Luton Airport workers on strike Luton Airport workers on strike. Photo: @UniteLE457 / Twitter

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

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Unite members at Wilson James – the subsidiary responsible for passenger assistance at the airport – have been striking this week for pay parity.

A new round of strike action has just been scheduled for five days commencing 31 December 2021.

Unite’s Regional Transport Sector Committee has sent its support, as has the 7055 (Suffolk Road Haulage) branch. The Sector Commitee chair said:

“It’s disgusting that this employer is presenting compliance with the law, in observing the minimum wage legislation, as a substitute for decent pay.”

Local MP Rachel Hopkins proudly joined the picket line this week.

The bosses are always trying to take workers for a ride. Our movement isn’t having it.

UCU ready for more at Goldsmiths

UCU members at Goldsmiths have just completed three weeks of strike action in opposition to 52 job cuts and a restructure that will decimate professional services.

Members voted overwhelmingly to escalate their action if management don’t back down and are discussing the prospect of a further three weeks of strike action in the spring term. Unison are also discussing the possibility of coordinated action.

Management are due to respond to the two consultation exercises (on academic redundancies and the professional services restructure) by mid-January and if they do not change course, further action is highly likely.

Jeremy Corbyn addressing final-day strike rally. Photo: Jim Aindow

Organising delivers another victory for transport workers

Unite members at the global couriers DHL in North Lanarkshire have secured a pay deal of between 10% and 19%.

The new deal covers drivers, shunters and warehouse workers at the Scottish depot. Unite’s Debbie Hitchings says:

“The deal will also see drivers receive paid breaks, a reduction in their working week and the implementation of microwaves in overnight trucks. This is a massive win for our members that have stood firm against an employer that has treated workers as second class citizens.”

Once again we see the impact threatened strike action can have on distribution. This is a double-whammy for bosses at Christmas.  And inflation-busting pay rises like this are a fillip for workers everywhere.  

Bus drivers reject measly pay offer

600 bus drivers, members of the Unite union, are being balloted over a ‘sub par’ pay offer from council-owned Nottingham City Transport.

The drivers regard the offer to raise wages by £1 an hour ‘gradually’ over a two-year period – as nowhere near their demand for an immediate £1 an hour raise. They point to other local operators who are better paid, and all the indications are that they will not budge. Nor will the buses, if they take action in the New Year.

Striking pays on the trams

GMB tram workers who conducted 24-hour strikes in November over pay have agreed a new pay offer. The drivers were fighting for pay in line with other tram drivers across the country.

Further strike action had been called for December which is now suspended. GMB says the new pay deal means workers will have their wages stand against steeply rising inflation.

Nottingham tram workers’ picket line. Photo: @GMBMIDLAND / Twitter

Beer delivery drivers tell bosses to pay up

Unite GXO workers have overwhelmingly voted to strike in a consultative ballot after a new payroll system resulted in around 1,700 workers not being paid the correct amount they are owed on time.

GXO is a huge logistics company and strike action would affect deliveries of Heineken beer across the country. The workers had planned strike action earlier this year over pay before winning a pay increase of 23% for drivers and 10% for warehouse staff.

GOSH security strike steps up

UVW security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) have announced 6 weeks strike action starting on 18 January.

The outsourced workers employed by Carlisle Support Services held 3 days of strike action earlier in December. They are fighting to be brought in house and have parity with NHS staff. This would result in amongst other improved terms and conditions, the workers getting sick pay.

Security Guard Erica Rasheed said:

“It is hard to believe, but I do not get sick pay. What this means is if I go to work I put myself and others in danger. If I stay at home – I don’t make rent. I do believe in the NHS, I really do. But what kind of institution treats their workers like that?”

UVW say this strike will be one of the longest security guard strikes in NHS history. Despite union-busting tactics by management, including withholding extra shifts from strikers the workers are determined to keep fighting. You can donate to the strike fund here.

Below-inflation pay rises are not palatable for Chep workers

As reported last week, Chep pallet workers in Manchester moved to all-out strike action this week after striking for four days previously. Chep, which posted profits of £150m last year, offered its workers in Manchester a derisory 2% pay rise, which is a real-terms pay-cut. The picket line at Trafford park is going 24/7 and the strikers are in good spirits and going strong. If you’re in Manchester, get down and show your support.

Photo: Chris Neville

Asda “takes workers for mugs”

94% of GMB members working for Asda’s distribution voted to proceed to a strike ballot over poor pay-rises. Warehouse, clerical workers and LGV drivers are looking to ensure they can meet the pressures of high inflation.

There is some suggestion that Asda is penalising these workers due to a legal ruling that said the company’s largely female shop workers are entitled to pay equal to the distribution workers.

Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, said:

“This immense vote in favour of industrial action shows the bubbling anger and resentment among the workers. They know what they are worth and they feel Asda is trying to take them for mugs.”

Next stop: indefinite strikes

Over 560 Unite Stagecoach bus drivers in South Yorkshire who were on strike at the end of November and the beginning of December have announced indefinite action from the 1 January.

Unite says talks with bosses have failed. The depots taking action are Barnsley, Rotherham, Dearne Valley, West Yorkshire and Sheffield. The drivers are fighting to be paid £11.40 an hour. They are currently on just £10.52 in Sheffield and £10.80 in Barnsley and Rotherham.

Stuart drivers stop McDonald’s deliveries

Food delivery drivers represented by IWGB are on the longest continuous gig economy strike. The drivers, employed by Stuart who deliver for JustEat, are striking over a 25% cut in their pay. The outrage was compounded when it was revealed that the CEO took home over £2.2m in 2020 after the company posted extra profits of £20m. 

The drivers are on their third week of strike and they are determined to win. They are picketing daily outside McDonald’s branches and the strike has now spread to Chesterfield, Blackpool and Sunderland. Donate to the strike fund here.

????❤️???? STRIKE WEEK 2 AND WE ARE STRONGER THAN EVER!!! ????❤️????

Sheffield delivery drivers are united, focused & not backing down. @Stuart_Delivery @JustEatUK, listen to your workers and implement a pay rise now so we can return to serving our communities.#WeDontTakeNoPayCuts

— IWGB Couriers Sheffield (@SYorksCouriers) December 13, 2021

Night night for the night tube as RMT passes six-months strike ballot

RMT drivers have re-balloted to strike over work-life balance with drivers having to work night shifts on the night tube. Six months of action has been announced, which will be RMT’s longest-running strike on the underground.

Starting from Friday 7 January, drivers on the Central and Victoria lines will strike from 8:30pm on Fridays to 8am on Saturdays and 8:30pm on Saturdays till 8am on Sundays every weekend till June. 

Six unions take government to court over pensions

Six unions, the GMB, FBU, POA, PCS, RCN and Unite are set to face the government in court over pensions. A cut in employee contributions, now worth more than £1,000 for many, should have been brought in nearly 3 years ago but the government is still withholding money that is owed. Employee contribution rates have remained unchanged in 2019, 2020 and 2021 as the government blocked the agreed cost-sharing mechanism resulting in workers being forced to overpay.

The court case, known as the McCloud judgement, found the government’s public sector pension reforms discriminated against workers, where older workers had been allowed to stay on a previous pension scheme whilst younger workers had been required to leave it and/or be transitioned onto the new 2015 scheme.

The Court of Appeal in a ruling in December 2018 said that the government discriminated against the two groups on the grounds of age, race and equal pay in relation to changes to their pensions.

FBU national officer Mark Rowe said: 

“It is unbelievable that the government is trying to make public sector workers pay for the government’s own discrimination. The government needs to get a grip, recognise its mistakes, recognise the highly valuable contribution that public sector workers make every day, and sort out this issue in a timely and straightforward manner. Years after the relevant pension reforms came in the government is still in a mess over this”

Reaching union recognition for journalists

The NUJ has secured recognition for Local Democracy Reporters employed with the UK’s biggest regional newspaper reporter, Reach. This means that all the reporters involved in the BBC-funded scheme in which reporters are allocated to cover local authorities and other public service organisations are all now involved in collective bargaining agreements.

Mother of the LDRs’ chapel Charlotte Green said:

“The chapel is delighted to have been able to sign this voluntary agreement with Reach. To have achieved recognition is a milestone that is the culmination of several years of hard work by union members and officials since the launch of the scheme in 2018.”

Biomedical strike renewed for 12 weeks

Blackburn and Burnley biomedical scientists commenced a new 12-week strike this week in a dispute over unpaid wages. The 21 Unite members at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have previously been on strike since May.

Talks with the union last week were “met with a stubborn unwillingness to end the dispute”. The workers are owed back pay of between several hundred pounds to £8,000, after managers failed to honour a 2019 agreement to upgrade their pay.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added:

“The biomedical scientists are taking action because they have a genuine, legitimate, fair and reasonable case and they have Unite’s unwavering support. This dispute will now go ahead and our campaign will escalate.”

Avanti West Coast strike solid

The RMT said that members employed by DHL to provide vital catering services for the Avanti West Coast solidly supported both days of the current strike in their fight for pay justice.

The members are out on strike for pay justice after the company announced a pay freeze on all staff earning above £24,000 or an increase of £250 for members earning less than £24,000. In May 2021, DHL’s parent company Deutsche Post AG paid out €1.6 billion (around £1.4 billion) in dividends to shareholders, an increase of 17% from the year previous.

