1 Feb demonstration, London 1 Feb demonstration, London. Photo: Steve Eason / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

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

You can sign up to receive News from the Frontline straight in your inbox

The coordinates are all set for 15 March being a major day of synchronised industrial action with the PCS announcing 100,000 of its strike-ready members linking up with the NEU. 

The PCS walkout will involve workers in the Border Force, DVLA, DVSA, DWP and Rural Payments Agency sections. 

Additionally, the PCS are balloting members in HMRC, Care Quality Commission, Companies House, National Museum of Wales, Office of Rail & Road, UK Export Finance, VOA and Welsh Government. There’s every indication these workers will be joining us on 15 March. 

All these public-sector workers are fighting for is decent post-pandemic pay and conditions. 15 March is their side’s Budget Day, but we have make it our side’s workers’ power day. 

The present line-up is impressive, but our movement has to push for the maximum participation from unions and labour movement groups.  

All education workers should be out on 15 March, including in the UCU. UCU militants can make this happen. 

News from the Frontline is offering a model motion as a tool for activists everywhere. Make sure your union branch and trades’ council not only pass it, but win the wider argument that coordination is the path to victory against a vicious Tory government that is single-minded in its assault on us. 

Please start using the model motion today, and make 15 March massive.

Magenta workers ‘fight for life’

More than 100 maintenance and repair workers, employed by Birkenhead-based company Magenta Living, struck this week demanding their employer stop putting profits before people. They will strike every other week until the company takes health and safety seriously, particularly in respect of working with asbestos.

The company manages over 12,000 homes and claims to be the biggest provider of social housing on the Wirral. Past practice in the company was that if asbestos were identified in a property, work would stop immediately. If it required removal, specialist contractors were employed. The company now wants that process to be carried out by the maintenance staff at the property.

The company claims to be “deeply saddened” by their workforce’s action, because “… its policy is in line with industry best practice”. As one of the Unite members put it:

“That is hypocrisy at its best. Industry ‘best practice’ used to be stop and get the experts in – until Magenta decided to lower the bar.”

Fact: Latest figures available (for 2020) showed 5,000 deaths resulting from exposure to asbestos. 2,500 of those deaths resulted from mesotheliomas (cancer of the lung lining). There is no treatment for mesothelioma. Asbestos is now prohibited in construction in the UK, but the union campaign for its prohibition was fought every step of the way by industry associations.    

Striking Magenta Living workers. Photo: @Unite_NorthWest / Twitter

GMB in Hartlepool: steelworkers win

Around fifty workers in County Durham have accepted a 7.5% pay rise after a six-day walkout that kicked off last week (24 January). 

GMB members at Expanded Metal Company have accepted this deal plus a £600 sweetener in rejection of an initial 5.6% offer. 

Local official Paul Clark is enthusiastic about the victory:

“This is an amazing victory for these members and their families. These GMB members have shown you will not win unless you are prepared to fight.” 

News from the Frontline salutes the resolve of these workers, but 7.5% is still a real-terms pay cut that no worker, public or private sector, should be accepting at present.

Nurses, ambulance and physio strikes continue

Ambulance workers across England and Wales walked out this week as their dispute over pay continues. GMB members in England and Unite members nationally joined nurses in England on 6 February, and Unison members struck on 10 February.

Strike action by GMB and RCN in Wales was paused in order to negotiate with the devolved government which is offering what still amounts to a real-terms pay cut but is above the level set by Westminster.

Unite members in Northern Ireland are set to take 4 days of action over the next 2 weeks. 

Physiotherapists across 32 NHS trusts in England continued strike action on 9 February as the government refuses to meet with the CSP for meaningful talks on pay and conditions that are contributing to the staff retention crisis within the service.

Thousands of nurses and ambulance workers were on strike together on Monday 6 February, a historic day, picket lines were well attended and lively with chanting and homemade placards. The RCN were also out on the pickets the following day. Read analysis from Counterfire health workers on how the strikes are transforming the workers and what is needed to win here.

RCN UCLH picket line, 6 February
RCN UCLH picket line, 6 February. Photo: Lewis Baker

The Power is in the union

Workers employed by UK Power Networks are currently balloting to strike for an inflation-proof pay deal. The company’s two-year deal, worth a paltry 7% in its first year, was rejected overwhelmingly, with a 98% ‘No’ vote.

The 1,300 Unite members cover London and the South East and Eastern England, and reps have told NFTF that the parent company, CK Holdings, also owns the Port of Felixstowe and Greene King and is “obscenely profitable” – averaging a 50% operating profit for the years 2017-21.

CWU calls off strikes

The CWU have called off two days of strike action on 16 and 17 February due to a legal challenge from Royal Mail. On 16 February the Royal mail re-ballot closes.

MP staff could walk out

MPs’ staff who are members of Unite are balloting to strike after being offered a 4.9% pay rise. The branch is fighting for 15%, approximately in line with RPI plus 2%.

The budget and pay grades for these workers are set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), Unite says that following years of below-inflation pay increases, the staff are facing insecurity and depression of wages.

Joint action in the south of Scotland

Local government workers across all three major unions (Unison, Unite and GMB) in Dumfries and Galloway have united to fight for a twelve per cent pay rise. They’ve issued a joint letter to Cosla and are prepared to ballot for strike action.

The Nationalist-Labour coalition council is continuing to threaten further cuts in 2023 and the Scottish government overall is claiming it does not have enough money to settle pay disputes.

Construction workers continue the fight

Around 40 electricians, scaffolders, cable pullers and labourers by Kaefer walked off GSK’s Irvine plant in Ayrshire this week, in their ongoing campaign over bonus rates.

This follows their two-week strike in January (reported in NFTF 108) and, although the strike will finish on Monday 13, in the words of one Unite activist:

“We’re not going away, we’re not going anywhere. They won in Wales [at Valero’s Milford Haven site, reported in NFTF 110) and we will win here.”

Scottish Airport workers rise up

Airport staff across Scotland’s northern airports are bracing themselves to strike, having overwhelmingly rejected a five per cent pay offer from the government-owned employer.

Unite the Union has announced that the full range of staff, from baggage handlers to ground crew, will be walking out at Dundee airport on 17 and 20 February and ten minor regional and island airports between 21-23 February.

Five things to do this week

  1. Pass the model motion to build for 15 March in your trade union branch or trades council
  2. Pass the motion supporting the 11 March SOS NHS national demonstration in your trade union branch
  3. Read John Rees on Marxism and the Trade Unions
  4. Donate to the UCU strike fund and get down to your nearest picket line on 14, 15, 16 February
  5. Donate to the RCN strike fund

    Before you go

    Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

    We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

    Please give generously.

    Tagged under: