Union News (18 June 2023)

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Welcome to Union News, the weekly podcast from the labour and trade union movement in the UK. In this edition: Unmasking the Cover-Up: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Fights for Accountability, The People Stand with Nurses: Public Support Surges as Strike Action Continues, Rising Cost of Living Hits Hard: Public Service Workers Struggle to Make Ends Meet, Rising Cost of Living Hits Hard: Public Service Workers Struggle to Make Ends Meet, Train Drivers Take a Stand: Strikes Loom as Working Agreements Come Under Fire, Strike for Change: Junior Doctors Demand Decisive Action on Pay, and finally, Pay Battle Escalates: Teachers in England Set for July Strikes. Writing is by the Solidarity team and music is by Tim Bragg.

Unmasking the Cover-Up: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign Fights for Accountability

The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) renewed its calls for an inquiry into a severe state attack on organized workers by the Conservative government at a march this week. The campaign seeks to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. The campaigners argue that an inquiry would expose the government’s lies and cover-ups regarding their role in managing the pit closure program, orchestrating militaristic police operations during the miners’ strike in the 1980s, and manipulating the courts and media to create a false narrative that demonized and criminalized workers fighting for their jobs and communities.

The incident in question took place on June 18, 1984, when police confronted striking miners at the Orgreave Coking Plant in South Yorkshire. The police had previously impeded pickets and engaged in acts of violence. On that day, they corralled the miners into a field and initiated a violent charge with mounted and riot police, leading to what has been referred to as the “Battle of Orgreave.” However, eyewitnesses and campaigners contend that it was an assault rather than a battle, with the police being the only armed side.

The OTJC argues that an inquiry is essential due to several factors, including pardons granted by the Scottish government to Scottish miners arrested during the strike, ongoing resentment in former mining communities, the withholding of strike-related documents until 2066, and growing public support for the campaign. They believe that a comprehensive and authoritative review is in the public interest to uncover the truth about what transpired and why the workers were treated so harshly.

Despite the evidence compiled and submitted, the Tory government has refused to grant pardons or initiate an inquiry into the events at Orgreave. The OTJC emphasizes that no one in government or the police has been held accountable for their actions. They view the government’s attempts to bury these issues as a serious threat to democracy. Some campaigners suspect that the government fears an Orgreave inquiry would expose scandals, corruption, and attempts to suppress dissent. They argue that the right to protest and strike should not be subject to the state’s discretion but should be inherent rights in a democratic society.

The People Stand with Nurses: Public Support Surges as Strike Action Continues

Support for striking nurses has surged even higher than when the industrial action began six months ago, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). In an RCN poll, it was revealed that 62 percent of the public now backs the strikes, marking the highest level of support for any profession engaged in strike action. A majority of supporters expressed strong support for nurses. Additionally, more than eight in 10 respondents (82 percent) expressed their backing for a pay increase for nurses.

The RCN is conducting a second ballot among its 300,000 members as per government regulations, which require reballoting after a six-month period of industrial action. If nurses vote to continue their campaign, the strike will persist until December of this year, with voting concluding on June 23.

RCN General Secretary and Chief Executive Pat Cullen acknowledged the immense public support received by nursing staff during this time. The presence of patients on picket lines, some coming directly from their hospital beds, provided a significant morale boost for the nurses concerned about leaving patients unattended. Cullen emphasized that the unwavering public support should draw attention in Downing Street, calling on Rishi Sunak to recognize the significance of this backing. Cullen stressed the importance of doing right by nurses, as it ultimately benefits patients as well. Cullen noted that support for the nursing strikes cuts across party lines, and urged Sunak to regain public support this summer. The upcoming 75th anniversary of the NHS is expected to elevate this issue further in the context of elections.

Rising Cost of Living Hits Hard: Public Service Workers Struggle to Make Ends Meet

During a debate on the rising cost of living, Unison delegates highlighted the difficult choices faced by public service workers, including having to sacrifice meals to provide for their children. The cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affects already disadvantaged workers, including women, black, disabled, LGBT, and young members.

