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Combative spirit as CWU activists meet March 31, 2010

Posted by callcentreworker in trade union.
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The first conference of CWU reps in the non-recognised sector epitomised the spirit of the new, young and combative activists in the movement beginning to make a serious challenge to the old bureaucrats that currently dominate the Telecoms Executive and Branches in the union.

One of a number of guest speakers, Professor Phil Taylor, Strathclyde Univeristy, set the tone for the conference by railing against BA union-buster Willie Walsh. He explained how our class is facing a serious attack on our services and education. Neo-liberal workplace models were developed in call-centres, and activists in these workplaces needed to organise. Increasingly the call-centre models with targets and performance management are being used right across industry and more so in the public sector.

Sean from a call-centre in London, described how at his branch meeting, there had been no debate and no hustings before an election for an officers position took place.

Tracy, a rep from a major mobile phone company in the West of England, told the conference:

“This union is going to have to change, union activists in our non-recognised workplaces are coming through and the numbers in BT are dwindling. We’re increasing and the old BT union officers need to move over.”

Her contribution was not only met with applause by more than 60 delegates from more than 20 companies, mostly call-centres, but vindicated by John East, CWU National Organiser, who stated:

“There are 65,000 CWU members working in telecoms. Just 45,000 now work in BT. 20,000 are in non-recognised workplaces like your own.”

Julie, who also spoke at last year’s CWU Conference organising fringe meeting, explained how she and Tracy had organised a committee of 20 to take the union forward. Julie is less than half the age of most of those that run CWU branches, and taught others in a workshop about how to involve new and younger people. In Julie and Tracy’s workplace, the committee has set up a “mentoring / buddying scheme” so that more experienced activists can develop the greener activists in dealing with disciplinaries, grievances, recruitment, etc

Another major theme was building a network of activists from the conference. Delegate after delegate spoke about the importance of building this network to exchange ideas and information, but also as a foundation to defend CWU activists. Two activists at the conference had been sacked in the past two years but re-instated after high profile CWU national campaigns.

There were a variety of experiences from the conference. Some delegates felt isolated in their workplace. Graham, from Liverpool explained how he was the only rep in his workplace, but the weekend had given him more confidence and ideas about building a group of activists around him. His sentiments echoed those of so many at the conference “I now know I can educate my workmates.”

Mitchell from Northampton said: “I felt cut off, but I now know lots of activists trying to do what I do.” Owen from Merthyr said : “We are the people that are taking this union forward nationally. I learnt so much, particularly from Tracy and Julie. We need to encourage all workers to stand together. The stories of how people are being mistreated and how people have stood up to bullying bosses is inspiring.”

Call-Centre Worker is another network that we can use. Most, if not all the delegates, took copies to use in their workplaces.

It is not owned by any one union, but seeks to link call-centre workers across the land in different unions.

A charter for call-centre workers was agreed at our first meeting last year.

The third Call-Centre Worker meeting takes place on Saturday 10 April from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, Bunhill Row near Old St.

If you want to share any of  your experiences, please email us at londoncallcentres@gmail.com

We will share them (anonymously of course) on callcentreworker.wordpress.com

£150 was raised at the conference for the BA strikers and many left their contact details for  Unite Against Fascism.

Names of delegates have been changed for obvious reasons.

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