Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
The Supreme Court ruled against Asda in a fight for equal pay, which could lead to £500 million in compensation for workers. GMB are backing the fight for shop workers, who are mostly women, to get paid the same – £1.50-£3 more per hour – as warehouse staff, who are mostly men.
The Supreme Court has backed a decision from an employment tribunal in 2016 that shop staff work is comparable to distribution work. Wendy Arundale, previously worker at Asda for 32 years said:
“I loved my job but knowing that male colleagues working in distribution centres were being paid more left a bitter taste in my mouth”.
There are more hurdles to cross in this case but this is a big victory already and the outcome will also have an impact on thousands of workers at other supermarkets who are in similar disputes over equal pay including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.
Sick of mistreatment, Wilko workers prepare to strike
Wilko’s key workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike, returning a massive 88% yes vote in a consultative ballot over cuts in sick pay. Despite the retail workers working throughout the pandemic, Wilko has ‘rewarded’ them with a reduction in company sick pay to just one day a year.
Presently, the policy allows for four occasions of sickness on company sick pay before reverting to the first three days of sick leave unpaid. Many Wilko workers are on low pay and low hours and will have no entitlement to statutory sick pay leaving them penniless if they became ill.
The pandemic has shown how important full sick pay is and this is an outrageous attack on workers.
Ecolean and La Retraite retreat as striking cleaners secure victory
UVW union have claimed a victory for cleaners at La Retraite girls school in South London who have been fighting for better pay, sick pay and conditions. Just two days into a 40 day strike of biblical proportions, UVW state workers have secured a 24% wage increase with London living wage backdated pay; full sick pay in line with teachers; improvements to health and safety and the return of unlawfully deducted pay following a section 44 walkout over safety.
Striking worker Roberto Hernández Díaz said,
“We should never have had to fight for equality, but we were no longer going to allow ourselves to be treated like the dirt we clean.”
Another striker Magaly Quesada added,
“After struggling for so long against La Retraite and Ecolean for something as basic as a living wage and sick pay. I feel relieved that justice and common sense finally won”.
Deliveroo workers park their bikes
Deliveroo riders are set to strike ahead of the company’s upcoming IPO. Riders in London will stop making deliveries next week in protest against poor pay and conditions. The IWGB union reported that their investigations have found some Deliveroo workers are earning less than £2 per hour.
Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB, said:
“Until riders are classified as workers and given basic rights, Deliveroo will continue to face protests and challenges from these key workers,”
The release of the IWGB’s investigation, coupled with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Uber drivers looks to have scared off some potential investors who are citing their concerns over the conditions the company’s workers face as a reason for not investing. Prior to these recent concerns, Deliveroo's CEO was preparing to net £500m from the IPO.
It’s hard to believe that the real reason for the lack of hedge fund investment is over worries about workers’ rights and much more likely that they view Deliveroo as a risky investment, which could be devalued by future legal rulings and strike action.
Victory for the flying pickets: justice at last for the Shrewsbury 24
It took nearly fifty years but at last, the convictions against the Shrewsbury 24 have been overturned. They had been convicted on trumped-up charges simply because they were active pickets in the 1972 building workers’ strike.
On the day of the verdict, Dave Smith, Secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, told Counterfire that this was an
"absolutely historic decision. Not just for the Shrewsbury Pickets themselves but for the entire union movement. Well done to everyone who fought for justice for so many years. There are plenty lessons to be learnt and questions to be asked. But tonight, we celebrate."
We must use this victory as a launchpad to call into question the attitude of the state to trade unions and to start a meaningful campaign to abolish the anti-trade union laws. We should also redouble our opposition to the Police and Crime Bill.
Grounded: more strikes planned at Heathrow
Two sets of strikes will take place at Heathrow Airport this April. Home Office passport control staff, represented by PCS, will strike for a week from 1 April over “unworkable” proposed rota changes. Heathrow Airport Ltd. (HAL) workers, represented by Unite, will be out on strike again in April in a long-running dispute over fire-and-rehire.
This HAL strike will involve workers in the engineering, airside operations, fire service, security and central terminal operations sectors. Unite is currently planning 41 strikes between April 2-23, with each sector striking for seven days.
