We’ll start with my own union, UCU, who’s annual congress happened recently. I couldn’t make it myself but as well as attacking the government’s points based immigration system and backing international solidarity with and a fund for Haiti there was strong opposition to cuts and in defence of jobs and places, and, of course, the obligatory argument about the middle east.

This year congress agreed to reaffirm it’s commitment to a campaign of Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, to sever all relations with the Israeli trade union body Histadrut, actively campaign against the EU-Israel Association Agreement and to organise, jointly with other unions, an international conference on BDS. I’ll leave judgement on BDS itself for now, that would take too long, but see Maggie’s article for one view.

There was also support (I believe unanimous) for a motion supporting action by students submitted by London Met. London Met have had a lot of problems recently and I believe there’s been strong support for the staff and union from students there, as there has been at many universities faced with cuts. So it’s pleasing to see that support appreciated and defended. As the motion itself notes “a vibrant student movement is a key ingredient in a successful fight against education cuts and job losses, and that UCU must seek alliances with students and their organisations in that fight”. As such conference resolved to work with NUS and local student unions and to “support the right of student self-activity” including student occupations and non-violent direct action. We all hope that sort of activity won’t be necessary but that hope may very well be in vain and it’s good to know staff will be supporting students and defending anyone management might try to victimise over their defence of jobs and provision.

And talking of defending eduction from government cuts, UCU, along with a number of other unions, have launched a new campaign. United for Eduction will be holding a day of action on the 21st June. Why not pop over to their website to find out more and sign their petition. United For Education

Also a supporter of the United for Education day of action Unite’s strike at BA continues, though you wouldn’t know it from the news, who have moved onto more exciting stories like mass murders. Anyway, for those still interested yesterday was day 20. The union estimates that the strike has now cost BA around £140 million and there’s still no sign of any compromise or resolution out there. In fact BA are still trying to hire volunteer crew to break the strike, though they seem to be running into a few problems:

Unite has also been advised that so empty are BA’s planes, they are now looking for volunteer passengers. This is because, as BA continues to seek volunteer crew to break the strike, it is now encountering applicants with no flight experience at all. Volunteers need to have flown in order to become crew, which is why BA are asking them to fly as passengers.

Some flights take off with strange routes – one weekend flight took off from Gatwick, landed at Heathrow, took off again for Edinburgh and eventually landed in Cardiff. As this is not a BA scheduled route, this can only have been an empty plane or a plane carrying novice crew on their inaugural flight.

In other news, Unite also voted for BDS at it’s policy conference last week (that’s something of a theme in this week’s update, for some reason) and is currently balloting workers at Coca Cola Enterprises in Wakefield, East Kilbride, Northampton, Sidcup, Milton Keynes, Edmonton and Enfield and smaller satellite sites at Bristol, Southampton and Exeter over changes in pension rules. Coke CEO John Brock’s pension pot currently stands at $3.5 million after fewer than 12 years service.

Partial success as BT up their (final) offer from 2% to a new deal worth 2% this year and 3% next year. BT are also offering non-consolidated, non-pensionable bonuses of up to £250 a year to their employees and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies till at least the end of 2011. BT made a profit of £1 billion last year and shareholder dividends increased by 6%. With headline inflation at 4.4% in March, the CWU have called for a 5% increase this year. Staff at BT have gone 2 years without a basic pay rise, have agreed changes in pensions in good faith and seen 30,000 staff lose their jobs. The union is currently considering the new offer. For more info.

Are off to the European High Court to challenge the anti-union laws that have led to strikes being called off on technicalities in the last year. On both the RMT themselves and Unite workers at BA anti-union laws have placed huge financial and logistical barriers to the calling and balloting of strikes. Despite no doubts over the intention of those casting their ballots or the results of those votes injunctions were granted banning the unions from taking action. So now the RMT have taken the matter to the European high court, charging that the strict conditions placed upon unions violate Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 11 states:

Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

2. No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State.

(emphasis mine).

Here’s hoping they win.

RMT press release

International News

Palestine: A coalition of Palestinian trade union bodies have called on dock workers around the world to refuse to load or unload Israeli ships while Gaza is still blockaded. Global BDS Movement

Sweden: And the Swedish Port Workers Union have taken up the request. It’s only for one week but from 15-24th of June they’ll be doing their best not to work on any Israeli cargo. Ynetnews.com

Spain: Despite a debt to GDP ration less than 50%, far lower than Greece or Italy and lower than France, Germany or the US, and huge unemployment the Spanish government seem determined to push through a package of austerity measures. As you’d expect the unions aren’t too happy about this and, as you’d expect, the government have responded by aggressively seeking to cut the unions power. Reuters

China: You may have heard about the problems at Foxconn’s huge plant in Shenzhen. You may have heard that after some international scrutiny and embarrassment for some of Foxconn’s customers they had agreed to increase wages, first by 30% and now buy another 70%. That all sounds very good. Unfortunately, it turns out the latest increase is conditional on a three month probationary period and performance review. Possibly in contravention of labour contract law. Oh well. I’m sure this latest development will get a lot of attention too. China Labour Bulletin