A Palestinian voice in London
COMRADE Fouad from the Palestinian West Bank town of Beit Furik has been in London for a week for a busy speaking tour, telling Londoners of the plight of the Palestinian people and building friendship and solidarity in support of the twinning process. Last Friday he spoke to students at Goldsmiths College in New Cross; on Saturday morning he helped at the South East London Palestine Solidarity’s regular stall in Lewisham and on Saturday night addressed a packed assembly in Lewisham Mosque.
He told the crowd of the logistical problems created by the Israeli occupying forces that make the lives of Palestinians very difficult.
Israeli checkpoints cover all the roads in and out of towns and villages. Getting through these checkpoints can take hours of queuing to be searched and humiliated – affecting students of their way to college, sick people on their way to health centres and farmers on their way to their fields or to markets.
The checkpoints have erratic opening times, making normal routine living almost impossible.
Fouad also spoke of the big wall, built on Palestinian land, that has taken up a lot of the best agricultural land; he spoke of the mushrooming settlements that take yet more agricultural land – the economic lifeblood of the Palestinian people – and take up the sparse water supplies. Meanwhile Palestinians in summer, when their small domestic wells run dry, are forced to pay $7 for 10 cubic metres of water.
But many cannot pay – there 75 per cent unemployment in the West Bank in general and 80 per cent in Beit Furik.
During questions and discussion, Fouad said he did not have hopes of any positive outcome of the current peace talks in Annapolis because they did not address a single one of the Palestinians’ basic demands.
Tube cleaners’ massive pay victory
TUBE CLEANERS employed by Metronet – the company contracted to upgrade London Underground’s infrastructure – are to receive substantial pay rises when Transport for London takes over the failed privateer’s contracts. This marks a huge victory for a two-year campaign by the RMT transport union.
RMT last Friday revealed that Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has agreed that the London Living Wage of £7.20 an hour will become the minimum for some 900 cleaners on former Metronet contracts from the moment TfL take charge of them.
For some cleaners paid only the minimum legal wage of £5.85 it will mean an increase of at least £1.35 an hour – well over 20 per cent.
“This is great news that marks a significant victory for RMT’s Justice for Cleaners campaign, and Tubelines must be next,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
“For more than two years RMT cleaners, supported by their colleagues across the Tube network, have been campaigning for the pay justice, dignity and respect due to them, and the first major victory is now in sight.
“We have lodged claims with all the cleaning contractors working on the Tube – including ISS, which is contracted to Tubelines – for £7.20 to be the minimum hourly rate, with a minimum £1 hourly night premium, for all Tube cleaners.
“No-one can accuse us of being unreasonable for asking for the free travel that other Tube workers already get, a minimum of 20 days holiday over and above bank holidays, sick pay and a pension scheme.
“It is nonsense that cleaning contractors who make millions cannot afford to pay a living wage to the people who do some of the dirtiest and most difficult jobs on the Tube, and the time has come to start bringing cleaning back in-house,” Bob Crow said.
SERTUC health and safety conference
AROUND 400 trade union delegates attended the South East Region TUC “Working together for Health and Safety” conference at the TUC’s London Congress House on Friday 23rd November.
They heard Lord McKenzie, the parliamentary under-secretary responsible for health and safety as he reported that last year two million workers took sick leave through stress and other work-related illnesses. not good enough
The conference was told that 241 died through accidents at work – though McKenzie claimed this indicated a downward trend.
The conference concluded that this was not good enough, especially in the construction industry – the most dangerous sector in Britain.
Mike Fletcher, representing the public sector union Unison North-East Essex Mental Health branch told the conference that the basic health and safety problem in his sector was shortage of staff and that attacks on psychiatric nurses were increasing.
He said that female staff left alone on wards – because of staff shortages – were particularly vulnerable to attacks from patients.
Mike called for the reversal of all privatisation in the NHS.
Ambulance workers also told the conference of the effects of staffing cuts, which endangered both staff and patients. They said that in the whole Norwich area at times only two ambulances were covering the whole area.
One delegate asked Lord McKenzie why his own health and safety department was about to be cut by 20 per cent.
Road sweepers told the conference they had no access to toilets while at work and had been told by employers that they could only use toilets at certain times.
Nevertheless it was a productive conference and showed a heartening rise in the number of ethnic workers in the ranks of trade union activists.
It concluded by calling for an improvement of health and safety in factories, construction sites, the NHS and education.