Yvonne Green from the Greater London region expressed concern over members struggling to meet their financial obligations and being priced out of living near their workplaces due to escalating housing costs. She emphasized the importance of supporting and holding employers accountable to address these issues.

Tina Roach from the Northern region highlighted the insecurity faced by many individuals, with some members even relying on charitable donations as current benefits prove inadequate. She lamented that instead of making progress in eradicating poverty, the country is witnessing the opposite trend.

The conference resolved to advocate for a well-funded public sector that prioritizes its workers and to raise awareness of the mounting financial pressures faced by public service workers.

Train Drivers Take a Stand: Strikes Loom as Working Agreements Come Under Fire

Train drivers from the union Aslef have initiated two new disputes against private rail operators to protect their working agreements. Avanti West Coast is being accused of attacking the workers’ sick pay agreement, leading to a vote in favour of strike action. The drivers will stage a 24-hour walkout on Sunday, July 2. In a separate dispute, drivers at London North Eastern Railways (LNER) will enforce an overtime ban starting from Saturday, July 1. These conflicts add to Aslef’s ongoing national dispute over pay.

Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, expressed regret that their members had to resort to such actions but emphasized that they would not tolerate violations of their agreed terms and conditions by the train operating companies. Whelan stated that they have been actively seeking resolutions to these disputes for several months, but unless the operators honor their agreements, further action will be necessary.

Strike for Change: Junior Doctors Demand Decisive Action on Pay

Junior doctors in England, following their 72-hour walkout, are being encouraged to escalate their strikes to demand proper negotiations and a substantial pay offer. Tens of thousands of doctors, supported by the BMA union, took part in a march from Tavistock Square to Parliament Square last week, calling for fair pay and the preservation of the NHS. The government’s current offer of a mere 5 percent pay increase has been deemed inadequate, leading to calls for more decisive action. Junior doctors express concerns about the strain on waiting lists and the shortage of staff, emphasizing the importance of unity and continued strikes. They are also considering collaborating with other unions, such as the RCN nurses’ union, to strengthen their cause. The ultimate goal is to bring about meaningful negotiations for a significant pay offer and rejuvenate the fight to protect the NHS.

And finally, Pay Battle Escalates: Teachers in England Set for July Strikes

Teachers in England, represented by the National Education Union (NEU), are planning to strike over pay in July. The strikes are scheduled for two dates, 5th and 7th July, and are likely to result in the closure of many schools, either fully or partially. The NEU considers strike action as a last resort and is calling for renewed negotiations with the government. The Department for Education has expressed concerns that further strikes would negatively impact student learning.

The NEU has previously organized five national and three regional strike days since February, making it the largest education union in the UK. The most recent strike on 2nd May affected a significant number of schools, with less than half fully operational.

The joint general secretaries of the NEU, Dr. Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, accuse Education Secretary Gillian Keegan of abandoning teachers in England. They demand that Keegan engage in negotiations, as their previous appeals have been disregarded. Bousted and Courtney emphasize that Keegan possesses the authority to prevent the strikes.

State school teachers in England received a 5% pay increase for the 2022-23 academic year. The government also proposed a one-time cash payment of £1,000, which was forfeited when negotiations failed. The unions argue that the offer should be higher to account for inflation, and they insist that any pay rise should be funded by additional government funds rather than schools’ existing budgets.

The government has offered a 4.3% pay rise for most teachers in the 2023-24 academic year, with starting salaries reaching £30,000. The Department for Education regards this offer as fair and reasonable, noting that schools will receive an additional £2.3 billion over the next two years. It claims that, on average across England, the offer is fully funded, although individual schools will be affected differently.

Negotiations stalled when all four unions rejected the government’s offer, arguing that most schools would need to make cuts elsewhere to accommodate it. The unions are urging the government to disclose the recommendations of the independent pay review body, which advises on appropriate pay rises for teachers in the coming year.

Picture credits

Cops with riot shields: West Midlands Police from West Midlands, United Kingdom – Day 150 – West Midlands Police – Handsworth riots (1985), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84332454
Teacher image 14995841 from Pixabay

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