Welcome to Union News giving you reports from the trade union and labour movement in the UK. Reporting is by the Solidarity union news team and music is by Tim Bragg.
RMT Union Chief Warns of “Great Betrayal” as Ticket Office Closures Looms
Mick Lynch, the RMT union chief, has expressed concern about plans to close nearly every station ticket office in England. Travel Focus and London TravelWatch are set to present their viewpoints on this matter by October 31. Lynch highlighted that around 750,000 passengers responded to the consultation, with 98% opposing the closures. He urged watchdogs and ministers to heed passengers’ concerns and abandon job-cut plans for the sake of passenger advice, accessibility, and safety.
RMT Accuses Trainline App of Prioritizing Profit Over Affordable Train Fares
The RMT union has accused the Trainline ticketing app of prioritizing profit over offering the cheapest train fares for journeys. The app is expected to generate £200 million from British ticket sales this year and has expressed support for government plans to close ticket offices, which the union views as a profit-driven approach. RMT’s general secretary, Mick Lynch, criticizes private companies in the rail industry for profiting while the government advocates for ticket office closures. The union believes that a portion of Trainline’s revenue could be better used to properly fund the railways instead of supporting cost-cutting measures associated with ticket office closures. The Trainline app defends its approach, claiming that its search rankings are based on departure times, fastest journeys with minimal changes, and affordability. The app charges a 5% commission on ticket sales, and its CEO’s remuneration increased nearly 9% in 2023. A Trainline spokesman asserts that the app balances price and convenience when suggesting journeys to customers, and all retailers receive the same flat commission rate for online ticket sales within the industry.
Firefighter Leaders Demand Restoration of Fire Service Funding to 2010 Levels
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is urging the government to restore fire and rescue service funding to 2010 levels in order to better address increasing floods and disasters. The FBU, affiliated with the Labour Party, calls for a reversal of 13 years of Tory austerity, which has led to the closure of fire stations, reduction in appliances, and a 20% cut in firefighter jobs. The FBU recently reported a situation in which delayed response due to cost-cutting measures resulted in the loss of homes. The FBU is set to launch a firefighters’ manifesto outlining their vision for the future of fire and rescue services. General Secretary Matt Wrack stressed the need for Labour’s shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, to restore funding to prevent communities from being “failed by another generation of politicians.” Wrack also emphasized the importance of addressing the damage caused by austerity and the urgent need to improve response times and firefighter resources. He called for funding restoration to be a priority in Labour’s first term in office, as signalled by recent by-election results.
Second Cost of Living Payment 2023/24
The government is helping a little with the cost of living for 2023/24. The Cost of Living payment is £900 paid in three instalments across the year: First payment of £301 was paid during Spring 2023 Second instalment of £300 will be paid during Autumn 2023 Third instalment of £299 will be paid by Spring 2024 The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced the dates for the second instalment of £300. This amount will be paid to households entitled to certain benefits during qualifying periods.
Most qualified people will be paid between 31 October and 19 November 2023. Payments will be made automatically.
and finally, UK Government’s Plan for Minimum Service Levels in Schools Sparks Union Criticism
The UK government is poised to implement minimum service levels (MSLs) in schools and colleges, a move criticized by education unions as an attack on the democratic freedoms of school leaders and teachers. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has invited union leaders to discuss the MSL proposals voluntarily, but she has made it clear that the government will utilize powers granted through the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act if no voluntary agreement is reached. This would trigger a consultation involving various MSL models for education, allowing input from parents, teachers, and other stakeholders.
Pat Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity union, voiced his concerns, saying, “The introduction of Minimum Service Levels is a worrying development that threatens the fundamental right to strike. It is essential that democratic freedoms are upheld in any regulations governing MSLs. The government must prioritize constructive dialogue and engagement with unions to address the root causes of industrial action.”
The proposed measures have drawn strong opposition from education unions, who argue that MSLs infringe on the right to strike. The government’s history of dealing with issues related to education, such as pay, workload, and recruitment and retention, has raised concerns among unions. The unions contend that a focus on improving working conditions and addressing longstanding issues in education is crucial.
Welcome to Union News, your weekly podcast of reports from the Trade Union and labour movement in the UK. In this week’s edition: Junior Doctors Set to Launch Major Strikes, Challenging Tories and Hospital Bosses in Pay Battle, Successful Edinburgh Meeting Calls for an End to the War in Ukraine, 20,000 Rail Workers to Strike in July Amid Pay Dispute with Train Operators, Xplore Dundee bus workers resume strike action over rejected pay offer, Amazon workers in Coventry set to strike for three days during Prime week, warns GMB, North-West University Support Staff Escalate Strikes Demanding Fair Pay, and finally, Sun Editorial shows need for a pro-union Counter Media. Music is by Tim Bragg.
