Here is an update on some of the main stories from the union frontlines this week.
A Labour council
Today is the last in a three-day strike by UNISON members in Tower Hamlets. As explored on LabourList, the Labour-run council is forcing through changes to contracts that will worsen a whole range of working conditions. Serious tensions have mounted between the council’s leadership and unions in the borough in recent months, as NEU had also previously balloted to strike, and Unite refuse collectors already walked out before lockdown.
Stop the spread
Coronavirus outbreaks are still occurring, and it remains frontline keyworkers who are most at risk. Workers are having to take matters into their own hands in some cases. Throughout the pandemic, postal workers have staged localised walkouts at sorting and delivery offices where coronavirus outbreaks are known to have occurred. Just last week, Royal Mail workers in Barnsley walked out after a colleague tested positive, forcing management to introduce tougher safety measures.
UNISON has blasted the Food Standards Agency for failing to carry out safety assessments in meat factories, after around 250 workers tested positive across three sites in the space of a week.
And as pubs re-open, the BFAWU has issued an appeal to punters not to boycott Wetherspoons but to instead support a set of demands to improve working conditions for staff – including personal protective equipment and full sick pay.
Stop the sacking
As the furlough scheme begins to unravel and bosses revisit pre-lockdown plans, huge numbers of jobs are at risk. Unite is fighting to keep members in posts at Airbus, GKN Automotive, Rolls Royce and other leading manufacturers; while in aviation the union faces down EasyJet and British Airways over redundancies and a shameful ‘firing and re-hiring’ scheme respectively. The #BABetrayal has seen the union stage a number of protests this week from Brighton to New York.
UCU members face thousands of teaching jobs being axed – especially those on insecure contracts – as universities make the wrong choices in the midst of a collapse in income in the sector.
In some workplaces, the threats of redundancy are leading to strike ballots, for example by Unite members at Drax power station.
Mind the gap
Transport unions ASLEF, RMT and TSSA issued a joint statement on the “diluting” of official social distancing guidance from two-metre to one-metre-plus, which has led to assurances from government that the fulil two metres must continue to be observed on public transport. The Chief Scientific Officer previously warned that the move to reduce the distance could increase the risk of infection by up to 30 times.
Unions are concerned that enforcing the measurement is too difficult as it is, and that further confusion amongst the public will increase the risk for passengers and staff. And as the petition for justice for Belly Mujinga’s family (the TSSA member who died of coronavirus after being spat at by a commuter) nears two million, Dawn Butler MP has demanded the £60k payout for NHS workers be extended to rail staff.
School’s out… indefinitely
The education unions have expressed serious concern over the government’s announcement that all schools will reopen fully in September, without a plan as to how they will ensure safety among a full class, with no distancing and no PPE. The teaching unions have called for scientific evidence to back up any plans, and the headteachers union NAHT in Wales even warned that proposals could be unworkable.
The show must go on
Unions in the arts, who had been demanding urgent relief for the struggling sector, welcomed news of a £1.6bn bailout plan from the government. Questions remain as to whether funds will reach the workers, many of whom are freelancers, who keep our theatres, galleries and cultural institutions alive.
Later this week, July 9-11th, the TUC hosts a series of online events under the banner ‘Organise 2020’, a series of online discussions on the future of trade union organisation. Sessions range from mental health to international solidarity, and how we recruit more young people and more women to the movement. All events are free to attend and the full schedule can be found here.
Who let the dogs out?
It’s Dog Awareness Week, and the CWU is appealing to members of the public to think twice before opening the door to the postie if they have a dog. An average of seven postal workers every day are attacked by dogs while going about their job. While coronavirus presents the most significant health and safety hazard to workers at this current time, we cannot forget the everyday risks frontline workers have to tackle, pandemic or not. And territorial dogs, I am sure, will be an issue that plenty of Labour doorstep canvassers can identify with.