The trade unions have worked hard over the last twenty years to shed their cloth cap image. Notions of class struggle, with the unions as the means of organising that struggle, have been dropped as unbefitting the modern era. The focal point of today’s movement is no longer the workplace but the union head or regional offices. Housed in modern buildings and staffed by professionals, able to offer the best possible service to managers and workers alike, these offices stand as the physical embodiment of all that is ‘best’ about 21st century trade unions.
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 Senate 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.
This autumn, or spring in the southern hemisphere, Chile has been witnessing a series of student-led protests which have seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets. The movement has also included student occupations, and linked up with striking workers. The movement began by demanding free education up to university level, as much of Chile’s education sector is privately run for profit, excluding many. But it has grown to include striking miners and environmental protests, fuelled by the economic crisis and united in anger against the right-wing government.
450 workers at the Visteon Cadiz Electronica factory are facing the scrapheap. The local section of the CNT union is fighting against the closure of the plant. Other reformist unions inside the plant are engaged in a pantomime struggle, focusing not on saving jobs but simply negotiating over redundancy plans with the bosses. The closure of the plant comes as no surprise: already in 2009, there was a temporary forced adjustment plan which affected almost the entire workforce for six months, and skilled workers were moved to other facilities of the multinational, preparing the ground to continue producing the same car components elsewhere. This follows a pattern which is now well known.
In recent months cleaners at Guildhall in the city of London, and Senate House, University of London have gone on strike and held protests over unpaid wages, working conditions and victimisation.
Earlier this year the ‘Big 8’ major construction employers announced plans to tear up an industry agreement on pay, grading and seniority which would result in pay cuts of up to 35%. Workers, not trusting the Unite union to act in their interests, organised themselves into ‘Sparks’, an independent rank-and-file electricians’ group run by a committee elected from their ranks. Their scepticism towards the trade union structures appeared to be vindicated when Unite official Bernard McAulay described Sparks as “cancerous” in a leaked email.
Time is running out for the NHS, after the government’s reform bill passed the House of Lords first reading in October. The plans are strongly opposed by NHS workers, including doctors and nurses. The proposed law will replace Primary Care Trusts with commissioning bodies, opening the way for wholesale privatisation.
Chris, a library worker at Queen Mary Uni
Claire, a public sector English teacher in Deptford
Adam, a casual TEFL teacher in New Cross
2011 has seen the popularisation of the NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) term as a social category for young people. Perhaps 2012 will see a new term join it, that of the PEP (Professional, Educated and Precarious). For the last year or so, I’ve been trying my luck as an English as a Foreign Language teacher (or TEFL) in London. I’m a young, precarious university graduate, lost in a generation-wide swamp of casualisation; flitting between one McJob and another (often simultaneously), absent-mindedly muttering about going abroad or changing career. We all see TEFL as a ‘stopgap’, a means of paying the rent while you prepare for your dream job of acting, writing, academia, etc. ‘Who cares? I’m outta here soon,’ can constantly be heard echoing around my school’s narrow corridors.
In 2009, the Labour Government launched its ‘Transforming Community Services’ policy for public healthcare. PCT boards were instructed to evaluate their provider services and consider a variety of models for future service delivery. One model much favoured by the current coalition Government is social enterprise, defined as ‘businesses established to address a social or environmental need’.
Throughout the current pensions dispute, the government has attempted to divide workers by claiming that public sector workers receive far better pensions when compared to those working in the private sector. This is certainly true. But what is never explained is just why private sector pensions are so much worse. This is not surprising given that the vast majority of private sector pension schemes amount to little more than a license for the financial sector to make shed loads of money.
Catalyst is the quarterly freesheet of the Solidarity Federation. If you want to get hold of a copy, get in touch with your nearest SolFed local, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to distribute Catalyst, please get in touch with the Catalyst collective.