Abbot’s Hill School strike Abbot’s Hill School strike. Photo: @HertsNEU / Twitter

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

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The last week has seen two important developments at a local level in the fight over two critical areas for education workers – pensions and workload – and they need as much solidarity as possible.

Teachers at Abbot’s Hill School in Hemel Hempstead have been taking part in strike action to resist attacks on their pensions. They struck for two days on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, with more planned for this week.

The school is looking to use the now well-known tactic of fire-and-rehire to force through their proposals to remove staff from the pensions scheme. NEU regional secretary Paul McLaughlin says:

“Members deserve to be treated fairly and the Governors should work with us to resolve the dispute rather than ploughing on regardless.”

At Gordano School in Portishead, NEU members are set to carry out six days of strike action, with the first being in early February. Regional officer Ian McCann says that teachers cannot deliver the best for their students during a pandemic under such an unacceptable workload, adding:

“It has increased over the recent months and years and has now come to such a level that it is having a detrimental effect on our members’ welfare.”

In a similar struggle, teachers at 23 independent schools run by the Girls’ Day School Trust have voted by 95% on an 84% turnout to strike in opposition to the Trust’s plans to remove them from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Under the proposal, teachers would be at least 20% worse off in terms of what they receive in pension payments.

NEU Joint General Secretary Kevin Courtney said,

“This is an exceptionally strong mandate. The Trust should reflect on just how a large body of committed and hard-working staff have reached this point. Members are resolved and rightly determined to defend their pensions.”

The teachers in these disputes can take confidence from the victory on Friday at Salisbury Manor primary school in Waltham Forest. The six women employed as support staff by the multi-academy trust United Learning have defeated their employer’s fire-and-rehire plans after threatening to strike.

The new contracts would have seen them lose up to £2,000 pay, see their sick pay reduced by 50% and would mean they would work longer hours. But their courage in standing up to the academy trust and announcing a ballot with the NEU was enough to force United Learning to back down.

Lawyered up: Barristers vote to strike over criminally-low legal aid

Barristers in the Criminal Bar Association have demanded that the government plug the funding gap in the criminal legal aid budget or face strike action. Almost 2,000 members of the CBA responded to an urgent survey and 96.5% voted in favour of strike action if there is no commitment for a “substantial increase in criminal legal aid” next month. The CBA says government cuts to legal aid have “left the criminal justice system on its knees” and criminal barristers have seen their pay decline in real terms over the last 25 years.

CBA chair Jo Sidhu QC and vice chair Kirsty Brimelow QC said in a statement,

“We have waited too long. We will wait no longer. Without the requisite undertakings from Government by February 14, the CBA will move directly to a ballot for action. Solidarity at the Criminal Bar has never been stronger. There is no going back.”

B&Q strikers take on Tory MP

B&Q strikers protested outside Brendan Clarke-Smith’s job fair in Worksop on Friday after the Tory MP mocked the strikers, telling them to cancel their Unite membership and come to his jobs fair instead. After presiding over a deepening cost of living crisis and passing laws to make it harder for workers to defend themselves, the Bassetlaw MP’s insulting remarks added insult to injury.

Speaking at the protest, Unite regional secretary Paresh Patel told the strikers,

“I’m glad to see so many of you here today, showing your strengths, showing your determination to make sure that we’re here to stay and we’re not going to give up the fight until you get what you deserve, which is a decent pay increase.”

Photo: @TUCMidlands / Twitter

Unite: strike to end low public sector pay

Unite is to ballot over 70,000 local government workers across 321 councils across the UK after they received a measly 1.75% pay offer.

Pointing out the current RPI rate of inflation, Unite says the workers should vote to strike and fight for 10% which would go some way to making up for years of below-inflation pay rises.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: 

“Today, Unite is calling on its local authority members to give us a massive mandate for strike action over the employers’ pathetic offer of 1.75 per cent. Such a vote will send a clear message to Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak that local government can no longer be the poor relation when it comes to public expenditure – they need to loosen the purse strings.”

Ballots are due to close on 25 February. This is a huge opportunity to build a fightback on public sector pay.

Stagecoach SouthWest: “The wheels on the bus go round and… oh dear”

Stagecoach Southwest bus drivers are the latest to climb aboard the campaign for decent wages in the bus industry. The 360 Unite members at the Bristol, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud, Colway and Ross-on-Wye depots are balloting on strike action to achieve what one rep described as:

“The bare minimum that professional drivers should expect. At the moment, many of our members are not even earning £11 an hour.”

The industrial action in bus companies the length and breadth of the country has shown that bus workers are no longer prepared to be treated as the poor relations in transport.

Don’t accept a pay cut, Argos it!

Usdaw workers at Argos have voted by 94% to accept a pay increase of a minimum of £10 an hour. Usdaw says this will mean most staff are paid the living wage, they rightly call it a ‘step forward’, with RPI at 7.5% and gas prices set to double, this is an improvement but there is still a ways to go.

