Felixstowe docks Felixstowe docks. Photo: Rob Taylor / Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked below article

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

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Unite shop stewards representing 1,800 dockers at the Port of Felixstowe met on Thursday to discuss strike plans following the 92% vote rejecting the company’s below-inflation 5% pay offer.

The port handles nearly half (48%) of all the container traffic in the UK, and for all the employers’ boasts of transferring work to other ports in the event of a strike, there is not the capacity in UK ports to cope with this.

Port employers’ woes are compounded by the fact that dockers at Britain’s fifth largest port – Liverpool Docks – are currently balloting over Peel Port’s below inflation offer (also, curiously, 5%).

If the largest docks on the East and West coasts coordinate industrial action, it will have government and industry screaming for a settlement, as between them they are responsible for over half the supply chain for all of the UK’s industrial production logistics.

BT biggest strike in decades gets underway

Friday 29 July saw the first national strike by workers at BT Group since 1987 and the first ever national call centre strike. Around 40,000 members of the CWU walked out over a pay dispute.

BT Group has made £1.3bn in profit this year, paid out half of that to shareholders and given the CEO a 32% pay rise! But the workers who created those profits have seen their pay fall way behind RPI inflation for the last 3 years and the company is refusing to do the right thing and settle this dispute with a properly negotiated pay rise.

With CEOs using Swiss banks and reports that some BT offices have set up food banks for their own staff, enough is enough! Read Counterfire’s picket line reports here. The strikers will be out again on Monday 1 August, find your nearest picket here.

Photo: Mark Porciani

Action on the railways increasing by the day!

The TSSA announced on Monday that they are going to join the RMT on strike on 18 and 20 August on Avanti West Coast, c2c, East Midlands Railway, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway, LNER and Southeastern.

TSSA were also on strike on Wednesday on the Avanti West Coast and will take action short of strike on GWR this Saturday when Aslef members will be on strike. The full list of picket lines is here.

Amidst the RMT/TSSA rail strike on Wednesday, Aslef also announced huge strike votes on Avanti West Coast (92.6%) and CrossCountry (93.2%) and then immediately included them among the strike on 13 August across nine train operating companies. RMT London Underground workers also plan to strike on 19 August.

TSSA picket line with Sam Tarry who was later sacked from the shadow front bench by Keir Starmer. Photo: TSSA Union

Commonwealth Games: creative workers get a slice of the Brummie cake

The Musicians Union and Bectu (the film and TV techies’ union) have signed landmark deals with the Commonwealth Games organisers ensuring comprehensive TU rights. 

The key elements are full respect for nationally agreed pay rates and voluntary workers to supplement not replace paid work. 

The MU’s Stephen Brown says:

“Trade unions backed the bid to secure the Commonwealth Games here in Birmingham. We know how much it means to our city and what it can deliver. And this agreement is evidence of the Games delivering for Birmingham. 

“It ensures that creative sector workers at the Games get paid the right rate for the work they do, and it respects their intellectual property rights. It also sets a benchmark for the best working practices in our industry ensuring a focus on delivering equality, diversity and inclusion, which is vital as a legacy for trade unions and the Games in our region.” 

Global sporting events don’t have a stellar record with workers’ rights. This is a step in the right direction and shows the new militancy is a tide lifting all boats.   

YKK in Cheshire: a pay offer covered in flies

Runcorn-based zip manufacturers YKK are the latest bosses to test the patience of a resurgent working class.    

The Unite members are set to ballot in rejection of a measly 5% pay offer. The Japanese-owned company are known for their super-profits.   

Unite’s Richard O’Brien said:

“YKK’s offer will leave many of its workers on subsistence wages. Clearly the company’s ‘cycle of goodness’ philosophy does not extend to its workforce. The company needs to return to the negotiating table with a deal our members can agree to before this dispute escalates.” 

News from the Frontline will keep you updated as results emerge.

