AA Staff Vote To Strike

(Independent) – STAFF AT THE AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION (AA) have voted for their first national strike in more than a century, in a row over proposed changes to their pension schemes.

The breakdown service’s union, the Independent Democratic Union (IDU), said that 57 per cent of its 2,400 members had voted in favour of the walkout, with an 87 per cent turnout. Staff are angry at the AA’s plans to cap employee pensions.

“We will look at the result and decide what we’re going to do next,” said the IDU national secretary Alistair Maclean. “We would rather talk with the AA and try to reach an agreement. If we don’t manage to sit down with the company, we have no alternative than to follow the result of the ballot and set dates for strike action.”

The AA management wants to put a cap on pensionable salaries, to raise employee contributions and to reduce the maximum annual rise in pensions paid to 2.5 per cent a year. Mr Maclean accused the AA’s owners of trying to rob pensions in a move he said would cost employees. The AA expressed disappointment at the outcome of yesterday’s ballot, describing the IDU as “out of touch with the real world”. The breakdown service accused the IDU of “jumping the gun” by balloting AA patrols on strike action before the consultation period ends on 23 April.

“Ballots calling for industrial action are premature as we believe that most staff accept the need for change,” said Andrew Strong, chief executive of AA Services. “We have committed to increase our contributions by 40 per cent, and have improved our offer by raising the cap so feel that the union is out of touch with the real world on this issue.

“We think the majority of staff will support our proposals. We want to offer all our staff a good deal on pensions. The AA is bucking the trend by proposing to keep our final salary section and career average sections open when most companies are closing theirs.”

The AA said a majority of patrols did not vote in favour of strike action – which would be the first in organisation’s 105 year history – as more than 400 were not part of the union. “There’s still support among our patrols so we’re hoping it won’t go to a strike,” said Sue Beeson, head of PR at the AA.

The AA’s 15 million members across the country have been reassured by the self-proclaimed “fourth emergency service” that contingency plans would be enacted to ensure they received a good service, as hundreds of patrols would not be involved in any strike action.

However, the Association of British Drivers expressed concern. “It’s a very sad day if people are going to be breaking down and not getting the help they need,” said a spokesman. “A lot of people do rely on the AA and RAC for breakdown cover. If that’s not forthcoming, that’s not a good situation for drivers.”

Meanwhile, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union held an executive meeting yesterday to plan for a fresh ballot, after strike action timetabled for this week was ruled unlawful by the High Court. “Our dispute with Network Rail remains alive,” said the RMT leader Bob Crow. “The fight to defend 1,500 safety-critical jobs out on the tracks, and safe working conditions for both our signals and maintenance staff, will not be kicked aside by one highly political court ruling.”

… (Guardian, 08/04/2010) – AA Strikes Will Include Bank Holiday

… (Telegraph, 24/04/2010) – AA Strike Is Called Off

Network Rail Granted Injunction Against Rail Strikes

(Guardian) – A HIGH COURT JUDGE today granted Network Rail a temporary injunction to block next week’s planned four-day rail strike by signal workers.

Mrs Justice Sharp made the temporary order after being told that the planned walkout, called by the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union was unlawful because of the way a strike ballot was conducted.

Network Rail said there were scores of “inaccuracies and deficiencies” in the vote of signal workers who backed a walkout with a majority of 54%.

Charles Bear QC, representing the company, said “the union fell short in multiple respects” of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act of 1992.

Frederic Reynold QC, for the union, said the RMT went to “very considerable lengths” to ensure that the ballot was accurate. But Mrs Justice Sharp ruled there were sufficient grounds for granting the injunction.

It does not affect a separate dispute involving maintenance workers who still plan to go ahead with strikes next week. This is expected to cause only minor disruption.

The union is now expected to organise a new ballot of signal workers.

The dispute was prompted by concerns over Network Rail’s plan to cut 1,500 jobs and increase evening and weekend maintenance work.

Network Rail’s successful challenge follows a similar tactic adopted by British Airways when it turned to the courts to avert a threatened strike by cabin crew over Christmas.

The legal challenge forced Unite to reballot its members over a strike. The walkouts went ahead earlier this month after the second vote, but the delay gave BA more time to prepare contingency plans to break the strike.

Network Rail said the irregularities in the vote included:

  • balloting 11 signal boxes that have been closed for years
  • recording more votes than employees in 67 locations
  • failing to ballot 26 workplaces involving 100 staff
  • balloting 12 locations where staff were ineligible to vote.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, said the legal challenge was a “scandalous attempt” to use anti-union laws to prevent the workers exercising their right to strike.

