Manchester metrolink Manchester metrolink. Photo: Rept0n1x / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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Drivers and supervisors who work for Manchester Metrolink have voted overwhelmingly to strike as they look to get a fair pay rise. The contractor running the system, KeolisAmey, offered 1% which was swiftly rejected by the workers.

A massive 97% of Unite members voted to strike, and plans are afoot to take action on days with big sporting events, which will cause massive disruption to the city.

Two days are planned from 25-26 September, to coincide with a Man United home game and the Great Manchester Run, with further strikes planned for 10 October when the Manchester marathon takes place, and the big game between United and Liverpool on 24 October.

Unite regional officer, Dave Roberts, said:

“Metrolink tram workers, who continued to work throughout the pandemic, are simply not going to accept a frankly pitiful 1% pay deal.

“Unite has been seeking to resolve this matter for six months without success and our members now believe that as a last resort they have no other option but to take strike action.”

Manchester’s Metrolink system is effectively publicly owned by TFGM (Transport for Greater Manchester). If they want to save a few quid, they should kick out the profiteers that run the contract, instead of making the drivers pay.

All out to save GKN site against asset strippers

The decision by the Unite union at GKN Erdington to call for all-out strike action at the Driveline plant, is a welcome boost to the campaign to stop the closure of the plant with the loss of 500 jobs.

The Melrose Asset-stripping Group (or whatever its proper legal title is) promised, when they acquired the company, that they intended to maintain production at, indeed invest in, the plant, which is an essential part of the national automotive supply chain. It is also uniquely well-placed to provide the electric drivelines essential to the production of electric vehicles in the UK’s automotive plants.

The campaign to keep Erdington open seemed, for a while, to be in danger of running into the sand as it seemed to concentrate on public demonstrations, petitions and lobbies of parliament.

The owners (Melrose) are still dependent on production at Erdington to keep the profits rolling in until their offshore production comes on stream. So, the decision to up the ante and use industrial muscle, increases the workforce’s negotiating strength, and therefore the prospect of defeating Melrose’s plans.

Breakfast of champions: Weetabix war heats up 

Weetabix’s two Northamptonshire sites, Kettering and Corby, will see 48-hour walkouts from engineering workers on 21 September. This is a Unite strike and will be repeated every Tuesday until the end of November.

News from the Frontline has reported previously that this is a significant fire-and-rehire test case. As newly elected Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says:

“The idea of ‘fire and rehire’ is abhorrent to me. If Weetabix decide to go down this route and they overstep the line then I will absolutely defend our members.”

Unite are buttressing their industrial action with a feisty social-media campaign identifying Weetabix as bully-boy bosses.  

But it’s not just the engineers that have been targeted by the employers. Usdaw were striking up until September. Some joint action would have had the bosses sweating, and set the tone proper for this week’s TUC conference. This is a ‘Seize the Time’ moment.

Yodel Delivery drivers vote to strike!

Over 250 GMB Yodel drivers voted 98% yes to strike action on an 84% turnout.

Workers are fighting for pay increases as agency drivers are paid more than directly employed staff and workable schedules that improve work-life balance. They are also angry about other issues including an alleged lack of pay-outs in lieu of annual leave and a failure of bosses to honour contractual agreements on sick pay and holiday pay.

The drivers are in the process of agreeing dates for the first set of strikes.

This is at a time where there is a national shortage of drivers, strike action would affect deliveries for M&S, Aldi & Very.

Nadine Houghton, a national GMB officer said:

“With acute labour shortages across a range of sectors the time for working people to organise and take action to improve their lot is right now”

Great Ormond Street cleaners gear up for strike

UVW cleaners who secured a huge victory at Great Ormond Street Hospital against outsourcing mere months ago will ballot to strike.

The workers, numbering over one hundred, say the NHS trust bosses have reneged on the promise to give the now in-house staff full parity with other workers. Terms and conditions have improved for the cleaners, however they have been denied parity with other NHS staff over maternity/paternity leave, annual leave and redundancy terms. UVW says the Great Ormand Street Trust has refused to meet with them.

