Museum staff forced to take pay cut

Museum staff forced to take pay cut

Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist

Museum staff in Coventry – working for the trust that manages the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, the Transport Museum, Lunt Fort and the Priory Visitor Centre – are being forced to take a pay cut which could cost them up to £3000 a year.

Two weeks ago all staff of Culture Coventry were given a letter from the Chief Executive, Gary Hall, saying that they had to sign to accept new terms of employment by 5th May or their contracts would be terminated, and they would only be offered their jobs back under the new terms.

Dave Nellist, of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who first raised the matter publicly at a memorial service attended by councillors and held adjacent to the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum on April 28, said today:

“The new contract scraps flexitime and enhanced payment for weekend and evening work. As the nature of the museums is to be open 7 days a week plus special events, staff have relied on shift and unsocial hours money as part of their earnings. Many workers face a £3,000 a year loss.

“This is yet another example of people who have absolutely no responsibility for the recession and economic crisis being asked to pay for it. Most staff at Culture Coventry are so frightened of losing their jobs, and being unable to pay their mortgage, that they are keeping their heads down and taking it all.

“But I understand Coventry City Council has four elected members on the Board of Culture Coventry, and that they were briefed 3 months ago about these wage cuts – yet it appears that many other councillors, including some from the controlling Labour group, were unaware of these cuts until I raised it last week.

“Councillors on the Board of Culture Coventry should call an emergency meeting and then have these disgraceful wage cuts rescinded. The City Council, who until recently ran all these services, should not put them under arms length arrangements and then wash their hands of all responsibility for staff, many of whom have given years if not decades of service to this city.”

This is the letter sent to museum staff.

Herbert Art Gallery staff forced to take pay cut

Herbert Art Gallery staff forced to take pay cut

Packed room for Socialist election rally

Packed room for Socialist election rally

107 people packed in for the rally

107 people packed in for the rally

107 people packed into the Methodist Central Hall for the Coventry Socialists pre-election rally with Irish Socialist Party MP Ruth Coppinger last week.

Socialist activist and TUSC candidate for North Warwickshire, Eileen Hunter, opened the rally with some reflections on her campaign in the closest marginal seat in the country. John Boadle from Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax then spoke about the planned eviction of Archie Millar, a Coventry resident hit by the bedroom tax, that was prevented by socialists, TUSC candidates and neighbours. Archie was applauded for his strength in fighting back – community campaigners can win!

Irish TD Ruth Coppinger

Irish TD Ruth Coppinger

Ruth then spoke about the situation in Ireland, where there has been a mass movement against austerity, including huge demonstrations and non-payment of water charges. She also spoke about the campaign for a Yes vote in the referendum on same-sex marriage, and against the ban on abortion. Dave Nellist spoke to close the rally, and addressed a number of issues about cuts and austerity. He pointed out that the £70billion+ in bonuses given out by banks since the financial crisis is equivalent to the cuts made to the public sector, and that the super-rich have increased their wealth in that time – “there’s enough wealth in this country, it’s just in the wrong hands!”

Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist

The rally showed the potential to build the anti austerity socialist alternative in Coventry, something we will continue to do after the election. The election is on Thursday, but Socialists won’t stop campaigning on Friday morning – we’ll keep fighting all year round. Want to help TUSC? Fill in the form below and get involved!

“No council cuts are necessary” – Dave Nellist

“No council cuts are necessary” – Dave Nellist 

Dave speaking at Coventry's May Day rally

Dave speaking at Coventry’s May Day rally

This letter about council cuts from former Labour MP and TUSC national chair Dave Nellist was printed in yesterday’s Coventry Telegraph. Read this article if you want more background on the council’s planned cuts and what the Socialist Party would do differently.

“There’s been little coverage, so far, of the 18 contests for city council seats also taking place on May 7. So allow me raise one issue that I think could define those elections.

On April 22 the Telegraph carried the welcome story of a stay of execution for a City Council jobs service which helps some of the most vulnerable people in the city, at least until the end of the year.

This follows earlier decisions to delay for consultation the imminent closure of libraries, and cuts to disabled children’s transport. None of those decisions will now be taken before the election.

But in fact none of those decisions need to be taken at all.

None of the planned cuts to libraries, children’s and family centres, community centres, adult education centres, lollipop men and women, street cleaners and park maintenance are necessary.

Because when the City Council made its decision in February to set a budget including £15 million worth of cuts to the services mentioned above (and another thousand secure jobs lost to young people in the city) it did so on the money it knew at that time it had as income.

But since then we have learned that Wasps RFC is going to re-pay this summer the balance of the £14.4 million council loan, given to the Ricoh management company which Wasps now own. In other words the City Council will have for this year’s budget £14 million more than 3 months ago it thought it would have.

So here’s a question we could ask to every aspiring councillor in the last few days of the campaign: do you agree that the repayment of that £14 million Ricoh loan should be used to save our libraries, lollipop men and women, disabled children’s transport, jobs service for the most vulnerable and the other services under threat?

