Activists who occupied a well-known Trade Union building are claiming the direct action was a success.
A dozen members of the Teesside Anarchist Network, Teesside Solidarity and various individuals occupied the Trade Union-owned Cleveland Trade Unionists and Unemployed Workers Centre on Marton Road, Middlesbrough on Friday.
The activists said the building was neglected and dilapidated and should be renovated and put to good use for various activities like a clothing bank, advice centre, creche and bookshop.
Cleveland Police were called and the anarchists and socialists agreed to leave after Cleveland Trades Council representatives agreed to meet with them to discuss how the building could be better used.
A statement by Teesside Anarchist Network said: “Direct action gets the goods.”
Bob Stephenson, secretary of Cleveland Trades Council, said:
“Those people do not have any connection with us or our centre. They said they were trying to support us but their actions have done more harm than good. They gained access by booking a room under an other name.”
Around 300 people took part in the Tyne and Wear May Day March and Rally in Newcastle on Saturday.
The event coincided with the 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ international May Day celebrations.
Back in 1890, the international demand was for an eight-hour maximum to the working day. This call united workers in the United States, Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria and many other countries.
One of the organisers of the Tyneside event, Martin Levy, said:
“There’s a lot of people on zero hours contracts today who would love to get the chance to work eight hours.”
“The march is as relevant today as it was 125 years ago. It’s very important as a statement of the principles of the Trade Union and Labour movement – solidarity, fighting inequality and fighting for social justice.
“These issues don’t just go away.”
Speakers at the event included Christine Payne, general secretary of actors’ union Equity; Ian Mearns, Labour’s candidate for the Gateshead constituency at the forthcoming general election and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of Unite the Union and deputy president of the Stop the War Coalition.
Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had been due to speak but had to cancel at the last minute.
His place on the platform was taken by Ann Schofield of the Tyneside Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.
Those taking part assembled at Princess Square then walked along Northumberland Street and then past St Thomas’s Church towards Exhibition Park, where the rally was held.
Music on the march was provided by the Backworth Colliery Band, while local musicians DrumDin (OK) and The Backyard Rhythm Orchestra performed at the rally.
Mr Levy added:
“This 125th anniversary of the very first workers’ May Day was an opportunity to make clear our opposition to austerity and privatisation, and to express solidarity with all those struggling for a better world, particularly the people of Palestine.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 May 2015
Echoes of the Thatcher era… nothing really changes.
Scores of jobs to go at South Tyneside shipyard
Fifty-eight jobs are to be axed at a South Tyneside shipyard.
The workers are set to go at A&P Tyne, on the Wagonway Road Industrial Estate, Hebburn, as the company says it is trying to “respond to peaks and troughs in demand”.
A company spokesman said consultation over the job losses had now been launched with trade union representatives.
The news comes just months after the business, which specialises in the design, fabrication, installation and commissioning of seabed-to-surface projects, successfully completed part of a £60m aircraft carrier contract for the Ministry of Defence.
Management, office and supervisor levels have also been advised their jobs are at risk, according to a source, although the jobs of welders and platers are said to be safe.
A spokesman for the company said:
“A&P Tyne has entered into a period of consultation during which it will review the number of people employed at its site in Hebburn.
“The reduction in workforce is part of a restructure at A&P Tyne that will enable the business to remain competitive in a challenging, global marketplace.
“A&P Tyne needs to respond to peaks and troughs in demand.”
“Ship repair work is subject to fluctuation and the restructuring will ensure that staffing costs adjust to tally with fluctuating ship repair income, to secure the future viability of the yard. Consultations are being undertaken with trade union and elected employee representatives.
“Fifty-eight roles have been put forward for redundancy, but final numbers will not be reached until the end of the 30-ay consultation period.”
Less than a fortnight ago, Jarrow’s Labour Parliamentary candidate Stephen Hepburn, alongside Vernon Coaker, his party’s shadow defence secretary, visited A&P to see at first hand the work being carried out there.
At the time, Andy Shaw, A&P’s group managing director, said was able to highlight to his guests his company’s success in rapidly turning around contracts.
“The future of the defence sector is hugely important to A&P Group, given that we continue to deliver multi-million pound contracts for the Ministry of Defence and see this as a growth area across the group going forward.
“We are contracted across a broad range of defence projects including the MoD Aircraft Carrier build programme, the Astute Class Nuclear Submarine programme and through-life support of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.”
It is believed all the workers to be made redundant will be off-site by the beginning of June.
Source – Shields Gazette, 01 May 2015
Ministers have been accused of launching a pre-election attack on trade unions by making it harder to collect union dues from Government employees.
North East MPs said the change could hit thousands of workers at the Benton Park View complex in Newcastle, known as Longbenton, where Whitehall departments have offices.
