Monthly Archives: November 2011

Stirchley and Cotteridge Against the Cuts N30 Report

Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts did a tour of the main picket lines in our area this morning; Lifford Refuse Depot, Lifford House, The Blood Service and the Cotteridge Church Centre, before joing the main march in town. At each location, there was a constant honking of horns to show support. There was barely any negativity from passers-by. There was a good, confident and determined mood on the picket lines. We got the feeling that although the government is not crumbling just yet, our side is beginning to get its act together. The ConDems had better watch out.
We will continue trying to unite workplace/union struggles with local public service and community issues; unity of service providers and consumers in struggle is the best way to end divisions fostered by the government, and is also the best way to win. Our current focus is ensuring that Charles House stays open, but when any further union action comes up in future, we will be there as well.

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Latest ConDem Dirty Trick for N30

The latest trick to attack the pension strike has been pulled by Birmingham City Council who yesterday told the TUC they would charge £10,000 for the march through Birmingham City Centre.
The march for the Lib Dem conference just 6 weeks ago cost a few hundred pounds.

We cannot let them stop us from marching, it is our democratic right to do so, and this sneaky ploy should be seen for what it is – fear. Fear of the public sector rising up against this government, fear of the amount of support the strike has got from the general public, fear that the movement against austerity only grows stronger and stronger.

They do not want to see tens of thousands marching through our streets against this government. We have to make sure that is what they see now. Spread the word – the march is still on, 11:30, Lionel Street Car Park.

The unions have also said they will march in defiance of the council’s demands.

And we now have a new chant for tomorrow:

10K? No Way! We will march, We won’t Pay!

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Tomorrow: All Out! Strike for Pensions Justice!

Tomorrow is set to be a historic day, with one of the largest strikes in the history of the UK, as millions of public sector workers strike to defend their pensions, rejecting an offer by the government which would see them pay more, work longer and get less in order to pay off the deficit.

Almost every public sector union is taking part in this co-ordinated action, and there are plenty of things happening in Birmingham. This strike is not just about pensions, it is also about cuts, and defending the whole idea of a public sector providing services on the basis of need.

From 4am there will be pickets at refuse collection depots around the city, with other workplace pickets running from 7am. Some confirmations of pickets have been received, and are listed here, but you should expect them at almost every council and government workplace.
Parents should have heard from schools as to whether they will close, but with almost every teaching union, including the NAHT head teachers union, on strike we expect to see all schools closed.

At 9am the first local demo, organised by Stirchley and Cotteridge Against the Cuts, gathers in Cotteridge. It will proceed to join the Selly Oak rally, and then the main TUC demo.

10am sees 4 local rallies around Birmingham:
Selly Oak – at the University South Gates, by the New Bristol Road (the newly opened bypass)
Handsworth – By Handsworth Library, Soho Road
Erdington – Six Ways
East Birmingham Heartlands Hospital

These rallies will feed to the main TUC march which assembles from 11:30am at Lionel Street Car Park, and should proceed through the city centre. We have had uncomfirmed reports that Birmingham City Council want to charge us £10,000 to walk through our city! We hope that the TUC do not bow to pressure and pay up, and that we march through the city in defiance of this blatant attempt to prevent us expressing our democratic rights.
The march proceeds to a rally at the NIA which beings at 1:30pm – doors to the NIA open at 12:30pm. The rally has many speakers from the union movement:
CHAIR: Lee Barron, CWU Midlands Regional Secretary & Midlands TUC Chair
Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary
Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary
Janice Godrich, PCS President
Karen Jennings, Unison Assistant General Secretary
Martin Johnson, ATL Deputy General Secretary
Chris Keates, NASUWT General Secretary
Barry Lovejoy, UCU Head of Further Education
Joe Morgan, GMB West Midlands Regional Secretary
Tony Woodley, UNITE Executive Officer

Tomorrow is set up to be a great day – all it needs now is you!
Remember that you can sign up to a union on the day and still strike, so at work today, or on the picket lines tomorrow, make sure anyone who isn’t unionised knows this, joins up and comes out tomorrow.

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Wednesday’s Strike Is About More Than Pensions and Cuts

On Wednesday, 3,000,000 public sector workers from 30 unions will be on strike, seeing the biggest walkout since the General Strike of 1926.
You can get details of local rallies and the main TUC march here – please let us know if your workplace has a picket and we’ll add it to the list – and take a photo on the day and send it to BirminghamAgainstTheCuts@Gmail.com.

