the media have failed to report, however, is that the message coming from the striking workers has been that it is not about race, and that they do not object to foreign workers. In fact, Lindsey workers were angered because they felt they didn’t have a chance to get these jobs and they saw the new contract, awarded to IREM, an Italian company, as an attack on the National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI).

Local workers - who had previously done the work - were served a 90 day redundancy notice in mid November that expired on Feburary 17th. When IREM declared that it would only use its Italian and Portuguese workforce, workers took it to be yet another attempt by their employer to dismantle the NAECI. The entire onsite workforce voted to take immediate unofficial strike action. Both Total, who own the refinery, and IREM have said that the Italians will be paid the same as local workers - but this claim is contested and the Italians are housed by IREM in a former prison ship.

Of course, Total and IREM were acting perfectly within their legal rights, according to a series of EU judgements. A 2007 ruling caters for a company doing work in another EU country to ignore local pay rates, after a Latvian company tried to build a school in Sweden using Latvian workers on Latvian pay.

The key issue for the workers in Lindsey is one of access to work. It suits the media to portray the white working class as racist and backward and it suits politicians to discredit industrial action. But, while some involved in this have expressed racist sentiments most have realised that it’s about class, not nationality. Where bigotry rears its head, it needs to be challenged – but this is best done by workers involved, rather than people like Mandelson who have never had any worker’s interests at heart.
The actual demands of the workers do not make any mention of Italians or Portuguese:

  • No victimisation of workers taking solidarity action.
  • All workers in UK tobe covered by NAECI Agreement
  • Union controlled registering of unemployed and locally skilled union members
  • Government and employer investment in proper training /apprenticeships for new generation of construction workers
  • All Immigrant labour to be unionised.
  • Trade Union assistance for immigrant workers - via interpreters - to give right of access to Trade Union advice
    - to promote active integrated Trade Union members

After a week of mass meetings on the picket lines which saw the “British Jobs...” slogan dropped as quick as the BNP were told where to go by strikers in favour of “Workers of the World Unite” and calls in Italian for the IREM workers to join them, the Lindsey strikers returned to work, having gained 102 jobs for locals. Among the solidarity actions, the strike in Plymouth - in which Polish workers supported their British colleagues - is most notable. A possible further development would have been to talk to workers elsewhere in Europe – these EU rulings benefit bosses all over, so co-ordinated action against them is a good idea. They’ve also taught a lesson to all those of us who don’t work in construction – just because solidarity action is unlawful, it doesn’t mean we can’t practice it!

Defeating Victimisation at Metronet

Last year managers at Metronet, one of the contractors in charge of track maintenance on the London Underground, tried to sack Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) rep Andy Littlechild. Managers seized on obsolete health and safety regulations which apparently enforced the wearing of hard hats at all times and targeted Andy, a track worker at Metronet and a Safety Rep for 12 years. It was a blatant attempt by Metronet to break the RMT by attacking its reps, yet another example of how regulations that claim to protect workers can be used against them.

Andy helped build the unique organising model that Metronet workers have, in which lay reps - rather than fulltime union officials – run the show and all members are encouraged to take an interest in their own organisation. Rank and file members send delegations to deal with management on issues which affect them, giving them strength that other unionised workers lack, and has contributed to numerous victories since privatisation from London Underground (LUL).

Andy also helped organise the Workmates Council, which brought together Metronet employees and agency staff in the same organisation, and laid the foundations for RMT’s successful campaigns to stop management from devaluing Metronet staff’s pensions by 10% and halt mass job cuts; and last April, to open up the Transport for London (TfL) pension scheme, free travel on TfL and subsidised travel on Network Rail to new starters, all previously denied to them by Metronet.

With LUL bringing Metronet back in-house, Andy’s victimisation represented part of an effort by its managers to break the union. In response, a 48-hour strike was organised to coincide with a city-wide bus strike, and management caved in. Andy was disciplined, but after appeal his punishment was reduced to a still undeserved slap on the wrist, and the planned strike was cancelled. One condition of management’s settlement with the union was that no one claimed that Metronet “caved in”, but Catalyst did not sign that agreement.

Now that Metronet is back in-house, its workers are looking to roll their organising model out to the rest of the RMT on the Underground. During the transfer to LUL, the union leadership’s agenda prioritised facilitating the move over the defence of its workers’ terms and conditions, and subsequently, ballots on industrial action were dropped. Nowadays, Metronet activists compete with other sections of the RMT for representation In LUL. Even good union leaders have to account for the union’s corporate interests, often at the expense of their own members’ interests, and the Metronet organising model will not suffice without a union that defends workers above all else.

Who we are...

Solidarity Federation believes that workers’ organisation has to be based in the workplace, and must involve all workers, regardless of which union they are in - or whether they are in a union at all. Pay rises, job safety and control over how we work will not be won by representation, but by workers taking action for themselves, independent of their bosses or any would-be representatives.

“Workers rights” will only be won by direct action, or by negotiations backed up by the credible threat of direct action, regardless of legislation. To act in our interests as workers we must build effective organisation in the workplace.

Across industries, we organise in Networks; geographically we organise Locals, to support each other in our struggles and to fight for our interests, both in and out of the workplace. We are part of the International Workers Association, organising with like minded people across the world.

If you would like to distribute Catalyst, please get in touch at one of the addresses below or email [email protected]

Know your rights: Redundancy

To be made redundant, you have to be sacked as part of a reduction in the workforce. Being replaced with a cheaper worker is not redundancy and may be unfair dismissal. Bosses will sometimes redefine work as a “special project” to try to get round this. The law covers England, Scotland and Wales, with similar provisions in Northern Ireland. However, if you aren’t organised you may not be able to enforce your legal rights.

Redundancy is a “fair” reason for dismissal if the employer acts “reasonably”. A claim for unfair dismissal through redundancy can be taken to an Employment Tribunal within 3 months. You may have a company redundancy scheme which should be better than the statutory minimum, and which is part of your contract. Find this out, and make sure you get what you are entitled to. Otherwise, these are the statutory requirements.

One week’s redundancy notice has to be given for each full year employed, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. Redundancy pay is only payable after 2 years’ employment. You have a right to “timely and meaningful” consultation if more than 20 workers are affected. Failure to consult can result in a protective award at an ET.

Selection for redundancy must not be discriminatory – a number of things are automatically unfair, such as singling out union members or activists. (A full list can be found in the online version of this article.) The selection can also be unfair if there was no genuine redundancy, there was a lack of consultation, an unfair selection procedure or a failure to offer alternative employment.

Temporary workers are eligible for redundancy if been employed for 2 years or more. It is unlawful to put a clause in a fixed term contract waiving the right to a redundancy payment. You can be offered alternative work but can turn it down if the pay or status is lower. You have a right to time off during the redundancy notice period to look for work.

Statutory redundancy pay is one week’s pay per year of employment up to a maximum of 20 years, with a maximum week’s pay - £290 per week in 2006-7 (£5,800 in total). If the employer is insolvent, the redundancy pay (and any other pay owing) must be claimed from the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), and the statutory redundancy pay is subject to tax and national insurance deductions. Otherwise, redundancy pay under £30,000 is not taxable. There is a ready reckoner for the statutory scheme at: http://www.berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/employment/employment-legislation/employment-guidance/page33157.html

If different groups of workers have different terms and conditions (e.g. due to TUPE), some may get better redundancy pay. It’s worth checking this because it could potentially be unfair.

For more general information on your rights at work: www.stuffyourboss.com

Workplace deaths continue

Workplace deaths across the south west of the country are increasing, according to the Health & Safety Executive, a fact which it finds to be “disappointing”. From March 2007 to March 2008, deaths on the job rose by 16%, with a total of 28 fatalities. Despite injuries in the workplace scaling 240,000, the authorities managed a mere 70 prosecutions across the region; a rather low clearance rate, some might say. Some 38% of injuries were due to “slips, trips and falls” in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.

If you are unfortunate enough to be one of these many casualties and living in the north Somerset area then even more bad luck awaits you, because you’ll have to wait longer for an ambulance than anywhere else in the entire country. Unsurprisingly, these delays have a knock-on effect as paramedics have to stay with the patient until an ambulance turns up, which leads to crews being further delayed at Weston General Hospital for anything up to 45 minutes.

For more information: [email protected] PO Box 29, South West D.O. Manchester M15 5HW 07984 675281 www.solfed.org.uk

Taken to the cleaners

Cleaners on the London Underground chalked up an impressive victory in January when Clara Osagiede, a Cleaners Grade union secretary with the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union), had her sacking decision overturned in a disciplinary hearing with ISS, the owners of the cleaning contract on the Tube.

Mary Boakye, another union rep whose hearing followed that of Clara, had her dismissal delayed by 24 hours due to a raucous mobilisation in solidarity with the two women on the ISS front steps. The cleaning contractor’s choice to target them – who were both active in a successful strike for a London living wage (£7.45/hour) for tube cleaners –demonstrates its opposition to ongoing efforts by cleaners to improve their conditions in a contract which still doesn’t offer sickness pay, despite the death of one cleaner on the job last year.

Outside the hearing at ISS’ head offices in Greenwich, southeast London, Clara thanked the assembled supporters from the RMT and London Coalition Against Poverty, amongst others. “I got my job back because of your being here”, she said, noting how the noisy demonstration had apparently triggered a sudden attack of conscience on the part of ISS managers.

Spurred on by the reinstatement of Clara, mobilisations have continued in support of the dismissed Mary and the growing list of sacked union activists while cleaners fight on for pension rights, free travel to and from shifts and sickness pay.

Amey do the dirty

Last September Amey plc suspended 5 Colombian cleaners at the National Physical Laboratory for publicising the excessive workload the company had put on fewer staff, as well as subcontracting work to agency staff without proper training in health and safety – vital where some labs should not be entered by cleaners while dangerous experiments were in progress - to NPL staff. They were sacked for “gross misconduct” at the end of November.

When Amey took over the cleaning contract at NPL in December 2006 the largely Latin American workforce were seeking union recognition - a right afforded to all other workers at the NPL. Amey responded to what they saw as excessive pay rates and staffing levels by summoning the cleaners to a “training session” - the doors were bolted and 7 workers were arrested by police and immigration officials. They were sacked, and 3 were deported. None was replaced. The workforce was eventually reduced from 36 to just 10.

Amey were actually awarded the contract not by NPL itself, but by SERCO who have the contract to manage the building. Rich multinational corporations like SERCO and Amey rely on the second-class status of migrant workers to make huge profits from contracts awarded by the public sector. Amey’s last recorded annual profit was £75m; it is also a major shareholder in the Tubelines consortium which manages part of the London Underground.

This means minimum wage, skeleton staffing levels, a workforce fragmented by “outsourcing” and the use of immigration controls to discipline workers who organise. This is not about cheap foreign labour taking British jobs; it is about the “race to the bottom” - worse pay and conditions for all workers in the UK. The government and the EU are complicit in this, no matter what Gordon Brown may say.

The Amey Five have been supported by protests by a coalition of groups, most notably No Borders. These have taken place at events attended by NPL, and at Amey offices in Bristol, Oxford and London. Amey Chief Executive Mel Ewell also faced a picket by 80 students and staff of Kingston University, when he was awarded a place on the university’s “Wall of Fame” for its 20 most famous graduates last December. The workers’ union – PROSPECT – has largely been a spectator in this, but will be representing them at Employment Tribunal.

For further details, check: http://caic.org.uk/amey

Catalyst #20 Spring 2009 - Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation

Submitted by AES on June 4, 2009

Catalyst #20 Spring 2009 - Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation

Action against Subway | Maternity leave | Mitie cleaners | Post office sell off

Occupy and win!

Workers at car parts manufacturer Visteon in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon occupied their factories on Wednesday 1st April, after they were given six minutes’ notice of closure and told to leave immediately. 565 jobs have been lost at Visteon plants across the UK. Left with no alternative, the workers staged a spontaneous sit-in, first in Belfast then spreading to the other two plants.

Many of the workers had worked at the Enfield factory, originally owned by Ford who set up Visteon and transferred the factory operations to it in 2000, for many years. Ford had agreed that the workers transferred to Visteon would receive the same conditions as other Ford workers, but the bankruptcy of Visteon UK left them with the legal minimum redundancy payments and pension compensation. Workers demanded that the Ford redundancy and pension terms they had been promised be honoured.

The factory occupation was a headache for their union Unite, the largest social-democratic union in the UK. The administrators of Visteon UK, KPMG, got a court order to evict the occupiers and took legal action against Unite. Union leaders sought to protect themselves and the union’s corporate interests, and “advised” the workers to leave the factory or face arrest, jail, fines and a criminal record.

The union agreed with KPMG that workers would leave the factory in Enfield at midday on Thursday 9th April and its general secretary flew to New York to meet with the parent company to “negotiate” the end of this dispute by that date. Workers complied with union advice and vacated the factory in return for talks with the company at a secret location on Tuesday 14th, but maintained a 24-hour picket to prevent removal of equipment in the interim.

