Saturday, 17 September 2011

Organising in the Face of Adversity

Spotlight on Polestar Unite GPM Chapel

Polestar Sheffield is part of the Polestar Print Group and is the largest site operating 24/7.

The GPM Chapel is very structured & pro active with its own website and lay recruitment/organising activists who have built the membership base at the Greenfield site since it opened 6 years ago.  

Chapel FoC (Convenor) is Ged Dempsey together with Paul Shippin (Dep FoC). 

They have built solidarity and support with other workers in struggle including Wyndham Impact at Basingstoke. 

Cost Cutting July 2011

The Company submitted proposals to cut costs in July 2011.  Chapel Committee, considered the detailed cost cutting proposals from firm. 
The proposals & 3 options involved no pay rise together with the latest scam of outsourcing of some departments, potential job losses, increased hours, changes in shifts, scrapping sick pay scheme & eroding Terms & conditions etc
They were all blatantly divisive & totally unacceptable. 

The Company sent a letter to the entire workforce stating the 3 options, at a time when the firm said their energy costs & raw materials were rising.
The letter was seen as hostile & offensive by the workforce. 
At a time, when the workforce were already suffering massive cost of living rises who are now expected to bear the brunt of these proposed savage cuts.                                                                                           

It was agreed that all company proposals be rejected & the matter be put in procedure directly to National level of the union. It was stated if there was an attempt to impose without settlement through agreed procedures; the workforce would be balloted for industrial action.
After rejecting the Company’s proposals it was agreed to put a counter proposal of bringing the pay rise anniversary date forward to October 1st and a very substantial pay increase to offset huge cost of living rises that we are ALL incurring.

They emphatically rejected the Companies request for them to surrender terms and conditions.
They were NOT willing to accept any of the options/proposals including; 
Outsourcing, slashing of our Terms & Conditions (T+Cs), pay-cuts, increased hours etc. 
Stating Sheffield was a busy, successful and profitable site with very lean manning levels.  The Union had been given a clear mandate. 
The FoC produced newsletters, updates, recruitment materials.  The already high membership base has almost hit 100% because of fighting back.
The Chapel were determined to stand together and fight the slash & burn actions by the Company.
This united the workforce and led to a recruitment drive that saw a rise of 25% in union density with 95% of the workers now belong to a Trade Union. 

Polestar is the largest print Group in the UK producing leading magazines & supplements for newspapers.
The Company were taken over in early 2011 by Sun Capital, a USA venture capitalist/hedge fund firm – owned by 2 former Lehman Brother bigshots.
They currently own 260 other firms in USA, Canada, Europe & UK

One Union, Stronger together, Every Member Counts

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Like Attracting Like

Every year at TATA Steel Scunthorpe we take on a varying number of Apprentices. During the induction week the unions are given a day with these new recruits to explain the need for them to join the Trade Union movement.
This in the past has been undertaken by a number of us oldies with help from union officials. At the end of the day we have usually beaten them into submission or bored them to the point of distraction that they will sign anything just to get out of the room.
Usually we get a handful of young people who wish to be part of the Apprentice Reps Committee which used to meet every month and give them the opportunity to gain experience in representation and talking to HR.
This year we used a recently qualified Electrician, Charlotte Childs, a young Unite Equality Rep.
The result was that not only did all 60 new recruits join a union but 20 of them volunteered to be Apprentice Reps.
This shows that by using a young energetic Trade Unionist the young people were attracted to Trade Unions and not forced towards them. We should remember this if we ever get into the schools and colleges.
Well done Charlotte!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Consultation Breakdown at TATA

Consultation over the planned redundancies at TATA Steelworks in Scunthorpe are close to breakdown point as the company are insisting on adopting a selection process, instead of relying on volunteers.
Unite, GMB and Community Unions claim that this will lead to compulsory redundancies and have already stated that they will oppose any compulsory job losses.
1500 redundancies were announced last May as part of a restructure process throughout the Long Products Division of TATA steel UK. Approximately 800 of the redundancies are expected at Scunthorpe.
The restructure involves consultation on creating a flexible workforce and concentrating upon efficiency savings.
Sean Scorer, the acting chairman of the works multi-union committee, warned: "At this point, we are close to meaningful engagement breaking down, which could prove disastrous for Scunthorpe.
"We feel our members have been badly let down. There is a clear need for leadership and direction to implement the turn-around plan.
"We recognise the urgent need for restructuring and sincerely hope our actions can bring meaningful dialogue back to the table. But we believe we are being faced with a clear strategy of confrontation and are in the process of consulting with our members".

Since May a significant number of volunteers for redundancy among the employees, aged 54 and over, have been identified and new manning levels had been proposed in the steel plant and iron works areas.
But local consultations in the medium section mill, the rail service centre and the Scunthorpe Rod Mill have broken down after employees claimed long-standing working practices were under attack, which include changes in holiday arrangements.

And 185 workers in the bloom and billet mill, which is due to cease production on October 31 after 38 years, are seeking approval to take industrial action over the job cut talks.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Geoff Waterfield

Last week Geoff Waterfield the Multi Union Chair at Teesside Cast Products sadly passed away. Geoff had been a lifelong Community Union member and played a major role in the campaign to keep Steelmaking alive in the North East.
I came into contact with Geoff during that campaign and as one of my friends has already stated we heard and felt him speak at the Save Our Steel March at Redcar in July 2009.
Anyone witnessing him speak on that day was left in no doubt the passion and commitment he gave to the cause.
Tributes from various people have been issued in the press including MPs from the region:

Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East, said: "Geoff's energy, knowledge and enthusiasm were at the service of others. He put all his heart into the campaign for his friends, his neighbours, and his work mates.
"He was an effective trade union leader. We will miss him very much."
Tom Blenkinsop, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, said: "Geoff will always be remembered as a truly great Teesside man.
"The death of Geoff Waterfield is a truly tragic loss for his family, friends, trade union comrades, the trade union movement and the Teesside community."

The Redcar plant was closed but Geoff and his colleagues continued with the fight which eventually led to the sale of the plant to Thailand Company SSI.

A Church service will be held on Friday 9th September at St. Marks Church in Marske by the Sea beginning at 2pm.
Geoff's family have asked for donations to be made to
Cleveland Air Ambulance
Zoe's Place
Leukaemia Research

The donations can be sent to
John Barker
SSI Steel House
TS10 5QW