Yours sincerely,

Dave Nellist
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition”

Agree with Dave? Want to fight the council cuts? Fill in the form below to get involved!

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

Coventry Socialists stop #bedroomtax eviction

No evictions here!

No evictions here!

“Most people know the Bedroom Tax is a bad thing, and all parties except the Tories are committed to repealing it. But unlike the rest the Socialist Party has always made it clear we would do whatever it takes to defend people suffering its effects. Two years ago we set up Coventry Against The Bedroom Tax. We held public meetings with 200 in attendance, lobbied, protested and publicised, gave advice to many, went to tribunals and court hearings. We helped people get thousands of pounds via appeals and Discretionary Payments. We expected eviction attempts would be reached a year or more back, but Housing Associations like Whitefriars have been slow to take that step, not wanting to look like the villains of the piece.

Suddently this changed when Charterhouse resident Archie Millar phoned last week to say he was to be evicted at 10.00 on Monday. Archie has lived on St Margaret Road since 1976, becoming the tenant when his mother passed away nine years ago. He used to work for Parcelforce but is now unemployed, getting £72 JSA plus his rent via Housing Benefit. The Bedroom Tax means a £25 shortfall in that, which he’s expected to meet out of his JSA leaving him with just £47 a week to pay his bills and live on. Clearly that’s impossible and despite making some payments Archie’s £1700 in arrears. He tried everything to come to terms with Whitefriars. They wouldn’t let him move to a smaller place because he’s in arrears (talk about Catch-22!) and blocked him taking in a lodger even though that was endorsed at a court hearing. Eviction would leave Archie homeless. He tried Welfare Rights advice but all they could offer was the phone number for the Salvation Army and the RSPCA for his dog.

We couldn’t let that happen. Our resources are fully committed to the TUSC election campaign, but we got to work on helping Archie. Dave Nellist approached Whitefriars with a detailed proposal but to no avail, and we organised a protest and media coverage over the course of a weekend. We contacted scores of Party members and other volunteers and about 30 people assembled outside Archie’s house in time to confront the Whitefriars representative, bailiffs, locksmith,  and eventually two vanloads of police who took position scattered along the other side of the road.

The protesters included trade unionists, students and local residents. Some neighbours turned out because they knew Archie, others just because they know what’s right. Archie commented ‘I never knew there were so many good people around’. We packed into the front garden and on the pavement, Archie was in his house with the door firmly locked and a burly trade unionist outside! The protest was deliberately kept peaceful and disciplined to avoid the police intervening. But the atmosphere was determined and excited, with placards, the TUSC banner, laughter and chatter. The media turned up and were very helpful, filming, photographing and interviewing throughout.

Sarah Smith, a Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax organiser and TUSC candidate in Woodlands, pointed out that CABT called for Whitefriars and other social landlords to implement a non-eviction policy for bedroom tax arrears two years ago! She said “Labour claim they’re against the bedroom tax – if that’s the case, why haven’t the three Coventry Labour councillors on the board of Whitefriars stood up and opposed Archie’s eviction, and any others?”

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

Three TUSC candidates (Sarah Smith, Nicky Downes and Lee Cooper) join the protest

The forces on the other side of the road were obviously a lot less cheerful, realising they were not going to get Archie out without a struggle and the world’s worst publicity. The stand-off continued for an hour. During that time Dave Nellist negotiated with Whitefriars, whose bosses were clearly finding themselves in an unfamiliar and awkward position, under the glare of the media spotlight, anxious to find a way out without appearing to back down too much. Finally they called the eviction off and the bailiffs’ van sped away past the protestors, to a chorus of cheers and jeers. We got Archie out, thanked everyone and ended the successful protest, proud of showing what solidarity and people power can do.

What next? Well Whitefriars are suspending their action until June now, while a long-term solution is found. This should have happened before, but Archie would have been out on the street without our action. We expect something acceptable will be found, negotiating with Whitefriars and the Council, especially in the context of the Bedroom Tax’s forthcoming abolition. But if not, we’ll be back. Media coverage since Monday has been very complete, with reports from the Coventry Telegraph, Coventry Observer, BBC Coventry and Warwick radio, Free Radio and BBC Midlands Today. The latter posted a video of the protest on Facebook which has had almost 300,000 views! They commented that this shows the action caught people’s interest and they are keen to do a follow-up to tell viewers the final outcome.

Personally I am proud of how Coventry Socialist Party responded to this sudden threat. It shows how committed and organised we are, even at short notice and when our attention was focussed in another direction. I think the successful outcome came from us being able to organise lively direct action, effective media relations, knowledge of the issue, negotiating skills and an established reputation in the local area. We use those strengths battling away all the time but it’s great when you do win! No-one who participated will forget this for a long time.”

John Boadle, Coventry Against the Bedroom Tax

You can watch some video coverage of the protest here. An interview with Archie and John is below.

Do you want to help stop future evictions or support TUSC candidates? Fill in the form below and get involved!