Solidarity Magazine » Articles Fri, 01 Mar 2013 19:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Spontaneous Walk-out at Bridgewater Sorting office Thu, 26 Apr 2012 14:21:48 +0000 http://localhost:8888/?p=2669 Continue reading ]]> CWU members at Bridgwater Sorting Office held an unofficial and spontaneous walk-out on Thursday 8th March, to show their anger over the sacking of a colleague.

The three and a half hour walk-out was successful. Management have agreed to bring the sacked man’s appeal process forward, which increases his chances of reinstatement. There will be no victimisation of any of the workers who took industrial action, and a ballot will be held for official industrial action if their colleague is not re-instated.

From Bridgwater Trades Union Council

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RMT demands publication of secret “RMT File” Tue, 06 Mar 2012 10:34:34 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Rail union the RMT today demanded full disclosure of the secret “RMT FILE” held by blacklisting organisation the Consulting Association as evidence mounts of police and security services involvement in the targeting of union activists in the construction and railway industries.
To date, the Information Commissioner has only released construction industry files held by the Consulting Association.

However, those same files refer specifically to cross referencing to another “RMT FILE” which remains unpublished and which RMT says has been used by employers subscribing to the Consulting Association blacklisting services to wreck our members working lives in the railway industry.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

“The Information Commissioners Office knows that an “RMT FILE” exists in the Consulting Association records as it is cross referenced in information from the construction industry files that we have in our possession. It is a scandal that nearly three years after this original information came to light that we have still not received copies of the “RMT FILE.”

“Clearly, we have reason to believe that this blacklisting file would have identified RMT activists who will have suffered financial loss from this conspiracy to target known trade union activists purely on the basis of their trade union activity.

“This whole murky saga, and the collusion with the police and the security services, has clear parallels with the Leveson investigations and RMT demands full disclosure and will have no hesitation in pursuing legal action against those involved in this scandal.”

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Boxing day tube strike Fri, 30 Dec 2011 12:39:07 +0000 Continue reading ]]> By Frank Horn, ASLEF London Underground District Line

This dispute is not so much about the money basically as about the longstanding agreement we’ve had with London Underground that depots would be booked off for Boxing Day. There are four depots on the District Line, so once every 4 years we would get the day off. It’s the same on other lines.
It’s not as if they need the trains. Two years ago we had four trains at Wimbledon at 5am with one passenger on board. We would like to see Boxing Day working done by volunteers where we can. We have drivers that don’t celebrate Christmas or Boxing Day – they take other holiday days off.

The pay claim is because we need an incentive to work. We know they won’t agree to three times the usual pay for working on Boxing Day – we’re just setting the bar at a certain level. But it’s not true, as the papers make out, that the average driver could be on is £52,000 – that’s in 4 years and is the highest rate paid only to driver-instructors.

LUL has said it’s disgraceful that ASLEF balloted for a strike while we were still in negotiations, but as they well know there have been changes in the law on balloting which mean if we waited we wouldn’t be able to get agreement to strike before Boxing Day. They’re twisting our words, just taking one side of the argument.

It’s not so much about money. All they’re interested in is mileage – getting trains out. They want to run a Saturday service on Boxing Day when it used to be a Sunday service. But the argument you get in the papers about people wanting to shop in the Boxing Day sales is nonsense. Boxing Day sales aren’t a big deal – all the shops have sales right up to Christmas. When Boxing Day was a big shopping day, in fact, LUL ran a Sunday service – so why can’t they do that now?

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Solidarity with Locked out Meatworkers Down under Mon, 05 Dec 2011 13:11:10 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Waitrose [a part of the John Lewis group] trumpets it’s caring approach.  But they have as a supplier, ANZSCO/CMP, a company which has locked out over 100 of its workers for six weeks, because they won’t accept a 20% pay cut.

Amanda Chase , one of those locked out, has been in theU.K.recently talking to the Food & Drink sector of UNITE.  She says

So many people in Unite have invested in this dispute right from the top, General Secretary Len McCluskey to shop stewards(delegates) and grass roots workers. Its an honour and a privilege to have such comrades locally, ,nationally and internationally. We locked out workers know we represent the stance of unions in totality, past, present, and future, and we will stand strong.

The John Lewis Partnership  Corporate Social Responsibility 2011report says, “Continued commercial success requires a real commitment to doing business responsibly. For us, our commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not only driven by good economics, but also by the Partnership spirit and our sense of doing the ‘right thing’.”

Pressure from U K unionists has forced Waitrose, lest they appear completely hypocritical,  to ask ANZCO to go back to mediation and reach a settlement with locked out CMP Rangitikei workers.

New Zealand Council of Trade Union president Helen Kelly says ANZCO hasn’t followed up on Waitrose’s request.

We’ve come to expect all sorts of unreasonableness from ANZCO, but refusing to listen to Waitrose, its major CMP Rangitikei customer, takes this dispute to another level of madness,” she says. “Despite the locked out workers agreeing to sacrifice 10% of their income, the company continues to try and starve workers and their families into accepting up to 20% pay cuts, to undermine the union and to mislead the public about the company’s proposed cuts.

Mrs Kelly says Waitrose has a commitment to ethical standards in its supply chain which includes respecting workers rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.

