Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Earlier this year Senior Managers at the University used the cover of the COVID pandemic to announce a restructuring plan in the Health and Life Sciences.
The University used a bizarre metric (dubbed ‘rank and yank’ by activists) to identify staff for redundancy who were deemed to be underperforming in terms of research output. Union activists noted that the metrics being used would mean several Nobel prize winners would face the sack at Liverpool!
The university demanded that 47 jobs should go. Responding, the UCU branch have launched a series of strikes and ‘action short of strike’ activities. The union response has forced the management onto the back foot.
Management have now conceded their metric was inadequate and have gradually reduced the number of ‘at risk’ posts, taking the redundancy threat from 47 to 2.
This emphasises that militant action can win and save jobs. But the union branch are determined that they will not concede a single job. Showing the very best of trade union principles the branch are out on strike to protect every job.
Liverpool University is a wealthy institution, its turnover is close to £600m. It has increased surpluses as a result of the pandemic and employs close to seven thousand people.
There is no case to press ahead with the last two redundancies and the fight at Liverpool has significance across the sector.
The militant action by the branch has set a fine example for branches facing similar issues. A victory for the branch will be a real victory for every worker in HE. That is why it is important for every trade unionist to rally to support the Liverpool UCU branch.
Rush messages of support and financial donations here.
Join the Liverpool strikers for their online rally this Friday 6 August 12 noon,
Rally on Monday at the University from 12 noon, in University Square L3 5RF (bring branch banners and placards).
Victory to Liverpool UCU!
Getting behind Bexley
140 refuse workers in Bexley are continuing their strike against SERCO over pay and victimisation. They are now in their fourth week of strike action.
They are on strike because of pay disparity between workers, where for example newly recruited drivers are being paid £6,000 more per year than existing drivers. They are also being paid less than workers in other London boroughs and some are earning less than the London living wage. On top of this, they are receiving low sick pay and low pay for industrial injuries.
This is a vital dispute, which follows on from refuse workers’ victory in Thurrock against the local council after six weeks of strikes. Victory in the Bexley dispute could give refuse workers in other London boroughs the confidence to take industrial action.
Bin workers in Croydon have already gone into dispute with their employers Veolia over similar issues.
Bexley workers need solidarity and financial support:
You can donate to the strike fund by paying into the following account:
Unite LE/649 Sort Code: 60-83-01 Account Number: 20441911
PCS & UVW Cleaners extending strike action
On Friday last week PCS & UVW Royal Parks cleaners working for outsourcing company Just Ask were on strike and held a lively protest in Hyde Park, outside the Royal Park Headquarters in London.
PCS have since announced members have voted to increase action by striking for two weeks from 16th-30th August. The workers are fighting against proposed job cuts, for equal pay and conditions with workers working directly for Royal Parks and the reinstatement of a sacked member of staff.
Polyflor workers won’t be walked all over
Around 100 GMB members who work in production for Polyflor are out on strike in Whitefield, Bury as they look for a fair deal over pay. Instead of getting their usual rise last year, it was agreed to put the increase on hold until the company assessed the impact of the pandemic.
Well over a year later, after working throughout and with many of them becoming infected with covid over that time, they still haven’t had their raise. To add insult to injury, the company paid out dividends of £20m to shareholders and directors got anything between 10 and 25% extra pay.
Rightly, they have had enough and after the company refusing 3% last year with backpay and 2% this year, over 100 of them downed tools. The vindictive response from management was to lay them all off whilst they run maintenance on the machinery. Suffice to say, this hasn’t gone down well with the strikers who are now talking of increasing their demands to get back in the factory.
Shockingly, the maintenance staff who are Unite members are still in the factory servicing the machines. They would do well to get together with the GMB and use this opportunity to get a better deal for every worker in the building - the greedy lot at the top have shown the money is there!
Solidarity has arrived from the People’s Assembly and Manchester Trades Council and strike fund details will follow. For now, send messages of solidarity to John Waddington - [email protected]
RMT Hull strike for pensions
RMT strike action on Hull Trains will commence from Sunday 8th August after talks broke down at ACAS in a fight to defend decent pension rights.
This dispute arose when management proposed to close the Hull section of the Railways Pension Scheme (RPS) to future accrual (pensionable service) from 25th April 2021. Strike action was previously suspended for further talks but management intransigence means the strike action is back on.
The dispute revolves around management’s opportunistic attempts to transfer their pension risk to their employees by offering them an inferior Defined Contribution (DC) pension arrangement making them poorer in retirement by attacking their deferred pay.
The strikes will take place from 00:01 to 23:59 on 8th, 15h, 22nd and 29th August
Additionally, the continuous rest day working and overtime ban restarted from 00:01on Monday 2nd August 2021 and will continue until further notice.
