Posting a letter Posting a letter. Photo: Richard Ellis / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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CWU members working across Royal Mail Group, including parcel force and fleet smashed the anti-trade union ballot threshold in their vote for industrial action this week. 77% of workers took part in the ballot delivering a 97.6% yes vote, a record high in a national industrial action ballot post the 2016 trade union act.

On the announcement of the result, the day before Royal Mail’s AGM, CWU general secretary said the bosses at the top should see this as a massive vote of no confidence and that they should consider their positions. But in an act of complete arrogance, Royal Mail bosses sent messages to workers the day after via workplace TV screens that Royal Mail was now losing £1 million a day. This from a board that has recorded profits of £758 million off the very backs of its work whilst giving £400 million away to shareholders will not wash!

CWU members know their worth and they know how to win, the same can’t be said for the Royal Mail board.

The public sector and pay: the rubber hits the road

The government’s 5% pay offer this week to doctors, teachers, midwives, prison officers and other workers in the public sector has met with a range of condemnatory responses including  “pitiful”, “disappointing”, “wholly inadequate”, “a grave misstep” and “a kick in the teeth”. 

The British Medical Association, hardly a bastion of radical outrage, called it a “brutal” real-terms pay cut and “a betrayal of the profession”.

But the world of 2022 is a world of striking barristers, 11.8% inflation and mushrooming foodbanks. 

Decisive national action by the RMT has raised everyone’s game.  

PCS’s Mark Serwotka says:

“It’s an outrage that millions of our public sector colleagues have been told to accept half the rate of inflation, and it puts into further shocking focus the fact our members – the government’s own workforce – are being told to accept even less. Given the expressed views of all four remaining Tory leadership candidates, it’s clear whoever wins, we can expect more of the same. 

“We’ll be talking to our colleagues in other unions about organising co-ordinated national strike action.” 

Serwotka’s right – but this strategy will have to be fought for at every level of our movement and not just left to the general secretaries.  

Cleaning on the tracks: the fight against Churchill continues   

Cleaners on Network Rail and the GTR, HS1 and Southeastern train companies concluded their latest batch of strike action last week. 

The workers up against outsourcing kingpins Churchill. They’re after £15 hour, sick pay and free rail travel. 

RMT’s Mick Lynch says:

“These cleaners went over and above during the pandemic, to keep our trains and stations safe and hygienic. Churchill could easily afford to give them £15 an hour but instead, they’re fixed on shovelling money toward their private equity shareholders. 

“Cleaners need a proper pay rise and they’re not prepared to take the appalling by companies like Churchill any longer. 

“This campaign is only going to grow and we will not stop until we’ve won justice for our cleaners.” 

This is where the hellhole of privatisation ends up. All cleaners should be treated with respect and get the remuneration they deserve. 

“Charles Dickens meets the 21st century” – CabAuto workers do an Oliver

The 100 union members at CabAuto, Tipton, have walked off the job, demanding a realistic pay increase from the company, which fits upholstery to upmarket luxury limousines.

Unite’s General Secretary, Sharon Graham said:

“The super-rich are buying Mclarens, Aston Martins and Bentleys at a quarter of a million a time, fitted out by workers on £9.90 an hour, using foodbanks to make ends meet. It’s like Charles Dickens meets the 21st century.”

“On the buses” – one strike settled, one suspended, but another one has just turned up

The 1,800 bus workers, members of the Unite union, employed by Arriva NW started their all-out indefinite strike this Wednesday, meaning the company “will not be able to operate bus services in Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Lancashire or Cheshire for the duration of the strike”.

The action is in response to a miserly offer of 3% from the company (or 6% if the workers are prepared to give up sick pay and their enhanced rate for Saturday working). The vote to reject the company ‘offer’ and for strike action was carried by 96% in the ballot. The company claims it cannot afford any more, yet the workers know that their fellow Unite members at Stagecoach’s Merseyside operation have just settled for £14 an hour, whilst Arriva claim they cannot pay drivers out of the Winsford depot more than £11.20.

As a Unite member told Counterfire:

“They must think we’re stupid. Arriva pays the same price for diesel as Stagecoach does. If they can afford that, they can afford to pay the workforce the same too.”

The strikers received a boost to their confidence on hearing their fellow union members working for Arriva West Yorkshire had suspended their strike action to vote on an improved offer from the company, recommended by their reps.

Trouble brewing

Over 200 brewery staff working for Budweiser in Lancashire took 36 hours of strike action this week, the first time work stoppage at the company, in a dispute that has been rumbling for many months.

Budweiser is continuing to offer the GMB members a pay ‘rise’ of 3%, despite this being less than half of the inflation rate from when the dispute began in April and not even a third of it now.

