Heathrow strike Heathrow strike. Photo: @unitetheunion / Twitter

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

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1,400 security staff employed at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 began 10 days’ strike action from Friday 31 March as last minute talks collapsed. The Unite union reps walked out of the talks when Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) refused to increase their offer on basic pay, insisting they could only offer any additional pay as a one-off lump sum.

Compared to CEO John Holland-Kayes 88% increase from £800k to £1.5m, HAL security staff start at £24,400 and can reach £26,000 after 3 years. They rely on a £4,000 endless shift allowance to make up their money, and are solid in their demand that they deserve a decent rise.

The 10 days continuous strike action will end on Easter Sunday, and the main picket line will be on the Nene Road roundabout, TW6 2AU, at 8am and again at 8pm.

French spirit and international solidarity

Across the Channel, workers are revolting against French President Macron’s undemocratic imposition of pension reforms. Read John Mullen’s latest analysis of the background to the movement.

Earlier this week, hundreds of thousands of striking workers, students and members of the public took to the streets for the 10th day of action. Members of La France Insoumise welcomed a delegation of strikers from Britain who spoke to some of their National Assembly members and joined the French strikers on the streets of Paris in a fantastic show of international solidarity. Read Cici Washburn and Shabbir Lakha’s report.

Photo: Cici Washburn

Civil unrest

Following on from the budget day actions, the PCS union has announced another wave of civil service strikes from 3 April and a national strike day on 28 April. Civil servants in the Passport Office, DVSA, National Highways, Animal and Plant Health Agency, Government Digital Service, British Library and British Museum will be walking out. PCS leader Mark Serwotka said the following:

“Our members are not backing down in this dispute. Ministers need to take notice that we’re escalating our action and they need to resolve the dispute by putting money on the table.

“We know our strikes have already caused serious disruption. The new strikes and another national day of action will pile the pressure on a government that refuses to listen.”

A full list of strike dates in each sector and picket line locations can be found here.

Lights out in Scottish waters

30 members of Unite working for the Northern Lighthouse Board are balloting on strike action over the ‘miserable’ 2% pay offer from their employer. The NLB is responsible for the maintenance of the automatic light vessels, lighthouses and buoys that provide essential navigational aids for seafarers in Scottish waters. The union members are furious that the company expects them to swallow a major cut in real-terms pay, after a wage freeze last year. The company claims they are constrained by central government pay policy.

The ballot follows the action last week by Trinity House staff in the Prospect union. Trinity House provides the same service as the NLB, but in the English Welsh and Irish waters. Unite members on the Trinity House vessels the Patricia, Galatea and Alert, as well as in the shore-based buoy yard are pressing for similar ballots.

Any such action would seriously affect the ability of all marine vessels to safely navigate the affected waters.

GMB escalates Amazon strikes

Amazon workers in Coventry will strike for six more days in April: 16-18 and 21-23. Their recent wave of strikes attracted huge support and strikers visited other warehouses to spread the unionising campaign. GMB has now begun balloting members in five more Amazon warehouses in Mansfield, Coalville, Kegworth, Rugeley and Rugby.

Coventry Amazon striker Darren Westwood will be speaking at the How We Fight, How We Win rank-and-file conference on 10 June. Donate to the Coventry Amazon strike fund here.

AB Agri workers win on pay and respect

Reps from 10 animal feed production sites operated by ABN, part of the giant AB Foods group, today signed off on a pay rise negotiated on Tuesday and accepted by Unite members on a 91% Yes vote.

Of the 10 sites sending reps to the talks with the company, only 3 have recognition agreements with the company, but part of the eventual agreement was that the company would provide access to all its mill sites for Unite officers/organisers/reps to put the case for membership and recognition.

The agreement has its limitations, amounting to a 13% deal, but running until October 2024, but it is the first time the company has negotiated a pay rise as opposed to simply announcing and implementing it.

It is notable that 9 of the 10 sites accepted the deal overwhelmingly, but one site (Cupar, in Scotland) voted to reject. This shows an admirable determination to fight, but tribute should be paid to the reps and activists who, starting from an initial 3 sites, spread the word, organised, mobilised and liaised across the sites so that eventually the union balloted across 10 of 13 sites and achieved an 85% vote for strike action.

