Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
The long-running dispute between British Gas engineers and their employer came to an end this week, resulting in a bitter defeat for the workers. Those that stood firm and refused to be bullied into signing the inferior contracts forced on them by British Gas now face the grim prospect of unemployment.
British Gas has, in the last year, forced its entire workforce to accept reduced conditions. The threat of fire and rehire was enough to get Unison’s administrative members at British Gas to accept massive reductions to their terms last year which subsequently weakened the position of GMB’s engineers there.
The workers involved showed tremendous courage and tenacity and this was a struggle that had the potential to be won. It was beset by division amongst the unions at British Gas from the start.
Unless the laws relating to fire and rehire are changed, it will remain a temptation for dodgy bosses to exploit as a way to maximise profits. With the Tories in charge for the foreseeable future and facing no meaningful parliamentary opposition, the whole trade union movement must urgently come together and commit to stepping up the battle against the bosses offensive around fire and rehire.
Refusing cuts: Thurrock council workers launch boisterous first week of strike
Road maintenance workers, street cleaners and the refuse department employed by Thurrock Council have begun strike action this week over the council’s attempts to slash their pay and conditions.
The strike is well-supported, confident and extrovert. Speakers from the dispute spoke at a lorry drivers' branch over the weekend, and received a £200 donation; the picket line has received visits from the construction workers Blacklist Support Group, the convenor of South London council workers, and Unite’s Assistant General Secretary Howard Beckett. The RMT are sending a delegation next week.
Perhaps the most moving support was from a council resident, an OAP, who came to the picket line and offered a £20 note “to show support for you lads”. The pickets tried, but failed, to persuade him to take it back. All in all, the strikers are, in the words of their rep “bowled over by the support we have received. It has made a lot of the members realise the union is a lot bigger than just us.”
UCU round-up: aggressive management met with strike action
UCU members at the University of Liverpool and the University of Leicester have squared up to job-cutting bosses with solid strike action mandates.
Seventy per cent of University of Leicester members voted for strike action, and eighty-four per cent voted for action short-of-striking (including marking boycotts).
University of Liverpool members returned even stronger votes of eighty-four per cent and ninety per cent respectively.
University of Liverpool UCU branch president Anthony O’Hanlon said:
“This is the largest industrial ballot action turnout in the history of the branch and sends an emphatic message that this brutal and senseless attack on jobs will not be tolerated. There is still time for management to step away from these disastrous proposals. If it fails to do so, there will be sustained industrial action.”
Additionally, UCU members who teach in prisons are taking three non-consecutive days strike action commencing 26 April.
This will affect forty-nine prisons and young offender institutions and is in response to dire Covid safety conditions.
Lastly, the London-based United Colleges Group (formerly College of North West London and City of Westminster College) voted unanimously for strike action in response to imposed contract changes that would increase workloads.
As News from the Frontline has previously reported, higher and further education is rapidly becoming a testing ground for the new militancy.
Insourcing and pay victory for hospital security workers in Lancashire
Security workers, employed by outsourcing firm Engie at East Lancashire NHS Trust have called off planned strike action after a victory that means they will now be employed directly by the NHS.
Unison members had planned a 48-hour strike, starting on the 18th of April but the threat of a strike was enough to make the trust see sense and bring them in-house. Engie’s contract is due to expire in the coming months but this victory will see pay parity before the contract ends, bringing the security workers off minimum wage and onto NHS rates.
Some workers will see increases up to £6,000. Unison North West regional organiser Rebecca Lumberg said:
“This is an excellent victory for this group of dedicated hospital workers, who stuck together and rightly insisted that they were part of the NHS team.
“Hospital security workers keep patients and staff safe. They have put themselves at increased risk working during the pandemic and they fully deserve the NHS pay and conditions that they will now receive.”
Goodlord strike continues, workers remain resolute
Referencing staff in East London entered an eighth week of indefinite strikes against pay cuts of 20% at property tech company Goodlord.
The 15 strikers, all members of Unite the Union, say the fire-and-rehire proposals would see their wages plummet from £24,000 to £18,000.
In November last year, Goodlord, which provides services to Winkworth and several other well-known estate agents, announced plans to terminate its referencing staff's 6-month rolling contracts and re-employ them permanently but at a much lower rate - well below the London Living Wage.
