Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
NHS workers have responded with fury at the government’s criminal 3% pay rise offer. Years of austerity and the past 18 months of the pandemic have taken their toll with hundreds of NHS staff lives lost, staff dealing with post-traumatic stress and a major problem with retention as posts go unfilled while the service struggles with a huge treatment backlog. Unions representing 1.3 million health workers are now balloting members against what is, in real terms, a pay cut.
The GMB union is running a consultative NHS ballot on strike action which closes on 17 September. On 17 August, GMB NHS workers in London and the South East will stage lunchtime walkouts in the fight for a 15% pay rise. GMB organiser Helen O'Connor said:
“A winter of discontent is building within the NHS and the GMB union will robustly fight deteriorating pay, terms and conditions of our NHS members.”
RCN have called for a 12.5% pay rise and opened a consultative ballot on 12 August which closes on 13 September. This will be the first of three planned ballots with the third ballot intending to lead to strike action.
Unison are holding a ‘NHS pay vote’ which closes on 10 September while Unite are also holding a consultative ballot for industrial action, which will run from 27 August till 24 September. Unite have also announced a day of action on 25 September.
The BMA is consulting junior doctors after they have been left out of the 3% pay rise, the BMA says take home pay for junior doctors has fallen in real terms by 23% since 2009.
A massive vote and turnout for pay justice is absolutely critical if union leaders’ words are to turn into strike action against the Tories plans to destroy the NHS.
Pret wake up and smell the brewing strike action
Pret a Manger workers represented by the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union threatened strike action this week as the company announced it would be making permanent the pay cuts it imposed during the pandemic. In response to the threat, the company partly u-turned on Thursday.
The cuts were made to pay during workers' breaks and bonuses awarded to high-rated staff through a mystery shopper programme. The move amounted to to an 11% cut for some workers who are paid the minimum wage of £8.91 an hour. The company has now reinstated the £1 an hour bonus but has refused to bring back the pay during breaks.
The part u-turn is already a victory for workers and serves as a testament to the power of collective action. The workers are still considering whether to carry on with the strike action until the full pay cut is scrapped.
Pret like other companies is trying to shift its pandemic-related financial losses onto its already underpaid staff. The bold action by the workers sends a strong message to Pret and others in the industry that workers won't just sit back and accept these attacks on their pay and conditions.
Unite Survitec workers balloting over pay
Unite workers at safety equipment manufacturer Survitec in Dunmurry are balloting for strike action over pay. Survitec produces a range of equipment including life jackets, life rafts, chemical protection suits and more. Its biggest customers include the US & Australian Navy and the MOD.
During 2020, the company’s sales have increased by more than 5%. Despite this, workers are being denied a 3% pay rise to maintain living standards with increased cost of living as their current pay is a pay cut in real terms. The workers have worked throughout the pandemic. The ballot opened on 6 August and closes on 16 August.
Unite Regional Officer Neil Moore said:
“We urge all our members in Survitec to take this opportunity, have their say and send a strong message to their employer that worker's pay and livelihoods cannot be bottom of the company’s agenda.”
PCS DVLA workers voting for more strikes
PCS workers at the DVLA are two weeks into a month-long set of strike action and currently voting on a consultative ballot for further action. The ballot closes on 3 September. The ballot asks workers about their priorities for a deal and whether they are in favour of further strikes and action short of strike.
The current strike is solid with less than a third of the Drivers' Medical workforce going into work and with 50 new members joining the union branch.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said:
"DVLA senior management and the Department for Transport have underestimated the resolve of our members.
“They thought support for our strike would fade when in fact it is growing with new staff joining PCS, This dispute can be resolved if the original deal to end the strike is put back on the table."
You can donate to the strike fund here: account name: Fighting Fund Levy. account number: 20331490 sort code: 60-83-01, reference: DVLA. Send a message of solidarity for striking DVLA workers by emailing [email protected].
Battle for Barnoldswick rages on
Following the decision in July to return to strike action, workers held a rally on Tuesday. Fears are that the headcount could drop below the 350 minimum staffing level agreed in the January deal. Unite the Union said that the employer had “refused to provide tangible commitments".
Seventeen engineers took strike action last month, and the ballot for a full walkout closes on 13 August. It was hoped that the recent voluntary two-week closure of the plant to help Rolls Royce make 10% savings would lead to a resolution, but it looks like the workers have done their bit and got nothing back.
Unite North-West regional organiser Ross Quinn accused the employer of “corporate greenwash” and made the point that the “dispute could be put to bed very quickly” if the employer guarantees that the January agreement “is still valid”.
