Saturday, 16 February 2019

'Love Not Hate!' The Trade Union Movement marches for Inclusion

Reading Trades Union Council leads the Procession 
On 16 February 2019, Reading Trades Union Council, supported by Unite the Union – and bolstered by masses of popular support – staged the ‘Love Not Hate’ march, ably coordinated by Nikki Dancey (GMB/RTUC).

Solidarity from Swindon Trades Council
Nikki Dancey (GMB/RTUC) - Lead
Coordinator of the Event
The event was a defiant response to the recent upsurge in far right hooliganism, fascist attacks and nationalist hijacking of the Brexit campaign. Examples of fascist aggression in the past year have been the Law and Freedom Foundation’s targeting of the Zainabiya Welfare Foundation in Tilehurst for intimidation (24 April), the assault of RMT Senior Assistant General Secretary, Steve Hedley, and others in the beer garden of the Westminster Arms pub, Central London, by the English Defence League following a counter-protest to a rally in support of Tommy Robinson and Donald Trump (14 July), the vandalism of the socialist bookshop, Bookmarks, in Central London by ‘Make Britain Great Again’ and UKIP members (4 August) and British nationalist Brexiteers’ daily words of intolerance towards EU citizens whom they want to ‘go home’ after 29 March this year.

Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU/RTUC) and Matt
Rodda MP (Labour, Reading East)

Billie Reynolds (Unison) and  Angie Burnish (DPAC)

The march and social in Reading on 16 February asserted – loud and clear – that for those of EU origin, Palestinian refugees and other international migrants, members of the LGBT+ community, people with physical and mental impairments, peace campaigners, environmentalists, women suffering under patriarchal institutions, trade unionists and socialists – you are welcome in Reading and the trade union movement is with you. And to the far right, we declared: ¡No pasarán!

John Gillman and Neil Adams (both Unite/RTUC)
with the Socialist Party contingent
Labour Councillor, Sarah Hacker (Unite) with her Pride Ambassador flag
Assembling in Market Place, the gathering of several hundred listened to an opening address by Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU), Vice-President of RTUC. Nada welcomed everyone and thanked all for attending, explaining the context of the event and describing the route of the march.
Labour Councillors, Ellie Emberson and John
Ennis fraternise with the assembled

Ray Parkes (Unite), John Partington (TSSA)
and Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU) of RTUC

Headed up by the banners of the Reading Trades Union Council and Swindon Trades Council, with flags flying from GMB and TSSA, the procession commenced at Buttermarket before proceeding along Broad Street, Oxford Road and Alfred Street.

Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU) welcomes the marchers

Assembling for the kick-off speech
At Chatham Place, Matt Rodda MP, Labour representative for Reading East, addressed the close of the march, focusing on Brexit and pledging his commitment to fight for an inclusive deal for EU citizens who choose to remain in post-Brexit Britain.

Following Matt’s address the processionists gathered in The Butler pub, Reading’s friendly refuge for the left, where tables were stocked by RTUC, Berkshire Antifascists and a solidarity bookstall from Bookmarks, attended by Antifa and RTUC volunteers. The landlord of The Butler laid out a buffet as the evening progressed, an address was made by Louise Raw, historian of the women’s labour movement, and music was performed by Nicole Johnson, Grant Sharkey, Boom Boom Raccoon and The Incendiaries.


Marching through Broad Street 

The convivial, comradely environment of The Butler lent itself to political discussion on such hot topics as the economic impact of Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the need to change government, and local government policy under austerity.

Matt Rodda MP (Labour, Reading East) closes the march

The close of the march - before reconvening in The Butler pub
Louise Raw addresses the post-march social
John Partington also brought the TSSA’s ‘Inclusive Rail’ campaign, encouraging people to script a poster suggesting how the railway can become more inclusive for members of the LGBT+ community, both as passengers and as employees in the industry. Matt Rodda MP, a member of Labour’s Shadow Transport Team, promoted station staffing as a security measure to support vulnerable groups; Helen Caney, Reading & District Labour Party’s secretary, advocated retaining guards on trains, again as a security measure; and Steve Geary of USDAW and RTUC called on management to back their staff when faced with abuse.

