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

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It’s twelve months since the RMT reignited national trade unionism with a set strikes unseen for years. Hopes were high and the spectacle of Mick Lynch’s demonisation backfiring on both the bosses and the media truly set the tone for a new times.

Strategy and tactics require constant re-assessment and the brace of deals and reballots our movement is currently seeing has prompted a group of activists to come together and do some taking stock. This Saturday 10 June Shoreditch’s Rich Mix Centre plays host to the “How We Fight, How We Win” rank-and-file trade union conference. Already supported by an array of TU branches and councils, this is an event about learning lessons and generalising things we’ve got right. 

Keynote speakers include RCN’s Holly Turner, Amazon striker Darren Westwood and picket line stalwart Jeremy Corbyn.

Serious tension between boots-on-the-ground activists and elected (and unelected) officials are beginning to emerge. This is a wholly new experience for many in the movement. Sessions like “Politics and the Trade Union Movement” hope to take these issues on in a practical way that seeks to rearms us.

Tickets are selling fast and space is limited. Book now to avoid disappointment. The conference will also be followed by a Strike Solidarity Benefit featuring Lowkey, Barbarella, Don Biswas and others to raise money for strike funds.

Welsh Civil Servants go Off-License

PCS union members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are striking again in their long struggle with the government over pay and pensions. As with most centrally employed public service workers, the Tories are continuing to be utterly intransigent against them. Strike action by the workers has been highly effective in the past two years, with licenses and vehicle tax processing coming to a dead halt during strikes.

Veteran PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said:

“Managers struggled last time, and they’ll struggle this time. We’re not afraid to turn up the pressure on ministers to achieve our reasonable demands – a fair pay rise to help our members through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”

Heathrow strikes: they’re taking off

As reported last week in News from the Frontline, the strike wave at Heathrow airport is set to escalate as security guards at Terminal 3 have also voted for strike action. The security guards voted 85% in favour of industrial action, which means they can now take strike action along with their colleagues working security in Terminal 5 and in Campus Security.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“Escalating strike action will inevitably cause disruption, delays and cancellations across Heathrow. This widening dispute is a direct result of Heathrow airport’s dismissive attitude to its workers. They have seriously misjudged the anger of the workers. They have had every opportunity to make our members a fair pay offer but have chosen not to. It is now time for them to come back to the negotiating table and deal with this issue before further escalation occurs. Strike action is now set to escalate throughout the summer and Unite will leave no stone unturned in support for our members involved in the dispute.”

Heathrow is Western Europe’s largest workplace. We need to keep an eye on it; the bosses do.

Unison: Gloucestershire Social Workers strike over unequal pay

Social workers and Occupational Therapists (OTs) working for South Gloucestershire council walked out this week in protest over Children Social Workers receiving a £3,000 ‘retention bonus’ denied to Adult Social Workers and OTs. Thursday’s strike was the fifth day of strike action taken by Unison members in their campaign for pay parity.

Unison Branch Secretary Dan Smart said “Of course we support pay rises for all workers” but pointed out the anger and resentment caused by divisive pay awards further lowered morale in a profession already suffering from retention problems, due to excessive workloads and lack of support from employers. He said the campaign would continue and Unison members and their supporters would be lobbying councillors at 12 June council meeting.

Our trade unions: strikes, strategy and the rank and file

Michael Lavalette speaks to Nigel Flanagan, trade union activist and author, about the trade union movement and the kind of organisation we need

Yorkshire Ambulance Service down tools over real term pay cut

Up to 400 Unite members working for the Yorkshire Ambulance Service struck for 8 hours today in their continuing campaign for a fair wage in the NHS.

A Unite rep at West Hull said “We have received strong support from our colleagues in the Unison and GMB unions, who wish that they were part of the campaign.”

Unite members rejected the government pay offer by a majority of more than 2:1 and the rep went on to explain “It doesn’t even match the pay award for Scotland. A Band 6 paramedic in Scotland will now earn over £3,000 more than their English colleague – what does that tell you about the value this government puts on your life?”

NFTF readers know the answer to that one.

Biffa workers “refuse” to tolerate bullying

Refuse workers employed by Biffs on the Wealden District Council contract struck today, over longstanding grievances of bullying and harassment by local management. The depth of feeling can be judges by the 90%+ vote for indefinite strike action over the issue.

The workforce, members of the GMB union, are solid in their support for the action, and as one striker said: “If Biffa think this is going to blow over, they should cast their minds back to this time last year.” Last June, the workforce struck for more than 6 weeks in a dispute over pay, and ended up with a “bumper pay rise”. That experience, and the confidence that comes with it, is why they are not prepared to be pushed around by a management that are “only interested in cutting costs and increasing workloads”.

Survitec: all at sea without workers

Unite members at Survitec are to go on an all-out strike from 1 June the union has announced. The 160 workers at the site, which makes lifeboats and sea safety equipment, smashed the anti-union strike threshold with an 80% turnout and 100% vote for strike action. The workers have chosen to reject a 6% pay offer.

Regional Officer for the workers is Neil Moore who said,

“This strike will shut down production on this site. Management needs to respond to the pay demand of their own workforce. The workers voted unanimously for strike action. This shows their determination to win a pay increase and keep wages at pace in the midst of the cost of living crisis.”

Getting wasted in Bristol: Somerset has its Suez Crisis

200 bin workers are balloting for action after Bristol’s Labour council and Labour mayor have failed to offer them a liveable wage rise. The council employers directly through a public recycling company and has no private company to blame for its anti-worker position, in fact it is has been failing to recruit and retain staff to Bristol Waste in recent years, meaning that Bristol residents have been having issues with missed collections for some time. Despite the shortage of staff, Labour continues to insist on offering a de facto pay-cut. Unite the Union has said that strikes will in July if the ballot returns a Yes vote.

Meanwhile, in nearby Somerset, bin workers who outsources to privatising kings GDF Suez are balloting on the same issue. The Lib Dem council there is also offering sub-inflation pay settlement, without negotiation.

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