Ongoing struggle in Hackney

The Labour council of the London Borough of Hackney is facing another week of resistance to its imposition of a tiny 1.75% pay deal on all staff. Unite the union has been taking a wide range of the council’s staff out on strike for much of the year, including staff building services, disability transport services, parking wardens and bin workers.

This week striking workers held a demonstration against the council’s poverty pay policies, and further strike days are happening this week.

Hackney council strike, May 2022. Photo: Feyzi Ismail

Bin workers take the fight everywhere

1.75% also happens to be the offer from the cross-party Mid Ulster District Council, and Unite has taken bin workers out on strike this week.

There have been actions by other workers in the area since May this year. Elsewhere, Unite was able to announce that bin workers in Sandwell, West Midlands called off strike action in return for a 9% rise.

Another massive dispute around the corner will be GMB-organised refuse workers working for the privateer Amey in Surrey, who have announced three weeks of strike action in August.

On the Buses (series 2, episode ?)

Bus workers employed by Arriva Yorkshire have ended their month-long strike after accepting an offer of 9%. The 650 Unite members had rejected an initial 4.1% offer, but the latest offer was accepted following a ballot of members.

It means the new starter rate is now £10.84 (up from £9.79) per hour, going up to £11.96 after a year’s service, and £13.20 an hour after 3 years’ service.

Their fellow Unite members in Arriva Kent and Arriva Essex are the next stop en route, as they start their ballot for industrial action this week.

The 800 workers are expected to overwhelmingly reject the company’s below-inflation offer of 7.8%. The ballot closes on Friday 12 August, with action expected before the end of August if the company does not improve the offer.

The anger at the company’s offer will be strengthened by the news that fellow Unite members driving buses for ABM at Gatwick Airport have just accepted a 21.5% pay rise. It takes their pay up from £12.34 per hour to £14.25, back-dated to April, and £15 an hour from 1 January 2023.

They have also finally won a premium rate for overtime – only time and a quarter at present, but the first time the company has conceded enhanced pay for overtime.

Top marks for AQA workers

Unison members, who work for exam board, AQA took 72 hours of strike action this week as they sought to battle against years of poor pay rises.

The union says that the 3% offered this year is poor, especially when last year’s measly 0.6% is factored in.

Unison ​North West regional organiser Lizanne Devonport said:

“Workers at AQA have been left with no other option. Pay has been falling behind ​prices for years and 3% isn’t a ​wage rise – it’s a pay cut with costs spiralling. Things are so bad that ​staff ​are fear​ful they’​ll no longer be able to make ends meet.

“Unison membership is growing and our message to AQA is clear – improve the offer or face further action.”

Ferry workers strike to funnel profits into wages

Red Funnel members of Unite the union began striking on 27 July. The strikers and their supporters stood in solidarity at the Town Quay in Southampton to demand an end to poverty wages. The staff are protesting at the ‘rock-bottom’ pay that they receive whilst the owners of Red Funnel have billions in the bank. They do not even receive overnight food expenses – even though they may spend days away from home.

This industrial action has been taken as a last choice as the company has left them no other option. The owners can afford to improve their workers’ pay to a living wage but are choosing not to do so. Those of us who stood in solidarity with them were surprised at the amount of support they were receiving from passing traffic and even lorries and cars in the queue waiting for ferries in the reduced service being provided, cheering on those in the picket line. The mood of the public is definitely changing to supporting those taking action. As companies like Red Funnel continue to treat their workers badly, so the finger of blame is being pointed to them and not to those standing in solidarity on the picket lines.

Photo: Julie Hope

Staffordshire factory strike could be on the cards

Workers represented by GMB at construction materials manufacturer Saint Gobain Abrasives in Staffordshire are preparing a consultative ballot for strike action after rejecting a 3% pay offer.

Despite being the world’s leading manufacturer of abrasives, the employer is attempting to impose a hefty real-terms pay cut on those least able to carry it.

