PCS DVSA picket line, Taunton PCS DVSA picket line, Taunton. Photo: @pcs_union / Twitter

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

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The PCS have mooted extending their Border Force strikes to include Dover and other ports as their rolling schedule of targeted action continues apace. 

Their current mandate covers six months and only requires the statutory 14 days’ notice to the bosses. The PCS has over two thousand members in the UK’s southerly ports of entry. The capacity of these workers to cause serious disruption is real. 

This is against a backdrop of already striking workers in the Rural Payments Agency, the National Highways and many airports and job centres up and down the country. 

Doncaster DWP branch secretary Matt Meechan says:

“We are working people and we will not be ignored. Despite negative media, members of the public understand and whether they wish us well or beep their car on the way by it is always welcome, most understand the crisis we face and the political choices made to supress the working person.” 

Defra North West and Cumbria chair Garry Humphrey adds:

“We have had hundreds of new members join since the strike was first announced. We have received the lowest pay offer of just 2 per cent. We have no independent pay review panel. This shows that the government is using these in other sectors as a smoke screen for insultingly low pay in others.” 

There’s thousands of public sector strikers like Matt and Garry at the moment. Let’s get them on a national demo.

Train cleaners make historic stand

Cleaners on rail networks have taken their first industrial action since their outsourcing in the 1990s in a development that will test the ability of right-wing pundits to complain that it is only well-paid workers who strike on the rail.

Over 1,000 cleaners, working for a range of infamously exploitative regional rail companies and the Docklands Light Rail, are striking to demand £15 per hour minimum wage and basic sick pay, holiday pay and pensions that they are denied by the false self-employment that is imposed on them.

The action took place in the run-up to New Year and involved some lively picketing.

Photo: @RMTunion / Twitter

Planned escalation sees Biffa offer workers an acceptable deal

After a series of strikes, union members working in refuse collections in the Wirral have voted to accept an improved pay offer from their employer. Over 200 Unite members had planned to take further strike action from 3-7 January and again from 16-21 January in a bid to force bosses to improve their pay offer.

But these strikes have been cancelled after members voted to accept a pay deal of 15% from Biffa, who runs the refuse collections for Wirral council. The deal will see members receive pay backdated to April 2022 and Class 2 HGV Drivers will also get an hourly increase of £1.49 on top of the percentage pay increase.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“This is another win for Unite members; this pay increase was won by workers organising in a trade union and standing together for a better deal. Unite the union is doing what it says on the trade union tin – we are delivering jobs, pay and conditions victories for our members. We are winning for workers in the worst cost of living crisis in decades.”

A striking new year for RMT and Aslef members

RMT and Aslef members on national rail kicked off 2023 with continued strike action that brought trains to a standstill throughout the week.

Photo: @ASLEFunion / Twitter
Photo: @RMTunion / Twitter

More trouble for Lizzie Line

Following the dispute by operational management staff last month on the Elizabeth line (formerly Crossrail), the Prospect members are now being joined by their colleagues in TSSA.

The two white-collar unions have joined forces for the same reason: pay on the Elizabeth line is far lower than for equivalent jobs on longer established parts of Transport for London, and the gap is growing because they are also being offered pay rises of around 4% despite inflation and other lines getting better offers.

Following an overwhelming vote for action, the unions have stated they will commence action in January.

Stagecoach bus drivers secure 11% rise

Stagecoach bus drivers in Sunderland have voted to accept a pay rise of 11% with a bonus of £150, bringing an end to their industrial action. The GMB members had been in dispute since October after rejecting the below inflation rise offered by the company despite other depots in the region accepting it.

GMB organiser Laura Maughan described the pay rise as ‘the least [the drivers] deserve’ and thanked the public for their support in this dispute.

Heathrow ground crew prove strikes pay off

Over 400 ground handling crew at Heathrow airport have called off their industrial action after the employer, Menzies, more than doubled the original pay offer. Back in October, the workers, members of the Unite union, were outraged to be told that the employer thought they were worth only between 2% and 6%.

Solid strike action in November and December, with the threat of further action leading up to Christmas and the New Year, led to a significantly increased offer from Menzies, which was accepted overwhelmingly by the union members.

It is definitely a morale-boosting victory, but as one baggage handler pointed out:

“It still means we can buy less this month than we could January last year. Not taking anything away from what we’ve won, but perhaps we should set our sights higher.”

Five things to do this week:

  1. Get down to a picket line: Check StrikeMap to find your nearest picket line
    • PCS members at DVSA in London, South East, South West and South Wales until Tuesday (4-10 Jan)
    • RMT on Network Rail on Saturday (6-7 Jan)
    • Unison and GMB ambulance workers on Wednesday (11 Jan)
    • Unite Abellio bus drivers in south and west London on Tuesday and Thursday (10 and 12 Jan)
    • Prospect and TSSA members on Elizabeth line on Thursday (12 Jan)
  2. Send in your pictures, videos, quotes and interviews to [email protected]
  3. In London, join Counterfire’s discussion on strategy with striking workers on Tuesday 10 Jan, 6:30pm at St Anne’s Soho, W1D 6AF.
  4. Register for the People’s Assembly conference on Saturday 14 January
  5. Register for the Stop the War trade union conference on Saturday 21 January

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