Below are a range of recent reports from local Socialist Appeal activists, giving a voice to workers in their struggles against the bosses and the Tories.
We aim to cover industrial disputes, interviews from protests and picket lines, and letters about workers’ conditions in our fortnightly paper, on our website, and on social media.
If you would like to submit material to feature in our publications, please send us your contribution to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Better yet, get in touch if you are looking to organise alongside other communist workers in your area as part of the International Marxist Tendency, and join us in the fight for revolution!
Go North East: Bus drivers strike to win!
Matt S., Newcastle IMT
From 30 September, hundreds of Go North East workers – organised in Unite – have been out in force across the North East.
🚨 Strike Action 🚨
More picket lines across Go North East sites over the last few days.
We ❤️ Unite Dogs! 🐾 pic.twitter.com/MRrmGysTD6
— Unite – North East, Yorkshire and Humber (@UniteNEYH) October 4, 2023
The workers are striking over pay and conditions. Wages have remained at £12.83 per hour, while drivers are being asked to take on increasing work in the face of cuts to ticket inspectors and conductors. Comrades from Socialist Appeal went to hear from them.
It was reported that Go North East business director Ben Maxfield said: “We could not have tried harder to solve this dispute. We’ve put more money on the table and listened to drivers who have asked us to slow down moves to bring their working practices into line with competitors.”
Workers at the Gateshead depot, however, made it clear that Maxfield and co. could try a lot harder.
The “money on the table” is a proposed pay rise of 9.11%. Go North East have been keen to point out how this is a whole 0.11% over the 9% RPI measure of inflation recorded in August. But the workers know that these incremental increases will be immediately swallowed up by spiralling prices, and mean nothing.
Go North East’s website claims losses of £4.3 million in its most recent accounts. But eagle-eyed strikers have taken a closer look, spotting payments made out to related entities of over £40 million!
Despite the bosses’ lies, public support has remained high throughout the strike so far. Fuel deliveries have refused to cross the picket, and workers have been getting serious support online.
Morale is high. Go North East staff are ready to fight until they get what they deserve. One driver remarked that they should take action like the miners’ strikes in the 1980s. The history of the great class struggles of the past has not been forgotten!
When we asked what they thought should be done, one worker answered that “transport should be nationalised!”
We agree! It’s time to take our transport out of the hands of the profiteers and put it under the control of the workers and communities the network serves.
Go North East staff have burst onto the picket line again with a clear goal, and with the energy and numbers to reach it. If the bosses think that workers on the move have run out of road, then they’re about to get a nasty surprise!
Civil service hiring freeze: The Tories’ next attack
Will Gordon, PCS member (personal capacity)
With a raft of other shambolic announcements grabbing the headlines, it was easy to miss Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Tory conference announcement that there would be a hiring freeze in the civil service.
To justify this, Hunt argued that the civil service needed to be reduced to pre-pandemic levels – as if suddenly there are staff sitting idle with no work to do!
In reality, the real motivation for this policy, similarly to the attacks on benefits claimants and the cutting of HS2, is the need to balance the books.
The COVID crisis required the state to step in and save capitalism with unprecedented public spending. And now the cost of this has to be paid off one way or the other.
Eager to avoid too many unpopular attacks on workers, with an election looming, Hunt has instead turned his attention to cutting the public sector to pay off the capitalists’ debts.
With civil service staff organised in PCS already flexing their muscles, however, he’s also rightly wary of trying to force through job cuts. Instead, Hunt is likely hoping that the hiring freeze will do the job for him.
There are notoriously high levels of turnover in the civil service. Socialist Appeal comrades in a range of government departments have witnessed this first hand. One remarked that “it is unusual to see someone in a role for more than a year or two”, due to poor wages and no pay progression.
For those who stay, this hiring freeze will mean more work for already-overworked civil servants, with fewer staff and the same pay. It’ll likely also mean greater difficulty and inefficiency in carrying out the work.
Another comrade remarked that there is “no company memory”, since high levels of turnover mean organisational expertise is constantly bleeding out.
It’s vital that PCS opposes this hiring freeze for what it is: an attempt by the Tories to implement a speed-up and drive people out of their jobs, as part of their austerity agenda.
The civil service needs more staff, working fewer hours with better pay. If Hunt and the Tories can’t afford this, we should expropriate their billionaire backers to pay for it!
Crisis in care: A worker’s view
The care crisis in Britain is deepening, as care workers are crushed between the millstones of criminally low pay on the one hand, and an inefficient, bureaucratic, and chronically-underfunded care system on the other.
We spoke to a domiciliary care worker in the Midlands to discuss what the conditions in the sector are like.
“We encounter a lot of problems with service users discharged from hospital because of the crisis of the NHS and social services,” they told us. “We are over capacity as a company, and I spend all day running around from house to house.”
“On top of this, social services frankly can do an appalling job, making snap judgements and piling on more patients, having only really spent about 5-10 minutes assessing them to find out their long-term needs,” they added.
“Ambulance wait times mean that when a service user falls or is injured, I have to stay with them for 5 or 6 hours, rather than looking after all my other service users.”
“The whole system is broken,” they concluded.