MP Nick Brown challenged ministers to justify the decision in the House of Commons, while Blaydon MP David Anderson claimed the Government wanted to create “another Arthur Scargill” to drum up anti-union feeling.
It follows the announcement that Government departments are to stop paying trade union subscriptions directly from the payroll on behalf of staff, a practice known as “checking off”.
Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, told MPs:
“I believe that this change will enable unions to build a much more direct relationship with their members, without the need for the relationship to be intermediated by the employer.”
But the change could affect 5,500 people working at Longbenton the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and outsourced service providers, according to Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East.
He pointed out that departments routinely helped staff pay a range of fees and subscriptions – but the Government was only targeting unions.
Speaking in the Commons, the MP said:
“Government Departments offer a range of check-off services to their employees, including deductions for membership fees, for private sporting clubs, for private clubs more generally and even for private medical schemes.
“What is it that makes the payments of trade union dues exceptional? Why would any employer want to withdraw this from its own employees?”
Mr Anderon said the Government was attacking unions as a political stunt in the run up to the election.
“The truth is that this is nothing more than another attempt to find the bogeyman whom the Conservatives have tried to find for the last five years.
“They want another Arthur Scargill so that they can try to rattle a can in the next few weeks. That is what this is all about.”
And the move was also condemned by Bishop Auckland Labour MP Helen Goodman, who said ministers wanted to weaken unions in advance of spending cuts.
“Why has the Minister chosen this moment to crack down on check-off? Has he done so because the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a one million reduction in the number of public servants, and he wants to weaken the unions before that happens?”
Mr Maude told her:
“We have looked at this in a perfectly sensible, straightforward way. We want trade unions in the civil service – and in this context I am talking only about the civil service – to engage in a sensible, modern fashion, and we want public money to be deployed in the delivery of public services rather than the delivery of trade union officials’ salaries.”
“Many unions have sought to withdraw from check-off arrangements themselves, because they take the view that a modern union in a modern workplace should have a direct relationship with their members, not intermediated by the employer.
“Check-off dates from an era when many people did not have bank accounts and direct debit did not exist. It exists now, and many unions take the view, and indeed the Public and Commercial Services Union has said, that the easiest way to collect their dues is through direct debit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Mar 2015
A trade union has accused police of carrying out a “witch hunt” in connection with a long-running dispute over the building of a Teesside power plant.
The GMB union claims its members were “targeted for questioning” and a member was visited by police at their home.
The criticism of Cleveland Police’s actions is linked to the union’s ongoing row with Sita Sembcorp over the levels of foreign workers used to build a £250m energy plant at Wilton.
The GMB union is seeking to know how the force learned the names and private mobile telephone numbers of union members.
It has also asked why a member was visited by officers at their home last Sunday to be questioned about a protest held at the Wilton industrial site on Monday.
Phil Whitehurst, GMB national officer, said:
“The Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger needs to ask the police to answer some basic questions on this activity by the Cleveland Police on this protest over discrimination by Sita SembCorp against Teesside workers.
“We need to know who instigated this witch hunt, why were unemployed construction workers targeted for questioning, how the police got their names and private mobile telephone numbers and home addresses.
“Above all we need to know why Cleveland Police devote resources to targeting peaceful trade union protest rather than fighting criminal activity in the area.”
In response, Chief Superintendent Adrian Roberts of Cleveland Police said:
“Officers were made aware of a number of posts on an open social media profile, which discussed protests planned at the Wilton site on the morning of Monday, February 23, and that this would potentially involve large numbers of protesters congregating at the entry and exit gates to the site.
“Police identified that the protest would coincide with rush hour and due to existing road works on the A174, that there would be substantial congestion.
“Public safety is paramount and with a site of this nature, there was an absolute need to ensure the ability of emergency service vehicles to enter and leave the site in the event of an emergency.
“In line with national best practice, officers from Cleveland Police openly sought to identify and engage with the organisers in advance, to explain the role of the force and open a dialogue to ensure the protest went ahead peacefully, lawfully and safely.
“This involved contact with one of the trade unions who were known to be connected to the dispute. They indicated that they were aware of the individual who appeared from social media to be organising the protest but that the protest had nothing to do with them.
“In order to establish a working dialogue with protesters, officers made direct contact with an individual via telephone, but having generated no response, the person was visited at his home address by an officer.
“There was no suggestion whatsoever that the right to protest would be improperly impeded, however, the individual was unforthcoming. To be clear the police had no knowledge of any current affiliation between this individual and the GMB trades union.
“As in all situations of this type, Cleveland Police’s role was to objectively and impartially balance the rights of individuals to engage in peaceful protest with the rights of affected businesses and members of the public to go about their lawful activities.
“Cleveland Police would very much welcome the engagement of GMB or any other trades union involved in the planning of any future protests, and would invite contact.”
