An outright victory against fire-and-rehire at Forth Valley College
by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
· Strike action and solidarity has won an outright, astonishing victory for EIS-FELA union members at Forth Valley College.
Fifteen months ago, 27 lecturers were fired from their jobs and rehired as instructor/assessors, actually doing the same work but on drastically lower wages, with near-zero preparation and marking time, which caused horrendous levels of stress and illness as they fought against the odds to sustain quality education for their overwhelmingly working-class students.
As we’ve reported regularly in the Voice over the past year, well-timed, strategically planned strike action, with maximum involvement of the membership in each College, won a victory at national level on the eve of the May elections.
A combination of industrial action, widespread solidarity from other trade unionists—in particular coordinated by the multi-union Scottish Workers Solidarity Network—and pressure on the politicians as they sought votes, won recognition of the role of a lecturer, and the pay and conditions that go with it.
But still the Forth Valley College principal tried to defy and ignore this national agreement, stubbornly refusing to reinstate the 27 lecturers. Union members at FVC staged further strike action, and the Scottish Workers Solidarity Network helped coordinate bombardment of the college bosses with demands to honour the national deal and reinstate these workers.
This collective pressure led to the issue being passed up to the Joint Secretaries of the employers’ umbrella (Colleges Scotland), and the EIS union, to find a resolution.
The outcome is an astonishing victory for strike action; for the courage shown by those involved; and for the deployment of that precious weapon in the workers’ movement: solidarity.
Above all, it has routed bosses who were amongst the first to use fire-and-rehire as a weapon to bludgeon workers into drastically worsened wages, terms and conditions.
This victory for trade unionists at Forth Valley College is not only a success story for the rest of the EIS-FELA union membership, but for the wider working class—including the outrageous 10 per cent of all workers who’ve been directly hammered by their employers with fire-and-rehire over the past year.
John Kelly, EIS/FELA National Salaries Convener:
“I think that this victory is a landmark for the fightback against fire and rehire. Key is union organisation, lay member led unions, learning the lessons that strikes win, and of course having an infrastructure in place to win supermajorities in ballots.
“These ballots should be as opportunities for campaigning. Campaign plans have to be structured, and of course the difference is striking. Messages of solidarity give a vital boost.
“If there is a lesson learned from this dispute it is to support others all over the world. Getting a solidarity message from the US of A really gave us a lift at a difficult time. We need support networks such as the Scottish Workers Solidarity Network to build solidarity across workers’ struggle.”
‘This is a huge outcome for us…’
Anne-Marie Harley, EIS-FELA Forth Valley branch convener and national Vice-President, spoke to Richie Venton about this arduous but victorious struggle…
“The outcome is that 27 people who had their lecturing posts removed and replaced by new contracts with far worse terms and conditions will revert to their original contracts immediately, and be compensated for the holidays lost, either financially or by taking them on a different date.
“As well as that, at least 15 people who applied for the new contracts and got jobs will be offered lecturing positions and have their wages backdated to August or whenever they started, with compensation for the difference between the lecturer’s salary and that of an instructor assessor, because the Joint Secretaries of the employers’ side and the EIS union decided they are actually lecturers.
“This is a huge outcome for us. It doesn’t take away the damage, the hurt and pain, but it’s really good to see Forth Valley College followed the ruling of the Joint Statement, quickly, so it’s all implemented as of 22 June.
“This means all those who were fired as lecturers can now take their summer holidays if they want to, whereas up until a few days ago they were compelled to work over the summer.
“I’m pleased that the process we fought so hard for nationally has achieved this, because it was always the case that the proof of the pudding in the national agreement we won, was whether it was implemented in Forth Valley.
“I’m pleased for us and for all colleges in Scotland. This means that if there’s a job role that looks like a lecturing post, there’s a provision to look into it locally and if that fails it can be put to the national Joint Secretaries, with the knowledge this process has been seen to work. It’s huge for us and for the national bargaining process, a win for the whole of sector.
“It all started in February 2020 during the global pandemic, so many had their doubts after all this time whether we would ever succeed. It is testament to the persistence of union members in our sector and beyond, and people like yourself. It shows pressure can be brought to bear and it’s a huge victory for the whole of trade union movement.
“This was fire-and-rehire. There can no longer be any denying that because we’ve been officially told it was the same job. Now, I recognise there’s a difference between the public sector—where public and political pressure can be brought to bear—compared to the private sector.
“But the unusual thing here is the length of time between when people were put on these new, inferior contracts and when they’ve been reinstated. That’s quite significant, because once things are put in place people begin to think it can’t be changed.
“Why were we so persistent? Why did we keep going? It was the right thing to do, we had right on our side.
“If this was allowed to happen it would continue, not just for our members but the whole education sector, and knowing that it was the right thing to do was what kept me going.
