CWU posties, Gloucester South CWU posties, Gloucester South. Photo: @CWUnews / Twitter

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

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CWU members at Royal Mail Group have delivered a massive yes vote in a second national ballot, just four weeks after a ballot over pay. Members across the Royal Mail group voted 98.7% in favour of strike action on a 72.2% turnout over Royal Mail’s plans to rip up a national agreement with the union on terms and conditions.

The ‘pathway to change’ agreement was signed by CEO Simon Thompson in May 2021, just months after taking the role. He and his board are now looking to rip up that document and bring in a two-tier workforce with new staff on lower pay, annualised hours and scrapping the sick pay policy and replacing it with statutory sick pay.

The CWU have announced strike dates for the dispute with Royal Mail over pay; they’ll be walking out on 26 and 31 August and 8-9 September.

Over on the BT and OpenReach side of the union a further two days of strike action has been called following CEO Philip Jansen’s refusal to negotiate with the CWU over the pay dispute.

BT and OpenReach staff will be striking on 30 August, and also 31 August – the same day as members at the Royal Mail Group. That date will see around 165,000 union members taking industrial action, by far the largest strike day in the UK of 2022 so far.

Harrods threaten to workers with Tories’ new Scab Charter

Unite members at Harrods have rejected a 5% pay offer and are balloting for strike action at the iconic 7-floor building based in Knightsbridge, London (closes 1 September). With inflation running at 12.3% RPI, Unite have rightly labelled the offer as ‘pay cut disguised as a rise’

While the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a drop in profits for the Qatar Holding-owned company worldwide, Harrods still generated £220 million in the financial year 2020/21.

On 8 August, staff working in store services, engineering, maintenance and security, received a disgraceful letter stating:

“Recent legislative changes relating to the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations now allows agencies to provide temporary workers to perform duties normally performed by a worker who is on strike. We are therefore no longer restricted from engaging temporary workers should any industrial action take place now or in the future.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“It comes as no surprise that Harrods - known for catering to the supremely well-off – could be the first employer Unite has come across to threaten low paid staff with the recent government legislation designed to break strikes.

“Harrod’s attempts to use this new legislation to bully our members doesn’t change a thing. Unite is prepared for all eventualities and our members at Harrods will receive the full backing of the union in their fight for a fair pay rise.” 

With regard to the new Employment Regulations Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng previously tweeted “Yesterday it was a criminal offence. Today it is an option for business”. For every trade unionist, it remains criminal and should strike action go ahead we should mobilise the trade union movement to transform the picket line outside of Harrods’ main entrance in Knightsbridge into a mass picket and protest.

Fighting spirit from Northern Ireland DHL strikers

Workers employed by DHL Services in Northern Ireland brang Spirit Aerospace to a standstill from Monday 15 August for the whole week.

The workers, members of the Unite union, are responsible for the transportation of parts and finished products across all of Spirit’s Northern Ireland sites and are striking in protest at an “insulting” pay offer of 4%.

The union says that with inflation now over 12%, the workers are not prepared to see their living standards fall so that DHL can boost the already brimming coffers of the parent company Deutsche Post DHL Group.

Unite regional coordinating officer, Susan Fitzgerald on the dispute:

“This dispute is a clear example of workers defending themselves against corporate greed. DHL is hugely profitable and it is only enriching further the shareholders of its owner Deutsch Post DHL Group.”

Their determination to achieve “pay justice” is strengthened by the knowledge that DHL Services recently signed off a double-digit pay deal with their colleagues in Scotland.

St Monica’s Trust: the workers fight on

Workers at St Monica Trust are continuing their fightback against the employer’s plans to decimate their working conditions.

Bosses at the Trust, which is based in Bristol, want to cut workers’ hourly rate of pay, scrap the current agreement on sick pay and cut hours. But Unison members, who have already had five days of strike action, walked out for 48 hours earlier this month, and will be striking for 2 days from Friday 19 August.

The Trust has not held talks with the union for over four months.

Arriva keeps getting it: Beds, Bucks and Herts bus workers to strike over pay

Around eight hundred Unite members in the northern home counties are set to strike over a “strings attached” pay deal. 

The German-owned bus operators have been raking in the profits in recent years with cash to splash everywhere but workers’ pay-packets. 

Pay rises presently offered are between 4% and 6%, in other words, real-terms pay cuts. 

Unite’s Jeff Hodge said:

“Strikes will cause severe disruption across the region. This will be entirely Arriva’s fault for offering a pay cut disguised as a rise while our members’ are struggling with the cost of living crisis. Arriva must come back with an offer our members can accept.” 

News from the Frontline supporters can look forward to picket lines at Arriva depots in Luton, Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Ware, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead. 

Unite and Arriva have already clashed in the North West where workers have recently won a pay rise of 11.1% after a continuous strike lasting four weeks. Kent, Essex and North London ballots are in the post. No boss is going to like that many battlefronts.

PCS strikers continue to disrupt services at HGS

PCS members at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) took 6 days of action this week causing major disruption to services in a dispute over pay and conditions having rejected a derisory 3.25% pay offer. HGS has a contract with the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) to run the contact centre and back-office functions in Liverpool. 

In a brilliant show of solidarity, RMT and TSSA strikers came off their picket line at Liverpool Lime Street to join the PCS strikers outside Tithebarn House in Liverpool city centre.