Lockout threatens NZ meat brand in UK

“ANZCO and Chairman Sir Graeme Harrison are threatening the entire New Zealand meat brand in the United Kingdom by not resolving this dispute,” she says. “Unite, Britain’s largest union, will start to picket high profile Waitrose stores if ANZCO doesn’t start negotiating instead of dictating.

ANZCO foods locked out 111 workers from its CMP Rangitikei sheep processing plant on October 19.

Supporters of the locked out workers held their first national fundraising day today outside of McDonalds, a customer of ANZCO.

Pat Bolster
Wellington Trades Council
New Zealand.

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Royal Fleet Auxiliary vote for industrial action in pensions fight Mon, 21 Nov 2011 15:13:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> SHIPPING UNION RMT confirmed this morning that members on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary have voted by large margins for strike action and action short of a strike in the dispute over pensions.

In the ballot around 60% voted for strike action and 80% for action short of a strike.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary services the Royal Naval fleet around the world.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary services the Royal Navy in times of both war and peace. It is nothing short of a scandal that brave men and women who risk their lives to get supplies through to the ships in war zones around the world are facing an attack on their pensions by this Government to help bail out the bankers-led financial crisis.

Only this morning we learn that top bankers salaries have risen by 12% while the men and women out on the high seas in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are expected to stand back and watch their pensions that they have built up down the years take a battering.

RMT National Secretary Steve Todd said:

Our members at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary are angry about this attack on their pensions that would see them pay more, work longer and get less and that anger is reflected in this vote for strike action and action short of a strike.

We are calling upon the Government even at this late stage in the run up to the 30th November to think again and haul back from a position that would see loyal public servants like the RFA staff footing the bill for a crisis cooked up in the boardrooms and on the trading floors of the spivs and the speculators.

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RMT demands action from Boris Johnson as cleaners are sacked Mon, 21 Nov 2011 11:42:35 +0000 Continue reading ]]> TUBE UNION RMT has today written to London Mayor Boris Johnson after it emerged that tube cleaning contractors Initial are planning to sack staff in order to fund the costs of paying their workers the London Living Wage.

In their “Business Case” document, Initial say that as a cost saving measure brought on by “the recent increase in London Living Wage from £7.85 to £8.30” Initial are proposing to axe cleaners jobs to bridge the gap.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

Initial generates tens of millions of pounds in profits off the back of cleaners like those on the London Underground contract and it is outrageous that rather than just funding the London Living Wage out of those profits they are planning to sack staff to cover the cost.

Basically the company is holding a gun to the workers heads by telling them that one cleaners living wage is another cleaners job.

This scandalous plan rides roughshod over the whole principle of a London Living Wage and we are calling on Mayor Boris Johnson as Chair of Transport for London to pull in Initial and tell them to put a stop to this blatant attack on the people who do a hard and dirty job, often in appalling conditions, keeping our tube system clean.

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George Goodenough – GMB activist at Hinkley Point Thu, 13 Oct 2011 14:09:49 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Another interview that was too long to be included in its entirety in the print edition.

Interviewed by Dave Chapple, 12th August 2011


I’m an ex-soldier, and I spent eight years after I left the army in the security trade-the international ‘circuit.’ This is basically ex-servicemen working as bodyguards to international dignitaries, often billionaires from theGulf States. I wanted to come home, and during 2002/3 I took up a 12-month fixed term contract at ‘The Point.’

I went back on the circuit for another four years, but at the age of 40, married and keen to settle down, I went back to Hinkley Point as a security guard: I felt it offered me the best standard of living using the skills I’d acquired on the circuit. This was July 2007 and this time my contract was permanent.

I served in the first Gulf War, and I’m a member of the Gulf War Veterans and Families Association. I do suffer from Gulf War syndrome: my prime suspect is the anthrax jab which is the single most likely cause of the syndrome.

EDF is a huge company: it runs eight stations in Britain, and about twenty over inFrance.

At Hinkley Point there is a security group head, but the guard’s senior manager is the overall plant manager who can hire and fire us. The station director runs the site, supported by the plant manager and the operations manager. All these senior staff would have been engineer trained, unlike the finance or training managers. The whole question of managers and their status is difficult for an ex-squaddie like me, because I’ve never worked anywhere else: so the station director would be a lieutenant-colonel; plant and ops managers would be majors; other senior managers would be captains, and desk engineers sergeant-majors.

Managers might be personal contract holders, while engineers would tend to be on national pay scales. Engineers might be earning up to £75,000 basic at pay scale 44. National pay bands consist of platforms and pay points. There is no local or plant pay bargaining. The highest pay point a security guard can reach is twelve, but they go up to 44. So we are a long way down the food chain: those higher up earn a lot of money!

The station cleaning staff have come under several contractors since they were directly employed, they now come under Balfour-Beatty. I was an industrial cleaner during the ‘outage’-plant shutdown in 2006 and I was on £7 an hour basic. So cleaners are on less than us guards.

On site as a whole we have 45 GMB members. The majority of manual staff is in Unite, while Prospect have the managers and engineers. Security staff are in Unite or the GMB. Total workforce at both A and B stations must be over 1,000, with a 90% take up of trade union membership. There are also many contractors on both sites at any one time, especially at the Magnox de-commissioned station. Doosan-Babcock is a major contractor: they are the engineers, the riggers and the fitters who maintain the reactor on B Station.

