Friday, September 28, 2018

Traffic wardens threaten action

 By New Worker correspondent

 In the north London borough of Camden traffic wardens have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action over pay and claims they are constantly monitored by bosses having to log their location every five minutes.
  They are employed by contractor NSL (the former National Car Parks) which is hired by over 60 local authorities and ironically has Investors in People accreditation. 
 However the Civil Enforcement Officers, to give them their Sunday name, have a grim time.
A majority of them are black and suffer racist and physical abuse from irate motorists. The local branch of Unison said they are subject to “invasive” level of checks. One warder told the Camden New Journal: “If you want to go to the toilet, you have to log it. If you are going to buy water, you have to log it. If you want to sit down to rest your feet, you have to log it. If you forget, it’s a disciplinary.” The bosses say this is to protect the workers from attacks and to confirm time and place of penalties.
 Another warden was hospitalised after being attacked by a chain used to lock motor cycles. 
  Last year the council received £26 million in “surplus” from parking tickets, which is ring-fenced to be spent on transport projects. Little of this goes to the warders. They presently earn £10 an hour, short of the London Living Wage of £10.20.
  Speaking on behalf of the local Unison branch chair Liz Wheatley, said: “In today’s society it is pretty scandalous, especially in a borough like Camden that professes to have ethical employment practises and ethical procurement, that we can end up with a predominantly black, low-paid workforce forced to have to take strike action every single time they want to try and get a pay increase.”
 Earlier this year, in the neighbouring borough of Hackney 40 traffic wardens in a pay dispute with their employers APOCA Parking went of a 48 hour strike. This was over demands for a five percent pay increase. They too were only on the London Living Wage. At the time Unite official said “These workers, out in all weathers, only get the LLW uprate each year. So instead of being the minimum that employers should pay, the LLW becomes the maximum” before adding “We are arguing that each April there should be proper pay negotiations – with the aim of taking workers above the LLW”.
The fact that the minimum wage has become the maximum is exactly what the New Communist Party warned about when in the early days of the Blair government it was offered as a crumb to the unions by New Labour.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Mounting anger over Grenfell Tower Inquiry

Moyra Samuels speaking
By Theo Russell

Warnings of protests at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry were heard this week as anger and frustration mount over the direction of the inquiry at a meeting between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the local community close to the site of the fire, the worst in the UK since the Blitz.
Frustration and anger is mounting at the direction of the inquiry, where the presiding judge initially refused to take any questions from community members.
Moyra Samuels of the Justice4Grenfell campaign received loud applause from survivors and local community members at the meeting last Tuesday when she said: “There should be protests outside the inquiry, to show the judge that people are not happy with it.”
Her call was backed up by Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, who said: “If a total ban on the use of external flammable cladding is not announced, maybe we should start protesting against the inquiry.”
Samuels told the meeting: “We are a tough community but unfortunately we discovered that through the fire at Grenfell. We need truth, accountability, change and justice.”
She dubbed Kensington & Chelsea council, the richest in Britain, “the Royal Borough of Murder and Profit”, and said that “trust between the North Kensington community and the council had broken down long before the fire”.
“We were told by fire experts that the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower was safe, yet now a QC has told the Inquiry that it was actually a death trap. We have discovered that profit is more important than people.”
Matt Wrack added that a parliamentary committee was warned as far back as 1999 that faulty cladding posed serious fire hazards.
Now the inquiry has heard from Angelo Lucchini, an Italian architectural engineer, that the cladding used at Grenfell was equivalent to dousing the building with 32,000 litres of petrol, “enough to fill approximately 600 cars”.
The FBU is calling for a total ban on flammable cladding, which is used for weather and sound proofing, yet incredibly so far the inquiry has shown no signs of calling for a total ban.
The government has admitted that the cladding used at Grenfell was unlawful, yet instead of calling for a complete ban is carrying out a consultation on the use of combustible materials, in which companies making the cladding will take part.
Matt Wrack told the meeting that “very powerful forces are lobbying against a ban, and they have the ear of the government”. These companies are part of a multi-billion pound building, construction and property industry.
Wrack said that before Grenfell no tests were conducted on combustible cladding, which has also been used on hundreds of blocks across Britain, but since the fire dozens of tests have all failed safety requirements.
He said the FBU is also calling for a thorough review of fire and building regulations, which have been gutted in the last 20 years, and cuts to fire brigades. In 2015–2016 there was a 15 per cent rise in fire deaths in London.
Ten fire stations and 600 firefighter posts were cut during Boris Johnson’s term as London Mayor. On the day of the tragedy firefighters had to call for assistance from neighbouring brigades, yet even then had to work in the tower for 12 hours or more with no chance of being relieved.
The FBU has complained to the inquiry about its choice of expert witnesses, who include the same Chief Fire Officers who supported service cuts and deregulation.
Fifteen months on from the fire many survivors are still in temporary accommodation. The day after the fire a survivor said the tower was an “accident waiting to happen”, adding: “For years they’ve abused our community.”
Concerns about the tower’s safety began years before the fire and in 2013 the council threatened Grenfell resident Edward Daffarn with legal action after he blogged about fire safety concerns, including power surges that caused computers and stereos to blow up filling rooms with smoke.
In a blog in November 2016 Daffam warned: "It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord."
Over 100 people living in the block told an emergency residents’ meeting on the Grenfell refurbishment in 2015 that the council’s Tenant Management Organisation and the contractors were “using cheap materials and cutting corners”.
The day after the tragedy one of the messages on the tribute wall nearby read “Justice for Grenfell. Jail those responsible”. That is still what the community is demanding, and they want the cladding contractors and the senior politicians responsible to be included.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Cleaners’ strikes spread after victory!

by New Worker correspondent

Cleaners working at Kensington & Chelsea town hall are celebrating a promise that they will get a pay rise and will be paid the London Living Wage.
The United Voices of the World (UVW) union said last Tuesday that the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBKC) had agreed to pay its cleaning staff a London Living Wage of £10.20 per hour from January 2019, instead of their current legal minimum wage of £7.83 per hour.
The UVW said that the Tory council leader Elizabeth Campbell and chief executive Barry Quirk said that the council would also look at early termination of a 10-year contract with the cleaners’ employer, Amey, and would try to get a retrospective pay rise staring from October.
The UVW organised three strike ballots, all with 100 per cent yes votes, started a fourth ballot, and carried out co-ordinated strikes over three days at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the RBKC.
Dozens of local labour movement activists joined the pickets at Kensington and the MoJ, including the new Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent-Coad and shadow justice minister Richard Burgon.
Emma Dent-Coad told the strikers: “Solidarity with the employees of Amey to RBKC. Your determination (and a bit of salsa) has earned you an impressive victory. Now we fight for justice at the Ministry of Justice! Respect,” and Richard Burgon said it was “an absolute scandal that you are not being paid £10.20 an hour.
“£7.83 an hour is the legal minimum they can get away with paying you. They should value you more than that.”
On 23rd August, UVW also announced it would be joining forces with the PCS union in a strike for a London Living Wage for “cleaners, security and all outsourced and support staff” at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
A statement from the unions said: “The UVW and PCS union members at the MoJ and BEIS HQ are coming together for a joint rally and call out to their respective Secretaries of State to intervene and pay up!”, followed by a march from the MoJ to the BEIS.
The rally was joined by Labour front bench members Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and shadow BEIS minister Rebecca Long-Bailey.