Coventry Amazon strikers Coventry Amazon strikers. Photo: Stuart Perry / @GMB Stuart / Twitter

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The Coventry Amazon distribution centre has been the scene of livelier picketing last week, as Amazon workers in the GMB union have taken further action. Since their first action in January, the numbers striking has almost doubled to more than 600, who looked extremely live and kicking in as they marched past the gates.

The increase in participation is a blow to Amazon, who had claimed that union activists in the centre were an isolated minority and continue to refuse to negotiate on the insulting 2% wage rise they are currently offering. Although the mega-corporation insists that the number of workers involved is still trivial, GMB believe that 50% recognition threshold is not far off being achieved by union recruitment at the site.

The wider movement has been well supported by other groups of workers, and both teachers and junior doctors have been keen to show support for the warehouse workers.

Anti-war trade unionism shifts up a gear

Stop the War convened a meeting on Wednesday 19 April to firm up its increasingly necessary involvement in the trade union movement.

Following on from the highly successful national conference at NEU HQ in January this year, activists laid down a battle-plan for ensuring that Ukrainian conflict resolution and arms trade alternatives were more widely reflected in union policies, specifically the TUC’s. Ensuring a Stop the War presence at the national conferences was identified as a priority.

Activists were under no illusion that a lot of work was required, but equally confident that a convergence between Stop the War and working-class good sense lay ahead. Make sure Stop the War have your details before the next meeting.

Royal Parks workers win against racism and outsourcing

In a potentially significant move, an employment tribunal has found in favour of 16 London park attendants who claimed that their low pay was driven by racial discrimination. This is a good win for the workers, who are members of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, but it may also have positive results for other workers.

Royal Parks, like many employers throughout the capital, has long outsourced low-paid manual work via highly exploitative service companies. There has been a long fight back against this practice of “indirect employment” for over 15 years, involving workers in transport, health, education and government and beyond. UVW, as an organisation, emerged out of some of these fights.

The trick by employers is to deny responsibility for the conditions the workers face, by claiming that they aren’t “real” staff due to their legally being employed by someone else. It’s been an effective trick, and one that has seen many jobs such as cleaning become ever more poorly paid. It has also strongly focused exploitation on some of the most vulnerable people in the working class: poor, mostly non-white, often new immigrant and strongly female workforces have been on the receiving end of this hyper-exploitation for a long time.

Against that backdrop, this case is a big victory. The workers took action against low pay several years ago, and actually won the London Living Wage in 2020. That was good, but the UVW decided to press the case that having to wait until that year to get decent pay was still severely unfair because Royal Parks claimed it was “a living wage employer” – something that was only true if you only regard its directly employed staff as mattering.

The union highlighted, successfully, to the employment tribunal that there was a very obvious difference between the direct and indirect staff, other than their contracts: the directly employed staff are nearly all white, while the indirectly employed staff are nearly all not. The court has ruled that this did, legally, constitute what is known as “indirect discrimination”, which is when an unrecognised, covert or even secret difference between people is being used to treat them unfairly.

A single legal ruling won’t win the battles against either low pay or racism on its, but it does give more symbolic power to workers fighting this type of extreme exploitation. Employers trying to claim that the maltreatment of ethnic minority workers due to technicalities of employment status can now have this ruling used against them, and it may well help trade unionists successfully organise more of these workers.

Outsourced hospital workers in South London strike back

Cleaners and hostesses employed by outsourcing company ISS in South London and Maudsley hospitals walked out for 48 hours on Sunday and Monday. The workers, demanding parity in pay and conditions, are taking on the outsourcing giant for overworking and mistreating its workers.

Helen O’Connor, GMB regional organiser, said:

“GMB members are reaching breaking point as cleaners and hostesses are being forced to do the work of three people with staff numbers dwindling.

“Morale is then so low that more people leave, piling more work on those who remain and the cycle continues.

“On top of that, we get daily reports that management are pulling members into disciplinary meetings based on false allegations from managers attempting to drive the maximum work out of the staff for the lowest pay.

“This strike is a final show of frustration that they can’t take any more.”

Striking South London and Maudsley hospital workers. Photo: Helen O’Connor

St Mungo’s: more charity workers join the fightback

Workers at St Mungo’s, the homeless charity, have called for strike action over pay. The charity, which has almost £15m in total reserves and a cash balance of £22.5m, offered staff an insulting 1.75% pay increase back in 2021.

Around 500 Unite members across southern England have now smashed the ballot threshold with 93% voting to strike in this unresolved dispute.

The union has criticised the charity’s senior management for increasing their pay by 350% over the past decade, while frontline staff have seen their pay plummet by 25% in real terms over a similar period.

Workers plan to walk out for 4 weeks starting on Monday 24 April. This action follows a similar dispute in December, when Unite workers at Shelter, another homeless charity, halted operations for 2 weeks.