Grant Sharkey

The Incendiaries

Boom Boom Raccoon

Entertainment from Nicole Johnson
The event was a great success – its popular support on the ground mirrored by the silence of the local and regional media. Reading is energised – and RTUC looks forward to future actions around International Women’s Day, May Day – and supporting workers’ struggles and defending public services wherever they are attacked. ¡No pasarán!
John Partington (TSSA/RTUC) and Matt Rodda MP
(Labour, Reading East) promote LGBT+ rights
in TSSA's 'Inclusive Rail' campaign

Steve Geary (USDAW/RTUC)
promotes 'Inclusive Rail'
Helen Caney (Secretary, Reading & District
Labour Party) promotes 'Inclusive Rail'

Friday, 15 February 2019

RTUC joins the discussion on the Gender Pay Gap

On 15 February 2019, John Partington (TSSA) of the Reading Trades Unions Council joined a discussion of the gender pay gap at Oxford Playhouse. The event, 'Second at the Table', was organised by 472 Productions and featured a panel with Anneliese Dodds, Labour MP for Oxford East, and Stephen Woolley, producer of the film, 'Made in Dagenham' (2010). Reading citizens will remember Anneliese as Reading East's unsuccessful Labour candidate in 2010 as well as the Southeast Region MEP from 2014 to 2017. The event preceded the performance of the stage musical of 'Made in Dagenham' at the same theatre.

Anneliese Dodds MP (centre) and Stephen Woolley (right)

Following the panelists' introductions, the compere (an Oxford University academic) began by asking Stephen if he felt entertainment could usefully engage people in politics. He replied that he thought it could, especially by raising consciousness of persons and events lost in the mists of time. Stephen explained that he grew up in North London in the 1960s, not many miles away from Dagenham, and yet he knew nothing at the time about the women sewing machinists' strike at the Ford plant in 1968 which led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. With the exception of fringe newspapers, the media did not cover it. So when he learnt of the events at Ford's many years later, he knew the film had to be made. Getting the story out there has educated and energised new generations of workers. He did add, though, that the Donald Trump phenomenon presents a caveat to the power of the media. Trump has succeeded in the teeth of mass media opposition and open war with certain media outlets, demonstrating the neutered power of televisual and print media in a world of rapidly changing technology.

Anneliese suggested that the political activism of youth in recent years has brought a new excitement to politics. Women are engaging in the revived 'Reclaim the Night' movement and other shows of defiance towards those who would try to limit women's spaces, using creativity and activism at the grassroots and demonstrating another form of 'creative art' being used to politicise communities.

In terms of the gender pay gap, Anneliese noted the influence of automation in drawing women into traditionally male workplaces - where the culture of 'men's work' existed previously, women have asserted their right to partake. However, she also cited the fact that, where women enter industries in numbers for the first time, there is a trend of real-terms wage reductions. Women are still deemed as 'worth less' than men - whether that is because they take career breaks for childbearing or their promotion and performance reviewing suffers unconscious discrimination or for other reasons, the issue is complex.

John Partington (TSSA & RTUC) with Anneliese Dodds MP
While suggesting that flexible work patterns might assist women in fitting work around other responsibilities, Anneliese cautioned that the role of women as primary carers and often filling part-time roles left them vulnerable to continuing their dual responsibilities as mothers and workers without the same balance being expected of men. In answer to a question from the floor, she also worried about the insecurity flexibility brings with zero-hour contracts and the option often pursued of working several jobs 'flexibly' without the employment entitlements of a full-time employee such as overtime pay, a decent pension, special leave, etc.

John spoke about the notion of the 'on call' employee (formally and informally) and the cultural impact of 24/7 'availability'. He contrasted two types:

1) The senior manager in the railway industry, usually male, whose phone and emails are always on and who 'requires' to be available at all times. He's less likely to be available to perform the parenting/caring duties which his partner undertakes due to the importance of being 'available on call' at all times - even while he is not contracted for on-call duties. His substantial salary compensates for such availability - even when not actually called upon.

2) Contrast the NHS nurse, paid an insubstantial sum for working long and strenuous shifts, who takes on-call shifts - sometimes to bolster her (sometimes his) wages but also out of a commitment to service delivery. The financial incentive comes second to the commitment to patient care.

Wrapped up in these examples are questions of work/life balance, fair reward for services rendered and appropriate staffing levels - but also a gendered culture of prestige versus commitment in workplaces. While the other issues can be tackled mechanistically - the cultural barriers to equal opportunities and equal treatment at work have barely changed in the fifty years since the Dagenham strike. Trade unions are grappling with the issue - more so now that more than half of trade unionists are women - but the solution is complex.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Reading Trade Unionists and Labour Party Supporters Against Fare Increases!