Also responding to the comments, Cleveland Police and crime commissioner, Barry Coppinger said:
“I have not received any correspondence or complaint from the GMB or any other individual or organisation with regard to the matters reported in the local media.
“If I do receive such correspondence I will act appropriately.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 26 Feb 2015
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has announced its candidate to to fight the Darlington parliamentary seat in the General Election will be Alan Docherty.
Mr Docherty, a trade union member and environmental activist, who has lived and worked in Darlington for more than 40 years on the railways and at Darlington Borough Council, said he knows the town and the issues it is facing well.
He is the former branch secretary of the Darlington local government branch of Unison, is the co-ordinator of Darlington Trades Union Council’s Darlington Against Cuts group and secretary of the Teesside Socialist Party.
Mr Docherty regularly campaigns in the town and across Teesside for trade union, anti cuts and environmental groups.
The TUSC’s policies include bringing the railways, buses, utilities and the postal service back into public ownership; no cuts to public services; investment in green energy; nationalising the banks and stopping tax avoidance.
Mr Docherty said:
“We consider that the Labour Party no longer represents the interest of ordinary people.
“It is publicly committed to economic policies, similar to those of the Lib Dems, Conservatives and UKIP, that will continue to reduce people’s living standards and cut public services.
“It is our aim to reverse the false message that austerity and cuts are the only way to rebuild the economy. We can and will change the face of politics in Britain too’.
The TUSC was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, former Rail and Maritime Trade Union (RMT) leader, to enable trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand anti-austerity candidates against the pro-austerity establishment parties.
A union chief claims his reps have more standing than the MPs calling for reform.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the country’s biggest trade union, Unison, slammed Tory plans to make striking harder . . . and said millions of paid up members give union chiefs more clout that politicians.
He was speaking as of the Northern TUC held a Public Services Alliance Emergency Summit in Newcastle over what unions brand a “constant assault on the public sector”.
David Cameron’s party wants to raise the strike ballot threshold to a 40% turnout, end a ban on using agency workers to cover strikers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for strike action to take place and curb picketing.
Today, a strike is valid if it achieves a simple majority.
Defenders of the proposals – which form part of the Tories’ election manifesto – say strikes with low turnout among supporters are not legitimate.
But Dave Prentis said his union has the backing of its 1.3 million members, adding: “As public sector workers, we need to be able to take many forms of action or employers will be able to do whatever they want to us.
“If we do get another five years of this coalition, public services will shrink back to 1930s levels and the trade unions will be hit more than anybody else.
“We represent 1.3 million public sector workers and I really do think that trade unions and their representatives have got more standing than the politicians putting forward these proposals.”
The union chief is lashing out after a long period of discontent which has seen dozens of strikes across the public sector over job losses and pay cuts.
He added the reforms put unions in an impossible position.
He said: : “Turnout is about 25% to 30% throughout the country but we do want to encourage people to vote.
“We spend millions of pounds sending out voting papers to home addresses when life is different now. You can vote electronically and in many different organisations you use email or mobile phone but we can’t do that.
“We are willing to fund a ballot box near workplaces to do a vote just like in a general election, but because of legislation we can’t do these things.
“The only means our members can vote is a postal ballot. This puts us in an impossible position.”
The Emergency Public Services Summit is being held at the Thistle County Hotel in Newcastle city centre on Saturday.
It is chaired by Clare Williams, chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance, and other speakers include Tyneside Labour MPs Dave Anderson and Chi Onwurah.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Jan 2015
The leader of Gateshead Council has spoken of the heartbreak of having to make drastic budget cuts to plug an expected £46m shortfall in its finances over the next two years.
Coun Mick Henry said:
“It’s heartbreaking not just for me but people who work here who have joined me on the council. We’re all from Gateshead, most were born here and we believe in Gateshead.”
The council has already reduced spending by £90.6m since 2010 costing 1,700 jobs but, it says, because of further Government cuts it will have to find further savings of £46m by 2017.
It will mean over the seven year period it will have had to make around £140m in savings. In that time, the council workforce will have been slashed almost in half, from 4,000 to just below 2,000.
Coun Henry admitted: “You can’t lose that percentage of staff without it having a major impact on services.”
He was speaking after a Cabinet meeting which gave the go ahead for a raft of proposals which are now going out to public consultation.
Recommendations could see the equivalent of 275 full time equivalent posts being lost with leisure and housing provision being the areas hit hardest by the jobs axe.
There would also be a significant reduction in road maintenance, a review of library and children’s services and the axing of a free support service for elderly people.
In the arts, there will be a 15% reduction in funding to the Sage music centre and Baltic art gallery as well as a cut in backing for high profile events like the Great North Run.
Coun Henry, who is on the board of both the Sage and the Baltic said the cuts haven’t come as a surprise to them as last year the council outlined plans for a 30% reduction over two years.
“They recognise the need to become less dependant on public funding if they can,” he said.
