Hackney and Tower Hamlets NEU strike rally Hackney and Tower Hamlets NEU strike rally. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

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

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White-collar union Prospect are the latest set of workers to join the roster of strikers lined up for 15 March budget day. Prospect members voted by 80% on a 72% turnout in favour of strike action and will add tens of thousands more strikers to the PCS’s 130,000 civil servants striking on Walkout Wednesday.

UCU, too, have announced their conjoining for 15 March, as will Aslef and RMT to fully close down the London Underground. Aslef have had a live mandate for this action for many months and are only now choosing to enact it, indicating the collective mood within the movement for coordinated action.

This is how the current tally looks: Aslef, BMA, HCSA, NEU, NUJ, PCS, Prospect, RMT and UCU – somewhere in the region of 700,000 workers. This is great, but it would be a mistake for anyone in our movement to take their foot of the pedal and stop mobilising for the pickets and rallies.

The momentum around 1 February can’t just be maintained; it has to be surpassed. Recent comments from Tory swine Hancock and Williamson couldn’t make the class war perspective of our rulers any clearer. This is proof that correctly applied political trade unionism can destabilise the Tories. There is still everything to play for.

There will be a national demonstration in London, with striking workers assembling and marching from several locations and coalescing in Trafalgar Square. News from the Frontline urges everyone who can to get down to the demonstration. Keep making 15 March massive.

Unionising Amazon: the struggle continues

GMB Amazon workers in Coventry were on strike on Tuesday and Thursday. The strike was determined and exciting with a 3.5mile tail back into Coventry town centre. ADCU and Aslef workers joined the picket line in solidarity. Listen to Amazon striker Darren Westwood speak at a meeting in London about the strike here. The workers are back on strike 13 to 17 March, you can donate to their strike fund here.

ADCU and Aslef members visit GMB Coventry Amazon strikers. Photo: Unjum Mirza

That’s the spirit: distillery workers vote to fight back

40 electricians, engineers and boilermen in the Unite union look to be balloting alongside 300 of their colleagues in the GMB union in a dispute over shift pay at Edrington Distiller’s Drumchapel whisky plant and the group’s famous Macallan distillery in Dufftown. The company, which is “swimming in £177m of profits”, is imposing new shift patterns, without the appropriate shift pay.

The company is reported as saying how disappointed they are, because the workforce “received a substantial pay rise only 16 months ago”. It is not clear if the company representative had been ‘testing’ the product before making such a crass comment.

Physiotherapists call for coordination

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, one of the most specialised unions in the health sector, has made an open call for increased unity in confrontation with Tories. The CSP is striking again on 22 March, but has also warned the wider movement that the Government is engaged in a clear divide-and-rule strategy by attempting to single out the Royal College of Nurses for talks.

This is good advice for the whole of the trade union movement, as it is clear the government strategy for riding out the present industrial struggle is undermining the unity of workers against their poverty-inducing policies.

Teachers on the march

This week saw two consecutive days of national strike action by the EIS – Scotland’s largest teaching union – closing almost all schools and marking an uptick in the dispute with the Scottish government and local authorities that has been running since November last year.

Morale on picket lines on Tuesday and Wednesday in Glasgow was good, with primary school teachers in Hillhead keeping things very lively with a sound system blasting out tunes such as “9 to 5” and “I’ve got bills”! Aside from the dancing, there were cheerful welcomes for members of Glasgow’s Strike Solidarity group. There was a strong sense among all the teachers we spoke to that this is about a battle for an education system that values the educators.

The EIS has, however, now suspended all strike action and has recommended its members accept the government’s latest offer of 12.3% – 14% over 2 years – well below the 10% for just this year that they were demanding.

EIS strike
EIS strike. Photo: Jack Hazeldine

In England, the National Education Union continued their strike action with regional strikes across England this week. Lively picket lines turned to marches in rallies with parents, children, trade unionists and campaigners joining the teachers to show their solidarity.

In London, Orlando Hill reports that Camden and Barnet NEU districts held a combined rally and filled up the Cecil Sharp House in Regent Park Road. One headteacher, John Hayes, told the rally he’d never seen the state of education so bad and that “we are here because we value education. If we can stand united as a profession, we can win.” The NEU’s national president Louise Atkinson said, “The government makes teachers feel like they have failed students. But it is the government that has failed students.”

Photo: Orlando Hill

There was excitement among teachers knowing that their next strike day on 15 March is a national strike, that there’ll be a national demonstration which will see striking teachers from across the country gather in London, and that they will be striking together with hundreds of thousands of workers across the public sector.

Just the ticket: 3,300 W Midlands’ bus workers say “All Out Strike”

More than 3,000 bus drivers at National Express (West Midlands) will walk out on 16 March, on all-out indefinite strike. The members of the Unite union returned a 96% strike vote in their ballot, and will be joined by over 200 engineers and fitters. The company made underlying profits of more than £146m last year, but so far have refused to increase pay to match inflation.

The strike action is timed to coincide with the national strike action across the rail network called by the RMT on the 16th. NFTF hopes that delegations from both groups of transport workers will visit each other’s picket lines – and indeed the picket lines of the lecturers and teachers who will also be out that day.

Outsourced Light Rail Workers continue their fight

A range of service workers employed by the notorious outsourcing giant ISS on the Dockland Light Rail (DLR), East London, will be striking again after yet more broken promises about improvements to their terms and conditions. The RMT members have been offered a pay rise that is less than a tenth of inflation, but have also once again been denied the staff travel passes and other benefits that Sadiq Khan’s London Labour administration had claimed they would receive years ago. ISS cleaners on DLR had already struck over New Year in their ongoing fight for a £15 per hour wage, and will now be joined by train crew and security guards.

#Justice4Mohammed – End gig exploitation

On Friday, the App Drivers and Couriers Union held a rally in East London’s Altab Ali park to call for justice for Mohammed, a Deliveroo rider who collapsed while making a delivery a week earlier. His treatment by the company highlights the exploitation and mistreatment of gig economy workers and the urgent need to stop the race to the bottom by companies like Deliveroo, Uber and Amazon.

The rally was addressed by Jeremy Corbyn MP, Apsana Begum MP, Deputy Mayor of Tower Hamlets Maium Talkudar and ADCU General Secretary James Farrar among others who stressed the importance of collective action and organising.

#Justice4Mohammed rally. Photo: Jim Aindow

Organise from below – 10 June Rank-and-File Conference

Launched out of a meeting with striking Amazon workers, NHS workers, trade unionists and campaigners, the How We Fight, How We Win Rank-and-File Organising Conference on 10 June will be an important opportunity for trade unionists across unions and sectors to come together and discuss the strikes and strategy and how we can organise together at the base of the unions. Book your place now and spread the word.

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Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!

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