The picket line was also visited by Dan Carden MP (Liverpool Walton), Kim Johnson MP (Liverpool Riverside) and local councillor Sam East. The regional secretary for NEU, Peter Middleman came to show his support and there were visits from branch secretaries from Unison and Unite as well as PCS members, reps and staff from the PCS regional office.

Following their picket line on Saturday, the strikers marched from Tithebarn House to join the RMT’s Enough Is Enough rally in Liverpool city centre, which will be addressed by PCS deputy president Martin Cavanagh.

Liverpool Solidarity with @RMTunion #EnoughIsEnough @ShelaghFogarty

— Alex (@embedded_iot) August 20, 2022

The bin wars hit Scotland: this time it’s Unison… and GMB

The first wave of strike action to hit Aberdeenshire, Clackmannanshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Lanarkshire, Stirling and South Lanarkshire councils are set for 26 to 28 August with a spread set up for the second week of September. 

Cosla, the association representing local councils in Scotland, have offered a 3.5% rise while unions Unite, GMB and Unison demanded a flat rise of £3,000 across pay groups to combat serious recruitment and retention issues in low-paid but critical roles.

Unison’s Johanna Baxter says:

“This is the first wave of strike action which will only escalate if a significantly improved pay offer is not forthcoming. Strike dates for schools and early years workers will be confirmed in the coming days. 

“The responsibility for this action lies squarely with the Scottish Government and Cosla, neither of whom seem to have grasped the gravity of this situation. Inflation is projected to be as high as 13%, the cost of living crises is hitting people’s pockets now. They have had months to sort this out but all we seem to get is dither and delay.” 

Crucially these refuse and recycling workers will striking with the GMB. Remember: the only people who don’t like joint action are the bosses.

Chester aerospace workers out for better pay

40 aerospace workers at Chester’s Metal Improvement Company took strike action this Wednesday in protest at their employer’s refusal to offer a pay rise that keeps up with inflation. The company, which provides specialist coatings to the aircraft industry, counts Airbus and Magellan among its blue chip customers and the strike action will hit production schedules in this highly competitive market.

The Unite workplace representatives argue that the company can afford to maintain the value of their members’ wage packets as the company increased its profits by 26% to over £36 million according to the latest published accounts. They also say that the strike action will be repeated next Wednesday, and the Wednesday after, until the company agrees to sit down and talk.

Liverpool dockers rise again

Following the example at the Port of Felixstowe, over 500 dockworkers in Unite have rejected a 7% pay offer from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company at Liverpool dock.

Unite officials have slammed the employer for failing to meet inflation while racking up over £30 million in profits. Workers voted in a massive majority to take action.

The situation involves longstanding unresolved issues with the company, some cases date back to the 1990s when the dock was the scene of a massive industrial action that got nationwide attention.

The ABC of striking

Workers at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council are taking industrial action with the potential to continue into September after rejecting a pay offer that unions NIPSA, GMB and Unite claim is well below inflation.

The unions are coordinating action over 4 weeks from 15 August, impacting services ranging from waste collection and street cleaning to leisure centres and tourism venues, unless the council is willing to negotiate a fair offer for workers.

Photo: @UnitetheunionNI / Twitter

Education workers lining up for action in Northern Ireland

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (Into) announced on 16 August that it is following sister union NASUWT and asking members if they are prepared to go on strike over pay. 

Into’s Gerry Murphy says:

“The real value of teachers’ pay has been continually eroded since 2010, firstly with the disastrous austerity measures, and now in the guise of a 1% public pay policy which means our members are struggling to keep pace with a near double digit inflation rise.” 

NASUWT members have already delivered a solid stake mandate for teachers in the region so joint action may be on the cards. 

It’s good to see Northern Ireland’s local government militancy spread out over the wider public sector.

Victorious British Airways staff fly high

Approximately 16,000 airline workers are no longer striking after obtaining a deal of 13% with the airline. The Unite members, most lower paid female workers in a wide range of airline grades, suffered massive job cuts and additionally had to absorb a 10% pay cut during the transport crisis over the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now been reversed with some gain.

Workers had been particularly aggrieved that BA management hadn’t already restored their pay to pre-Covid value.

Sharon Graham said:

“By standing strong with Unite, our members have compelled BA to table a pay rise that goes toward compensating for the pay cuts suffered during the pandemic.

“There is still some way to go for workers at BA to trust this company again, given the hostile manner they conducted themselves during the pandemic. Once again, Unite’s focus on improving jobs, pay and conditions has delivered for our members.”

Bin strikes spread to Newham

Unite bin workers in the London borough of Newham have voted virtually unanimously to strike not only for an inflation-meeting pay rise, but for equality with the same staff in other London boroughs.

The solidly Labour council has been paying their staff far less than neighbours in Hackney and Greenwich. Dates are expected to be set shortly.

Steve Edwards, Unite regional officer said:

“The blame for this dispute lies squarely with the council when there is such a gaping hole in workers’ pay packets.”

On the site:

The view from the picket line: Solidarity with the RMT rail strike: Vladimir Unkovski-Korica reports on the Glasgow RMT picket line and strike rally and Counterfire members give us a view of picket lines around the country

Photo: Unjum Mirza

Unison NHS workers to be balloted for industrial action: Health worker and Unison member Karen Buckley discusses the latest inadequate pay offer for health workers and the possibility of industrial action in the NHS

We have to stand up to police attacks on trade unionists: Following the arrests of GMB organisers Gary Palmer and Helen O’Connor on picket lines, Lucette Davies explains the growing trend of authoritarian actions by the state against trade unionists and why we must resist

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