Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
This week PCS workers at the government-run DVLA commenced a second set of 4 days of strike action. This follows strikes in April where 1,400 workers walked off the job over health and safety concerns.
2,000 workers continue to be made to work at a site that has had more than 600 cases of Covid-19 and the tragic death of one worker. With government easing restrictions, the DVLA is planning to bring hundreds more workers back to the sites. The DVLA has had the highest number of Covid infections of all workplaces in Britain. The Department for Transport is responsible.
Outrageously, the workers who became ill at their workplace are now being harassed by management and are having to go through attendance procedures. Workers fear having to take time off after having the vaccine if they get a bad reaction. The DVLA has refused to give any assurance that workers will not be penalised for sickness.
Following a successful online solidarity rally on Tuesday 4 May at which three MPs offered their support in person; Stephen Kinnock, John McDonnell and Christina Rees, PCS are holding a further public rally on Friday 7 May at 7pm in support of the strike.
You can support the workers by donating to the strike fund and emailing Transport Secretary Grant Shapps here.
To donate to the strike fund: Fighting Fund Levy, Account number: 20331490, Sort code: 60-83-01, Reference: DVLA
Further action brewing in Banbury coffee dispute
Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) workers in Banbury have strike dates planned for this weekend as they battle against fire and rehire in a sector that has seen sales of coffee at home increase during the pandemic. Unite’s members are planning two days this Saturday and Sunday and yesterday announced 15 May as well as a further 72 hours between 26 and 29 May.
Today will see representatives from Unite and JDE enter mediation talks with Acas as the union attempts to find a resolution that will avoid its members losing up to £12,000 per year. There is already an overtime ban which has been in place since the start of the month and Unite says production will be heavily affected by this at a site which depends on overtime work to fulfil its production needs.
Protests have been held outside the site which have gained widespread support from the local community and a further, Covid-safe protest is planned this Saturday outside JDE’s Ruscote Avenue site, Banbury, OX16 2QU from 10:30.
Royal College of Art UCU members vote to strike
Royal College of Art UCU members have voted 89% Yes to strike on a turnout of 74% in a consultative ballot. The workers are preparing to fight against RCA’s plans to entrench casualisation, to decrease job security and move to a rolling 12 month teaching model. UCU members say this will exacerbate existing systemic issues of inequality.
Cheltenham’s teachers battle bad management
Teachers at Cheltenham’s Greatfield Park Primary School are taking five more days of strike action in protest of bad management practices from the school’s head. Having already been on strike on 27 April, NASUWT members there have strike days booked for 5 - 6 May and 11 - 13 May.
Wendy Exton, National Executive member for NASUWT said:
“Staff have been working under extreme pressures that have been inflicted upon them and have always had the heart of the child at the centre of everything they do, but working under these regimes takes its toll and unfortunately staff have had enough.
“Staff do not want the children’s education to suffer in the future so feel this course of action is unavoidable to ensure the high standards they set in their own classrooms are maintained.”
Workers exercise their power in leisure centre strike
Unison workers at Sandwell Leisure Centres in the West Midlands commenced a day of strike action last week over fire and rehire. 280 workers, including receptionists, life guards and swimming instructors have been told if they don’t accept new contracts which would result in a loss of pay at a rate less than national pay, their jobs will be at risk.
Unison branch secretary for Sandwell Tony Barnsley said:
“At a time when a £73m is being ploughed into the new aquatic centre being built in the borough, there can be no justifications for workers’ terms and conditions to be cut”
The Tipton picket line had a good turnout of over a dozen workers.
RMT derail inferior contracts
RMT conductors on East Midlands Railway have announced three sets of 24 hours strike action; 16, 23 and 30 May. Over 250 workers will strike over EMR putting some employees on inferior contracts which the union has been fighting against for some time.
Workers on the new contracts will be paid £5,500 less a year and will be working additional hours which is against agreed terms and conditions.
Glass workers receive offer
Unite yesterday announced that strikes at Cheshire glassmaker Encirc have been suspended after the employer made an offer to its members. Strikes were due to start on 6 of May, totalling 12 days after a 95% vote in favour of action against the company’s plans to change working practices which also affected pay.
