Friday, 1 May 2020

Workers on the Front Line: Fighting Disease from Fascism to COVID-19

International Workers’ Day – 1 May – is an occasion for working people in Reading, the United Kingdom and throughout the world to reflect on our struggles in the workplace, the community and through the ballot box.

Reading has a strong tradition of marking the day through the efforts of the Reading Trades Union Council (RTUC) and Reading International Brigade Memorial Group (RIBMG) and 2020 was no different - this year supported by Reading & District Labour Party (RDLP) and the Reading Socialist Club (RSC).

Given the strictures of social distancing - imposed upon much of the global population due to the COVID-19 pandemic - the May Day commemoration took the form of an online event, run through ZOOM software, with Chris Reilly (RMT) as President of RTUC occupying the chair and ably managing the technology. Commencing just after 3pm, Chris welcomed the twenty-eight viewer-attendees before introducing Keith Jerrome (Unite/RTUC/RIBMG) to open proceedings.

Keith reminded us of Reading's honourable contribution to the Spanish Civil War with volunteers joining the fight against fascism on the battlefield, in the medical facilities and as administrators and fundraisers. He explained that, following the formation of the Popular Front government in Spain, General Francisco Franco launched a rebellion from North Africa to overthrow it in 1936 and by 1939, aided by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (the Soviet Union being the only nation to support the democratic government), Franco's fascist regime was established. While Britain, the USA and most other countries backed the League of Nations' policy of non-intervention in the conflict, committed anti-fascists and democrats broke with neutrality and formed the International Brigades, volunteers who defied their governments in the first war against fascism (the Second World War would emerge as the second anti-fascist conflict), several of whom travelled from Reading.

Linking smoothly to Keith's opening considerations, Marlene Siddaway (President, International Brigades Memorial Trust) followed, expressing her honour in succeeding a number of great Presidents, including the 'great Jack Jones', founding President of the Trust and leading trade unionist, and himself a veteran of the Spanish war. Marlene reflected on the intellectual loss to their home countries of the volunteers who died on Spanish battlefields.

The Trust was established as an organisation for veterans of the International Brigades and over time has expanded to include advocates of the memory of the volunteers. Marlene also spoke of the medical volunteers who went to Spain, including Thora 'Red' Silverthorne. As Secretary of the Socialist Medical Association, Thora was critical in making the case for an NHS in the delegation to Clement Atlee, Labour's postwar prime minister, in 1945.

Marlene finished by observing: 'We say fascism was at last defeated in 1945 but it's never really gone away. It's lain dormant until the circumstances to divide people are apparent and then it raises its ugly head'. It is for this reason we must remember the International Brigades, volunteers who went to Spain to defend democracy, equality and justice for all.

Tom Lake (RDLP) followed Marlene, speaking on Reading's medical volunteers for Spain. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the world, Tom prefaced his contribution by reflecting on the fact that, just a few months ago during the 2019 general election campaign, Labour's advocacy of free broadband for all and a National Care Service were ridiculed - but now broadband connectivity and social care facilities are at the heart of maintaining public wellbeing. 'Suddenly care workers are "key workers"'.

Tom spoke of Dr Somerville Hastings, Reading's first Labour MP, the first President of the Socialist Medical Association (SMA) and Vice-chair of the Spanish Medical Aid Committee (in which many SMA members were prominent). Supported by Ramsay MacDonald, Somerville Hastings campaigned for election in 1923 on the poor state of children's health in Reading. In 1934, he proposed the report, 'A State Medical Service', to conference and the Labour Party adopted it.

Dr Somerville Hastings
Tom noted other contributions made by International Brigade volunteers, including Reginald Saxton's work on blood transfusions in the field which became so essential in the Second World War, and Thora Silverthorne's centrality in establishing the Association of Nurses, the first nurses' trade union.
Thora Silverthorne (middle) and Dr Reginald Saxton (right)
Following the segment on Spain, Keith returned to the conference to reflect on the recent passing of prominent Reading trade unionists. Neatly bridging the sections, he opened with words of remembrance for Eric Stanford, the sculptor of our town's monument to Reading volunteers to Spain.

