NHS protest in London NHS protest in London, Photo: Jamal Elaheebocus

Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles

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Helen O’Connor, GMB Southern Region NHS organiser reports:

GMB members are furious that they are being mistreated by this Tory government. This inspired GMB NHS reps to lead a march on Downing Street and deliver an 800,000 strong petition to parliament.

Since the action the government has announced that NHS workers will be getting a 3% pay rise. This will further inflame the NHS workforce who have finally had enough of being taken for granted.

GMB union has a mandate from our elected NHS reps to campaign to reject this pay offer because our members know that their pensions contributions are due to increase and inflation is also on the rise which will leave them poorer than ever before. Members are angry that in reality this Tory government is continuing to drive NHS pay into the ground and the clear intention is to demoralise the workforce and drive them out of the NHS.

There are already 100,000 vacancies in the NHS and this situation is causing core care services to become unstable which is dangerous for patients. The 3% pay offer is a clear message from this government that they are not serious about dealing with the escalating NHS recruitment crisis.

As GMB union prepares to ballot our members to reject the offer the mood in the NHS is one of growing anger. GMB union is calling on NHS staff to build for and join a series of lunchtime protests outside their hospitals starting on Tuesday the 17th of August to ramp up the fight for a restorative 15% pay rise for all NHS staff and outsourced staff.

British Gas: two announcements, two perspectives

This week British Gas announced its profits for the first six months of 2021.

£172 million is the profit total, not the turnover. This figure is up 50% from the same period last year.

Similarity, the GMB announced an official ending of their “fire-and-rehire” dispute with British Gas, the longest-running in the company’s history.

Forty-four strike days involving thousands of workers brought the bosses’ heinous “fire-and-rehire” tactic to national attention and set the tone for much of the new militancy. Seeing those picket lines in the middle of the pandemic raised all our spirits.

But almost five hundred workers also lost their jobs.

A final agreement has been reached by a three-to-one acceptance vote with slight but real improvements to terms and conditions. This is barely adequate.

British Gas GMB rep, Stephen Whittle said:

“We can’t call it a win, of course, due to the 460 who were fired. But within the parameters that we’re in now, it is a win as the workforce has accepted a deal. But this was always a battle for us: the war is fire and rehire.

It’s a disgusting process that is on the up and we can’t stop fighting because we have an acceptance through the workforce. While it can’t be used against us because that’s in the agreement, we’ve got to make sure that it’s not used again in Centrica full stop. It’s wider than us: we’ve got to use the leverage and political clout we’ve gained here to try and end it.

Boris Johnson said it was a disgusting tactic, but now his language seems to have changed. We have to hold them to account, and we’ll be trying to do that through our channels.”

The strikers were right to strike, but disputes like this can never be conducted in isolation. Those workers were striking for all of us. Breaking the anti-union laws would be popular in the current period.

But the real question is this: why is a utility generating super-profits allowed to discard loyal and committed workers like dead skin?

Victory for cleaners in luxury flats

UVW Cleaners and Concierge workers at a luxury housing development West End Quay have secured a massive victory after their employer FirstPort have conceded to their demands.

FirstPort who do not recognise the union, was originally only entering discussions with workers via ACAS without the union present. Workers rejected this and balloted for strike action resulting in a round of negotiations where UVW workers stood firm and rejected multiple offers that didn’t meet their demands.

They have since won bonus payments of almost £2,000 each, time and a half for overtime, contractual sick pay, preferential in-house hiring and more. UVW says workers are committed to keep organising and fighting and to win union recognition.

Sweet deal for British Sugar workers

British Sugar (BS) production workers in East Anglia are currently voting on management’s 4% pay offer. This is double what the firm offered on a ‘Take it or leave it’ basis four months ago.

The company’s approach didn’t impress the workforce, who promptly returned an 86% mandate to the union to reject the offer. Nor did the company help itself by its crude (and idiotic) attempt at intimidation: they told union members “If you vote for strike action you’ll have to stand out in the road. We won’t allow you into work.” The reps had to point out to them that “This is what strike action means. We don’t come into work. You don’t get any sugar production”.

Once the company got its head around this new concept, they decided a more constructive approach might be useful, and have now doubled the offer. The workforce (80% of which is in the union, Unite) are currently balloting on the offer. 

