Striking junior doctors, People's Assembly demonstration 2015 Striking junior doctors, People's Assembly demonstration 2015. Photo: Jim Aindow

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

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Junior Doctors who are members of the BMA have joined their colleagues in the HCSA union in voting for industrial action over pay. BMA junior doctors delivered a massive mandate with a 98% vote for strike action on a 77% turnout.

The BMA has now called a 72-hour walkout from 13-16 March and their members will be joining HCSA junior doctors, NEU teachers, PCS civil servants, RMT and Aslef train and rail workers in striking on 15 March.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said:

“This vote shows, without a shadow of a doubt, the strength of feeling among most of England’s junior doctors. The government has only itself to blame, standing by in silent indifference as our members are forced to take this difficult decision.

“We are frustrated, in despair and angry and we have voted in our thousands to say, ‘in the name of our profession, our patients, and our NHS, doctors won’t take it anymore.’”

HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said:

“Junior doctors have held together patient care amid a spiralling staffing crisis. In return for this huge emotional, mental and physical toll they’ve been subjected to a decade of real-terms pay cuts totalling over 26%. Enough is enough.

With health workers joining the fray, 15 March is now starting to look like a huge day of coordinated strike action and a step forward in linking the fight to save the NHS with other public sector disputes.

More FE Action: Havant and South Downs College

UCU members have walked out over low pay at Havant and South Downs College for days 2 this week (22 and 23 February). The union is striking jointly with the NEU.

UCU branch chair Steve Pattenden says:

“It is frankly insulting that Havant and South Downs College thinks it can get away with offering staff just 3% when inflation is soaring and our members are being pushed into poverty. We are determined to get a pay award that helps us meet the cost-of-living crisis and management urgently needs to come to the table with a fair offer.”

Striking together on 15 March seems the next step – and a necessary one. Let’s hope our model motion can add grist to their mill.

Photo: @SouthEastNEU / Twitter

DVSA: Government’s major fault

The PCS will take its members out on strike at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency with different regions striking on several days throughout March.

The strike dates, available on the PCS website, follow action already taken in December and January which has cost almost £3m and created a huge backlog of tests.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“The Government must put forward concrete proposals to resolve this dispute.

“The more ministers choose to ignore members’ concerns over low pay, the more angry our members become. Our members cannot choose to ignore the cost-of-living crisis.”

Ambulance strikes continue

GMB, Unite and Unison have all announced new ambulance strike dates in their dispute with the government. GMB and Unite members will be striking on 6 and 20 March, with GMB organising industrial action in eleven regions and Unite five.

But there will only be joint GMB and Unite picket lines in East Midlands, North East, North West and Wales. Unison have called an ambulance strike for 8 March, this date will also see unison members working at NHS Blood and Transplant, Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool Women’s Hospital and the Bridgewater Community Trust striking for the first time.

When the government is on the back foot and the strikes have popular support, Unison striking separately instead of joining GMB and Unite, and all three not joining junior doctors, teachers and civil servants on 15 March is a missed opportunity to coordinate and unite.

Striking in Northern Ireland: teaching staff and healthcare workers on the picket line together 

Tuesday 21 February saw a high point of public sector striking with all four teaching unions (National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT); the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (Into); the Ulster Teachers Union (UTU) & the National Education Union (NEU)) joining ranks with Unite, Unison, GMB and Nipsa (Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance). 

Into’s Gerry Murphy says:

“Enough of being forced to accept salaries that have not increased in real terms over the last 15 years, enough of increased workloads, enough of being forced to compensate for lack of resourcing and support for those in their care. Teachers are reasonable and sensible people and when they are moved to take strike action then the Government should listen.” 

This is the kind of unity that the bosses hate and can get the job done. Mainland union leaders should be looking and learning.

Photo: @NEU_NIreland / Twitter

Seize the time and save the date: 10 June 2023

The new militancy has raised a whole set of questions for a fresh layer of activists. Our movement is awash with questioning and debate around strategy and tactics. 

The sugar rush of workers joining the labour movement annals has worn off and been replaced by a quest for clarity on the next steps. Unless this energy is focused it will dissipate. We cannot allow this to happen.  

