General strike conference and a lesson in the arrogance of trade union leaders

In September 2012, TUC Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for co-ordinated national action, up to and including a general strike.

As the first step towards putting this motion into effect, a conference took place in Liverpool on 26th January organised by Merseyside Association of Trades Union Councils. Tellingly, the conference received no funding at all from the North-West TUC.

Members of our SolFed local attended, with the aim of engaging with rank-and-file trade unionists and arguing in favour of working-class self-organisation and direct action against austerity. We distributed a leaflet which read:

Sparks fly: electricians' direct action over pay cuts

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.

Manchester Education Workers’ Network Report, June 30th Strike

After the last UCU pensions strike in March, several rank & file union members, upset at the lack of inter-union unity, set up the Manchester University Staff Against the Cuts group (MUSAC). The group has been meeting regularly and consists of members of Unite, Unison and UCU. Members of Manchester EWN are also involved.

It has been good to meet with people whose criticisms of the existing unions match our own in many ways. The group has held a weekly stall in the University, giving out leaflets in support of various anti-cut campaigns.

Solidarity with the fight for jobs in Moreton

Today, members of the Liverpool Solidarity Federation travelled to Moreton, to show solidarity with workers at the Burton's biscuits factory fighting to save their jobs.

A march and rally, organised by the Unite union, saw several hundred people assemble at Moreton Shore car park. The march took in much of the surrounding area, with lots of support and banter from local people, an march past the factory before returning to the starting point for a rally. SolFed members carried our banner on the march in a visible show of solidarity, before handing out copies of our freesheet, Catalyst.

Cleaning up on the tube

London tube cleaners have won crucial pay increases from cleaning companies, with their £5.50 an hour poverty wages being brought up to £7.45.

Cleaners on Metronet contracts were granted the ‘ London living wage’ in July through a wider initiative whilst those working for ISS (contracted by Tubelines) won a staggered pay rise in pre-strike negotiations in August.

With the 48hour RMT strike in June/July and the planned three day strike in August forcing the hand of ISS, the cleaners have demonstrated their strength and gained from it. However, their fight is far from over with the strike committee continuing to meet in pursuit of unmet demands - more holidays, better sick pay, a decent pension and an end to the scandal of ‘third party sackings’.

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap - Immigrant cleaners: the “hard-to-organise” are self-organising

Workers in contract cleaning face low wages, a lack of basic employment rights, bullying management and victimisation for union activities. However, especially among Latin Americans, self-organisation has sustained struggles against the un-scrupulous multinational companies who employ them, and against the immigration controls which are used to sack un-wanted workers and victimise union acti-vists. Those struggles highlight the inadequacy of the “organising model” of trades unionism promoted by the likes of Unite!

Fujitsu Attack on Pensions

The IT firm, Fujitsu Services, has announced it is closing its final salary pension scheme to existing members. It was closed to new joiners in 2000.

The union, Unite!, centred around the firm’s Manchester site, has condemned the plans. Peter Skyte of Unite! said:

Fujitsu Services is a highly profitable company and made profits of £177m in the last financial year. The company has yet to produce any proper justification for this latest attempt to raise profits by cutting pension benefits, and this action may hinder future bids for blue chip private sector outsourcing contracts.

Occupy and Defy: the Visteon workers’ struggle & their union

Over the spring, hundreds of workers at three car parts manufacturing plants across the UK were made redundant. In response, workers occupied the plants and, in doing so, demonstrated that any protection we might have from the ravages of this recession will come not from the generosity of employers, politicians or trade union bosses but from the action we take as rank and file workers.

In June 2000, Ford Motor Company outsourced production of some of its car parts to Visteon, an apparently independent company, but in reality one in which Ford retained a 60% holding. The relatively smooth changeover was negotiated on the promise that the ex-Ford – now Visteon – workers would remain on Ford terms and conditions, including pensions and redundancy packages.

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.

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.

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.”