The reps are clear that the job in front of them now is to build on the confidence felt on the ground that by organising collectively they can achieve real gains to increase union membership, achieve recognition, but above all to continue the Zoom calls, WhatsApp conversations etc to ensure the reps and members feel part of a collective whole rather than isolated sites.

One rep has committed to attending the How We Fight, How We Win rank and file conference on 10 June, and the joint reps committee are due to discuss jointly supporting it in the near future.

Hospital workers slam outsourcing with a massive strike vote

Over 170 GMB outsourced cleaning and catering workers employed by ISS and working at South London and Maudsley trust are set to strike in April. The workers who secured the strike mandate with a massive 99.09% yes vote are fighting for £14.34 an hour and full agenda for change NHS T’s & C’s. GMB say that ISS is cutting the hours of the workers who are on poverty pay and that permanent staff are being replaced with agency workers.

GMB Southern Region NHS Organiser Helen O’Connor said,

“Our members who do vital work for SLaM have had enough of eking out a miserable existence on poverty pay whilst juggling impossible workloads. They are struggling to feed themselves and their families. The anger is palpable amongst the workers who just want to be treated fairly.”

Did somebody say strike?

50 Just Eat couriers took strike action on Thursday in Bury. The riders say they are struggling to survive the cost of living crisis and they are earning 40% less per order than they were last year. The strike was for 6 hours and pickets were held outside of 3 McDonalds branches. One of the couriers who organised the strike, Peter Collinge, said,

“We are all-self employed so we aren’t entitled to any holiday pay or anything like that. We’re out in all weathers, whether it’s rain or snow, delivering to vulnerable people that can’t get out. We’re not going to sit back and let them do what they want.”

Another worker Syed Hosseini said,

“We are being treated like slaves… This is our source of income, our livelihood depends on it. This strike is about preserving our dignity and telling them enough is enough.”

NEU teachers prepare to reject sham Tory deal

The government’s pay offer to teachers in England is an insult which ought to be completely rejected, as the NEU has recommended to its members.

With inflation at 12.6% last September and forecast to remain above 8% this September, the 4.5% pay envelope for teachers’ pay shows that the government is still not serious about addressing the cost of living crisis. It amounts to another two years of real-term pay cuts on top of those suffered since 2010. Teachers have also been offered a non-consolidated pro-rata cash payment of £1,000, which means it won’t be included in baseline pay for next year. 

Both these offers leave teachers falling even further behind the pay of their colleagues in Scotland and Wales. A teacher in England with six year’s experience would end up earning almost £2,000 less than their counterpart in Wales and over £8,000 less than those in Scotland! This is a deliberate political decision taken by Westminster to leave teachers and pupils in England short changed and will only deepen the recruitment and retention crisis gripping the profession.

As before, the offer is also not fully funded, meaning schools will be forced to take the money out of their own budgets. It is calculated that between 42% and 58% of schools will need to make cuts to provision or staffing as a result.

This is why the fight is not just over pay, but over funding for our children’s future and the future of education. Funding is also directly tied to the longstanding issue of workload. This is why government promises to reduce workload are worthless without adequate staffing and resources. There also needs to be a break from the tyranny of Ofsted, an issue under greater public scrutiny now after the tragic suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry.

But it was strike action which forced the government into negotiations in the first place. The task now is to escalate these strikes, build on public support and force this cruel government to treat teachers with the respect they deserve.

Just what the doctor ordered

BMA and HCSA Junior Doctors have announced 4 days of continuous strike action from 11-15 April, following on from a 3-day strike in March. This comes as BMA junior doctors in Scotland begin balloting for strike action, their ballot closes first week of May. Nurses and ambulance workers in England are currently voting on the “pay offer” which is massively below inflation and comes from existing budgets, and on Thursday health unions in Northern Ireland including Unison called off planned strike action next week for talks.

There is a strong #VoteReject campaign taking place on the ground. Junior doctors taking to the picket lines will be a boost to nurses and ambulance workers campaigning for escalation.

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