Counterfire's fortnightly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back
Earlier this week, British Gas engineers as members of GMB announced that their strike against fire and rehire would be extended by a further twelve days. This is on top of the twelve days they have been on strike already this year.
Put into context, these workers will have sacrificed a full month’s pay this year in their battle to preserve their terms and represents a courageous fightback against appalling attempts to force them, as loyal employees, onto worse pay and conditions.
Fire and rehire in the last year has become so widespread it could almost be seen as a workers’ pandemic but striking has proven to be an effective method to defeat such plans in several notable instances.
We need to support these workers in every way possible. GMB is asking people to sign this letter to the board of British Gas and urge them to change course. Financial support is also welcome via contributions to the strike fund.
Manchester’s bus drivers say ‘no’ to fire and rehire, ‘yes’ to strike action
For months, plans to bully bus drivers at Go North West’s Queen’s Road Depot in Manchester into reducing their terms and conditions have been afoot.
Last year, the company suspended the Unite rep on spurious grounds and shortly after, attempted to use section 188 on the drivers to tear up their terms and conditions, shamefully attacking their sick pay during the coronavirus pandemic.
This led to local trade unionists and community activists taking direct action at the depot, blocking the buses from starting their routes early in the morning. The rep was reinstated and plans to fire and rehire were dropped.
But earlier this year, Go North West resumed their plans and Unite announced they would ballot the drivers for strike action to fight back. Yesterday, the results of the ballot were announced as 82% voted in favour of strike action.
The kind of direct action support the drivers received last year is tricky under current lockdown rules but striking will hit the company harder. This is a key battle in public transport and a victory for the workers would make other operators think twice about trying similar moves elsewhere.
Three separate strikes planned on London’s buses
Drivers at RATP, which operates three subsidiaries in the London bus network: London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line have voted to strike for three days from Monday 22nd February.
Unite says that the French-owned company is using covid as an excuse to attack the terms and conditions of its drivers - reducing pay by £2,500 and seeking to implement zero-hours style contracts which would expect them to be at work far longer and not receive full pay for time spent there.
Separately, drivers at Quality Line’s Epsom depot will strike for two days from February 22nd as they seek pay parity with RATP’s other drivers. The company offered them an increase of just 7p per hour which falls well short of the £2.50 per hour difference they receive compared to other RATP drivers.
Unite regional officer for RATP, Michelle Braveboy, said:
“RATP is guilty of using the cover of the pandemic to force through attacks on terms and conditions and table pitiful pay offers.
“RATP has a long history of attacking one group of workers at a time, attempting to slash pay and conditions, before moving onto the next group. Our members are drawing a line in the sand with this dispute.
“Workers are taking industrial action as a last resort as the company has refused to listen to reason and continue with the negotiations.
“They understand that bus strikes will cause huge disruption to the general public but believe they have no choice but to defend terms and conditions and ensure a fair pay offer.”
The third London bus dispute will see 4,000 Unite members balloting at Metroline over the Singapore-owned company’s proposals to introduce remote sign-on.
Unite says that remote sign-on forces drivers to start work away from the depot as a method to increase profits. Unite argues that this causes disruption to services, has major safety implications and will equate to a 7% pay cut for affected workers.
The union has been seeking a resolution to the dispute through Acas but these have failed as Metroline were unwilling to budge on their demands.
On the buses in Bradford: another strong strike vote gets results
The Mexican wave of transport worker militancy has hit Yorkshire.
Last December three hundred bus drivers at First West Yorkshire voted in favour of strike action in response to the company’s attempt to introduce post-pandemic scheduling. The new schedules were causing fatigue and stress for drivers, endangering themselves and the public.
Eighty per cent of the drivers voted in favour of strike action.
In the face of this an agreement has been reached ‘amicably’.
Unite regional officer Darren Rushworth said: “We are pleased that this dispute has been resolved amicably and without the need for industrial action, thanks to the hard work of our members, dispute committee and First West Yorkshire.
Being able to utilise a workforce’s collective strength to satisfactorily resolve issues such as this is exactly why workers should join Unite.”
Once again the bosses’ think twice when they see a fight ahead of them.
Goldsmiths UCU continues to fight back
UCU members at Goldsmiths University are continuing to challenge deteriorating conditions and potential job cuts with industrial action.
The action short of strike means staff involved are no longer releasing students’ marks and covering for colleagues on leave or doing overtime. There is a lot of turbulence in the higher education sector, but Goldsmiths is one of the few branches actually taking action.
