Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Southbank University fighting for the Living Wage

One great way to boost support for a cause is a bit of bullying and intimidation from management.

London South Bank University UNISON held a demo last week for the Living Wage, and called for support from the wider movement, for the World day for Decent Work, 7th October. The emails, press releases and Facebook-Event invites went round as normal and their petition - you can still sign it - went online.

Then the private cleaning contractor 'Interserve' responded by threatening the cleaners with disciplinary if they attended the demo, and even the University management threatened UNISON, claiming they had no right to protest at the university entrance over the Living Wage.

That's when support increased from a 'maybe attending' to a 'definitely attending' for many local activists. SOAS, Birckbeck, London Met University UNISON branches, (of course!), and also Lambeth Local Government, Southwark Save our Services, Southbank UCU plus student and community activists all turned out to show solidarity.

Somewhere between 70-100 people turned out for the lunchtime rally - trade union activists really don't like being told by employers we can't go on a demo... The threats to the cleaners, though, worked. Unless you've got really strong organisation and the confidence to defy management en masse - as they did at Senate House in September - then it's too risky for activists to stand up and be counted, easily picked off for victimisation.

Nevertheless, it was a strong display of support for their cause, and it's looking like Southbank should become the 14th London Higher Ed Institution to become a Living Wage employer.

As we know at London Met however, the Living Wage alone is not enough. Winning dignity at work means unionisation, it means organising the rank and file membership and mobilising, training new activists to look after themselves, to stand up to employers who are not used to having to deal with trade unionists. It means demanding - and negotiating around - sick pay, holidays, overtime pay, proper breaks, time off for activists, and ultimately decent pensions too. And it means not accepting a 'promise' to pay the Living Wage some time in the distant future, too.

We're slowly getting there at London Met - our 'quick win' means the organising at a basic level still continues. Those who aren't interested in winning dignity beyond a living wage at work - who just want to put a logo on the employers' website, pat them on the back each year and walk away - can be helpful but only at the early stages of a campaign, in my view.

The hard work of organising for the longer term is left to us. That's why London Met have passed a motion which we hope to bring to HE conference this year called the 'Living Wage is not enough' - and we hope to liaise with other London HE branches at the Seminar in Liverpool, to share experiences, ideas and discuss ways to develop our position.

If your branch or HEI is mentioned in this motion - or if you are thinking about running a Living Wage campaign - please get in touch.

As I said at the rally last Friday:

"We're in the middle of a ballot for strike action to defend our pensions - for what could be the largest public sector strikes in over a generation - but we continue to fight against job cuts, against the pay freeze, and for the Living Wage."

Those without pensions to protect don't want to see their union turning their back on them right now. Other battles continue.

It's a winner - on every level. We win a pay rise for the poorest workers - when most of our members in HE haven't seen a pay rise since 2008. We gain members and new activists to reinvigorate our union. And even employers get to paint themselves in a good light.

Congratulations to LSBU branch for a well organised demo and for making a bit of a splash - and in particular activist Jonathan Buckner who spoke well at the rally (see first photo) - and to the Hidden Workforce for their sterling support (and fantastic placards).

And lastly, well done to VC Martin Earwicker (who is paid £3,581 per week), for helping to build support for our cause by trying to bully and intimidate us. As you can see - it had the opposite effect.

Don't forget to sign their petition.

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