HS125 Network Rail Paddington HS125 Network Rail Paddington. Photo: Rob Hodgkins / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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On Tuesday, RMT members nationally voted overwhelmingly to go on strike across the rail network. 71% of the RMT’s 40,000 members voted, and 89% of them backed industrial action. The huge strike mandate shows the appetite for action against the relentless attacks working people, and rail workers in particular, are facing. As Kieran Crowe explains, this is the biggest rail dispute of a generation

Typically, like any attempt by workers to take industrial action, especially on a national level, the RMT ballot result has been met by seething Tories and right wing pundits spewing vitriol against the workers. Right wing tabloids ran stories targeting RMT officials, calling them Putin apologists and blaming workers for having the audacity to demand better. 

Abhorrent as these attacks are, even more sinister has been Transport Secretary Grant Shapps briefing the Sunday Telegraph that the government is looking to bring in legislation that will stop workers going on strike unless a minimum service is maintained. This would make strike action completely ineffective – which is exactly what they want. 

In the UK we already have the most draconian anti-trade union laws in western Europe. As soon as workers get over the hurdles the Tories have put in their way, they prepare new laws to make it more difficult. We should make no mistake that this is an anti-democratic attack on all workers. If they get away with these laws, it will damage the ability of all workers to collectively organise effectively and it will strengthen the bosses’ ability to drive down wages and working conditions even further. 

The whole trade union movement and wider left should be supporting the RMT strike in every way possible and be prepared to stop the Tories enacting the further anti-trade union legislation they’re planning to. As well as getting down to and building RMT picket lines, the TUC-led demonstration on 18 June will be a prime opportunity to show our collective strength and our determination to stand up to the Tories. 

Hackney Council workers’ strike rally

On Wednesday at Hackney Town Hall, a vibrant rally was held by Unite members of the refuse, cleansing, transport (SEND) & building maintenance services.  

This follows six previous strike days in April and early May. A ballot of workers returned an overwhelming vote for further strike action. 70 parking services workers have also voted to join the council workers on strike. 

The Wednesday rally was aimed at Hackney Councillors and the Mayor who were having a meeting then at the Town Hall. The Council have a huge reserve with which they can pay the workers the 10% they’re demanding, but they’re choosing not to.  

During the Covid pandemic these workers were hailed as heroes but soon forgotten afterwards.  

There are other issues including the reinstatement of two workers in building maintenance, along with the size of ‘beats’ and working hours. 

Unite rep Jim from Millfields depot told Counterfire’s Carole Vincent,

“I’m looking for a better pay deal for my members. Smaller Councils, less well-off councils have managed to find the money to give their workers a decent rise so why can’t Hackney do the same? I’m not going to stop until we win this, I can’t walk away and I won’t walk away from my members, they deserve better, we will win”.

Jubilee Crown Post Office strike

CWU post office workers are set to continue their pay campaign with a walkout on Saturday 4 June. Admin staff are following suit from Monday 6 June.

CWU’s Andy Furey says:

“Their latest offer is for a 2.5 per cent rise with effect from April 1st 2022, plus a £500 lump sum. Post Office bosses can hardly be surprised that this proposal has been emphatically rejected, particularly when we all know the Post Office can easily afford a decent pay rise – they announced £35 million in profits earlier this week and a decent pay rise for our members to settle the dispute would only cost around £5m.

“To the UK public, our message is that this action is 100 per cent the fault of the Post Office leadership. And so please give us your support in this just struggle. And to Post Office bosses, our message is: Get real on pay, get round the bargaining table – and settle this dispute.”

Here’s another group of workers we can look forward to seeing on 18 June with banners held high.

UVW bar workers strike on Brighton

All UVW bar workers at the Saint James’ Tavern in Brighton have voted to strike with a 100% yes vote! The workers are fighting bosses over pay and conditions and have sued the pub for alleged harassment and discrimination. These workers are on zero-hours contracts and are demanding a pay increase to £11.50 an hour and full sick pay and are clear that they want no cuts to shifts.

Bartender, Tris Houseman said:

“Feeling undervalued and disrespected by people you are generating money for, money that is barely seen by us, feels so humiliating and degrading on such a personal level.”

Energy companies “all at sea” as wildcat strikes spread

The unofficial offshore energy industry was hit by a series of wildcat strikes last week, in what was described by one activist as a “wages revolution”. The workers, mostly employed by Wood fabrications and the Bilfinger group, are demanding wage increases of up to £7 an hour.

The walk-outs, which started last Tuesday night on TotalEnergies’ Elgin platform and the Safe Caledonia flotel quickly spread to BP’s ETAP and Clair, and Harbour Energy’s Judy platforms. It is claimed that up to another seven platforms joined the action, with activists claiming support on 19 rigs to date.

One major cause of the action is the refusal of Bilfinger to sign up to the national Energy Services Agreement – and therefore not complying with the nationally agreed standards for pay, terms and conditions.

In a welcome sign of support (from North of the border) Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba has tweeted:

“Solidarity with workers on North Sea platforms…. My message to employers: pay your wages, pay your taxes”.

Green MSP Maggie Chapman has also backed the workers.

The Unite union has also said that, whilst it had not known of the action in advance, it understood and supported the concerns of the workers involved. It also made the point that Bilfinger’s refusal to sign up to the national agreement “is not going to help provide a solution”.

