Abellio strikers Abellio strikers. Photo: @UniteLondonEast / Twitter

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

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Almost 1,000 bus workers employed by Abellio were on strike on Friday and Saturday this week and will be again next week in their campaign for a decent pay rise.

A driver from the Twickenham garage (where membership numbers of the Unite union has almost doubled in the course of the campaign) told NFTF that Abellio paid the lowest wages of any of the TfL contract bus operators in London, and that frustration has boiled over:

“It was when the RATP garage next door won their pay campaign earlier in the year that we saw the confidence grow in this garage, that we could fight low wages, and win. Where we had been seeing a slow decline in membership numbers, that has completely turned round now that drivers see the union is serious.

“We are due in Acas tomorrow, and the company thought that would be enough for us to call off the strikes. We told them that only pound notes, not fine words, would do that.”

The garages affected are Battersea, Beddington, Hayes, Southall, Twickenham and Walworth.

Shelter staff strike back

Over 600 Shelter workers are taking continuous strike action from 5-16 December after the housing charity’s management imposed a pay rise of 3% for 2022 and proposed a rise of 4% for 2023/24 despite inflation soaring at over 14%.

These real-terms pay cuts are causing Shelter workers to experience housing insecurity as rents rise. Unite is calling on Shelter’s management to use its millions in financial reserves to pay workers fairly but talks have collapsed due to management intransigence.

One worker told the union:

“At the very base level, absolute bare minimum, those working for a housing charity shouldn’t be experiencing housing insecurity as a result of being unable to pay rent.”

Photo: @unitetheunion / Twitter

Northern Ireland health workers prepare to strike

Unison and Nipsa (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance) health workers join the national strike wave this December commencing with one day on 12 December. This will be followed up with more action on the 15 and 20 December in coordination with RCN nurses. 

Chief Unison negotiator Anne Speed repeats the familiar refrain:

“What’s being awarded is only half of inflation, and health workers are just frustrated, fed up, very disappointed and they’re choosing to speak out now.” 

A recent Daily Mail front page announced: “It’s beginning to look a lot like an Xmas General Strike.” 

All power to these striking health workers. Our leaders really need to be shaping this situation, not right-wing rags. 

Railway workers vote on false deal

The RMT union has taken the unusual step of offering its members a deal to vote on which they advise them to reject. Network Rail has, under direct orders from the government, offered a deal that does not meet any basic demands regarding jobs and pay.

Rail workers are now, quite openly, in conflict with the Government and are battling for the very existence of some jobs, particularly in-station ones which are facing virtual abolition. The Tories would rather let the trains decline to any level than make a constructive settlement with workers. The unions have no scope to negotiate with any employer and can only escalate action.

Unite members employed by Network Rail in electric control rooms will be joining other unions in striking throughout December, coordinating with the RMT on 13, 16, 17, 25 and 26 December. Support for rail workers remains critical and comrades are urged to attend picket lines and show solidarity.

Posties rally en masse

On Friday, thousands of striking postal workers descended on Westminster and filled up Parliament Square for a rally against Royal Mail, chanting among other things for the removal of CEO Simon Thompson. Coaches came in from across the country and the mood was energetic, angry and determined. There was huge support for nurses, rail workers, lecturers, ambulance workers and all other strikers.

Photo: Shabbir Lakha
Photo: Cici Washburn

Isle of Man teacher strike

Teachers on the Isle of Man are to take part in 3 lots of 48-hour strikes over pay. Around 400 teachers on the island, who are represented by NASUWT, have also been taking part in action short of a strike since April.

The industrial action has been caused by the Department of Education, Sport and Culture (Desc) imposing a below-inflation pay award to teachers. The union wants to negotiate a multiyear pay deal to turn back the tide on years of pay erosion in the sector.

Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT General Secretary, said:

“Continued real-terms cuts to teachers’ pay and the failure to address excessive workload have deepened the teacher retention crisis and left teachers stressed, demoralised and seriously considering leaving the profession.

“Unless the DESC demonstrates it is prepared to recognise and reward teachers properly, we cannot rule out the possibility of further industrial action.”

Harrods using agency scabs to break strike

London-based luxury goods retailer Harrods has been exposed as using Protective Security Group Ltd to bring in agency staff and break the current strike over pay.

Recent Tory legislation has paved the way for legalised scabbing.

It is security staff currently out as they seek a pay deal to cover the current rate of RPI inflation which stands at 14.2%.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“Harrods believes using this disgraceful new law is to its advantage, but it is just making the dispute worse and dragging more parties into it. Our members are undaunted and they have the full backing of Unite behind them.”