‘Nuclear Security Technicians’

Hinkley Point security guards-our official title is ‘security technicians’-are direct employees of EDF Energy at B Station, except once every few shifts when we work on contract at the de-commissioned A Station. I can say that I work for a nationalised firm-a French one! EDF are good payers, and in my time in the nuclear industry pay hasn’t really been an issue.

I didn’t take a large drop in salary going to Hinkley Point, for the simple reason that uniformed security in the nuclear industry is one of the few to compete with the London-based private security firms. My P60 says that my salary last year was £31,000: £23,000 basic, £7,000 for shift allowances and a further sum for emergency scheme membership. Overtime is of course on top of that. I’ve been there for four years and one month. We work two days followed by two nights followed by five days off.  This means we owe the company 176 hours a year. EDF claim this back by four training days at eight hours a day: you can pay this back by taking hours off your annual leave, or, on a quarterly basis, working three extra twelve-hour shifts. The system is called ‘option hours’: it’s a bit like flexible working, and we are the only section in the only EDF power station to do this.

Hinkley has a core gate staff, including five or six women, which is supplemented by overtime: we never have agency or casual staff. This is because we have to be licensed by the Office of Nuclear Regulation: staff clearance can take a good six months. This is a clear collective bargaining strength. Apart from the radiological factor-you have to have an understanding of health physics-staff training isn’t that rigorous. We have to understand how radiation works, its dangers, and how we manage the risks to ourselves. When we go into a reactor there are many safety measures we have to observe. This sets us apart. We are not necessarily more intelligent than other security careers-five C passes at GCSE is the minimum-but nuclear security jobs are sought after: we have just recruited three new staff from interviewing two hundred, so, inevitably, the interviewers will tend to go for the better educated.

As a security guard I am pigeon-holed: we are not allowed to have brains. I will never come over their radar because I don’t fit their idea of an intelligent person. What drove me into trades unionism in the first place was that we were being treated as second-class citizens: overworked, misunderstood and undervalued and, yes, underpaid compared to other grades on site.

When we won our standby fight last year, we are now fully consulted on everything. There are still occasional problems with other staff: the other day we had abusive comments when one was stopped and searched, but higher management supported us when she complained.

There is a fairly intensive identification regime for getting people on site. Security guards work at the gatehouse, inside the plant and outdoors, with most time spent indoors. I’m an old hand and the old saying is that if you’re not bored then something’s gone wrong. I love patrolling and I’m never happier than when I’m out checking the external perimeter fence and getting some exercise.

The main security grumble is that we are always running short-staffed: we have four vacancies on shift at the moment, and two on days, because some people are willing to work all the overtime god sends so EDF keep some vacancies running. The planning, advertising, interviewing and vetting processes for new starters take so long that they never seem to catch up with themselves.

There is no preference given to ex-service personnel. In the recent past, when Hinkley B Station was downsizing after the CEGB was privatised, the gatehouse was filled with staff who were not security trained. Staff who were otherwise going to be made redundant, but knew the site and its people well. Since the Security Industry Authority was established, there has been a preference to recruit license holders.

Because of the prolonged entry process for new staff, EDF are very reluctant to let people go, so you have to do something serious to be sacked from Hinkley Point-falling foul of the drugs and alcohol policy for example. The last security guard to be sacked failed a random drugs test. Over at Magnox someone was sacked when he was caught re-handed nicking copper piping, even after a plant warning that management knew this was going on.

National and local negotiations

We have national pay bargaining across allUKnuclear sites through the EDF National Joint Council. Last year I was invited up to GMB HQ to have my input into how national pay talks which had broken down could succeed. Contractors like Doosan-Babcock andCapethe scaffolders run with the Blue Book agreement-this was the battlefield of the unofficial strikes in construction a year or so back. As we saw, these workers have tremendous power and they have used it. In the GMB we have one national shop stewards meeting a year with our national officer Mick Rix. I’m quite unusual as most of these stewards are from grades working in the plants. The GMB has several good experienced stewards from stations up north andScotland, who are more militant than us southern softies!

Peter Lawson is the NJC Unite Officer, and he meets up with the Prospect and GMB lead officers. However, there is no cross-union EDF convenors’ or stewards’ forum below this.

Geography might be a problem but this could be overcome. I already know GMB stewards at the other stations. Most of them are probably socialists but ‘Labour socialists.’ The best way forward would be an internet forum as we could use the computers on site to connect between all theUKplants:Hartlepool, Hunterston, Heysham 1and 2, Torness, Sizewell, Dungeness, and Hinkley Point. I think the GMB would support such a stewards’ forum, but I’m not sure if there would be official support for a joint forum with Unite: there are trade union politics there!

I don’t think there have been any collective bargaining integration between us and the French EDF nuclear workers yet: I did hear that they got a higher pay rise than us last year, so the need for connections is obvious. TheUKand French unions are talking, but only at the highest level. It would be great to have an international activists committee! As a French speaker, I could have a role to play. There is huge scope, although it would be very difficult to get parity across the two nations.

