Heathrow strikers Heathrow strikers. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Counterfire’s fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back

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Rolls-Royce locks out workers at Barnoldswick plant

On the back of the news that striking Unite workers at Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick had extended their strike to other departments that would mean ongoing action until Christmas Eve, the company responded by locking out workers and shifting production abroad.

Bosses at Rolls-Royce then indicated their intention to furlough workers at the Barnoldswick site, seeking to break the strike at the expense of the taxpayer and a direct breach of UK furlough laws.

This strike is a battle against global capital’s insatiable thirst for ever expanding profits at the expense of a loyal workforce. It is essential that action is escalated and the mass support this struggle has received is built upon. Unite announced yesterday that the strike will be extended further. This is exactly what is required and demonstrates the resilience and mettle that the workers at this site have.

There will be a cavalcade in support of the workers this Saturday, 5th December. Please join if you are able to. Cars will be meeting at 10:30 in the Boundary Mill car park, Vivary Way, Colne. Unite is requesting that people stay in their vehicles and stick to Covid-19 rules at all times to ensure that the cavalcade is conducted in a safe manner.

Striking against pay cuts – Heathrow Airport workers fight back

Workers at Heathrow Airport Ltd. have begun industrial action over the airport’s controversial fire and rehire plans after voting yes by an 85% margin. The second 24 hour strike will be on 14 December followed by a 48 hour strike on 18-19 December.

The airport has decided to put 4,000 of its staff on new permanent contracts, cutting their pay by up to £8,000 (24% of their total pay), at threat of redundancy.

While Heathrow insists that these measures are a last resort, Unite notes that the airport has still made substantial pay-outs to its shareholders and top executives. According to Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King ‘the airport is using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay’.

Workers at Heathrow are now taking a stand against these outrageous proposals, giving them an opportunity to set an example for all employers who attempt to offload the costs of lost profits on to workers.

Greenwich maintenance workers vote by 98% to strike in the face of severe wage cuts

Carpenters, decorators, electricians and plumbers who maintain the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s housing stock are being forced into a new pay system that could see them lose up to £20,000 a year in wages. More than 120 workers directly employed by the council voted by 98% in favour of strike action against the move.

The move follows councils in Tower Hamlets, Brighton and Hove, Glasgow and others who have used Covid-19 as an excuse to carry out drastic cuts to pay or terms and conditions of their workers. They are unashamedly trying to make the very key workers that have carried society through the pandemic pay for the crisis.

The impressive strike mandate shows that workers are not going to accept the onslaught lying down.

“We have a huge mandate as a result of this vote – the message is very clear,” said Unite Greenwich branch secretary Danny Hoggan. “Our members will not be made to pay the price of Covid-19.”

Baker’s Union to consider disaffiliation from Labour Party

In a statement released on 20 November the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) announced their intention to formally consult membership over whether to disaffiliate from the Labour Party.

This significant move comes from the very heart of the labour and trade union wing of the movement, where BFAWU are one of 12 unions affiliated to Labour, and one of nine with a representative on the NEC.

BFAWU National President Ian Hodson’s statement raises key concerns about the direction Labour are taking under Starmer – a direction that calls into question Labour’s role in realising socialism in the UK after revelations of the Labour right’s role in sabotaging both Corbyn’s leadership and the party’s chances in the 2017 and 2019 elections.

“Whether it be PPE, lockdowns, the two-metre/one-metre ‘rule’, moving vulnerable, elderly people into care homes, extending the Coronavirus Act or opening and closing the economy based on weird and wonderful data, the Tories have enjoyed the full support of Keir Starmer’s Labour. This is despite the thousands of avoidable deaths, job losses and hardship that have arisen as a result of the government’s approach to this situation.

“At its recent meeting (ahead of any motions to Annual Conference to disaffiliate) our Executive felt that we should conduct a consultation with our membership. This will ensure that we are fully informed and mandated ahead of any decision to remain or leave the Labour Party.”

The consultation will commence in January 2021.

Air traffic control workers to ballot over action in Scotland

Members of the Prospect union who work in air traffic control on the Shetland Islands are balloting over Highlands and Islands Airports Limited’s (HIAL) proposals to relocate their roles to Inverness.

The action, if approved by members, would take the form of action short of a strike commencing 4 January 2021, with individual one day strikes taking place after that date. Workers opposing the relocation have cited the devastating impact on the local economy that would occur as a result.

HIAL is wholly owned by the Scottish government and provides essential transport in remote areas of Scotland. Prospect members have been in numerous battles with HIAL in recent years, including a pay dispute that ended last November. Taking action to fight against relocation is a stance in the interests not just of the workers themselves, but also the wider community and will likely lead to widespread support.

Serco forced back to talks with union in Plymouth docks

Tractor crew workers in Plymouth appear to be winning some concessions from their employer Serco as the result of their strike ballot is due to be announced.

The tractor tug crew members at Devonport dockyard in Plymouth are being balloted for strike action after Serco Marine announced that their working pattern would change from one week on and one week off to three weeks on and three weeks off.

Apart from being massively disruptive, the changes would slash workers’ leave allocation. Any strike could lay up warships at Devonport naval base. Serco has told the press that it has offered compromises and is willing to take part in further talks.

Which cider are you on: another sign-or-be-sacked offensive from the bosses

Brewing giant Heineken is the latest entity to confront workers with an unacceptable sign-or-be-sacked contractual demand. Unite the Union have responded immediately with a consultative ballot of its members for strike action.

Workers at the Hereford-based Bulmers and Strongbow plant are being threatened with changes to retirement rundown benefits, Sunday shift premiums, reduced holiday pay and alterations to preferential flexible working conditions. Unite has two hundred members at the plant.

There’s a pattern forming of bosses exploiting the pandemic as a pretext for trimming pay and conditions. But resistance from the unions is also forming.

Unite national officer Joe Clarke said:

“Staff are preparing to battle these changes with everything they’ve got. What else are they supposed to do when faced with losing their financial security after years of dedicated service? Unite and Heineken have had a good relationship for many years, but the company should be in no doubt that the union will do everything in its power to stop these attacks on our members’ contracts.”

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