The union expressed disgust at the order and said it would organise another ballot.

Crow said: “This judgment is an attack on the whole trade union movement and twists the anti-union laws even further in favour of the bosses.

“Workers fighting for the principle of a safe railway have had the whole weight of the law thrown against them. Our executive will meet this evening with a recommendation for a re-ballot.

“Our fight for safe working practices on Britain’s railways goes on.”

BA Militants And A Plot To Control Labour

(Daily Mail) – MILITANTS BEHIND THE BRITISH AIRWAYS STRIKE have a secret agenda to take control of the Labour Party, the Daily Mail has revealed.

The hard-Left clique which runs the giant Unite union plans to ‘reclaim or re-found’ Labour, dumping Blairite policies in favour of old-style socialism.

They believe that, because Labour needs union cash to stay afloat, Unite can control its political direction.

The plot is revealed in a series of astonishing emails from Graham Stevenson, a senior Unite official who is also on the executive of the British Communist Party.

Crucially, they show Unite is taking ‘strategic’ direction from the communists on both the BA strike and the overthrow of New Labour.

One email proclaims: ‘The Labour Party is simply broke. As millionaires desert, it has been forced to go back to the unions for funding. We will have a huge number of MPs who are members [of Unite].

‘In the past unions had large parliamentary groups but few MPs actually bothered to take account of our policies. This will change!’

Since Gordon Brown became leader, Unite has given Labour £11million – 25 per cent of its income – and saved it from bankruptcy. Unite is funding 148 Labour seats at the General election at a cost of £460,000.

Thirteen members of the Cabinet – half of the total and including Mr Brown – have received a total of £33,000 from the union. Some 167 Labour MPs and candidates are members of Unite, prompting accusations from the Tories that Mr Brown is in danger of relinquishing power to a ‘militant tendency’.

As national organiser of the transport section of Unite, Mr Stevenson is a central figure in the union, alongside the equally Left-wing assistant general secretary Len McCluskey who is personally coordinating the BA strikes.

The Stevenson emails, sent over the past 12 days to London-based political historian Pavel Stroilov who is writing a book about Labour’s links with Communism, show that after the next election Unite plans to exert ‘vigorous control’ over its sponsored MPs.

Mr Stevenson says: ‘Unions will have to make a judgment decision about Labour – whether to give up on the reclaiming approach or simply re-found it.’

He makes clear his support for Mr McCluskey in the contest for the leadership of Unite – the most powerful post in British trade unionism – which will be held later this year.

Mr McCluskey, who is tipped to win, has promised: ‘I will set out a clear strategy designed to reconstruct the Labour Party so that it speaks with our voice and is committed to our values.’

Unite’s determination to achieve this is shown in the emails. One from the seasoned communist Mr Stevenson – noting that the Prime Minister stayed silent for three days in the run-up to the BA strike – says cheerfully:’

‘Left-leaning union officials once thought that getting Gordon Brown’s ear was useful. It’s now going way beyond that – more akin to “do they have a chance of getting our ear?”.’

The extraordinary correspondence began on March 12 with a routine question from Mr Stroilov to Mr Stevenson about his personal website, which gives a history of the Communist Party in this country.

Mr Stroilov asked: ‘How is the class struggle going? Observing it from some distance, it looks like the spectre of Communism is rising again in the British Labour Movement, isn’t it?’

This unleashed a flurry of emails from the Unite official, who wrote: ‘Yes, things are very busy – the struggle goes on! And yes, the [ Communist] Party is very much in the thick of a great deal.’

Last Thursday, Mr Stevenson explained: ‘It is the case that most of the trade union leadership looks to the Party for strategic direction and most of the Left is prepared to accept the Party’s proposals for policy, so things are moving that way.

‘The unions have accepted almost all of our own [communist] policies, but enacting them is another matter. As a new generation of activists and union members emerges, the mood becomes more militant….’

The following day, Mr Stevenson wrote: ‘The fighting back stance of Unite is wakening up a previously quiescent working class. We are seeing extraordinarily high voting levels for strike action. The most obvious sign is the current furore over the British Airways dispute. But the bus industry has seen a wave of strikes across Britain, largely un-noticed due to the local character of them.’