Eric Stanford, in front of his sculpture in Reading's Forbury Gardens
Eric died on 15 February 2020 aged 88 though the COVID-19 virus has thus far prevented a fitting memorial service being held for him. He completed a fine arts degree at the University of Reading and was taught sculpting by a Basque refugee from Franco's Spain, becoming Keeper of Art with Reading Borough Council.
Eric was a workplace representative for the National and Local Government Officers' Association (NALGO), seeing membership density of the trade union rise to over 90% under his stewardship. In local politics, Eric was elected for Labour to the Berkshire County Council in Abbey Ward.
In the late 1980s, Eric was invited to sculpt the Reading memorial to the International Brigades for which he took a year's leave of absence from work; he later declared that 'it was the most exciting thing he'd ever been asked to do'. The statue was produced at Bulmershe College and unveiled on May Day 1990 outside Reading Civic Centre. Once back at work, Eric curated a history of Reading Trades Union Council in 1991 entitled 'Fight for Life and Liberty'.
Keith also mentioned Brian Revell, a Transport & General Workers' Union official who led the Windsor Safari Park dispute; Ron Knowles, District Officer at NALGO who died on 30 March 2020, remaining active in his branch up until 2018; Mike Hoare, a technician at the Royal Berkshire Hospital and member of the GMB who leafleted for Labour all year round; and on 30 March 2020, Henry McSoley, a NALGO Officer, also passed away.
John Partington (TSSA/RTUC) followed Keith, presenting details of the six fallen railway workers of the past year: three struck by trains ('Gaz' Delbridge and 'Spike' Lewis; Aden Ashurst); one killed while maintaining a London Underground travelator (Christian Tuvi) and two named victims of COVID-19 (Andy King & Delford Willoughby) among many more yet to be named. Why did they die? 'Inadequate planning, inadequate supervision, antiquated systems of working, insufficient regulator independence, business reorganisations, outsourced activities - and, once investigations into COVID19 deaths have been concluded, we will no doubt add insufficient personal protective equipment - all suggest themselves. And these are all preventable!'
Christian Tuvi

John was followed by Dawn Butler (Labour MP, Brent Central) who thanked the organisers for the invitation and expressed the honour of sharing the histories of activists and workers who had given so much to the labour movement and who have sadly died in the past year. She emphasised the importance of telling these stories of our movement and of bringing young people in with a solid grounding in the past to prepare them for the struggles of the future. Dawn pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as evidence of the continued need for solidarity and community - these are not merely referents; they resonate today in this time of crisis and will continue to do so as long as division and inequality exist. The pandemic sees us rebuilding a safety net and community support out of necessity - but we need to maintain these beyond the period of crisis. We also need to remember the workers dying from COVID-19 while sustaining the social necessities for the rest of us day in, day out. Dawn finished by addressing the others, saying: 'Thank you, quite frankly, for the education'.
Helen Caney (GMB/RDLP) highlighted the re-emerging threats of the far right across the world, with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil overseeing 'the creation of a truly fascist state', who targets minorities, LGBTQ+ and women in his weekly press conferences; Donald Trump in the USA continuing to attack human and civil rights, removing fair pay and safe working laws; and Viktor Orbán in Hungary introducing laws which criminalise homelessness.
In Britain, with BREXIT, the Tories will withdraw the country from the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, allowing them to weaken employment laws and other protections, and are likely to reform or repeal the Human Rights Act. During the COVID-19 crisis, cleaners, nurses, porters and other healthcare workers have put themselves at risk of death due to the governments slowness to act in procuring personal protective equipment before and during the pandemic. Government priorities are summed up by the £600 million bailout provided to EasyJet in March - no strings attached - while the public sector, bowing under the strain of managing the COVID-19 crisis, are forced to manage austerity, adversely affecting the poor, the working class and the maginalised. And with police powers enhanced due to COVID-19, banning assemblies, 'I'm not confident this government will revoke them'. Such measures criminalise protests, marches - the sorts of actions the Tories would be happy to prevent. To counter this we have to be prepared to fight, support our communities and work through our trade unions.
Helen was followed by Oluwarotimi Ajayi (RMT) who spoke about the institutional racism which has been brought to light by the COVID-19 crisis, causing disproportionate number of deaths among black, Asian and minority groups. Minority ethnic populations are more likely to live in densely populated areas due to racial zoning or work through agencies or on zero-hour contracts or as bank workers.
Billie Reynolds (Unison/RDLP) offered context, stating that Margaret Thatcher's National Health Service and Community Care Act of 1990 'put in place the foundations for the privatisation and outsourcing of all of our public services in local authorities and the NHS'. The Health and Social Care Act of 2014 further facilitated outsourcing and privatisation. Tory policies have led to the fragmentation of services that used to operate together - they are now  operate in siloes, parcelled for private delivery at unsustainable costs and substandard quality.
The final speaker, Fran Hathcote (President, PCS), noted the spike in interest in trade unionism during the present challenging time. Fran reflected on International Workers' Day's origin in struggle - the Chicago workers' demand for the 8-hour day in the 1880s. The government's response to the COVID-19 crisis will be to claim austerity is a necessity - but we know it is a political choice. The Labour Party needs to be challenged to oppose austerity and offer a social model of publically owned health and social care.
Chris thanked the speakers and invited attendees to applaud the presentations. Tanya Wills (Unite/RTUC) closed the proceedings by playing two verses of the Internationale, with listeners invited to sing along.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

UCU Strike Action - RTUC are with University of Reading Staff

The RTUC (supported by John Gillman) and RMT (supported by James Denny) banners
add a backdrop to the Shinfield Road picket; Jim Parker (Unite) flies the Red Flag!
Reading Trades Union Council, among a myriad of community groups and unaligned individuals, again showed solidarity with the University and College Union (UCU) in their strike action at the University of Reading in two concurrent disputes relating to eroded terms and conditions (including pay) and changes to pension benefits. RTUC delegates backed the UCU action in November/December and were proud to do so again - and we'll be there again and again if called on by our UCU comrades, sisters and brothers!
Tanya Wills (Unite) takes the right of the banner

The latest strike action spanned four weeks:

Week One: 20 & 21 February;
Week Two: 24, 25 & 26 February;
Week Three: 2, 3, 4 & 5 March; and
Week Four: 9, 10, 11, 12 & 12 March.