The company is attempting to justify de facto wage cuts on the grounds that the staff are well paid “within the region”, but workers are remaining steadfast in their demands for a pay rise that will keep pace with the cost of living.

Long battle over parking in Wandsworth

GMB wardens in Wandsworth are keeping up their months-long dispute with the privateer parking company NSL. Since June, they have taken thirteen days of strike action, with the most recent two being this week.

London Borough of Wandsworth’s newly elected Labour council is supporting the private company, not the workforce. Both Labour councillors and NSL have misleading press releases, including claiming that the bin workers are on London Living wage, but also that their demand for £5 per hour would be a “58%” wage rise, for which they would in fact need to be on half that rate.

The strike will continue with five solid days later this month.

Dockers kick back – Liverpool and Felixstowe dockworkers ballot for strike action

500 Unite members, working for MDHC container services, part of Peel Ports’ operations in Liverpool, start their strike ballot on Monday. They are insisting on an above-inflation pay rise (or as Stevie Gerrard of Unite put it “a pay rise”). The ballot runs for three weeks, with strike action due to start in early September if the employer does not budge.

The union is also balloting its 1,800 members at the Port of Felixstowe. Although the Felixstowe ballot is slightly behind the Liverpool one, the reps at the two ports are talking together. If they do each take action, it would mean shutting down the biggest container ports on the west and the east coasts. (Felixstowe alone handles 34% of all the UK’’s imports and exports.)

The two disputes carry significance for every dockworker in Britain – a win on Merseyside would draw a clear red line through the wreckage of the Liverpool docks strike of two decades ago.

It might seem history to many readers of News from the Frontline and Counterfire, but it’s a running sore to many activists on the docks, and to see Liverpool dockers rise again will boost morale across the industry.

If a victory on Merseyside helps put history right, a victory for the Felixstowe dockers would set a marker for the future. This ballot is about pay, but every docker on the port is aware of Hutchinson Port’s plans for automation on the dock. A united show of strength over pay will massively boost confidence for the fight for jobs that is looming.

OCS – further strike dates announced

The ongoing dispute at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust between Unison and OCS rumbles on as 4 new strike days have been announced.

As talks have stalled to negotiate a fair deal for the 50 staff members denied the same pay and conditions as their NHS colleagues they will be walking out on 26, 27, 31 July and 1 August to remind their employer that they deserve, and will fight for, parity for doing the same jobs.

UCU FE fight

Further education colleges in England look set for a hot autumn of industrial action when they reopen next term.

Ballots taking place in 29 UCU branches at the end of this academic year delivered an overall 89% vote for action over the accelerating impact of the cost-of-living crisis on pay in the sector.

This represents the biggest mandate for a fightback in colleges since the Tories rigged the turnout threshold in 2016. In each of these branches, the threshold of 50% was easily surpassed. There was a positive vote in three other colleges but they narrowly missed the threshold. With six branches in London and three in the North West voting separately, this means staff in almost 40 colleges across the country have been energised by a new mood of militancy that is no longer willing to stomach decades of stagnant pay.

Unite and GMB aiming for more wins on the bins

Unite Sandwell Bin workers in the West Midlands who are employed by outsourcer Serco have announced 5 days of strike action over pay. The workers will be out on 28-29 July and 4, 5 and 8 August.

Unite says if the dispute does not end quickly more strike dates will be announced. The workers include HGV drivers, refuse collectors and street cleaners. The refuse collectors are only paid £11.04 an hour. The workers rejected a below inflation ‘pay cut’ of 8%. Unite says GMB and Unison are also involved in the dispute.

Unite Bexley bin workers employed by Bexley council’s contractor Countrystyle Recycling will be on strike for a further two weeks; 25 July – 7 August, following two weeks of prior strike action. The strike is over pay and bosses attacking workers’ terms and conditions by scrapping the ‘job and finish’ provision to ‘group task and finish’. Unite says this will result in staff being penalised when their job is finished for the day and that management is punishing workers for asking for a pay rise in line with the cost of living.

Bin strikes look set to continue with 100 Unite bin workers in Newham, employed by Newham Council are balloting to strike over pay and T&C’s. The ballot closes on 3 August.

NEU fights academisation in Birmingham

NEU Workers at Lordswood Girls School in Birmingham commenced 5 days of strike action form the 12 July over mismanaged academisation of the school with no meaningful consultation. The pickets lines were big and lively with at least 30 workers joining them.

‘People are ready for a change!’: Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival returns – Figures such as Mick Lynch joined discussions and events at the labour movement festival after two years of pandemic hiatus.

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