Union-made column

British Airways: The mundane reality

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Last month's ballot result for industrial action by British Airways cabin crews showed how widespread the fear and anger about management attacks was.

With an 80 percent turnout, it was not just a militant minority who voted by 92.5 percent to strike.

The BBC described the move as "nuclear". But British Airways left its cabin crew with no choice.

Yet we were denied the right to strike by the courts. How can any strike ballot be legal under these anti-union laws? There will always be a turnover of staff in big organisations like BA.

Even if you took out the 1,000 union members who should not have got ballot papers there would still have been a huge mandate for a strike.

Superdrug: The poor can't pay anymore

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We have just been on all-out strike for three weeks. We struck to resist plans by Superdrug to attack our pay and conditions.

They wanted to abolish shift pay, worth £2,000 a year to some people; to take away sick pay from the first three days of every occasion; and to lower sick pay coverage from 13 weeks to seven weeks. They also wanted to cut overtime payment from time and a half to time and a third and to change our contracts to make us work flexible annualised hours.

That's why as a membership and as a union we called a postal ballot to vote for strike action. There was an 86 percent vote in favour of a walkout which we then decided had to be an all-out indefinite strike.

Defending migrant workers - Hands off my workmate!

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Migrant workers are no longer a marginal part of the workforce in Britain or simply a "reserve army of labour".

Migrants now hold more than one in 12 jobs in Britain - more than double the rate of 1997. They are an integral part of the British economy, albeit in many cases part of the "flexible labour market". They can be shifted between workplaces undermining decent working conditions, unless union activists make a conscious effort to integrate them into our ranks.

Not lost in translation

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At the time of writing, UCU members at Tower Hamlets College in East London have been on all-out strike for three weeks.

Our campaign started in June when we received notice of £2 million cost efficiency savings and cuts to over 40 posts and 1,000 English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) places. Our branch began the ballot, fearing cuts. But then the news of what was proposed hit us late on a Friday afternoon and we all went home in shock.

Shell tanker drivers' strike - oil on troubled waters

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"The Shell drivers have driven a coach and horses through the Brown and Darling pay freeze," said Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, after the Shell tanker drivers won a 14 percent pay deal last month.

A host of commentators explained how it was inevitable they would win: "exceptional case... small group... concentration of power... strategic weak spot... essential resource..." Essential bollocks! No one claimed inevitable victory before the strike (or it wouldn't have happened, would it?)

Visteon: A life-changing struggle

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The occupation at former Ford plant Visteon wasn't planned. We came down here to get our personal belongings after we heard that we had all been sacked with immediate effect.

But one of the doors was open so everybody just ran in and decided to stay.

We barricaded all the doors so security couldn't get to us. Straight away we were getting donations of food brought to us. Kurds, Italians, Jamaicans, Turkish people - every nationality that lives in the country was cooking for us. It was quite emotional. All these people who didn't know us came along to give us their support, to feed us, to bring supplies of sleeping bags, toiletries. I've never seen that in my life - so many people came to strangers and put their hand out.

Further education: Time to expand, not cut

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London Metropolitan University is facing massive funding cuts after an audit by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) discovered that university management had been submitting inaccurate data.

Funding depends on student numbers but they have a very tight definition of a student: to qualify, students must have taken all the assessments in all their modules.

HEFCE discovered retrospectively that London Met had been submitting the number of students deemed capable of progressing, which is not the same thing as those who actually complete their course. It turned out that thousands of students didn't qualify for funding. As a result, London Met must pay back £38 million in overpaid grant and faces losing around £20 million a year.

Crystal clear intentions

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We're in occupation to stop our factory from being shut down. The glass industry in Waterford is making a profit but not enough to satisfy corporate greed.

Waterford Crystal management had ambitions to expand and borrowed money to buy companies, using Waterford and Wedgwood to fund their debts. As the debts got larger they were harder to repay. When the Bank of America called in their loans we went into the receiver's hands and became victims of venture capitalists, KPS Capital Partners.

The right to learn

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The recession is raising major concerns in all areas of government policy. The adult education sector is no exception. Over the past two years 1.5 million publicly funded adult learner places have been cut. This has particularly affected those who are disabled, the elderly, second language speakers (Esol) and working class students in general.

Government ministers may be running around asserting that it's only the odd Pilates or French evening classes that are being cut, but a closer look at the figures shows that this is a myth, alongside the idea that it's only the well off who will be affected anyway.

Boeing beaten back

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We have just concluded a 57 day strike. People have really sacrificed over that period. But it felt good to conclude it with a significant win and even over job security - where the company seemed intractable - we made gains.

The world changed after we went out on strike. There was a Lehman Brothers brokerage firm in the US and the banks hadn't started failing and then a lot of bad news hit so we were lucky to get as much out of this settlement as we did.
The rank and file membership is the backbone of any work stoppage, and ours was resolute. We were absolutely determined that we were going to win. Less than 1 percent of our members crossed the line. Even though you had people hurting they were talking to the press saying, "I'm willing to stay out six months or as long as it takes."

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