A number of activists close to News from the Frontline are convening a one-day summer conference in the heart of the historic East End. It’s early days but get this date in your dairy and start spreading the word.

RCN leadership stands down for talks

The RCN has suspended strike action on 1-3 March for ‘intensive’ talks with the government. The government say in a statement that ‘the talks will focus on pay, terms and conditions and productivity enhancing reforms’. As this was announced the government also announced it recommends a meagre 3.5% pay increase for nurses, doctors and teachers for 2023-24.

One RCN nurse said,

“I don’t think its cynical to ask why government suddenly wants to talk right on the heels of a massive vote by Junior Drs to strike for their own restorative pay and safe conditions for patients. Could they possibly be playing divide and rule?”

Calling off strikes for the vague promise of “talks” – and especially when no substantially increased offer is on the table – only serves to break the momentum of the strike and divides the NHS-wide fightback. Read John Westmoreland’s article on why this is a bad strategy being pursued by trade union leaders.

Bidvest Noonan put profits First

100 cleaners, fuellers and shunters working in First Bus’s Glasgow and Aberdeen garages will strike next Wednesday over pay.

The Unite members were contracted out by First Bus to Bidvest Noonan several years ago, and starting pay is as low as £9.62 an hour. The company (which saw a 12% rise in profits last year) is offering 2% back-dated to last year, which works out to 19p an hour for the lowest paid – and they are surprised the workers are angry?

First Bus could find their buses forced off the road for safety reasons if the strikes go ahead, and the company has said it is “assisting Bidvest Noonan to find an agreement”.

The strikes will kick off at 15:00, Wednesday 3 March, and run until 06:00, Saturday 6 March. Picket lines are planned for the Cathcart Road depot in Glasgow, and the King Street garage in Aberdeen – which has also voted to strike the following Wednesday to Saturday.

“We don’t want Bezos’s rocket, we just want to be able to live”

GMB members working for Amazon in Coventry are commencing strike action over pay next week on Tuesday 28 February and Thursday 2 March. They will also be on the picket lines for a week from 13-17 March.

Amazon strikers Conor Geraghty and Darren Westwood spoke at a London meeting on Monday with Amazon Labor Union’s Chris Smalls and other strikers and organisers. Read what Darren said about their fight with Amazon here.

Photo: Unjum Mirza

HTS “just a Tory fig-leaf”

More than 300 ex-council maintenance workers in Harlow, Essex, are striking for a cost of living supplement, but the council won’t pay.

The workers, members of Unite, are employed by Harlow Trading Services (HTS) a spun-out company wholly owned by (Tory) Harlow Council.

As one worker put it:

“The company is separate from the council when it suits them, but completely controlled by them when they want. They claim to be independent, but put out joint statements. So how’s that work then?”

Bilfinger v offshore workers – dispute continues to rumble

The long-running conflict between offshore workers in the oil and gas industries, and major contractors, particularly the Bilfinger group, continues to fester.

Unite, the union is currently balloting 700 of its members employed by Bilfinger in the ongoing dispute over pay. The agreement reached last year, which should have seen 4% extra in the January wage packets is still to be honoured.

Bilfinger is hiding behind the Energy Services Agreement (ESA) base rate, saying the union’s demands exceed that agreement. The workers say that it is a base rate, that the clue is in the name, that of course Bilfinger can pay over the minimum, and that Bilfinger only joined the ESA last year under extreme pressure from its workforce.

A Unite activist said:

“We are sick and tired of broken promises and the ‘shifting the blame’ game. This industry is raking in literally billions in profits, and screwing the workers.”

Any dispute will hit up to forty off-shore installations, and among the oil and gas operators affected will be big boys like BP, CNRI, Ithaca, Harbour, Repsol and Taqa.

FBU recommends members accept deal

The Executive Council of the Fire Brigades Union has recommended that members accept the government’s offer of a 7% pay rise, followed by 5% for 2023.

Members recently returned a massive mandate to strike after rejecting 5% – just a little lower than what’s on offer now before the leadership of the union postponed strike action to vote on the deal.

What’s on offer is well below inflation and barely an improvement on the original offer. Let’s hope the members reject it and continue the fight for a decent pay rise for all public sector workers.

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