General Secretary Mick Lynch said:

“With inflation rocketing and national insurance set to increase, these frontline workers are facing a cost-of-living crisis but it’s another story for the Scrooge bosses who, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, have still paid out eyewatering sums in dividends and director pay, whilst treating the workers who generate their profits with complete contempt.

“Rather than continuing to line the pockets of shareholders and directors, RMT is demanding a fair pay award for these workers that recognises their vital contribution to our rail services and the soaring cost of living. The union remains available for talks.”

Photo: @RMTunion / Twitter

Somers forge strike

GMB members at Somers Forge were out on strike this week having rejected the latest pay deal of 4%. The company even refused to backdate the award to the pay anniversary of April which would have resulted in members losing six months of higher pay.

Trust in the employer was already at a low given a previous two-year deal was withdrawn with only the first year of the deal honoured. The manufacturer based in Halesowen builds components for the defence industry and is a supplier to the MOD. The union has also announced further strike dates on 5,12, 21 and 24 January 2022.

Unsettled forecast

Economic forecasters at the NIESR (National Institute for Social and Economic Research) are predicting strike action at the leading think tank in a dispute over pay. The Institute is sticking to its decision to give staff 0% in 2021 and just 2% in 2022. The pay offer obviously fails to keep up with the rising cost of living and represents a pay cut in real terms.

Peter Storey, Regional Officer for Unite, their union, said:

“If anyone is going to see through an attempt to fob them off with below-inflation pay increases, it’s the leading economists who produce NIESR’s internationally renowned research.”

The economists’ ballot started on 15 December and closes on 7 January.

Scunny scaffs strike still strong

Scunthorpe Scaffolders on their 12th week of strike action handed in a petition with 14,000 signatures to Actavo, but management ran away. A protest was held with many banners and people there in solidarity.

The scaffolders are determined to carry on their fight and are re-balloting and are confident they will be back on the picket line on 24 January. 

Our campaign remains strong and united. Today we stood together to let @Actavo_HQ know that over 14,000 people have signed a petition demanding that they #PayTheRate. Our fight is your fight, thanks to all who signed and stood with us!@UniteNEYH @UniteSharon @unitetheunion

— United Scaffs (@UnitedScaffs) December 22, 2021

Cambus drivers the latest take action

Some 400 Unite union members at Cambus – drivers, engineers, cleaners and shunters, based at Cambridge, Fenstanton and Peterborough, are set to strike for 10 days from Tuesday 4 January through to Thursday 20 January following a 96% yes vote for action.

Workers employed by Cambus Ltd, part of the Stagecoach bus ‘empire’, have not had a pay rise since April 2019. They rightly rejected the insult of a 1.5 per cent pay offer from April 2021 with a further 1.5 per cent this month for the pay year 2021/22. The RPI rate of inflation has soared to 7.1 per cent.

Unite regional officer Mark Plumb said:

“Our members should not pay for the continuing pandemic, while the employer has readily scooped up UK taxpayer support, including cash from the furlough scheme.”

The strikes run from 4am to 3:59am on the following dates in January: 4 – 9 (5-day stoppage), 10 – 11, 12 - 13, 15 - 16, 17 – 18 and 19 – 20.

FBU fights for right to strike

The Chief Inspector of Fire and Rescue Services Sir Thomas P Winsor launched an attack on firefighters’ right to organise in an annual assessment published last week. In it, Winsor says, “Too often, the public haven’t been served as they should because of the restrictive industrial relations arrangements in place”, accompanied by a recommendation to remove the right for firefighters to strike. 

In response, the FBU’s general secretary Matt Wrack said, “If Sir Tom Winsor was serious about improving the fire and rescue service he might suggest putting back some of the one in every five firefighters which have been cut since 2010.” 

This attack on the FBU follows HMICFRS’ claim at the start of the year that the FBU was blocking firefighters being able to support the efforts against the pandemic. The union’s insistence on PPE and testing for firefighters was described as “restrictive” practices. 

This is an outrageous attempt to clampdown on the democratic rights of frontline workers at a time when they are risking their lives, when the public is more aware then ever how essential they are, and while the Tories are deteriorating pay and conditions across the board. If this goes ahead it will be a dangerous precedent that will affect all workers. The FBU is right to resist and all workers should come to their defence if the Tories try to take away their right to strike.

‘The government is literally laughing in our face’

Cici Washburn spoke to Kridos Pavlou, Assistant Branch Secretary of Tower Hamlets Unison, about his union’s national strike ballot of local government workers

Universities challenged as strikes escalate

Following three days of strike action in December at 58 universities, UCU is re-balloting members in 42 institutions that were just short of the threshold for strike. The results will be known on 14 January, after which further strike dates are likely to be announced. Counterfire UCU members argued what the next steps for escalation in the UCU dispute should be and the need for political trade unionism. Read the full article here.

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