Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Middlesex University UNISON votes to Strike!

Middlesex University UNISON votes to Strike!

Middlesex University UNISON Branch members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of Industrial action in the face of compulsory redundancies at the University.

UNISON members at Middlesex University will now join their UCU colleagues in a day of co-ordinated industrial action on Tuesday 4th October.

UNISON members have stood firm in the face of a rolling programme of restructures, losing colleagues to "voluntary" redundancies and the stress and uncertainty of their jobs being deleted, having to apply for other posts, redeployment pools and compulsory redundancy. Those left face increased workloads, stress, potential future outsourcing and changes to their working patterns.

UNISON members have stood united and said loud and clear

Enough is Enough

UNISON believes that these severe and drastic cuts represent a serious risk to the University, cutting too fast and too deep; potentially damaging key areas of the University business. Middlesex University appears to be adopting a "more with less" policy without adequately explaining how already overstretched staff will continue to provide the "student experience" that the University relies on in their marketing.

UNISON members at Middlesex University will take industrial action not because it is an end in itself. We will take this action as a statement of intent. UNISON will continue to defend our jobs and student services at Middlesex University.

Send messages of support to:



Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hands off ALL our pensions!

Last week the Higher Education Service Group Exec (HE SGE) had an emergency meeting on Friday to reaffirm our position on Pensions and support the call for a national ballot to Protect our Pensions. In a two-hour briefing with all those SGEs in the LGPS we then broke off into our separate Service Groups to agree to move to a national ballot (Health are meeting today, apparently, to discuss the NHS scheme).

After passing an enabling motion unanimously, (the text of which will be circulated soon), we went on to discuss how to win a huge yes vote.

One big question for Higher Ed branches is what do those branches who aren't in the LGPS do? And what about the Scottish branches? Those in SAUL aren't in dispute, and some branches have a few members eligible for the USS scheme which UCU just re-balloted their members over (and got a 77% yes vote).

If you're not in one of the 60-odd HEI's that are going to ballot, then get in touch with your local, regional HE reps/ FTO about how your branch can get involved in the 'fight of our lives'. We need to be as creative as possible to find ways to go all out together on 30th November - so your ideas will be welcome.

Some branches with a small number of USS members might well try to ballot over those changes, others might just join rallies on 30th if not actually go on strike that day. We also recommend asking management of HEIs not to deduct strike pay (LondonMet HR officers didn't actually laugh out loud when I put this to them on Monday) - and it might also be worth asking your employer in advance what they will do if your members refuse to cross UCU picket lines on 30th November if they're out over TPS or USS.

I also pointed out that when the ballot comes from the Electoral Reform Services (ERS) it would be better if the envelope had UNISON's logo on it, (not just 'ERS' : who are they?!). I know in our branch people just throw these letters away thinking they're junk mail... We ended up putting this post with a photo of the envelope up online to let people know (via email) what to look out for which is a bit ridiculous ... (hence photo, top).

Considering my recent post on virtual organising - I had raised this at the D&O committee too - this probably needs to be overcome in the longer term.

Anyway, here's the speech from our Dave, which I doubt anyone has missed, but just in case you were on Mars last week and need to catch up:

'Hands off our pensions!'

"Today, as general secretary of UNISON, I give formal notice to 9,000 employers that we are balloting for action," declared Dave Prentis when he opened the TUC debate on pensions this morning.

"And in moving to industrial action, I commit UNISON to work with our sister unions the GMB and UNITE."

He described government plans for public service pensions as "an unprecedented attack on ordinary working people – an audacious and devious means to pay for the greed of others."

See the full report here: http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7213

Plymouth UNISON branch re-recognised: *LIKES*

Excellent news that Plymouth branch has been re-recognized following a massive campaign of solidarity which lead to hundreds of messages of support.

I'm not the biggest Twitter fan but this was impossible to avoid at the time - the first I'd heard about their de-recognition was via the inspirational Barnet UNISON Branch (who are BIG Tweeters).

There is a long running debate on how best to use new(ish) communications and organising techniques using this new-fanlged inter-webnet thingy.

I think one of the things to note about this campaign was the level of support Plymouth Branch were able to get via social media (they had over 1,121 'Likes' on their FaceBook page - last time I checked) which raised spirits and emboldened the activists involved.