Alpha Anne, a cleaner at the hospital for seven years and one of the workers who were part of securing their victory, said they will continue their fight:

“All we are asking for is equality with the rest of the NHS staff. We are tired of being treated like second-class workers.”

Stagecoach Wales votes for strike: that’s the ticket!

The Stagecoach group of bus companies is boasting on social media this week about its ‘Carbon Net Zero’ plans to coincide with Scottish Climate Week.

Its 30,000-plus employees are not so struck by the company’s ‘Net Zero’ approach to pay. Anger over the company’s announcement of no pay rise this year was so strong across the workforce that Unite was under pressure to call a national ballot.

Under the Tory anti-union laws, this is a non-starter, as the union does not have a national bargaining agreement with Stagecoach, only local agreements, with different anniversary dates.

So the reps have decided to call local ballots, knowing that the law does allow them to call action anytime within six months of the ballot, thus opening up the possibility of all the companies in the group taking strike action at the same time.

Getting wind of this, the company suddenly discovered it did have some spare cash after all, and offered up to £400 cash and a 1% rise, which has not impressed the workforce.

First out of the blocks was Stagecoach Wales, which has delivered a resounding vote for strike action. Solidarity Shouts (a network of Unite activists) understands that a much-improved deal has now been offered to Wales, but that the reps are confident that the members will not agree to cut a separate deal from their fellow workers across the group.

Stagecoach may yet discover that they will make a bigger contribution to ‘Carbon Net Zero’ than they expected, as buses that do not run produce no emissions at all!

Battle to save HE pensions

Strikes are looking inevitable throughout the higher-education sector. The dispute pertains to cuts to the USS, the university pension scheme, which could see a lecturer earning £42,000 a year face a 35% loss in retirement income.

Sunil Banga, Lancaster UCU Branch President, said:

“Lancaster UCU condemns the employers’ intransigence and unwillingness to work with UCU to find a solution to the pensions crisis which is threatening to disrupt the HE sector once again.

“Lancaster UCU, along with other UCU branches across the country, believes that there is no deficit in our pension as of March 2021 (given the approx. £14bn increase in assets value), and therefore no urgent need to make any changes.”

He added that strike action is “now inevitable” and said Lancaster UCU “will fight any attempt to slash our pension or increase employee contributions.”

The motion to launch the USS ballot was carried at the UCU Higher Education Sector Conference on 9 September so it is very likely that Lancaster UCU will not be the only branch seeing strike action as necessary in the coming months.

Brighton bin workers ballot for strike action

This week GMB union balloted its members who are employed as drivers for Brighton and Hove city council refuse, recycling and commercial waste service for strike action.

The ballot is in response to disciplinary suspensions of drivers without evidence. The union says it is taking action against “unfair and discriminatory treatment” of drivers – which is bad enough in itself, but which has also resulted in workloads being shifted onto other drivers causing constant variation in their duties and irregular crew changes, all of which are having a detrimental impact on the drivers.

The ballot comes at a time of a national driver shortage and the union claims job adverts by the council to replace drivers have gone unfulfilled for over six months. This increases the leverage that drivers have to start treating their drivers with dignity or face chaos if strike action goes ahead.

A consultative ballot returned a 98% vote in favour of strike action. The results of the current ballot which, if a majority back industrial action, is the last step before a strike is called, will be released on Monday 20 September.

RMT rejects SNP MPs’ calls to cancel COP 26 strike

Striking RMT ScotRail workers who have been in dispute since March for pay justice and equality have been under fire from five SNP MSPs over a ballot to strike for the duration of the COP 26 conference in November.

In response to the MSPs’ statement calling on workers not to strike, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch hit back:

“Our members who work in public transport are going to be vital to the kind of decarbonised transport system we need in the future and they recognise the importance of this summit as well as anyone.”

Strikes continued on Sunday after conductors and ticket examiners voted for a further six days of strike action. Ticket examiners are also being re-balloted.

TSSA Team managers have voted for strike action in solidarity with the RMT workers. Gateline workers and cleaners at ScotRail are also in dispute and continuing action short of a strike.

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