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Proletarian issue 82 (February 2018)
Industrial matters: rich get richer
The rich get richer

The GMB union, looking at how pay levels have shifted in the 20 years since the introduction of the minimum wage, calculates that if the minimum wage had kept pace with the average pay of FTSE 100 chief executives it would now stand at £12.74 an hour (in contrast to the current £7.50). The average pay of a FTSE 100 CEO is now £4.35m per annum, rising 354 percent from its start point of £1.23m two decades ago. (See Growing gap between bosses and worker, GMB website, 3 January 2018)

Those who saluted Blair’s introduction of the minimum wage as ushering in a new era of fairness may reflect on how it has instead given employers a goal to live down to in the accelerating depression of real wages.

Indeed, another survey, this one carried out by the TUC and based on OECD projections for wage growth and inflation, warns that next year Britain will be bottom of the pay league of the world’s advanced economies, with workers seeing a drop in real pay of 0.7 percent. (Falling wages to put Britain at bottom of pay league says TUC by Alistair Osborne, The Times, 29 December 2017)

We are not the dirt we clean

United Voices of the World (UVW) is a union, seemingly run on a shoestring, that has established a track record championing the largely migrant workers who endure appalling pay and conditions as they go about cleaning some of London’s most prestigious properties. It is currently organising cleaners at two such sites: Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH), a big company at the heart of the financial district, and the Ministry of Justice HQ.

LHH works the usual outsourcing scam, entrusting the cleaning of its headquarters to an outside contractor (in this case City Central Cleaning and Support Services), hoping thereby to distance itself from any responsibility for the welfare of the people actually cleaning up their crap.

Cleaners there have now voted to strike in order to secure the London living wage of £10.20 an hour, braving unlawful threats of dismissal. LHH, whose cleaners are currently paid the minimum wage of £7.50, this year made profits of £2m.

Meanwhile, over at the Ministry of (In)justice, cuts to the cleaning force have resulted in a situation where just two dozen cleaners are expected to clean all 14 floors of the massive building, amounting to 51,000 square feet. And this all-migrant work force is expected to do all this on the minimum wage and under the most demeaning conditions, with not even separate changing rooms for women and men.

Now the workers are set to be balloted for strike action if their demands (for the London living wage and for the same sick pay and annual leave terms enjoyed by civil servants) are not met. (See UVW website for this and other campaigns)

Arriva Cross Country

In a series of strikes over the Christmas and new year period hitting Arriva Cross Country rail services all the way between Penzance and Aberdeen, RMT guards challenged Arriva management’s abuse of rostering, Sunday working and compulsory overtime.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash, pointing to management bad faith in talks, suggested: “If the company spent more time working with us for a solution instead of focussing on dishing out cash bungs to a dangerous scab army of undercooked management recruits to try and break the action we could move this dispute forwards.”

Striking while the iron was hot, party comrades in the Midlands produced a leaflet to support the strikers. (48 hours strike action goes ahead on Arriva Cross Country, RMT Press Office, 8 December 2017)

Driver only operation

With the barely hidden hand of transport minister Chris Grayling pulling the strings, train operating companies (TOCs) in England continue to refuse negotiations with the guard’s union RMT unless the union is prepared to open the door to the extension of driver only operation (DOO) and the loss of the guaranteed second safety-critical position on board.

The government’s aim in backing the pig-headed position of the companies involved appears to be to roll out the unsafe (but cheap and lucrative) DOO model nationwide, and to seize the opportunity to punish the RMT for their creditable history of militancy.

TOCs in Wales and Scotland have bucked the trend, signing deals with the RMT, but half a dozen companies in England seem ready to act as the government’s battering ram to try and break the union’s resistance.

The RMT continues to lead the resistance, sadly left to fight on alone after a shameful separate peace on the DOO issue was signed off on by the drivers’ union Aslef. RMT members on Northern, Merseyrail, Greater Anglia, South Western Railways and Island Line were called out on strike on 8, 10 and 12 January, whilst members on Southern were called out on the 8th.


In the same week, on 10 January, Unite pulled out 80 of its Balfour Beatty electricians working on the Woolwich section of the Crossrail project, the first stages of which are due for completion by the end of 2018.

The main bone of contention is the company’s refusal to pay the four-week ‘finishing bonus’ customary on such long-term projects. The whole workforce in Woolwich is based outside London, so has had to organise accommodation in London for the duration of the lengthy project. The idea of the finishing bonus is to allow workers to give notice on their lodgings without suffering financial loss.

According to the Construction Index website, this action is the first ‘official’ strike to hit the Crossrail project in the eight years of its life, but in fact there have been a number of unofficial walkouts over blacklisting, pay and working conditions over the years.

In a move designed to spike the successful strike ballot, Balfour Beatty summarily dismissed 54 electricians in mid-December, among them a disproportionate number of shop stewards. In response, 150 electricians walked out, plus another 70 machine-operators.

Gerry Harvey, the Balfour Beatty manager who ordered the mass sackings, has previously been named in court as a blacklister. (Strike action hits Crossrail project, Construction Index, 2 January 2018)
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