Reading Trades Union Council delegates joined Reading & District Labour Party and Bracknell Labour Party on 2 January 2019 in a day of protest against Tory rail fare increases. The 3.1% average increase is higher than the average wage increase - and means rail fares have gone up by 36% since the Conservative's took office in 2010.
Dave McMullen (GMB & RTUC, foreground) joins other
protesters to leaflet at Bracknell Railway Station

Protesters assembled at railway stations across the country, with Reading and Bracknell Stations being targeted by RTUC delegates, where 'The Daily Squeeze' newspaper-style leaflet was distributed during both the morning and evening peaks. Dave McMullen (GMB), John Oversby (UCU), James Parker (Unite) and John Partington (TSSA) of RTUC joined Labour Party members for several hours of leafleting and discussion with the travellers.

John Partington (TSSA & RTUC, left) leaflets with
another protester at Reading Railway Station
The leaflet highlights Tory failings in subsidising private train operators to the tune of millions of pounds of taxpayers money while punctuality in 2018 was the worst for 13 years. It also points out the injustice of the fact that state railway companies from across Europe and Hong Kong run many British franchises - but UK law prevents the British state from operating its own railways. Except, of course, when franchisees take the subsidies then hand back the operations and the British government steps in as the operator of last resort, as has happened three times in 10 years with the East Coast Mainline franchise!

Jim Parker (Unite & RTUC, left) joins Cllr John Ennis (right) and
another protester at Reading Railway Station
In contrast to the Tory rail rip off, the leaflet promotes Labour's policies of renationalisation of the railways and a fare cap to benefit commuters, employers, leisure travelers and others who use the trains. Franchisees' profits would become much needed additional investment in an integrated transport system.

While the Brexit fiasco has absorbed the governments energies for the past two years, Labour and the trade union movement have not forgotten about the daily pain of the many - with overpriced railways, increased school class sizes and longer hospital waiting times - as well as under-inflation wage increases or even wage freezes and the continuation of zero-hour contracts.

The Conservative government has come to the end of the line - and it is now time for a new driver to power the engines of change in British politics!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Harry Leslie Smith – a tribute

On behalf of Reading Trades Union Council, UNISON activist Antoinette Solera remembers with fondness Harry's wisdom, charm - and sense of struggle - during his two visits to Reading:

Harry addressing listeners in his second visit to Reading, 2016

In October 2014 our branch secretary Pat Kenny laid down a challenge to me, the then Communications Officer for the Reading Borough Council branch of UNISON. ‘Ant, we need a great speaker for the AGM, do your thing and find one’. Rising to the challenge, a few weeks later I phoned in to donate to the Guardian’s Christmas Appeal, realised Owen Jones was helping to man the phones and cheekily asked him if he was free to visit Reading and speak at our meeting the following March. Owen wasn’t available, but meanwhile via Twitter I’d become aware of a new rising star in the world of left leaning politics. Harry Leslie Smith had delivered a barnstorming speech at the Labour Party Conference in September, I was following him on Twitter, he was touring the country to promote his book ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ and I was blown away by his quiet wisdom and his energy in fighting against austerity and for our NHS.

There then followed a long exchange of emails with Harry’s literary agent (who I suspect was probably holding on for a bigger gig!) However I’m not one to give up easily and in the end the agent put me directly in contact with Harry and his son John. Harry was keen to visit new places to share his message and was willing to travel all the way down from Barnsley, so we decided to host an evening event too. In retrospect I think the clincher was the offer of a full on cooked breakfast at the hotel and as much beer as Harry wanted at the evening do at RISC!

I remember meeting Harry and John off the train at Reading station and being very nervous – a 91 year old famous activist and author had travelled more than 200 miles to visit us and we all wanted to make sure he was well looked after. I don’t know why I worried. As soon as we arrived at the hotel and Harry was settling in to his room we had several beers with John and a really good chat about Harry’s work and what motivated him in his retirement to enter the world of political activism.

Harry did his research well. Before the visit he’d sent me a list of questions about Reading – our housing crisis, homelessness, poverty, details about services that had been cut, the daily struggle faced by our members in looking after vulnerable people – he wanted to know warts and all what was really going on. This was important to Harry because everywhere he went he wanted to relate the current problems in every town and city directly back to his experience of poverty in his youth.

Harry Supporting UNITE's 2016 strike action at Capita

At our AGM several of our delegates were in tears as Harry told us about his sister Marion, who died of tuberculosis, ended her short life in a workhouse infirmary and suffered the indignity of burial in a paupers’ pit. That evening Harry moved us once again by reminding us of the horrors of the poverty he suffered. Yet he also lifted us all with his optimism, reminding us of the great things achieved in the ‘spirit of 45’. He reminded the audience of trade unionists, community activists and students that evening we can – and will – achieve great things again.