I spoke briefly with a couple of their comrades in Tower Hamlets when we'd successfully prevented the fascist EDL from coming to East London. When I took this photo (above) they asked me to upload it onto my blog/ Facebook and call for support. Thankfully there is no need for support for recognition as that is now won.

Aside from the obvious danger this episode poses for our union - as others who've been banging on about it since before I was even a UNISON member have pointed out - there are surely lessons to be learned about their successful internet campaign too.

At a Development and Organisation (D&O) committee last week (a Sub-Committee of the NEC - try and keep up) we discussed - among other things - the 'virtual branches' project. It's clear some branches aren't really convinced of the need for a local branch website and it doesn't work for everybody.

As I said at the time, though - and followers of this blog will know - I'm a big advocate of internet organizing and very proud of our branch website which has about 3-4 people updating it (none of whom are 'techies') in two different languages, costing very little to set up.

Certainly, as the students' movement has shown last year, virtual organizing and communications are vital in our fast-moving world.

I'm sure the NEC's Young Members officer would agree that if we're going to continue to recruit and engage with the next generation it's crucial we don't allow branches to let this slip. (I noticed also that Young Members recruitment figures fell a bit last month compared to others - could that be a reflection of our focus on pensions?)

And by the way, if you're a Branch Sec and you don't have an email address yet, expect a letter from the union instructing you to get one, 'Sharpish'... as the last NDC changed the rules so that you must now have one (though did we set a deadline on WHEN you must get one by?). Mind you, if you don't have an email, how on earth did you find this blog? Let me know via carrier pigeon.

I look forward to our union winning more campaigns with the help of well orchestrated 'virtual' networks. But as they used to say on 'rise-up' lists:

'Get off the internet - I'll see you in the streets!'

Support Middlesex UNISON Branch

London Met UNISON Branch sent a message of support to our comrades in Middlesex when we heard about their dispute. We understand their ballot for industrial action is still ongoing.

This could turn out to be a key dispute for us and might well be the 'thin end of the wedge' for further job cuts in our sector, so it's important that the entire Higher Education Service Group rallies round to show them support in their fight against massive job cuts.

Keep an eye out for their ballot results and any planned industrial action on their website here: http://mdxbranchlines.blogspot.com/

Send messages of support to:


Our Branch sent this message:

“London Met UNISON notes with concern the proposal by the management of Middlesex University to make 200 compulsory redundancies.

“This is both a betrayal of trust and a slap in the face for hard working members of our union.

“We gather you aim to resist these attacks and for this we salute your stance.

“Having fought even greater numbers of redundancy proposals in 2009 ourselves, by which we saved 200 jobs and being currently in dispute over a succession of new rolling compulsory redundancies amounting to close to 200 (so far) over the last year, we extend our solidarity to Middlesex UNISON and Middlesex UCU in your own fight.

“London Met UNISON pledge to support you in whatever way we can, and encourage your members to stand up with your Branch Committee and fight for every job.

“We have shown in our branch that union action can really make a difference. Nothing is set in stone if unions unite and fight together.”

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Unofficial action at Senate House - Cleaners stand firm

Cleaners working at Senate House but employed by Balfour Beatty took unofficial action this morning in protest at the employer's failure to pay their wages. (They won! See update at bottom**)

The UNISON members complained of widespread, systematic missing overtime payments, and a failure to honour the University's commitment to pay the Living Wage.

Their grievances had been going on for months, they were tired of waiting for false promises - as some of them had not been paid properly for up to eight months, and were having severe problems because of this, including some workers facing eviction - and so yesterday they decided to take action.

Management tried to intimidate them with threats of dismissal if they walked out but they stood up to them. At 7.45am today they walked off the job and a solidarity protest had been arranged quicker than you can say 'Wildcat'.

Local UNISON activists from the Bloomsbury Fightback! group and staff and students from the surrounding colleges had organised solidarity from the wider community to stand shoulder to shoulder alongside them.

It meant a lot for the workers to see local UNISON reps on their (unofficial) picket lines with them and they were emboldened by the support from across their union. They had invited me as their NEC (HE) rep and other local reps to show support for their action so at 8am I told them*:

"Too often we in the union movement are frightened from taking unofficial action against an employer by the threat of Thatcher's anti-union laws.

"Yet employers like Balfour Beatty are quite willing to break the law themselves by failing to pay wages or other contractual obligations.

"It is not the cleaners who have taken unofficial action today who should be worried, it is Balfour Beatty and Senate House who will be frightened by your actions.