The three trade unions do work closely together on site. Prospect recruit solely among managers/desk engineers, engineers, IT technicians and planners. I did ask a few years ago, out of interest, whether they recruited-I used the official term for guards-‘security technicians.’ It didn’t fool them: I was told ‘We really don’t deal with your sort of people!’ They see themselves as a skilled white collar union and, perhaps, look down their noses at us. Unite as a general union compete directly with us, and when they had a big recruiting drive some time ago the GMB lost a lot of members to them. At Hinkley we have a LJC-Local Joint Council. The GMB has one seat on this: the other two unions have two seats each. The LJC has a chair and secretary, meets formally a few times a year and as and when required. Clive Morris is currently the GMB rep. I was a GMB rep for three years: though never on the LJC. I stood down for health reasons but I still represent members and of course I am still an activist.

If management try to change working practices, members in that section will have an ad-hoc meeting. The steward will then thrash it out with the company, and if there is agreement, which needs to be ratified at a LJC meeting and signed off by the trade union. If there is a major issue there will also be a ballot of the membership affected.

Standby and pay battles

In my time at Hinkley Point the security guards biggest problem was lack of recognition: we were definitely considered the country cousins, and not just by management. That all came to a head last year when they attempted to change our standby system. Every time we were on standby for 24 hours, eight of our option hours were written off. EDF said that was far too expensive, and offered us £24-a pounds a day! I argued that as the system had been there for two years it was now established custom and practice. They countered this by comparing us with outside security rates-then about £18,000. We replied: ‘You keep drumming into us that we are special, but do you want us to be nuclear professionals or just security professionals?’ We finally agreed that guards would have a £1,000 one-off payment, and the new standby would not be compulsory, and paid at £24 for 12 hours.

In 2009 there was a real pay battle: EDF offered all grades 1.7%, when we had had 5% the year before. The unions had a consultative ballot for strike action and had a 90% take up. Clive Morris and I ran the GMB ballot and we had a near 100% for a strike. Even Prospect had a ‘yes’ vote. As we were organising the actual strike ballot, EDF came back and offered us a flat 3%. The company were in negotiations with the government about the new generation ofUKplants, so a strike at that time would have been disastrous for them. As an aside, I have issues with this percentage thing, as within EDF it makes the ‘rich’ richer and the ‘poor’ poorer!

Politics and nuclear power workers

Older members talk about the good old days of the CEGB/Central Electricity Generating Board, the 1970’s, the pre-Thatcher period, when Hinkley workers would down tools on a regular basis if the shop steward said ‘All out.’ A few years ago, nuclear station contract workers up and down the country, including at Hinkley, downed tools to support the unofficial construction strikes, so it is not true that there are no nuclear industry stoppages in the present day.

I don’t think nuclear workers had a loyalty to Thatcher as such: certainly there was and is resentment that the nuclear industry was sold off. But the best of a bad job has resulted, with pay and conditions better than most workers have. There are workers who are dyed in the wool conservatives, and a previous GMB shop steward took up the role because he felt the Tories needed representation within the GMB as a Labour Party-affiliated trade union! Many if not most workers are apolitical: politics is not often discussed.

Hinkley Point workers know that they have that extra bargaining power and up to a point they are prepared to act on that to increase or protect their living standards. But a strike of directly employed nuclear workers is very unlikely: it’s not in EDF’s interest to back us into that corner. If the unions ever called EDF’s bluff and went out, I think there is an agreement that we continue to provide the bare minimum of safety cover.

I don’t actually think that this government is that pro-nuclear: yes they have agreed new stations, but only if they have no financial input. They can’t be overjoyed that they are dealing with a French nationalised company-Electricite deFrance- with no shareholders except one company, Centrica, with a minority shareholding.

I don’t hide my political views: my fellow workers all know that I’m a member of the Socialist Party. They indulge me when occasionally I get on my soapbox and go on about Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, but we do have discussions: I’ve had comments when I’ve used the word ‘comrade’ on the gatehouse union notice board!

There seems to be little overt racism at Hinkley Point, perhaps because the industry, the professional expertise, is so obviously international. There is however, cynicism that most of the ordinary jobs with the proposed C Station will not be local at all: if they are planning a contractors village like they had before, how many workers will be coming from their Bridgwater home?

A safe place to work?

Workers do die of brain tumours and leukaemia after they retire from Hinkley Point: whether this is higher than in other industries I really don’t know. Health and Safety in the nuclear industry is like OCD/obsessive compulsive disorder: it is hammered into you all the time. For example, when you walk in the plant, there is this great big sign: ‘What will you do for nuclear safety today?’ There is a different safety message every day and every week: today mine was fire safety. There is a site Joint H&S Committee, which Roger Stendella from Unite represents security guards on.

Yes, it’s good that management are so Health and Safety orientated, but to be cynical, health and safety incidents in nuclear power plants give massive publicity for the anti-nuclear campaigns. Therefore, the message goes, we have to be on guard all the time, if we wish to keep electricity being generated and if we wish to keep our jobs, and management their huge bonuses and their very comfortable lifestyles. So you can look at this from a humanistic view that they are looking after us, or a capitalist view that they are protecting their assets. Either way, they are fanatical about health and safety.

Three years ago there was a significant incident when there was a release of gas and seven workers had to be taken away for de-contamination. It was officially reported that none had ingested radiation. I believe that was true, as those guys ARE still out there working. Security guards think that from day to day their working environment IS safe.

As we’ve seen atFukushimaandChernobyl, nuclear safety is all or nothing: when it’s going right nuclear is the greenest possible power source. You should see the wildlife around our perimeter fence: the rabbits are practically tame because there is no one to shoot them. You can get really close to badgers and within ten metres of the deer: the place is teeming with wildlife because there is no human threat. But when it goes wrong, yes, it’s a massive threat to human life! Potentially you are working in a nightmare environment, but you feel that from day to day it is safe.