Local trades unionists, anarchists and community activists from Enfield, Haringey and the rest of London supported the occupation. They argued against vacating the factory as its possession was the workers’ best bargaining tool, but union officials held sway over the workforce. The occupation did win “talks”, but continuing it might have won the workers’ demands in full. However, these initial negotiations produced an offer rejected as “insulting” by the workers. In the present crisis this situation will recur, it is vital that the lessons are learned and that in future workers organise to resist pressure from union officials to accept “fair” settlements.

Ford UK plans to transfer some of its production to Bulgaria and Turkey and has announced redundancies. Shutting down Visteon UK is part of Ford’s longer term plan to outsource manufacturing to those parts of the world with “employer-friendly” labour laws and conditions. Directors of Visteon UK are also rumoured to be setting up a replacement company to continue to supply Ford with car parts, having wiped its debts and dispensed with its existing workforce through bankruptcy. On April 28th, management at Linamar, a former Visteon plant in Swansea, announced they were sacking the Rob Williams, the Unite convenor there. He has been active in supporting the Visteon workers and in fighting against redundancies in the Swansea factory. There was an immediate walkout by the workers there and, when management called police to forcibly remove him, the workers surrounded his office and stopped them. This action has forced the management to negotiate, though the threat of sacking is still there.

Workers from the Belfast Visteon plant where the occupation is still ongoing have been touring the country and visiting other sites of struggle, including the Lewisham Bridge school occupation, and the Linamar site in Swansea.

National Day of Action against Subway

On April 4th, several Locals of the Solidarity Federation, alongside other anarchists, trade unionists and activists took part in the national day of action against Subway, in support of victimised pregnant worker Natalia Szymanska. This day saw pickets of Subway stores across Britain and Ireland, demanding her reinstatement and compensation.

19 year old Natalia Szymanska worked at a Belfast branch of Subway. As she was 5 months pregnant and working until 10pm, she arranged for her boyfriend - an employee of the very same company - to pick her up and walk her home. He had done this many times previously, with the full knowledge and agreement of her managers and never before had it been a problem. However, unknown to Natalia her managers had a different plan on this occasion, because a month previously she had informed them she was pregnant - a fact which would require them to provide her paid maternity leave.

Management seized upon the presence of her boyfriend, and Natalia was dismissed in a farce of a disciplinary. Her managers believed she would have no recourse, and be forced to accept their decision. Their excuse was violation of health and safety - allowing an “unauthorised member of staff” onto the premises. Quite why the presence of another employee of the same company represented such a dire threat to health and safety was never explained.

Natalia turned to the Belfast and District Trade Union Council, who for the past several months have been holding a regular series of pickets of the premises in question, supported by a wide array of organisations from the labour movement and beyond. Thus far, G.G. Cuisine, the franchise holder has been unwilling to budge, and so the decision was made to turn up the pressure, and spread the pickets across the whole of Britain and Ireland. The aim is to force Subway to pressure G.G. Cuisine into settling with Natalia and to show that we will not allow bosses to treat any worker with such contempt.

The pickets were well attended across both countries, being hold in a wide range of cities, including London, Brighton, Belfast, Bradford, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Dublin. In Brighton and London pickets were also held at a wide range of different Subway store Since the pickets, the franchise holder has attempted to get an injunction against Belfast TUC in order to stifle the protest, but as we go to press, the struggle for Justice for Natalia continues.

Who we are...

Solidarity Federation believes that workers’ organisation has to be based in the workplace, and must involve all workers, regardless of which union they are in - or whether they are in a union at all. Pay rises, job safety and control over how we work will not be won by representation, but by workers taking action for themselves, independent of their bosses or any would-be representatives.

“Workers rights” will only be won by direct action, or by negotiations backed up by the credible threat of direct action, regardless of legislation. To act in our interests as workers we must build effective organisation in the workplace.

Across industries, we organise in Networks; geographically we organise Locals, to support each other in our struggles and to fight for our interests, both in and out of the workplace. We are part of the International Workers Association, organising with like minded people across the world.

If you would like to distribute Catalyst, please get in touch at one of the addresses below or email [email protected]

Know your rights: Maternity Leave

A woman can take 26 weeks of ordinary maternity leave and and additional 26 weeks of additional maternity leave. The first 2 weeks maternity leave is compulsory, 4 weeks if the woman works in a factory.

At least 15 weeks before the child is expected (the qualifying week), a pregnant worker must tell her employer that she is pregnant, when the baby is due and when she intends to start her maternity leave. This can be changed, for example if the baby comes early. The employer must reply in writing setting out her expected date of return. If they don’t, she cannot be prevented from returning early and is protected from losing out if she returns later.

All pregnant workers are entitled to paid time off to attend ante-natal care. A woman is entitled to statutory maternity pay (SMP) if she has:

  • worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks before the qualifying week
  • had average earnings of at least £90 per week in the 2 months prior to the qualifying week
  • given medical evidence of pregnancy and notified the employer correctly and stopped work.

SMP amounts to 6 weeks pay at 90% of average earnings – called higher rate SMP; a further 33 weeks at a flat rate of £123.06 or 90% of average earnings, whichever is lower. You will receive it for 39 weeks in total unless you go back to work earlier. You get it even if you do not intend to go go back to work. It is paid by your employer and is subject to tax and NI. If you do not qualify for SMP you can get maternity allowance (MA). If you’ve worked for more than one employer you may get standard rate MA, which is the same as standard SMP. If you earn between £30 and £90 a week you are entitled to MA of 90% of average earnings If your employer has a contractual maternity pay scheme it will be better, though there may be an issue of paying some of the pay back if you choose not to return to work.

You are allowed contact with work during maternity leave. You are also allowed to do up to 10 days work under the Keeping in Touch scheme, for which you must be paid.

If you don’t want to return to work, you must give at least your contractual notice. An employee who returns after Ordinary Maternity Leave is entitled to return to the same job and conditions, unless there has been a redundancy situation. Anyone made redundant during maternity leave may have a claim for unfair dismissal or sex discrimination. If you have children under six you have the right to request flexible working.

For more general information on your rights at work: www.stuffyourboss.com

Strike in the city

Latin American cleaners on Friday 3rd April held the latest in a series of weekly demonstrations outside their former workplace in the insurance firm Willis in the City of London against the sacking of five of their colleagues by the Mitie cleaning contractor. The four men and one woman were dismissed following an email conversation with management, in which the cleaners registered their unhappiness at a sudden change in shift patterns, done without consultation.

The Mitie Five were clearly considered to be the ‘ringleaders’, yet this campaign has been organised by all the cleaners, using the resources of their Unite union when necessary but acting on their own initiative when the union has not given them what they want. A recent deal between Unite and Mitie was rejected by the cleaners, who consequently found themselves abandoned by the union. Their firing is also clearly linked to the recent Justice for Cleaners campaign, in which Mitie and Willis were forced to increase the cleaners’ wages from a minimum wage of £5.73/hour to £7.20/hour.

Following the cleaners’ victory, management changed their shift times from 7-11pm to 10pm-6am in a deliberate provocation. As one cleaner commented, “I have four children in school. How can I be expected to suddenly start working all night and not be there for my children in the morning?” Many other Mitie employees work second jobs, which have now been thrown in jeopardy by the shift changes.
The demonstrations have yielded responses from both Willis – who insincerely claim that the cleaners’ pay does not concern them – and Mitie, who recently called the cleaners into “negotiate”, only to issue them with a lawyer’s letter accusing them of libel! Regardless, the struggle continues, with the cleaners determined to win their jobs back.

Despite working on the same streets as the nation’s new Public Enemy Number One (the greedy bankers of the City of London), migrant cleaners represent some of the most poorest and most vulnerable workers in the UK, and have found themselves on the frontline of the recession’s assault on living and working conditions. The Square Mile has been the target of various attacks in recent weeks, but while a smashed bank window may make for a good photograph, it is struggles such as these which have the potential to reverse the consequences of the economy’s implosion via workers’ self-organisation.

Post office for sale!

Here we are with the world teetering on the edge of economic depression and having to spend trillions sorting out the mess caused by banks and what does the Labour government come up with - the part privatisation of the Royal Mail! It just demonstrates how market thinking has captured the very soul of the Labour Party, even at a time when the free market is causing havoc they still cannot see any alternative to privatisation. One wonders just what it will take for Labour to kick their free market addiction.

But this might be just one privatisation too far, people are increasingly repulsed by the greed and inequality created by market forces and they are in no mood to support the privatisation of the Royal Mail. Even politicians are waking up to this fact. A recent report from a select committee chaired by Tory MP Peter Luff positively savages Labour plans for the Royal Mail.. The report challenges Labour’s plans to separate the Post Office from Royal Mail Group. It queries why the much needed cash injection has to come from a sell-off and argues that neither the Hooper report into the Royal Mail nor the government has made a real case for privatisation.

When select committees start to oppose privatisation it is a sure sign that Labour is in trouble. But the danger is that union leaders will launch one of their pathetic, costly campaigns, aimed at winning over the general public and Labour MPs. You can almost hear them explaining just how many MPs are opposing privatisation. But Labour MPs bitterly oppose things right up to the eve of the vote in Parliament, when suddenly they change their minds and accept the first shoddy compromise put forward and use it as an excuse to vote with the government.

There is no need for expensive campaigns to convince the public - they are already opposed to the sell off. What is needed now is action as the means of galvanising popular discontent against the government. The last years has witnessed a sea change in people’s thinking, they are sick and disgusted with all things free market, a strike against the sell off will focus all that popular anger and not only frighten this government to death, but also the future Tory government. This is a victory there for the taking, postal workers should use their collective strength to force a total and humiliating climb down by this shower of a government.

The Great Labour Party Swindle

Everybody knows that the trade unions fund the Labour Party, a bit like paying someone to beat you up. But what is less known is the extent the unions provide Labour Party members with nice cushy jobs. Take the a recent dispute over alleged bullying in the union Unite. Accused of being the bully is the former prime minister’s spin doctor Charlie Whelan. One of the alleged victims is former Labour MP John Cryer. Another is Sarah Merrill who, yes you guessed, is another prominent member of the Labour Party.

You would think that Unite is some kind of retirement home for politicians and officials from the Labour Party. Why is Unite using members’ hard-earned money to provide well paid jobs to such people? They’ve invariably never done a day’s work in their life and do not have the slightest idea of the problems facing working class people, so why employ them? Trade union members should not only refuse to pay the political levy they should also demand that Labour Party parasites are not provided with jobs.

For more information: [email protected] PO Box 29, South West D.O. Manchester M15 5HW 07984 675281 www.solfed.org.uk

Catalyst #21 Summer 2009 - Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation - IWA

Submitted by AES on September 3, 2009

Catalyst #21 Summer 2009
Newsletter of the Solidarity Federation - IWA

Manchester College | Return to Lindsey | Immigration checks | Postal strikes

Sweep ISS out of SOAS
Victory at Linamar
Tube staff go off the rails
Know your rights: Immigration checks
Return to Lindsey
Will the CWU deliver?
College strike
Who we are...

Sweep ISS out of SOAS

On June 12th, cleaners working for ISS at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London were called to a meeting by management. The cleaners were “processed” by immigration officials who detained nine of them as “illegal immigrants”. It was perhaps no coincidence that a picket of SOAS’ governing body demanding the reinstatement of victimised SOAS UNISON Branch Chair José Stalin Bermudez, who had been prominent in organising cleaners, had been called for that morning.

Those detained were denied union representation, but a campaign was quickly organised by SOAS campus unions and students, migrant worker activists and anti-deportation campaigners. SOAS management was held responsible for ISS “ambushing” their cleaners as punishment for winning union recognition and the London Living Wage.

SOAS runs courses on migration, human rights and refugee studies, yet treats its own migrant workforce as “disposable”. The SOAS Directorate building was blockaded and the Principal’s office occupied.

The SOAS management was forced by the scale of the protests and the negative publicity that the university was receiving to issue a statement denying advance knowledge of the raid, saying that it had been “distressing for everyone” (but more so for the cleaners!) and that such actions by the UK Border Agency were normal practice across the country.

In education as in the whole public sector, services are increasingly being tendered out to private companies who drive down costs to get contracts and boost profits. In a growing number of cases, this leads them to employ migrant workers, against whom immigration controls can be used when they organise to improve their pay and conditions.

In this case, direct action forced the SOAS Directorate to agree to write to the Home Office asking that the cleaners be given indefinite leave to remain. In addition, they agreed to consider bringing cleaning in-house when the current contract expires. Protests also took place at the Yarls Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire where the workers were being held, outside Communications House in Old Street where cleaners had been taken to from SOAS, and at the Home Office in Westminster. However, by the end of June only one of the detained workers had not been deported.

The SOAS case shows what can be achieved by direct action and by workers and students breaking down the artificial barriers which separate them. While ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the deportation of cleaners, the creeping privatisation of education has been shown to be stoppable, and management at a major London university have been forced to abandon the pretence that contracting out services absolves them of responsibility for their workers. For the SOAS example to be repeated across the sector, we need a permanent organisation of education workers which is willing to take direct action, willing to link up with students, and which does not fall foul of the bureaucracy and turf wars which have for far too long bedevilled the reformist education unions.

