Thurrock strikers Thurrock strikers. Photo: Justice For Refuse Workers & Cleansers / Facebook

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

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The Thurrock council workers strike to defend pay entered its second week with the strikers upbeat and confident. They have received support from local residents and from the trade union movement.

Tony, the Unite rep has spoken to Unite branches, explaining their case, and lorry drivers and warehouse workers from the nearby Co-op distribution centre are among the many who have visited the picket line. Others include the secretary of Unite’s Regional Industrial Sector Committee, as well as Assistant General Secretary of Unite, Howard Beckett.  

The strikers’ mood is buoyant, but they are keen to explain that the strike involves more than just ‘the dust’. Council care workers, street cleaners and a range of other council workers are facing similar attacks, and are part of the dispute. What particularly angers the strikers is that the council is quite happy to pay the CEO a salary approaching a quarter of a million quid, but looks to make savings by cutting the lower-paid workers. 

Messages of support can be sent to [email protected] and the petition supporting the strikers can be found here.

Go North West: Fifty days strike and counting

The continuous strike by Go North West bus drivers in Manchester passed fifty days earlier this week with spirits on the picket line remaining high. On Saturday, activists from Better Buses for GM and Greater Manchester Tenant’s Union organised a day of solidarity at the depot and brought a large number of visitors.

Direct action in support of the strike, targeting scab contractors has continued throughout the dispute, with activists from the area rising at the crack of dawn to disrupt the bus services coming out of other depots that Go North West brought in to break the strike.

Photo: Chris Neville

Unite has now brought in Sharon Graham’s organising and leverage team to escalate the pressure on various individuals and companies, including a campaign calling for Labour Mayors Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan to ban fire and rehire in their localities.

Despite this, Go North West has managed to launch an anti-union propaganda offensive with one-sided coverage from the BBC and local news asserting that scabs have been targeted by Unite members, despite no evidence to suggest the union’s members were responsible.

There are signs that Go North West is feeling the pressure and a meeting has been arranged with their UK head and Unite for next week. The senior rep at the site, Colin Hayden was clear where the drivers stand at Saturday’s meeting. They will not accept the reduced terms and they are also demanding two drivers sacked since the dispute began are reinstated. 

10th May deadline for Metroline: Unite issue ultimatum

As previously reported, Unite London bus drivers at Metroline Travel and Metroline West delivered stunning mandates for strike action as part of the union’s campaign against “Remote Sign On” – 97.2% and 96.3% respectively. In a bizarre claim, Metroline senior management have suggested the votes don’t represent a majority and are undemocratic because “non-union members are not given the vote”.

In a circular to bus drivers, the union’s response was resolute.

“Instead of engaging in Trumpian rhetoric questioning what was a clear vote, scrutinised by an independent body and which meets the required legal thresholds, the employers need to get a grip and get the message – No to Remote Sign On”.

And in case Metroline didn’t get the message, Unite further explained to bus drivers:

“We have contacted the employer with an ultimatum… the employer has until 10 May to confirm that Remote Sign On will not be implemented. If this is not confirmed by that date, then we will issue notice for strike action immediately”.

RMT Central Line strike over sacked rep

RMT have announced drivers across the Central Line on London Underground are set to strike on 6 May following the “unjustified dismissal of Brother (Gary) Carney – an RMT representative who has 20 years unblemished service with the Company”.

London Underground sacked Gary Carney claiming he avoided an unannounced drugs and alcohol test at Loughton depot. However, London Underground admit that Gary did not know about the test when he booked off sick from duty on the day.

The strike commences at 21:00 on Wednesday 5 May through to 20:59 on 6 May.

Manchester teachers strike over pay

NEU teachers are to commence 3 days of strike on are 21st, 28th and 29th April at Cheadle and Marple Sixth form College in Stockport, Greater Manchester. The teachers have been denied a nationally agreed pay rise for two years resulting in a 9.8% loss of pay.

CMSFC is the only college in the country that has not implemented the agreed pay rise. The CEO Mohammed Ramzan claims the school can’t afford the pay rise, however, the school has been paying out huge sums on consultants and restructuring costs while saving money on not replacing staff who have left.

Stockport NEU District Secretary Dawn Taylor said: 

“The money is there. It is an unethical choice to deny hard-working teachers what they are owed and what they deserve. Our members are only asking for parity with their counterparts across the country.

“They should not suffer for the apparent financial mismanagement of CMSFC managers. We call on Mohammed Ramzan to do the right thing and implement the nationally agreed pay rise Now”.

