Counterfire's weekly digest rounding up the stories of working people getting organised and fighting back
PCS members working for the DVLA ins Swansea have voted for strike action over coronavirus related health and safety issues at work. The office in Swansea saw a massive outbreak of infections amongst its workers at the end of last year which led to the closure of the contact centre.
PCS were at the time calling for the centre to return to levels of staffing seen in the first lockdown, where between 250-500 workers would be in the offices at any one time. Despite this numbers of staff during the latest lockdown are reported to be up to 2,500.
The ballot returned a 71.6% vote for strike action and 76.9% for action short of a strike, on a turnout of 50.3%.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“This result is a damning indictment on DVLA management in their abject failure to keep staff safe.
“Our members have been forced into this position and industrial action will take place unless management immediately implement all necessary changes to ensure staff are safe at work.”
This action serves as a timely reminder that covid isn't over. Workplace infection remains a real threat and the best protection a worker can have is through their union.
Strike action at the University of Central Lancashire and beyond
Seventy-seven percent vote for strike action and eighty-eight percent vote for action short of striking.
That’s how UCU members at UCLan (the former Preston Polytechnic) have responded to the threat of job cuts at their Faculty of Culture and Creative Industries. Trade unionists are very clear that this is only Step One in a further and wider “restructuring” initative from the bosses.
UCU leader Jo Grady says:
“The university needs to halt these cuts. It has already cut hundreds of staff over the past 18 months whilst seeing an increase in student numbers, and it talks about budget deficits whilst holding cash reserves of £100m and embarking on new building projects costing tens of millions of pounds.”
A whole number of HEIs are now striking, about to strike or preparing to ballot. These include Goldsmiths, the University of East London and the University of Liverpool.
This in turn is against a backdrop of live USS pension and terms-and-conditions disputes involving over seventy institutions. Once again we see the years of discontent within the sector taking on a concrete form. Let’s hope the newly elected UCU Lefts to the national executive can ensure this becomes sharper and more coherent.
Keep up to date with your solidarity here.
Jesus! Cleaners forced to strike for 40 days and 40 nights for survival
On the 16th of March UVW Cleaners at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls School in South London commence 40 days and 40 nights of strike action. The cleaners, Latin American migrants, are outsourced to a private contractor Ecoleen.
In December last year the workers used section 44 to walk off the job, they did not feel safe as there were high levels of Covid in the school and no risk assessment had taken place.
The cleaners are demanding full sick pay, the London living wage, equal working conditions with the teachers in their workplace, trade union recognition and repayment of withheld wages from when they used section 44.
Cleaner Roberto said “We are cleaners, the lowest class in society, we have to pay rent, we have to pay bills, we have to do lots of things and we need the money… When we get ill- either with Covid-19 or something else- we simply can’t afford to take sick leave. If we do we’ll lose our wages and we already live on the breadline”
Striking Go North West drivers paying the price of shareholder dividends
Bus drivers at the Go North West bus depot in Manchester are completing their second week of continuous strike action against the company’s fire and rehire plans.
Unite has blown out of the water Go North West’s claims that drivers must be forced to suffer for the company’s losses by revealing that parent company, Go-Ahead made £12.3 million in profits on its local bus service in their half-yearly reports.
Go Ahead’s decision to pay shareholders a dividend whilst attacking the pay and conditions were exposed. Highlighting that the company has received £218 million of funding from the government to run bus services during covid, Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said:
“Go-Ahead is intent on using taxpayers’ money to pay dividends to fat cat shareholders at the same time that they are cutting the pay of bus drivers who have kept the service running throughout the pandemic.
“Go-Ahead care more about keeping its shareholders happy, rather than the wellbeing of bus drivers, who they expect to work even longer hours for no extra pay.
“Go-Ahead’s attitude demonstrates all that is wrong about the UK’s privatised bus service.”
Go North West intends to fire and rehire its drivers, who earn £24,000 a year and force them to work on average three hours a week extra for no additional pay.
Manchester Trades Council has organised a solidarity meeting this Saturday at 11 am with a range of speakers including Pat Gleave, Unite branch secretary, Queen’s Road bus garage and set up a dedicated page on their site with information on the dispute.
Negotiations break down in London’s bus dispute
After talks between Unite and RATP broke down last week, the London bus strikes will continue throughout March. Bus workers at the operator’s subsidiary London Sovereign in North West London were out on Wednesday in a dispute over pay, with workers having been offered a measly 0.75% pay increase by the company.
Workers have also been on strike at RATP’s two other subsidiaries Quality Line in Surrey and London United in South and West London. At the picket line last week, London United workers were confident that they were causing significant disruption, with only 9 out of 200 buses being in operation, and that the community was supporting them.