Contact the Education Workers’ Network: http://ewn.rbgi.net or email [email protected]

Victory at Linamar

Rob Williams, Unite! convenor at Linamar’s Swansea plant, was reinstated on 11th June. An official indefinite strike was due to begin that day after a ballot resulting in 139 votes for and 19 against on an 88% turnout. Rob had been suspended on 28th April by car-part manufacturer Linamar, which had bought the former Visteon plant in July 2008, claiming an “irretrievable breakdown of trust”. This was met by an immediate walkout by the day shift; Rob locked himself in his office and workers surrounded it in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent his removal from the plant by the police. He was called in and sacked on 7th May.

This was clearly an attempt to break the union and force through attacks on pay, conditions and pensions by “buying down” – offering workers worse contracts in return for a one-off payment. The sacking immediately followed 140 voluntary redundancies and preceded pay negotiations where management were trying to get workers to turn down a Ford-linked 5.25% pay rise. Rob had also been prominent in organising support for the Ford Visteon workers who had occupied factories in Belfast and Enfield and were blockading Basildon.

This resistance doubtless both helped the Visteon workers win a partial victory in their occupation and galvanised Unite! which organised a ballot in record time, the result being announced on 28th May, to head off unofficial action. The fear of militancy in the car industry spreading would have been at forefront of both Linamar and Ford management’s and the Unite! bureaucracy’s thinking. It shows that rank and file militancy, direct action and solidarity work.

Tube staff go off the rails

From 7pm on the evening of Tuesday June 9th until 7pm on Thursday June 11th 2009, London Underground workers in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union took strike action. The main issue was job security as tube bosses flatly refused to rule out compulsory redundancies, putting 4,000 jobs at risk. London Underground originally also tried to force through a five-year pay agreement which could see significant pay cuts linked to deflation. This, alongside severe management bullying, led the workers to strike.

As the strike began, the London papers really pushed the boat out using distortions and outright lies to attack the striking workers. Claims of workers demanding 5% pay increases ignored the fact that management asked the RMT to submit a pay claim in November (when inflation was higher) while Transport for London have yet to offer anything. These sleight-of-hand tricks with the facts were coupled with barefaced lies like talks stalling over two sacked drivers on the Victoria line. This entirely separate issue, though symptomatic of wider abuses of procedure on the tube, were at no point a part of the main negotiations.

Of course, the papers also failed to mention the 123 tube managers on £100,000+ salaries, plus bonuses. Or that forty minutes before the strike, an agreement had been reached which, while the documents were being typed up, was cancelled by City Hall. These facts disappeared from media view entirely.

The theme of the media coverage was one of trying to stoke resentment against the strikers. Newspaper letters pages were filled with angry comments about ‘people losing their jobs while tube staff want more money’. We’re in recession now so we all have to tighten our belts, apparently. However, this just means that workers will be asked to tighten our belts, while our bosses continue living on six-figure salaries. Tightening our belts now doesn’t mean bosses will reward this good will in the future, rather they will see it as an opportunity for further attacks.

Rather than resent the tube workers’ struggle for jobs, conditions and pay, we should see it as a source for inspiration. As the recession continues, many of us will face similar attacks as bosses try to save money while saving their own salaries. Taking action together, like workers did on the Underground, will be the only way to protect ourselves from these attacks.

Know your rights: Immigration checks

Employers are required to ensure everyone they recruit has the right to work in the UK. They also have to check the documents of workers transferred to them under TUPE within 28 days. They can also check the documents of existing employees, but must avoid racial discrimination by singling out a particular racial, national or ethnic group or groups.

Workers need one set of documents if they have an indefinite right to live and work in the UK and another if they have the right to do so only for a limited period or to work a limited number of hours. These documents are referred to as List A and List B, respectively. Employers can copy documents for their records but must return them to the employee, with two exceptions. If an employee’s documents are with the Border Agency, the employer can check the validity of Application Registration Cards (ARC) and Certificates Of Application on 0845 010 6677 9-5 Monday to Friday.

An employee providing documents under List A need not be subject to further checks after recruitment or transfer but under List B they must be checked at least every 12 months. Further document checks may also be carried out where there is suspicion that an employee may not have the legal right to work. Invalid National Insurance Numbers are explicitly mentioned in the guidance to employers, including temporary numbers beginning TN or numbers ending in any letter from E to Z inclusive. These are a favourite excuse for employers to use immigration checks to dispose of, harass and victimise workers.

To avoid unlawful racial discrimination, checks must be carried out on all employees to whom such criteria apply, not just to Africans or Latin Americans, for example. The law is not much help, but if used skilfully may obstruct and delay the process.

Further details from: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/employers/preventingillegalworking

For more general information on your rights at work: www.stuffyourboss.com

Return to Lindsey

Construction workers at the Lindsey Oil Refinery have defied the anti-union laws and won another wildcat strike against redundancies and victimisation. Following the previous strike in January and February, 1200 workers struck again on 11th June over the announcement of 51 redundancies without consultation, breaching the agreement which had settled it. Another contractor on site had just hired 61 workers, and strikers argued that the work should have been shared out among those made redundant.

Total, which runs the refinery, had 647 workers employed by main contractor Jacobs sacked for taking unofficial strike action as the strikes spread to other several other sites. This act strengthened suspicions that the original redundancies had been an attempt to weed out militant workers who had organised the earlier strikes. Workers were told to reapply for their jobs on Monday 22nd June, but their response was to burn dismissal notices and for 4,000 workers at 19 sites across the country to walk out in solidarity.

While officially repudiating the unofficial, illegal strike, union leaders argued that it was unavoidable because the anti-union laws would have forced workers to wait six weeks to organise a ballot, by which time it would have been too late. Strike leaders speaking at the Shop Stewards Network national conference on 27th June when the strike had just been won emphasised the support they had got from the GMB union as a factor in the victory. They argued that this convinced Total that the solidarity action would continue indefinitely, rather than petering out. Whether or not they are right, tanker drivers had taken an interest and promised not to cross official picket lines.

The employment of overseas labour is still an issue. One worker was quoted in a national newspaper as saying that “unskilled employees from abroad will be brought in on the cheap, treated like scum and sent back after the job is done”. Workers argue that the National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industry (NAECI) should apply to all construction workers in the UK, regardless of nationality. Alistair Tebbit, head of employment policy at the Institute of Directors, admitted that “what the unions would like to see, and one can understand their point of view, is European law amended to say you cannot bring people into the UK below the prevailing rights and wages”. While xenophobia is still present, it is off the agenda in spite of the best efforts of the media to play it up to condemn the strikers.

Since construction workers move from contract to contract, they rely on the NAECI to protect their pay and conditions. Workers involved in the Lindsey strikes will move on to other sites when their contracts end, and take the lesson that direct action and solidarity works with them. Equally, the blacklist in the construction industry has hit the news again – the bosses think nationally too. It remains to be seen whether Total and its contractors will move against the workers at Lindsey again when some of the contracts have ended. With less than three years to the London Olympics, further disputes are inevitable somewhere in the construction industry.

Will the CWU deliver?

In spite of the withdrawal of the Labour government’s plans to privatise the Royal Mail, postal workers’ campaign of strike action continues. In truth, postal workers consider privatisation has already happened, when the profitable parts of the business were hived off in the 2006 “liberalisation” exacerbating the problems the Royal Mail faces. The dispute is about “modernisation” – job cuts, attacks on pay, conditions and pensions – and the bullying which has passed for management in the Post for many years. CWU members believe that management are seeking to break the union.

Workers in London and Edinburgh struck on Friday 19th June, and elsewhere in Scotland on Saturday 20th. Management are not honouring the 2007 agreement on modernisation, in spite of record profits delivered by postal workers. Another rolling programme of strikes hit London on 8th-10th July, with delivery offices, distribution and logistics workers, and mail centres striking on consecutive days, as part of a longer programme. A national day of action was planned for Friday 17th July and other areas of Britain were seeking ballots on industrial action.

It is likely that the dispute will become national, with a real possibility that if the union leadership continue to avoid a confrontation with the government that unofficial national strike action will break out. There is also a feeling among the union’s members that its leadership has kept silent on MPs’ expenses and failed to support its members against the Labour government. However, the rank and file of the CWU has been far more militant than its leadership for decades now – Alan Johnson is a former General Secretary of the union – so we will watch developments with interest rather than expectation.

College strike

Manchester College, the largest FE college in the UK is bent on breaking its UCU (Universities & Colleges Union) branch. Despite promises on job security after merger and with no attempt to negotiate voluntary redundancy or redeployment, bosses announced in June that 13 teaching posts were to be cut. The fact that the UCU secretary’s post is among the first to go clearly signals management’s intent.

A strike ballot gained 74% backing and a one day strike ensued on July 1st. There were pickets at all of the college’s sites across the city, with Manchester EWN-SF (Education Workers’ Network) attending the picket at the Sheena Simon campus in the city centre. Meanwhile, a lively and noisy march, started from the Openshaw campus, swelled to 250+ after passing Sheena Simon, and attracted much attention as it wound through the city centre.

Later an assembly of strikers and supporters included a useful discussion on the day’s activities, and a fruitful planning session on taking the struggle forward. By announcing the cuts at the end of the academic year, bosses think resistance may peter out. The fact the meeting set the next strike day to hit the August enrolment process and created an email for communication and preparation will surely prevent that.

The effects of the financial crisis are being felt in education, and a funding crisis is looming large. Already Manchester College has been wielding the axe, with the planned closure of the nursery at the Northenden campus. The attack on the UCU is a clear attempt to remove it as an obstacle to further cuts. Leaving bosses a free hand to make cuts as they please is not an option. Only by showing the type of resolve demonstrated by these Manchester College workers will we stand any chance of defending our pay, our working conditions and ultimately our jobs.

Who we are...

Solidarity Federation believes that workers’ organisation has to be based in the workplace, and must involve all workers, regardless of which union they are in - or whether they are in a union at all. Pay rises, job safety and control over how we work will not be won by representation, but by workers taking action for themselves, independent of their bosses or any would-be representatives.

“Workers rights” will only be won by direct action, or by negotiations backed up by the credible threat of direct action, regardless of legislation. To act in our interests as workers we must build effective organisation in the workplace. Across industries, we organise in Networks; geographically we organise Locals, to support each other in our struggles and to fight for our interests, both in and out of the workplace. We are part of the International Workers Association, organising with like minded people across the world.

If you would like to distribute Catalyst, please get in touch at one of the addresses below or email [email protected]

Files

catalyst-21.pdf (471.86 KB)

AES

13 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catalyst http://www.facebook.com/pages/catalyst/132506661439
direct action http://www.facebook.com/pages/Direct-Action/110672596066

Catalyst #22 Winter 2009 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

The new-look Catalyst 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on October 26, 2009

Available as a pdf download.

In this issue: Crisis, cuts and class struggle; Interview with a Tower Hamlets College striker; Cleaners struggles; Lewisham Bridge school occupation, Know Your Rights and more!

Files

Catalyst22.pdf (5.24 MB)

petey

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

that link don't link

Joseph Kay

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

fixed!

martinh

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

If anyone wants real life copies to give out, PM me with a real life address and I'll bung you some in the post,

Regards,

Martin

Devrim

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I have just downloaded the pdf and haven't read any of it yet (I plan to), the layout looks good, as does the choice of topics for articles.

How are you distributing it?

Devrim

Farce

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

And there ends Resistance's short-lived reign as the only anarcho paper with good layout (2009-2009, I think). Organise should start doing their paper entirely in crayon so I can feel smug again.

Joseph Kay

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Devrim

How are you distributing it?

in Brighton, mostly at the train station during the morning commute, capitalising on the ubiquity of the Metro etc and the fact that if people drop it they drop it on the train where others will pick it up. but also all the usual cafes, pubs and lefty haunts.

Devrim

have just downloaded the pdf and haven't read any of it yet (I plan to), the layout looks good, as does the choice of topics for articles.

the article choices reflect the fact this was slightly more bookfair-oriented than it would normally be, but are pretty close to what we have in mind for it. we'll probably cut some of the 'about SolFed' blurb and detailed contacts in favour of expanding 'know your rights' (i'd like to see it cover housing and benefits too), plus we'd like a bit more social content (like the drugs article).

Rob Ray

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

With the know your rights stuff it might be an idea to run more detailed stuff as a series, one in each issue, with a small column with minimal info outlining what's already been in, but pointing to those previous issues online (or by order from solfed)? That way it's drawing people to go a bit further, look at the site, engage with their local etc.

Devrim

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

in Brighton, mostly at the train station during the morning commute, capitalising on the ubiquity of the Metro etc and the fact that if people drop it they drop it on the train where others will pick it up. but also all the usual cafes, pubs and lefty haunts.

Do you think doing it at the train station is effective? We have never given away free stuff to the general public in Turkey. At big demonstrations we give out thousands of leaflets (leaflets are much rarer here. You don't go home from a demo with half a forest's worth of paper in your pocket, and people are much more willing to take them, at times queueing up to receive a leaflet), and could always do more. We also gave away a free copy of a special issue of 'Gece Notlari' on the demonstrations around the general strike last year.

