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British Gas strikers, Uddingston

British Gas strikers, Uddingston. Photo: Sophie Johnson

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

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British gas workers are at the forefront of the fight against what is undeniably an employers' offensive against workers pay and conditions. It has recently been estimated that as many as one in ten workers across the board are facing some form of attack on their pay and conditions. Bosses across the private and public sector are using the Covid pandemic as cover to mount a real assault.

The gas workers strike is a really impressive national dispute involving thousands of workers against a drastic attack on their working practices. As in so many other cases it comes at a time when their employers are actually increasing their profits. (link to video)

The next round of four day strikes started today, Friday 26 February. Everyone who wants to push the employers' back needs to get behind them. Please get down to their picket lines, pass a resolution in their support in your union branch or student union and spread the word. Everyone can play a part in making sure the gasworkers win.

Manchester: Bullying bus bosses plan scab operation to break strike

With bus drivers at Manchester’s Queen’s Road depot due to go on all-out strike from Sunday 28th February in their battle against fire and rehire, news has emerged that company management has been working with non-unionised coach companies to organise for scab labour to break the strike.

The drivers’ Facebook page says they have had confirmation that coach company Selwyn's will be contracted to provide replacement bus services for the striking workers in an attempt to undermine the impact the strike would have on service disruption. This is a serious escalation from the company and would suggest they have no intention of working with the union to negotiate a deal that could call off the strike. There are also concerns that a number of other local coach companies will provide replacement vehicles and drivers.

Furthermore, Unite has reported that management at the depot have recently spent almost £50,000 to kit it out with 80 new CCTV cameras that the union fears will be used to snoop on drivers and provide evidence to discipline them for minor offences.

Go North West, led by MD, Nigel Featham is showing itself to be a truly despicable employer, fully intent on using dirty tactics to bully and intimidate its workforce into submission - but the strike has widespread support amongst the drivers after achieving an 82% yes vote in the ballot.

Unite has taken out full page adverts in the free Metro newspaper that is distributed on buses to explain to the public the reasons behind the strike.

The strike is set to begin in the early hours of Sunday morning and if it isn’t resolved quickly, will cause chaos for children returning to school eight days later. Victory for the drivers would deal a huge blow to Go North West and send a message to other transport companies considering fire and rehire.

London’s bus drivers pile on the pressure - second wave of strikes planned

Wednesday rounded off a successful first set of strikes from over 2,000 London bus workers. The workers went on strike due to changes imposed by operator RATP, which could see them lose an average of £2,500 a year.

According to the bus drivers, the pandemic is being used as a smokescreen to push through these changes, despite the bus routes running almost as normal throughout the pandemic. “Bus companies aren’t losing that much money. They’ve run buses throughout the pandemic and they’re being paid upfront”, said one striking worker.

Bus drivers were on strike at three different RATP subsidiaries across West London from Monday till Wednesday. At one subsidiary, Quality Line based in Epsom, Surrey, drivers are being paid £2.50 less per hour than other RATP bus workers, with the company only offering a measly 0.5% pay rise in response to the workers’ action.

Four additional days of strikes have been scheduled for next week, starting on Wednesday, 3 March. Messages of support can be sent to [email protected]

Deskilling of jobs provides the spark for EDF occupation

Earlier this week, electricians and other trade unionists staged an occupation of EDF offices in London and Glasgow to oppose the company’s plans to de-skill jobs at the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Protestors say that EDF has ignored an agreement with Unite to create 500 jobs for apprentices and instead intends to replace them with what they call ‘support operatives’ which will undermine the pay of skilled workers.

Jim Harte, Chair of Unite’s Electrical and Mechanical Combine put the potential changes into context:

“If this isn’t nipped in the bud, then this will spread throughout other major projects such as HS2 and Sizewell C. This is an existential threat to our trade, our livelihoods and our families. This cannot be allowed to happen.”

These workers have a history of militant industrial action and forced large construction companies such as Balfour Beatty to drop similar plans by staging unofficial walkouts and protests to oppose the BESNA agreement in 2012.

Taking a bite out of the bosses’ profits: Walkers Crisp drivers suspend strike action for now

Unite workers employed by Eddie Stobart Ltd, based in Birchwood, Cheshire were due to walk out between February 17 and February 19 in a row over pay.

This dispute involves thirty-eight Unite members who are a key part of the Walkers distribution chain.

The threat of strike action was sufficient to bring the employers to the table.

Unite regional officer Steve Gerrard said, “Unite will be entering the next round of talks on our members’ long-standing dispute over pay in a positive frame of mind.

“However, the strikes due to run from February 28 to March 2 remain in place, and whether these go ahead are dependent on how the talks progress – Unite won’t be commenting further until the negotiations have concluded.”

This is the kind of traction a 96% strike vote gives workers.

BT workers take first strike action in over 20 years

On February 24th 170 BT Openreach Repayment Project Engineers commenced two days of strike action following an 86% yes vote after a turnout of 94%. This is the first strike of any workers in the BT group in over 20 years since 1999.

The strike follows several months of dispute and is in defence of pay and terms & conditions with management attempting to downgrade their role and using intimidation tactics. On the first day of strike action over 480 people joined an online solidarity rally in support of the strike. It Is likely there will be a second set of strike days next week.

Bin workers ballot to strike in Thurrock

Thurrock council faces the prospect of its bin workers taking strike action as a ballot begins over the council’s plans to cut pay and conditions.

Refuse, highways and environment workers at the council as members of Unite are taking action against cuts that will see some of them lose up to £3,500 a year. Meanwhile, the council’s Chief Executive, Lyn Carpenter will see no such cuts to her £200,000 a year salary.

Unite Regional Officer Michelle Cook said:

"There is absolutely no way Unite will accept any proposal to slash the pay of workers who have provided essential services to the residents of Thurrock throughout this pandemic.

"Over the coming weeks and months Unite will be stepping up its campaign to oppose these brutal pay cuts which will leave key workers struggling to make ends meet.

“Unsurprisingly, the council's plans do not include any proposals to cut the pay of the highest earners. The council's leadership have behaved appallingly since our union first legitimately exposed the authority's proposals. If the Chief Executive Lyn Carpenter continues to sanction this sort of behaviour it will only make matters worse.”

Unite agrees deal to save 650 jobs at Rolls-Royce

Unite reports 650 jobs under threat at Rolls Royce plants in Renfrewshire and Ansty near Coventry have been saved. A signed Memorandum of understanding states Unite and Rolls Royce will work together to get new work at the site, including work involving developing green technology.

Steve Turner Unite assistant GS said this is a great victory but appeared to sound caution:

“As we face the triple challenge of recovering from the pandemic, adjusting to the UK’s new position outside of the EU and tackling climate change, it is clear that government now needs to play its part. That means supporting, investing in and procuring from UK manufacturers enabling the transition to a greener economy.”

GMB launches equal pay claim for Dundee Council’s women workers

The GMB union says it will be taking action against Dundee City Council for their discriminatory pay practices against women workers. The union says women could be entitled to thousands of pounds in unpaid bonuses due to the imbalance between agreements for male-dominated roles.

GMB Scotland Organiser Helen Meldrum said:

“The City of Discovery has a sex discrimination problem. It’s working women are being cheated out of money every hour of every working day by the council. 

“The bonus arrangements for workers in services like building and maintenance amount to unequal treatment for their colleagues in services like home care and school support, despite this work being of equal value

“Workers affected will never get the time back that they’ve worked, but they can get what they are owed through the recognition of this discrimination and proper value for the vital work they do for all of us. That’s what GMB is fighting for.”

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