I would like to think Harry was impressed by the level of activism in our town because a year later he visited Reading again, this time at an event hosted by Reading TUC where we had a spirited debate about austerity and the role of trade unions in fighting for social justice.

I’m proud that Reading’s trade union movement played a part in helping to spread Harry’s message and his 2016 visit showed what a Trades Union Council can do to bring people together in solidarity with each other.

Sadly Harry is no longer with us but his legacy remains and will be long lasting. We have his books, his newspaper articles, his podcasts, his television interviews and his tweets to remind us of his making ability to inspire and to galvanise people all over the world for social justice, for equality and against poverty and racism.

Harry was a great and treasured friend of the trade union and labour movement. His son John has vowed to finish the projects Harry had begun. There is talk of memorials and statues and I hope Harry is accorded the recognition he deserves on that front. However I feel the best tribute we can pay to him is to continue our efforts on behalf of our members, the people we serve and in the pursuit of social justice.

Rest in Power, Harry - and thank you for everything you have done. Always remembered, never forgotten.

Antoinette Solera
Co-Convenor, Central & East Berkshire UNISON

Reading Chronicle report of Harry in Reading, 2016

Monday, 29 October 2018

DPAC, RTUC and principled Labour Party activists fight for Disabled Bus Rights

RTUC, DPAC and principled Labour Party members
outside the Reading Civic Offices

On 29 October 2018, just as the Reading Borough Council (RBC) Policy Committee was sitting down to meet, Berkshire Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Reading Trades Union Council (RTUC) and principled Labour Party activists gathered outside the Civic Offices, banners aloft, for another in their series of protests against RBC proposals to limit disabled people’s access to free bus travel.
Following a consultation from May to July on imposing charges for disabled people’s bus travel before 09:30 and after 23:00 Monday to Friday, stripping disabled people’s helpers/carers of their Companion Passes altogether and imposing charges for the dial-a-ride Readibus service, RBC have deferred a decision on Access Pass, Companion Pass and Readibus reforms on several occasions. At the Policy Committee meeting, however, Deputy Leader of RBC, Cllr Tony Page, answered a question on the subject from Cllr Rachel Eden, Chair of the Access and Disability Group.
In his answer Cllr Page announced the retention of Companion Passes for disabled people’s helpers/carers – the consultation was overwhelming in support of this concession. However, he declared that all other aspects of the proposed reforms were still under consideration – and travel passes for Senior Citizens will also be added to RBC’s review!

Thus, while RTUC, DPAC and principled Labour members can take soothe from their success in delaying RBC’s decision-making and in their intention to retain Companion Passes – a clear sign of the heed being taken by RBC of the campaign of opposition – the campaign must go on. RTUC, DPAC and principled Labour members say NO TO RESTRICTIONS ON DISABLED RIGHTS.
RTUC, DPAC and principled Labour Party members
outside the Reading Civic Offices

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Vote 90! It's not 100 years for us

Nikki Dancey (GMB & RTUC) introduces Louise Raw,
Shami Chakrabarti and Lisa McKenzie

On 19 September 2018, the GMB union, with support from the Reading Trades Union Council and Reading & District Labour Party, organised ‘Vote 90!’ – a celebration of equal votes for women and men, achieved in 1928. While the population of the United Kingdom has generally been looking back this year to ‘votes for women’ 100 years ago, socialists and labour historians have offered the corrective that 1918 was the year of the ‘ladies franchise’ – votes for women with middle class incomes and property rights. Only in 1928 were the injustices removed which gave women over the age of 21 the vote on the same basis as men.
RTUC Banner flying proud for 'Vote 90!'
Democracy was not yet achieved – plural voting for university graduates existed until the 1940s and 18-20 year olds were disenfranchised until the 1960s – but 1928 was a great leap forward. (Even today, a groundswell of support for votes for 16-17 year olds and the existence of voting restrictions on prisoners demonstrate that the onward campaign for democracy continues.)
‘Vote 90!’ presented ‘an evening of working class wit with a stunning panel of women: Shami Chakrabarti, Louise Raw and Lisa McKenzie’. With the GMB’s Nikki Dancey in the Chair, the event offered ‘a wry look at this year’s “Vote 100” celebrations and remembers the majority of women who didn't actually get the vote until 90 years ago’. The speakers presented a look at the history of working class women through the suffragette years and how they were ignored by so many in the early 20th century, what the vote meant to working class women then and now and how working class women are still so often ignored and reviled in equal measure by the establishment.

Louise Raw, historian, author and Matchwomen's Festival organiser, spoke on the self-organising power of women with particular reference to the Bryant & May Matchwomen’s strike of 1888 as well as anecdotal accounts of other struggles women have played and continue to play a leading role in.

