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NEU balloon at Peterloo March for Democracy, Manchester | Photo: Neda Radulović-Viswanatha

NEU balloon at Peterloo March for Democracy, Manchester | Photo: Neda Radulović-Viswanatha

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

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NEU members at Pimlico Academy delivered a massive 93% yes vote on a turnout of 95% to strike in an indicative ballot. An official strike ballot opens on the 3 May, which means teachers could be on strike in June.

The ballot follows the lead taken by pupils whose protest against racism secured a stunning victory for demands revolving around discriminatory uniform policies and much more. At the start of the new school term in April, the school Headteacher and Chair of the Trust Lord John Nash reneged on the agreement reached with pupil representatives and has now threatened to expel students involved in the protest. You can sign a petition in support of the students here.

NEU members delivered a vote of no confidence in the headteacher uniting teachers and pupils in solidarity. They are balloting over authoritarian management, management bullying, management’s conservative and racist agenda, safeguarding concerns, refusing to engage with the union, excessive workload and the unacceptable discipline of students protesting against racism.

We need to show solidarity with the teachers, students and parents of Pimlico Academy.

Third week for Thurrock Council workers’ strike

Street cleaners, care workers and a range of other workers employed by Thurrock Council have now been on strike for three weeks in defence of their pay and conditions. They have continued to have lively and noisy picket lines and morale remains high.

The council, clearly agitated by the defiance of the workers and the support they are receiving from local residents, has tried to intimidate the strikers by threatening them with an Asbo and repeatedly calling the police over bogus claims.

Organiser Willie Howard, speaking in a personal capacity, said,

“Thurrock Council made the first mistake coming after our terms and conditions, they made the second mistake thinking we’d break after a few days and they’ve made their latest mistake thinking we’re going to be bullied off our picket line by traffic wardens and exaggerated phone calls to the police.”

Messages of support can be sent to [email protected] and the petition supporting the strikers can be found here.

Unite’s glassmakers have the bottle for a strike

Workers at Encirc, a glass bottle manufacturer and filler in Cheshire, have voted to strike over terms and conditions. Unite says its members there voted 95% in favour of strike action, scheduled to cover twelve days between 12 to 26 May.

The dispute is centred around terms and conditions, with those in the bottle manufacturing section of the site being treated differently from workers in other departments, citing insufficient pay uplift, the loss of flexibility when annual leave can be taken and a reduction in staffing levels giving rise to health and safety concerns. Over 170 workers took part in the ballot.

Unite regional officer Andrew Johnson said

“This dispute is about equality and fairness, workers in the glass manufacturing division are not being treated in the same way as workers in other sections of the company.

 “If the strike goes ahead it will cause major disruption to the supply and distribution of major brands.”

All-out strike against St Mungo’s bullies

Unite members from the Property Services Department at St Mungo’s are standing up to bullying and began indefinite strike action last week in defence of a suspended union representative.

After raising a grievance against senior management, the representative was suspended, accused of making a malicious complaint. An astounding 44% of union reps are facing formal procedures that could end in dismissal. The Repairs team alone have raised three separate grievances against the same manager. They are now facing gross misconduct charges and could lose their jobs.

Challenging bullying in the workplace without fear of reprisal is a fundamental right. St Mungo’s Unite members are demanding management drop disciplinary action against the suspended rep pending an independent investigation.

Photo: Mark Baxendale

Serco set to see more strikes in Devonport

Tugboat crew workers who have already taken 48 hours of strike action over roster changes are balloting to renew their strike mandate at Devonport naval base. A fresh mandate would cover Unite’s members there until July.

Unite has pointed to health and safety concerns through increased risk of tiredness that will be exacerbated by the shift changes. Serco Marine employs the workers who guide naval vessels in and out of the port.

Unite national officer Bobby Morton said:

“The new roster system of three weeks ‘on’ and then weeks ‘off’ has meant increased fatigue for our members who do a very responsible and essential job. The previous one week ‘on’ and one week ‘off’ pattern worked well for many years and should be reinstated.

“The best way to settle this dispute is for the Serco bosses to sit down for constructive talks, but, so far, they have adopted the ‘head in the sand’ strategy in the hope that our members will accept the new rostering system – but this is not going to happen.”

The ballot closes on Wednesday, May 19th.

No leeway for Leaways: striking teachers keep fighting

Teachers at Leaways School in Hackney held their 17th and 18th days of strike action this week with no sign of backing down. The teachers are taking action over trade union victimisation, pay parity and the treatment of the children.

When Counterfire visited the picket line on Thursday, we were informed that some pupils have been wearing coats during the winter months for the past 5 years because of inadequate heating in the school. There is also no outdoor space for pupils and when staff asked for provision of extra staffing in order to be able to take pupils to the local park, it was refused.

For raising these grievances, two members of staff including the NEU lead rep have been sacked. The treatment of special needs children and of staff for being concerned is outrageous. It’s a source of hope that the teachers are determined to continue with their action until their demands are met and that the NEU is giving them their full support.

