Thursday saw us hold our AGM, our ninth since officially relaunching last decade, and despite some organisation hiccoughs (those who were there know what I mean!) it was a really good night.
Unfortunately, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes was forced to give his apologies because he was attending talks between Irish bus workers and their employers at the time. Never the less, we had some excellent speakers, starting with two comrades from Derby Unison to talk to us about the long running dispute between school support staff and the city council.
Unions organiser Oliver gave us the basic run-down on the situation, in which the council had very specifically targeted school support workers for an alleged “equal pay review” that saw their already modest salaries cut by as much as 25% in some cases, forcing the union into industrial action that has been running since June last year. Teaching assistant Sarah, who works with children with special needs, spoke very movingly about how her colleagues desperately wanted to just go back to jobs that they care about deeply, but are losing homes and livelihoods and feel they have no choice. Disappointingly, Derby city council is a Labour administration (with a majority of one!) that has proved intransigent to appeals from the national leaderships of both Unison and the Labour Party. Barnet TUC resolved to donate one hundred pounds, and do a collection on the night, but more importantly to get this massive dispute to be more widely known to help these essential workers get justice. We are all being asked to write to Derby councillors and urge them to end this attack on school support workers. Get more information on the Derby City Unison Facebook page.
Next we heard from Phoebe Moore, of the UCU, speaking about her work with the Freedom of Movement campaign. Freedom of Movement was set up by university workers in response to threat that restrictions on immigration have toward higher education in this country, and what they perceived to be a drift within the labour movement to supporting this by endorsing restrictive “points based” systems that countries like Australia use. They have been primarily working on getting educational institutions to commit to passing motions affirming support for free movement, but are now urging other parts of the movement to come on board. Our own Unison members followed this up with their experience of trying to organise a symbolic “One Day without Us” event on February 20th. They found out that there was actually significant fear among EU national workers about doing simple things like being photographed holding “I am Immigrant” placards, showing how necessary this work really is. Bahir from the NUT also urged the meeting to remember that freedom of movement is something that we want for all people, not just those of certain nationalities, we are internationalists not just Europeans.
Our final speaker Miriam Scharf from the Middle-East and North Africa Solidarity Network. Although MENA, which was formed in 2011 in response to the wave of revolutions in the region, actually gets involved in workers’ struggles in many countries, Miriam spoke to us primarily about the organisation’s work with activists in around Egypt. Despite heavy repression since the counter-revolution of 2013, workers and activists in Egypt have continued to take action – there are actually more strikes per year in Egypt than in Britain, despite striking being completely illegal. MENA was part of numerous important campaigns, such as the campaign to get the labour lawyer Haitham Mohamedain released from prison and support for Alexandria dockworkers, ultimately successful, action against their military employers (pictured). Miriam urged urgent support for an Amnesty International letter writing campaign that is happening now, justice for Italian Cambridge University student Gulio Regeni, who was captured and murdered while in Egypt researching the conditions of Egyptian workers in January last year. BTUC voted to affiliate to MENA.
Obviously, the key task for the AGM was approving our constitution and officers committee for the new year. I am proud to announce that the following officers have been elected:
- President: Keith Nason, Barnet NUT
- Vice-President: Dominic Alexander, Barnet College UCU
- Secretary: Kieran Crowe, London Underground MATS & Operational Management TSSA
- Minutes Secretary: Bahir Lattoe, Barnet NUT
- Equalities Officer: Helen Davies, Barnet Local Government Unison
The posts of treasurer and deputy treasurer will announced shortly. I think I can speak for the entire committee and say that we are all looking forward to a fresh year’s campaign, starting with the march against racism next week.