1,000 journalists ready for action

According to Press Gazette, The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has officially informed Reach of plans to ballot around 1,000 members at the company for strike action.

The move comes after the publisher refused to fundamentally budge on its 3% staff pay increase or £750 minimum offer – a real terms pay cut during soaring inflation.

NUJ Reach national coordinator Chris Morley told Press Gazette:

“In some ways, what was put forward only made the task of finding a resolution even harder.”

Members at Reach began receiving their ballots from 22 July, and the vote lasting until 12 August. A vote in favour could see strike action take place as early as 26 August. NUJ are offering non-unionised Reach staff a 50% six-month subs discount if they join before the end of July.

Glasgow’s Clockwork Orange workers to strike!

99% of workers on the Glasgow subway have voted to strike with the first strike day on Saturday 6 August - the same day as the first Rangers home game. The 200 Unite workers will also be on the picket lines on 9, 13 and 27 August. The strike is over bosses changing duty schedules resulting in workers being called into work at very short notice and being put under significant pressure.

All-out strike on the seas

Unite workers on the Foinaven Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel in the North Sea, 120 miles from Shetland have secured a massive 96% yes vote.

The workers who are employed by Altera, on a vessel contracted by BP are all facing redundancy at the end of August after BP will have ended the contract for the vessel. The onshore Altera workers have been offered a much better redundancy package than the offshore workers who have been offered basic statutory redundancy.

An all-out strike is commencing on 5 August. The Unite workers are raising safety concerns that bosses are going ahead with plans to move the vessel when the safety critical staff are on continuous strike. 

VFS Southampton strike dates

The 200-strong workforce at VFS (Southampton) Ltd will be walking off the job every other day for the next month, and picketing the company’s Chickenhall Lane site in Eastleigh, Hants.

The workers, who fit customer-specified bodies to Ford and Mercedes van chassis, overwhelmingly rejected a company-imposed 4% pay offer and are determined not to accept a below-inflation deal.

Strikes took place this week, on Wednesday and Friday, and if the company does not alter its position, pickets will be on the gate on 2, 4, 8, 10 and 12 August, when the workforce will decide whether to up the ante. The 200+ workers generated  £24.7m in revenue last year, and are confident the company can afford a pay rise.

Unison members in Scotland vote to strike

Thousands of Unison council workers in Scotland have voted to strike rejecting a 2% ‘pay offer’.

Unison says most council workers earn less than £25k a year and that the workers in England have been offered a flat increase of £1,925 which for those on the lowest pay is a 10.5% increase.

This is a brilliant result and the unions should fight for all the workers to receive an above RPI inflation pay rise. 

UVW secures a win for the right to strike! 

UVW, after a big campaign, has secured an apology and compensation from the Met Police for arresting a union official and aggressively dispersing a picket line.

The former head of UVW’s legal department, Franck Magennis was detained and handcuffed by the Met when the police turned up in large numbers to the UVW picket line outside St George’s University Hospital on 13 January 2020 and threatened all those on the picket with arrest unless they left. 

Franck Magennis said:

“My impression is that they made this decision in advance, that they wanted to arrest someone in a way that was very visible so that everyone else in the picket line would see that someone was being arrested and see the handcuffs and would immediately understand the significance.”

Magennis and the UVW have received £5,000 in compensation. This is a very important victory following recent arrests of GMB officials on picket lines, the Tories voicing their determination to bring in more anti-trade union laws and the fact that this week employing scab labour was made legal.

On the Counterfire site

Strong support for second wave of railway strikes: Counterfire members report on the high morale and public support for the strikers on the RMT and TSSA picket lines around the country on Wednesday.

One struggle, one fight: How we win: Decisive, sustained, united strike action is needed to win.

Uber drivers strike against exploitation following leak: Uber drivers represented by the ADCU struck for 24 hours on Wednesday following the leak that exposed the extent of the company’s dodgy operations, writes Mark Baxendale

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