The dispute in the strike is about pensions. But that is not all it is about. Unions cannot legally strike over cuts, it must be a specific dispute with their employer.

The pensions changes are part of the cuts. The Hutton Report (the definitive pensions report) told us that public sector pensions are sustainable. The extra money paid each month, the money saved by making people retire later and get less in their retirement, will not go to the pension funds, they go towards paying off the deficit.

So this strike is about cuts, but it’s also about more than that. A prime motive for making public sector pension schemes worse is to make the public sector organisations more attractive to private companies.
This government is hell-bent on cutting back the public sector, because of an unflexible ideology that states that private sector is always better than public sector, that the private sector generates wealth whilst the public sector consumes it, that it is right that 1% of people have 25% of the wealth, and that 10% of people have 90% of the wealth.
We can see the start of this in the NHS with the reform bill and loss-making Circle Health taking over the running of a hospital.
We can see this in the Higher Education White Paper, which will open Universities up to for-profit companies.
We can see this in Free Schools and Academies- Free Schools are already private organisations, funded publicly. Academies break up the collective system of education, making individual schools an easier prospect for profit seeking companies, as they can cherry pick the most financially viable schools, whilst others (no doubt those in more deprived areas) are left to rot through underfunding.
Outsourcing has been a way of life for much of the rest of the public sector for many years, but this government would happily outsource everything, except perhaps the police and army (although I’m not even sure about that).

That’s why this Wednesday’s strike action is about so much more than pensions. It is about the idea that the public sector, through collective purchasing, nationwide delivery and the lack of a profit motive, can provide some things in a better way, with better outcomes, than the private, profit-seeking sector ever could.
So everyone should be out on Wednesday, public sector, private sector, retired and out of work, to defend the idea of a society which provides services on the basis of need not wealth, through organisations that are for people, not profit.

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2 NHS Petitions You Should Sign

2 petitions have been posted on the government’s e-petition website that we would encourage you to sign.
The first is a call to recruit 5,000 more midwives. This is particularly relevant in Birmingham, where the womens’ hospital recently turned away pregnant women due to staff shortages.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13716

The second is a petition to drop the NHS reform bill, in the light of recent refusals by the government to release risk register reports because they would have had implications for the success of the policy getting through parliament.
Given that the full implications of the NHS reform bill were not available to MPs or Lords, the bill should be dropped.
The BMA have stated their further opposition to the reform bill after draft guidelines on commissioning were released, which they say will remove power from GPs, and hand it to private organisations.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670

You can keep up with NHS news and campaigns locally with Save Our NHS West Midlands

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Report and Videos from our Public Meeting on 24th November

Last night a succesful meeting was held at the Council House, building for the public sector pension strike on 30th November.

For the first time, we’ve recorded the speakers, so that you can see their whole speech. Unfortunately during James Anthony’s speech, my memory card ran out of space and I had to grab someone else’s phone to finish the recording, so a bit is missing from his. Let us know if you like this, or prefer the older style of report with a few quotes and pictures.

The first speaker was a Venezualan union leader. Egle Sanchez delivered a message of solidarity, speaking about how Chavez’s government is one for the people, and explaining that there had been 40% pay rises for public sector workers this year.

Afterwards, Joe Morgan, the regional secretary for GMB talked about the pensions issue specifically:

Sian Ruddick from PCS spoke about pensions and the strike in the civil service:

After these first speakers, there was some time for people from the floor to speak, and the meeting heard from the Save Charles House campaign, Mary Pearson and Stuart Richardson

Christine Blower, General Secretary for NUT went through the strike in numbers, some interesting facts in here

Sarah Barton, from Hands off Bournville School spoke about the threat to the public education system of academies, and their succesful campaign

Then back to the floor for more speakers, hearing from Graeme Horne, Charles Reagan and Charlie Friel

The penultimate speaker was Paul Mackney, former general secretary of UCU, who talked about the disparity of wealth in the UK, alongside pensions issues.

The final platform speaker was James Anthony, from Queen Elizabeth Hospital Unison branch. Unfortunately, during his speech my memory card filled up, so there is a bit of a gap in his speech.

There was enough time for some final speakers from the floor, and we heard from Bob Whitehead, Geoff Dexter and GMB rep from Connexions (whose name I didn’t catch – please let me know 🙂 )
Again technical issues meant that this got cut in two, and a bit of Geoff’s contribution was lost.

