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Report from the SERTUC Regional Council meeting, October 2015

27 October 2015

Report by Executive Committee member Steve Leggett of the meeting held in Congress House, London, on Saturday 17th October 2015.

The President, Tony Lennon, opened the meeting and welcomed everyone, and then a minutes silence was observed for Charlie Pottins and Faith Matizack who had sadly passed away recently.  Tony then spoke of the Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the TUC and how he was privileged to be there and to hear it and that he was impressed and inspired with what he had to say.  He then read the papers the following day and noticed how the majority of them had reported that his speech was an incoherent ramblings of a left wing loony!  He added that in his short time as Labour leader Jeremy has attended more picket lines the previous leaders had in years before and that we all need to support him.

Tony further commented on the bias of the right wing media, the Tory demo in Manchester had been attended by thousands and thousands of peaceful demonstrators, good atmosphere and behaviour but of course the media just concentrated on the few people that were poorly behaved.

Tony then mentioned the TU Bill and that this was the biggest threat since Thatcher and how we must all campaign against it.  Tony talked about the refugee situation and that people don’t just choose to leave their homes, they have no choice and many of the countries that the refuges are fleeing from the UK has been involved in and have been responsible for making the situation worse.  Tony touched on the new outbreak of violence in Palestine and condemned all violence.

The formalities of the meeting were then completed, previous minutes etc and then the 1st speaker, Candy Udwin, PCS Rep in the National Gallery dispute, was introduced.  Candy first had a gift to give to Tony as a thank you for all the help SERTUC had given them in their dispute.  Candy then thanked everyone for the support, good wishes and donations they had received and whilst the privatisation of the gallery was still going ahead they had won significant gains which they would not have won without all the support and solidarity.

Candy then went over some of the concessions, a TUPE+ agreement, their T&C’s can’t change without agreement from PCS, new starters will be same as current, living wage with weekend enhancements and better rosters and for her personally Candy was pleased to say she is back at work.  Candy had been sacked and was waiting a tribunal, she had been awarded interim payment which often is a sign that somebody has been sacked for their union activities.

Candy continued that it shows that strike action does work and that there is a growing new mood amongst people now.  Over 180, 000 had signed their petition and they have raised over £130,000, about half from trade unions and the rest from individuals which shows that they had managed to connect their dispute across the community generally.

Candy said that they could not have done all this without, not just the money, but the support from everyone, at picket lines, social media, Candy touched on how important and crucial social media was and of the 38 degree petition.  Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell giving their support, and of course PCS which backed them 100%, the decision to go on indefinite strike was made by the members, not PCS, which these days is very unusual.  It has lead to a uniting of workers, especially between the young and old, with the young becoming more active.  They decided that whilst short strikes here and there are understandable to try mitigate members loss of pay this action was not going to work, so they decided to make their strike action indefinite, racking up 111 consecutive days!

Candy spoke of the balancing act between strike action and loss of pay and that it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, so you have to be bold and take it and then the support will come.  Before their indefinite strike action they were receiving around £1K a month, then when they announced their indefinite action it increased, August £22K and September over £40K!

Unfortunately the contract has been signed so they are going to be starting a national campaign to keep museums free and publically owned and funded and of course for the re-nationalisation of the gallery.  There was then a short period of time for questions from the floor, similarities with the Ritzy dispute, in both cases a coming together of lay young members with rank & file.  The importance to engage with the public, Candy said that generally they had good support from the public, bearing in mind that many people had come from abroad to see the gallery and they had produced multi lingual leaflets to help explain their dispute.

The Secretary, Megan Dobney, then began her report which focused mainly on the anti TU Bill, which is currently at the committee stage, over the last few weeks various bodies had been giving oral statements, which includes many trade unions, the TUC, STUC, Scottish & Welsh Governments, the police and companies and organisations, such CBI etc.  Once this stage is completed it will then go to its 3rd reading which at present they expect to be the 1st or 2nd week in November, the later being more likely.

Megan continued that they are planning to lobby Tory MPs, and whilst it is unlikely this will change many minds some Tory MPs have expressed concern on some aspects of the bill, they have identified in the SERTUC area those Tory MPs that they want to target.  Megan gave some ideas on possible angles that people could use to lobby their MP, such as the changes to health & safety, the Certification Officer, which is an independent body being used more of an arm of the state, the requirement to give extra details to the police which Tory MP David Davies described as ‘Franco’ style.

