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RCN nurses on the People's Assembly's NHS in crisis demonstration, 2018

RCN nurses on the People's Assembly's NHS in crisis demonstration, 2018. Photo: Jim Aindow

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

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The RCN has announced training for 25,000 of its members to organise a fight back after the government offer of a measly 1% pay rise - in real terms a disgraceful pay cut.

“Engage, educate, empower” is the slogan for the training, initially for six weeks but with plans to expand further. The aim is to have nurses ready to fight through campaigns for employment rights, safety at work, pay and more. The RCN say that alongside setting up a £35 million strike fund this is in preparation if the government continue to ignore the need for a pay rise for NHS workers, the power of the workers can be fully mobilised. 

Danielle Tiplady, RCN nurse and activist said,

“After 11 years of austerity nurses wages have fallen by over 20%. This is impacting morale and people are leaving. Things were bad before the pandemic, but now over 1/3 of nurses are thinking of leaving the profession.

“That is why the RCN is demanding a restorative pay rise of 12.5% to claw some of the money we have lost back and to make us nurses feel valued. This is the first time I have seen the RCN be slightly bold in their demands.

“They have also set up a £35 million strike fund and are training us as organisers to build for a ballot. Of course we need to keep pressuring the leadership to show them that we are serious about this and force them into balloting us for strike action. It is time we took a stand the future of nursing is at risk. Please stand by us and support us”

The significance of the RCN, a union not usually known for its militancy, gearing up its workers for action shows just how insulting the low pay offer to NHS workers is. GMB is also preparing health workers to fight back against the woeful offers from both the UK and Scottish governments.

Bristol Water: GMB members burst into action  

Bristol Water’s attempts to curb employees’ pay and pension contributions have been stymied by a bold and effective response from the workers. Three-quarters of the GMB members involved voted for strike action.

Last year Bristol Water’s head honcho Mel Karam received a £300k bonus on top of an already existing quarter-of-a-million salary.  The material difference between the haves and have-nots has become starker during the pandemic.

As GMB regional organiser Tim Northover put it: 

“After the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu, they should be bending over backwards to thank their key workers who have risked their health to keep the water flowing.

“This is just an insult and our members are fed up with being treated the worst of all the UK’s water workers. They’ve pushed them too far this time.”

Tuesday 6 April was the workers’ first strike day.

Not-so-Goodlords face fresh ballot for further strike action

Unite members in the referencing department at Goodlords are standing strong after seven weeks of strike action. Unite has now issued a fresh ballot for further strike action as the workers refuse to back down.

Goodlords, a lettings software provider, is using fire and rehire to slash the pay of the workers in its referencing department by £6,000. The company has tried to minimise the effect of the strike by bringing in agency workers, but it's clear that they - and the estate agents they provide services for, including Life Residential and Featherstone Leigh - are feeling the pinch.

The speed with which employers across industries are taking up fire and rehire as a tactic to shift losses onto their employees and as a means of deteriorating their working conditions is alarming. It will take resolute action from workers across the board to stop this bosses' stitch up, and Goodlord workers are showing that's exactly what they intend to do.

Deliveroo riders take to the streets

Deliveroo riders went on strike and took the the streets in London this week as part a day of action, calling for better pay and conditions for riders.

This happened following the company's IPO last week which had investors running scared off the back of court victories for other workers in the gig economy. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) organised the action. Riders are demanding a living wage, safety protections and basic workers’ rights.

Greg Howard, Deliveroo rider and chair, Couriers & Logistics Branch (IWGB) said:

“I’m going on strike for my basic rights and those of all the other riders struggling to get by and support families on Deliveroo poverty pay. I’ve seen conditions decline for years and then working through lockdown I contracted Covid-19 and got very little support from Deliveroo.

“After the pandemic more people than ever understand this exploitation is no way to treat anyone, let alone key workers. The turning of the tide is clear. It’s time for rights for riders.”

Support the strike fund. Send messages of support to [email protected].

Four days of strike ends at DVLA

The PCS strike at the DVLA saw the last day of strike action today as workers there push for the employer to see sense over the appalling lack of safety measures to protect them from Covid.

The union is now calling on the DVLA to enter negotiations and ensure that their members feel safe at a workplace that has seen one of the worst Covid outbreaks in the country. If the DVLA won’t make the necessary changes, PCS should continue with further strike action - the most powerful tool to bring about change in the workplace.

The PCS has set up a page for supporters here.

Tug boat strike brings naval base to a halt

Unite tractor tug crew members, working for Serco Marine in Plymouth are on strike for two days over changes to their rosters. The workers originally planned to strike in December after balloting resulted in a 97% yes vote on a 93% turnout.

Rosters are being changed from one week on, one week off to three weekly shifts which Unite says will put its members at risk of fatigue and increase the likelihood of accidents.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton said:

“This is a long-running dispute which has health & safety at its heart. The new roster system of three weeks ‘on’ and then weeks ‘off’ has meant increased fatigue for our members who do a very responsible job.

