Thurrock strikers. Photo: Justice For Refuse Workers & Cleansers / Facebook Thurrock strikers. Photo: Justice For Refuse Workers & Cleansers / Facebook

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

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Following six weeks of strike action with noisy and defiant picket lines, the Thurrock refuse workers have won their battle. On Friday Unite members voted to accept a deal and suspend their strike action after the Council backed down over cutting their pay and conditions.

The workers were under threat of losing between £1,200 and £3,800 a year in pay which has now been saved. The strike had kicked up a big fuss with rubbish piling up in the area and receiving mainstream media attention, including the BBC and ITV who visited the striking workers this week.

Despite the Council’s underhanded tactics to intimidate them and to use strikebreakers, the workers stood strong and were able to pull in a huge amount of support from local residents and other workers. The picket line was regularly saluted by passing cars and lorries, and had visits by delegations from the local Coop Distribution Centre, tanker drivers from the Navigator Oil Terminal, rail drivers and Unite Executive Council members. Even the drivers of the trains on the nearby Thurrock rail line were regularly blasting out their support.

The lesson from the Thurrock strikers is that when you fight you can win. Employers around the country are still using the pandemic as an excuse to shift their losses onto their workers and attack their pay and working conditions. Thurrock refuse workers have demonstrated that the key to ensuring workers aren’t the ones paying for the crisis is collective organising.

Unite regional officer Michelle Cook said:

“These essential workers, who were applauded for their work through the pandemic, now deserve to be applauded for the solidarity and determination they showed. When workers organise, workers win.”

Another victory: putting out Go North West’s fire and rehire plans

The battle against fire and rehire has finally been won by Unite members at Go North West’s Queen’s Road bus depot in Manchester. The continuous strike lasted for more than 80 days and is now the longest in Unite’s history.

Two sacked drivers have been reinstated, Go North West have agreed to never use fire and rehire again worldwide and many of the original conditions removed by the imposition of new contracts have been reinstated.

Drivers at the depot voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new terms put to them after Unite’s leverage department was brought in to assist the drivers’ cause.

Reflecting on the victory in an interview for Counterfire, Unite rep at the depot, Colin Hayden spoke of the way forward for trade unionists and the importance of building links outside the workplace:

“We need to start building more activists in the workplace. We need to start connecting them outside of the workplace with the likes of the People’s Assembly, Manchester Momentum, the TUCs and what not.

“We need to build them combines all around in different sectors so that when something does happen, you don’t just have to rely on your own trade union. What we found was the added support was really beneficial to us. If we wouldn’t have had all elements of that, I don’t think we’d have got the result we got.”

Big Brother bosses don’t bother strikers: Jacobs Douwe Egberts fire-and-rehire plans falter  

Dutch coffee kings Jacobs Douwe Egberts are the latest manufacturers to seek to exploit the pandemic at the expense of workers’ pay, terms and conditions.

Unite has responded with a robust battleplan of industrial action. The next tranche is a 72-hour strike commencing Wednesday 26 May at the firm’s Banbury plant. This will affect the production of top brands Tassimo, Kenco and L’OR Coffee.

JDE’s cost-cutting steps didn’t extend to the film equipment used to monitor strikers, supporters and their families at a recent solidarity rally at the Ruscote Avenue plant.

These intimidatory tactics backfired and the strike is now stronger than ever.

Unite’s Joe Clarke said:

“We estimate that JDE at Banbury has lost 600 tonnes in production which is the equivalent to six million jars of coffee or 300 million cups of coffee. The financial loss is currently running at £18 million.

Before the dispute escalates throughout the summer and production grinds to a snail’s pace, the management needs to sit down with Unite to chart a constructive way forward.”

Pimlico Academy: Victory! Students, parents and teachers hit the nail on the Head

In March, students took the lead in protesting and securing a fantastic victory for demands revolving around discriminatory uniform policies and much more. Now, following a consultative ballot, teachers have returned a massive strike vote: 93% on a turnout of 85%.

This news comes a day after Pimlico Academy literally lost it’s head as Headteacher Daniel Smith announced his resignation. Previously NEU workers at the school passed a motion of no confidence in Daniel Smith.

This is a victory won by staff, students and parents. There are talks scheduled at ACAS in the coming days. The NEU says that such a strong ballot result gives members a strong leverage in the talks. See a fuller report here.

Hovis workers continue fight for more dough

The Belfast Hovis strike for equal pay is upbeat and confident going into its second week. The workforce, drawn from all the communities in Belfast, are united in their demand for equal pay with Hovis workers in England. Currently, they earn 10% than their English counterparts. They were disgusted to learn this week that the hedge fund which controls Hovis is actually managed by an ex-Belfast manager, Gary Wilson.

Wilson directs up to £3bn of investments from his elegant residence in High Wycombe and, in the words of one Unite member “Covers himself in glory by supporting Marcus Rashford in his campaign for food for por kids, but earns his bonus by screwing his own kind on our wages”.

The strike, by Unite and BFAWU members is upbeat and confident. They received a message of support from their Dagenham colleagues, and a donation to their strike fund.

Stand up for sacked Goodlord workers

After twelve weeks of strike action against Goodlord’s plans to fire and rehire its referencing staff, the company has sacked 9 of the 20 striking workers. The workers are facing a £6,000 a year pay cut and cuts to holiday, sick and maternity pay.

The strikers have attracted widespread support and remain determined to continue their indefinite strike action. They have called a protest at 11am on Tuesday 25 May at Heneage Street, London, E1 5LN in defence of the fired workers. Please turn up and show your support.

New militancy hits Unison HE: Dundee Uni to strike over pension shenanigans

Bosses at the University of Dundee have had their pension consolidation plans thwarted by angry workers keen to defend their retirement funds.

This attempted move will chiefly affect the lower paid staff like cleaner, caterers and administrators.

Unison branch secretary Phil Welsh says,

“Our members have shown that they will be prepared to take action if significantly improved proposals are not tabled by the employer.

“We will be making detailed representations to the employer over the next fortnight and we expect them to respond. The existing proposals will lead to staff retiring into pension poverty, with the university’s own figures suggesting a 40% cut in retirement incomes for scheme members.”

The University of Dundee has form with effective strike action but this time it’s Unison, not the academic’s union, UCU.

Trade unionists for Palestine

As Gaza was being bombed, workers around the world took a stand. Dockers in Livorno, Italy went on strike in opposition to weapons being delivered to Israel, dockers in Durban, South Africa refused to unload an Israel ship and members of the Fire Brigades Union refused to help the police remove activists that occupied an Israeli arms factory in Leicester. 

Despite the welcome ceasefire after 11 days of brutal bombardment by the Israeli military, the attacks on Palestinians are not over. Trade unions in Britain are taking a united stand to show their solidarity with the people of Palestine. Earlier this week British trade unions sent their solidarity to the Palestinian General Strike, and on Saturday all major trade unions will march on the national demonstration for Palestine under one banner: “Trade Unionists for Palestine”.

This is exactly the kind of solidarity that is needed to make clear that Britain’s labour movement stands with Palestine.

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