PCS strikers, Middlesbrough PCS strikers, Middlesbrough. Photo: @pcs_union / Twitter

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

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The Public and Commercial Services union have announced an escalation of its existing strike schedule to include the Department for Work and Pensions, the courts, driving centre workers and Hinduja Global Services.

Workers at Border Force Heathrow, Rural Payments Agency and National Highways are already striking.

PCS’s Mark Serwotka says:

“We’re delivering on our promise to escalate our action, and we shall not cease for as long as the government continues to expect our hard-working members to get through the winter with just a 2% pay rise.

“If ministers can shift their position on wind turbines and building houses because some Tory backbenchers aren’t happy, they can shift their position on in-work poverty.”

Fighting talk backed up with action. Let’s get these public sector strikes coordinated.

‘Four percent won’t pay the rent’

Nurses with the Royal College of Nursing began striking at NHS trusts around the country on Thursday. Read Counterfire’s report of the first day of strike action here. Join the picket lines on Tuesday 20 December, and in London get to the march from UCLH Euston at 2:30pm to Downing Street.

RCN strikers
Photo: Shabbir Lakha

CPS union to strike for first time over pay

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CPS), the trade union and professional body for physiotherapists, has announced the results of its first-ever industrial ballot on pay.

54% of members across England and Wales voted with 84% in favour of strike action and 93% also voting for action short of a strike. The union now has a mandate for strike action across every health board in Wales and for 112 in England. Although the RCN, GMB, Unison and Unite have announced strike dates for NHS workers in December the CPS has yet to set any dates for industrial action.

Jill Taylor, specialist NHS physiotherapist and chair of CSP Employment Committee said:

“Our members have spoken resoundingly. We have never balloted over pay but physiotherapy staff are now left with no choice. We are short-staffed, overworked, exhausted.

“Delivering excellent care for our patients is our highest priority – and to do this we need more staff. We need to attract people to the NHS and we need to keep people in the NHS. We simply cannot do this until the government gives NHS staff a fairer pay award.”

CPS members in Scotland have voted to accept a pay deal.

Bittersweet pay deal ends Felixstowe dock dispute

There are muted celebrations for the 1,900 members of the Unite union working at the Port of Felixstowe. The pay deal (worth £15.5% over 2 years) was accepted by a 91% vote last week – albeit on a 52% turnout.

But a dockers’ shop steward told NFTF:

“It’s got a sour taste to it, because many of us feel the real price has been paid by the four dockers sacked, and another three facing the same.”

The seven dockers were charged with gross misconduct for ‘bullying and harassment’ during the dispute – one was charged with ‘failing to respond’ when a scabbing supervisor said ‘Good morning’ to him.

Although the dockers were balloted in support of their victimised colleagues, the turnout in support was not enough to allow action to be taken.    

The union has made it clear that although the pay dispute is settled, there will be no closure until the future of the ‘Felixstowe Seven’ is resolved – and the fact that over 40% voted to take action in support of their colleagues should give heart to those who still want to see a fight for justice.

Striking in defence of asylum services

Staff for a West Midlands-based charity are striking in the runup to Christmas following the announcement that the organisation is being dissolved by its board.

The Asylum Support and Immigration Resource Team (ASIRT) has never had a recognised staff union, but workers have joined the United Voices of the World (UVW) to take action.

The staff are critical of ASIRT’s trustees, who say they are winding up the charity because they cannot find a new CEO. Being highly motivated support workers, they will be striking primarily to save the charity and keep its services going for vulnerable people.

GMB and Unite members take third day of strike action at oil giant

Around 200 members of Unite and GMB have taken their third day of strike action at the Valero Refinery in Pembrokeshire. All the workers taking industrial action are employed by three subcontracted firms, Jenkins and Davies, Altrad Engineering and Altrad support services.

These companies have refused to engage with the unions over a request for a bonus payment for workers to help with the cost-of-living crisis. The GMB union has called on Valero, one of the biggest oil companies in the world, to come into negotiations as well to help end the dispute.

