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Strikers at GOSH celebrating the good news.

Strikers at GOSH celebrating the good news. Photo: United Voices of the World

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

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Rehab workers win through strike action in Wigan

Drug and alcohol workers at Wigan’s We Are With You are celebrating the end of a dispute over pay that has lasted for over a year. The campaign by the workers to receive pay parity with the NHS after the outsourcing of their roles in April 2018 has seen 26 days of strike action from Unison members.

As a result of the strikes, the workers have won thousands of pounds in back pay and an agreement that they will be paid no less than current NHS rates until April 2022. The campaign also saw a further victory in that the employer was forced to recognise Unison by the Central Arbitration Committee, paving the way for collective bargaining in any future pay agreements.

In the last ballot, 100% of Unison members voted in favour of strike action - a great result which shows the determination of these workers to fight back against their employer reneging on commitments to uphold pay parity.

This victory is a great example of collective action paying off for workers coming together to fight against the detrimental effects of outsourcing and privatisation. Though We Are With You is set up as a charity, rather than a private company, the model allows for highly paid executives to be subsidised through lower pay for workers. Workers organising collectively to fight against these structures can and do win!

United Voices of the World union cleans up at Great Ormond Street Hospital

World-famous Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital has been impelled to finish the outsourcing of a hundred cleaning workers and bring them “in house” from August 2021.

The vast majority of these reclassified workers are black and female.

This fantastic result is the outcome of sustained campaigning from the United Voices of the World (UVW) union. The union had documented years of discriminatory practice, particularly around sick pay.

But it was the threat of a strike ballot that tipped the scales in the workers’ favour.

Petros Elia, UVW full-timer said:

“This victory is historic. It shows, firstly, that workers united with a union ready to back them really can move mountains. It also shows what we have known all along, that outsourcing is a choice, and one grounded in Thatcherite ideology, and that as easily as the NHS and other public institutions outsourced thousands of workers at the stroke of a pen 30-odd years ago, so too can they now choose to in-house them at the click of a mouse.”

GOSH cleaner Genevieve added:

“Being in-house and an NHS staff member is the best thing that has happened to me. I never thought that it would be possible, but with UVW by our side, we were victorious. We can now get all the fringe benefits that the NHS offers.”

Covid safety concerns see BEIS ballot to strike

PCS members working at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have voted by 94.3% for strike action over health and safety. The ballot comes after ISS, the scandal-ridden firm they are employed by, has refused to wind down support services at the 1 Victoria Street offices, despite four workers have tested positive for Covid.

Earlier in the summer, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka warned the government that the drive back to work was putting civil servants at unnecessary risk and that PCS would take action. The health and safety issues also go hand in hand with the outsourcing of workers to companies like ISS who have a terrible record of infringing on their workers’ rights, withholding pay and failing to provide adequate PPE.

Katie Leslie, a PCS BEIS organiser, said:

“In just over a year our members are, yet again, being forced into taking industrial action, this time to ensure their safety. It’s time BEIS ended the two tier workforce, that sees our majority Black support staff outsourcing to rogue contractors, and bring them back into the civil service”.

Militant messaging has BT bosses on the hop

Communication Workers Union (CWU) members have sent an unambiguous message to BT, Openreach and EE management in response to threatened redundancies, site closures and attacks on pay and terms & conditions.

The workers have voted 97.9 per cent in favour of strike action in a consultative ballot. And this is on a 74 per cent turnout.

This isn’t a flash in a pan but rather a clear indicator of the new mood emerging from British workers in the post-pandemic period.

CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said:

“For a long time BT Group has been claiming that our union does not speak for the employees and that people are happy with the direction of the company.

“This result shows how laughable those claims are and have always been. This moment should act as a reality check for management and it gives them one final chance to avoid a massive industrial dispute in 2021.

“Our members – many of them key workers – have made it crystal clear today that they will not support an agenda of compulsory redundancies, site closures and a ‘race to the bottom’ on terms and conditions.”

Victory in Doncaster Bins Dispute

Suez Recycling and Recovery, the French multinational corporation that holds the contract for Doncaster domestic recycling has been forced to back down in a dispute over bullying.

Unite members voted for industrial action, 94 per cent in favour. Members wanted an end to bullying and the reinstatement of their rep, Damien Nota, and other union members who have been suspended after weeks of harassment by Suez managers.