“The local strike was the catalyst for the national strike. The support that came from outside, from the likes of yourselves, and the fact an election was going on, had a significant impact. We could go round all the local MSPs.
“Local members wrote to all the candidates, and we had people on the picket line who were standing for election. We got support from the STUC; I spoke at the conference.
“We were one of the first to go on strike during the pandemic, so everything had to go online. We discovered the employers often pay far more attention to what’s on Twitter or Facebook than they do to us.
“When something they didn’t like appeared on social media, they’d talk to us. So we used all these new things as tools in our campaign.
“A lot of people I wasn’t even aware of, trade union movements and organisations alert to the race to the bottom, as employers take advantage of a global pandemic, came to our side.
“I want to thank every single person, yourself included, all the organisations that sent us solidarity and kept the case up and running. I want to thank all the members who organised, campaigned and looked after each other as their mental and physical well-being was threatened.
“Our union branch is much stronger because we’ve been through this.
My biggest hope is for all colleges to have more stability. Our campaign hashtag was #collegesneedlecturers. We just want to do our job and not have students’ learning disrupted.
“I hope this is a turning point and that we’ll have less or no need to strike in future, although we will have no hesitation if we have to.”
McVitie’s workers fight on, despite bosses’ dirty tactics
by Richie Venton, SSP national workplace organiser
· Literally at the same time as a lively delegation of McVitie’s workers presented their 75,000-strong petition to the Scottish Parliament demanding government action to prevent factory closure, the cynical, profiteering plunderers in the Pladis boardrooms used the local paper in Carlisle to boast about plans of new investment in their factory there.
This is classic capitalist divide and conquer tactics, trying to win loyalty and silence from the Carlisle McVitie’s workers, whilst pretending to ignore the growing storm of opposition to closure of the Glasgow factory.
This reinforces our belief that the bosses’ excuses for closure in Tollcross are nearly as big a pile of dishonest bullshit as the mountains of profits the owners have accumulated, on the backs of the workers they now want to toss onto the scrapheap of unemployment.
As GMB convener Peter Doherty said to me, “This is a kick in the teeth. It proves what we’ve said all along, this is a closure planned long ago.”
When they trot out the argument that Tollcross must shut because of overcapacity, that is blown to smithereens by their plans to increase capacity in Carlisle.
Their brass-necked hypocrisy serves to confirm the warnings the Voice and the SSP have made throughout: Pladis want to centralise production, even if that means closure of several of the six factories in England—whilst hunting the globe for ever cheaper labour, to supercharge the £186million profit they made last year.
Dirty divide & conquer tactics
It is entirely understandable if workers in the Carlisle factory welcome investment in the hope that it secures their own futures.
But the reality is, no McVitie’s job is safe at the hands of these cold, calculating profiteers, who are intent on stirring up division between workers in Scotland and England—or even between different factories in England—as they slash one job after another, as a butcher would chop a salami sausage.
The national unions need to hold meetings of members across the UK to warn them of these prospects and the bosses’ divisive tactics. Alerting members that accepting work from Tollcross would only hasten its closure and strengthen the employer’s hand in carrying out future closures and redundancies in England.
The workers in Tollcross will not be cowed by these dirty methods. Any lingering faith some of them may have had in Pladis as an employer has now vanished.
Pleading with Pladis will not save a single job, which is why the shop stewards and the growing contingent of shopfloor union members have been stepping up the public campaign on several fronts.
Gathering storm of opposition
Gathering and then presenting the Scottish Government with 75,000 signatories to their petition is in itself a sign of the phenomenal solidarity in the working class for their struggle, and has helped keep their battle for survival in the public domain.
The large and growing round of speaking engagements at trade union meetings—coordinated by the Scottish Workers Solidarity Network—has not only built up the number of allies in the workers’ movement, but also achieved support from unions representing tens of thousands of members for two Statements agreed by the GMB stewards.
Councillors must ban Pladis land speculation
One Statement calls on the city councillors to ban planning permission for residential or similar development on the Tollcross site if Pladis persist with wiping out these 470 jobs and then try to cash in by selling the land, which they own.
Councillors need to back up their very welcome support for the campaign against closure with such concrete steps. And do so quickly, in order to throw up a barrier to Pladis bosses’ cynical plans.
The other Statement being endorsed by a vast array of union meetings is a warning that unless McVitie’s jobs are saved in Glasgow, the trade union movement will systematically build a public boycott of all McVitie’s products. These cowboys only understand the language of action that threatens their profits.
Other protest sites are available!
The recent protest outside Marks and Spencer at The Fort Shopping Centre, in Easterhouse, won massive and warm support from shoppers. It was designed to alert them that M&S are one of McVitie’s main customers, particularly supplying own-brand M&S mallows.
