GMB members, Amazon Coventry GMB members, Amazon Coventry. Photo: @GMBMidlands / Twitter

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

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Following an intense period of campaigning, GMB members at Amazon’s Coventry depot have successfully voted to strike over sub-inflationary pay rises and exploitative working practices.

Workers at the site say that they learned a great deal from their failed attempt earlier in the year to get a strike ballot over the 50% threshold, since when they have put a great deal of effort into helping a very diverse group of colleagues understand the intentionally cumbersome physical posting method that is imposed on trade unions by the anti-union laws.

The unsuccessful ballot in the summer provoked a significant reaction from Amazon’s British management, who stepped up anti-union propaganda, but also made an across-the-board pay-out to staff in the whole country.

Union activists in Coventry are now optimistic that they can move toward proper negotiations with the company and Amazon workers in other sites are also hoping that this will boost their own efforts at organisation.

Mass support for striking NHS workers

This week, RCN nurses took their second day of strike action and picket lines were even bigger and livelier than the previous week. In London, striking NHS workers and supporters marched to Downing Street and took the fight straight to the Tories. The following day ambulance workers with Unison, GMB and Unite picked up the baton and began the first day of their strike action.

Despite the incessant attempts by Tory ministers and the right wing press to demonise the strikers and blame them for the dire state of the NHS, it was clear a large majority of the public see through the lies and support the NHS workers.

It seems odd then, with the huge amount of support and the government refusing to budge, that the unions cancelled the next ambulance strike date on 28 December. They have instead called the next strike dates for 11 and 23 January, and the RCN have announced further strike dates on 18 and 19 January. With the enormous support for both sets of workers and between the workers themselves, it would have been far more impactful and effective for the unions to strike together.

Lincoln ambulance picket line. Photo: Pat Sikorski

PCS: new strike dates announced

PCS members presently striking in Department of Work and Pensions sites in Doncaster and Liverpool will be extending their walkouts from 3-7 January.

Members at Border Force are due to begin a week of strike action over pay starting this Friday.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka is maintaining the pugnacious tone set with the first announcement of dates:

“This dispute could be resolved today if the government puts more money on the table. Our members are telling us they have to cut back their spending at Christmas time because they are running out of money.”

More action involving HM Courts and the Rural Payments Agency is expected in the New Year.

Shelter: striking works for charity workers too

Unite members at premier housing charity Shelter have suspended their current strike action to consider an improved pay offer from their bosses.

The 600 workers were committed to two weeks of striking with offices based in London, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh, Blackburn, Norwich, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Newcastle and Sheffield.

The improved offer includes a 7% award from 1 December, with 3% paid from 1 April 2022 and an additional 4% paid from 1 December 2022. One-off payments are also involved.

Unite’s Peter Storey says:

“Unite has been crystal clear from the outset that we believed that this dispute could and should be resolved through negotiations. Following the talks at Acas an improved offer was made and therefore Unite has suspended action to allow its members to be balloted on the proposed deal.”

The bosses say: “What unites everyone at Shelter is our shared passion and steadfast commitment to defending the right to a safe home.” That should never be used as an excuse for crap pay. Shelter has reserves of £14.5m. 

Royal Mail strikes happen despite last-minute offer from union

Posties will be striking on 23-24 December after Royal Mail bosses rejected talks with the CWU.

The union had sought to reach an agreement with the company over a joint statement that would set a framework for the long-running dispute to be settled. The union proposed a period of calm until 16 January to allow intense talks to happen but bosses dismissed these proposals just 3 hours after receiving them.

The CWU is re-balloting members in January.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said:

“For Royal Mail Group to reject our offer just hours after receiving it demonstrates that they were never serious about saving Christmas for customers and businesses.

“When a company openly boasts of having built a £1.7 billion fund to crush its own workers rather than use that money to settle the dispute and restore the service, then you know dark forces are clearly at work.

“Our members will not stand for this, and further action will take place in 2023.”