Keep up to date with the campaign and get information about the future strike dates and picket lines by following @leawaysneu on Twitter. Sign the petition in support of striking workers, send messages of support to [email protected] and send messages of protest to Leaways Head: [email protected].

Photo: Counterfire

Another blow to precarity: Liverpool Just Eat couriers granted basic rights

Just Eat, the food delivery company, in Liverpool will now offer its employees minimum pay, sick pay and holiday pay by the beginning of 2022 as it shifts away from using “gig” workers. This brings the city into line with London and Birmingham where two thousand workers are employed.  

Alex Marshall of the pioneering Independent Workers Union of Great Britain is welcoming with caveats:

“It’s a step in the right direction but still not where it should be to offer a sustainable job that people can build a life around. It would be good if they spoke to workers about what they want rather than a PR stunt.”

Firms are making pre-emptive concessions like this because they’re scared of how the tide is turning against them.

Workers’ rights backed up with strong, fighting unions are the only guarantee we have against the bosses’ free-for-all of neoliberalism, and that will always have to be fought for. 

Cabbies capitalise on the Uber fault line

Addison Lee cab drivers are workers with entitlement to the minimum wage and paid holiday. This was a Court of Appeals conclusion after the bosses had attempted to overturn a set of employee rights won through recent employment tribunals.

This ruling is hot on the heels of other verdicts that are disciplining and buffering the so-called “gig economy” in favour of our class.

GMB’s Steve Garelick said:

“This judgment is not based just on law but good common sense and sends a further message to those who would continue to exploit workers through a bogus self-employment model.”

It’s the job of our movement to turn the massive outpouring of sentiment around last year’s Clap for Carers into political facts like this. These are only the first steps towards solid workers’ organisation, but they are an inspiring forward movement.

Brush Electrical engineers fight fire and rehire

Unite members, working for Brush Electrical Machines in Loughborough are balloting to strike against fire and rehire. Thirty field service engineers face the imposition of new contracts that will see reductions to overtime rates, allowances, holidays and other terms and conditions that would result in a pay cut of between £10,000 and £15,000 a year.

Brush Electrical Machines is owned by Melrose as is GKN Automotive, another company where Unite workers are in dispute. The ballot closes on 10 May.

As Covid cases subside in Britain, the workers’ epidemic of fire and rehire remains a major threat to pay and conditions.

Industrial disputes we’ve covered before that are ongoing include: Goodlord and Go North West Unite members battling fire and rehire, London’s bus drivers and NEU members at Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form.

Educating and organising in Poole

Teachers at Poole's Victoria Education Centre have been taking three days of strike action this week against changes to their contracts which no longer match national terms and conditions.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) have already taken six days of action against their employer, the charity Livability. In particular, teachers at the school are angry at changes to sick pay and maternity pay. 

As the regional NEU organiser Ian McCann put it: 

"Our teacher members are not prepared to continue working under eroded terms and conditions of employment that do not match the national terms and conditions that most teachers across the country have."

A further 13 days of strike action are planned.

Woolwich Ferry workers to strike

Unite Woolwich Ferry workers have overwhelmingly voted by 97% to commence 8 days of strike action. The strike dates are 14, 24 and 28 May and 1, 4, 7, 11 and 21 June.

The upcoming strike action is over the victimisation of a rep and anger at the excessive use of agency staff, a failure to agree a new pay and reward scheme and the company not providing adequate health and safety training to new workers. This follows poor employment relations over the last few years which resulted in TfL replacing Briggs Marine Contractors in the running of the ferry.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said,

“Our members have returned an overwhelming mandate for strike action at the Woolwich Ferry in support of their victimised shop steward and over a myriad of other employment issues…. The strikes will cause disruption to car drivers and foot passengers as ferry traffic picks up with commuters returning to their workplaces in the capital following the easing of lockdown.”

Round 2: PCS escalate the fight at DVLA over health and safety

PCS has today announced a second round of strike action by its members working at DVLA in Swansea. The first round saw 1,400 workers take strike action over health and safety, and following DVLA’s failure to meet the demands, they will be walking out again on 4 to 7 May.

DVLA has gained notoriety for having the biggest Covid outbreak in a workplace with over 600 confirmed cases. Despite the lockdown, up to 2,500 workers were called in to work, between 5-10 times more than during the first lockdown. Staff who complained about their desks being less than two metres apart were reportedly ignored or met with intimidation.

As lockdown measures are eased there is a danger of new outbreaks and DVLA refusing to take their workers’ legitimate concerns seriously is shameful. Like other practices employers have been using to attack workers under the guise of the pandemic, if DVLA get away with this, other employers will be emboldened to do the same.

We must rally support with the strikers. Donate to the strike fund if you can: Account details are: Account Name: Fighting Fund Levy, A/C No:20331490, Sort Code: 60-83-01, Reference: DVLA

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