Nuclear and other workers

One thing that might prevent a Hinkley Point worker who promotes alternatives to nuclear power being condemned as a traitor is that EDF itself promotes alternative energy sources: for example, we had a road show from the EDF solar energy branch the other day, encouraging us to fit solar panels: and we are ‘Electricite de France’ not ‘Nuclear de France.’

I happen to have a great interest in the prospects for solar power in the Sahara desert andEgyptin particular. Two weeks ago we had one of those ‘happy-clappy’ worker participation sessions: the EDF leader asked us: ‘What one thing could we do that would make you really happy to work for EDF?’ She was surprised by my answer: ‘Follow me to an oasis inEgyptand enable solar power to be installed there.” Not an answer she expected from a security guard! The EDF community liaison officer there was so relieved: he was bricking himself that I was going to launch a militant attack on the company. I also said that as a socialist I had no problem working for EDF because it was nationalised.

The nuclear safety issue has been a great barrier to workers outside nuclear plants coming together to fight with us on general working-class issues. One way would be to have effective local branches that cover other workplaces. I also think the trade union movement could gain enormously if there was more encouragement from national unions for nuclear shop stewards to become delegates to local trades union councils. Pro and anti-nuclear trades unionists meeting and learning from each other. I don’t think our Prospect reps would be interested, but I’ve tried to get the Unite reps interested in becoming delegates to Bridgwater TUC.

If nuclear workers just find trades councils being dominated by anti-nuclear delegates, then that will alienate them back into isolation. That in turn will mean that to the detriment of many trades councils the largest local employer with the best pay and conditions will not be represented. Hinkley Point workers might see any local discussion about nuclear power not as a challenge to nuclear power but as a challenge to their livelihoods. That has to be faced. It is not the place of any trades unionist to try and lose another trade union member their job. This is where that defensiveness comes from. However, I do believe that trades councils should not shy away from properly arranged debate and discussion about nuclear power: as you know, as an ex-squaddie I’ve spoken to the Bridgwater Peace Group.

One last thing: the nuclear industry is still male-dominated, although Chloe, my step-daughter, is one of the first female de-commissioning mechanical engineers in the industry. She has got her HNC, has finished her apprenticeship fromBridgwaterCollegeand has her graduation ceremony in September. She’ll be earning more than I do soon!

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Interview with Carole Vallelly, Trades Council and GMB activist Thu, 13 Oct 2011 13:05:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Sadly there wasn’t enough room in the magazine to print the full interview, so it is available below.

Interview with Dave Chapple, Chippenham, August 9th 2011

1. The Wiltshire and Swindon General Branch GMB

I joined the GMB a three Tolpuddle festivals ago through a friend, who was working as an ‘accompanying rep.’ What she was doing really interested me: how a trade union really helped workers, standing up for those in small or unorganised workplaces who otherwise wouldn’t have had a voice. People like me! At the time I was working as a pub assistant manager in Corsham, Wiltshire, where I live.

Just before I joined the GMB I supported the Corsham protests against the election of a local BNP councillor. The youngster who organised it was a school friend of my daughter. Corsham is not the sort of place that protests: we’re very quiet! There were rumours of coach loads of BNP, rumours of street fighting, but loads of us went down to the demonstration. We were so angry that a fascist had been elected unopposed: no one had voted for him!

When I was younger my mum, my dad, my brother and my sister all worked at Westinghouse at Chippenham. When you joined Westinghouse you joined the TGWU-no question about it!

So I was aware of unions, but because I’ve been a single parent with four children I’ve done a lot of part-time jobs, been self-employed. I never joined a union myself because I associated them with the bigger industrial places-like Westinghouse. Of course now I’m in the GMB I know there are a lot of workers who are the only union members in their workplace.

My friend took me to a branch meeting. There were only eight members there but everyone as really friendly. This is really important, especially if you’re a woman in a male-dominated group. So now, whenever we have a new member come along I go over and talk to them and offer them a drink.

I wasn’t used to formal meetings, so there was terminology used that I didn’t understand. My first couple of meetings I didn’t say anything: quite unusual for me! Then the GMB sent me on a couple of training courses and I found my feet.

The GMB has school support staff; care home staff; working-class women who need representation. Southern Cross care home staff are in our branch. Now, I’m an accompanying rep as well as an activist in my Branch, Wiltshire and Swindon General GMB, which is 3,200 strong and growing.

The GMB in Wiltshire has many large workplaces that are very well organised: for example, Nicholas and Harris, a bakery inSalisburyor D and S Packaging in Devizes. Nicholas and Harris stewards just won a national TUC shop stewards award, and the publicity from that might have been the reason we are recruiting even more members there. These large firms are represented by stewards and sometimes ourSwindonfull time officers. So a steward would take the dismissal interview and an officer would take the appeal if a sacking resulted.

We have been supporting several workplaces who have requested strike ballots, and we are currently making sure our branch records are absolutely up to date and accurate, to prepare for a national public sector pensions ballot.