John Gillman (centre, Unite) supports the Shinfield Road picket
Why is there a dispute?

UCU members are in dispute over falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices and unsafe workloads. University employers consistently fail to address these issues.

Since 2009, pay has been effectively cut by nearly 20% in real terms, while staff are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before. The employers' own analysis highlights that women and black and minority ethnic staff experience significant pay discrimination. Casual contracts remain entrenched. Yet the university employers are refusing to commit themselves to meaningful action on any of these appalling conditions.

James Denny (white t-shirt, RMT) supports the Pepper Lane picket
UCU members took strike action over changes to their pension, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). University employers are ignoring pension experts and want staff to pay more based on a flawed way of assessing the scheme.

In 2018, employers shelved their plans to radically redesign USS after UCU took strike action. Both sides agreed to take advice from the JEP - an independent panel of pension experts. At last, after a wasted year, the employers are now beginning to engage with the findings of the JEP's two reports but there is a long way to go if we are to achieve our aims of reforming the fund's valuation methodology and rolling back the unnecessary increases in the cost of the pension. The typical USS member will be around £240,000 worse off in retirement compared to 2011 thanks to the changes made to staff's benefits since then. UCU believe that staff have given enough and they want the employers to step up to the plate and agree a fair way of valuing the fund and to reduce members' costs.

Follow the UCU campaigns for justice for their members here:

John Partington (right, TSSA) at the Shinfield Road picket with Labour comrades

Across the four-week strike period, RTUC was represented by James Denny (RMT), John Gillman (Unite), James Parker (Unite), John Partington (TSSA) and Tanya Wills (Unite).

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

HeartUnions: Trade Unions post-General Election, Trade Unions post-Brexit

To mark 'HeartUnions' week (10-16 February 2020), Reading Trades Union Council supported Reading & District Labour Party's panel event discussing trade unions in post-general election, post-Brexit Britain. Held on 12 February in the conference room of the Reading International Solidarity Centre, John Partington (TSSA) as RDLP's Trade Union Liaison Officer and RTUC's Secretary introduced speakers from three unions across a range of sectors. Nikki Dancey (GMB), RTUC's Vice-President, was joined on the panel by Karin Lesnik-Oberstein (UCU) and Cllr Chris Clark (TSSA).
Speakers, Chris Clark (TSSA), Karin Lesnik-Obersten
(UCU) and Nikki Dancey (GMB)
Karin, Reading UCU's Equality Officer, began the evening, speaking about the long campaign by the University and College Union to defend university staff pensions and to halt the move towards greater casualisation and wage depression in the higher education sector. Karin framed the dispute, which commenced in 2018, within the context of the monetarisation of education, converting learners from students to customers and prioritising exam success along a rapid conveyor belt over cultural and intellectual fulfillment. The result is not only the employer, Universities UK's confrontation with staff in a bid to maximise university income, but also a pressure on teaching staff to spoon feed ready-made, formulaic education to student-consumers programmed to demand the 'right' answers rather than to challenge the universities (and, by extension, society as a whole) with thoughts of their own.

In connecting the UCU dispute with wider student intellectual welfare, it is to be hoped that a broad base of support for the strike will be garnered. All are encouraged to join the University of Reading UCU pickets (or your local university pickets) between 08:00 and 10:30 on the following days:

Week one: Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February;
Week two: Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February;
Week three: Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March.
Karin and Nikki, local activists in the
Reading labour movement
Following Karin, Nikki, the GMB South Regional Organiser, presented a comprehensive analysis of the prospective battles to be faced by the labour movement in the coming years. With a Conservative government sitting on a large majority, it is clear the Labour Party in parliament will be weak in the face of the anticipated repression Boris Johnson's government will unleash on organised labour. The nullification of the CWU ballot by the courts in November - despite over 90% support for strike action - and the government's suggestion that the right to strike by railway staff should be reviewed due to the railway being an essential service demonstrates which way the wind is blowing. Further anti-trade union legislation seems an inevitability. Nikki suggested TUPE protection and the 'check-off' method of paying trade union subscriptions might be early Tory targets.

Nikki promoted community engagement, coalition building and joint actions. The trade unions and Labour, yes, but more than that: mutual aid and solidarity throughout the community, learning from other areas and sharing organising practices with other areas. She told the story of the Prospect School dispute which she organised and which brought great pride to the wider Reading labour movement. The school proposed to outsource cleaning services to a private firm, largely bypassing the requirement to consult staff and not informing the GMB of their intentions. The cleaners objected, Nikki learnt of the proposals and a membership drive was commenced. In the subsequent union membership ballot, 100% was won for strike action! Following a school gates protest by RTUC, RDLP and the cleaning staff, the school management backed down and outsourcing was cancelled!