The Welsh & Scottish assemblies are very angry over this as they see it as Westminster meddling and being told how to run things, also some Labour controlled councils have already passed motions that they will not enforce the bill in their area.  There were then some questions from the floor, talk of trying to make pickets and strikes a criminal act and that the exact aspects of the bill will only be defined after a number of court cases and that there is a sea change of mood, later that afternoon a demo of Junior Doctors, see later in my report.

The 2nd speaker was then introduced, Mick Cash, General Secretary of RMT.  Mick first started that he feels that we do not give ourselves enough credit for our victories. He then went through some of the recent disputes RMT have been involved with, including the underground dispute, and the victories that have achieved.  He mentioned how the government wants to turn back the clock with Network Rail to what it was like under Railtrack and remembered Potters Bar & Hatfield.

Mick then talked about the TU Bill and highlighted that only 11 million of the 46 million voted Tory, (sadly 4 million voted UKIP), which gives them no mandate and that this is all part of their agenda to have permanent austerity.  Mick mentioned the right of strike and the hypocrisy of the Tories, not allowing trade unions to vote online while they have just elected Zack Goldsmith as their London Mayor candidate with online voting with a far lower turnout than what they are insisting unions need to have.

The new Labour leadership was mentioned, of course RMT are not affiliated to Labour and Mick said that at present they will continue to support those that support their views, it is down to their members to decide to change this, but that does not mean that they will not support Jeremy as it is important that everyone does and support Sadiq Khan for London Mayor.

Mick finished by talking about their boardroom where their EC makes all their important decisions which are recorded and the oak table which was made by railwaymen in 1913, and he feels that rather than talk about being ‘against’ something that we should talk about being ‘for’ something instead.

Again there were some questions from the floor, the recent situation of the Steel Works in Redcar was mentioned, the knock on effect for the community and the rail industry and that we can find money to subsidise some industries but not the steel works.

We were then shown a short video regarding the BBC, the government is making TV licences free for people aged 75 and over, this will mean the BBC will lose over £700 million in revenue a year and for all its ills there are fears that this will further hinder its survival and restrict its output.

Then Paul Donaldson from the HCSA, (Hospital Consultants & Specialists Assoc), talked about the Junior Doctors dispute and the demo that afternoon.  Basically the government, using the justification of having a 24/7 NHS service, is trying to make Doctors work longer hours, as if they don’t work long enough hours already, for no extra pay, this equates to a pay reduction of over 30%!  Jeremy Hunt is also changing what constitutes what is the weekend, working a late shift on a Saturday will become a weekday afternoon shift and a Sunday shift becomes a Monday shift!  Only in Tory land!  Paul said that many Consultants were working free of charge to allow Junior Doctors to attend the demo and asked that people after the meeting to go along and support them.

After the meeting I took part in the demo, along with a number from my trades council we took our banner.  It started with a rally in Pall Mall, a number of speakers and some videos, it was very well attended, mostly of course by young doctors which was very refreshing, clearly many of them on their 1st ever demo, so there was lots of enthusiasm.  Another thing that was clear to see was a big use of social media, people sending pictures of themselves on the demo that was then being relayed onto a big screen.  Many also had placards showing other doctors names that were working but supporting the dispute.  The march went past Trafalgar Square and then down Whitehall to end in Parliament Square for another smaller rally.

Then the results for the vacant Black Trade Unionist seat on the SERTUC EC was then announced, Claude James was one of the contenders, if elected would give us 4 seats on the EC, more than many of the big unions, unfortunately he was unsuccessful and Charles Agje of the GMB was elected.

The only motion, an emergency one, of the meeting was then taken, this was proposed by GLATUC, (Greater London Authority), and was on the recent bombing in Ankara.  Roger Sutton moved the motion which was seconded by Alex Gordon of the RMT.  The latest news was that 103 have been killed with over 200 injured.  The motion highlighted the horror of the attack and the council’s condemnation of it and the solidarity to the Kurdish community, asking for stronger ties and relationships with the community.

Roger spoke that the attack was not a random one but specifically aimed at the Kurdish community and those that support them and that the EU is turning a blind eye to the Turkish Government and how they are treating the Kurds for its compliance.  Alex asked for more support from unions for the Kurdish community.

The motion was carried without opposition and then Joel gave the Treasurer’s report, which was accepted and Joel thanked unions for their donations.  There was some brief AOB on the legal aid reforms before Megan gave the credentials report, a total of 78 delegates, 60 representing 19 trade unions, 18 representing 8 County Associations and 7 observers.  Tony then closed the meeting and wished everyone safe journey home.

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