CWU Glasgow picket line CWU Glasgow picket line. Photo: Mark Porciani

The summer of discontent just got hotter with around 40,000 BT OpenReach workers walking out on strike against poverty pay. Counterfire members report from picket lines

Southwark – Cici Washburn

Great CWU BT picket line this morning at Colombo House in Southwark, with many visiting in solidarity, including from NEU and Aslef. The workers were confident that this is a clear-cut dispute over pay in a cost of living crisis and with a strong mandate and solid backing from all the members. Branch officer Maria Exall said,

‘It’s outrageous that we’re not getting a proper pay rise, the company is profitable, the shareholders are paid and the CEO gave himself a 32% raise. We deserve a proper pay rise at least at inflation. There is a cost of living squeeze, with workers paying for the crisis, we shouldn’t be paying for it. The cost of living crisis is not due to workers having a pay rise – the economic system is not working.’

Photo: Cici Washburn

Glasgow – Mark Porciani

There were CWU picket lines all over Scotland including my old home town of Dumbarton. This morning we visited two in the business centre of Glasgow.

At 7am the strikers were setting up at the BT Call Centre next to the Broomielaw. Over the course of the morning other trade union activist visited this small but lively picket line.

Also, evident was the usual solidarity from Councillors, MPs and MSPs with a solid trade union background. Including Matt Kerr from Labour and Chris Stephens from the SNP.

The other picket line was on Bothwell Street. This was OpenReach workers from teams who lay the overhead cables and ensure the network into our homes. This is a rather fragmented workforce. For the majority, this was the first time being on strike.

There was considerable anger towards the BT bosses. The fact the head boss gets paid over £3.5 million a year was cited often today to explain why they were on strike. Many of BT Call Centre Staff in Glasgow get paid around £17,000 a year and their boss is getting paid 206 times more. 

“We want to feel valued”, said one Outreach worker as the city centre traffic passed with cars tooting their horns in support. The solidarity from passing traffic was extraordinary. 

The cost of living crisis was another significant factor in why BT workers are striking. One of the call centre strikers was explaining there was a food pantry cooperative in the workplace to assist workers struggling to afford lunch. Or as it was politely put, “it’s there for those who forgot to bring their lunch”. 

Speaking to these strikers is a timely reminder why Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were correct to call for a nationalised data communications infrastructure and free broadband in 2019. BT don’t just treat there workers disgustingly and pay there bosses obese fat cat salaries. The cable and fibre optic infrastructure in the UK is funded by public money.

Photo: Mark Porciani

Salford – Chris Neville

Salford’s picket line was held outside the historic Dial House building next to the River Irwell. There was plenty of solidarity from trade unionists in Unite, the various local Trades Councils and Labour Party members and politicians including Rebecca Long-Bailey and Salford Mayor, Paul Dennett.

There was strong support for the strike from passers-by and drivers honked their horns in solidarity.

Picket lines will also be happening on Monday as these workers seek to force BT to provide them a fair pay settlement in the midst of runaway inflation and a cost of living crisis.

Photo: Chris Neville

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