Junior Doctors escalate strikes
Junior doctors are preparing for a major block of strikes, aiming to challenge the government and hospital administrators. The upcoming five-day strike, scheduled for July 13, will be the longest single walkout in NHS history. The British Medical Association (BMA) has called for fair pay, demanding a 35 percent rise to bring salaries back to 2008 levels. The announcement coincided with the closing of a strike ballot by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). If the RCN members vote in favor of striking, there may be joint action with the BMA. The BMA highlights the government’s lack of commitment to resolving the dispute, with no effort made to reopen negotiations. The ongoing NHS pay battle seeks to address the workforce crisis, with millions on waiting lists for treatment and thousands of unfilled doctor positions. The escalation of the pay campaign is crucial, and the support of all trade unionists on hospital picket lines is essential. The BMA is currently balloting hospital consultants, and their strike is planned for July 20 and 21. While simultaneous strikes by junior doctors and consultants could pose a significant challenge to the government, the BMA has ruled out such action at this time. However, united NHS strikes have the potential to force the government to address the pay issue.
Successful Edinburgh Meeting Calls for an End to the War in Ukraine
On Saturday 24th of June a rally was held next to the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh with the object stated as addressing: “The recklessness of British policy on Ukraine is a threat to us all and to world peace. Send out a strong message and reaffirm our democratic right to assembly and free speech: End this war!”
In glorious summer sunshine the crowd heard speeches from, amongst others, Brian Gerrish of the UK Column, Lauren Wilson of the Workers Party of Britain and Peter Ford, former ambassador to Bahrain and Syria.
20,000 Rail Workers to Strike in July Amid Pay Dispute with Train Operators
Approximately 20,000 rail workers are set to go on strike in July as part of a nationwide rail dispute. The strike action comes after train operators rejected a new pay offer, backed by the Tories who support the privatised rail firms. Members of the RMT union working across 14 train operating companies will walk out on July 20, 22, and 29. RMT general secretary Mick Lynch emphasized that the strike mandate was renewed by an overwhelming majority, and the union will continue its campaign until a satisfactory agreement is reached on pay, working conditions, and job security.
The latest pay offer from the Rail Delivery Group, representing the bosses, is a mere 5 percent pay increase for the 2022-23 period, significantly below the inflation rate. Additionally, the union would have to accept company-by-company negotiations for a major restructuring of job roles and conditions before a pay rise for 2023-24 is considered. The fragmented talks and proposed changes by the rail companies, such as a single flexible station grade and closed ticket offices, have sparked concerns among union leaders. Despite some leaders possibly viewing the 5 percent offer as acceptable without the conditions attached, it is regarded as inadequate and should be rejected.
While the new strikes are welcomed, it is evident that achieving victory will require a higher level of action. The upcoming anti-union laws that the Tories plan to pass in parliament pose a threat, allowing for minimum service levels during strikes and potential repercussions for non-compliance. Rail workers will likely be among the early targets. In the negotiations, unions should demand a firm commitment from employers to refrain from utilizing these laws under any circumstances. The Scottish government has already agreed to this condition, raising the question of why rail bosses have not followed suit. Any employer resorting to these laws must be met with mass defiance and non-compliance.
In a separate development, RMT members working as ticket inspectors on Arriva Rail London (London Overground) have commenced voting on whether to strike. The vote stems from a collective grievance that has not been adequately addressed, with the employer failing to adhere to the proper procedures outlined in the collective bargaining agreement. The ballot will run until July 11.
Xplore Dundee bus workers resume strike action over rejected pay offer
Bus workers employed by Xplore Dundee went back on strike this weekend after rejecting the latest pay proposal. Members of Unite, the union representing the workers, had previously walked out in a heated dispute concerning pay, terms, and conditions at the city’s privately-owned bus operator, which is part of the McGills group. The workers were dissatisfied with a below-inflation pay increase of 7 percent, ongoing restrictions on sick pay, and the accumulation of hundreds of days in outstanding annual leave owed by the company.