But before strike action, planned for 15 December, began Suez caved in

Following the announcement of strike actions fresh negotiations were held and the following was agreed:

  • Damien Nota has been offered reinstatement without sanction
  • All other suspensions will be lifted
  • A new CCTV and monitoring policy will be introduced and adequate training provided
  • Unite will be able to appoint additional union reps and more facility time will be granted to avoid similar problems developing in the future.

Unite regional officer Shane Sweeting said:

“This is a tremendous victory by workers who stood together and by their solidarity have ended a huge workplace injustice.

“Once Suez recognised the strength of feeling among members and understood the level of disruption that bin strikes would cause in Doncaster it entered into negotiations and a highly satisfactory deal has been hammered out.”

Cargo workers to strike at Heathrow

Cargo handlers working for British Airways have voted overwhelmingly for strike action starting on Christmas Day till the New Year. The 850 or so Unite members voted 98%in favour of the strike in response to pay cuts of up to 25% and a deterioration of their terms and conditions.

It is yet another example of the key workers that have kept society running this year being slapped in the face. As Unite said,

“BA cargo workers have continued to operate during two lockdowns and have played a vital role in ensuring that supply chains were maintained in the UK.”

British Airways has repeatedly attempted to shift the cost of the aviation industry slump as a result of Covid onto its workers. Earlier this year it attempted to fire and rehire up to 12,000 of its workers.

Cargo workers are now set to strike for 9 continuous days over the Christmas period and when the conclusion of Brexit talks is likely to cause added strain. Despite BA’s assurances that they can handle it, the strike action will cause disruption they can’t afford.

Airline and airport workers across the industry have organised, stood firm and forced concessions. Together with the Heathrow strike, workers in the aviation industry are showing their power and will set the tone for the struggles to emerge and develop in 2021.

Fighting back against unsafe work - Bradford bus drivers set to strike

Bus drivers working for First West Yorkshire voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action last week as they seek to reverse the company’s move to extend shifts that were brought in as a response to covid.

In a Unite press release, the union said that working patterns currently in place are causing fatigue and stress for drivers, which is a danger to both themselves and the public. Unite reported that 300 out of 350 eligible drivers voted to take action - a net ‘yes’ vote of around 85%.

Unite regional officer Darren Rushworth said:

“Unite members at First West Yorkshire’s Bowling Back Lane site have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action over their dangerously unsustainable schedules.

“The conditions drivers are currently operating under are unsafe for themselves and the public and if First West Yorkshire continues to disregard this, then industrial action will go ahead in the New Year.”

Yet again, we see how employers are using the Covid pandemic to force through changes in pay and conditions. Industrial action against such measures is the most effective method for ensuring workers aren’t forced to pay for the pandemic.

Cardiff Taxi Drivers and Unite the Union Organise to Protect their Members, their Profession and the Public

Taxi drivers in Unite the Union are organising in Cardiff to draw attention to the devastating effects of the Covid crisis on their income and safety. Unite the Union, reporting ahead of their first very effective, well attended and socially distanced demonstration outside Cardiff City Hall, Cathays Park on Tuesday 24 November 2020, said:

“Taxi drivers differ from the wider self-employed workforce, in that there has been no real reprieve even when local and national lockdowns are ceased. The trade heavily relies on other sectors, in particular the hospitality industry. Any lingering restrictions on these sectors leaves a devastating impact on earning opportunities for taxi drivers.

While other sectors have been able to view the ceasing of lockdowns and easing of restrictions as an opportunity to regroup, this has not been the case for the taxi trade. For those that work in the trade, the downturn has been consistent since March. A greater acknowledgement of the unique impact on the taxi trade is required from the government, to ensure that these people are not forgotten about.”

Unite is calling for the establishment of a “hardship fund scheme” alongside financial grants to taxi drivers to install screens in cars and the purchase of essential PPE.

Unite Wales is calling for action in the following areas:

  • A hardship fund scheme similar to that provided to bus and train operators whereby funds are set aside to provide payment in return for transporting key workers.
  • Grants for provision of safety screens in cars.
  • Drivers to be supplied with PPE.
  • Funding for personal mental health support for drivers who struggle with anxiety and isolation.
  • Suspend for an initial period of 3 months all fees relating to drivers’ badges and taxi plates with a review after this period – and to order retrospective refunds for all payments made since the start of the pandemic.
  • All vehicles requiring a plate extension, as per the Local Authority Rules, be granted an automatic extension for the same 3-month period.

Taxi drivers are at high economic and physical risk during this crisis. They are organising through their union to protect their members, profession and the public at large.

You can show your solidarity by signing and sharing the Unite taxi petition.

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