So far, workers from RATP’s three subsidiaries London Sovereign, London United and Quality Line have struck on different days, but Unite plans for future strike action to be coordinated across the companies.
Further strike dates have been planned for Wednesday 17th, 24th and 31st. There will be pickets at RATP’s garages in Edgware, Epsom, Fulwell, Harrow, Hounslow, Park Royal, Shepherd’s Bush and Tolworth.
Please pass this model resolution at your trade union branches, trades councils and CLPs.
12 days of strike action added to British Gas dispute
The GMB union announced this week that the British Gas strike will be extended by a further twelve days after ACAS talks with British Gas broke down because the company refused to drop its plans to fire and rehire the workers.
7,000 engineers will walk out on March 12th to 15th, 19th to 22nd and 26th to 29th, bringing the total number of strike days to 42.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said:
“Twelve more strike days will go ahead at British Gas after gas and electrical engineers overwhelmingly rejected a revised offer at ACAS because the company didn’t take fire and rehire off the table.
“The company needs to understand its fire and rehire plan is the big obstacle to members accepting a deal – they must withdraw it now.”
This is an extraordinary display of resilience from the engineers who had at one point suspended strikes in the hope that British Gas would see sense and backtrack on fire and rehire. If you can’t get down to a picket line during the strike, the GMB is asking people to e-mail British Gas boss Chris O’Shea which can be done here.
Remember Gabriel Bringye: App drivers strike over safety
Bolt, Uber, Free Now and Olao drivers took strike action following the murder of IWGB member Gabriel Bringye. ON 17th February Gabriel was stabbed to death in Tottenham while working for Bolt. Drivers picketed in multiple locations, the strike was organised by Romanian driver groups and supported by the IWGB union. Results from an IWGB survey show nearly all workers who responded had been physically assaulted and over 80% had received verbal abuse.
IWGB united private hire drivers branch vice-chair Nader Awaad said “Most of my colleagues have been assaulted at work so Gabriel’s death is not only tragic but alarming, That’s why we’re calling not only for practical health and safety measures but also culture change.
Passengers don’t expect to be held accountable for abusive behaviours because the model companies like Bolt and Uber promote is one where drivers have no power, no voice. As long as these operators treat us like second class citizens, denied the most basic rights, operators set a dangerous precedent: that our lives don’t matter.”
BT: CWU calls for historic action with mass ballot
BT, OpenReach and EE workers are set to ballot on strike action with the potential for the first company-wide strike in 34 years at BT after talks with the company broke down. The CWU says its members are facing an unprecedented and sustained assault on job security and hard-won terms & conditions.
Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said:
“We didn’t pick this fight. In fact we’ve provided management with every possible opportunity to step back from the brink, consistently offering to work in partnership with the business to address whatever challenges it faces – just as we’ve done on numerous occasions over the decades since privatisation.
“What we’re not prepared to accept, however, is seeing members’ cherished job security and Ts&Cs being attacked on multiple fronts – with longstanding colleagues being picked off one by one, simply because a new breed of management wants to stamp its mark by making compulsory redundancies as a matter of warped principle.”
Keep up with the latest news from CWU’s BT campaign here.
Victory for Ambulance Workers and Paramedics
Following a GMB union campaign, ambulance workers and paramedics have won full Covid-19 sick pay. Until now these workers in the West Midlands were not entitled to full sick pay when isolating due to Covid despite official NHS advice being that workers should be paid in full including average overtime whilst off work due to coronavirus.
Following the GMB win they will now receive full sick pay including an average of overtime work and back pay from February 2020. Last month a GMB survey found that more than one in three ambulance staff have had the virus.
GMB regional organiser Kirsty Hackney said:
“Front-line ambulance workers have taken power in the workplace and won material gains for themselves and their co-workers. Our ambulance service branch fought ceaselessly to make sure no worker is punished for self-isolating.
“Their strength as united workers means they can get on with the job of defeating Covid-19 and saving lives.”
London Living Wage victory for Hestia housing workers
Twenty-two thousand pounds a year is the new basic wage for workers at the London-based housing support group. This is the result of a five-month campaign by Unite the Union.
Unite membership at Hestia doubled during the course of the campaign.
Unite regional officer Steve O’Donnell said: “This campaign, without which the underpayment of staff would never have been exposed or dealt with, is testament to the hard work and solidarity of Hestia’s unionised workforce.
“It is also a perfect example of the benefits of joining Unite, which the increasing number of members at Hestia would agree with. There is only one way for workers to be safer, stronger and better paid and that is to join a union.”
If trade unionists can get results like this during lockdown, it bodes well for all our futures.
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