The employer, known for its anti-trade union stance, further provoked workers by displaying pictures of the city’s shuttered Timex factory on noticeboards during the strike ballot. This was seen as a veiled threat, which became explicit during negotiations when the company hinted at folding the business and terminating employees to be rehired. The workers had temporarily suspended their 12-week strike to consider a new offer, but according to Unite representative Dougie Maguire, the proposed terms failed to meet their needs, particularly amidst the current cost-of-living crisis.
Maguire emphasized that for a resolution to the dispute, Xplore Dundee must present an offer that aligns with the expectations and demands of the workers.
Amazon workers in Coventry set to strike for three days during Prime week, warns GMB
The GMB union issued a warning today that the upcoming three-day pay strikes at Amazon’s Coventry warehouse will have a significant impact on one of the online retail giant’s busiest weeks of the year. The walkouts, scheduled for July 11, 12, and 13, coincide with the company’s annual Prime week event, known for offering substantial discounts on popular products to drive sales.
Nearly 900 workers in the West Midlands are expected to participate in the ongoing dispute, marking the first time that British-based Amazon staff have taken strike action. The conflict, initiated in January following a meagre 50p hourly wage increase, has already resulted in 19 days of strikes.
Rachel Fagan, senior organiser at GMB, emphasized the staggering sales figures generated during Prime week, which can reach up to £2 billion. In light of this, she criticized the company for denying low-paid workers a wage that enables them to meet their financial needs. The message from GMB members to Amazon is clear: human beings cannot be undervalued and underpaid.
North-West University Support Staff Escalate Strikes Demanding Fair Pay
Support staff at universities in north-west England are intensifying their strike action in protest of their pay. Employees such as cleaners, IT technicians, administrators, and library staff at Manchester Metropolitan University will walk out today and tomorrow, adding to the six days of strikes that began last week. They will also strike on July 5, 6, and 7. Additionally, support staff at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Hope University took action on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
These workers, who are members of the public-sector union Unison, are demanding fairer compensation for their vital roles in ensuring a positive university experience for students. Unison’s North West regional organiser, Kate Doyle, criticized the generous executive pay and bonuses enjoyed by senior leaders in higher education while support staff have faced years of pay cuts in real terms. Doyle called on the universities to reconsider their inadequate pay offer and improve wages. The workers have already rejected a 5 to 8 percent pay rise.
and finally, Sun Editorial shows need for a pro-union Counter Media
The need for a pro-worker counter media arises from several reasons that stem from the shortcomings and biases present in mainstream media. This is especially evident in the editorial you mentioned from The Sun newspaper, which highlights the importance of alternative sources of information that prioritize the interests and well-being of workers. Here are some key reasons why a pro-worker counter media is necessary:
Challenging biased narratives: Mainstream media outlets often have corporate interests or political affiliations that can lead to biased reporting. As a result, they may prioritize the perspectives and agendas of the elite or powerful, neglecting the concerns and struggles of the working class. A pro-worker counter media aims to challenge these biased narratives and provide a platform for alternative viewpoints.
Amplifying worker voices: Workers’ perspectives and experiences are crucial in understanding socio-economic issues, labor rights, and workplace conditions. However, these voices are often marginalized or overshadowed in mainstream media. Pro-worker media outlets prioritize amplifying the voices of workers, allowing them to share their stories, concerns, and demands, thereby fostering a more inclusive and democratic media landscape.
Raising awareness of labor rights: Many workers face challenges such as exploitation, unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and inadequate labour protections. Mainstream media may not adequately cover these issues or provide in-depth analysis of labour rights violations. A pro-worker counter media strives to educate the public about labour rights, workplace abuses, and the need for social and economic justice.
Holding power to account: Media plays a crucial role in holding power accountable, including government institutions, corporations, and other influential entities. However, when media outlets have vested interests tied to these powerful entities, their ability to provide objective scrutiny may be compromised. Pro-worker media outlets are less likely to be influenced by these interests, allowing them to provide a more independent and critical perspective on power dynamics and abuses.
Fostering solidarity and organizing efforts: Pro-worker counter media can serve as a platform for fostering solidarity among workers, unions, and labour movements. By highlighting success stories, organizing efforts, and collective actions, these media outlets can inspire and mobilize workers, contributing to a stronger labour movement and improved working conditions.
Examples like the Morning Star, Workers magazine, and the Union News podcast that you mentioned are important alternatives that prioritize the interests of workers and provide a counter-narrative to the dominant mainstream media. Supporting such outlets can help create a more balanced media landscape, ensure the representation of workers’ concerns, and contribute to a fairer society.
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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.