sparks show the way

15 06 2012

This month’s editorial is written by Adam Ford and compares the workers that are winning, and those who are not

The wildly different trajectories of two recent industrial disputes provides us with an almost perfect lesson in both how they can be won and how they are generally lost. In both cases, the workers were members of the Unite union, as are around three million others in the UK, and in both cases the industry concerned was what might be called a ‘blue collar’ one. But one won, and is winning, while another lost badly. Read the rest of this entry »





london busworkers: olympic 500 – phoney war or wages battle?

9 06 2012

First published in Solidarity Forever, paper of London Regional Committee IWW(IWGB), which comprises the London Busworkers Branch (IU IU530)

The union Unite has raised the profile of the campaign to secure a £500 bonus payment for the 28,000 bus workers in London. Leaflets, posters and even executive members have appeared in some garages. The demand for the bonus is just. The increased revenue the bus companies will make during the Olympics will more than cover the cost of a bonus in recognition of the even more stress and demands placed on bus workers. However, this issue raises far wider questions. The campaign has placed on the agenda the more important issue of the steady deterioration of bus workers wages and working conditions. Read the rest of this entry »





make or break moment for ‘sparks’

30 10 2011

Adam Ford writes on the latest turn in the electricians’ struggle

The grassroots ‘Sparks’ movement of electricians continues to organise direct actions and protests across the country, but it is running out of time before construction companies impose huge pay cuts. Meanwhile, the same Unite bureaucracy whose negotiator Bernard McAulay labelled the Sparks “cancerous” is seeking to gain control of the struggle, the better to strangle it. The rank-and-file workers need to develop a resistance strategy, and fast.


The dispute began back in August, when electricians angry about the proposed new Building Engineering Services National Agreement (BESNA) set up their own rank-and-file campaign committee, with the intention of pressurising Unite tops into adopting a more combative stance than usual. Non-unionised workers were urged to join Unite, with the idea being that they would be able to vote for official strike action. Since then, the national and local committees have organised various wildcat actions, such as brief site ‘occupations’ and road blockages. This momentum has built week on week. Read the rest of this entry »





proposed electricians’ pay cut sparks resistance

13 09 2011

Adam Ford writes on the electricians’ struggle and rank-and-file organising

Electricians angry about proposed swingeing cuts to their wages are taking an innovative course of action in an attempt to resist the employers’ attacks. The success or failure of their initiative may serve as a useful pointer for other workers defending their livelihoods.


Eight major construction employers (Bailey, Balfour Beatty, T. Clarke, Crown House, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall) want to tear up the “archaic” Joint Industry Board, Pay and Conditions agreement. If they get their way, separate pay rates will be imposed for metalworkers (£10.50 per hour), wiring (£12), and terminating (£14). At the moment, all electricians across the board should receive £16.25. For metalworkers, this would represent a pay cut of 35%, at a time when inflation is running at around 5%. Deskilling and its corollary – increased workplace ‘accidents’ – would inevitably follow. Read the rest of this entry »





UBS worker detained by UK borders agency

20 04 2010

by Chris Kane

We have received shocking news that Lancaster Cleaning Services, a contractor for Union Bank of Switzerland, has once again colluded with the UK Borders Agency against cleaners. On this occasion Lancaster, having taken over the contract at UBS, has provided the Borders Agency with information on one of their workers who had just left their employment.  Acting on this information the worker’s home was raided and he is being held at an as yet unknown location.

The only crime this worker has committed is coming to this country and getting a job!  This is not first time Lancaster and cleaning companies have utilised the Borders Agency to attack migrant workers and attempt to intimidate others from organising to improve their working conditions. Deportations have taken place at SOAS and Willis specifically against union organised workers. UNITE activist Alberto Durango was arrested at the behest of Lancaster Cleaning company. This is however the first time it has been used by Lancaster’s in connection with the contract at UBS contract. Read the rest of this entry »





BA strike: against the race to the bottom

26 03 2010

by Gregor Gall
Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Hertfordshire

The BA dispute in shaping up to be the key union battle of 2010, being on a par with strikes in the engineering construction industry and Royal Mail last year in terms of their significance for the wider labour movement. This is maybe a little odd in that a relatively small number of workers are involved compared to those in the engineering construction industry and Royal Mail. This is a dispute about accommodating to or resisting the ‘race to the bottom’ under the neo-liberalism.

That said the dispute with BA as a employer and organisation has a significance way beyond the number of staff employed – the profile of the dispute is based on BA still being seen as the national flag carrier despite privatisation and the union being able to benefit from exerting leverage because travel cannot be physically offshored and strike action has an immediate and demonstrable impact upon the business’ operations. Read the rest of this entry »





no surprises as rat boards sinking ship

19 03 2010

by Chris Ford

There is a long history of British trade union leaders becoming Members of Parliament. This has often represented the next step by individuals whose primary concern is the advancement of a cause very dear to their hearts – their own self-interest.

