Whipps Cross hospital picket line Whipps Cross hospital picket line. Photo: Sybil Cock

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

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Following a two-week strike at the beginning of February, over 1,800 ancillary workers at Bart’s NHS Trust have won a massive victory in their fight for fair pay. On 2 March, the Trust confirmed that the workers will be brought in-house as NHS staff when their contract with Serco ends in April 2023. Read Cici Washburn’s full report here.

Coventry dust-up

The mood of the workforce in the Coventry bins dispute is hardening. With the legal mandate for strike action running out at the end of the month, Unite is re-balloting its members and is confident of a determined response.

The ballot opens next Monday (March 7) and closes a week later. An indication of how seriously the union views this strike is that the picket line is being visited this morning (March 3) by Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham, and the chair of the National Executive, Tony Woodhouse.

On top of this, the union is calling for a national show of support at the end of the month, Saturday, March 26, for a rally and demonstration of support, appealing right across the labour movement.

Suck on this: GMB workers at Valeo commit to strikes

Workers at York-based sweet manufacturer Valeo are set to strike over pay. Valeo makes Fox’s Glacier Mints and Poppets among others.

The workers are seeking parity with staff at the firm’s Pontefract site.

GMB says:

“The deal has been overwhelmingly rejected twice by workers at the York site. GMB members have kept the company and production going throughout the pandemic – all they are asking for is a fair deal.

“There is still time for the company to get back round the negotiating table before industrial action begins. GMB urges them to do just that, for the good of the workers and morale at the site.”

The strike dates have yet to be confirmed, but News from the Frontline will keep you updated.

GOSH strikers face the state

UVW Striking GOSH security guards who are in the midst of a 6-week strike had their first strike rally last week since bosses battled them in the High Court with an injunction which resulted in some restrictions on their right to protest in the vicinity of the hospital.

Strikers spoke of how there were several police officers and a van lingering around their picket line, as well as management standing on the other side of the road, hoping for a breach of the restrictions.

GOSH striker Erica said:

“You can see our own manager. They’re looking at us, against us. He should be here with us, but he’s there. Our own manager is looking at us prepared to reach the police to arrest us if it’s necessary. Can you imagine something like that?”

The strikers have had lots of support and solidarity and there was an SOS NHS day of action event in solidarity with the strikers. The next rally is 12pm Friday 4 March. Donate to the strike fund here and their legal fund here.

gosh.jpegPhoto: Clare Solomon

Chemical plant strike in Teesside

Unite members at Teesside’s Sabic chemical plants are to vote on industrial action after rejecting an insulting 2% pay offer. Strike action across the two plants will have the potential to cripple various other industries that rely on the chemicals produced by the Sabic workers.

This demonstrates the power of industrial action to hit profits and may induce the company to revise their pay offer.

Unite local authority action

In the week that the GMB and Unison unions announced their acceptance of the government’s 1.75% pay award, Unite announced over 80% rejection in their ballot returns on that same offer. Whilst the numbers responding were not enough to lawfully call a national strike, Unite has committed to fight where it can.

The union ran a ‘disaggregated’ ballot over the pay award – informing each local authority individually of the intention to ballot members in specific sectors. This means that the union can call strike action across the country, in several local authorities. It will not be challenging the national pay award directly – that would lead to the negative outcome of directly threatening national bargaining – but it will, in each individual authority affected, be demanding extra payment.

This might be demanding increased shift allowance in one area; claiming job regrading in another; bonus payments for hitting targets in another; and so on. The important thing is that the union will be looking to put extra money in pay packets.

A potential side effect would be to raise the confidence in sectors that didn’t return a strike mandate that it is possible to fight – there is, after all, nothing in the Tory anti-union laws that stops a union from returning to the well as often as it likes. There are, it seems, more than one way to skin a cat.

Wiltshire bin workers battle goes on

GMB Refuse workers in Wiltshire are commencing 2 weeks strike action from Monday 7 March.

The strike was suspended for a week while members voted on an updated pay offer from their employer Hills Municipal Collections Ltd, which members voted against. One of the conditions of the rejected offer was that the agreed pay anniversary would move meaning workers would have to wait an extra 6 months before the next pay increase.

GMB appears to be calling on the other unions to ballot their members and members not to accept the offer.

GMB regional organiser Nicola Nixon said:

“Our members have not seen a real-terms pay rise since 2019 and they should not after one proper pay increase then have to wait 18 months to present another”  

Kilmarnock workers to strike over terms and conditions

Workers at Mahle Engine Systems in Kilmarnock have voted to stage three 7-day strikes, in addition to an overtime ban, later this month in protest over holiday entitlement, job cuts and shutdown clauses.

The company is seeking to worsen conditions for staff and so far is unwilling to engage with Unite or the workers it represents. The growing resentment that this attitude is causing has manifested as industrial action that looks set to be sustained.

RMT Tube workers ground London to a halt

Twice this week London Underground was brought to a standstill as thousands of RMT workers walked out on strike across the Capital. 

Counterfire’s full report from the picket lines.

A response to the Daily Telegraph’s disgraceful smear and attack on tube workers.