Lancaster Trade Council, local councillors and members of the community supported the rally.
Striking while it’s hot: Royal Parks workers escalate industrial action
Members of PCS and UVW unions working at the London Royal Parks will begin a second round of strike action from 16 - 30 August.
The outsourced workers employed as cleaners and toilet attendants by Just Ask Services are striking to oppose planned redundancies of up to a third of workers and for equality in pay and terms with their colleagues who are directly employed by the Royal Parks. The outsourced workers currently receive inferior sick pay, maternity pay, holiday pay and pension entitlement.
The unions have slammed this creation of a two-tier workforce and one in which the in-house workers on better terms and pay are 90% white while the outsourced workers are 90% black and ethnic minority.
Having already taken industrial action in July, the renewed action is a clear sign that the workers are not backing down, and with the second half of August and the bank holiday set to be the busiest period for the parks, they know the impact they can have.
The strike is not only important for ending this overt and unjustifiable discrimination among Royal Parks workers, but could also impact other public bodies having to assess and rectify discriminatory employment practices.
Support the strikers by joining the strike rally outside the Royal Parks headquarters in Hyde Park on Monday 16 August, donate to the strike fund here and send messages of support to [email protected]
The strike goes on: Liverpool University workers keep up the fight for no redundancies
Liverpool University workers remain on strike against compulsory redundancies in a key dispute that we reported on last week.
On Tuesday the striking UCU members held a very successful rally in Liverpool city centre attended by hundreds of strikers and supporters and addressed by Jeremy Corbyn amongst others.
The strikers have already forced management to withdraw many of their planned job cuts but they are committed to staying out until all jobs are saved.
Unite fight to save Erdington site
Unite members working at GKN’s Erdington site are balloting over action to prevent the closure of the factory next year. The factory, which produces drivelines for the auto industry and employs 500 workers, is owned by the Melrose asset-stripping investment fund.
Melrose has history: they are the people who screwed the Brush Electrical workers, now in their 10 week of strike action, and are attempting to reduce earnings at the GKN Telford site.
The company has refused to consider any alternatives to its plan to move production overseas, even refusing to meet government ministers who have offered funding to support an alternative business plan drawn up by the workforce and local management.
Local union reps point out that not only do they provide crucial components for the UK auto industry, but are ideally suited to develop the electrification of the industry, and are a profitable company with good industrial prospects but, in the words of one union official:
“They are not interested in industrial logic, they are only interested in chasing the quick buck.”
Militant action gets results: 8% pay increase for ancillary health workers in Yorkshire
A strike involving 150 porters, cleaners and caterers at Airedale Hospital has been officially called off following a major management concession over pay parity.
The worker’s victory means that staff will see their pay significantly increase from the date of the agreement - with the hourly pay for the majority of workers will going up from £9.00 per hour to £9.77 per hour this year and then aligning fully with the NHS Band 2 hourly rates of pay by next year.
The GMB’s Rachel Dix says:
“The strength and resolve of members at Airedale has been tremendous. For months, AGH Solutions offered proposals without alignment, and throughout those months members held fast, rejecting the insulting offers because they knew they could win better - and they did.
“This win represents another GMB victory against the erosion of pay, terms and conditions for NHS workers outsourced by local trusts.”
There are lessons here for the whole sector as we go into the autumn.
Pay and dismay at DHL
Workers employed by DHL at Jaguar Land Rover's West Midlands and Merseyside plants are preparing to ballot for strike action over what their union has described as an "insulting" pay offer.
According to their union Unite, the workers who are employed at 6 different plants have been given incorrect pay slips for months as a result of the firms use or abuse of the furlough scheme.
Some staff have lost hundreds of pounds as a result and anger is very high across the plants and the management have admitted that there have been errors in payments. The ballot for action will be starting in the next few days.
It’s not just UK transport work: effective strikes rock Germany
Around seven hundred trains were at a standstill in Germany this week as the GDL rail union struck as part of their pay dispute with the national Deutsche Bahn operator.
Three quarters of all long-distance trains were halted as well as nearly two hundred freight trains.
The workers are after a 3.2% pay increase and a one-off €600 Covid payment. The strike action has the support of over 90% of the union.
This is a familiar story to News from the Frontline readers.
GDL leader Claus Weselsky says:
“I have to say very clearly that our colleagues went on strike in a very disciplined manner. The Deutsche Bahn managers are lining their pockets while the little guys are getting their pockets picked, that’s what’s happening here.”
Bosses are the same all over and our fight is always international. Our solidarity has to be as global as capital.
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