He adds: ‘The official machine around Brown has latched on to the fact that a sharper class struggle is polarising the country. Class has become a feature of mainstream politics once again. To some extent this is as a result of growing pressure from the unions…

‘The Labour Party is simply broke (it was 30 days away from bankruptcy 18 months ago). As millionaires desert, it has been forced to go back to the unions for funding. Our view is that a coalescence of mass support for progressive politics can be mobilised during the course of this changing mood.’

Last night a Unite spokesman said the emails from Mr Stevenson were a ‘private correspondence’ which represented his own personal views.

Air And Rail Strikes Threaten Travel Plans And Labour Hopes

(Telegraph) – BRITAIN IS FACING the most disruptive wave of industrial action since Labour came to power, as strikes by British Airways staff and rail workers threaten to throw the travel plans of millions of people into chaos.

In a move that represents a “nightmare scenario” for the Gordon Brown’s general election campaign, transport workers and public sector staff are set to stage a wave of strikes around the Easter period.

As many as 13,500 British Airways cabin crew – some of whom earn more than £50,000 – were beginning a three-day walk-out after negotiations with the company broke down.

BA said the strike – called by union Unite – would force it cancel a third of its scheduled flights, affecting 25,000 passengers a day.

A four-day strike is planned for March 27, and disruption to before and after each strike threatens two weeks of disruption for the airline’s customers.

Even before the cabin crew walk-out formally began, some BA passengers with tickets from London Heathrow were dropped from flights because of last-minute overbooking intended to beat the strike deadline.

Hours before the BA talks broke up, the RMT union announced that Network Rail signalling workers have voted for industrial action that could bring about the first national rail strike since 1996.

Rail maintenance workers have also voted to strike. A rail strike could come over the Easter weekend, when an estimated 10 million people are planning to travel by train.

The Public and Commercial Services union has also announced that more than 200,000 civil servants, benefits staff, immigration staff and court officials will strike on March 24, when Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, delivers his pre-election Budget.

The prospect of union action causing inconvenience and uncertainty for voters is causing alarm at the top of the Government. Senior ministers are afraid that voters will punish Labour for the strikes at the general election, planned for May 6.

Some minister fear a “nightmare scenario” where Mr Brown has to seek a dissolution of Parliament and begin the election campaign against a background of continuing industrial action.

Unite has given more than £11 million to Labour since 2007 and has links to more than 160 Labour ministers, MPs and candidates.

The Conservatives have highlighted those links, accusing Mr Brown of failing to stop the BA strike because Labour is “in hock” to Unite.

And while the RMT has cut its ties to Labour, Government insiders accept that many voters will still associate the union’s actions with the Labour Party.

The BA strikes have allowed the Conservatives to regain momentum lost during a period when Labour began to eat into their opinion poll lead.

A senior Cabinet minister told The Daily Telegraph last night that the issue would hurt Labour much more than a recent row over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status damages the Conservatives.

The minister said: “This is far worse for us than the Ashcroft affair is for the Tories. That is a story about politicians and the public view is they are all as bad as each other.

“But these strikes are going to hit consumers hard. Rail and air travel being disrupted will cause a real feeling of anger and it is bound to be taken out on us.”

David Cameron will today step up the pressure on Mr Brown, accusing the Prime Minister of being “feeble” and willing to give in to the unions.

Evoking the spirit of Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative leader will promise to face down “vested interests” if he becomes Prime Minister.

Labour ministers had been hoping that last-minute talks between Tony Woodley, the Unite leader and Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, would resolve the dispute, but the meeting ended without agreement.

Afterwards, Mr Woodley accused BA of wanting to “go to war” with the union by insisting on changes to pay and staffing levels the company says are needed to save money and stay in business.

Mr Woodley said: “The hawks have won the day. People who wanted to negotiate sensibly are being outmanoeuvred and outfought.”

Mr Walsh said the strike threatens BA’s business.

In a letter to Mr Woodley, he urged the union to back down, saying: “For the sake of our customers, our people and our business, it is time to move on and end this damaging dispute.

Meanwhile, the rail signallers, who earn an average of £50,000 a year, have voted for industrial action in a dispute over work rotas.

Only 54 per cent of RMT signallers voted for industrial action, but Bob Crow, the union’s leader, said industrial action “looms large”.

Robin Gisby of Network Rail accused Mr Crow of “classic militant tactics” and said the RMT should drop its planned action.

He said: “We urge the union to get back round the negotiating table and talk to us about the real issues, and stop trying to hold the country to ransom.”