The meeting of trade unionists and Labour supporters
The final speaker of the evening was Chris Clark (TSSA), Labour councillor in Croydon and the TSSA's executive member on the London, East and South East TUC. Playing devil's advocate, Chris suggested the Tory government, having won so many traditional Labour seats in the North of England, may seek to offer concessions to workers in a bid to retain northern working class votes. Railway nationalisation, given  the patently obvious failure of the post-privatisation franchising system, seemed possible. Chris's suggestion was not without challenge, with Kevin Jackson (Unison) and John Partington (TSSA) vocalising skepticism....

Chris suggested Labour's election offering was largely sound, but was too broad for a focused campaign while the allure of the Tories' 'Getting Brexit done' was too great. Chris advocated community organising as the primary bulwark against the Tory government's large majority.

The evening was punctuated by questions from the audience and concluded with general discussion. The audience engagement was uplifting and it is clear that the disastrous general election defeat and Britain's departure from the European Union have not knocked the fight out of Reading's labour movement. Leadership from the likes of Karin, Nikki and Chris is important - but workers', community organisers' and political activists' participation is vital. Without the grassroots, the resistance will fail. It is incumbent upon us all to keep up spirits and recruit colleagues and comrades into active social participation.

As well as Nikki Dancey (GMB) and John Partington (TSSA), RTUC was well represented with attendance from Kevin Brandstatter (GMB), Steve Geary (USDAW), John Gillman (Unite), John Oversby (UCU) and Chris Reilly (RMT).

Monday, 20 January 2020

RTUC Protests Outsourcing as RBC Signs Leisure Management Away

On 20 January 2020, the Reading Borough Council (RBC) Policy Committee met to sign away the management of Reading's leisure services for 25 years. The move, appointing Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) as management company for the town's four leisure facilities (Rivermead, Meadway, South Reading and Palmer Park), contravenes Reading & District Labour Party (RDLP) policy as arrived at in October 2018 when the party passed a motion which resolved:

1. To affirm support for the policy set out in the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto opposing the outsourcing of public services.
2. To affirm support for the national agreement reached between the Unions and the LGA Labour Group.
3. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to write to the RBC Labour Group requesting it abandon proposals to ‘market test’ the services identified above by way of competitive tender under the rules of public procurement law.
4. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to write to the RBC Labour Group requesting it reconsider proposals to establish charitable trusts to manage Children’s Services and Museums and Libraries.
5. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to further request the RBC Labour Group to commit to working collaboratively with Trades Unions and other staff to find better ways to deliver services, taking account of wider economic, social and environmental considerations.
6. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to respectfully request the Leader and Deputy Leader of RBC to report back to the next RDLP AMM on these matters and participate in a substantive discussion on the merits of ways of providing services, whilst meeting the Council’s financial obligations.
7. To instruct the RDLP executive committee to ensure that an All Members Meeting is held in October 2018.

RTUC and other community groups protest outsourcing
ahead of the RBC Policy Committee Meeting

Reading Trades Union Council was well represented, with Neil Adams (Unite), Nikki Dancey (GMB), James Denny (RMT), Steve Geary (USDAW), John Gillman (Unite), Keith Jerrome (Unite), James Parker (Unite), Ray Parkes (Unite), John Partington (TSSA), Sue Taylor (PCS) and Tanya Wills (Unite) forming a presence. The Reading Chronicle covered the meeting but marginalised the protest. A much more balanced news piece was provided by That's Thames Valley TV, which interviewed John Partington of RTUC, David McMullen of GMB and Cllrs Jason Brock and Graeme Hoskin (RBC Leader and Lead Councillor for Health, Wellbeing & Sport, respectively).

John warned of the pressure staff's terms and conditions of employment will be under following outsourcing, with zero hours contracts and diluted pension entitlements being real concerns. David highlighted depreciated hygiene at Bracknell's similarly outsourced facilities and the reduced investment in services. The 25-year duration of RBC's award to GLL without a break clause is an additional cause for concern. The news broadcast can be seen here:

Despite the protests staged by RTUC, the Rivermead Bowling Club, Save Arthur Hill Pool and members of RDLP, RBC's Policy Committee voted to award the management contract for Reading leisure to GLL for 25 years. RTUC and its affiliated trade unions will scrutinise practice and hold GLL to account until such time as the leisure services can be brought back in house - in line with Labour Party policy.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

RTUC protests Reading Borough Council Outsourcing Proposals

Reading Trades Union Council delegates, including Neil Adams (Unite), James Denny (RMT), Steve Geary (USDAW), John Gillman (Unite), James Parker (Unite), Ray Parkes (Unite), John Partington (TSSA), Chris Reilly (RMT) and Tanya Wills (Unite), were joined by members of Reading Socialist Party and Reading & District Labour Party, as well as unaffiliated individuals, to protest the proposals recently tabled by Reading Borough Council to OUTSOURCE ALL OF READING'S LEISURE SERVICES to one private management company. These services include Rivermead Leisure Centre, Palmer Park, Medway Sport and South Reading Leisure Centre.