2. GMB campaigns: schools, pubs and hospitals

Personally, as a GMB branch activist-accompanying rep and training co-ordinator- I spend a lot of time representing people: at disciplinaries, redundancies, or grievances. I have undergone redundancy consultations in very stressful situations where are members are basically being bullied. One school in Chippenham, had 27 GMB support staff members who we being made redundant because of restructuring and it’s been a complete cock up! The head had given assurances that these staff would be paid until December 16th and did not have to attend: then an HR manager said they had to attend after the break of they would only get the statutory redundancy pay. I had to threaten to have every member occupy the school reception on the first day, demanding individual redundancy consultations, to get justice.

Quite often I find managers like head teachers actually breaking the law in how they are treating their staff. One member had a disability, and was blatantly turned down for a suitable job: I had to remind the head of the case law which stated that if you have a redundancy situation and you need to redeploy someone who is disabled, then you have to make every reasonable adjustment to positively discriminate and redeploy them first if at all possible: of course they hadn’t! We are still fighting this through our GMB solicitor.

In the last few weeks we’ve been having a recruitment drive at theGreatWesternHospitalinSwindon: all grades, from Carillion cleaners, porters to nurses. What has helped is our Branch president is a member there in the computer section. Most of the staff, believe it or not, aren’t in a union, although Unison and the RCN obviously have members. We thought about this campaign carefully. Even though the GMB is a recognised NHS trade union, we needed to get the GMB name linked locally  with this particular hospital, because there is a perception that we are not a hospital union. The campaign was simple: a stall in the reception area, with our leaflet about changes in the local NHS: the Great Western Trust has just taken over, and there is a lot of fear and uncertainty. Our stall also had GMB carrier bags and pens. There was also an offer on a GMB watch, and a free mug if you joined up another member: things like that. Many inquirers just wanted an assurance that the GMB’s Indemnity insurance cover was just as good as the RCN’s! (It is, provided you are not self-employed). It was very useful to us that we could offer local reps and officials in a locally-based office that could get to the hospital quickly. We had twenty members to start with; we signed up another twenty from the stall, and GMB forms are still coming in.

The GMB does our in house reps branch training days twice a year and get solicitors down to give talks on workplace law. Obviously we are in regular touch with all our stewards, but not enough of them come to Branch meetings, even though we circulate these around the county.

We take Union Learn very seriously. It really does give people so much confidence. They walk away empowered. They know what their rights are; they know the language and the jargon; they know how to talk to management. For example, at Nicholas and Harris they have some very good learning reps, they organised English Second Language courses. Staff became active in the union through this: now all the shop stewards as well as the majority of the workforce are Polish.

Health and Safety courses are also important to give reps a positive plan to just go in and tell their manager they are going to have a safety inspection, whether they like it or not.

3. Women and the Trades Unions

Through the White Horse Trades Council I’ve also become a delegate to the South West Regional TUC, its executive and women’s committees, and the national trades councils conference. I became the chair of the women’s committee a few months ago, and we produced a good leaflet for Tolpuddle, highlighting how women are under attack from this government. The sisters on this SW TUC Women’s committee bring along their own different strengths and we work effectively together. On Tolpuddle Sunday I MC’d in the marquee, introducing the bands. I hadn’t done it before, but it went well!

The South West TUC Women’s Committee, with GMB, Unite and Unison, put on a 2011 International Women’s Day event in Exeter which was brilliant: 80/90 women came, and there were some great speakers. The women’s committee were thinking about how to fund this, and I thought: ‘I’ll ask the GMB.’ So I e-mailed our regional secretary Richard Ascough and asked him for £2,000: he said OK! Later I asked him if that sort of request usually turned down, and Richard said: ‘No: it’s just no one has ever asked me before!’ We are having another day of workshops in November, but we don’t want to just preach to the converted, so the committee is looking at getting women’s input and issues into all the South West Regional TUC events. There is still under-representation: Some trades council shave no female delegates at all. I’ve frequently been on courses when I’ve been the only woman in the room. I went to a GMB meeting inPlymouthrecently, and out of thirty people in the room there were just two women. We are chip chip chipping away. Women are now just under 50% of the membership in the GMB, and a lot of that is just in the last couple of years. So, yes, I think women are improving their position in the trade union movement all the time.

4. White Horse (Wiltshire) Trades Council

At a GMB Branch meeting it was announced that there would be a meeting to set up a trades council in West Wiltshire and I volunteered to attend. This was October 2009. There were twenty-odd trades unionists that night in Trowbridge: it looked promising, so I volunteered to become secretary. My branch colleague Andy Newman said: “Go on! Go on! You’re MORE than capable!” My first trades council meeting, only a couple of months after I’d joined the GMB, and I was secretary of one!

I found the idea of activists from different unions, different workplaces in an area was brilliant: I still think it’s the way forward! Trades unions have been great in setting up anti-cuts campaigns, working with community groups, and, especially, mobilising support for the March 26th TUC demonstration.

White Horse (Wiltshire) Trades Council was a huge learning curve for me: I had to find out about and tailor-make our constitution and model rules; get a bank account; then contact all the local trade union branches; chase up affiliations and delegates. For a new trades union activist to join a trades council would have been unusual, but to become secretary of a brand new one was quite a challenge.

So far we’ve had affiliations and delegates from GMB, CWU, Unite, RMT, UCU, NUJ, POA, USDAW, and Unison. We’re working on the others!

