UCLH RCN picket line UCLH RCN picket line. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

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

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Members of the Royal College of Nursing have decisively voted against the government’s pitiful deal and will resume the fight for a better deal. 54% on a 61% turnout voted against the deal and the union has called a 48-hour strike from 8pm on 30 April and will re-ballot members to extend their strike mandate.

The deal on offer was an insult to nurses and fell well short of the demands nurses voted to strike for – for an above-inflation, consolidated pay rise that overturns over a decade of pay cuts. The RCN and Unison repeatedly told their members that this was the best deal they could possibly get, and unfortunately in Unison’s case, members voted to accept the deal.

RCN members rejecting the deal shows the mood of anger and defiance among health workers and the determination to fight for what they deserve. It will be a huge boost to the junior doctors out on strike, will give confidence to GMB and Unite members who are still voting on the deal and will inspire other health workers balloting or re-balloting for industrial action.

It also shows the strength and importance of rank-and-file organising within the union. NHS Workers Say No led an impressive and widespread #VoteReject campaign which got bulletins and leaflets given out at hospitals across the countries, created new organising networks and engaged hundreds of members. This was all not just important for stopping a bad deal but for taking the fight forward.

NHS Workers Say No are supporting the 10 June How We Fight, How We Win Rank-and-File Organising Conference and Holly Turner will be speaking at it. The conference is shaping up to be an important opportunity to discuss, strategise and build organisation within and across unions that can fight to win.

Low pay belongs in a museum

PCS members have been out on the picket lines this week, including some very lively ones outside the British Museum and British Library. Read Alistair Cartwright’s report here.

British Museum PCS picket line
British Museum PCS picket line. Photo: Alistair Cartwright

Mass strike at sea

Unite the Union has announced that dozens of oil rigs are going to be the site of industrial action by workers at a range of oil and gas employers are striking over pay. The fossil fuel industry have been continuing to enjoy colossally inflated profits, none of which they are keen to share with the staff that operate their rigs.

48 hours of action involving 1,350 workers will begin in on 24 April, with more strikes planned into the summer. The extent of the action will put huge pressure on the energy sector.

Education workers: still at the forefront

NASUWT members gave the government’s measly 4.3% pay “offer” the contempt it deserved with a thumping 87% rejection vote.  

The NASUWT are the fourth teaching union to give the Tories the middle finger in their current pay bout.

NASUWT’s Dr Patrick Roach says:

“The Government’s pay offer failed to come close to addressing the concerns over pay and working conditions of teachers and this has rightly been rejected by our members. Gillian Keegan has said that she is willing to negotiate and to listen to the profession. She must now demonstrate that she means what she says by getting back around the negotiating table to find a resolution to our dispute.

“The onus is now on the Government to come forward with a fully-funded pay offer that will be acceptable to the profession.”

Similarly, The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), mainly representing primary heads, consulted its members online and 78 per cent said they would be prepared to take strike action after the rejection of the same offer. If the Tories are rattling headteachers they’re in serious trouble.

NAHT’s Paul Whiteman is clear:

“The government must now come back to the table and solve this dispute. To do otherwise would be to stick two fingers up to a dedicated profession whilst at the same time turning their backs on children.

“The response from the members of all the education unions has been overwhelming – the government can be in no doubt of the strength of feeling of the education profession or their determination to stand up for themselves and for their pupils.”

It should be no surprise that workers who did so much of the heavy lifting during the pandemic and were exalted as key workers, now feel massive anger. That anger is becoming action.

Sick to the back teeth: Junior doctors step up the fight

“The current round of strikes also represents an escalation of action. Not only are the strike days consecutive, but all doctors have been called out, including those who work in emergency care. This puts the BMA at the forefront of the present trade union upsurge…”

Don’t miss the rest of Kate O’Neil’s hot-from-the-picket-line report.

Junior doctors in London
Junior doctors in London. Photo: Counterfire

Nursery workers “locked out” in Liverpool

The Orchard Nursery in Huyton was closed down by its management without warning last month, apparently in revenge for the workforce unionising and calling a strike over pay, being among the many public service workers who struck on the day of the anti-worker Tory budget. Nursery workers, who are not normally unionised but had joined Unison, found out they were out of work when they arrived at site to find gets locked and sign telling them that “for reasons beyond our control the nursery will now be closed permanently”. Parents had also not been informed, and arrived to discover that childcare they had planned around and paid for would not be provided.

This outrage shows how undervalued childcare workers actually are, despite headline-grabbing proclamations by the Government. The sacked staff have put out a call to others in the sector to organise precisely so this cannot happen to them.

‘Mismanagement’ causes strike ballot at Mahle Engine Systems

Unite the union is to ballot its members at Kilmarnock based engineering firm Mahle Engine Systems for strike action. Around 120 members will be balloted over a failure by the management to honour an agreed pay deal. All staff were due a 3.4% increase in pay from January 2023 as part of a two year pay deal that workers won following industrial action in April 2022. But management has failed to implement the 3.4% across the whole workforce.

Unite industrial officer, Paul Bennett added:

“Mahle has severely misjudged and mismanaged this situation. Awarding some workers a top-up payment instead of giving it to the entire workforce has backfired on Mahle and it is outside the agreed collective bargaining process.

“An industrial action ballot will now take place over two weeks and it will give the company some necessary time to address the pay disparity before an all-out escalation in the dispute.”

Fight to win!

Dozens of trades councils and union branches from across sectors and unions are backing the How We Fight, How We Win Rank-and-File conference on the 10 June. The strike wave is still hot, and the impact it is having is significant – even though some trade union leaders seem desperate to settle.

The votes by NEU and RCN members to reject the government’s deal, the votes by CWU and UCU members to renew their strike mandates show the strength of feeling among rank-and-file trade unionists. We urgently need independent organisation of rank-and-file members. This is all out class war and we need to win.

Please book your place for the conference now, raise this motion at your trades council or union branch, and speak to other trade unionists about coming to the conference.

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