RTUC, RSP and RDLP Members Protest RBC Outsourcing Proposals
The proposals, announced in the Reading Chronicle on 10 January 2020, would breach Reading Labour Party policy and show an utter disregard for trade union opposition by councillors of all political hues, including the ruling Labour Group. Reading Labour Party's policy to oppose outsourcing and actively pursue insourcing of council services was adopted in October 2018 when RDLP passed a motion which resolved:
  1. To affirm support for Labour Party policy set out in the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto and conference resolution of Composite Motion 6 on 27 September 2018, opposing the outsourcing of public services.
  2. To affirm support for the national agreement reached between the Unions and the LGA Labour Group.
  3. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to write to the RBC Labour Group requesting it abandon proposals to ‘market test’ Revenue and Benefits services.
  4. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to write to the RBC Labour Group requesting it reconsider proposals to establish charitable trusts to manage Children’s Services and Museums and Libraries.
  5. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to further request the RBC Labour Group to commit to working collaboratively with Trades’ Unions and other staff to undertake a comprehensive feasibility study into the delivery of all Revenue and Benefits services through in-house provision, taking account of wider economic, social and environmental considerations.
  6. To instruct the Chair of RDLP to respectfully request the Leader and Deputy Leader of RBC to report back to the next RDLP AMM on this matter.
Outsourcing Protest t the Civic Offices

On the basis of this resolution, Reading Labour councillors should oppose the RBC proposal, which would contract Reading's leisure services - including new swimming pools at Rivermead and Palmer Park - to a private management company for 25 YEARS. Such private finance initiatives have been discredited since the indebtedness incurred by the NHS following such deals in the 2000s became apparent in the last decade. Indeed, a similar arrangement to RBC's proposal was entered into by Bracknell's Tory council - and its poor performance has been such that the council is now discussing the service provider, Everyone Active's  progress! The current private management company at Rivermead - Greenwich Leisure Ltd - which may or may not be RBC's preferred bidder for the comprehensive leisure contract - has a poor track record as a service provider and an employer, and is currently in dispute with Unite the Union in Bromley over its abuse of workers' terms and conditions (including use of zero hours contracts) and its refusal to recognise trade unions. (Reading's Lead Councillor for Sport, Health & Wellbeing, is Cllr Graeme Hoskin, a Unite member, so one would expect him to take heed of his trade union's damning report in any dealings RBC has with Greenwich Leisure Ltd.)

RBC is due to decide on the Reading leisure contract at its next Policy Committee meeting on 20 January. The option to reject an outsourcing contract is still available to Labour Group; RTUC urges Reading Borough Council to opt for direct council management of Reading leisure services in line with RDLP policy and like many councils do throughout the UK.

A contingent of anti-outsourcing protesters, organised by the 'Save Arthur Hill Pool' community group and RTUC, will be present outside the Council Offices on 20 January from at 5.30pm to let the councillors and the public know that RBC's outsourcing of public services is not going unopposed and to encourage an eleventh hour change of heart.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Remember William Winterbourne of Kintbury

On 11 January 2020 trade unionists from Berkshire and surrounding counties joined Kintbury villagers at St Mary's Church to remember the life and death of William Winterbourne. Buried as 'William Smith' in the parish churchyard, Winterbourne was executed in 1831 for leading the 'Swing Riots' in Berkshire - a movement of 'physical force' collective bargaining which offered landowners the choice of wage rises for their labourers or the destruction of their threshing machines.

Trade Unionists and villagers at William Winterbourne's Grave
Around Berkshire, several landowners paid the price for immiserating their workforce with the smashing up or burning of their technologically advanced machinery which was replacing many agricultural workers and driving down wages. Landowners increased their profits through greater productivity and lower labour costs - but were reluctant to share their increased wealth with their workers.

Keith Jerrome Expostulates Eloquently to Assembled Comrades
The 'Swing Rioters' sought to redress this injustice, with 'Captain' Winterbourne leading the aggrieved from village to village, farm to farm, seeking work for idle hands and improved pay for agricultural labourers. When Winterbourne was arrested, however, justice was merciless. He was identified as the ringleader, condemned to death and publicly hanged from the walls of Reading Gaol on 11 January 1831 under the gaze of the townsfolk, observing in silence according to contemporary reports. (Two others condemned to death had their sentences commuted to transportation to Australia; dozens of others received gaol sentences.)

The Grave of William 'Smith' Winterbourne
The day commenced with refreshments in the St Mary's Church Hall before Keith Jerrome (Unite) gave a graveside historical account of Winterbourne's campaign and death. He explained how the vicar of St Mary's brought the remains of Winterbourne to his church - an unusual practice for an executed person - and buried him as 'William Smith' (possibly to hide the nature of his death). Following Keith, a Winterbourne descendent recited a poem on her forebear's fate.