We could give out thousands of leaflets in the morning at the main minibus station in Ankara for example. I am just not sure whether it would be worth it financially. On a demo or a picket line there is much more chance that the person you give it too will be interested in socialist politics.

How many do you give out? Do you think that it is effective?

Devrim

Joseph Kay

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The marginal cost of tabloids is negligible once the initial setup costs are paid, hence why it's free. Now it's not an either/or, but to be honest the people on demos usually aren't very interested in our politics because there's a large and well-established leftist/activist ghetto in Brighton from which demo attendees are drawn (outside of upsurges in protest like the anti-war movement).

In any case it's not mutually exclusive and we do hand them out at demos, put them in lefty/activist places etc, but our politics aren't aimed at the left. The limited feedback so far from non-politicos has been good, and if people are happy to flick through the metro while commuting I see no reason we can't create something just as readable with our politics in it, and enough practical 'know your rights' type stuff to make it worthwhile holding on to. but of course we'll keep it under review, we're not martyrs who want yo get up early and give out prop for the hell if it.

Devrim

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The marginal cost of tabloids is negligible once the initial setup costs are paid, hence why it's free.

Surely only if you are printing a huge amount, which you can do with a national organisation distributing it. We only have two branches. Also we can't print on tabloid without legal permission, so it is more difficult for us.

Now it's not an either/or, but to be honest the people on demos usually aren't very interested in our politics because there's a large and well-established leftist/activist ghetto in Brighton from which demo attendees are drawn (outside of upsurges in protest like the anti-war movement).

On workers' demos in Turkey you get a lot of people who aren't in that sort of scene. Also for leftist demos the trade unions will mobilise their members and get people out unlike they do in Britain. Maybe it is also connected to the size of the cities our groups are in. Ankara by far the smallest has a population of about 4.5 million, whilst İstanbul has upwards of 15 million.

In any case it's not mutually exclusive and we do hand them out at demos, put them in lefty/activist places etc, but our politics aren't aimed at the left.

I have only read one of your articles so far, but it seemed in a pretty similar style to the way we would write about industrial disputes. Of course you want to aim at workers in struggle, but I don't think there is anything wrong with addressing yourself to the left too. We have a paper and a theoretical journal, and they serve different, and, hopefully, complementary roles.

The limited feedback so far from non-politicos has been good, and if people are happy to flick through the metro while commuting I see no reason we can't create something just as readable with our politics in it,

I am not criticising here. I am just genuinely concerned about a 'cost benefit analysis'. We have had people in our organisation talk about doing similar things. Of course, you can give out endless copies, particularly when you are talking about the size of the cities we are. I just wonder if it is the best way to spend our resources, which of course are limited like those of all revolutionary groups.

Devrim

Joseph Kay

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Devrim

Surely only if you are printing a huge amount, which you can do with a national organisation distributing it. We only have two branches. Also we can't print on tabloid without legal permission, so it is more difficult for us.

yeah i guess, it's one of the benefits of being part of a national organisation. mind you without having the numbers to hand, i know printing 7,000 of the 8-page tabloid only cost about £70 more than printing 3,500 4-page A4, so it's a bit of a no-brainer for us. obviously if there's legal obstacles that changes things somewhat.

Devrim

On workers' demos in Turkey you get a lot of people who aren't in that sort of scene. Also for leftist demos the trade unions will mobilise their members and get people out unlike they do in Britain. Maybe it is also connected to the size of the cities our groups are in. Ankara by far the smallest has a population of about 4.5 million, whilst İstanbul has upwards of 15 million.

like i say we do leaflet/distro at demos, but - and this is perhaps peculiar to brighton - it's usually the same faces from the lefty/activist scene (outside of wider protest movements like the anti-war stuff). the last trade union march was 75% SWP, they hired trains and bussed in their student sections from around the country.

Devrim

I have only read one of your articles so far, but it seemed in a pretty similar style to the way we would write about industrial disputes. Of course you want to aim at workers in struggle, but I don't think there is anything wrong with addressing yourself to the left too. We have a paper and a theoretical journal, and they serve different, and, hopefully, complementary roles.

yeah the new Catalyst opens up a discussion about the role of DA (SolFed's magazine, for anyone who doesn't know). thing is i think lefties and anarchists will be interested in the paper anyway because of the content, so targetting it at angry/struggling workers doesn't sacrifice anything imho. i think DA should be more aimed at lefties, anarchists, militant trade unionists and the like, with a more analytical/theoretical slant aiming to win people to our strategy (it's a bit of a mixture at the moment, but does this already to an extent).

Devrim

I am not criticising here. I am just genuinely concerned about a 'cost benefit analysis'. We have had people in our organisation talk about doing similar things. Of course, you can give out endless copies, particularly when you are talking about the size of the cities we are. I just wonder if it is the best way to spend our resources, which of course are limited like those of all revolutionary groups.

like i say the marginal cost is negligible, so as long as we don't mind giving up an hour every issue to distro it costs us little more than the old A4 one. personally i was surprised by how cheap it is, we might even go full colour for the next one.

knightrose

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

The AF also distros Resistance at places like train stations - though we tend to do it in the evening :) people going on to trains are used to being given free stuff to read, We often see them having a look in the paper as they are walking along. I'd say it's worth the effort, but you have to keep going back to the same places at the same times every month.

Devrim

13 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

yeah i guess, it's one of the benefits of being part of a national organisation.

Yes, we have a nation wide organisation. We just only have two branches so far :)
Actually though the two cities we have members in include nearly a third of the population.

obviously if there's legal obstacles that changes things somewhat.

Yes, there are two problems I think about. Firstly would it be effective and justify the expense, and secondly would our members get arrested doing it.

Devrim

Why did we risk it all? Because we won't go down without a fight.

In August and September 2009, about 250 members of teaching staff at Tower Hamlets College went on strike over compulsory redundancies and cuts to course provision. Catalyst spoke to one of the strikers, Rachel, in the aftermath of the strike, about the up and downs of the battle against the bosses.

Submitted by Choccy on November 7, 2009

While the recent media spin is suggesting that we're 'on our way out of recession', the reality on the ground is that workers are still facing attacks across sectors in the forms of job cuts and community provisions. Education has been one of the sectors worst hit in this period, with £65m slashed from higher-education (HE) budgets, schools closing left, right and centre, and jobs to go at approximately 100 of the 150 HE institutions in the UK . The situation is as bleak as ever.

In August, around 250 members of teaching staff at Tower Hamlets College (THC), East London went on indefinite strike over threats of compulsory redundancies, and cuts in provision of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) courses. We spoke to Rachel, a member of the striking staff, about the background of the dispute, the issues at hand, and the feelings after the strike came to an end in late September.

We began by discussing the background to the strike, going back to June of this year, – “There was new management, a new principal, new senior managers … and in June they issued a document 'Securing the Future'.” The nature of this document turned out to be a plan for “very brutal cuts in provision and jobs, and on June 5 there was a 30 day notice for consultation”, with the projection in June being that “40-60 jobs in THC would be cut, while approximately 50% of ESOL course places would also be lost, and some in A-level teaching.”

Prior to the attack on jobs and provision, Rachel said that she had experienced “good working conditions with a strong union … we were comfortable”. But that all changed, and with a suddenness typical of many disputes, the plans to cut jobs and ESOL provision were an aggressive assault on the workers and students. Management were strategic in their timing – “proposing to do it all at once, and at the end of term so it was hard to do anything about it… coming up to exams, most of teaching finished for the summer” – indeed the choice of timing had put the workers in a more difficult position to fight back, but they had no choice.

Campaign against cuts

“A campaign started against the cuts, they were talking about 60 people being made redundant but they offered voluntary redundancy and a lot of people took that – which was unfortunate but meant fewer compulsory redundancies”. The campaign began right away, and on 27th June in Bethnal Green, a demonstration of workers, students, and supporters marched to Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel. In addition, staff and students were writing letters in anger at the proposed job and course cuts, but it was clear that direct action would be the only way of fighting back if the workers were to have any hope of defending themselves.

In early July, the attempts to formalise the redundancies had become more concrete. Rachel told us of a “letter sent by courier at night” which targeted 19 people at that stage for compulsory redundancy, which had made a ballot for indefinite strike action all the more vital. In the meantime, over the summer weeks, some people accepted voluntary redundancies, and some appeals had continued between July and August.

Strike ballot

The teaching staff, who were members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU), decided to step-up the fight-back. “We balloted for strike action in late-June and we had a series of one-day strikes toward the end of term”. While feeling that in and of themselves they were ineffective in combating the cuts, Rachel says this was a useful process; “it was a way for people from the different sites to meet and discuss things… we then had an unofficial union action – we refused to take part in a staff development event that we had been required to do- this brought people together”. The same day, staff voted for indefinite strike in September.

The strike was due to start on 27th, August, before students began to enrol for the new academic year – “were we going to be able to carry it out from first day of term?...we had a union meeting first day of term” and they affirmed the strike from then on. Rachel described some of the debates and internal dynamics involved – “some people thought we shouldn't do it during enrolment because of students, since the college has competition from other 6th forms, but we decided to do it anyway”.

Student support

From the beginning of the campaign students were on-board with the staff action – “students did show support…at Poplar [another THC site] students respected the picket line and on the adult sites they mostly didn't cross the picket line. We took great pains to make sure they could understand. The students knew us and they knew what it was about.” The initial demands of the strike at that point were solely around the issue of compulsory redundancies. “We were down to 13 compulsory redundancies because others had won appeals or taken voluntary redundancy under pressure. Other things were dropped… saving some of the jobs did save some course provision.”

The strike

During the strike Rachel says feelings of solidarity were high - “morale was fantastic… there were so many on picket-lines and doing other things and people feeling good… busking, collecting, daily meetings, not much problem with scabs”. The busking and collecting helped the strikers to support themselves financially during the month they were out. “We got strike pay from national union (UCU), but we don't quite know how much for full-time staff. There were 250 people on strike; we were able to collect a lot of money, about £20-25k, through colleges and workplaces, especially FE colleges, and places like local fire station. There was a hardship fund and any striker can say 'I need this much money' on the basis of trust and solidarity.”

Mixed results

“In the end officially there were no compulsory redundancies, but in a few cases I saw them as compulsory because certain people were selected through a scoring process, put through a meat-grinder, going over summer, in the end offered redeployment/demotion or voluntary redundancy.” Basically some had been forced into taking "voluntary" redundancies.

“Six teachers got their jobs back… seven people I believe took voluntary redundancy. Nothing else was included in negotiations about what happens next.” Rachel was very honest about the shortcomings, but she does feel that the gains that had been made, which were mostly in confidence terms, are worth building on. Despite the feeling that they could have achieved more, she says, “we are strong going back, heading to more of a shop-steward model. If we keep that going where we can meet and continue the feeling of strength.

“I think people thought we couldn't stay out too much longer. If we carried on we'd be divided. I think people want to feel good about it and we did accomplish a lot. It could have been much worse without our action.”

So was it a ‘victory’?

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, Rachel had written on the class struggle website libcom.org that “this deal was sold through with the most outrageous manipulation of the mass meeting where discussion was suppressed before and during the meeting as far as possible, with members being shouted down by union officials.

“In the short time there was for debate, many people spoke against accepting the deal but in the end there were 24 votes against, many abstentions and the clear majority voting to accept and go back to work. (though the meeting was of course smaller than our usual weekly meetings).” Having had a few days to reflect on the outcome by the time we spoke, Rachel was acknowledging that there were positive elements in the outcome. While compulsory redundancies were defeated, and this would also mean some ESOL provision would be saved (though not nearly as much as the 1,000 places under threat), Rachel and many of her fellow strikers are not getting carried away in the euphoria expressed by some on the left and higher up in the UCU.

“It was quite a bittersweet thing. A lot of people don't wanna talk about it as a victory – we could have done more heading back to work , but we feel great about what we did… I think at Poplar you've got an SWP branch, they were the ones that kind of ended it when it ended. They wanted that result and got it in the mass vote – 'This is a great victory lets go down to the Brighton Labour party conference.' But cracks have started to appear very quickly in those celebrations.

“People feel it's a mixed bag. It's not just me – 24 of us voted against going back. I didn't think we could stay much longer, but the vote wasn't done in the spirit that other meetings had been done.”

The action by teaching staff has had a ripple-effect in terms of other staff – “the Unison people were promised no compulsory redundancies because we were on strike.” So despite the mixed feeling concerning the outcome, the are definite positives that should not be under-emphasised.

Rachel made clear that while she felt the THC workers could have held out for more, it was only through taking their action against the bosses that they were able to make the gains they did. A feeling among many of the THC staff that were on strike is that they learned the value of fighting back and standing side-by-side in solidarity with each other – had they allowed these attacks to go unchallenged, they'd certainly have been in a considerably worse position.