You can sign a petition in support of the teachers here.

Serco sucks: Outsourcer under attack

One of Britain’s main outsourcing outfits Serco faces a series of disputes around the country as workers kick back against attempted job cuts, attacks on the unions and contract changes.

After a near-unanimous vote, more than 40 civil enforcement officers in Ealing will strike over Serco’s offer of severance to elected Unite representatives and activists in order to undermine trade union organisation. The dates for the strikes have yet to be announced. 

As well as targeting union reps and activists, Serco offered severance to individual employees in order to undermine collective consultation. 

This dispute follows a botched and unjustified restructuring and redundancy programme that Serco tried to instigate in late 2019, and which was defeated by union members.

Serco catering workers at the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel are being balloted for strike action in a dispute over bullying and the imposition of new rotas. 

As previously reported bout 40 tractor tug crew members employed by Serco Marine at the Devonport naval base in Plymouth are also in dispute with the company. The struggle continues and the tug workers have already taken two days of strike action this month over a new roster which will make working lives harder and more uncertain.

Unite is calling for all these services to be brought back under public control.

GMB calls last orders on corporate greed

GMB members, working for Chivas Brothers distilleries in Scotland will ballot for strike action over the company’s imposition of a pay freeze. Workers for the company, owned by multinational giant, Pernod Ricard, have worked throughout the pandemic and are calling for equivalent treatment of the parent company’s workers in countries such as France.

The whisky industry has suffered a hit to exports in recent years by tariffs from a US-EU trade war but prior years saw profits in the hundreds of millions for Chivas Brothers and Pernod Ricard’s shareholders still got their dividend at the end of 2020.

GMB is rightly talking of ‘corporate greed’ with Scotland Organiser, Keir Greenway saying:

“These pay negotiations were an opportunity for the company to reward the workers for their substantial efforts with a pay offer that reflects the value of their contribution to the success of the business.

“This is about standing up to corporate greed in the fight for proper value, and that’s why we are now balloting our members for industrial action.”

The ballot closes on May 10th and offers these workers an opportunity to play their part in repelling the bosses looting of workers wages.

Leaways: strike action escalates

Workers at Leaways Special school in Hackney struck for two days this week as part of sustained dispute around pupil conditions and employer’s right to organise

Leaways is managed by a the Kedleston Group, an offshore “independent provider” for special schools and children’s homes. Leaways typifies the aggressive management to be found in private sector attempts to handle education.

The dispute represents a convergence of demands for pay & conditions parity for the staff and demands for additional resources for the SEMH (Social, Emotional, Mental Health Needs) school students. The school seeks to support ninety pupils, many of whom have been “excluded” from other schools in and around Hackney.

Poor heating, ventilation, and inadequate access to outside space are top of the grievance list.  

The strikers are garnering support from the local community as well as the movement including NEU General Secretary Kevin Courtney and local MP Diane Abbott.

Show your support by signing the petition here.

100% Attendants – strike at Queens Royal Parks

UVW Queens Royal Park Attendants returned a resounding 100% yes to strike on a 90% turn out to end outsourcing and for full sick pay plus over £100k in unpaid holiday pay.

This is their second strike ballot in two years. The attendants work at Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens,  St James Park and others.

Doctor’s orders: GP trainers get union recognition

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have voted overwhelmingly in favour of trade union recognition on pay and employment issues.

Eighty-seven percent of the Camden-based training and support staff voted to be represented by Unite the Union.  

Unite regional officer Matt Freeman said:

“We are delighted that the staff at the RCGP have voted in such overwhelming numbers that they wished Unite to be their recognised trade union in making representations to management on such key issues as pay, terms and conditions, and consultations.

This is yet another example of the slight but real growth of the trade union movement. Ninety percent of Iceland’s workforce are trade union members. That’s the sort of density UK activists should be aiming for in the post-pandemic period.

Asda puts 1,200 jobs at risk

Asda has announced it will stop baking bread and pastries in store placing 1,200 jobs at risk across 341 shops. This is just 2 months after Asda said it was closing two warehouses with 5,000 jobs at risk.

Asda says it will enter formal consultations with those affected by the changes and that its priority is to move many staff to other roles with redundancy as last resort.

Roger Jenkins, national officer of GMB said:

“Over 1,000 skilled bakers are now at risk of losing their jobs. GMB calls on Asda to retain these valuable skilled employees and continue to offer the customer truly fresh produce baked by professional bakers.”

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