Raising hopes of a resolution, Network Rail and the RMT last night agreed to talks at ACAS, the conciliation service, next week.

But the union did not withdraw the threat of industrial action, saying it will name the dates for any strikes next week.

Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, this week accused trade union leaders of trying to “hold passengers to ransom”, criticism that Gordon Brown has pointedly failed to repeat.

Lord Adonis said the failure of the BA strike was “disappointing.” He said: “This strike is in no-one’s interests and will cause major inconvenience to passengers.”

Theresa Villiers, the Conservative shadow transport secretary said Mr Brown should either force Unite to call off the BA strike or stop accepting the union’s donations to Labour.

She said: “Labour’s union paymasters at Unite are determined to inflict travel misery on thousands of families. It is disgraceful that they are going ahead with this unnecessary strike.

“Britain now faces Labour’s spring of discontent with militant unions threatening to bring our railways to a standstill as well. Strike action could leave the country facing a serious transport meltdown.”

Mr Brown himself made no comment on the BA strike, but issued a statement though a No 10 spokesman.

No 10 said: “The Prime Minister believes that this strike is in no-one’s interest and will cause unacceptable inconvenience to passengers. He urges the strike be called off immediately. He also urges BA’s management and workforce to get together without delay to resolve what is a dispute about jobs and wages.”

BA Faces Prospect Of Crippling Strikes As Talks Break Down

(Independent) – BRITISH AIRWAYS is facing the prospect of crippling strikes by its cabin crew after talks aimed at resolving a bitter row over cost-cutting broke down last night.

Hopes of a breakthrough in the long running dispute collapsed when marathon talks ended without agreement.

Officials from Unite will meet today to decide their next move, and are set to announce strike dates.

The union’s 12,500 cabin crew members have voted twice hugely in favour of industrial action, but a planned walkout over Christmas was halted after a successful legal challenge from BA.

The union has ruled out striking over Easter, but a walkout could come as early as March 18.

Unite will have to give BA seven days’ notice, but the scene is now set for a bitter confrontation.

The two sides were embroiled in negotiations under the chairmanship of TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, which broke up tonight without agreement.

Mr Barber said: “Despite a prolonged period of negotiations it has not been possible to reach agreement between BA and Unite.

“Both parties will be reflecting on the position and the TUC will be keeping in touch but at this stage no further negotiations are planned.”

Unite said: “Talks with British Airways concluded today without agreement being reached. Management’s offer went nowhere near addressing our members’ concerns over crew numbers and service levels.

“Today’s talks were further impeded by gratuitously provocative statements by senior BA managers not involved in the negotiations, once more calling into question the company’s interest in reaching an agreement.

“Unite representatives will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the consequences of this breakdown. Should BA wish to make an improved offer, they have time to do so.”

BA said it remained available for further negotiations but hopes of resurrecting talks were slim.

Earlier, Unite put forward a 10-page document it said contained possible savings of almost £63 million, including a one year pay freeze, followed by a pay cut of 2.6 per cent.

BA said its package would save £62.5 million a year and would not reduce the pay of existing crew.

The airline said the union’s proposals fell “significantly short” of this level of savings and would lead to pay cuts of between £1,000 and £2,700 for crew, figures the union disputed.

… (Guardian, 12/03/2010) – How the strike affects you

… (Guardian, 15/03/2010) – Gordon Brown intervenes in BA strike

Network Rail Workers Vote In Favour Of Strikes

(Independent) – THOUSANDS OF NETWORK RAIL MAINTENANCE WORKERS have voted strongly in favour of strikes in a row over jobs, bringing the threat of industrial action over Easter closer, it was announced today.

The Rail Maritime and Transport union said 77% of its members who took part in the ballot backed strikes, with 89% supporting action short of a strike.

There was a 65% turnout in the ballot, called in protest at plans to cut 1,500 maintenance jobs and change working practices.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “RMT members were faced with a stark choice in this ballot. They could either sit back and wait for these cash-led maintenance cuts to lead to another major disaster on Britain’s railways or they could vote to take action to stop the attack on rail safety. They have overwhelmingly voted to take action.

“Nobody should be under any illusions about just how determined RMT members are to win this dispute and to stop this reckless gamble with rail safety. Nearly 150 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion opposing Network Rail’s cuts plans and have urged the Government to intervene to call a halt to this jobs carnage on the tracks.