Worker’s vote to accept Polyflor deal

Around 80% of GMB members at the Polyflor factory in Bury have accepted a 9% deal after several weeks of strike action with significant pressure put upon them by their union to accept.

The deal, which includes one-off lump sums in the 9% figure was accepted after the workers were told that their strike pay would be reduced.

Rep John Waddington said:

“I think we all realised that it was time to strike a compromise, both the union and the company came to that conclusion.

“The offer will certainly come in useful just at this point in time, before Christmas. That was large in a lot of people’s minds, that Christmas was upon us.”

Tanker drivers show solidarity at Fawley

The 130 construction workers at Fawley refinery received a massive boost this week as tanker drivers pledged support.

The tanker drivers are members of the same union, Unite, as the maintenance workers employed by Altrad, Bilfinger and Enerveo, and one of them told NFTF:

“We didn’t know about this strike before, because the police had prevented the pickets from getting anywhere near us. They’ve found another way to contact to us, and there’s no way we are going to stab fellow trades unionists in the back.”

On top of that, they have made a donation of £500 to the strikers’ hardship fund.

UCU FE pushing back against years of crumbling pay

Staff at Truro & Penwith College are to take a further 6 days of strike action in a long-running dispute over pay. UCU members have so far had 10 days of strike action at the college, the last of which was joint with the NEU. The college’s most recent accounts show that it has no debt, is running a surplus and has £38m in reserves.

Despite the positive financial situation the college is in, it is refusing to offer staff a pay rise to offset the cost of living crisis.

UCU regional support official Alison Chapman said:

“Staff are on picket lines because they are furious at senior leadership, who have refused to enter into proper pay negotiations with union officials. This is the bare minimum senior leadership should be doing to help staff meet the cost of living crisis. Instead they have imposed a pay award of just 2.5%.

“Inflation is 14.2% and our members are being pushed into poverty. We have already taken 10 days of action, and our union membership and picket lines are swelling in size. The college urgently needs to begin negotiating seriously or this dispute will escalate even further.”

The next strike dates are 8-12 December.

Photo: @ucu_truro / Twitter

UCU members at Barnet & Southgate College will be striking on 13-14 December over a 2% pay offer. Staff have previously taken three days of strike action in October and the union members are demanding that the college offer a pay rise that matches inflation. The UCU estimates that pay in the sector has fallen behind inflation by 35% since 2009 and 7 out of 10 members are considering leaving the industry due to poor pay and working conditions.

UCU regional support official Caroline Lake said:

“It is completely unacceptable for management at Barnet and Southgate College to try to continue to offer significantly below inflation pay rises when our members are in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Industrial action is a last resort for our members but the college urgently needs to make us a fair pay offer. If it refuses to do so then staff will have no choice but to take to the picket lines.”

Eurostar guards want pay security

The security staff on Eurostar have voted to strike for increased pay.

The RMT members, who are employed via outsourcing company, Mitie, are essential staff on the international rail line and will be walking out for four non-consecutive days in December.

Eurostar is fully privatised in Britain and this dispute is separate from the wider struggle on both the railways and London Underground.

Enough to raise the dead: Co-op Funeralcare coffin makers are out again

Co-op Funeralcare are giving Scrooge a run for his money when it comes to tightfistedness this festive season.

These Glasgow-based craft workers have been fighting for fair pay since the beginning of the autumn. Their latest strike action will last from Monday 5 December to Sunday 11 December.

The Co-op is meant to be part of the labour movement. A point not lost on Unite regional organiser Willie Thomson:

“Bosses at the Co-op Funeralcare and Co-op UK have quite frankly dumped their cooperative values in the bin. They have chosen to subcontract and pay third party suppliers in preference to their workers who are rightly seeking a fair wage settlement.

“The Co-op risks significant reputation damage and disruption to its supply of coffins by deliberately taking the decision to escalate this dispute.”

News from the Frontline readers can show their contempt for these latter-day Ebenezers by signing this petition

Croydon University Hospital workers have had enough

Outsourced GMB NHS workers at Croydon University Hospital, employed by G4S protested on Saturday 10 December, assembling outside the hospital and marching to the town centre where they rallied outside Whitgift shopping centre.

The workers are demanding an end to outsourcing and that they are bought back in-house as NHS staff.

GMB Regional organiser Helen O’Connor said:

“All our members, many of them migrants, want is to enjoy proper sick pay and other benefits like their NHS colleagues, as they know improving pay and conditions will go some way towards enhancing the services for patients too.”

Photo: Helen O’Connor

Delivery riders fight cost of living costs

Over 100 food delivery riders in Bournemouth who are fighting for improved pay for living costs and fuel and better treatment were on strike for a day at the end of November.