Mini workers drive through maxi wage rise

Following News from the Frontline’s report of the suspension of strike action by logistics workers at Oxford, the 250+ warehouse staff and shunters employed by Rudolph and Hellman on the BMW Mini contract are celebrating a wage deal that the Unite union claims is worth over 20% – considerably better than the 6% the company claimed was the most it could afford. The union also says that membership has increased by 50% in the course of the dispute and is approaching 100% of the workforce.

The firm had warned employees that any strike action would mean losses of around £8M a day, and would jeopardise job security – not just for R&H staff, but BMW workers too, as it would bring production to a halt. With the workforce showing solid support for strike action, the company blimked first. The new offer, which has been accepted, will put around £4,000 a year in workers’ pay packets.

Desperate Tories and Biffa call the cops on GMB strikers

Bin workers in Wealden have been striking since 25 April over poor pay. The strike action continued from today until at least 11 June after the latest offer from employer Biffa, contracted by the Council, was rejected this week by 98% of GMB members.

Shamefully, Biffa and Tory-run Wealden Council called the police on the strikers this morning who proceeded to arrest three GMB officials including regional officer Gary Palmer because the picket line blocked access to the depot.

It’s clear that the strike has hit the council hard and they are desperately trying to break it by any means. The police were today helping the employer undermine the strike and operate a “limited refuse bin collection service” – something they’re barely managing to do. The Council also attempted to set up “pop-up waste collection points” for residents to take their rubbish to, but Biffa have been unable to maintain that collection service. Residents have been advised that if their rubbish hasn’t been collected in three days, they should take it back inside.

If the Council desperately need services to resume, and they recognise this is not possible without the workers, then they need to cough up and pay them fairly. That they chose instead to call the police – who are clearly emboldened by the recent Police and Crime Act and are ready to come to the bosses’ aid – is disgraceful and should be met by members of all unions working for the council taking action until any charges against the GMB officials are dropped. This is an attack on the right of all workers to organise and cannot be tolerated.

2,000 Cadent gas workers prepare to strike

While energy prices soar, the energy companies are raking it in at the expense of the millions struggling to pay their bills as well as their workers who they refuse to pay fairly. GMB members at Cadent Gas, owned by Australian conglomerate MacQuarie, have had enough and will be walking off the job for two days on 30-31 May.

The workers have rejected a measly 6%-over-two-years pay rise – which is almost half of what RPI inflation is currently, and would in effect be a significant pay cut. Earlier this month, GMB members began action short of strike including an overtime ban, and have now escalated to strike action. The strike is anticipated to cause disruption in five regions across England.

Saint Helens drivers strike threat brings offer to table

The 300 logistics workers employed by GXO, at the Co-op’s St. Helens’ Distribution Centre, have suspended their strike, due to start next Tuesday, to allow for a ballot on a new offer.

The Unite union is not recommending acceptance, and Regional Officer Kenny Rowe has made it clear:

“If the members decide the offer does not meet their expectations, the remaining strikes will go ahead as planned”.

Isle of Wight: No Festival for Bin Workers?

The Isle of Wight is one of the very few parts of England where the rail dispute won’t be happening, but a significant industrial confrontation is happening there nonetheless.

GMB Bin workers on the island have balloted to strike in response to a pay offer that is less than half of inflation, the timing of which has the potential to draw national attention. It will be in the week of the Isle of Wight festival, the largest annual event on the Island.

This puts the council contractor, Amey, under huge pressure and there is a strong opportunity for the workers can get a good settlement.

GSK settlement could do better

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has managed to avert strike action potentially involving 1,000 workers after agreeing a 4.5% pay rise with Unite.

While this is better than the original offer, which Unite claimed was 2.75% and GSK said was 4%, it falls well below the current rate of inflation and reflects a pitiful capitulation on the part of Unite.

JCB pay win

DHL drivers distributing stock for JCB across its UK sites are celebrating a significant win over pay. The drivers, members of the GMB union had voted by 96% to strike over an attempt by DHL to impose a 5% wage rise for this year.

The strike, due to start this Monday past was called off at the last minute when the company nearly doubled its offer. The drivers have now accepted a deal worth 9.5%, plus a lump sum payment of £750.

Fawley refinery action escalates

Contractors represented by Unite at Exxon’s Fawley refinery are set to escalate their ongoing industrial action with 5 further strike days in June. They are striking over both low pay and a lack of sick pay as unlike workers directly employed by Exxon they only receive statutory sick pay, meaning that they are more likely to work in potentially dangerous environments while unfit to do so.

Despite being treated as second class employees, the contractors are determined to demonstrate that they are vital to the running of a refinery that supplies all UK airports and one in six petrol stations and that they deserve to be treated as such.

FE fire-and-rehire: UCU hits back

Teaching staff at Richmond upon Thames College in south-west London are walking out from 23 May until 28 May in defiance of planned contract changes.

The bosses call it “dismiss and re-engage”; we call it “fire-and-rehire”.

The workers could be facing a loss of eight days of holiday entitlement. It affects around 130 staff.

Local UCU officer Adam Lincoln, says:

“The management at Richmond upon Thames College are joining the ranks of some of the worst employers in the country by threatening their own workforce with the sack if they refuse to accept worse terms and conditions.”

Local MP and People’s Assembly supporter Barry Gardiner is solidarising with the strikers.

The proven marking boycott tactic is currently being mooted – and let’s hope the recent Bury College victory puts some wind in these workers’ sails.

‘If they have £1bn for the Jubilee, they can afford to pay workers’: why tube workers are striking video.

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