Steel workers & student nurses rally while university lecturers and Rio Cinema workers take strike action!

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Steel workers on the march to Parliament on Wednesday
Steel workers on the march to Parliament on Wednesday

‘SAVE Our Steel!’ shouted over one thousand steel workers as they marched through central London from the Embankment to Parliament yesterday afternoon.

They were joined by TUC leader Frances O’Grady and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the leaders of the Unite and Community unions. Corbyn told reporters afterwards: ‘The steel workers are responsible for everything in the country – roads, schools, every building.’

He pledged to put pressure on the government to save the steel industry. Unite leader Len McCluskey told News Line: ‘We’re continuing the fight to save the steel industry. Whatever happens we have to keep it in this country.’

As marchers assembled at the Embankment, Bob Ridgow from Worksop, said: ‘We work for Kiveton Park Steel. We take the steel off Tata and make it into bars. We want to keep our jobs if at all possible.

‘If we could get nationalisation it would be a good thing. We have been struggling for at least five or six years. We have had short time working and three day weeks over that time. It never seemed to have picked up. What we need is socialism.’

Mark Spencer, from Cogent Orb Works, Newport, south Wales, a Community Union rep, said: ‘Whether this business is nationalised or sold privately, we need it to be saved. Thousands of jobs are at stake and this country needs a steel industry.’

Port Talbot Community rep Chris James said: ‘We are here to make sure we get the right buyer and for the government to get a proper industry strategy for the steel plants. We need to see what the options are.’

Steve Webster, a Community member from Shotton, said: ‘This is all about raising the profile of the industry. Even with these seven buyers who have come forward, we are far from over the final hurdle. It’s all about finding a responsible buyer who will ensure the sustainabilty of the industry.’

Student nurses were also rallying in parliament. The government are in the process of a three-month consultation over the issue of getting rid of their bursaries, and students lobbied their MPs to demand that their bursaries are not taken away.

At Westminster Hall, where students were gathering, students spoke out about their determination to fight this government’s attack on the NHS. Adam Crawley, the NUS students union president of Northumbia University, said: ‘We have a separate campus for mostly NHS students, so we felt like it was the right thing to do to come down here and represent them.

‘Nurses and NHS workers spend their lives in the NHS helping the whole of society and it is unfair that they are being treated like this. All university fees must be abolished, education must be free.’

Student midwife Jade Entwistle in the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) union said: ‘I study at York University and I study an integrated course. I do theory and placement at the same time. So it is very common for me to work a 48-hour week, unpaid of course.

‘It is common that I will do 15 hours of taught theory in a lecture theatre and then three 12-hour shifts on a labour ward. Replacing the student bursary with a loan system for future students will effectively be making them pay to work.’

Clive Edwards, branch secretary of Unison at Mid Essex Hospital Trust, Broomfield Hospital, said: ‘We have members who will be affected by this bursary cut and we are already concerned about the vacancy rates. Cuts will have a detrimental effect on what is already a challenging situation regarding staff vacancies.’

Ashley Tapping, Unison young members rep added: ‘I would not have been able to do my training if I had not received a bursary. For students from the majority of social backgrounds the bursary is essential. You are on clinical placement so there is no way that you can hold down a part-time job and study at the same time. If the NHS needs nurses and midwives and allied health professionals, then they should pay for them to study.’

Student nurse Charlotte Gott in the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: ‘I was assessed as an independent. As a person who was working a minimum wage £7-an-hour job I was entitled to the full bursary. Everyone gets £1,000 which is non-means tested. This is meant to help towards rent, books, food and living expenses. There is a further £4,000 maintenance bursary available which is means-tested.

‘I receive the biggest amount of bursary possible £5,000. However my student accommodation is £5,300 a year, so even the full maintenance allowance does not cover our costs. It is ridiculous to abolish the bursary. We don’t want it abolished. We want it raised to a higher level!’

• Cinema workers at the Rio in Dalston, Hackney, east London, were on strike on Wednesday to ‘save the soul of the local community cinema’.

The management board of the cinema has launched a re-structuring programme which includes compulsory redundancies. During the strike, outside the cinema there was a carnival atmosphere as Turkish musicians played while Marawa’s Majorettes performed the most amazing hoola hoop dance.

Sofie Mason, Bectu national officer, told News Line: ‘I represent the Bectu members at the Rio cinema. The staff became unionised a year ago after seven years of the board’s mismanagement. We began the campaign for the Living Wage in October. The board pleaded poverty, but it was a poverty of their own making.

‘They have failed to fund a raise and have instead relied on poverty wages for the staff and staff sacrifices, such as borrowing back 10% of staff wages for six months in 2013 which staff have only just got back recently. These are corporate lawyers and business brains on the board. Their answer now is a re-structure which cuts hours, cuts wages, cuts staff and cuts community projects, which is why this has turned into a campaign to save the soul of the Rio as a community cinema.’

Kivlan Legate, Bectu rep for the Ritzy cinema workers came to support the Rio strike. He said: ‘I support the workers of the Rio cinema to receive a fair wage. A lot of them have been made redundant after the re-structure. This is why I am here. Save the Rio! It is a community cinema for the people.’

Tom Taylor from the South East and Eastern region of the TUC also came down to support the struggle, he said: ‘The SERTUC covers a third of union members in the south east. Part of the government’s austerity agenda is cutting the arts.

‘For instance in Harlow, there is a playhouse theatre which is funded by Essex Council. It is under threat. A music venue called the Square in Harlow was at risk of closure but through our campaign we have just managed to save it.

‘The museums, libraries, swimming pools are all under threat as budgets have been cut by 50%. We support the Rio strikers because the management are trying to cut costs by cutting the amount of hours of work. The management should meet the demands of the union and guarantee the future of the Rio as a community cinema, protect jobs and protect wages.’

Buffy Davis and Fred Scott who are regulars at the Rio Cinema were giving out leaflets to promote the strikers. They said: ‘We come to see films at the Rio a lot. We know the projectionist and it is a really friendly atmosphere at the cinema.

‘It is a charming cinema and they show great movies that you don’t get to see elsewhere. This is the focus of the community. It is the opposite of the commercial world around us. Save the soul of the Rio. It is an essential part of Dalston.’

Joei from the band Bless sang and played guitar to cheers from the crowd that had gathered to support the strike.