One of the delivery drivers Ricardo Sarmento said:

“At the moment we are dealing with reduced payments, long trips, and with the increase in fuel and vehicle maintenance, there is not much left to support our families and bills in general.”

DWP workers join the fight against government pay cuts

PCS members at 4 DWP offices are to strike over 4 days between 19-31 December as the first stage of potential rolling action.

The offices affected, in Doncaster, Toxteth and Liverpool, are under threat from the DWP’s office closure program which risks the loss of over 1,000 jobs at those sites.

A little spirit of ’72 at the miners’ museum

It was only five days, rather than two months, but the staff at the National Coal Mining Museum for England have obtained a pay increase and cost-of-living bonus in what Unison is calling a significant victory.

The museum’s management had, astonishingly, been pretending that they were not able to offer higher pay due to a government pay cap and were exposed as lying.

The workers were supported on their picket line by, amongst others, historic mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill.

Airlines face Christmas disruption

Around 350 Heathrow baggage handlers employed by Menzies will strike from 4 am next Friday. The 72-hour strike follows a similar action last month and is in pursuit of a pay increase which takes account of inflation.

They are determined to win, and as one Unite rep told NFTF:

“We know they can afford to pay, they made £69 million last year. We are only asking to be treated the same as the cargo handlers. Menzies offered them 9.5% backdated to last May, plus another 1% from next month. They only work 800 yards away. Did the firm really think we don’t talk to each other?”

The action is expected to cause considerable disruption and delays, and possibly even cancellations, for the airlines serviced by Menzies, which include Air Canada, American Airlines, Lufthansa, SwissAir, Air Portugal, Austrian Airlines, Qantas, Egypt Air, Aer Lingus and Finnair.

Photo: @unitetheunion / Twitter

Scottish schools shutting down

Secondary schools across Scotland were wholly or partially closed on 7-8 December as teachers in SSTA and NASUWT walked out.

Following last week’s EIS strikes that closed the majority of secondary schools, this strike affects around 1/3 of schools and stems from the rejection of a pay offer of between 5-6.85% which falls far short of the 10% demanded by the unions.

Uber strike in Birmingham and Bristol

ADCU Uber Drivers in Birmingham will be on a 24-hour strike on Tuesday 13 December and Bristol drivers will be on strike on Wednesday 14 December.

Join the strike protest on 13 December at 10am outside Uber Hub, Rocky Lane, Birmingham B6 5TA and on 14 December at 1pm outside Uber Hub, The Coach House, Upper York Street, Bristol BS2 8QN.

ADCU general secretary Yaseen Aslam said,

“The recent fare changes to dynamic pricing, or now known as ‘smart pricing’, has further alienated our members and Uber drivers across the UK, while the local licensing councils and politicians sit back and allow the brutal exploitation of Uber drivers to continue. We have beaten Uber many times in the courtrooms but they continue to defy the Supreme Court ruling and deny drivers their full rights to minimum wage and holiday pay for all working time.

“We will continue to mobilise our members up and down the countries until Uber meets our demands. With the current crisis including cost-of-living, fuel hike and at a time when traditionally it should be a busy month for our members, it is disappointing that drivers have no choice but to strike in order to make their voices heard.

“We request the public to stand with us in solidarity and not break our digital picket line by using uber during the strike hours in areas where our members are striking from Southampton to Glasgow in the coming days.”

Read more about the ADCU and their first AGM here.

On the site:

Resistmas: December national strike dates

The secret nurse: Profiteers have hijacked our NHS and we want it back!A nurse speaks to Counterfire about the state of the NHS and the historic strikes set for 15 and 20 December for a 5% pay rise above RPI

Biden’s strike-breaking attack on rail workers: John Clarke argues the imposition of a contract on railroad workers to block a national rail strike results from a failed strategy of collaboration with employers and Democratic politicians

Ten reasons why it’s not the rail workers who are the grinches this Christmas: The rail unions are going on strike this Christmas, but Lindsey German argues that this is the government’s fault, not the workers’

Workers (dis)united: thoughts on the recent strikes in Glasgow: We need better coordination, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

The secret ambulance driver: ‘this strike isn’t just about pay, it’s about saving our NHS’: A London ambulance worker tells Counterfire about why colleagues are striking before Xmas

Five things to do this week:

  1. Find your nearest RCN picket line using Strike Map
  2. Register for the People’s Assembly conference
  3. Donate to CWU strike fund
  4. Read Farrell Dobbs’ Teamster Rebellion
  5. Pass this Stop the War motion in your union branch

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