A good meeting, with much information about the public sector strikes, the videos are well worth watching.
Photos from Geoff Dexter

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University of Birmingham Students Occupy Gatehouse

Shortly after midnight yesterday (23rd November), around 40 students occupied a building at the University of Birmingham, in protest over the Higher Education white paper, and in support of the 30th November strikes next week.
This was part of a national day of action that also saw occupations begin at Warwick University, Royal Holloway, York, Edinburgh and Goldsmiths. Students and Education workers opened up a social centre in Bloomsbury, near the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS).
Students at Cambridge University disrupted a meeting at which David Willetts, the Higher Education minister, was due to speak. He did not deliver his speech. The students then occupied a lecture theatre at the University.

At Birmingham, students occupied the former gatehouse at the North gate, which is not in use, and they are claiming squatters rights. The University has responded by placing a heavy security presence on the building and preventing anyone from entering. Following negotiations between the Guild of Students and the University, the occupiers have been able to receive food, but only if it is delivered by an officer of the Guild.
Under squatters rights, the building (if entered freely (ie: without breaking and entering) and secured) is considered their home, and the blockade of the building by the University is potentially illegal, and a similar situation to if your landlord decided to place security outside your house and stop your friends from visiting you.

Despite this, the situation has largely remained calm, aside from an incident last night where it is alleged that security tried to drag someone out of a window and punched one of the other occupiers.
The University have said that they will get an injunction if the occupiers have not left by 9am this morning. At the time of writing, they are still in the building and are not intending to leave. No legal documents have been received by the occupation as of yet.

The occupation has issued a set of demands to the University, based around the idea of keeping education as a public good, not turning into a private, profit making enterprise. Their demands include no course cuts, and no cuts to jobs, wages or conditions for staff, as well as a public rejection of the white paper and a commitment to keeping the University public. You can read the full set of demands here.

The higher education white paper will increase marketisation in Universities, paving the way for wide-scale privatisation, in a similar way to how we have seen the NHS change over the past 15 years. The changes in the white paper will hit universities with a higher proportion of working class students the hardest, as funding gets withdrawn, whilst elite universities get only small cuts. Birmingham City University, with 44% of students from working class backgrounds, is facing the 9th largest funding cuts, whilst places like UCL and Oxford are losing very small sums of money.
More detail about the white paper can be found in this post – especially in the video at the bottom of it.

As well as the issue of the potential privatisation of the higher education system, this occupation is intended to build for the 30th November strikes, to show solidarity with lecturers and support staff who will be out to defend their pensions, and to mobilise students to attend pickets and the teach out.

Birmingham Against the Cuts stands in solidarity with the occupation, which is seeking to defend the attacks on our education system that will disproportionately affect average earners, and reduce social mobility. The white paper is the latest in a series of attacks, including the scrapping of EMA, the raising of tuitions fees, the invention of free schools and the increase in academies, which are stripping the public education system and opening it up to private companies directly in the case of free schools, or through the backdoor in the case of the HE white paper. Academies meanwhile reduce the collectivism of the education system by creating individual schools. It will of course be much easier to introduce a marketised system, or hand over schools to private companies, if they are individual units rather than a collectivised system. We have recently seen Circle Health take over an NHS hospital. This will be repeated with private education providers taking over “failing” schools.

We call on the university to open access to the occupation whilst legal proceedings are ongoing. We believe that this is not just the legally correct route to take, but also the morally correct decision, as the occupation has been peaceful, and is not causing disruption to students or staff, since the building is not in use.

We ask security to stand with the students, and tell the university that they do not feel that they should be preventing access to the building, and that this is not a security issue. We hope to see solidarity between all staff members and students, as the students seek to take action to defend the education system. As always it is the management at the university who make the cuts, but never on their own pay packet. Support staff at the university have accepted real-terms pay cuts this year, but the vice-chancellor saw a 10% pay increase, to £392,000/year (plus a house, car and other benefits).

We thank the guild for showing support to the occupation and ensuring that their human rights are met by the University. This shows a marked difference from previous administrations at the guild and hope that it indicates a change in direction that will see the guild seek to resist changes to the education system at the University, rather than simply seek to maintain a seat at the table.

Please send the students messages of support and solidarity to occupyuob@gmail.com

You can keep up to date with events by following them on their website, facebook or twitter.

Update: The occupation is now ended, as the University got a high court injuction, and were moving to evict. The occupiers all left and none were stopped or had ID taken. This should make it hard for the University to take disciplinary action and we hope that they will not attempt to do so.
At our public meeting tonight, a further expression of solidarity was made by the meeting, not knowing that at the same time, the University were moving to end the occupation.

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