Norwich, No 2, November 2020
The second issue of KEY WORKERS UNITED comes at a time when a new mood of confidence is developing in many sectors and workplaces. This is about organising locally and regionally around a new agenda based on safeguarding the NHS, working on new demands for the unemployed who will need the support of an unemployed workers movement, a focus on the skills and knowledge that local councils can offer in place of SERCO-type ‘failures in track & trace, and a fast track science education plan for schools, colleges and union courses. Keep the contributions coming in!!!
By Barney the Train Guard
Well, 2020 continues to be the very worst of years. Hopefully it will be a positive but the Government, without using the actual words, have said that rail privatisation hasn’t worked. Quelle surprise!!!
Working on the trains has been very queer. Very queer indeed. Passenger numbers were rising in the daytime but commuter numbers are very quiet still and with mixed messages and confusion from a bumbling, woefully inadequate PM, passenger confidence is withering, too. Train companies around the country have been cleaning and segregating towards safety. Might have to continue for some time.
Guards in the North West had started going through trains, so no real surprise how high their covid rate is. When I joined BR in about 1933!!! Safety, safety, safety was drilled into us like the 5 times table was drilled into us at school. Safety, safety, safety is, and still is, the name of the game.
You all take care, my friends. We all feel a bit lonely atm. A hug, a handshake, just touching someone’s arm for reassurance is taboo atm. So stay safe. Stay masked when need be and stay alive.
Bye for now.
Austerity cuts cost lives
The Grenfell public inquiry has recently revealed that Conservative council’s cuts & savings in 2013 and 2014 undermined the local authority’s ability to monitor & manage the building. Cuts to staff levels meant that oversight was reduced and £800,000 savings made in a secret deal with contractor Rydon to switch to cheaper cladding panels which were the main cause of the spread of the fire in 2017 that claimed 72 lives.
In 2011 Kensington & Chelsea Conservative council announced £22 million in cuts. A huge meeting at the Lighthouse, a stone’s throw from Grenfell Tower heard Tony Benn and Bob Crow denounce the cuts and call for an Anti-cuts campaign to fight austerity. Shortly after, a lobby of the full council heard a speech by the local Unison secretary who said “The people of this borough will never forget your decision. The people of this borough will never forgive your decision”. The Conservatives simply ignored our pleas and went ahead with the cuts whilst casually looking at their phones. These words have proved prophetic. The cuts, the indifference and the arrogance of the council have been made graphically clear by the Grenfell fire and a new generation that will lead the fight for rights and justice has been born.
Dave Welsh (ex-secretary Kensington & Chelsea Trades Union Council)
Grenfell in Norwich
Last year a link was forged between members of the Trees4Grenfell support group, and UEA students and staff. Politics lecturer Ben Little took a group of students to London in March 2019 to attend the monthly silent vigil. Afterwards the students helped to tidy up, and got talking to a group of the campaigners. As a result, UEA agreed to fund a tree on campus in Norwich, and a planting ceremony was held in July 2019. The Estates horticultural team chose a Redwood for its endurance and to symbolise that the Grenfell disaster should never be forgotten. Students, staff and members from the local community including trade unions attended the ceremony in which those who died in the fire were remembered.
GREEN POLICIES GALORE
By Ian Gibson
THE CLIMATE crisis is a worldwide problem that needs serious collaborations on a worldwide basis. Nonetheless, by starting gradually with specific policies, we can educate both ourselves and the public who have the real power to stop the destruction of our environment. Many people still remember the Lucas Aerospace plans in the 1970s which were produced by the workforce. They addressed the development of their skills with the aim of producing socially useful products and technologies, to develop, as one shop steward said, human creativity and freedom of choice.
There have been debates on how we might marry those ideas with our support for green policies. There is a desperate need to eliminate environmental risks and ecological destruction of habitats and work towards sustainable development without environmental destruction. Central to this is how we tackle climate problems and develop a low carbon, socially inclusive economy. Sustainable transport, waste and water issues, renewable energy, green housebuilding and land control are part of that agenda.
This debate needs to start in our communities and workplaces. Emphasising green deals from the top overplays the power that government has in the current economic context, which is dominated by the global Davos elite.
Over the years, we have made progress in workplaces with legislation like the 1974 Health and Safety Act of 1974. It allows health and safety representatives to insist on health and safety practices which protect the workforce. Suppose we add on giving them a right to raise green issues and to negotiate around them, allowing reps to talk with their management about the social value of the firm’s products and technologies – a world identified long ago by the Lucas shop stewards. Suppose it was also done in parish councils, cities and wherever there was an interest in these issues, then there would be an opportunity for voters to tackle local problems directly.
The establishment of safety reps in law is backed up by a service of independent inspectors. Local councils also have powers of inspection. After the pandemic, will the TUC work on a plan for jobs in our communities, ensuing green issues become a feature of workplace negotiations? They have the capability to push for green jobs and socially beneficial products, overcoming the false choice between jobs and the environment.
The old order has failed and there is a danger that all political parties may fail to recognise the unity of purpose across much of our society to create a better world where inequalities disappear. It’s a slow process, but it’s worth trying.
Ian Gibson was Labour MP for Norwich North from 1997 to 2009.
By Attila the Shelf Stacker
When is the minimum wage not the minimum wage? Answer: When you’ve been furloughed, because it’s only 80% (and it will go down to 2/3 pay from 4/5). But worse, the new minimum wage of £8.72/hr (Age 25+) came into force on April 1st. Furlough pay is set at Feb 28th rates. So many shop workers are getting 80% of £8.21/hr (Age 25+). The latest wheeze where I work is for staff to personally advertise their stores products in their own time. It hasn’t quite come down to walking around the streets with a sandwich board, yet, no, it’s using social media. I suppose a company thinks if they’ve 10000 staff and they all have 200 friends on social media then the reach is 2 million people – it’s free, and with a personal recommendation for the product!
Does your company keep in touch with you on furlough? After all, you still have a contract with them, accrue holiday and pension, even if the government is paying your wages. Good if they do, but some of us feel like a forgotten army – we hear nothing. There were promises of regular updates of course. You were all put on furlough with your agreement but the company would un-furlough staff quietly and individually on a criteria that was secret to them. Hey presto we have a two or three tier workforce. Wouldn’t the best practise be to rotate staff? Nope, apparently not, and to rub salt into the wounds of those financially punished, those recalled can get overtime! Think of the dock gates during the 1930s when the foreman picks his chosen workers to unload a boat from a mass of workers, hungry for wages? And it paid to stand him a pint in the pub after work and laugh at his jokes. Well it’s back to the future unless we do something about it.
Printed and published by KEY WORKERS UNITED (Norwich).
If you would like to contribute to our next issue, please email email@example.com.