Care workers often have very short time slots in order to meet all the needs of their service users, including washing, feeding, cleaning and administering medication. All this somehow has to be done in 15 minutes, before workers have to rush – unpaid – to the next patient.
“I can end up walking for 35 minutes each way to a client, and only get paid for the 15 minutes I’m there,” the care worker noted. This means real pay rates fall well below minimum wage.
“The government says that ‘they have been aware of this loophole for employers and are working to fix it’ ever since I’ve been working,” the continued. “I don’t think they’ll ever do anything about it.”
“I love my job, I love the people I work with and the service users I work for,” they said. “I describe my relationship with work almost like Stockholm syndrome, though.”
“The service users don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of any of the issues in this system. I’ve worked so hard it’s put me in need of urgent care myself many times. The whole system is fucked.”
The accelerating crisis in Britain means these conditions will only continue to get worse. The private care companies’ priority will always be profit before patients; wealth before health.
To cure these terrible symptoms, we need to attack the disease – capitalism itself.
Birmingham council cuts: The ‘axe’ begins to swing
Thomas Soud, Birmingham IMT
As previously reported, Birmingham City Council, the largest local authority in Europe, has gone bankrupt. One left-wing Labour councillor attending a local picket line spoke to Socialist Appeal about what this means.
“Local democracy is now over,” they stated. “The entire city will be run by unelected commissioners appointed by Michael Gove.”
These commissioners will remain in place until at least 2028, paid a daily rate of at least £1,100. They face no democratic checks, and cannot be removed – either by the council directly, or by any kind of vote from the public.
Their job is to inflict brutal austerity on the people of Birmingham. Indeed, lead commissioner Max ‘the Axe’ Caller has made it clear privatisations and job losses are the order of the day.
The interviewed councillor went on to explain that the main items on the chopping block are schools, benefits, adult social care, and children in care provision. These cuts will be paired with enormous council tax rises for all.
In a city where 40% of the youth grow up in poverty; where four schools had to shut due to faulty concrete; where 600 families a week turn to the council due to the threat of homelessness, it will once again be the poorest who will bear the brunt.
When comrades questioned the councillor about a fighting strategy along the lines of Poplar 1921 or Liverpool in the 1980s, he replied: “We have no power at all…how am I to fight a re-election campaign when it doesn’t matter who you vote for?”
This response speaks for itself. If councillors are powerless, then the city’s public sector workers will have to take up the gauntlet.
Last month, Unite, GMB, Unison and other unions organised by the local Trades Council held a joint protest against the commissioners. The mood was much more radical, with the speaker from Unite boldly declaring: “If you want a fight, bring it on!”
This is the defiant stance that’s required. Now it needs to be backed up with action.
The unions must form a campaign that reaches every household in Birmingham, explaining the need to resist the attacks that are coming – and their real cause, which is the austerity demanded by the capitalists.
The groundwork for coordinated industrial action across the city must be laid.
Let’s kick out the commissioners, defend jobs and services, and make the bosses – not us – pay for this crisis!
City of Glasgow College: Fighting against marketisation
Lecturers at the City of Glasgow College (CoG) have been on strike since May of this year, opposing imposition of compulsory redundancies and cuts across the further education sector. Their dispute is now at a crucial stage.
So far, the union Education Institute of Scotland – Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA) has succeeded in blocking the 100 redundancies, which they say the college is preparing to dole out in a discriminatory way.
Staff are being evaluated on hidden criteria, while being forced to justify their own jobs. This is falling unfairly on teaching staff who have family or care commitments: they cannot demonstrate the (unpaid!) ‘extracurricular’ activities being asked of them.
An absolutely packed EIS/UNISON picket line @CofGCollege this morning – absolutely outstanding!!! There’s power in the unions! @ScottishTUC @theSNP @theSNPMedia @ScottishLabour @scottishgreens @scotlibdems @ScotTories @BBCScotNine @STVNews @Daily_Record @NewsClyde @ScotNational pic.twitter.com/DgSlSrT87j
— EIS-FELA CoGC (@CogcEis) October 10, 2023
As part of this fight, the strikers face a toxic work environment, fostered by college management in order to break their resolve. College bosses are using this dispute to try and bust the union completely.
Despite this, the college’s managers were outrageously granted an award for being a “fair and healthy workplace” by the Glasgow Business Awards!
This is a direct slap in the face of the strikers. It exposes the cosy class solidarity between the Business Awards and the college board of management.
Paul Little is the chief parasite / executive. He sucks over £200,000 a year out of the college in the form of his bloated salary – even larger than Scotland’s First Minister. Meanwhile, his subordinates argue that the college must face cuts of up to £4 million!
CoG College is Scotland’s largest further education institution, with over 10,000 students – the vast majority of whom are working class. It is abundantly clear that the college bosses couldn’t care less about their education.
All student support services – from essay writing to disabilities and mental health – have already been privatised. The union has stated that it intends to put up a fight against this state of affairs.
Every dispute in education today is inseparable from the fight against the creeping marketisation of education. This is an inevitable product of the capitalist system, which subordinates everything to the needs of profit.
The capitalists want to see education subsidising the needs of big business at public expense, rather than providing education to working class people as a public good.
The only way to end for good the attacks that CoG are facing is to fight them on socialist lines. The struggle for decent, free education is a class struggle!