“The new system may suit the Serco management as a way for the outsourcing giant to increase its profit margins, but it is completely unacceptable to our members.”

The strike will cause headaches for contractor Serco as it will mean navy vessels are unable to enter and leave the port without the assistance of the highly skilled tug crew members.

London bus strike grows with two new garages joining the action

Once again, bus drivers at RATP owned London United have delivered solid strike action after 'peace talks' collapsed on Tuesday.

The drivers have stood firm on strike for an eighth time against the employers' disgraceful efforts to drive down their wages and cut their terms and conditions resulting in about a £2,500 a year wage cut for drivers.

With Stamford Brook and Hounslow Heath bus garages now entering the fray, all seven London United bus depots are now set to strike on Wednesday next week.

Hounslow Unite rep Ian May explained:

"The talks on Tuesday started positive as we go the 'Transfer Agreement' in place. Unfortunately, it then broke down as the company did not want to discuss the contracts imposed that started in 2019 and were not prepared to move on from their position with these contracts.

“The company did not want to give us a revised percentage offer for 2019 and 2020 and refused to talk any further. Basically, the meeting ended with us being no further forward."

Please pass this model motion at your local trade union branch/CLP/trades council.

Send messages of solidarity to [email protected].

Metroline bus drivers return a massive 97.2% yes vote to strike

Bus operator, Metroline’s proposals to introduce remote sign on for its routes lies in tatters as bus drivers returned a massive 97.2% to strike today. Metroline's plans were already stalled when Mayor for London Sadiq Khan ordered a moratorium on the issue.

Clearly the moratorium was not enough for bus drivers whose strike vote is enough to erect a mausoleum as a final resting place for Metroline's plans.

As a means to cut costs and boost profits, Metroline's remote sign on procedures mean drivers do not report to a depot to start work, but meet their bus and begin work at an alternative location such as a bus stop. 

The driver is only paid for the period when they are driving the bus equating to an immediate seven per cent cut in wages on average for affected drivers. 

Moreover, if a bus is delayed the driver is left stranded, open to the elements and left unpaid. Further, manifold safety matters and inevitable service disruptions related to the proposals meant it was crucial they were met head on with a determined response.

The ball is firmly in Metroline's court.  

Thurrock refuse workers vote to bin council attack

Workers for Thurrock council, road maintenance, street cleaners and refuse department are taking strike action over the council’s attempts to slash their pay and conditions. 

“Tim” (name withheld because of a council threat to dismiss workers who ‘bring the council into disrepute’) said the attacks would mean drivers losing up to £3,500 a year, and loaders up to £1,100. “We voted 90% Yes on a 75% turnout” he said, pointing out “we have worked all through the pandemic, providing an essential service and this is our reward”.

The (Tory) council blames the cuts on the need to balance the books. Strangely, the Chief Executive, Lyn Carpenter, is facing no change to her conditions, or pay of £200,000.

The workers will be striking and picketing for two hours a day (9am-11am) for maximum effect, for the next three weeks – or until the council sees sense.

91% Vote Yes to strike as security workers take on the courts

Following a 91% yes vote to strike, PCS members contracted to OCS - working in security for the HM Courts and Tribunals Service - are set to strike for 6 days in a pay dispute (13-15th April, 20-22nd April).

Despite holding responsibility for everyone’s safety on HMCTS premises, the workforce only receives the minimum wage. OCS have offered a pitiful 1.5% which works out at 13p an hour! The strike is for the real living wage.

Please send any messages of support to [email protected].

If you are able to, please help by donating; your donation will help our OCS members win their dispute. There is more information on the strike fund here.

Seafarers sick of Stena Line ballot for strike

RMT seafarers and port workers at Stena Line are moving to ballot over outrageous attacks on their sick pay dating back to the beginning of the pandemic.

Despite being key workers, the bosses scrapped a company sick pay scheme that was agreed with the recognised trade unions. Staff infected with Covid or self-isolating were left to rely on statutory sick pay.

The RMT Glasgow Shipping Branch said on Twitter:

 “Stena ripped up the sick pay agreement they had with the unions at the start of the pandemic. Now our members are balloting to ensure Stena put a decent sick scheme in place. Those on the frontline once again let down by those safe behind computer screens.”

The wheels come off for GKN

GMB members at Telford’s GKN Wheels & Structures have voted to pursue strike action over proposed cuts to redundancy packages. 250 workers are employed by the firm which was recently sold to German investment company Aurelius.

Stuart Harrison, GMB regional organiser, said:

“GMB is very disappointed with GKN’s unrealistic attitude towards these discussions. Attacking redundancy payments shows a lack of confidence in their own business.

“Our membership is determined to fight against having their redundancy payments slashed.”

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