Jeff Beck, GMB regional organiser, said:

“As inflation bites, hard-pressed workers are feeling the pinch. The energy crisis has seen obscene money pumped into the oil industry at the moment, and it’s indefensible that these companies won’t give a tiny drop of those mega profits to their hard-pressed workers.

“Unless the employers can get back round the table and thrash out a deal, it could lead to a winter of strife. We’ll be here as long as it takes to get a better pay offer.”

Railing against the Tories

RMT underground workers secured a massive 94% yes vote on a 52% turnout in their re-ballot to continue fighting cuts driven by the Tories making them pay for the pandemic.

The RMT on National Rail has taken two sets of 48-hour strike action this week with solid pickets despite the freezing conditions.

Unite: Go North East bus engineers to strike in Christmas week

150 Unite engineers will be striking from 19 December affecting depots in Consett, Dunston, Gateshead, Hexham, North Shields, Sunderland and Washington.

Their action will coincide with similar transport walkouts in Sunderland against Stagecoach.

The workers are rejecting a 10% offer. Unite’s Dave Telford says:

“The strike action will inevitably cause delays, disruption and cancellation of services, but this dispute is of Go North East’s own making, it has had ample opportunity to resolve this dispute but has chosen not to do so.

“Go North East need to return to the negotiating table with an improved offer which meets members’ expectations.”

Go North East is part of the Go Ahead group whose last reported pre-tax profits were £50 million. They’ve got the cash, they just don’t want to spend it on workers.

New Covent Garden victory “smells sweeter than violets”

Security staff at New Covent Garden are celebrating a significant victory over pay as their employer, OCS, signed off on a deal that gives the security staff a 22% increase in pay from April 2023. It follows strike action by the members of the Unite union in September and October, with the planned strike from last Sunday (11 December) now called off.

The award comes in 2 stages – a rise in the hourly rate from £9.69 to £11.05 effective from 1 January, and a further increase to £11.30 from April. Including the 5.4% increase in April this year, that is a whopping 22% increase.

Branch secretary Keith Henderson was quick to point out that:

“The struggle does not stop here. OCS did not give us this without a fight. We have gone from barely above the minimum wage to £11.30 from April, but there is still a way to go before we get the London Living Wage [currently £11.95]. But the confidence is immense, and we are up for it.”

Photo: @UniteLondonEast / Twitter

Posties’ strike continues over Christmas

Strike action at Royal Mail looks set to continue after the company refused to re-enter meaningful negotiations last week. The CWU leadership announced at a public meeting this week over its social media channels that it put proposals to the employer during talks with Acas that would’ve averted the planned strike action that is happening this week and on 23-24 December.

The union asked Royal Mail to sign up to intensive talks lasting until 22 December in a bid to get a deal that would solve the dispute. The CWU asked the company to agree to guarantee job security, not to abandon the am delivery window and to make the pay offer 9% and not split it over a multiyear deal. While the first two points are definitely what the union should be fighting for, it is worrying that they would want to go into negotiations with the starting figure on pay already below inflation.

The CWU also announced last Friday at their huge rally in Parliament Square that they will be re-balloting members in January 2023 to extend their strike mandate.

Posties will be striking on 14-15, and 23-24 December.

FDA: the bowler hats have had enough

Top-notch civil service union FDA (Association of First Division Civil Servants) are proceeding to a strike ballot following a stonking 81% consultation.

These are 900 civil servants on a fast-stream scheme which looks suspiciously like a glorified internship to News from the Frontline.

The FDA’s Lauren Crowley says:

“We have long been clear that structural reform of fast stream pay was essential to ensuring a fair deal for fast streamers. Yet the Cabinet Office refused and instead offered just a 3% pay increase, which was rejected by 95% of our members.

“Once again, our members are left with just sympathetic words and a promise of jam tomorrow while facing a real-terms pay cut.”