Round 2: UCU announces new university strike dates

The UCU has announced strike dates for a total of 68 universities. 44 universities will strike in defence of their pensions for 5 days from Monday 14 to Friday 18 February. All 68 universities will strike over pensions and pay and working conditions on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February. 39 Universities will strike over pay and working conditions for 3 days from Monday 28 February till Wednesday 2 March. The UCU says further industrial action is ‘on the cards’ over pay and working conditions and that they are planning a UK wide marking boycott. Read Counterfire UCU members’ analysis here.

Photo: Shabbir Lakha

GOSH security guards’ strike is back on

UVW Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Security guards’ 6 week strike is back on. The workers who are fighting for equality and against discrimination will be out from 2 February to 18 March. The outsourced workers are fighting to be brought in house and have parity with NHS staff which would mean better pay, better terms and conditions and that workers would receive sick pay. There will be a strike rally on the picket line on Thursday 3 February at 12pm.

Financial Conduct Authority – “Do as I say, not as I do”

Staff at the FCA are voting on whether to strike over management’s attempt to cut pay for core staff. FCA management have tried to spin the pay cuts as ‘benefitting the low-paid’, which kind of ignores why they have tolerated low pay in the first place.

But management’s solution (proposed by outside consultants paid £490,000) is to scrap the cash bonuses currently paid, which make up 10%+ of salary for 80% of the workforce, and replace them with ‘performance-related pay’ – and we all know what that means.

Funnily enough, FCA head honcho Nikhil Rathi is not seeing his £455,000 pay packet affected by the changes.

Glasgow City Council still paying women unequally

In a dispute that goes back to the mid-2000s and gets messy at times from politicking between the SNP and Labour, the outcome is women in key jobs getting paid unequally.

Following a successful strike in 2018 Glasgow City Council basically failed to settle the dispute. They now claim that due to Covid this can’t be settled until 2024.

The women are currently balloting for strike action and had a successful lobby outside the City Chambers on Thursday. According to The Times, there are 21,000 workers in Scotland on unequal pay by Local Authorities. In Glasgow 18,179 women face this discrimination, in Fife 1,200 women are in a similar situation and East Ayrshire, it is 200.

Every April when Nicola Sturgeon and SNP Scottish Government hand over a budget, they do so knowing that Councils pay their workers unequally. This makes them complicit since 2007 in this exploitation. It’s time for the Scottish Government to back these workers by stopping funding until Equal Pay is implemented.

Standing up to Serco: London hospital workers prepare to strike

Hundreds of Unite workers employed by Serco at Royal London, Whipps Cross and St Barts Hospital are commencing two weeks strike action on Monday 31 January. The cleaners, porters, security, catering and reception workers are majority black and migrant workers who are fighting ‘a battle against low pay and exploitation’, they are paid 15% less than staff directly employed by the NHS. The workers rejected a 3% pay insult from Serco.

Unite regional officer Tabusam Ahmed said,

“Bart’s and Serco must now deliver a pay increase that addresses the poverty pay and the gross inequality of treatment compared to directly employed NHS staff in other hospitals in London.”

Workers will be picketing every day and there will be strike rallies on the following days; 31 January 11am at the Royal London hospital, 2 February 11am at St Barts Hospital, 4 February 11am at Whipps Cross Hospital.

Striking for Gold

UCU Goldsmiths workers fighting 49 redundancies have announced new strike dates after management have rejected all proposals from the union. 10 days of action are planned over 3 weeks commencing on 7 and 8 February, the strike dates for the second week will be 16, 17, 18 February. The third week of action will be coordinated with Unison Goldsmiths campus facilities and professional services staff from 28 February to 4 March. Please get your union branch and community group to pass a solidarity motion in support of the action. 

Eastbourne paves the way: refuse workers are on the march

The GMB’s recent 19% pay win in Eastbourne has set the tone for similar demands from refuse workers across the south.

Workers across three sites in Wiltshire – Trowbridge, Salisbury and Calne – are balloting for strike action in response to a pitiful 2% offer. The ballot closes on the 4th of February.

Meanwhile, in Adur and Worthing, a consultative ballot, which closed this week, saw 93% of workers voting unanimously for striking.

GMB branch secretary Mark Turner is clear:

“Given what has happened up the road in Brighton and Eastbourne, you would have thought the council might want to nip this dispute in the bud. If they don’t receive a pay offer reflecting the value of their work, our members are very clear they will go on strike.”

This is a spark we want to see setting the whole public sector alight.

Pay up now! Croydon hospital workers to protest against G4S

Hospital porters and domestic workers at Croydon University Hospital will be protesting against their employer on Monday 31 January at 12pm. Read GMB organiser Helen O’Connor’s article explaining why and get down there and show your support if you can.

No champagne for Actavo: Scunthorpe scaffolders’ surprise protest at bosses party

Striking Actavo scaffolders and London community activists protested outside the Festival Supplier Awards ceremony on Thursday to ensure the bosses got the message. Read Cici Washburn’s full report here.

Photo: Yonas Makoni

The Strikers Speak

Following our successful rally, News from the Frontline has organised a second meeting with striking workers and workers in dispute on Wednesday 9 February at 7pm. As workers organise, strike and fight back, building solidarity with striking workers and linking the struggles couldn’t be more important, it’s an urgent task for us all.

Please register now on Zoom and share widely.


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