Louise Raw in a show of passionate discourse!
Lisa McKenzie, Sociologist and Research Fellow at the London School of Economics and class war activist, spoke about her personal struggle, fighting for an education, witnessing community destruction during the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85 – and frankly casting doubt on the effectiveness of the vote as a working class tool – let alone a weapon – for winning social justice, peace and economic empowerment.

Lisa McKenzie takes the floor
Shami Chakrabarti, the Labour Party’s Shadow Attorney General and former Director of Liberty, ended by acknowledging the wisdom of the previous speakers and making a pitch for participation in electoral contests.
Shami Chakrabarti rounds off the night 
The speakers had their own books on sale on the night and were pleased to sign copies. The event charged no fee – though attendees were generous with their donations.
A panorama of the night

Monday, 10 September 2018

Radical Actions, September 2018

RTUC at Reading Pride!

RTUC at Pride: Ray Parkes (Unite), Nikki Dancey (GMB), Dave
McMullen (GMB), Steve Geary (USDAW), John Gillman (Unite), Ruth
McEwan (Unison), Helen Caney (Unison), Nick Hatton (UCU), Billie
Reynolds (Unison) and Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU)
On 1 September, Reading's LGBT+ community staged its annual Pride March and Festival. After processing through the town centre behind banners and accompanied by music and dancing, the celebrants gathered at Kings Meadow and enjoyed a party atmosphere - though with serious political, health and trade union messages being propagated from a variety of stalls.

RTUC's Pride Stall: Ray Parkes and Nada Al-Sanjari
The Reading Trade Union Council attended in force, having a stall of its own and supporting pitches established by affiliate trade unions. Among the RTUC friends and delegates present were Neil Adams (Unite), Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU), Kevin Brandstatter (GMB), Helen Caney (Unison), Nikki Dancey (GMB), Rachel Eden (GMB), Steve Geary (USDAW), John Gillman (Unite), Sarah Hacker (Unite), Nick Hatton (UCU), Ruth McEwan (Unison), Dave McMullen (GMB), James Parker (Unite), Ray Parkes (Unite) and Billie Reynolds (Unison).

RTUC distributed literature on trade union issues and the history of the labour movement and spoke with Pride attendees about the value of trade unionism in contemporary society. Conversations especially focussed on the role of trade unionism in fighting fascism and defending LGBT+ members from discrimination in the workplace and the community.

Protesting Rail Fare Increases in East and West Reading

On 3 September Reading & District Labour Party and Reading Trades Union Council joined forces to protest against the Tory governments announcement of inflation-busting rail fare increases, coming into force in January. Labour's Matt Rodda (MP for Reading East) and Cllr Rachel Eden (prospective parliamentary candidate for Reading West) assembled at Tilehurst Railway Station, joined by RTUC's John Partington (TSSA) and local Labour Party activists, to leaflet the travelling public and discuss Labour's policies for renationalisation of railway franchises and reinvestment of railway profits into infrastructure and services.

Labour's Reading East MP, Matt Rodda (second left) and Prospective
Parliamentary Candidate for Reading West, Cllr Rachel Eden (second right)

Matt and John also visited Reading Railway Station, joined by another Labour supporter, and leafleted and engaged with the commuting public. Under the Tories' plans, rail fares will increase by 3.2% in the new year.

RTUC's John Partington (TSSA) (centre) and Reading
East Labour MP, Matt Rodda (right)

Protesting Proposed Attacks on Disabled Travel Rights

Reading Trades Union Council, represented by Nada Al-Sanjari (NEU) and John Partington (TSSA), joined Berkshire Disabled People Against Cuts for the third wave of protests against Reading Borough Council's proposals to restrict free bus travel for members of the public with a disability - as well as disabled persons' helpers. Under the current scheme, disabled people and their helpers get free travel on Reading Buses 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Reading Borough Council proposes restricting free travel to the hours between 09:30 and 23:00 for disabled people - disadvantaging those who travel for work or appointments in the early morning or wishing to enjoy a nightlife later on when others are partying the nights away! The proposals would also remove free travel entirely from disabled people's helpers.

RTUC's John Partington (TSSA) (third left) and Nada
Al-Sanjari (NEU) (sixth left) with DPAC protesters

Reading Borough Council are set to make a decision on the changes to disabled people's bus concessions on 24 September. They can be sure they will be met by further protests - with greater numbers fourth time round. RTUC and DPAC (and many in the Labour Party) call on Reading Borough Council to scrap the changes and stop attacking those who need their support in order to lead a mobile life.