In some cases however there are those who have genuinely sought to take the workers’ struggle in the industrial front into the political arena: individuals with principle who have sought to maintain a loyalty and commitment to the labour movement, such as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn. The coming general election should see a new recruit from union ranks – Jack Dromey, the Deputy General Secretary of UNITE. Read the rest of this entry »





why does unite employ ISS at its HQ?

17 03 2010

A number of migrant cleaners employed by cowboy cleaning contractor ISS in the City of London have approached The Commune, concerned about the fact that their own union UNITE has its offices cleaned by… ISS.

Well known for terrible conditions and sacking workers who tried to organise on the London Underground and elsewhere, ISS was also complicit in the immigration raid and deportation of SOAS campus cleaners last June.

One such cleaner in the City wrote to UNITE asking why they employ ISS, and received this remarkable response… Read the rest of this entry »





video of 5th march demo at UBS

9 03 2010

The latest demo in solidarity with cleaners in the employ of Lancaster at Swiss bank UBS in the City of London took place on 5th March. The cleaners are facing cuts in working hours and shop steward Alberto Durango has been sacked, and the demo demanded the maintenance of existing conditions as well as Alberto’s reinstatement.

There will be an international day of action on Friday 19th with protests already planned in the USA, Sweden and Switzerland as well as around the UK. More details shortly – and come to the Cleaners’ Defence Committee organising meeting on the evening of Monday 15th to help the campaign (email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com for venue details). Read the rest of this entry »





demo at ubs in the city of london, friday 5th

4 03 2010

The next demonstration in solidarity with cleaners working for contractor Lancaster at Swiss bank UBS will take place from 1pm on Friday 5th March outside the bank’s 100 Liverpool Street office, in London. See below for a video of the previous protest, which attracted over 70 people.

We are demanding a reversal of planned cuts in cleaners’ working hours, as well as the reinstatement of Alberto Durango who was sacked by Lancaster because of his organising work. Read the rest of this entry »





solidarity with UBS cleaners: demo 5th march

22 02 2010

The next demonstration in solidarity with cleaners working for contractor Lancaster at Swiss bank UBS will take place from 1pm on Friday 5th March outside the bank’s 100 Liverpool Street office, in London. See below for a video of the previous protest, which attracted over 70 people.

We are demanding a reversal of planned cuts in cleaners’ working hours, as well as the reinstatement of Alberto Durango who was sacked by Lancaster because of his organising work. Read the rest of this entry »





public sector unions face turbulent times

21 02 2010

by David Huckerby

According to research by the Independent newspaper, 20,000 council workers throughout England, Scotland and Wales face redundancy as forward planning for drastic government cuts take effect. Whatever the outcome of the general election the public sector will face austerity job cuts, cuts in services and attacks on terms and conditions.

Sheffield Council is one of local authorities identified where jobs are threatened. The director of Sheffield Homes, the council’s housing service has raised the spectre of at least forty job cuts in the financial year 2010/11 with more to follow. Over two hundred jobs have been lost in housing in the last few years. A recruitment freeze has been in place for some time. The council is the largest employer in the city so local unemployment is rising. Read the rest of this entry »





british airways staff voting again on strike action

19 02 2010

Today came the news that the Unite union has lost its High Court action to try and overturn British Airways’ attacks on staff. Yet after BA’s court injunction stopping a Christmas strike, a new ballot for action continues, as Gregor Gall reports.

Unite, and its cabin crew branch, BASSA, are currently locked in a truly titanic battle with BA. Unite is reballoting for strike action, with the result due on 22nd February.

The litany of what BA has engaged in to break the cabin crew’s will to resist has got longer and longer. Since the New Year, this has included recruiting strike-breakers from existing employees, threatening to end benefits of strikers and encouraging the establishment of a yellow union, the Professional Cabin Crew Council. Read the rest of this entry »





protest at UBS: defending the right to organise

13 02 2010

by David Broder

On Friday 12th February over seventy people braved the cold to join a protest outside Swiss bank UBS’s City of London headquarters in solidarity with cleaner activist Alberto Durango, victimised by contractor Lancaster for his organising work (see here for his article on the situation).

Chants of “the workers united will never be defeated” and “Lancaster, shame on you” rang out through the cloisters of that cathedral of capital 100 Liverpool Street, despite the City police’s best efforts to keep us off the privatised pavement. Speeches from Alberto Durango, Chris Ford, UNITE general secretary candidate Jerry Hicks and representatives of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Bloomsbury Living Wage Campaign and Campaign Against Immigration Controls complemented a lively protest. Read the rest of this entry »








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