While there are many lesson to be learned from the strike, Rachel felt that many of her colleagues gained a sense of confidence in what they could achieve when they took collective action, and in times when indefinite strikes are almost unheard of, the THC workers have set an example for workers everywhere.

The fight-back in education is on, and there have been glimmers of hope. From THC to the victorious parent-led occupation at Lewisham Bridge Primary School (see page 3 of Catalyst # 22, Winter 2009) winning an education for their children, examples are being set for workplaces and communities under attack: the only way we can defend our interests is to fight for them. One of the lessons learned has been that it was not the union that 'won' this 'victory' for the Tower Hamlets strikers; it was the collective action and solidarity of the workers themselves.

In a support leaflet for the strike, the London Education Workers' Group said, “The Tower Hamlets strikers have set a fantastic example for the rest of us in education to follow. Through their direct action and solidarity they have shown [principal] Michael Farley and all those seeking to make cuts in education that we will not go down without a fight.”

Rachel has been very honest about the shortcomings after the strike, but the most important thing coming out was the sense of confidence and solidarity they felt going back to work, and no-one can take that away from the Tower Hamlets College workers.

Choccy

This article originally appeared in Catalyst # 22

Catalyst #23 Spring 2010 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst - the 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 21, 2010

Available as a pdf download.

In this issue: Vote for change?; Battleground higher education; Climate change; Net pirates, Know your rights and more!

Files

Catalyst23.pdf (7.29 MB)

thegonzokid

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Anyone ever going to update the national website? It's still the effing summer issue on there.

Joseph Kay

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

i'll email the guy

WorkersDreadnought

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

wot do you guys think of the website in general? could it be made to look any better/ eye catching/ simplified?

WorkersDreadnought

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

o and i really like the layout of this issue good job guys

WorkersDreadnought

wot do you guys think of the website in general? could it be made to look any better/ eye catching/ simplified?

it's not very good. a redesign is in the works, hopefully.

Higher education cuts: Sussex University on the front line

An article on the situation in higher education generally and at Sussex University in particular.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 11, 2010

Higher education is at the forefront of sweeping public sector cuts as the government looks to pass the costs of the economic crisis on to students and workers. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which now oversees education have already confirmed at least £500m in cuts. Lord Mandleson, who heads the department has gone on record as saying that “much of the rest of the public sector will face similar constraints this year or soon after.”

But for now, education is the battleground. With the rich-poor divide now greater than the 1970s, many sense that the cuts are driven as much by pre-existing schemes for restructuring that simply use the recession as their pretext. Certainly, the absorption of education into Mandleson’s business-oriented super department suggests this, as does the fact that at several universities the restructuring plans predate the economic crisis they’re supposedly responding to.

But the cuts, restructuring and the very idea that the costs of the crisis should be borne by those who bear no responsibility for causing it are not going uncontested. While Mandleson and managements are planning year-on-year cutbacks, there is growing resistance from students and workers across the country…

Sussex University on the front line

Late last year management announced 115 redundancies at Sussex University as part of plans to cut £3m from this years budget and £5m from next years. Students and staff reacted with occupations and strike action and by the end of the Spring term there was a burgeoning mass movement on campus openly defying both university management and the High Court, who had granted an injunction banning “occupational protest”.

The first signs of student-worker unity were seen last December when a mass meeting of students and staff drew 300 people to listen to students and trade unionists talking about the cuts. After Christmas a student-led anti-cuts campaign began holding regular demonstrations. In February, one such demonstration led to a 24-hour occupation of a conference facility on campus that management use to generate income from external clients. The following month students further upped the stakes, occupying the Sussex House offices of the Vice Chancellor’s Executive Group responsible for the cuts. During the occupation, word came through that a record 81% turnout for a UCU ballot, university staff had voted 76% in favour of strike action.

Sussex House was supposedly made impenetrable with two layers of security doors after previous student occupations. Management’s reaction was immediate. The University Registrar and Secretary John Duffy fabricated a hostage situation, providing the pretext for a heavy police presence equipped with dogs and riot gear. Police were caught on film carrying out unprovoked assaults on some of the 200 supporters who had gathered outside the occupation.

Seeing the escalating situation, the occupiers elected to leave on their own terms. However management weren’t finished. The Vice Chancellor personally singled out six students involved in the occupation and used a little-known executive power under University rules to suspend them immediately “without giving a reason.” They became known as the ‘Sussex Six’.

It also transpired that while the occupation was in progress, management were presenting a pack of lies to the High Court in order to get an injunction granted prohibiting “occupational protest.” Two of the more glaring fictions were John Duffy’s claims that the occupiers were “holding key members of the University’s staff hostage” and “causing significant damage to the University’s property.”

The actions of the police and management drew condemnation from staff and students. The UCU union unanimously passed a motion expressing “deep concern at the disproportionate response of management to the occupation of Sussex House” and calling for the lifting of the suspensions. Students responded by calling a mass demonstration that drew around 500 students and staff – double the size of recent demonstrations.

It was explained to the crowd that any occupation was now contempt of court and could lead to imprisonment. Hundreds of students then sprinted across campus ahead of security and occupied a large lecture theatre adjacent to the central library square. The demand of the occupation was a simple one: unconditional reinstatement of the Sussex Six.

Management continued to ignore the demands and over the course of 8 days students arranged a program of teach-ins, lectured, seminars, music and poetry. Many academic and support staff came and spoke to each other and to students. It is estimated at least 1000 people passed through the occupation during the week, all breaking the High Court injunction. There was not a police officer in sight.

On the eve of UCU’s one-day strike, students called an Emergency General Meeting of the Students Union to pass a motion of no confidence in University management. 850 students packed into the hall, with up to a hundred more turned away. The EGM voted near-unanimously in favour of the motion. Later that day the University Senate also called for the re-instatement of the suspended students.

The following day students joined UCU picket lines from 7am. In the early afternoon, it was confirmed that management had backed down and unconditionally re-instated the Sussex Six. The occupation ended - victorious.

Students and staff at Sussex have shown the power of direct action – in this case occupations and strikes – to pressure management into embarrassing u-turns. In itself, this is an example for students and education workers everywhere.

Having claimed victory in the opening skirmishes, the real battle to stop the cuts looms on the horizon. With students vowing to continue their campaign of occupations and more industrial action expected from staff, the student-worker movement is growing in power and confidence, and suddenly the ‘inevitable’ cuts at Sussex are looking far more beatable.




At the sharp end: Education workers speak out

Catalyst spoke to education workers across all grades throughout the country. In some instances the particular institution is not mentioned to protect the identity of the workers involved.

A clerical support worker
Voluntary redundancies are being sought in the School of Life Sciences, School of Social and International Studies, and Corporate Services. Vacant posts are not being filled and existing staff are expected to work harder. People are obviously afraid for their jobs. We are demoralised and angry, although there is no talk of resistance from the unions, who are just representing affected members on an individual basis rather than balloting members for industrial action.

A postgraduate research student
The pressure lecturers are under in face of coming cuts, especially with regards getting publications for the Research Assessment Exercise and its new version the Research Excellence Framework has meant that they are willing to cut corners to tick boxes, just to keep their jobs. In my own experience, they’ll attach their names to work they’ve not written an inch of if it’s by postgrad students, or even knowingly plagiarise work by their own students. Given the pressure the structures in place put them under, it definitely puts these practices in context. The coming cuts can only exacerbate this. The whole structure of HE and the fear workers are under threatens to undermine the integrity of academia altogether.’

A porter
At the University of Manchester management are preparing the ground for future cuts. “Team Briefing” are being circulated which hammer home the message that money is short and that there will be cutbacks. Vacancies have been frozen which means that already overworked staff have to take on extra duties. Among the manual grades, management have started to cut overtime and other enhancements. Basically, they are starting to cover out of hours work with private contractors. This means a massive cut in wages for manual workers who have traditionally depended on overtime to boost pay. And we know this is only the start. Unless action is taken to defend jobs, increasing numbers of manual jobs will be farmed out to the private sector.

A Lecturer
In Leeds, the UCU has voted to suspend the proposed 3 days of strike action. The decision was taken after management lifted any immediate threats of cuts and agreed that in future they would go through agreed procedures before implementing cuts. They have also guaranteed that there will be no compulsory redundancies until 2011. It is disappointing that the strike was called off as the threats of cuts and redundancies has only been lifted with no guarantees that management will not attempt to implement them at a future date. On the plus the campaign has radicalised workers at Leeds and it has also strengthened workplace organisation. This may prove a decisive factor in opposing any future attempts by management to impose cuts at the university.

A support worker
We look after the audio-visual equipment in well over a hundred teaching rooms across campus. We barely have enough staff to cover the rooms at present, but one out of our group will be made redundant. Recently our administrator did a comparison with other universities’ A/V depts and we were very near the bottom of the staff/room ratio. A major part of our job is to fix problems as they occur in lecture theatres and seminar rooms with a very fast turnaround. If our team is cut, teaching may suffer if we do not have enough trained technicians to deal with problems immediately. A senior manager has come to us several times to ask what services we can drop. This seems to us to be a pretty disgusting way of using us to justify getting rid of one of us, so we constantly refuse to do it.

A research scientist
My contract is coming to an end soon and I’m waiting to hear if my boss gets his research grant renewed – but competition for funding is now worse than ever. The budget cuts in the next few years are going to be brutal: the elite labs, with the help of the ‘old boys network’ will make sure they keep most of the funding, the least competitive labs don’t stand a chance, and everybody in between will have to engage in a brutal struggle for survival. Of course the lab heads pass on all this pressure to us, who need to produce the scientific results for publications and grant proposals.

A lecturer
At Liverpool Hope people in one department were made to re-apply for their own jobs recently. Staff cuts followed. The union response was ineffectual - a lunch-time pavement protest (wouldn’t want to generate any real pressure to defend jobs, would we?).

Support staff
At Salford, cuts have already been implemented as part of ‘Project Headroom’. A lot of posts were lost, but without official compulsory redundancies. There has also been substantial restructuring of central units in recent years (‘Deciding the Future/Realising Our Vision’) when all staff had to apply for new posts; this process is still not completed. As part of both processes staff ‘retired’ or took voluntary redundancy when it became clear there was no position for them - payouts were better for those who jumped. The offical line is ‘no future cuts’, but we await to see how evenly the government share out the announced cuts in teaching funding mechanism. As previously money for research will be distributed by a system not announced, using criteria that are not decided. Also it being an election year, medium term planning in HE is about guessing who will win and what they will do rather than what they say they will do.

Article taken from the Spring 2010 edition of Catalyst, the Solidarity Federation's free newspaper.

Joseph Kay

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

the full pdf of the spring Catalyst will be online shortly!

Vote for change?

The Solidarity Federation look at the upcoming UK general election.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 12, 2010

It’s election season again. It’s a time of photo-ops and promises, manifestos and controversies. But behind the endless announcements, allegations and denials, is anything really at stake? After 13 years of Labour government, many people want a change. The economy on which Gordon Brown staked his reputation as Chancellor has nosedived on his watch as Prime Minister.

It’s true that Labour can’t be singled out for blame for the recession. Its underlying causes stem from the very nature of capitalist economies and their tendency to boom and bust. However having boasted of ‘no more boom and bust’, Brown certainly has egg on his face.

Labour’s only serious rivals are David Cameron’s Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats largely exist to persuade voters the British system offers more meaningful choice than the US two-party system, while fringe parties like the Greens and the BNP function as a protest vote for left and right respectively. So what do the Tories have to offer?

Many commentators have remarked that David Cameron seems to have modelled himself on a young Tony Blair, and much like Blair’s New Labour project the Tories are like all opposition parties promoting themselves as the party of change. However on the face of it there is little between the two main parties.

Gone are the days when there was at least a semblance of ideological difference between parties. We now have ‘post-political politics’, where parties compete how best to manage the society which is taken as the natural order of things. Consequently, an economic crisis stemming from a very specific growth-driven, profit-led system and deregulated banking has been treated as a natural disaster.

Thus the main spats between Labour and Conservatives have centred on the technicalities of when and not if to take the axe to public services, impose pay freezes and cut benefits for the unemployed and vulnerable. Groups of economists have publicly lined up behind each party, and so the election becomes a ‘choice’ between whether we want massive cuts or… massive cuts, a few months later.

Labour’s position is that the cuts must be gradual but severe, with public expenditure cut by up to 13% over three years. This they argue is necessary so that the supposed economic recovery can continue. However the Tories say this is too slow. While agreeing on the extent of the cuts, they say government spending must be slashed sooner so as to avoid a Greek-style debt crisis.

But what is taken for granted by both parties is more revealing than where they differ. Both parties assert that the economy is recovering. But while bankers' bonuses have already returned in all their six-figure glory, most those workers thrown out of work by the recession are still scraping by on £64/week dole and home repossessions have reached record levels.

Both parties assert that cuts to public services, wages and benefits are inevitable. But it’s conveniently forgotten that the rich-poor divide has been growing for decades and that in Britain today the richest 5% of the population own 60% of the wealth. The real choices are those we won’t be allowed to make at the ballot box. Whoever gets in, the result is already in: ordinary people will be made to pay for a crisis we didn’t create.

