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From the growth in food banks to the Bedroom Tax, 2013 was in many ways and for many people in the UK a year to forget. There are, however, many moments from the last twelve months worth remembering for all the right reasons. So, to celebrate the end of the year Red Pepper has picked out a few of its favourite campaigns and victories of the last year.
On July 31 the High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, had acted unlawfully in attempting to cut services and close departments at Lewisham Hospital. Three months later, on October 29, Hunt’s appeal against the decision was rejected and the original judgement upheld.
The court ruling represented a major victory for all those involved in the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign—a coalition of community campaigners, hospital workers and supporting organisations—which has for over a year been holding regular meetings, demonstrations, days of actions, vigils and engaging in a number of creative stunts (The hunt for Hunt) to protest against service reductions at a hospital that is not in financial difficulty and is considered high achieving.
The largest demonstration was held in Lewisham on January 26, attracting over 25,000, a remarkable number for a local issue campaign and the largest local demonstration in defence of the NHS in British history. The success of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, which is wholly against the privatisation and marketisation of the NHS, is a testament to the power of community organising in the face of austerity and a rare highlight in a year that has witnessed the acceleration of cuts to public services across the country.
One of the most widely reported on and exciting industrial campaigns in the UK of the last few years, the 3Cosas campaign was launched over a year ago to fight for sick pay, holidays and pensions for outsourced cleaners at the University of London (UoL) and has displayed a consistent and unwavering militancy, a remarkable feat considering that not only are the outsourced cleaners at the UoL highly precarious but almost all are immigrants, few of whom speak English.
Following a two-day strike on November 27 and 28 the employer of outsourced cleaners at the UoL, Balfour Beatty Workplace, announced concessions over sick pay and holiday pay. Although not in line with those received by directly employed staff these improved terms represent a major victory for a campaign that, although appearing as an overnight success, is a product of exhaustive organising and confidence building.
Impressively, despite its recent success, the 3Cosas campaign has recently announced a three-day strike for the 27, 28 and 29 January 2014, beginning what will they hope will be a year as successful as the one that preceded it. The demands for the January strike are not only the third ‘cosa’, pensions, but also union recognition for the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain—the syndicalist union which represents the majority of outsourced cleaners at the UoL—and guarantees of job security for workers at the Garden Halls accommodation, which the University is closing for refurbishment.
Militant, creative and technologically savvy, the 3Cosas campaign, it has been suggested, provides a vision for the labour movement that moves beyond the conservative approach it is today overwhelmingly associated with.
Below is Novara Media’s report from a 3Cosas demonstration held at Senate House on October 24, followed by the video appeal to donate to the online strike fund that made financially possible the recent victorious November strike.
Blacklisting hit headlines in 2009 following a raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the offices of the shadowy Consulting Association, who, it turned out, were being paid by companies for ‘intelligence’ on workers who were later denied work for demanding adequate health and safety standards on site and general union activity.
Frank Morris found himself in precisely this situation when in September 2012, after raising concerns about health and safety on site, he was sacked from his job on Crossrail by his employer, the Bam, Ferrovial and Kier (BFK) consortium.
Yet as Ewa Jasiewicz explained: ‘taking the fight to the gate, often on his own, he spent six months protesting before Unite’s organisation and leverage department began an anti-blacklisting campaign to get his job back and union access onto all Crossrail sites’.
A combination of lobbying and participation in government select committees by Unite alongside rank and file direct action involving the blocking of roads in London and Manchester cost BFK not only its reputation but over £1 billion in lost work. Better still, in September of this year Frank Morris was reinstated.
The fight against blacklisting, however, is far from over. Formed in the aftermath of the raid on the offices of the Consulting Association and organised and led by blacklisted workers, The Blacklist Support Group is now leading the charge against those companies that engage in this systematic practice of disciplining and exclusion.
Much has been written on the decline of the student movement following the explosion of activity that followed the Government’s announcement in 2010 of plans to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000. Despite mass mobilisation, fees were raised and the student movement lost. Or so the story goes.
Although the last two years have been a relatively quiet period for student activism in the UK the closing months of 2013 suggest that something may be brewing once more.
At the beginning of December over ten universities, from Birmingham to Liverpool and beyond, were simultaneously occupied by students. Students at the University of Ulster are still in occupation, despite University management cutting of power and water.
The spate of occupations, although at an organisational level unrelated, appear to share a common set of demands that transcend any immediate single issue. The overriding focus, however, is undoubtedly on the privatisation and marketisation of universities and its corrosive effect on campus community life and academic integrity.
As befitting a more comprehensive vision for the future of higher education students across the country are increasingly supporting workers’ struggles. In contrast to 2010, links between students and campus workers are becoming increasingly visible, perhaps nowhere more so than at Sussex University, where for over a year students under the rubric of ‘Sussex Against Privatisation‘ and the infamous Occupy Sussex have been campaigning against the outsourcing of hundreds of campus jobs, even assisting in the creation of a campus-wide ‘pop up union‘. More recently, the occupation of Senate House by students at the University of London (UoL) was launched off the back of the 3Cosas strike victory and had as its first demand that the UoL and Balfour Beatty Workplace provide all outsourced cleaners with pensions, sick pay and holiday pay in line with that of in-house staff. ‘Workers and students, unite and fight’ is increasingly finding form in more than mere rhetoric.
Informal, horizontal, flexible and non-dogmatic are words so far used to describe the networks of student activists that are increasingly asserting themselves on campuses across the country. Although activity has largely been localised the #march25 national demonstration against outsourcing and privatisation at Sussex University, the recent #copsoffcampus demonstration at the UoL and simultaneous demonstrations held in solidarity in Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield, amongst other universities, hints at the capacity of these networks to coordinate on a national scale.
Although concrete victories for the student movement have been sparse in recent years, and 2013 was admittedly no exception, the wave of occupations and protests that have swamped university campuses in the UK of late, and more importantly the resurgent networks that organised them, are reason enough to hope that 2014 will be different.
Below is a video from the #march25 national demonstration at Sussex University followed by You and I Films‘ video report from the #copsoffcampus demonstration held at UoL on December 11.