We’re looking forward to seeing their banners on the next People’s Assembly demo.

Manchester College mandate renewed

UCU members are Manchester College have renewed their mandate for strike action with a massive 93% yes vote.

Earlier this year, several colleges in the North West struck with most taking deals but the Manchester College management, notorious for taking a hard stance, would not budge from a 4.5% offer for staff on less than £33k.

The renewed mandate will see staff continue to push for 10% which UCU says the college can easily afford.

UCU regional official Martyn Moss said:

“This fantastic ballot result shows staff at The Manchester College are more determined than ever to fight for a fair pay award. Soaring inflation is pushing our members into poverty and derisory pay offers from management have only strengthened their resolve.”

Photo: @UCUManCollege / Twitter

Jacob’s strike settled

The long-running dispute involving GMB members at Aintree’s Jacob’s factory has ended with the workers taking 6.5% plus £750 to go back in, well below inflation.

This is the second low settlement from GMB in the North West region coming shortly after the Polyflor dispute was settled with a 9% pay offer.

Care workers strike in Hounslow

Care workers for a notional charity (more accurately a sub-contractor) in the London borough of Hounslow struck this week over intolerable working conditions.

The workers, who have left Unison and affiliated to Unite in a disagreement about their representation feel that because their employer is supposedly an anti-poverty charity, their own welfare has been completely neglected.

The employer, called Hestia, was founded to provide food and shelter to the poor in the 1970s, and now ironically directs its own staff to food banks. Workers also complain that they are hopelessly overburdened and that the service is simply not employing enough people at the frontline, in addition to bullying them over raising their concerns with management.

Sage Nursing Home workers pick up the fight

UVW domestic, laundry, maintenance and care workers at Sage Nursing Home in North London are balloting to strike over Christmas with UVW saying strike dates in January are likely.

The workers are demanding £14 an hour, a paid 1-hour lunch break, a sick pay scheme with parity to NHS and enhanced night shift and weekend rates.

The workers took strike action last year and secured a brilliant victory in pay. Sage care worker Julia Veros said:

“We want to have a say in our rotas because we know the needs of our residents and their families, what works and what doesn’t. But at present decisions are taken without any consultation or assessment of the impact on all of us. So we’ve had enough and we are going to fight, again, for what is right.”

Greene King dispute turns sour

Nearly 200 Unite members working for the Greene King brewery company have announced strike action next week, 21-23 December and again from the 28-31. The action follows the week’s strike at the start of the month, over the company’s refusal to increase its 3% pay offer.

The company says that the offer was made last spring, before inflation had taken off, and was ‘reasonable’ given the circumstances back then.

Greene King is owned by CK Asset Holdings, part of the CK Hutchison group that owns (among other companies) the Port of Felixstowe, UK Power Networks and one of the UK’s largest water companies. The ultimate owner, Li-Ka Shing, is said to be worth £35bn. It is unlikely that he will be crying into his beer this Xmas.

Photo: @unitetheunion / Twitter

NHS workers beware: Unite and Unison accept pay deal in Scotland

Unison and Unite have called off NHS strike action in Scotland where members have narrowly agreed a deal with the Scottish government. The unions argue the deal offers on average a 7.5% increase across the service with up to 11.24% for the bottom pay bands.

The deal should sound warning bells to all NHS workers as it falls well short of the rising cost of living and just as RCN nurses spearhead a strike campaign for 5% above RPI across England and Wales. 

Royal College of Midwives (RCM) voted to strike in Wales but in England, despite an 88% yes vote they very narrowly failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold, with a turnout of 47%. Estimates are that just another 850 votes would have had them on the picket lines. In Wales, the yes vote was a huge 91% on a 55% turnout. The RCM say strike action details will come ‘soon’.

Striking for our lives: NHS workers speak out

Join Counterfire’s online public meeting with health workers on Tuesday 20 December at 7pm. Register on Zoom here.

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