With so little real choice on offer at the ballot box, is it any surprise that election turnout continues to fall? The independent Power Inquiry notes “widely shared concern over declining electoral turnout” and seeks “to reverse the trend.” But workers have already been bypassing the political process altogether. A string of strikes and occupations have successfully fought pay cuts and improved redundancy terms, and there looks to be more of the same on the horizon.

Judging by Labour’s remarkable achievement of creating over 4,000 new laws in their time in office, perhaps there’s truth in the cynic’s saying that ‘if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.’

Article taken from the Spring 2010 issue of Catalyst, the free newspaper of the Solidarity Federation.

Yorkie Bar

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Labour’s only serious rivals are David Cameron’s Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats largely exist to persuade voters the British system offers more meaningful choice than the US two-party system,

How true is this, really? While it's pretty likely that the Lib Dems are going to come out trailing far behind the Tories and Labour, they will probably end up in government in the likely event of a hung parliament.

Of course, the Lib Dems have nothing to offer the working class either, and are just as keen to take the axe to public services - but given their posturing as 'the real alternative' and their apparent upswing in popularity, they need to be dealt with a bit more thoroughly than they have been in this article.

Other than that, good piece.

~J.

Yorkie Bar

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

FB

I honestly find it hard to see the Lib Dems as a serious political entity even if they did well on TV this week.

That's not really my point - the idea of this piece (if I've got it right) is to disabuse workers of the idea that voting for a politician, of any stripe, will really change anything. Whether the Lib Dems are "a serious political entity" or not, given that about one in five workers (apparently) reckon they have the right ideas, it's worth making the effort to explain why they are not a better option than Labour or the Tories.

And actually, while the Lib Dems are certainly a minor political player, they do have a role in politics beyond lending credibility to the electoral system by acting as a third party. In the event of a hung parliament it'll be up to the Lib Dems to decide whether we get a Tory government or a Labour one. It's all pretty irrelevant anyway, but it doesn't look good when you're saying "oh, they're only a protest vote, they'll never get in" when actually there's a good chance they will, if only through shameless horse-trading.

~J.

Tojiah

12 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I think it's important to analyze particular parties for their shittiness, at least superficially, otherwise you might come off as dogmatic.

Farce

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

"I honestly find it hard to see the Lib Dems as a serious political entity" - I see your point here, but it is ever so slightly ironic when you consider the size of the class struggle anarchist organisations. :p

Guerillatoker

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Would preventing others from voting be proper direct action in boycotting our faux-democracy, or a similar oppressive action as the electoral system in the first place?

BigLittleJ,

"Labour’s only serious rivals are David Cameron’s Conservatives" is true, because there aren't enough swing seats for the Lib Dems to form a government. The best they can possibly do is become the receiving partner in a LibLab coalition government.

Unfortunately, the only way to get Labour out of government is a massive swing to the tories and an overall win for the Cameron government, or a very significant swing to the tories and a LibCon coalition.

Devrim

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I listened to a couple of podcasts about the English election at work on Sunday morning. The comentators seemed to be getting really excited about Nick Clegg. In a way it reminded me of when Sky first got the football, and there was live football every week on TV, which for younger readers used to be limited to the FA cup final and internationals. The Sky presenters hyped up ever match as if it were a classic. Unfortunately, they all weren't. Football tends to be like that. Football fans aren't stupid though and we all knew before hand that there are lots of turgid matchs along with the classics.

It is the same impresion I get with all the talk about this election. It seems like the pundits are trying to excite people about the political equivilant of Wolves Vs. Portsmouth on a wet weekday evening. Before the TV debates they were talking about a turn out of just over 40%.

Do people believe that all of this hype will drag more people to the polls?

Devrim

Devrim

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Ok then, here are my predictions for what they are worth. I think Labour will win the most seats followed by the Tories with the LibDems in third place. After the election Labour will form a coalition with the aliberals with Brown as PM. I don't think the popular vote really matters. To continue the football analogy, you win matches by scoring more goals than the other team, not by having more 'shots on target'.

Of course, if I am completly wrong I will blame the fact that I live in another continent.

Devrim

Devrim

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Normally, I'd agree about the popular vote, as it's never been a factor in the past, but whileIt might just be electioneering (and I have no faith in his principles to stick by what he says!) but Clegg is pretty emphatic that they won't "prop up" any party who doesn't win the popular vote.

I think that actually this statement is going to come back to haunt him. I have read what he actually said and he was saying that he wouldn't support a third placed labour party. Nevertheless labour will hammer him on this and the line will be "a vote for Nick is a vote for the Tories".

Also, given that they have campaigned on Labour being an utter failure and there needing to be a radical change - while Labour are more natural allies to Lib Dems - that being seen as propping up a failed regime would be medium-term political suicide.

I don't think that propping up the Tories offers him much either.

Also, I think that any increase in turn-out obviously favours Labour.

Devrim

Would preventing others from voting be proper direct action in boycotting our faux-democracy, or a similar oppressive action as the electoral system in the first place?

Arguing to other people that they shouldn't vote is fine (and what we're already doing), trying to physically stop other people from would be massively counter-productive. The problem isn't the act of voting itself, but the mentality that allows government to continue, and stopping other people from being able to vote wouldn't challenge that mentality, it'd just piss them off.

"Also, I think that any increase in turn-out obviously favours Labour."

Why?

baboon

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

In recent elections in France the turn out in some working class areas was down to about 30%. This is what the bourgeoisie are concerned about and the Clegg phenomenon seems - its difficult to see beyond the hype - to have generated greater interest. The campaign is overwhelming in Britain.
I remember reading some time ago that the election result in Britain was predicated on some one hundred thousand votes in key seats. Has anyone seen anything about this?

Steven.

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

exactly, Clegg-mania was always going to collapse once people got to the ballot box and realised we have a first past the post system.

Yorkie Bar

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

What surprises me is Cameron coming out with this referendum offer - seems like a wholly unwarranted concession from his point of view. It's not like he really needs the Lib Dems all that badly, surely?

gypsy

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yes but many politicians are egomaniacial and power hungry.

Yorkie Bar

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I think he could have got the Lib Dems on side without it, though - he's pretty much the only show in town, they don't really have any other options.

My guess would be that he sweetened the deal to try and help Nick Clegg get the coalition past the membership.

Steven.

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

J, without something the Lib Dems could have teamed up with Labour

Yorkie Bar

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

That would never have been viable, surely? Even between them they don't have a majority, and that coalition would be so obviously illegitimate that it would be hugely unpopular. That's why half the labour party started mouthing off during the talks, because it was so obviously going to kill their party if they tried to pull it off.

Mike Harman

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah a labour/lib dem coalition you can see lasting a few months, being unmanageable as a minority, then the tories getting a full majority in a new general election within 12-18 months and staying in for ages.

Tory/lib dem could still get rocky if lib dem back benchers leave or misbehave, and then Labour with a new leader might even get back in if there was an election in 2-4 years, after which the worst of the austerity measure have already been fought and implemented, people who voted for the lib dems because they hate the tories but couldn't stomach voting for Labour switch back again, etc. etc. Lib Dems might even split or have defections to labour as well, at least if it's a proper coalition as opposed to just an agreement.

Glad I'm not the only person with guilty-pleasure election watching issues...

Yorkie Bar

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah, the spectacle of political power is pretty entertaining.

Of course, the *real* reasons why the Lib-Con pact is going through were summarised quite succinctly in a recent Blog post on the Times-

Martin Waller, of our business desk, reports: "Sterling jumped almost a cent to $1.4888 against the dollar, up from a level of $1.4800 when the markets opened (on the back of good industrial production figures).

"It then soared later in the day as signs of a political agreement between the Tories and Lib Dems emerged, ending the day at a session high of $1.5001. The euro fell 1.5 per cent.

Chris Redfern, a dealer at Moneycorp, the foreign exchange provider, said as the market closed: 'We are currently looking at three possibilities: talks of a Lib-Lab coalition might be over, the Conservatives and Liberals might be announcing a partnership and Gordon Brown might be officially stepping down tonight.

"'We saw sterling gain 1 cent against the dollar as Labour sources reported that talks between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had broken down.'"

Catalyst #24 Summer 2010 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst - the 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 20, 2010

Available as a pdf download.

Featuring articles on the emergency budget cuts, analysis of the welfare reforms, know your rights: beating the bailiffs, international news, academy schools, killer cops and much more.

Files

Catalyst-24.pdf (1.95 MB)

Choccy

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Looks excellent :)

Ellar

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

:)

Yorkie Bar

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I only glanced at it since I'm on the iPhone - looks fab tho.

Choccy

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

A few minor points:

- use MORE italics
- use more varieties of font, esp impact and hattenschweiler
- vary text size loads to fit pages, if there lots of space on a page, make the text massive, or blow-up the pictures
- if an image is really grainy or pixellated, just shrink it a bit, people won't notice it as much
- try slipping a '4' into random words to excite the reader and keep them on their toes
- include references to non-existent articles - this will freak out the reader like they are reading a sexy airport novel or crime thriller

These are all tips from a group I used to be in, propaganda & publications A-Z, 'So You Want to Do A Fuckin Workin Class Paper?'

Volin

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This is definitely one of the best publications anarchists are producing (Resistance included ;) )...The graphics and layout really work. Great stuff.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I don't really see the point of AF or SolFed in the UK producing their own organs either.

I love the way "organ" sounds way more dirty than "newspaper", but guess who said the above statement on the exact same day the newest Catalyst came out?

http://www.anarchistblackcat.org/viewtopic.php?p=74279#p74279

Still tho, that's what we get for adapting the "Lenin model of the party"...

Anarchia

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

It looks great, is this the first issue with this layout? Massive improvement on the last issue I saw (back in '08)

Joseph Kay

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This is the third issue as an 8-page tabloid, the other two should be in the library here as well.

ncwob

Still tho, that's what we get for adapting the "Lenin model of the party"...

tbh, Dundee's just pure 'no u' bait. things that are not Leninist; a new workers party, a political group entering others to take leadership positions, brutally fucking up 'competition' in the name of anti-sectarianism. Things that are Leninist; producing an organisational newspaper - the definitive feature of Leninism.

Choccy

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Just to clarify Asher, Catalyst became a newspaper after Organise! did The Leveller. Sort of keeping up with the Joneses ;)

Anarchia

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Haha, nice work Organise! then :P I have a copy of The Leveller in my room - tbf it isn't as pretty as this Catalyst but the content is pretty good. I espec liked the article (which I think you wrote Choccy?) on assessment in schools.

syndicalist

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Just printed out a copy.....to be read.

sort it out frosty

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Haha I know the person who came up with the name "Catalyst"...

Steven.

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

haven't read this yet, but if someone could post up decent individual articles as text versions in the library that would be cool, that gets more readers from Google etc

oisleep

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I like the layout & style of this - looks very good

what do you use to do it? MS paint or something like that?

Joseph Kay

12 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I've put a load of the main articles up as separate news posts.

Academy schools programme expanded

A new Education Bill is set to massively extend Labour’s controversial Academies programme.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 23, 2010

The Education Secretary Michael Gove has now added Ofsted-graded “outstanding” schools to the hit-list. His plans promise even more Academies; over 150 schools have already applied for Academy status, with hundreds more enquiring for further information or registering an interest. The Academies scheme allows non-state bodies, including religious groups, businesses and voluntary groups to take control of schools in exchange for a nominal amount of funding for new facilities.

Academies were the previous government’s answer to perceived “low standards” in too many secondary schools, even though the whole idea of standards did not take into account the social backgrounds of the students going to the schools – problems created not by schools themselves but government policies and wider social problems. Under the scheme a private sponsor can take over a state school and be given control of the entire budget direct from the government. They are able to influence admissions criteria – taking the brightest students from other local schools - and appoint the governing body – which is meant to be a voice for local stakeholders.

The measures are being billed as giving more ‘freedom’ to schools. But the National Union of Teachers (NUT) comments that “these ‘freedoms’ are however a mask for a structural shift in who controls schools (…) Billions of pounds of assets in the form of school land and buildings will be transferred to Academy proprietors.” Wealthy individuals and partisan groups taking over schools have also had a notorious effect on prejudicing teaching. For example a whistle-blowing teacher was awarded £70,000 for unfair dismissal against the King Fahad Academy in Acton. He had refused to use books likening Jews and Christians to “monkeys” and “pigs”. While the school is fee-paying, the Academies system stresses such groups are allowed autonomy for their religious projects.

The scheme is also ripe for cronyism. For example Brighton & Hove’s Falmer School is to be reopened in September as the Aldridge Community Academy after local “entrepreneur” Rod Aldridge. Aldridge’s background has been in making millions out of government IT contracts as the head of Capita Business Services. Naturally, getting rich from successful bids for funding - after secretly lending the Labour Party £1m - is not the same as running a complex institution like a school.