Hospital Security Guards fighting for better pay
Unite security guards working at Royal Berkshire hospital in Reading for Kingdom Services have been back on strike for 20 days, following five days in December and 20 days in January.
Kingdom Services who have a turnover of £100 million plus a year are offering security officers just £9.30 an hour and supervisors £10.30 an hour as their 2020 pay deal.
Workers are demanding a modest £12 an hour for security officers and £13 for supervisors but the company is refusing to negotiate. As well as demanding fair pay, workers are striking over health and safety, sick pay disparity in the workforce and the refusal to discuss sick pay over health & safety.
At the end of this year Kingdom Services’ contract will end. Unite are calling for the hospital trust to end outsourcing and bring the security guards back in house and under NHS management.
Security guard Mohammed said:
“Our terms and conditions are really bad, so we’ve had no choice but to come out on strike. We don’t get sick pay, our pay rate is really low, we don’t get any enhancement, so it's really unfortunate that we’ve been forced to come out”
Monkeys reject peanuts: shock
The stress in logistics created by the national drivers shortage is leading to major employers facing two ways at once, and by increasing confidence among professional drivers. Bookers, the grocery distribution and cash and carry specialists, have offered a whopping £5 an hour uplift to drivers at their Hemel Hempstead depot. Not unnaturally, Booker drivers at Thamesmead want similar treatment, but the employer has so far refused.
The 30 drivers at Thamesmead are now balloting, with every intention of shutting the depot if they do not get satisfaction. The depot services upwards of 1,500 independent retailers and convenience stores across London and the South East, including Budgens, Londis, OneStop and forecourt outlets. Unite’s Regional Officer, Paul Travers, is confident that the employer will see sense, but is equally adamant that “Our members are insistent on fair treatment. “
When major logistics companies are offering ‘sign-on’ fees of £2,000 (Uniserve and YCT) or even £5,000 (Gist, Stamford) it is clear that Paul’s description of the driver shortage as ‘a perfect storm’ does not exaggerate.
The hope (for drivers) and the fear (for hauliers) is that the shortage will give confidence to drivers in the unorganised sector of logistics (particularly the container sector) to challenge the ‘long hours/low pay’ culture that dominates the industry. The recent pay deals, all in double figures, at Great Bear, XPO, TJ Morris, are setting the bar uncomfortably high for an industry that has traditionally regarded drivers as a shade above monkeys in the evolutionary scale. Peanuts may no longer be enough.
Banbury JDE Coffee workers vote yes to Unite deal
Unite workers who have been in a long battle against fire & re-hire at the JDE coffee plant in Banbury voted yes to the deal secured by Unite by 81.5% on a 93% turnout.
Prior to the result it appeared that some workers were disappointed that Unite had started negotiations before fire & rehire was off the table as they were unclear whether the deal meant it really was off the table. It also appeared that redundancies would still be made and workers would have to do night shifts. Unite say the deal safeguards pay and compensates employees if they have to do different shift patterns
Unite National officer for the food industry Joe Clarke said:
“The fact that ‘fire and rehire’ has been removed from the table is a major achievement for Unite and the Unite internal plant committee, and a tribute to the solidarity that our members have demonstrated throughout.”
A source close to the workers told the Banbury Guardian:
"It is a sad day for the workforce at JDE. Unite the Union have betrayed the trust of the workforce. If the union think this is a victory against fire and rehire then that is unbelievable. From day one it has been on the table and not removed until today when the vote went JDE's way. If it hadn't that would still be on table.”
Usdaw keeping up the pressure at BCM (Fareva)
Workers at the Nottingham-based pharma and cosmetics manufacturer, BCM Fareva took two day’s strike last weekend (July 31/August 1) over the bosses’ continuing “fire-and-rehire” offensive.
BCM Fareva employs over eight hundred workers and the strike action has 90% support from the staff represented by Usdaw.
Usdaw’s Daniel Adams says:
“Following the overwhelming support for the 24-hour strike last week it is deeply disappointing that the company has not agreed to pause its plans to allow for dialogue with the trade union. Management’s actions have left our members with little option other than to continue with industrial action until the company reverses their confrontational approach. We cannot negotiate with a gun to our heads.
“BCM’s proposals to dramatically reduced terms and conditions are a heartless and unfair response to the hard work and dedication these key workers have given throughout the pandemic. Rights to pensions, redundancy pay, and sick pay are all at jeopardy under the new contracts being offered."
It's good to see the strikers getting full support from both local Labour MPs, Lilian Greenwood and Alex Norris. Let’s see the rest of the local labour movement get behind them and deliver a victory.
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