Reading Trades Union Council was well represented at the memorial service, with Kevin Brandstatter (GMB), Nikki Dancey (GMB), James denny (RMT), Steve Geary (USDAW), Ray Parkes (Unite), John Partington (TSSA) and Tanya Wills (Unite) attending as well as Keith Jerrome (Unite).

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

RTUC backs UCU Strikes in Reading & Oxford

During October 2019, the University and College Union held a double national ballot on proposed changes to the university pension scheme and on worsening pay, terms and conditions for university staff. Reading UCU comfortably exceeded the legislative 50% threshold on voting turn out and members backed strike action overwhelmingly (72% on the pension issue and 68% on pay, terms and conditions). In Oxford, 74% of balloted members supported strike action on worsening pay, terms and conditions. Across sixty institutions, more than 40,000 UCU members took industrial action.
John Gillman (far left) supports the protest at Whiteknights, Reading

UCU members walked out of their workplaces on 25 November for eight consecutive working days of strike action. In Reading, there were vibrant, creative picket lines based at London Road, Earley Gate, Pepper Lane and Shinfield Road entrances to the University of Reading. At Oxford University, pickets formed throughout the city, including on the High Street and at the Saïd Business School.

John Oversby (5th left) supports the Shinfield Road picket, Reading

As with last years' pensions dispute, Reading Trades Union Council delegates showed their solidarity with the UCU strikers. John Gillman (Unite) and John Oversby (UCU retired member) supported the University of Reading action, while John Partington (TSSA) fraternised with strikers in Oxford.

John Partington support's the picket at Saïd Business School, Oxford
Following student solidarity with the UCU dispute in Reading, a final-year undergraduate, Dorian McHale, has been suspended and banned from campus pending a serious misconduct investigation while Oliver Kent, a postgraduate student, has also been banned. While Oliver had completed his studies (his graduation ceremony was scheduled for 12 December), Dorian's studies at the university are now in jeopardy.

Letter sent to Dorian McHale (coutesy of

A group of nine students attempted to occupy the International Capital Market Association building at Reading University on 1 December in support not only of the UCU strikes but also divestment from fossil fuels and the arms industry.

In the face of  heavy-handed security, which led to two students suffering bruising to their legs, the university claims their security personnel were assaulted. The protesters claim that, at one point, they were “pushed back by a picked-up table and chased by security”.

Reading Trades Union Council sends solidarity to the suspended students, seeing the university's actions as an attack on the most vulnerable in the dispute. The university leadership and all of Universities UK need to sit down and negotiate satisfactory deals with UCU rather than bully students in a cheap attempt to discredit legitimate strike action.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Reading Labour 100: The Commemorative Book of the Century!

During a twelve month programme of events throughout 2018, the Reading labour movement marked the centenary of the creation of the Reading Labour Party (christened the 'Reading Trades Union Council & Labour Party' at its formation) one hundred years earlier. Now known as Reading & District Labour Party (RDLP) and working alongside the Reading Trades Union Council (RTUC) to defend and advance the rights of Reading residents, workers and visitors, the role of the party has grown in leaps and bounds over the century since its birth. Today it is the ruling party on Reading Borough Council and it holds one (Reading East) of the town's two parliamentary seats.

The centenary year did not simply celebrate the history of RDLP; it also demonstrated the party's contemporary power and organisation across the town: in the council chamber, through its Member of Parliament (Matt Rodda MP), in partnership with its affiliated trade unions and through grassroots organisation. Also apparent was the importance of the historical link between RDLP and the RTUC as political and industrial wings of the local labour movement.

Determined to capture the energy of the celebrations, campaigns and achievements created by a century of Reading Labour, the RTUC commissioned its TSSA delegate and Assistant Secretary, John Partington, to distill the history into a commemorative book. The result is Reading Labour 100!

At 119 pages, Reading Labour 100 presents the historical ingredients which went into the formation of RDLP, from the co-operative movement to agricultural trade unionism, from socialist societies to industrial trade unionism - and not forgetting the anti-fascist fighters for freedom who went to Spain in 1937, some never to return. The volume also identifies key moments in RDLP's centenary year, such as supporting striking university lecturers, campaigning to retain universal free bus travel for disabled residents and protesting inflation-busting rail fare increases. Labour celebrations and political education are not ignored either - with May Day and Women's Day marches, guest speakers and social events presented within the book's pages. The volume is rounded off with an anecdotal Afterword by a stalwart of the RTUC and RDLP, Keith Jerrome.

Despite the preponderance of Conservative Governments over the century of its existence - and Reading's red oasis among England's southeast sea of Tory blue - RDLP stands strong and proud and ready for a further century of struggle and commitment to defending and extending the rights of its residents, workers and visitors!

The book costs £10 (UK) and £15 (international orders). You can order the book by paying via PayPal to John Partington at For alternative payment methods, email John to make arrangements. There will be a negotiated discount for bulk orders. All profits from the sale of the book will be divided between the RTUC and RDLP.

