The first National Shop Stewards Network meeting took place in Harrogate on Wednesday 27th June, bringing together local trade unionists in dispute against the effects of austerity.
Iain Dalton, Socialist Party North Yorkshire Organiser
Johnathan Leng, from Harrogate College UCU, opened the discussion about their recently concluded dispute over cuts at the college. UCU members had taken three days of strike action to fight these attacks.
As Johnathan explained, central government is pushing for a turnover to staffing ratio of 65% in colleges, whilst schools usually have 80%+. This has seen savaging cuts to courses at the college, to the extent the college may have to hire new staff in September in order to deliver courses.
Throughout the dispute UCU at the college grew by 25% and strike action had saved some jobs as well as seen one bullying manager go (with staff cheering and singing in delight!)
However, the college’s future still is uncertain, with it being disaggregated from Hull College Group and likely to be taken over by one of the other local FE colleges, all of which have also proposed ‘restructuring’ of their own recently.
Adrian O’Malley, Unison SGE member for Yorkshire and secretary of Mid Yorkshire Unison branch, speaking in a personal capacity, outlined the battle against the formation of ‘Wholly-owned subsidiaries’ in a number of hospital trusts across Yorkshire. The first in Yorkshire was established just under a year ago in Barnsley, with Airedale and Harrogate hospital trusts following this March, and more being proposed in a further 7 trusts across the region.
There are a number of reasons why NHS trusts are establishing such companies, including an attempt to avoid VAT charges which the NHS pays but private hospitals are exempt from. But the biggest threat to workers and the public is the further fragmentation of the NHS and threat to workers pay, terms and conditions as well as the creation of a two-tier workforce. There has also been no funding provided to pay the recently announced NHS pay rise to staff in the already established ‘Wholly-owned subsidiaries’.
Adrian’s branch, Mid Yorkshire Unison, was one of four which recently organised a co-ordinated ballot across West Yorkshire for strike action. Unfortunately, a number of them fell foul of the Tories’ latest anti-union laws, where whilst recording 90%+ votes for strike action, failed to reach the 50% turnout threshold, including by an agonising 3 votes in Bradford.
Mid Yorkshire Unison, however, recorded a 58% turnout with a thumping majority for strike action, the looming threat of which has forced their trust to offer potentially significant concessions. This has led to postponement of strike action for now, with management having a two-week deadline to put forward proposals that will involve keeping staff in the NHS and no two-tier workforce.
Although the local RMT rep gave his apologies, due to speak about the dispute over the introduction of driver-only operation by Northern Rail, a lively discussion was had, including the need for more communication between trade union branches and activists in the town. In the absence of a local trades union council, many branches can often be unaware of disputes in the town.
One suggestion was for people to subscribe to the NSSN’s weekly bulletin which contains news of trade union campaigns and disputes across the country. You can subscribe at https://lists.riseup.net/www/subscribe/shopstewardsnet