Speaking about the situation overall, he commented: “I’m extremely concerned, however we just have to get on with it.”
There is a possibility it might have to revise its figures at the end of the year when the council will find out how much it will receive from the Government in the Local Government Finance Settlement.
“We’re not holding our breath about that,” said Coun Henry. “Hopefully there won’t be any surprises. Assuming it doesn’t get any better we’ll be making the decision on the budget in the New Year which will be set in mid February.”
He said he was hoping the public and the trade unions representing workers at risk would get involved in the consultations.
“We’re trying to talk through why we’re having to make these savings and what is the best way of doing this. We’ve started to make progress.
“We need to make people realise just how serious it is. It is a double whammy with its effect on the local economy and people’s lives.
“I’ve been in council for 28 years, during the famous days of Thatcher and we’ve never experienced anything like this.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 04 nov 2014
A thousand South Tyneside Council workers will begin to be paid a national living wage from next year, it was confirmed today.
The authority is the first in the North East to commit to working towards the implementation of the full national living wage value of £7.65 per hour – £1.34 above the national minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.
The historic move is a major financial boost to borough cleaners, school lunch supervisors and catering assistants in schools, residential homes and leisure facilities – 95 per cent of whom are women.
And it means those workers, who are currently paid £6.54 an hour, will eventually see their hourly rate rise by £1.11.
Pending full council approval in December, from April next year the process of introducing the wage on a phased basis will begin.
Today Coun Ed Malcolm, the council’s lead member for Resources and Innovation, said there was a “compelling case” for making the change, which will cost the authority an estimated £700,000 to implement.
“As a council we are committed to the social justice agenda and trying to bring real change to the lives of people in South Tyneside.
“This is not about giving staff pay supplement – this is about radically changing our salary structure.
“We are working towards permanently protecting our lowest paid workers for the future. Staff affected will not only benefit from the extra money in their wages but also from additional benefits like increased pension provision.
“There is a compelling case to introduce a living wage because it brings dignity and pays families enough to enjoy a basic but acceptable standard of living.
“However it is important that we consider this very carefully in the context of ongoing Government budget cuts and our commitment to protecting vital services in South Tyneside.”
The council established an Independent Wage Commission in June last year to examine the benefits and challenges of adopting a living wage in the borough.
That commission found that a living wage would make a positive contribution to reducing poverty and promoting well-being among low paid workers.
Now the local authority will look to implement a phased introduction of the new hourly rate.
From April 2015 its the lowest paid employees will receive £7.11 per hour – representing an immediate increase up to a maximum of 67p per hour.
Coun Malcolm added:
“Of course we would have liked to implement the full living wage with immediate effect but given the unprecedented cuts imposed on the authority we have had to take a prudent approach.
“When we have further information on our future funding, we will sit down with our trade union colleagues to consider the affordability of implementing the full Living Wage from 2016 with a view to eliminating low pay across the council’s workforce.”
Rachel Reeves MP said:
“It’s brilliant that South Tyneside council is making this important commitment. It shows that even in tough times when there is less money around we can make choices that help build a fairer society.”
Professor Keith Shaw of Northumbria University, chair of South Tyneside’s Independent Living Wage Commission, said:
“South Tyneside Council’s support for the Independent Commission’s recommendation to introduce a Living Wage will make a real difference to the lives of people living and working in South Tyneside.
“In recommending its introduction, the commission were convinced that increasing the income of the lowest paid employees would make an important contribution to reducing the scale of in-work poverty, have a positive impact on the life chances of families, young people and women and, by increasing local spending power, also boost the local economy in South Tyneside.
“The council are to be commended for their support of such an important initiative.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 17 Oct 2014
A former Labour mayor and trade union figure from the north of England has urged people in Scotland to vote for independence.
Craig Johnston, the former mayor of Carlisle, says a Yes vote will “energise the debate about devolution” across the UK.
Mr Johnston, a regional organiser for the RMT union, also hopes a new constitution in an independent Scotland will implement workers’ rights and “instil a bit of fairness in the workplace”.
Criticising the Labour Party, he said:
“I don’t want the Labour Party to be like it is.
“I can’t support a Labour Party that introduced the private finance initiative and let the moneylenders into the NHS – Nye Bevan’s temple.
“This is the party that oversaw the crisis, bailed out the bankers and started selling off the NHS. These are the people who are trying to scare us now.”
Dennis Canavan, chair of Yes Scotland’s advisory board, said:
“This is yet more evidence of the breadth and sheer energy of the Yes campaign.
“Craig Johnston is a highly-respected civic and political figure in Carlisle, which of course sits very close to the border and for centuries has had strong links with Scotland.”
Steve Bowditch, current Labour mayor of the city disagreed and said a Yes vote would be “extremely damaging for Carlisle”.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 17 Sept 2014