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British Gas picket line, Stockport

British Gas picket line, Stockport. Photo: Karen Buckley

Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles

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The GMB union has announced a 43rd day of strike action on April 14th in the bitter British Gas strike against fire and re-hire as workers face an imposed 15% pay cut among other changes to their conditions and contracts.

Having originally threatened mass sackings on 1st April, British Gas CEO Chris O'Shea despatched termination letters to striking engineers informing them that they will be dismissed on 14th April if they don't 'voluntarily accept' the imposed changes. 

Following the 43rd day of the strike, an official ‘national lockout dispute’ between British Gas and GMB will include further strike action and action short of a strike. The extent of O'Shea's bullying and intimidation has generated anger and disgust among the strikers and trade unionists everywhere.

An all-out strike combined with co-ordinated solidarity from across the trade union movement could repel the employers' attacks. No group of striking workers should be left to fight in isolation.

Support the DVLA strike

PCS reported that, despite their best efforts to ensure a safe working environment for their members at the DVLA through negotiations, there has been no serious attempt to resolve the issues faced in a working environment that has seen one of the worst covid outbreaks in the country.

As a result, strikes will take place next week from the 6th to 9th of April. PCS is asking supporters to register for and attend a solidarity rally on the 6th here. Further information, including details of the strike fund, can be found on the PCS website.

The lack of care taken by the DVLA to ensure their workers can carry out their duties in a safe environment has forced them to take matters into their own hands. Striking will show other employers that they have a choice: take covid in the workplace seriously or deal with industrial action.

Strike pays off for RAF site workers

Twenty days of strike action by operational and engineering Unite workers has paid off. Workers at the RAF Leeming base have been taking strike action since January to secure a better pay deal and gain parity with equivalent workers at other RAF sites around the UK.

The action was called off after a satisfactory deal was reached. Unite announced that their members will receive a £1,500 a year shift premium and a 2.5% pay increase, both backdated to April 2020.

Unite regional officer Neil Howells said: 

“Going on strike was not an easy decision for this workforce, who take great pride in their roles assisting operations at the base.

"We are extremely pleased that this dispute has been resolved amicably with a topflight pay deal for our members and that they can now get back to work.”

London’s bus drivers standing firm

Unite the union bus drivers at RATP subsidiary, London United resumed strike action on Wednesday, downing tools for 48 hours. Last week’s strike was suspended in goodwill for ‘peace talks’ in an endeavour to secure a settlement in the dispute. The dispute centres on the increasingly familiar pattern of an employer using Covid as cover to attack conditions and pay.

The workers are being offered a 1.5% pay rise, i.e. a real-terms pay cut, and are facing attacks on terms and conditions that could see them lose much more than this. Meanwhile, RATP have an annual turnover in excess of 5 billion euros and its London-based chief executive, Christine Chardon, saw her pay dramatically increased from £196,000 to £363,000.

One striking bus driver told Counterfire: 

“I hate coming into work now, it’s like living under a cloud. We just want this to end. But if we give in to any of their demands, we’ll be opening the floodgates. Everything we have now has been the result of 20 years of struggle. If we give up now, it’ll be like rolling the clock back to 1990”.

“We’re feeling more determined than ever.”

The strike will continue on the 7th and 15th. All seven of the London United bus garages are set to strike on Thursday 15 April as Stamford Brook and Hounslow Heath bus drivers join the fray. RATP appear rattled as they have called for talks next Tuesday. We need to support them as much as possible.

Please pass this model motion at your local trade union branch/CLP/trades council. Send messages of solidarity to [email protected].

Heathrow action suspended for now

Two strikes at Heathrow Airport, due to start this week, have been suspended, following progress in talks.

The PCS dispute, involving around 450 border control staff has been suspended following concessions from management, who have now agreed to enter negotiations over planned roster changes that would have negatively impacted staff with childcare and caring responsibilities. Management has agreed to preserve much of the flexibility of the previous system, including the ability to swap and request shifts.