Despite there being no requirement for private sponsors to have any expertise, let alone experience, in education they will have the power to decide on the curriculum in most subjects. Academies can also set their own terms and conditions for staff new to the school. Although they often promise to keep to national pay scales, once the budget crisis hits them, this will be a likely area to cut. The NUT has warned that “there could be a free for all in terms of pay and conditions and a greater role for bullying head teachers.”

As of August 2010, 34 schools had already begun TUPE consultations – the legal process for transferring terms and conditions of staff over to a new employer, in this case the Academy. While TUPE legislation protects the terms and conditions of existing staff, it offers no such protection to new employees. This often results in the creation of a two-tier workforce, with new staff on inferior conditions gradually replacing the previous workforce.

Catalyst spoke to a high school English teacher who said such measures will “create division in the workforce, lower morale and raise staff turnover – all things that harm the continuity of young people’s educational experience. All this haste to increase the number of Academies begins to feel like a bad idea, when you consider that there has been little or no research into the impact of this programme on the effectiveness of schools. Academies put resources into private hands and create a two-tier ‘public’ education system.”

Taken from Catalyst #24 - Summer 2010.

China: trouble in the world's sweatshop

China is experiencing a rising wave of industrial unrest, as workers increasingly turn to collective action to fight against their exploitation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 23, 2010

Rapid industrialisation over the past few decades has created massive internal migration from the countryside to the cities on an unprecedented scale, dwarfing Britain’s industrial revolution two centuries ago. Now, this new urban working class has begun to flex its muscles, disrupting production in order to assert their demands.

The high-profile suicides at Foxconn, who make iPhones for Apple, were merely the tip of the iceberg. There, angry workers rioted over sweatshop conditions, chanting “capitalists kill people” and brandishing pictures of the CEO of Foxconn, Terry Gou. The company quickly offered improved wages and conditions in an attempt to quell the storm. However these headline-grabbing measures were quickly eaten up by reductions in overtime and speed-ups on production lines.

Elsewhere, 1,000 workers at the Denso car parts plant in the southern province of Guangdong won a two-day strike over poor breakfasts. China’s factories are vast – some the size of whole cities. Some employ tens of thousands of workers at a single site. Coupled with long working hours, this means workers often don’t leave work to eat meals, and the quality of those meals has proved a flashpoint. Workers ignored the pleas of the official union to return to work, and forced company bosses to improve meal provision.

For nearly three decades, corporations have increasingly relocated manufacturing to China to take advantage of a vast supply of cheap labour and lax regulation. The consequences of that lax regulation have also provoked social conflicts. 1,000 villagers in Jingxi county, Guangxi province, near the border with Vietnam recently protested against pollution from an aluminium plant owned by one of the country’s largest aluminium producers. Villagers blocked the gates to the plant and damaged production facilities, and one local government official was taken to hospital after being hit by stones.

In the past two months workers have walked out at three Honda plants, a Toyota supplier, a Hyundai factory in Beijing, a rubber products manufacturer in Shanghai and a Carlsberg brewery. Recently, workers at Japanese electronics firm Tianjin Mitsumi crippled output with a sit-in, complaining they were being asked to work extra hours for no extra pay.

The rising assertiveness of Chinese workers is causing some corporate investors to look elsewhere. However, industrial unrest is a pattern repeated across the region. In Cambodia, workers staged a three-day strike in July in a dispute over the minimum wage, while in Vietnam thousands of workers at a shoe factory staged a strike demanding higher salaries. While wages in Vietnam and Cambodia are still a fraction of those won by Chinese workers, increasing militancy is rapidly closing the gap.

Beverly Silver is a Professor of Sociology at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and an expert on workers and globalisation. She is not surprised by the latest developments, stating that “corporations have been chasing the mirage of cheap and disciplined labour around the world, only to find themselves continuously recreating new militant labour movements in the new locations.”

Taken from Catalyst #24 - Summer 2010.

Is this farewell, welfare?

The government’s answer to the problem of unemployment during the biggest economic crisis since the 1930s is not to create any new jobs, but to launch a massive attack on our living standards.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 23, 2010

In the emergency budget, one group of people who will be hit the hardest is welfare claimants.
Benefits are not just for the unemployed. They supplement low pay and give those with disabilities or caring responsibilities a means by which to survive, as well as providing income to those who cannot find unemployment. With around 2.5 million people claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), 2.9 million receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA), around 5 million reeceiving working tax credits and further claimants on other tax credit schemes and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), more than one-in-three of Britain’s 30 million strong workforce are receiving some form of state welfare.

But welfare also traps people in poverty. Both housing benefit and tax credits, for example, are a massive subsidy to employers and landlords. On the surface they help people on low incomes to afford housing and to keep their household running, but they also allow landlords to charge higher rents and the employers to pay lower wages, both making more profit in the process.
Meanwhile, those claiming the benefits remain on the breadline, and working more in fact leaves them with less money. For example, working more than 16 hours counts as being ‘in work’ for JSA, but you need to work 30 hours to claim Working Tax Credits. Working more can mean earning less as your benefits are reduced faster than your income rises.

In order to get around this, people often turn to the black economy. You don’t pay tax on cash-in-hand jobs and it doesn’t affect your benefits. Hence, there are more people working in domestic service than in Edwardian times, and single parents in particular are amongst those often forced to work “illegally.”

For its part, the state is happy with this situation as it drives down wages overall, keeping the labour market ‘competitive’ and ‘flexible’. It also gives them a stick to beat the poor with; the fact that their policies have forced so many people onto the black economy making their propaganda about benefit “cheats” a much easier sell to those workers who don’t claim welfare.

Indeed, benefits ‘fraud’ accounts for around £3 billion a year, while estimates put the amount of benefits left unclaimed at between £4bn and £8bn. In other words, if all ‘fraud’ stopped, but everyone eligible for benefits received them, the government would be worse off. Dwarfing these figures, the total gap of uncollected taxes, mostly from the wealthy employing methods of tax avoidance and evasion is £120 billion. However, pound-for-pound the government spends 624 times more on adverts demonising ‘benefits cheats’ than rich tax dodgers – a sure sign that their priority is propaganda and not a genuine desire to balance the books.

The fact that so many people are forced to work “illegally” in order to survive is not an indictment of them, or of the idea of social welfare. It is an indictment of the capitalist system in which the state engineers just this situation in order to inflate private profit.

This is the context of the so-called ‘welfare reforms’, which are aimed at making the unemployed, single parents, the sick and the disabled compete for scarce and badly paid jobs on the labour market, in order to push a ‘flexible’, insecure, low-wage economy. This regime is not in the interest of those who are in work. At a time when employers, under the pressure of the crisis are attempting to make us work harder for less money, these ‘welfare reforms’ aim to force those who don’t have a job to accept even worse wages and conditions.

The emergency budget outlines plans to cut £11 billion from the welfare budget. One big cut comes from linking all benefits apart from the state pension to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI) one. CPI is typically lower as it excludes housing costs. Over the past 20 years it has been higher than the RPI on just three occasions. The August CPI is 3.4% while the RPI is 5.1%.

Since inflation is the measure of rising prices, by pegging benefits to the lower measure the government is ensuring benefits will fail to keep up with the cost of living – effectively cutting benefits year-on-year. And this doesn’t capture the whole picture. According to the BBC Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders, “Research has tended to show that the cost of the basket of goods bought by poorer households often rises faster than the basket of goods included in the CPI.” That means that the year-on-year cut to benefits is even greater than the headline figures suggest.

There is also an increasing drive to turn welfare into workfare (see ‘hello workfare’ bellow), where private companies pocket public cash to link benefits to compulsory work placements. For a standard 40-hour week this can mean working for just £1.60,/hour less than a third of the minimum wage. This doesn’t create jobs, it just undermines the wages of those still in work.

The criteria for ‘the sick’, Employment and Support Allowance or ESA, are also being tightened up (see below). This has already led to tragedy, with one person in Scotland suffering from severe depression committing suicide after being forced back to work. Tax Credits for middle-income families will also be cut back, deepening the poverty trap as low income workers who do manage to earn more will simply have it taken away again through reduced tax credits.

The upshot is that the situation for claimants looks bleak. However, they are not all taking it lying down. The ‘no to welfare abolition’ network (defendwelfare.org) is “a grassroots network to extend and defend welfare rights”, incorporating local claimants groups who have been picketing agencies involved in the Flexible New Deal as well as offering support to striking job centre workers. Claimants, like the wider working class certainly have a fight on their hands to defend their living standards.

Fixing the sick - welfare reform style
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is the sickness benefit introduced in October 2008, which will eventually replace Incapacity Benefit. Its new test is extremely difficult to pass and almost nobody is exempted from the test.

A serious problem for sickness claimants today is that their medical assessment is made through the use of a computer program, the ‘Logic Integrated Medical Assessment’ (LiMA). This programme was introduced by DWP’s contractor Atos Origin in 2005 to assess claimants for the old sickness benefit (Incapacity Benefit). Already in December 2005, advice charity Child Poverty Action Group complained of serious problems with Atos’s computer-aided medical assessments in an article entitled ‘The computer says no’.

During the examination, the doctor asks the claimant a list of questions, which the computer shows on the screen. While the claimant speaks, the doctor builds, through the use of a windows system and drop-down menus, a combination of words and numbers which resembles what the claimant says.

The result is an often surreal computer-generated ‘Medical Report’, based on a collection of mechanically-constructed brief sentences. More than one Social Security judge has noticed with alarm that automated reports did not reflect what the claimants had actually said and contained ‘nonsensical statements’.

After aiding the doctor to construct brief phrases, the computer automatically derives implications from these phrases. These implications are often overstretched, or even totally wrong, and options for investigation of these implications are blocked by the computer system. For example, if a claimant cannot cook but tells the doctor that he makes himself snacks or tea, this ‘ability’ is used by the computer as ‘evidence’ of a very large range of physical and mental capacities.

Furthermore, the handbook for Atos’s doctors tells them to apply the harshest possible interpretation to the test. For example, the handbook says that if a claimant’s memory is not so bad that he forgets to get dressed in the morning, he cannot really score anything at all for memory problems.
Many sick people, although unable to work, do wish to attend courses, and they don’t because they are afraid of losing their benefit. Any mention of having done any activity whatsoever will be used to disqualify a claimant from his sickness benefit. An extreme example from the Citizens Advice Bureau: a claimant was found ‘fit to work’ because he attended a compulsory ‘Work Focused Interview’! The automated medical report said: ‘the client is actively seeking work through Jobcentre Plus’ .

The ‘Brighton Benefits Campaign’ has been fighting for claimants and low waged workers since the recession began. They say that “a fight for a more humane medical assessment is also a fight for the abolition of Atos’ mechanised methods – for the dismissal of Atos and the return to a professional medical service, publicly run, and run not for profits.” The antagonism between private profit and claimants’ needs only looks set to deepen as the welfare cuts begin to bite.

Hello workfare
One of the latest reforms is the introduction of the ‘Flexible New Deal’, which began in October 2009. The year-long scheme is not run directly by the government, but is contracted out to a number of private companies who stand to receive millions in public money to bully the unemployed into accepting any job at rock bottom wages. This won’t create any new jobs – it will just force the unemployed to compete desperately with each other for the few jobs that are available. The effect of this on the labour market will be to push down wages and reduce job security even further.

After six months on the FND claimants are forced to work for their benefits (workfare) for one month: 40 hours work a week for 4 weeks in order to receive a meagre £64.30 a week (or even less for couples or the under 25s). Even for those on the ‘higher’ rate, this is just £1.60 an hour! The scheme benefits employers and nobody else. Why take on workers at minimum wage or higher when you can get them at £1.60 an hour? Those who lose their jobs due to the recession may one day find themselves forced to work their old job for benefit levels. This will only exacerbate the ‘race to the bottom’ in wages and conditions which is fast becoming the norm in the ‘modern economy’.

Taken from Catalyst #24 - Summer 2010.

NOT all in this together

The Government’s “tough but fair” budget will hit the poorest the hardest, as well as having a disproportionate impact on women, two reports have found.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 23, 2010

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) describes the budget as signalling the “longest, deepest, sustained period of cuts to public services spending at least since WWII”. Chancellor George Osborne claims austerity is “unavoidable” in order to reduce Britain’s deficit, and business leaders have sounded their approval for the plans. However, trade unions warned of hundreds of thousands of job losses, accusing the government of “declaring war on public services”.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times Richlist reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain added 30% to their wealth despite the recession. Now a new report has rubbished the claim that the budget is “fair”. ‘Don’t forget the spending cuts’, commissioned by the Trade Union Congress and the public sector union Unison, looked at the impact of the budget on different income groups. Because for example, richer people can afford private alternatives they are less reliant on public services. Likewise, the less well off people are, the more likely they are to be receiving benefits. The report modelled this and found that cuts to public services and welfare are likely to disproportionately impact the less well off.

The authors write that “The impact of these cuts will be deeply regressive. All households are hit considerably, but the poorest households are hit the hardest.” Specifically, they found that “the average annual cut in public spending on the poorest tenth of households is £1,344, equivalent to 20.5% of their household income, whereas the average annual cut in public spending on the richest tenth of households is £1,135, equivalent to just 1.6% of their household income.”
This finding was echoed by IFS director Robert Chote, who explained the cuts “are likely to hit poorer households significantly harder than richer households”. Particularly he cited the decision to link benefits payments to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Prices Index (RPI). CPI is typically lower than RPI (which includes housing costs), which means the cuts will become cumulatively worse in real terms for benefits recipients, as prices rise faster than their benefits payments.