There is lethargy with union branches affiliating to trades councils: it can be quite hard. Unfortunately, getting a branch officer just to put pen to paper is the tricky bit. People do get home at night and think to themselves: ‘Can I be bothered to go out to a meeting?’ Also, it can be the same people who do everything, so if they get overstretched they can burn out.

Full-time union officials need to be more aware of the work trades councils do.

Working-class history has been just as important to us in our first two years as our current struggles. The first thing we did was organise a wreath-laying ceremony at the tomb of the Trowbridge working-class martyr Thomas Helliker. Thomas was a 19 year-old at the time of the machine breaking in the early 19th Century. There was a fire at Littleton Mill where he worked. Although witnesses stated that he was elsewhere at the time of the arson attack, Thomas refused to name names of those who were there, and for this he was hanged at Salisbury Jail on his 19th birthday. His comrades carried his coffin all the way back acrossSalisbury plain and he was buried in Trowbridge churchyard.

Many people in Corsham and Trowbridge itself didn’t know about Thomas Helliker, so when we got the town mayor to attend the wreath ceremony with us trades unionists and local historians, thousands of people read and heard about it for the first time in the local media.

White Horse trades council followed this up with a 2010 day conference on Wiltshire working class history. We are now raising the money to publish the proceedings as a book. (See advert, ed.)

We organised a successful Village Pump folk music evening at the Lamb Inn, Trowbridge. I think socialising, getting to know one another, trades unionists building personal relationships as well as discussions at formal meetings is so important. We’ve run coaches for March 26thLondon demo, and to Tolpuddle: filling a coach is enjoyable hard work! We’ve shown solidarity to local workers on strike, though, sometimes, the local full time official forgets to inform the trades council of their dispute.

We lobbied County Hall at Trowbridge against public sector cuts: sometimes only a small lobby can get a great deal of good publicity if it’s well organised, and give some encouragement to local council trades unionists who are too demoralised or plain scared to attend themselves.

My own branch is an example of the difference real support for a trades council can make: whether it is a large donation for our banner, or a subsidy for a coach to a demonstration, the GMB in Wiltshire, and our Branch Secretary Andy Newman in particular, has been brilliant. We affiliate and send delegates not only to White Horse but also Swindon andSalisburytrades councils. I’m still trying to reel in the more reluctant union branches: bringing them over to the dark side. In the GMB nationally, there is not a lot of discussion about trades councils, although some of our Remploy stewards are also trades council activists. What would help are articles in GMB magazines, and an annual national meeting for GMB trades council activists.

The idea of ‘community’ is important: not only the community of people who live and work around you, but also the local community of trades unionists. Links between trades councils and good community groups: for example, we had a speaker come to us from the Trowbridge Storehouse Food Bank. They put food on tables through social referrals: so if you have lost your job, with no benefits coming through for a couple of months, and you have no way of feeding your family; someone who has gone sick from work with no sick pay: they step in. That speaker took away donations from our trades council and my GMB Branch.

The media have been very helpful: they are starved of news around here! For example when we brought our new banner to the Justice for All protest, with the local Citizens Advice Bureau, the TV, radio and press all came. This protest brought to people’s notice the Government’s ideological drive to ensure justice will only be available to people with money.

Events like these mean that trades unionism is no longer underground. On March 26th this year I did radio interviews in the morning and evening.

The key to a successful trades council isn’t so much the money but getting enough people involved: people who are comfortable with protests!

5. What we have to do

When I first joined the GMB I was distrustful of all politicians, and now I found myself a member of the Labour Party. What has persuaded me is that I have never hated a government like I’ve hated this one: Lib-Dems in particular. A lot of trades unionists I know did join the Labour Party after the last election: the thinking is, ‘The Labour Party should be the party that represents working class people: it’s not! I know it sounds silly, but if enough people like me join it, perhaps it could be dragged back to its working class roots. I still don’t like politicians!

There is still a problem of the perception of trades unionism back in our own communities. Corsham is not a hot-bed of socialism and I don’t know a single other woman trades unionist in the town! I do have to travel!

One Corsham woman said to be, when I told her I was a trades unionist: ‘Oooh, that sounds harsh!’ As if I was a kind of terrorist or something!

I think we are winning. I’ve said how the GMB is increasing its membership. With everything that’s happening, people are going to realise that they do need the unions behind them. I think we have a great opportunity to recruit. People are fearful: because of the economic climate, employers are trying to drive down terms and conditions: ‘If you don’t like it, you know where the door is.’

A lot of young people, perhaps a majority, just don’t know what a trade union is. We need to get back into schools and colleges and explain what we are about. When they get a job, at least they’ll know we’re here!

I think the working class needs a political party to represent them; there are also a lot of industries that really do need organisation: I’ve worked in a lot of pubs and you don’t have contracts, you work too many hours, you don’t have holidays you should or get paid for bank holidays. But if we recruit these workers, you have to look after them afterwards! If we can use this economic opportunity to recruit, the more noises we make about the rights of the working classes, the more other people are going to see unionisation as necessary.

It needs to go back to the days when my parents, my brother and sister worked at Westinghouse, and you joined the union: no question about it!

We need to normalise trades unionism.

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London nurse wins landmark equal pay case Sat, 30 Jul 2011 17:28:08 +0000 Continue reading ]]> UNISON helped a nurse win a landmark equal pay claim against City & Hackney Teaching Primary Care Trust.