PCS members to walk out at 13 jobcentres

DWP staff are to take strike action from 2-6 May the PCS union has announced. The action in Liverpool is due to controversial plans to close the JobCentre in Toxteth and in Glasgow union members will be taking part in strike action over the DWP’s plans to force benefit claimants to attend the JobCentre 10 times over a 2-week period. This action will see 600 PCS members taking strike action. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“This targeted action in Glasgow and Liverpool will severely disrupt the DWP’s ill-thought-out plans. Ministers might have hoped our members’ anger had dissipated as our dispute has gone on, but it hasn’t, and it won’t until ministers make a meaningful offer.”

This action will see picket lines at the following JobCentres: Barrhead, Castlemilk, Drumchapel, City Central, Govan, Laurieston, Newlands, Partick, Shettleston and Springburn in Glasgow, and Toxteth, Duke Street and City in Liverpool.

CWU recommends deal to end Royal Mail dispute

The long-running dispute between Royal Mail and the CWU may be coming to an end after talks with Acas have culminated in a negotiators agreement. The details of the agreement were put to CWU reps at a meeting in Bristol on Friday 21 April after the CWU’s postal executive spent two days looking over the agreement earlier this week.

The CWU leadership will now be putting the deal to the membership with a recommendation that they accept. There is little confidence amongst the membership that this is a good deal and not a complete capitulation.

The deal will give postal workers a 10% pay increase over 3 years – a real-terms pay cut even if it was a one-year deal – a one-off lump sum of £500 and with “modernisation” strings attached which will include regular Sunday working for new employees.

It is imperative that the membership take inspiration from RCN members’ #VoteReject campaign and force the union’s leadership to fight for a deal that ends the attack on posties’ terms and conditions and a pay rise to meet the cost of living crisis.

A victory for working people: How RCN members organised against a bad deal

Scottish construction strike hit Ayrshire sites

150 construction and maintenance workers walked off the job at Royal DSM’s Dalry plant in Ayrshire last week. The workers, employed by Kaefer and Altrad Babcock, are asking for the contractors to pay out a £2.37 per hour bonus agreed under the NAECI (national construction) agreement. The workers are members of the Unite and GMB unions, and Unite members across Scotland are involved in the campaign, including sites at Grangemouth, Torness, and Mossmorran.

The issue is the same one as led to the recent (successful) strikes at the Sizewell nuclear site in Suffolk.

Kaefer and Altrad Babcock have a history of hostile responses to workers’ attempts for pay justice, but the members at Dalry are particularly angry that they have been prepared to turn to at short notice to ensure the £100m project at Dalry keeps to target, only to find that the main company, Royal DSM, is jointly issuing statements with the contractors, rejecting their claim – despite £10m of the project cost is underwritten by the Scottish government. As one striker put it:

“We (the taxpayer) are giving them a £10m bung, but they are not prepared to pay us a decent wage”.

“Trouble at mill” as Saica Paper workers strike in Partington, Lancs

Production workers at Saica Paper’s Partington site have begun a series of one-day strikes in pursuit of a cost of living pay claim. The members of the Unite union returned a 97% mandate for strike action, in protest at the company’s refusal to increase its offer of 6.5% on the pay, plus a one-off lump sum. With inflation running in double figures, the workers are demanding at least a double-figure raise.

The company is the main supplier of corrugated products to a sister company providing essential packaging for major customers, including Amazon and Domino’s pizzas, and is taking an “in-your-face” approach to the union action, stating: “We have taken steps to build up stock levels in advance of the planned days of action and are confident that we will be able to continue production.”

If the company continues to stonewall, the union may have to re-consider the strategy of one-day strikes.

Workington refuse workers refuse poverty pay

Council tax payers in Workington can expect considerable disruption to refuse collection from Thursday if the council doesn’t address low pay for refuse workers.

60 refuse workers, members of the Unite union, will strike next week if their employer Allerdale Waste Ltd, does not improve its 10% pay offer. The union says that the problem is not just that the offer is a below-inflation offer, therefore a real-terms pay cut, but that loaders and drivers for Allerdale Waste are already amongst the lowest-paid refuse workers in the county, and that issue needs to be addressed.

Drivers, holding HGV Class 2 licences, are on £11.89 an hour, whilst loaders are barely above the minimum wage, on £10.90 an hour. The workers will strike for 3 days from Thursday 27 April, and are determined that if the employer and council don’t “significantly” improve the offer, then the action will escalate.

Allerdale Waste is an ‘independent’ company, but is wholly-owned by the new (as of 1 April 2023) Cumberland Council, who inherited it from the now-defunct Allerdale Council.

5 things to do this week:

  1. Book for the How We Fight, How We Win Rank-and-File Organising Conference and share with fellow trade unionists
  2. Get down to your nearest NEU picket line on Thursday 27 April
  3. Get down to your nearest PCS picket line on Friday 28 April
  4. Donate to the Amazon Coventry strike fund
  5. Get down to your nearest RCN picket line on 30 April/1 May

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