The latest issue of the rank and file Tunnel Vision strike bulletin.

leytonstone-tube-strike-lg.jpgPhoto: Carole Vincent

Unison strikes in HE

Unison Branches in higher education at Birkbeck College, Brighton University, City University of London, Edinburgh Napier, Gloucestershire University, King’s College London, Leeds University Queen Margaret University, SOAS and Trinity Laban have been taking part in strike action over the past 2 weeks.

This has amounted to between 1 to 5 days in total, depending on each institution. This action amongst non-academic unionised members staff has also coincided with 68 UCU branches striking at numerous universities.

Reaching the threshold for strike action at these 10 institutions will have sent a signal to management at universities that UNISON members have had enough of years of real-terms pay cuts, amounting to what has been a 17% decrease in the past 12 years.

Most staff have been offered only a 1.5% pay rise, but when inflation is 3% in addition to all other spiralling costs of living this is clearly insufficient. UNISON members’ pensions also have been under sustained attack.

GE Aviation workers in Gloucester to strike over pay

Ninety-plus Unite members at GE Aviation’s Hurricane Road site are set to strike every Friday until the end of May commencing this Friday 4 March.

The workers are rejecting a 4.5% pay offer.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says:

“Unite has given GE Aviation every opportunity to make a fair pay offer to avoid strike action but it has refused to do so.

“Our members have made it clear that they will accept nothing less than a proper pay rise and they have Unite’s full support in this fight. GE Aviation has got to get real – it’s time to table a serious offer.”

The day-a-week approach seems pretty low grade to News from the Frontline. Sustained strike action gets everyone’s attention.

RMT cleaners don’t give a tuppence for 6p per hour pay insult

Cleaners working on Avanti West Coast trains walked out on a 48-hour strike this week after rejecting a 6p per hour pay insult with a further 48-hour strike planned for 10 March.

The cleaners employed by France-based outsourcers Atalian Servest Limited are paid just £9.68 per hour – less than the Real Living Wage at £9.90 per hour. Additionally, they receive no company sick pay.

Meanwhile, RMT research has revealed that last year Atalian Servest Ltd’s holding company paid a dividend to its French parent company of £10.8 million.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said:

“We have called these two further 48-hour strikes to remind the Atalian Servest outfit that this issue is not going away and that their latest paltry offer to the staff who generate their profits is an insult to our members.

“While the profits and dividends are siphoned off abroad, cleaners are expected to put up with poverty wages and live in fear of destitution if they get sick. It’s a scandal that we’re driven to strike action to win the most basic workplace justice.”

Workers counter rep’s victimisation

Unite members at print company Envises Liverpool are going to strike for 12 days to combat the dismissal of their rep, John Williams.

The union says John is being victimised for standing up for members and the company has dismissed him on fabricated charges.

Unite regional officer Gary Fairclough said: 

“Envases still has the opportunity to avoid strike action, which will inevitably cause enormous disruption, by returning to the negotiating table and agreeing to reinstate our member.”

The Envases workers clearly understand the meaning of solidarity.

CWU serves Post Office notice

On the 28th February the CWU served notice to the Post Office that it will be balloting its members for industrial action. The ballot will open Monday, March 7 and close three weeks later on March 28.

The Post Office bosses have so far refused to acknowledge the work of its staff during the COVID-19 pandemic which meant that while high street bank branches closed the Post Offices stayed open so important services could still be accessed. This arrogance led to talks between the union and the Post Office called by ACAS to go nowhere.

To add insult to injury Angela Williams, group chief people officer, sent a communication to Post Office staff confirming the company’s stance on the pay freeze while the UK is in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis.

Addressing a meeting of union reps in Birmingham last week Andy Furey, the national officer for Post office members, insisted that the union is confident of getting a strong yes vote for industrial action from the membership.

Criminal barristers balloted on action over legal aid reform

The Criminal Bar Association began balloting its members this week over its campaign for legal aid reforms. The CBA have a range of demands including a 25% pay increase for affected staff.

One of the options presented to the members is a refusal to continue to support “returns”.

Returns’’ cases are those taken on by criminal barristers as a gesture of goodwill to prop up the criminal justice system. It is a major stopgap in how the UK’s legal system works.

The CBA’s Jo Sidhu says:

This is a critical moment in the history of our profession. It is for them to decide as individual and independent practitioners whether, by refusing to undertake return work, the criminal bar will be in a stronger position to persuade government to meet the fair and necessary demands we make.”

All workers have to withdraw their labour to get results, even white-collar ones.

College lecturers join the fight

College lecturers in Scotland who are members of the EIS Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-FELA) have voted to strike over pay after workers incurred extra costs when working from home during lockdowns and their workload significantly increased.

Members voted overwhelmingly on an indicative ballot for action short of strike and strike action.

John Kelly, EIS-FELA national salaries convener, said:

“Lecturers have just about had enough. They have indeed gone way beyond the call of duty throughout the period of Covid, and, as we all do, now face enormous hikes in the cost of living. They are saying enough is enough.”

Strikes loom in Croydon University Hospital

Ancillary workers at Croydon University Hospital are preparing to ballot to strike against serial exploiter G4S. Read GMB organiser Helen O’Connor’s report here.

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