Battle for Barnoldswick back on

Unite members at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick are back on strike after the employer showed signs it was failing to stick to the deal agreed earlier this year. As part of the original agreement to settle that strike, Rolls Royce promised to keep a headcount of 350 at the site as it transitioned to a centre of excellence but Unite now has legitimate fears that promise isn’t being fulfilled.

17 engineers are out on strike this week and more days are planned from the 9th-20th of August as the union seeks to resolve the issue. Unite will also hold a further ballot of the entire workforce and if the last strike is anything to go by, will likely secure a strong mandate.

Unite regional officer Ross Quinn said:

“Our members at Barnoldswick are rightly concerned for their futures. They did not take part in nine weeks of strike action for the employer to go back to their original plan in two years time.

“All Unite is seeking is strict guarantees that the January agreement is fully honoured by Rolls-Royce.

“Unite has been seeking to resolve this dispute through negotiation but the company has failed to issue the assurances that workers need.

“If Rolls-Royce provides those guarantees then the strike action can be called off.”

No doubt the workers at Rolls Royce will be disappointed to see this betrayal of their agreement but they have already proved their mettle once before.

DVLA workers continue their fight for safe work

DVLA PCS workers in drivers medical have announced further strike dates for 2nd – 31st of August after multiple strikes since April.

PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka says the DVLA “are refusing to engage in proper discussion” while DVLA bosses reneged on an agreed deal with PCS. To date there have been 643 Covid cases at the workplace and one death, the highest covid rate of any workplace.

PCS says bosses didn’t allow workers to work from home as they have for other government departments as bosses didn’t trust the workers. The union gave evidence to the Transport Select Committee revealing “the catastrophic state of the backlog in Swansea due to the DVLA having the biggest outbreak of Covid in a UK workplace”.

DVLA PCS branch chair, Sarah Evans added workers are worried as covid cases on site are rising, yet they have been told not to complain.

Temporary posts turned permanent at JCB: GMB delivers 

Three hundred temporary positions over eight West Midland sites of the truck-and-tractor giant, JCB have been rendered permanent following a campaign by the GMB.

GMB’s Stuart Harrison says:

“Yet again our fantastic workplace reps have saved jobs and secured the future for their members. Union workers at JCB have defended themselves throughout the pandemic and as a result, not a single one has lost their job. We expect to win even more permanent contracts for our members by year’s end.”

Let’s hope this solid result against precarity spreads throughout workplaces.

Rail gourmet gets a taste of workers’ collective strength

RMT Rail Gourmet workers at Edinburgh Waverly were on strike on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday last week following a 100% yes vote for strike action.

Workers are fighting against a long running culture of bullying and harassment in the workplace and the bosses failure to do anything about it. Following a Covid outbreak at the workplace managers told workers to make up symptoms to get covid tests and then the workers were disciplined.

Further strikes are planned for Saturday 31st August. RMT describes the workplace as ‘toxic’ and says the picket lines were ‘Rock Solid’ and that the company Rail Gourmet are refusing to enter talks with ACAS while the union is willing.

Bexley bin workers remain resolute

Refuse workers in Bexley remain resolute in their strike against low pay, unfair conditions and bullying management. Counterfire’s Jamal Elaheebocus was down on the picket line this week and wrote a full report here.

‘If black lives matter you have to end outsourcing!’

This week also saw the first day of strikes at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), as outsourced workers have walked out over low pay, poor conditions and a lack of paid leave. Lucy Nichols managed to get a video interview with one of the striking workers.

Prison officers against racism

The general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association Steve Gillan has written to the Professional Football Association to offer solidarity after racist abuse directed towards Black footballers following the Euro Final.

In the letter he says:

“I firmly believe that at every opportunity the trade union movement must act as one against racism so that Black footballers and Black workers in the workplace and in society are treated with equality, fairness and respect. Racism is an evil that must be condemned and called out each time it raises its ugly head. It is a poison within society, and we must never ignore it until it is eradicated.

“I would be grateful if you could pass on our best wishes to Marcus, Buyako and Jadon as they are not alone, and we fully support them in their workplace and the POA will continue to support the tremendous work that the PFA do in tackling racism. Trade unions can defeat this together.”

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