Bibliographical details:
Author: John S. Partington
Full title: Reading Labour 100: The Centenary of the Labour Party in Reading, 1918-2018. Reading Trades Union Council & Reading and District Labour Party: Change Through Solidarity
Publisher: Reading Trades Union Council
Afterword: Keith Jerrome
119pp; 63 illustrations (colour and black & white)


The Reading Labour Movement Protests Rail Fare Increases
The Hanging of William Winterbourne
‘Labour 100’ Supports the GMB’s Eleanor Marx Day Event
100 Years of Labour in Reading
RTUC and RDLP March to Save the NHS
RTUC at Reading’s International Women’s Day March and Rally
RTUC Backs Lecturers’ Pensions Dispute
Chris Williamson MP comes to the University of Reading
Labour Party Rally in Park Ward
International Workers’ Day in Reading
Reading’s May Day Rally and March
A New Deal for Working People
RTUC joins DPAC to Oppose Attacks on Mobility
RTUC at the NHS 70th Birthday March
RTUC at Tolpuddle
RTUC Welcomes Reading Campaign Against Privatisation
RTUC backs DPAC against Attacks on Disabled Persons’ Rights
Celebrating 70 Years of the NHS
Reading Buses Open Meeting
Protesting Rail Fare Increases
RTUC at Reading Pride!
Protesting Rail Fare Increases in East and West Reading
Protesting Proposed Attacks on Disabled Travel Rights
Vote 90! It’s not 100 years for us
DPAC, RTUC and principled Labour Party activists fight for Disabled Bus Rights
Afterword by Keith Jerrome

About the Authors
John S. Partington is a Safety, Health and Environment Specialist in the railway industry, an Area Health and Safety Representative for the TSSA, Assistant Secretary of the RTUC, Trade Union Liaison Officer for RDLP and an historian of labour biography. His books include Building Cosmopolis: The Political Thought of H. G. Wells (2003), The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal (2011) and Clara Zetkin: National and International Contexts (2012, with Marilyn J. Boxer).
Keith Jerrome, a retired trade union official, is a long standing member of RDLP and an Honorary Life Member of the RTUC. He is a fount of knowledge about local labour history and has saved and archived a large volume of local material which would have been lost to future generations of historians and activists. His University of Reading Master’s dissertation, ‘Labour in “Biscuit Town”: The growth of a social movement to 1945’ (2001), remains the finest single contribution to the history of the Reading labour movement yet produced.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

RTUC & RDLP back GMB Cleaners' Action at Prospect School

Ray Parkes (sixth left, Unite), John Partington (seventh right,
TSSA) and GMB Regional Organiser, Nikki Dancey (third
right) of RTUC, with strikers and RDLP supporters
On 22 October 2019, Reading Trades Union Council and Reading & District Labour Party joined the GMB cleaners' picket at Prospect School to stand firm against the outsourcing ambition of the School Trust's management. With the announcement by Prospect School that Hayward Services Ltd were being appointed to take on the cleaning contract at the school - a decision taken without staff / trade union consultation - the GMB Regional Organiser, Nikki Dancey (RTUC Vice President), organised the affected staff. Nikki consulted with them on their views regarding the changes and - when it was clear the cleaners were solidly opposed to being outsourced - she called a ballot for industrial action, resulting in a 100% turnout and 100% support for strike action. With this mandate, the GMB has called for talks with the school in a bid to end privatisation of the cleaning service.

Cleaners' picket at Prospect School
RTUC and RDLP have long argued the merits of in-house provision of services by the public sector so this struggle was one they are keen to support. Since October 2018, RDLP policy has been against outsourcing (in line with national Labour Party policy) and in favour of progressive in-sourcing of services, with Reading Borough Council's delivery of the Revenues & Benefits Service and the Leisure Service both areas for the Labour Group to consider for in-house management. In line with the anti-outsourcing policy, the Prospect School dispute was supported by Cllr Sarah Hacker and Cllr Graeme Hoskin (both of Unite the Union) who will be looked to for support in the in-sourcing drive at Reading Borough Council.

Nikki Dancey (GMB) coordinates the picket
and protest at Prospect School's gates
The GMB handbill - all of which were distributed to parents and others collecting children from the school as well as neighbourly passersby and some staff - ran as follows:

"The cleaners at Prospect School are in a serious dispute about privatisation. The school wishes to outsource them to a private company - Hayward Services Ltd - but the cleaners want to stop this process and simply stay working for Prospect School. The cleaners have now been balloted for industrial action.

The school have said:

1. “They can’t manage the team” - This is because the team haven’t actually had a dedicated manager for many months and the school are refusing to simply reemploy a manager for them!

2. “Haywards is a good company” – But they have told the cleaners they shouldn’t even speak to the students and staff while they work. They are there to be “seen (cleaning) but not heard”. Good companies treat their staff like human beings, not servants.