Royal Mail strikers, Blackpool. Photo: @CWUnews / Twitter

Now’s the time to ‘shop’ at Harrods

50 Harrods security guards and CCTV operators, members of the Unite union, are striking again this Friday, Saturday and Monday (23, 24, and 26) against the real-terms pay cut of 7% offered by the company.

You might think that with the Xmas rush, and people looking for last-minute stocking fillers (e.g. a Judith Leiber crystal studded clutch bag, going for £6,450; or a Louboutin dog lead selling for £390), Harrods might be interested in maintaining an experienced security team to prevent shoplifting. After all, anyone who can afford to waste that kind of money hasn’t earnt it honestly, have they?

Instead of making sure their staff pay keeps up with inflation, Harrods are refusing to offer more than 7%, and are blowing six-figure sums on hiring strike breakers from the Protective Security agency based in Ruislip.

Not all Harrods employees are suffering wage cuts: Managing Director Michael Ward saw his pay double to £2.3m (which works out at £46,000 per security guard) which is presumably his cut of the £51m profit enjoyed by the company in 2021/22. But to be fair to Harrods, it is owned by the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, so probably genuinely believes its staff are overpaid.

Cross on Crossrail

Workers in one of the least militant parts of Transport for London, in perhaps the least militant union, have voted to strike over pay, to the surprise of many.

Operational managers working on the Elizabeth Line, in the Prospect union, rejected a 4% and 4.4% two-year pay offer and are now planning when to take action.

Heathrow baggage handlers receive fresh offer

The 350 baggage handlers employed by Menzies at Heathrow airport have suspended their strike action this week to vote on a new offer from the company.

The strikers, members of Unite, walked out for 3 days a week from 16 December (reported in NFTF 104) in pursuit of an inflation-proof pay claim. If the current offer is rejected, then the strikes already announced for next week will go ahead.

Biffa in Wirral: bin workers and recycle centres set for festive strikes

Over 200 Unite members employed by the waste service kingpins Biffa will maintain their strike schedule from 28 December until well into the new year.  

Biffa provides sub-contracted services of household bin collections, school bin collections, public litter bin collections and street cleaning.

Unite’s Sharon Graham says:

“Biffa is a highly wealthy company and can fully afford to offer its workers a decent pay rise. It is greed not need which is preventing it from doing so. Biffa and Wirral council need to stop prevaricating and make a fair pay offer that meets our members’ expectations.”

Unite are after a 15% pay rise. Biff recently posted pre-tax profits of £38m.

Scottish education workers pile on the pressure

NASUWT members in Scotland join forces with their sister union EIS in the new year to bring a concerted focus to public sector pay anger.  

The members will be striking on 10-11 January.

The NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach says:

“We have been left with no choice but to call two further days of national strike action as a result of the failure of ministers and Cosla (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) to offer an improved pay offer. At a time when teachers are facing the biggest squeeze on their finances in a generation, offering what amounts to a further real-terms pay cut is simply not good enough.”

School closures north of the border are inevitable.

Falkirk EIS picket line. Photo: @EISUnion / Twitter

Settlement on Welsh Rail

RMT members have settled a pay deal with publicly-owned Transport for Wales.

Staff will be getting between 6.6% and 9.5%, which is significantly lower than inflation, in the agreement which has been made without strike action taking place.

CWU vote to accept BT pay offer          

CWU members working for BT Group have voted to accept a pay deal that will end a dispute that saw the first nationwide strikes at the company since 1987.

The deal will see all employees’ pay rise by £3,000, part of this is made up of the £1,500 that BT imposed on them and still represents a below-inflation rise for a lot of grades.

Despite the negative reaction to the deal from members on social media, 81% of the 73% who took part in the electronic ballot voted to accept the deal.

Arrow XL fails to deliver

The 350 Unite members working for delivery firm Arrow XL have upped their action from striking every other day to all-out action from this week.

The majority of the strikers work at the company’s main depot in Wigan and have set up a hardship fund.

Although Unite pays one of the highest rates of strike pay of any union, it still doesn’t match a full-time wage, and the Arrow workers have been taking action for the last 3 months. With Xmas around the corner, many strikers are feeling the pinch, and we cannot afford to see workers’ resistance undermined by hardship.

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