Counterfire's fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back
Second strike planned for British Gas engineers
British Gas engineers and call centre workers staged a five-day strike last week to fight back against the employer’s attempts to reduce their terms and conditions using fire and rehire tactics.
GMB announced on Tuesday that a further five days of strikes will take place at the end of January as the union reported that bosses at British Gas have yet to engage with them to settle the dispute.
It was reported that over 7,000 GMB members took part in the last strike and a similar number will take part in the second round as the union keeps pressure on British Gas management to drop their fire and rehire plans.
A second wave of strikes is the best response against an employer refusing to negotiate. It clearly demonstrates that the GMB members are determined in their fight against disgraceful attempts to reduce the conditions of thousands of dedicated workers.
University of Greenwich: fighting for recognition, striking for equality
The IWGB (Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) is advancing from strength to strength in its fight to incorporate marginal workers into the trade union mainstream.
Outsourced cleaners, porters and security officers at the University of Greenwich, all employed at arm’s length by the Sodexo global corporation, are striking for elementary workers’ right including equal pay, pensions, sick pay, annual leave and parental leave.
This is also the section of the workforce that finds itself most exposed in the fight against Covid.
Campus porter Clive Steadman said: “Let’s hope that by taking action we can win equality and a secure future. That’s all we want. I think that’s my new year’s resolution this year: to have hope. By just posting this ballot paper I feel change.”
IWGB Branch Secretary Charlotte Powell said:
“Despite voicing support for Black Lives Matter and hailing these key workers as ‘heroes’ during lockdown, the University of Greenwich is treating them like second class citizens. Outsourcing creates a two-tier workforce, discriminating against these majority BAME workers.”
Hospital security guards strike for better pay at Royal Berkshire Hospital
Unite members are striking for 20 days across January and February at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. The Unite members on strike provide security for the hospital’s outsourcing provider, Kingdom Services Group and are demanding a pay rise which would see them earning at least £12 per hour.
Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar said:
“Our members will continue their ‘David and Goliath’ struggle in the new year with strike action over 20 days in January and February.
“Our members are seeking a modest pay increase to £12 an hour for security officers and £13.00 an hour for security supervisors, but standing in the way of this reasonable demand for a living wage is a management which is part of a global organisation with a £100 million turnover.”
Unite has also criticised Kingdom Services for using agency staff to undermine the strike.
This is a familiar story of outsourcing creating a race to the bottom for workers. In an NHS where low paid workers are seen as a cash cow for outsourcing companies to skim profits from their labour, industrial action is the most effective tool workers have to defend their pay and conditions.
Trade unions at Google: no workplace is safe from organising workers
Tech-giant Google likes to set itself apart from other global corporations. They call their premises campuses and offer free massages.
This window dressing doesn’t cut any ice with the hundreds of workers who have branched out to form the Alphabet Workers Union.
Alphabet is Google’s multinational parent company.
Sexual harassment is the principal grievance at famously “don’t be evil” corporation. It was this issue that prompted a series of walkouts in 2018. This anger has cohered into a fledgeling organisation.
Union organiser Parul Koul says,
“Our union will work to ensure that workers know what they’re working on, and can do their work at a fair wage, without fear of abuse, retaliation or discrimination. Our union will be open to all Alphabet workers, regardless of classification.
“Temps, vendors and contactors are more likely to be Black or brown — a segregated employment system that keeps half of the company’s work force in second-class roles. Our union will seek to undo this grave inequity,”
Security staff and caterers have already achieved union recognition at Google.
The lesson is clear: socialists have to fight for unionisation on every front. And they can win.
Heathrow Airport passport control staff to ballot over rota changes
Four hundred members of the Public & Commercial Services union (PCS) are being balloted for strike action over rosters.
For many years, workers at Heathrow Airports Passport Control have been able to swap and request shifts among themselves.
Local managers have brought an end to this with the implementation of a fixed rota system from early January onwards.
Typically, the bosses are using Covid as an excuse for this change to terms and conditions.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“Imposing roster changes that will impact on members with caring responsibilities and those with disabilities is unacceptable. Strike action is a last resort and the Home Office needs to get back to negotiating with the union in good faith to avert industrial action at Heathrow.”
PCS’ balloting of its members began on 8 January.
Once again, bosses who exploit the pandemic to attack workers may be biting off more than they can chew.
RMT declares dispute with Cross Country Trains
Despite soaring infection rates, Cross Country Trains has refused to revise its procedures and risk assessments and is insisting that staff continue with revenue collection duties as normal. In response, the RMT has declared a dispute on behalf of affected members including Train Managers, Senior Conductors, and Revenue Support specialist grades.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said the union “will not tolerate train operators playing fast and loose with staff and passenger safety in light of the emergence if the new Covid variant and we are deadly serious.”
The RMT has also advised affected members to not undertake revenue collection duties and to invoke the company’s work safe procedures.
This follows the NEU’s example at the start of the year of advising its members to use Section 44 notices and to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.
Court security workers consider action over pay and conditions
The Public and Civil Service Union has launched a ballot for members working for the security company OCS which runs security at courts. The company is refusing to pay security staff a real living wage or any weekend premium. It is also refusing to give staff a decent leave entitlement or to pay extra allowances for supervisors.
OCS is claiming it cannot afford to meet these basic demands despite the fact that they have recently issued a statement boasting that they have made £20 million in Covid-related sales since March last year. The ballot of security staff closes on February 3.
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