3. “Their contracts and pay won’t change” – But Haywards gave all staff documents that they wanted the cleaners to sign that were essentially new contracts on far worse terms and conditions. If they hadn’t been in the union, they may have signed away their own rights. Haywards completely breached their trust and may have been deliberately trying to exploit them.

4. “Privatisation is the only way” - But the cleaners and the union have given numerous other potential solutions and have asked for time to see if they work, but all of them have been disregarded.

The GMB says :

• The school can stop this process very easily and for no cost at all. It is in their hands to ensure the school is cleaned and the workers are looked after.

• Prospect School have already told us that this privatisation will not save the school any money, so it won’t cost them a penny to solve this dispute.

• These workers, mainly women, and many who have worked here for over 20 or 30 years, just want to stay as part of the school and be valued for their work."

Reading Trades Union Council stands with Prospect School cleaners in their struggle. Congratulations to them and their trade union in so effectively organising! RTUC awaits GMB's next call to action when solidarity will again be willingly forthcoming!

Saturday, 19 October 2019

RTUC Stands Firm Against Homophobic Chicken Chain

Within a day of the opening of Britain's first branch of Chick-fil-A in Reading on 10 October 2019, Reading Pride, backed by Reading Trades Union Council (RTUC), Reading & District Labour Party (RDLP) and other supporters announced a protest outside the entrance of The Oracle Shopping Centre. The protest was staged on 19 October, the day after The Oracle announced the fried chicken business would be leaving the mall once its six month trial lease came to an end.
The Reading Pride leaflet
Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, has been vocal in opposition to same-sex marriage and the firm has made donations to fundamentalist Christian groups which practice conversation therapy and have ties to homophobic regimes in which homosexuality is illegal, such as Uganda. When challenged on these positions, the firm's spokespeople have declined to retract the actions or apologise.
Paul Britt, Chair of Reading Pride, opens the addresses
The event involved a gathering outside the entrance of The Oracle, overlooked by the Chick-fil-A window, with speakers addressing the crowd and passers-by using a loudhailer and a mobile public address system. Speeches were punctuated by periods of anti-Chick chanting by the crowd and music from the sound system.
David McMullen (GMB), Secretary of RTUC
Once the protesters gathered outside The Oracle, Paul Britt, Chair of Reading Pride, outlined Chick-fil-A's homophobic track record and thanked the supporters of the protest for showing their opposition in such large numbers, estimated at around 150 people.
Stephen Ireland (UK Pride Organisers' Network)
Giving the event a national perspective, Stephen Ireland, the Communications Officer for UK Pride Organisers' Network, also spoke, rousing the audience in a series of calls-and-response, asserting Chick-fil-A's presence to be unwelcome and assuring the company that their six months in Reading will be their only presence in the UK.
Two speakers, Cllr Sarah Hacker (RDLP/
Unite) and John Partington (TSSA/RDLP)
Reading Trades Union Council provided two speakers. John Partington (TSSA), RTUC Assistant Secretary, entreated his listeners to not only hold their employers to their diversity and inclusion policies, but to ask them what practically they were doing to broaden the diversity of their workforce, what recruitment strategies and interview techniques they were using to welcome talent from all groups in society. John also encouraged workers to lobby their employers to sponsor and be active in diversity events such as Pride. He also suggested those assembled form community groups within their workplaces and ensure they influence employers' policies in the realms of inclusion and flexibility. Don't rely on employers to hand down policy - workers must be engaged in producing it themselves and seeing that it is implemented.

David McMullen (GMB), RTUC Secretary, responded to a challenge from John Hoggett who asked what trade unions were doing for the LGBT+ community. David encouraged the LGBT+ community to join and become actively involved in trade unions, working with others to ensure all workers receive fair treatment from their employers.

From RDLP, Cllrs Sarah Hacker (Unite) and Karen Rowland spoke. Sarah asserted her pride at being a patron of Reading Pride and was pleased at The Oracle's response to condemnation of Chick-fil-A. She said she was keen to work with The Oracle's management to put in place improved vetting processes for prospective lessees going forward and she hoped Reading Pride could play a consultaative role partnership with The Oracle.

Sarah's sentiments were also contained in an open letter published by the following Reading Labour councillors, questioning The Oracles exercise of due diligence but welcoming the steps being taken to end Chick-fil-A's time in Reading as soon as practicable: Cllrs Adele Barnett-Ward, Rachel Eden, Debs Edwards, Ellie Emberson, Paul Gittings, Sarah Hacker, Graeme Hoskin, Sophia James, Micky Leng, Emmett McKenna, Chris Maskell and Karen Rowland.
Kevin Brandstatter and Nikki Dancey
(both GMB), leafletting for the event
The protest was a testament to Reading's community spirit and overarching sense of tolerance and respect, with a range of organisations and individuals coming together to defend the town's culture of diversity and inclusion. With John Partington (TSSA), David McMullen, Nikki Dancey and Kevin Brandstatter (all GMB) representing RTUC, the trade union movement showed itself to be central to the struggles of the town.