Bosses at M&S would be wise to warn their McVitie’s counterparts that if they go ahead with closure, it will mean growing protests and damage to both their reputations.
Unless Pladis bosses dump their devastating plans, this won’t be the last time M&S will be visited. And other supermarkets supplied by McVitie’s are available for similar protest visits!
Scottish Government must take action
One thing especially clear from recent developments is that intervention by the Scottish Government is critical.
Nicola Sturgeon needs to warn not just the elusive UK managing director, David Murray, but also the Turkish multinational owners, of just how damaging their plans for industrial vandalism will be.
Not only damaging and devastating to entire communities in Glasgow (which Paldis couldn’t care less about) but also to the commercial reputation, sales and sources of profit for Pladis itself, all over Scotland.
The Scottish Government needs to turn warmly welcome words of support into hard cash, in response to the perfectly viable counter-proposals drafted by the unions, which would save every job and enhance production in Glasgow.
If Pladis don’t respond to Scottish Government investment, the government should be prepared to seize the factory assets, harness the skills of all 470 workers, and use the counter-proposals by the unions to develop a publicly-owned food enterprise, to meet the desperate needs of a population suffering food poverty and grotesque reliance on food banks.
The fight is far from over. The dirty methods of Pladis bosses will only fuel the anger and determination of workers to take action, in the growing knowledge they do not stand alone.
David Hume, GMB Scotland organiser
“The purpose of the delegation to the Scottish Parliament was to keep our struggle to save McVitie’s in the Scottish Government’s mind. To show that we’re not going away. We brought the collective voices of 75,000 people to the seat of legislative power in Scotland.
“We need cast iron guarantees from the government backed up by a generous financial package. To utilise the resources that are already available, the unions will be putting forward a robust counter-proposal to save the factory and save the jobs.
“We’ve got to the point where we have enough information to develop counter proposals to safeguard the factory and jobs, dealing with the barriers put up by Pladis in terms of utilisation of capacity and cost per tonne.
“We have enough information so long as we get the backing of the Scottish Government to deal with these issues. And we’re encouraged by the noises from the Scottish Government’s Action Group making clear they’re not going without a fight either, despite David Murray’s escalating proceedings with the 45-days notices.”
Peter Doherty, GMB convener
“We are trying to shame Pladis into speaking to all concerned instead of hiding in an office. The managing director David Murray gave his 3.5 minutes speech to the four shifts and has never been seen since. He won’t sit down with us, let alone the Scottish Government.
“The Scottish Government needs to put money where their mouth is. When we put meat on the bones of our counter proposals, government backing could then shame Murray into talking with us.
“At the consultation meetings I’ve asked the company if it would cost £20-25million to shut the factory. Silence. No answer. It would probably cost £25-30million, which would be far better invested in a new site, with investment by the Scottish Government.”
Paul Storrie, GMB shop steward
“The British Retail Consortium carries out inspections with a traffic light system. It covers things like hygiene, pest control, health and safety compliance, performance to plan, and everyone knowing their roles. It’s very important for the food industry.
“For the past 3 years we’ve been on Green at Tollcross, but Manchester, Aintree, Carlisle and Harleston have all been on Amber for several years. But despite that, Tesco took their products from Harlesden and Manchester. Why was that?
“If Pladis hadn’t done this, deliberately running down Tollcross, we’d have had plenty of tonnage. Tesco and ASDA bring a good lot of tonnage.”
Tommy Kane, GMB shop steward
“It would be ideal to have a new all-singing, all-dancing factory on a new site, but I think we can invest in the Tollcross site, over a prolonged period. A lot of money needs pumped into replacing ovens, the ones which bring us the biggest tonnage like Hobnobs, Rich Tea and Digestives.
“Over the last ten years they’ve under-invested in Tollcross. Other sites have been given the money and the automation, which means cost per tonnage is lower than here.”
David Laing, McVitie’s worker
“I’m one of the newer workers, I’ve been there 6 years. My mum and dad worked there, starting at the age of 16, and my dad retired 43 years later. I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t met in McVitie’s!
“I’ve got a two-year-old and a baby due. I have a mortgage to pay. I felt shocked and angry at the closure announcement, having worked through the pandemic. They stabbed us in the back.
“I’m fighting to stop the closure, fighting for the future and my family’s future. When I hear about support from other trade unions, I feel inspired and encouraged. I’d ask people to help fight, sign the petition, and keep it in the public eye.”
Sharon Stephenson, McVitie’s worker
“I’ve worked here 33 years. My mum, sister and husband and his family all worked here. From 1978 there’s always been somebody in the family working in McVitie’s.
“I’ve still got a mortgage to pay and two kids to keep. I earn more than my husband so I’ve been the main breadwinner. My appeal to other workers is that you backed the Scotland football team, now get behind the Scottish workers in McVitie’s.”