Advertising itself as the friendly face of the lettings industry, Goodlord has justified the move by saying staff can live anywhere now that they're working from home. At least several of the strikers, who represent 20% of the small but influential tech company, have been forced out of the job as a result.
But the strikes continue and have already won a reversal on plans to squeeze sick leave to just 3 days a week. Goodlord strikers urge anyone in east London to get down to the picket lines, with the next dates set for 15th and 16th April, 11:30-14:00. For updates follow them on Twitter.
Care workers on strike for dignity and equality
Care home workers at Sage Nursing Home in North London have voted for a second set of strike action demanding a living wage of £12 an hour, sick pay and annual leave equal to NHS pay and conditions.
Through previous strikes this year, workers won sick pay above statutory sick pay and are in the process of securing trade union recognition. In the last strike workers virtually spoke all over the country encouraging other care workers to organise and fight for their demands to be won across the industry.
Sage worker Julia said:
“We have to fight to have better conditions in life, we are fighting not only for £12 an hour, we are fighting for our dignity and for equality in the workplace.”
You can donate to the strike fund here.
CWU members, working for Openreach have added five more days of strike action on top of the ten already taken as they fight Openreach’s plans to regrade Repayment Project Engineer (RPE) roles.
170 RPE’s will strike from the 19th to 23rd of April against plans that would force them onto performance-related pay, something the CWU says should not apply to their technical roles.
The CWU is keen to point out the historical significance of this strike, saying:
“Not since the 1987 national strike have any group of workers anywhere in BT Group felt compelled to make such a decisive stand against management intransigence and belligerence.”
SPS strikes force a compromise
10 days of strikes at aerospace manufacturer SPS Technologies in Leicester have resulted in a compromise deal and forced the employer to drop fire and rehire plans.
Unite members at the company have been striking since March after their employer announced intentions to push through reductions in pay and conditions which would have resulted in some workers losing £3,000 per year.
90% voted in favour of a compromise deal which Unite reports will mean accepting some of the proposed changes.
This is the latest example of a dispute in an industrial sector suffering badly from the impacts of the coronavirus. Whilst the sector is heavily unionised, that will not deter employers from seeking to make their workers pay the price of the pandemic.
ISS not ok: Lewisham Hospital workers stand up to cuts
Helen O’Connor, GMB Southern Organiser reports:
ISS restructured the kitchens in the hospital in 2020 because they wanted to bring in cheaper cooked/chilled food for patients and this led to redundancies and cuts in hours. ISS are not stopping there and they are now cutting 495 hours out of the domestic and housekeeping services in the hospital.
Our members are clear that the cuts in services in Lewisham Hospital are not only harmful to their own pay, terms and conditions but they are also a cross-infection risk to the local community.
In spite of management bullying and intimidation, the ISS workers attended a GMB-run protest on Monday and they were strongly supported by the local community. They are planning further protests and a petition is now being launched to put pressure on the executive of Lewisham and Greenwich NHS to intervene and save services in the hospital.
The struggle is not over and we are asking the local community to stand with our members and support them as they fight to protect services in the hospital.
Strikes roll on: London buses drivers standing strong
The London bus drivers’ strike continued another day on Thursday 15 April as Unite failed to reach an agreement with operator RATP. The fight has been stepped up this time, however, as two new garages - Stamford Brook and Hounslow Heath - have joined the battle.
There are no more planned talks and the strikes are set to continue into next month. On the picket line, the workers were pleased that the union had upped the pressure on RATP, but disappointed in the inertia of the talks. The workers claim that the company has so far shown no desire to reach an agreement or negotiate in good faith.
While workers' pay and conditions are being slashed, French-based RATP has a turnover of over €5 billion annually and has recently increased increased the pay of its London chief executive from £196,000 to £363,000
More RMT workers join ScotRail strike
11 April saw RMT ScotRail conductors’ third day of strike action over basic pay and equality with other grades, with 4 more days of action planned over the next four weeks. RMT says that Abellio will not talk with the union.
Additionally, ticket examiners on ScotRail have overwhelmingly voted to strike over overtime payments. This is after it has been revealed that in the year up to March 2020 the highest paid director of Abellio ScotRail took a huge pay rise of 35%, yet it’s another story for key workers.
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