The Trust failed to justify Gloria Emmanuel’s pay being lower than her male comparator’s, a maintenance supervisor.

The first test* case in the equal pay claims against NHS Trusts – of whether employers can justify paying women less than men under the old Whitley Council pay system – will have implications for thousands of claims being pursued.

Bronwyn McKenna, Assistant General Secretary of UNISON, said:

“This is a landmark case that should send out a clear signal to employers that it is not right to pay women less than men. It is a real shame that the Trust wasted so much time and taxpayers’ money fighting a claim it could not justify. Women are bearing the brunt of the Government cuts, as well as facing a rising cost of living. It is unfair to force women to take home less than a man for doing the equivalent job. This victory will have implications for thousands more NHS women workers’ cases.”

Gloria Emmanuel said:

“This has been a tough fight, but I am pleased that the Trust has finally seen sense.
It is not right for bosses to force women to take home less money than male colleagues doing equivalent jobs.

Hopefully, the years of fighting have been worth it and my case will pave the way for other workers to get fair pay.”

Caroline Underhill, of Thompsons Solicitors, who represented Mrs Emmanuel, said:

“This is a significant legal landmark in the NHS cases, which we hope will now mean that a more cost effective resolution through settlement can be achieved.”

The Trust had admitted that Mrs Emmanuel’s work was of equal value to that of a maintenance supervisor, as the jobs were equal under the NHS job evaluation scheme, Agenda for Change. The Trust also confirmed that the maintenance supervisor had a more favourable term when it came to the weekend working rate.

As the majority of NHS nurses are women and the majority of craft maintenance workers are men, a connection between the pay variation and gender could not be avoided.

City and Hackney Teaching PCT argued that there had been separate bargaining processes for the pay and other contract terms of the claimant and other nurses, and those of her comparator and other maintenance supervisors.

The Trust also claimed that the variation in the rate of basic pay was needed to maintain a connection between the pay of craft maintenance workers, including maintenance supervisors, in the NHS and in the external market.

However, the Tribunal found that the Trust had not shown the pay difference to be justified by market forces, or separate processes for pay bargaining.


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Doctors to launch public campaign against proposed NHS reforms Fri, 22 Jul 2011 16:52:04 +0000 Continue reading ]]> BMA votes to reject idea that changes to health and social care bill will reduce the risk of privatisation of the health service

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, Guardian Wednesday 20 July 2011

The government faces a summer of discontent over its NHS reforms after doctors voted to launch a public campaign against the health bill, and one of the UK’s internet campaign groups raised £10,000 in three hours after emailing members to pay for expert legal advice over the bill.

The British Medical Association’s council, the executive committee of the union, voted to pass a series of motions critical of the government’s bill – and crucially accepted that doctors “start a public campaign to call for the withdrawal of the health and social care bill”.

Put forward by NHS consultants Clive Peedell and Jacky Davis, the motion will ratchet up the pressure on ministers over the summer break who had hoped that the bill’s third reading in early September would be an easy ride.

The BMA, which represents 140,000 doctors, voted to “reject the idea that the government’s proposed changes to the bill will significantly reduce the risk of further marketisation and privatisation of the NHS” and “agreed that the government is misleading the public by repeatedly stating that there will be ‘no privatisation of the NHS’”.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “Whilst the BMA recognises there have been some changes following the listening pause, there is widespread feeling that the proposed legislation is hopelessly complex, and it really would be better if the bill were withdrawn.”

His colleague on the council Dr Peedell said that the health bill was “just a privatisation bill with a third of it devoted to [producing] an economic regulated market”.

To underline that the government’s attempts to dissipate professional and public anger – such as the legislative pause – have had little effect, internet campaigners at 38 Degrees, which has 850,000 members in the UK, claimed to have raised cash at the rate of £56 a minute via an email marketing campaign on Wednesday.

The money will be used to get lawyers to comb through the 180 amendments produced by the government when it re-submitted the bill for its second reading earlier this month.

“38 Degrees members want to cut through the tangled web of amendments which make up Andrew Lansley‘s re-written NHS plans. So we’re chipping in to hire legal experts to go through them with a fine tooth comb,” said the organisation’s executive director, David Babbs. “We’re concerned that real threats to our NHS may still lurk behind Lansley and [David] Cameron’s warm words. Are we on a slippery slope to the NHS being broken up by EU competition laws? Why does Lansley seem to be watering down his legal duty to provide a national health service?”

Labour’s John Healey pounced on the news of opposition to the bill. “Despite David Cameron‘s promises, his health bill changes are a bureaucratic mess, not a proper plan for improving patient care. Now people are realising that despite the ‘pause’, the wasteful and unnecessary reorganisation is going ahead and the long-term Tory plans to break up the NHS remain intact.”

The Department of Health said: “We will never privatise the NHS. The BMA’s position is disappointing because previously the doctors’ union said there was much in our response to the listening exercise that addressed their concerns, and that many of the principles outlined reflected changes they had called for.

The independent NHS Future Forum confirmed there is widespread support for the principles of our plans to modernise the NHS, including handing more control to doctors, nurses and frontline professionals.

Patients will never have to pay for NHS care. The bill has changed substantially since the BMA first voted to oppose government policy. Our plans have been greatly strengthened in order to improve care for patients and safeguard the future of the NHS.”

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