Unite had planned a series of 41 targeted strikes over 24 days in a dispute encompassing firefighters, engineers, security staff and more. Yesterday, it was announced that an agreement had been reached between Unite and Heathrow Airport Ltd. (HAL) on a new pay offer.

This offer includes “the potential for pay increases of 5% over the next two years,” as well as “the insourcing of work which will increase earnings for some of the workforce by up to £3,000 and a commitment to review working hours of some sectors to improve work/life balance.” The strikes have now been postponed, pending a ballot of the membership.

Solidarity en route for victimised RMT rep

RMT union is standing firm in its support for victimised rep and branch secretary Declan Clune. Declan was sacked for alerting Network Rail to a suspected bridge strike on a Blue Star route.

The company should have reported the incident itself. It is a legal requirement to inform Network Rail of any vehicle strike on a rail bridge - for pretty obvious reasons! When Declan (as a health and safety rep) became aware the suspected strike had not been reported, he reported it himself.

This is a basic matter for the safety of rail users, and the company then got billed for £300 for the cost of the structural inspection. Their response - shoot the messenger and sack the rep. The union is now preparing to ballot its Blue Star members over what it described as “a disgraceful attack on fundamental union principle".

Workers prepare to give fire and re-hire the boot at BCM

BCM Fareva, a Nottingham based manufacturer of consumer pharma and beauty products for many retailers including Boots, is planning to fire and re-hire workers.

Usdaw has written to BCM demanding the plans to fire and re-hire are dropped, citing the detrimental impact on workers’ pensions, life assurance, sick pay and redundancy payment provisions.

Usdaw will move to hold a consultative industrial action ballot should BCM fail to withdraw their plans. This follows a long battle with the company over pay that was settled earlier this year.

These workers have worked throughout the pandemic and this is another example of key workers being sacked and re-hired on worst terms and conditions which must be fought against.

Go North West negotiations breakdown

Unite has announced that Manchester’s Go North West bus drivers, still on continuous strike over fire and rehire, will carry on with their indefinite industrial action after mediation talks through ACAS broke down on Thursday.

This comes just before a day of solidarity is planned in the City, starting with the People’s Assembly’s ‘People’s Cavalcade’ which will set off from East Disdbury Metrolink at 2pm and finish at the depot. The cavalcade will be followed by a rally and march which has been jointly organised by Manchester Trades Council, the striking drivers and Manchester People’s Assembly.

Activists and trade unionists have also been continuing with their early direct action, blocking buses from leaving the depot at both Go North West’s temporary depot and those of the scab contractors, brought in to break the strike.

The prospect of hundreds of striking workers marching through Cheetham Hill will be quite a spectacle, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the area for many years. If you’re in the North West, make sure to get to the Go North West bus depot, Queen’s Road for 3pm.

All eyes on Alabama Amazon as unionisation vote begins to be counted

Five thousand workers at Amazon Bessemer’s distribution centre are seeking representation by the Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU). Three-quarters of these workers are black. The votes are in and the count is on.

The result may take days with or without contestation by the employers. The stakes could hardly be higher. This vote represents a litmus test of working-class combativity in the post-pandemic period and a challenge to the status of so-called “non-unionisable” workplaces, not just in the US but globally. Alabama has long been a pressure point for radical change in the US. The world is watching, our side and the bosses.

If Amazon Bessemer unionises it will be the first Amazon workplace in the US to do so. This will be an immense and historic victory.

The union have mobilised in an admirably bold and inclusive way, garnering support from POTUS Joe Biden, hip hop superstars Run the Jewels and Hollywood heavyweight Danny Glover.  

A “yes” vote would also blow the lid off the much-lauded new tech “progressiveness”. As one Bessemer worker says of Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos:

“He gives all this money to Black Lives Matter, but he doesn’t want to really, truly, help the black workers who work for him.”

Counterfire will keep you updated.

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