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Unite: strike threat gets UPS rep reinstated
Unite members working at the UPS delivery firm depot in Camden, north London, have won an important victory. The workers took strike action in November in protest at excessive workloads, forced overtime and a culture of bullying. This has triggered demands from UPS workers in depots across the country to also be balloted on the same issues.
The union has been building a national campaign - this is absolutely essential. UPS workers in Camden do not want to be isolated and then picked off one by one. This is what happened last year when a campaign at the depot ended badly, where members and reps became disillusioned and were picked off, including one rep who was sacked.
This year the union began rebuilding with some considerable success, including new members and newly elected shop stewards. Solid, determined work on the ground, identifying the key issues and regular communication with workers built up confidence again, leading to the magnificent and historic day of strike action in November - the first strike at UPS in the UK.
UPS has consistently shown that it is one of the most appalling of employers - best illustrated by the fact that on 10 December, in what was a clear act of trade union victimisation, it sacked one of the reps at Camden.
Unite prepared the necessary legal claim and agreed financial support to the rep but most importantly, the union issued notice for strike action on Friday 20 December, the busiest day of the year for the company.
The response from the company was immediate. Before the letter of dismissal had even been sent out and so therefore also before an appeal had even been lodged, the employer offered an appeal hearing on 16 December.
The result was that the rep was reinstated, with the dismissal downgraded to a warning. The strike has therefore been postponed. Instead, talks will begin at ACAS in early January.
At the same time, the union will be preparing for a wider ballot of the membership, beyond Camden, should the ACAS talks not be successful.
This is a huge victory against this employer. There are clear lessons. It is possible to rebuild in workplaces, even where there have been past defeats and even where the employer is as vicious as UPS.
Where shop stewards are attacked, it is the strike threat that gets stewards reinstated, not recourse to the law. The Camden UPS campaign now needs to be built into a national campaign, with the full force of the biggest union in the country taking on UPS with the aim to make lasting change.
At the heart of the matter at UPS is the working day and the right to be able to finish at your finish time, not to be bullied into forced overtime. This is a battle that is in fact a very old one, fought by trade unionists for over a century. But it is as relevant today as it ever was.