Goldsmiths UCU say:
“It is our greatest hope that SMT will decide to meet our demands ASAP so that the negative impact on students can be minimised. However, the responsibility lies with them to do so and stop further industrial action.”
Assessment boycotts have long been mooted as an effective industrial weapon for lecturers and administrators. Goldsmiths UCU are hoping to prove it.
Stains on the Heartlands: Unison health workers fighting back in Brum
The employer’s fire-and-rehire offensive continues apace in Birmingham.
Unison members at the Heartlands Hospital received dismissal notices last week having been told to accept the NHS Trust’s new schedules or be sacked. This isn’t a footloose global corporation flexing its neoliberal muscles, this is a publicly run NHS trust.
In the current climate, bullying swagger like this won’t go unchallenged. Unison has delivered twelve days of strike action since the autumn and it isn’t over yet.
Unison’s Roger Mackenzie said: “Employers are deciding that firing and rehiring is the quickest way of being able to get what they want.
They see it as the best way of achieving their aims, without having to go through proper industrial relations procedures. And that’s what we have to stand up against. This is a seminal dispute for us, an absolute seminal dispute.”
These workers are at the centre of our fight against Covid and their employers are behaving like swine.
‘Pay beef’ strike put on hold as Quorn factory workers consider offer
Workers at Quorn’s Billingham factory have called off planned strikes after forcing their employer to increase their original pay increase offer.
A series of strikes were planned from February 5th to February 12th after workers balloted in response to the company’s offer of a 2% pay increase.
Unite says that workers have seen production demands surge due to increased popularity of vegetarian and vegan foods and their members deserve more than what was offered. Strike action was announced on 26th January but put on hold last week as the company decided to renegotiate and avoid action.
At the time, Unite regional officer Fazia Hussain-Brown said:
“The company’s workforce is well aware that Quorn can afford to table a pay offer that reflects their hard work during the crisis and will not back down until that happens. There is still time to avoid industrial action and Unite calls on the company’s management to get back round the negotiating table with an offer our members can accept.”
It would seem that the bosses at Quorn have realised there is power in a union!
Negotiations between central Government and TfL are under way as the term of the second financial bailout secured in October 2020 approaches it expiry date at the end of March.
The Government employed accountancy consultants KPMG to Report to review TfL’s finances last summer. The Report has been completed but remains unpublished. TfL meanwhile have issued their own “Financial Sustainability Plan” which includes proposals to cut services; make efficiency saves and review workers’ pay, benefits and pensions.
The proposals essentially amount to cuts-max or cuts-lite packages respectively. This is unacceptable to the transport unions which are organising independently against the attacks.
Last September, members of the train drivers’ union Aslef returned a massive 95.2% yes vote for industrial action against any attacks to our jobs and terms and conditions. Under the anti-trade union laws, that mandate needs to be renewed and ballot papers are set to be issued from 15 February (closing date 15 March). All members have been urged to vote yes and return their ballot.
The RMT recently held a successful meeting of 300 members and are discussing the need for a ballot to protect jobs and pay.
The link to rank and file London transport bulletin Tunnel Vision can be found here.
Arcadia: Thousands more jobs under threat
The USDAW union is calling on the government to act to protect retail shops as part of their “save our shops” campaign as thousands of more jobs under threat as online giant ASOS secured a 265m deal to takeover Top shop, Miss Selfridge and HIIT brands of Sir Philip Green’s failed Arcadia group. Arcadia fell into administration in December under the weight of £750M in debts.
Now, BooHoo – Asos online rival – has acquired the rest of the Arcadia group Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Wallis for £25.2million with 214 stores to permanently close and 2,450 jobs axed immediately.
The Administrator Deloitte has not announced buyers for Arcadia’s 118 physical stores which means thousands of jobs are at high risk of redundancy.
Find out more about Usadw's "Save our Shops" Campaign here.
Pass the model resolution to support the People’s Covid Inquiry in your union branch
All trade unionists should support the People’s Covid Inquiry launched by Keep Our NHS Public (KONP)
KONP explain, “with so many dead and still dying, we believe the public deserves to know how and why this has happened. We believe the time to learn lessons and save lives now. We'll be hosting online sessions, conducting wide surveys, and asking our expert panellists and witnesses, including Michael Mansfield QC, Prof Sir David King, Prof Neena Modi, Dr Jacky Davis, Richar Horton (Lancet), Kevin Courney (NEU), Lindsey German (People’s Assembly) and many more to help us find the answers we all deserve”
Please pass this motion in your trade union branch to support the campaign for a People’s Covid Inquiry
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