The new contracts offered HAL workers would see employees receive an average 24% pay cut and worsened conditions. Both groups of workers argue that Covid is being used as a pretext to force through aggressive reforms that have been planned for a long time. Workers, however, should feel confident after the success of the British Airways cargo handlers’ strike, also at Heathrow, in January.
UCU update: prison educators have had enough too
Forty-nine prison and young offender institutions are balloting for strike action in England and Wales over Covid health and safety fears.
The move to strike action follows a year of skirmishes with the Novus prison education management including a comprehensive Vote of No Confidence in the private company’s CEO.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
“Prison educators should not be forced into a position where they have to withdraw their labour to protect themselves. Covid death rates on the prison estate are incredibly worrying, as are the increased levels of violence our members are reporting across the youth estate.”
Elsewhere in the sector, six Further Education colleges in Northern Ireland are commencing an action campaign over pay with a set of one-day strikes. Once again, we see discontent is cohering into action in the colleges.
Be sure to keep up to date with your UCU solidarity.
UCLan: top marks for militant lecturers
University of Central Lancashire UCU have suspended planned strike action over six compulsory redundancies with a return to the table with employers.
In a statement with UCLan, the union said that they have managed to reduce the roles at risk to four and will continue negotiating to bring that number down further.
Let’s hope the union manages to hold to the bosses to their word. “No compulsory redundancies” has to be a bare minimum demand in the current period.
Driving solidarity to the bus workers
Manchester People’s Assembly is organising a cavalcade in support of the City’s key workers that will end in a rally at the Go North West bus depot in Queen’s Road to show solidarity and support for the striking bus drivers.
The cavalcade has the support of Manchester Trades Council and is part of the People’s Assembly’s national day of action. The route will also pass Manchester Royal Infirmary to show appreciation for NHS workers.
Manchester People's Assembly Co-Convenor, Karen Buckley wants to build as much support for the event locally as possible:
"We are calling on activists across Greater Manchester to join us for this important event to stand in solidarity with Manchester's key workers. Please join us at East Didsbury Park and Ride for a 2pm start."
GM Mayor, Andy Burnham announced this week that he intends to bring Manchester’s bus services back under public control, using a franchising model similar to TfL, reversing the Thatcherite deregulation from decades ago. This is potentially good news for both bus workers and Manchester residents.
Tech workers take a stand
London tenant-referencing workers in Unite at the tech firm Goodlord were out on strike again on 18 and 19 March against the company's attempts at slashing wages using fire and rehire. The workers process information for a variety of estate agents.
There was a lively picket outside the company offices near Brick Lane in East London. Members from a number of other Unite branches came along to support. The strikers are all committed to keeping up the fight until all their demands are met.
British Gas deadline passes
The long-running strike of GMB members at British Gas passed a significant milestone this week as the deadline for signing new contracts imposed using fire and rehire passed leaving the potential for a bizarre situation where the company loses all of its engineers.
Steven Whittle, a GMB rep and British Gas engineer in Manchester said:
“The deadline passed today 25th for people to sign the protected terms, people facing the choice of being forced to sign a contract or lose thousands and effectively being ‘locked out’.
“The thing that has stood out the most has been the solidarity of the engineers and staff alike, all eyes facing the business looking for an end to be brought to this awful process. We move into the next strike days, as we plan the next steps in this dispute.”
Defend Kirstie Paton: Greenwich NEU ballot members for strike action
Kirstie Paton, a teacher, NEU Rep and member of the NEU Exec faces disciplinary action for speaking out about safety at the Joan Roan School, south London. Kirstie, who has taught for 20 years at the school which is run by academy chain United Learning, raised concerns over the safety of lateral flow testing in schools.
Kirstie highlighted the use of existing school staff to do the testing on her NEU Facebook page. Instead of addressing the safety concerns raised, United Learning decided to discipline Kirstie on grounds of misconduct. Greenwich NEU are balloting members for strike action to defend Kirstie.
An NEU rally in support of Kirstie on Monday 22nd March stressed the need to call out bullying, insisting that this is “bigger than trade unions – it’s about human rights and democracy”. Sign the petition in support of Kirstie Paton.
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