Unite is recommending members accept the offer although details have not been publicly released. If the offer is not deemed satisfactory, the union needs to be prepared to continue to support the workers until an offer they find acceptable materialises. The huge yes vote and number of strike days they were prepared to take shows that Encirc’s workers are up for a fight.
Tug workers have employer on the ropes
Sullom Voe Terminal Unite tug workers in Scotland have overwhelmingly voted to strike with a massive turnout of 86.5%, with an 87.1% Yes vote.
The employer, Shetland Islands Council are denying workers a long service reward after 25 years on the job. Other council workers are entitled to an award that equals a months salary, instead they will be getting a flat sum of £250.
From 17 May the workers are commencing a refusal to do overtime, and say they are prepared to escalate to strike action. The refusal to wok overtime will impact on oil processing and supplies.
Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airport workers: Unite brokers benchmark agreement
Unite’s recent job-saving agreement with Manchester Airports Group (MAG) demonstrates that transport work remains a key battleground in the post-Covid landscape.
140 workers at Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, previously facing a slew of compulsory redundancies, have now had those job cuts suspended until at least October 2021.
The agreement’s pay protection takes the form of full pay for workers doing over 85% of normal hours and the establishment of a fair share policy to ensure equitable sharing of work. This will be supervised by the union.
Unite’s Oliver Richardson said:
“This demonstrates what can be achieved when negotiations focus on preserving jobs and ensuring that the sector is able to quickly recover once Covid-19 is fully under control.”
Norfolk’s new normal: strike action thwarting the neoliberals
Joint action from Unite and Unison is stymieing a dodgy deal involving hundreds of local government environmental workers in Norfolk.
Street cleaners and park keepers previously employed by Norse (a Norfolk County Council-owned company) are due to transfer to Norwich City Services Limited (NCSL).
Guarantees of pay and conditions continuity between the two companies have not been fulfilled leading to a prompt and categorical call for strike action.
In the Unison ballot, members voted 81% in favour on an 84% turnout, and in the Unite ballot, 83% backed strike action on a 90% turnout. Strike dates will be announced shortly.
It’s only workers’ organisation that can short circuit neoliberal shenanigans like this, and it’s another indicator that combativity is a nationwide trend.
Industrial action beats bosses at Goldsmiths University
Goldsmiths UCU has won its current dispute with management. This victory is a testament that concessions from management can be won, even as Higher Education is being decimated by the Tory government. Management had previously threatened up to 120 job cuts and were initially willing only to give a guarantee of no job losses until Easter 2021 – all part of a restructuring plan following the pandemic, which saw hundreds of casualised staff made redundant last summer, and continued threats to jobs.
After almost four months of industrial action, significant concessions have been secured from the College’s management, including a 12-month guarantee of no compulsory redundancies and protection of 95% of the budget for casualised members of staff. Other concessions have also been won, including mechanisms for addressing workload and equalities, and ensuring that information is provided to the union about potential redundancies through monthly financial reports.
The tactic of choice was action short of a strike (ASOS) in the form of a marking boycott, which severely delayed the return of grades and disrupted the timelines for exam boards. The victorious workers will now be confident to take decisive action if management attacks staff again in the future.
Thurrock strikers still standing strong
Thurrock Council workers remain determined after four weeks of strike action against the attack on their pay and conditions. In an interview with Counterfire's Yonas Makoni, one striker said,
"We've got massive public support. I’ve never seen so much solidarity from people. We've had members of the public coming down in their cars and giving us a bag of biscuits and twenty quid.
"Everyone down there is standing strong. They’re strong, they want to see this through and they’re not going to concede."
Before you go...we need your help
More articles from this author
- Resist G7: justice for Palestine
- Don't split the left: an open letter from Unite members
- Emergency! Exhausted ambulance workers ready to strike - News from the Frontline
- How the Irish trade union movement is building solidarity with Palestine - interview
- The political economy of public debt: a Marxist critique of Modern Monetary Theory
- Tony Cliff: Roots of Israel’s violence
- Into battle: RMT strikers square up to Serco pay freeze - News from the Frontline