"Your action is inspirational, and deserves our full support. I pledge to promote your struggle, to call on the union to back you, and to do everything in my hands to ensure you win this fight."

As I left the protest, the employer was conducting negotiations with them via their elected reps, and the unionised cleaners were insisting not only on their back-pay but also the London Living Wage (now £8.30) to be paid immediately.

Currently they're on £6.15ph, when workers in Birkbeck and SOAS doing similar jobs have just got a pay rise to £8.30 per hour, thanks to the successful Living Wage campaigns that the workers and the UNISON branches led with support from students, staff, and the other unions.

They're also demanding a commitment to no victimisations, of course. The employer had asked them to commit not to walking off the job again if they received their pay - and they quite rightly refused.

Good for them - us trade unionists can so easily be put off by talk of what is and isn't allowed under the law, but the key to winning should be about what is right and what are people prepared to stand up for.

On those grounds, their campaign has every chance of success, and the story of how to win the Living Wage will have a new chapter written. The cleaners of Senate House have acted inspirationally and we must not only support them unconditionally, but also learn the lessons of their bold action. Watch this space...

-- this is from a quick google search for some background --





* Of course I was speaking this morning in a personal capacity

Wildcat strike and 3.5hr demo ends with written approval being given by Balfour Beatty admin that:
* all 3 months' stolen back-pay will be given by Friday
* no victimisations
* each case will be looked at individually with our own interpreters at every meeting
* supervisor who worked there for 10 yrs, suspended yesterday for gathering support for the strike, has been given pay til end of Nov though she will stop work today to care for her sick husband
See also:

Middlesex University UNISON Branch Ballots for Industrial Action.

Middlesex University UNISON Branch – Press Release

Send your messages of support to:

Middlesex University
The Burroughs
020 8411 6678



Middlesex University UNISON Branch Ballots for Industrial Action.

Middlesex University UNISON Branch has given notice to Middlesex University of their intention to ballot for strike action over the threat of 200 compulsory redundancies at the University. The use of compulsory redundancies will potentially bring the total number of job losses at the University to 300, and represents a loss of 15% of the University workforce.
The fight over job losses at Middlesex University represents a fight against the impact of national government spending cuts in the Higher Education sector, as well as the way they are being implemented at the University.

Since the announcement of compulsory redundancies at Middlesex on the 9th June, UNISON has sought to negotiate with the University to avoid recourse to compulsory redundancies. We have questioned the University over their use of outside consultants and outsourcing companies (£2.5 million) failed business ventures in India (Noida) and the University estates strategy.

Middlesex University in its financial statements has claimed that staff costs to income remains “one of the lowest in the sector” yet it still believes it can cut further posts and retain the same level of service and education to its students. UNISON believes that these severe and drastic cuts represent a serious risk to the University, cutting too fast and too deep, damaging key areas of the University business.

The University prides itself on recent gains made in delivering the “Student Experience”: National Student Survey 2010, Guardian League Table 2011 and Complete University Guide 2012. Middlesex University UNISON Branch Secretary : Paul Howell states: “These gains have been delivered by University staff, now threatened with being made compulsory redundant. The increased workloads and stress created for the staff left behind will do little to improve this reputation, the University has used up what little good will it has.”

UNISON members at Middlesex have shown time and again at Branch Annual and Extraordinary General Meetings that they will not take these attacks on their jobs lying down. UNISON members have indicated overwhelmingly in a consultative ballot that they are prepared to back up this intention with industrial action.

This is action UNISON believes the Students Union and Students at large will support, and UNISON will continue to work with the Students Union in this campaign. Branch Secretary: Paul Howell states “Students recognise that these cuts are an attack on their education, the University still hasn’t adequately answered how they intend to mitigate the impact of these job losses on the student experience”

Middlesex UNISON does not take such action lightly, we have in conjunction with the academic and lecturers union (UCU) sought to resolve our dispute to avoid the need for Compulsory Redundancies and without recourse to industrial action. Even at this late stage UNISON would welcome a meeting with representatives from the University management to discuss a meaningful redundancy avoidance policy and an improved voluntary redundancy package to allow staff wishing to leave the University the opportunity to do so.

The UNISON ballot will open on the 2nd September and closes on the 23rd September. Subsequent action will be co-ordinated with UCU. Middlesex University UNISON Branch Committee.