Separately, the Fawcett Society has launched a legal challenge to the budget, describing it as “blatantly unfair”. They claim that of £8bn cuts, £5.8bn will affect women, and are seeking a judicial review in the High Court, claiming the government failed to carry out an equality assessment when deciding the austerity measures. Fawcett Society solicitor Samantha Mangwana stated that “George Osborne expects women to pay three times more than men to accelerate deficit cuts, even though women still earn and own far less.”

The headline measures in the budget is an unprecedented £113bn cut budget squeeze by 2014-15. This will involve 25% cuts to virtually all government departments (with some protection for the NHS and International Development), £8bn from net tax rises (mostly from VAT increasing to 20%)and £11bn in welfare cuts (see our special feature on the left of this page). On a closer look, it becomes clear just how regressive these measures are. While corporate taxes have been reduced, VAT – a regressive tax – has been increased. As already noted, benefits and public service cuts also disproportionately impact the less well off. Effectively this is a budget to punish ordinary workers for an economic crisis we were not responsible for.

Major banks have already returned to profit. Northern Rock, RBS and Lloyds banking group, all saved by state bailouts, announced they had returned to profit in July 2010. HSBC also recently announced its profits had doubled to £7bn for the first 6 months of 2010. The return of 6-figure bankers bonuses has also been widely reported. Elsewhere in the corporate world, the recession is also already a thing of the past. BP Chief Executive Tony Haywood will collect a massive £600,000-a-year pension when he retires in October, despite taking much criticism for his role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

So are the austerity measures really “unavoidable”? That depends on your point of view. For the politicians, bankers and business leaders, absolutely. The £850bn bank bailout that prevented the financial crisis turning into an all-out capitalist collapse dwarfs the savings from austerity. But having staved off collapse, the masters of the economy find themselves between a rock and a hard place, and as ever their solution is to give us a good squeeze in their place.

Their dilemma is this: cut too much, and consumer spending will inevitably fall, raising fears of a ‘double-dip’ recession. A double-dip recession would be bad for the economy and bad for corporate profits, and would probably lead to yet more cuts to public services, jobs, wages and benefits. But cut too little, and the cost of the recession will be borne by businesses and the rich. That too is bad news for them, for obvious reasons. Essentially they are gambling that they can cut our incomes without much knock-on effect on our spending.

If that doesn’t make much sense, that’s because it really is a gamble. The ‘boom’ was sustained by cheap credit. Wages failed to keep up with rising prices, but the combination of rising house prices and easy credit meant consumer spending could grow and grow. But it was always a bubble, one that burst spectacularly when the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US sent shockwaves around the world’s financial system. Collapse was only averted by massive bailouts. So a repeat of that strategy so soon after its disastrous effects is unlikely. What options that leaves is unclear.

What is clear is that capitalism has always been a crisis-prone system since its very beginnings - runs on the bank are not a new thing - and that the solution to every crisis has been to squeeze the working class until profits can be restored at an acceptable rate. In response, we can only say that we’re not all in this together. During the ‘boom’, there were no politicians, bankers and business leaders lining up to insist we all share the wealth, and in the bust we should reciprocate. Their system, their problem.

The only way to impose our needs is to stand up for ourselves – widespread strike action will make them think twice about the cuts, and in the face of industrial action they may well decide to shoulder more of the costs of the crisis. Certainly if we let them get their way, we will be paying for it for years to come, while their profits, bonuses and pensions have already returned to multi-million pound levels.

Taken from Catalyst #24 - Summer 2010.

Strikes off, cuts on at universities

The academics’ union UCU at the University of Sussex cancelled industrial action planned for late June after university bosses declared they were “hopeful” they could avoid any compulsory redundancies.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 23, 2010

It soon emerged however that compulsory redundancies had been transformed into ‘voluntary’ ones and the number of job losses remained at over 100, with a similarly severe impact on many courses and workloads expected.

One student mocked the management statement: “We are pleased to announce that the 100 have jumped, and were not pushed. The knives to their backs were unrelated.” A lecturer also commented that “I, among many, have been made ‘voluntarily’ redundant, after being selected for compulsory redundancy. The University seems to have got rid of everyone it wanted by forcing us to accept a ‘voluntary’ settlement.”

The other unions at Sussex, Unite and Unison, representing support staff such as porters, cleaners, IT and workshop technicians, did not even enter in dispute with the University. But like UCU, both Unite and Unison aimed at reducing compulsory redundancies and improving voluntary redundancy packages.

Whilst committee members continued the consultation process, some of the rank and file members argued that the starting point of the unions was wrong, and they should be opposing cuts altogether. None of the three campus unions had rejected university bosses’ line that savings needed to come from staff costs - despite ongoing multi-million pound building projects, and the Vice-Chancellor behind the cuts granting himself a 43% pay increase to £227,000 a year.

“Our area rep came to a special Unite meeting, arguing to give them two more weeks consultation with management,” said Tony, a Unite member and IT worker. “If there was no significant movement during this time, the area rep said she would bring the ballot papers to the next meeting. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that she didn’t even turn up to the next meeting, let alone bring ballot papers!”

Frustrated with their union’s unwillingness to fight, a group of workers set up the Support Staff Forum (SSF), involving workers from all three campus unions, non-unionised workers as well as several students. Paul, a worker involved in the group, said “one of the good things we have been doing is making both us in the SSF and the wider campus community aware of the cuts and changes in working conditions in the different sectors, as although we all work on the same campus each department can be quite insular.” The SSF also had some success in building solidarity among education workers, such as by encouraging non-UCU members to honour UCU picket lines.

Despite several strike days, widespread support and solidarity, and a vibrant student campaign leading to a week-long occupation in which many hundreds of students and education workers took part, the UCU’s suspension of industrial action marks the end of the dispute. As one would-be striker commented, “Though UCU exec worked tirelessly to achieve the best outcome possible, I feel that once they accepted the need for cuts, they could only negotiate a defeat. Higher Education bosses are using the budget crisis to push through long-term restructuring that will destroy education as we know it. So instead of focusing only on compulsory redundancies, we should have stopped them wrecking our university by opposing all staff reduction. However it looks like UCU nationally are more interested in being involved in restructuring than in stopping it.”

UCU held a ballot for an academic boycott against Sussex, demanding an Avoidance of Redundancy committee which Sussex bosses had rejected out of hand. Earlier in the year at Leeds University UCU had called off industrial action against 700 redundancies after reaching a “groundbreaking” settlement that included setting up an all-union redundancy avoidance committee and postponing any compulsory redundancies until completion of a review in January 2011. However, it later emerged that 400 staff had volunteered for redundancy. With large cuts to higher education budgets, UCU estimates that 22,500 redundancies are in the pipeline in higher education, on top of 34,000 job losses in further education.

Taken from Catalyst #24 - Summer 2010.

Catalyst #25 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst - the 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 18, 2010

Available as a pdf download.

In this issue:

Actions speaks louder: Did the trashing of Tory HQ at Millbank in November mark the start of a militant anti-cuts movment?

Direct Action: Centrefold poster to pull-out and keep - or decorate your local occupation with!

Housing benefit cuts spark poverty fears: We interview a claimant.

'All joined up': An interview with a French teacher who participated in the general strike and economic blockades there.

Pensions under threat: Divide and rule game looks set to undermine both public and private sector workers' pensions.

Know Your Rights: A brief guide to the law around Redundancy.

Files

Catalyst-25.pdf (2.08 MB)

Joseph Kay

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

bump, pdf/image now up

Catalyst #26 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst #26 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation
Catalyst #26 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst - the 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on March 22, 2011

Available as a pdf download.

Winning the argument or winning the fight: where next after March 26?

Austerity Britain: centrefold feature on austerity and the resistance.

Levenshulme Baths saved: 20-day campaign gets results.

North African revolts: calls for 'bread and freedom' spread.

Know your rights: basic rights at work.

Comment: crisis in care.

Files

Catalyst 26.pdf (2.25 MB)

Catalyst #27 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

Catalyst - the 8-page tabloid from the Solidarity Federation.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 21, 2011

Available as a pdf download or online at the SolFed site.

Stop work to stop the cuts? Why striking against the cuts makes sense on June 30 and beyond.

Striking back: In-depth centrefold feature on strike action, including an illustrated timeline of strikes in Britain and a graph plotting falling strike days against rising inequality.

Victory against Office Angels: Direct action solidarity wins a temp's stolen wages.

This year's war: From Iraq to Libya - where there's oil there's 'humanitarian intervention'.

Plus: Your basic rights at work, Stokes Croft after the riots and your letters on the Southern Cross healthcare debacle, Slutwalks and more!

Due to popular demand, the pdf download is now as single pages (no spreads), so it can be printed out legibly on a normal A4 printer.

Files

Catalyst27.pdf (2.8 MB)

Catalyst #28 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

An issue of the Solidarity Federation newspaper.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on December 20, 2011

In this issue

With friends like these, who needs enemies? To beat the cuts, workers need to act independently of the trade union laws... and it's already happening.

Dispatches from the frontlines: Three London education workers speak about cuts, organising and casualisation in the sector.

Victory for the cleaners: unofficial action by Senat]e House and Guildhall cleaners gets results in London.

Sparks fly: electricians direct action over pay cuts.

Plus: your basic rights at work, pensions, NHS privatisation, letters, international round up and much more.

Files

Joseph Kay

11 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This was out in October, just realised it wasn't put on libcom. Appropriately leads on a structural critique of the TUC...

Catalyst #29 - Newspaper of the Solidarity Federation

An issue of the newspaper of SolFed.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on March 8, 2012

In this issue

The great workfare scandal - thousands forced to do unpaid work for their benefits

Resisting, questioning, creating - 101 years of International Women's Day

Victory for the Sparks - Electricians beat back BESNA cuts to pay and conditions

Interview - John Foley, the man behind the 'RyanAir don't care' campaign

Plus: your basic rights at work, pensions 'sell out', letters, international round up and much more.

Files

catalyst29.pdf (5.66 MB)
IWDspread.pdf (6.59 MB)

The economy of making women care

Resisting, questioning, creating... the struggle continues!
Resisting, questioning, creating... the struggle continues!

A brief analysis of how capitalism systematically subjugates women, and therefore how women's emancipation is bound up with the struggle against capitalism.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on March 8, 2012

The supposed ‘solution’ to the economic crisis is premised on cutting costs. It is therefore important to highlight the role that women’s subordinate position in the economy plays, as this will allow - and is allowing - for many activities to continue on an unpaid basis.
History has already shown how women are used differently at different economic junctures.

Whereas the war economy of the 1920s and 1930s put women to work, it sacked them in the 1940s to give their posts to the soldiers coming home from the front. The ‘marriage bar’, that is, the prohibition of married women to enter certain better-qualified professions, which was in place in some industries until the 1960s, kept women in low paid jobs. According to Maria Angeles Durán, 2/3 of the total working hours today are unpaid caring-type of activities - done almost entirely by women.

In this process, men remain the rightful workers and economy managers whereas women’s involvement in the labour market is dependent on their caring-burdens and market needs. A 2007 research paper by Aguiar and Hurst shows that in industrialised countries full-time working women spend an average of 23 hours per week in unpaid housework and between 6 and 12 hours in unpaid childcare, this latter being between 2 to 4 times more than what men do.1 In the UK, this can be up to 60% of the total activities women do.2

According to the latest data on occupation by gender in the UK 69.4% of the cleaners, 81.5% of the social workers, and 87.7% of the nurses, are women. But women only make up 6.8% of engineering professionals.3 Women overall earn about £90 less per week than men. As such, women do the bulk of unpaid caring activities, they represent the biggest percentage of care-type jobs, and of the lower-paid professions.

Keeping care as an unpaid or poorly paid activity not only allows for huge savings to the economy, but also it creates an economy based on competition, the market and growth, rather than on need and affection. More importantly, these parameters allow “the economy” to be defined quite apart from many activities relevant to our lives, such as childcare. This tends to assign responsibilities and value through constructed social hierarchies, ultimately giving privileges and control to heterosexual white rich men.

Looking at the economy of care brings up that ‘caring’ is not so much something that women do because they are born to do so, but because of very precise and at times coercive economic measures. It is on these bases that our feminism needs not to aspire to the privileges men have but to attack and subvert the social hierarchies that sustain capitalism.

Taken from Catalyst #29

  • 1Aguiar, Mark and Erik Hurst. 2007. ‘‘Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades.’’ Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(3): 969–1006.
  • 2Office for National Statistics. 2006. The Time Use Survey, 2005. How We Spend our Time, London: HMSO. Table 4.4
  • 3Office for National Statistics. 2011. Emp16: All in Employment by status, occupation and sex. Quarter 2 (Apr - Jun). http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-215723