“RMT is in no doubt that the cuts programme drawn up by Network Rail would drag us back to the dark days of Railtrack and would make another Hatfield, Potters Bar or Grayrigg disaster an inevitability. That is what this dispute is all about and even the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has had to concede that the botched attempt to bulldoze through these cuts has raised serious safety concerns.

“RMT remains available for talks with Network Rail and we would hope that in light of the overwhelming mandate for action delivered by our members today that the chairman will respond to our request for meaningful discussions aimed at ensuring that the staffing levels required to deliver a safe rail system are maintained.”

The RMT executive will discuss its next move in the dispute next Friday, March 19, on the same day that a strike vote among NR signal workers in the same dispute is announced.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced today that 1,600 of its members, including electrical controllers in charge of supplying power to the tracks, would vote in the coming weeks on whether to strike over a 0.8% pay offer.

The union will announce tomorrow the result of a ballot among 2,000 of its NR members, including supervisors, in the job cuts row.

TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: “Network Rail is stumbling into a dispute by its high-handed approach to its workforce.

“Bosses are quick to award themselves bonuses worth hundreds of thousands of pounds every year and then they turn around and ask their employees to take an effective pay cut with an insulting offer well below inflation.”

The two unions will stage a demonstration outside NR’s London headquarters tomorrow.

NR said this week it had contingency plans to deal with any strikes over Easter and maintained that the vast majority of job cuts would be achieved through voluntary redundancy.

The firm said it needed to change working practices so that more maintenance staff worked at weekends to make repairs and maintenance more efficient.

An NR spokesman said: “The way the railway is maintained and operated needs to change. Work practices that date back to the steam age should no longer have a place on a modern railway. We all have a duty to get best value for the British people whilst running a safe, reliable and efficient rail network.

“We cannot allow the unions to hold this country to ransom. Negotiation is the only way this dispute will be settled, and the sooner we get around the table the better for everyone.

“There is still time for the RMT to come to its senses and resolve this dispute in a responsible manner. Our contingency plans to manage any industrial action are at an advanced stage and we will do all we can to minimise any disruption.”

… (Guardian, 17/03/2010) – Last-ditch talks to stave off national rail strike

270,000 Civil Servants Join 48-Hour Strike

(BBC) – UP TO 270,000 CIVIL SERVANTS have begun a 48-hour strike over redundancy pay, in what is the biggest unrest by the sector in more than two decades.

Courts, ports, job and tax centres and emergency police call centres are being affected by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) walkout.

It says members could lose a third of their entitlement over cuts under the civil service compensation scheme.

The government said other civil service unions agreed the changes were fair.

Under the new system – which takes effect in April and will save about £500m – those laid off and taking voluntary redundancy will have their pay-offs capped at £60,000.

Redundancy is currently calculated on length of service, with a month’s pay for every year worked.

The PCS said an employee with 20 years’ service earning £24,000 could lose £20,000 as a result of new caps.

But the government said those earning £30,000 or less – 80% of all staff – would still get up to between two and three years’ salary.

The PCS union said its striking members include staff at government departments, as well as workers in Parliament, museums and the Royal Courts of Justice.

The walkout is the biggest show of industrial unrest in the civil service since 1987 and more action is planned ahead of the general election.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said the government had ripped up already low-paid workers’ contractual entitlements to redundancy pay, meaning they could be sacked on the cheap.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s very destabilising for our members, some of whom have worked for over 30 years for the public service, to suddenly realise they could lose their job and actually a large amount of money they would have depended on.

“People over the years have accepted that pay isn’t what it should be but they felt their job was secure and their pension was decent.

“Now in the last few years, 100,000 jobs have gone, and many more are likely to go after the election, so people feel very vulnerable.”

Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said the decision to strike was very disappointing, “especially given that less than one in five of their own members voted in favour of strike action, and that, overall, this figure represents only around 10% of the total civil Service workforce”.

She said: “The changes to the civil service compensation scheme were agreed with five of the six civil service unions after 18 months of negotiation and consultation. These unions all agree with us that the resulting deal is fair for staff and taxpayers.

“During the negotiating process, we responded to union concerns by ensuring additional protection for lower paid staff.

“Those earning £30,000 or less – 80% of all staff – will still get up to between two and three years’ salary, while civil servants earning over £30,000 will have redundancy pay capped at two times salary.

“This package brings the civil service more into line with the rest of the public sector and still offers more generous terms than much of the private sector.”