Ferry workers’ strike over jobs, pay, pensions and privatisation

Five thousand trade unionists, young people and anti-austerity campaigners attended the ‘Scotland United Against Austerity’ rally called by the Scottish TUC in Glasgow on 20 June.

The mood of people at the rally reflected a real desire for action against austerity and a searching for the best way to fight back.

Socialist Party Scotland (CWI) was prominent throughout George Square. We called for the trade unions to take national co-ordinated action against austerity. Our central demand for a 24-hour general strike received a fantastic response.

On a number of occasions, passers-by stopped to take pictures of our stall, which was covered in posters calling for the TUC/STUC to name the day for a 24-hour general strike. We also called for the Scottish government and all local councils to set no cuts budgets and refuse to implement Tory cuts.

The highlights of the rally included the striking Dundee hospital porters on all-out strike for fair pay for 11 weeks. These 117 working-class heroes were represented onstage by Unite senior shop stewards Ronnie Heeney and Graham Nelson. “Management thought they could tough it out but look at the determination of the porters and the chaos in the hospitals that shows the importance of our job. Just like our comrades, the Glasgow Homeless Caseworkers (who also addressed the rally) who have been out on strike for 13 weeks. We can see the power of working people when we withdraw our labour. Our strikes have taken on bullying management and the politicians from Labour and the SNP [Scottish National Party]. This is a lesson for the whole trade union movement. If less than 200 workers involved in strikes can make this impact, imagine if the entire trade union movement came out together. We need a general strike and a political voice for working class people. Victory to the porters, victory for caseworkers, victory to the working class!”

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the largest teaching union, EIS, invoked the example of the mass non-payment campaign against the poll tax that brought down Thatcher (with the Socialist Party’s predecessor, Militant, playing a leading role). He also raised the need for the trade unions to flex their industrial muscle to fight this new Tory government. Larry correctly criticised “the step back” taken by right wing trade union leaders after the public sector strike over pensions in November 2011: “we should have pressed forward, we have to learn the lesson from that and step forward using the full collective power of the trade union movement”.

“Whichever of main parties in power, austerity continues”

Janice Godrich, National President of the PCS civil service union and Socialist Party Scotland member, put forward a clear strategy for the labour movement after the general election: “This government is intent on destroying all the gains made by working class people. Under capitalism these gains are going or gone. Whichever of the main parties is in power austerity continues. Our class is on the receiving end of cuts. The SNP have gained because they posed as anti-austerity, but I would say to Nicola Sturgeon [SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister] and the SNP no more excuses for implementing the Westminster cuts. If you stood up and called for mass resistance people in Scotland and all over the UK would support you.”Janice also called for coordinated national industrial action from the TUC and called on the SNP government to meet the demands of low paid workers in dispute in museums Scotland and CSCS and for a socialist alternative.

Ferry workers’ strike

Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) members who work for CalMac ferries have voted by a 90% majority to take industrial action over threats to pensions, jobs and working conditions. The action short of a strike begins on Wednesday 24 June and a 24-hour strike will take place from midnight on Thursday.

CalMac – a publicly owned company – are in competition with notorious private company Serco for the Hebrides and west coast island ferry contract, due for renewal in 2016. The RMT are demanding no compulsory redundancies and the same pension rights and terms and conditions as staff have now, regardless of who wins the new contract.

The threat that hangs over jobs and working conditions is linked to what is, effectively, the privatisation of the ferry service covering the entire west coast of Scotland. The SNP-led Scottish government has opened up the contract to tender, which they claim they have no choice but to do under European law. Serco were also given the ferry contrast for Orkney and Shetland recently which led to complaints by passengers, trade unions and communities after Serco raised fares, cut services and reduced crew levels to squeeze profits from passengers.

The Scottish Government also recently awarded Serco the Scotrail sleeper services with a £60million bonus for rolling stock.

It’s clear that the refusal by CalMac to agree to the union’s demands is linked to the tendering process. The SNP claim it’s not privatisation but they have refused to challenge the EU ruling over the privatisation of ferry services. Given that these are lifeline services this could easily have been done, even if it meant defying the EU rules.

Gordon Martin, Scottish organiser of the RMT, explained to us what was at stake in this dispute: “RMT members are taking strike action in defence of hard won terms and conditions. We are not striking to get better pay or conditions, we are taking this action in defence of what we currently enjoy. The RMT are seeking written assurances on no compulsory redundancies or changes to staffing levels without agreement of the recognised trade unions and a written assurance there will be no changes to conditions of service without agreement with the recognised trade unions. We also seek assurances on pension protections and, again, these assurances have not been forthcoming.

“The RMT wrote to CalMac on 11 May outlining our issues of dispute and incredibly the first date the company offered to meet us was 18th June. The whole tendering process is outrageous and we believe this current SNP Government should employ the position they adopted when in opposition and opposed the tendering process. They should make a coherent legal argument to Brussels regarding the lifeline nature of many of the routes covered by the Clyde and Hebridean Ferries Service.

“CalMac are telling all and sundry they offered to write no compulsory redundancies into their bid. This is a welcome development. However, it means nothing if CalMac do not secure the contract.

“Not for the first time we hear the Scottish Government profess fairness for workers and portray themselves as a left wing government. In reality they have consistently given public contracts to their privateer of choice, Serco. RMT and our members will not stand idly by and allow a race to the bottom and this initial stage of industrial action will be followed-up by more action if we do not receive the reasonable demands we have made on the company.”

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