Counterfire's weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
An indicative ballot will be held by both the GMB and Unite as the unions seek a solution to the mass redundancies proposed by general secretary, David Evans.
The proposals will see at least 90 party employees facing redundancy as part of Evans’ restructuring. Evans is citing poor party finances, presumably as a result of members leaving, withheld union funding and a failure so far to return to Blair era big-money donors, but the unions are questioning why 50 new staff are being employed through an agency to work on disciplinary issues.
Starmer’s strategy of driving away loyal Labour Party members in the party’s turn to the right is apparently not enough. Now it’s been decided that directly employed workers must also pay the price.
GMB organiser Vaughan West said:
“Workers who give their all to the Labour party should not be made to pay the price for any reorganisation.
“GMB will ask members if they are willing to strike over compulsory redundancies. If the answer is yes, we will not hesitate to move to a formal strike ballot.”
The ballot will run from 23 - 30 August. The new bureaucracy had hoped the redundancies would be voluntary and offered increased redundancy pay but it seems to have misjudged the reaction from the unions, especially the GMB.
Co-ordinated action on Abellio ScotRail can secure victory
Engineering members of Unite are balloting for strike action after Abellio ScotRail failed to offer a “meaningful” pay offer. The ballot closes on 1 September with strike action likely to be announced soon after in the same month.
While ScotRail will be nationalised in March 2022, it is currently run by Abellio. Allegedly, Abellio have told workers that the Scottish government has ordered it to refuse any pay rises. Unite’s industrial officer, Pat McIlvogue explained:
“The working relationship between the trade unions and Abellio ScotRail is non-existent” causing its relationship with ScotRail to “plummet to the lowest level in living memory”.
In a separate ongoing six month dispute with the Company, RMT General Secretary has identified the same problem calling for a “top level summit talks to sort out this industrial relations shambles on Scotland's railways".
The RMT strike has crippled Sunday services since March as ticket examiners and conductors seek pay justice for all grades on enhancements for rest day working.
Co-ordinated action in September would turn up the heat raising the real potential for victory.
Weetabix strike resumes: embattled workers take up the gauntlet
Monday 16 August saw the return of strike action at Weetabix’s Burton Latimer plant in Kettering.
The dispute is over a proposed reduction in unsociable hours pay being put forward by the bosses.
Usdaw’s Ed Leach says:
“During the last fortnight we have called off strike action twice to allow for further talks and for the company to make an offer.
“The offer was put to a ballot which concluded today. The majority of our members rejected the company’s offer therefore strike action will take place at 7pm today.
“We are disappointed that the company has indicated at this stage there will be no change to their position. If this is the case, then further stoppages will follow.”
This fight follows straight on from a Unite dispute around “fire and rehire” at the same company. Perhaps some joint action could do the trick and show a lead to the rest of the movement.
Peak stupidity from Yodel
The GMB is astonished that delivery giant Yodel is unwilling to enter negotiations with its lorry drivers at a time of catastrophic driver shortage.
The union says its members deserve a pay increase to keep up with increasing industry standards but also that drivers are still owed annual leave pay and are generally paid less than comparable agency workers.
With ‘peak’ season approaching and a national driver shortage affecting supply chains across Britain, the drivers are in a very strong position but Yodel still apparently don’t fully appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, said:
"In a truly staggering act of corporate self-sabotage, Yodel has picked a fight with its organised LGV1 drivers at exactly the moment they should be bending over backwards to make sure they are happy and stay with the business.
“GMB has tried for many months to settle this dispute. Time again drivers’ demands have fallen on deaf ears.”
A ballot on industrial action will be held from 25 August. The drivers are in a very strong position.
Manchester Metrolink drivers ballot over pay
Manchester Metrolink drivers will ballot for strike action from the 26 August due to a ‘derisory’ pay offer according to their union, Unite.
Talks have been ongoing since February but it appears they are going nowhere with Metrolink offering a paltry 0.7% increase - a real terms cut when inflation is near 4%. 300 workers are represented by the union and strike action would cause massive disruption.
Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said:
“Unite has had no option but to ballot its members for strike action after Metrolink refused to make an acceptable pay offer despite six months of talks.
“Our members have gone beyond the call of duty to continue to operate throughout the pandemic and to be offered a derisory pay offer, a deep pay cut in real terms, is deplorable.
“If workers vote for strike action then Greater Manchester will effectively grind to a halt, affecting both commuters and those hoping to attend sport and leisure events.”
The ballot closes on September 10th. History tells us a better offer may come before that date.
Sparks fly at Fife-based cabling company: Unite takes the lead
Unite are set to ballot their members at Leviton in Glenrothes over a bitter dispute over pay.
The company makes high-speed copper and fibre-based cable systems for IT and data communications as well as supporting a wide range of civic and military institutions.
Pre-tax profits for Leviton in 2019 were £5.1m. The company have offered the workers a final 2.25% pay rise backdated to April. This isn’t good enough.
Unite’s George Ramsay cuts to the chase:
“Leviton Manufacturing has made several insulting offers to our members based in Glenrothes which have been rejected.
“We will now ballot our members for industrial action and are confident that they will endorse a mandate for industrial action. The company still has a chance to get back round the table before it comes to that and the ball is in their court.”
Let’s hope the workers give the bosses the short, sharp shock they deserve.
Barry Town Council digs own grave
Barry Town Council has withdrawn unilateral changes to workers’ terms and conditions at Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery. The six GMB members had voted for and planned to strike following the Council’s claim to “minor variations to the terms and conditions of employment”. The changes enforced shifts ending at 7pm two evenings a month between April and September instead of finishing at 4pm.
The workers expressed “how little they care about their staff” as changes were made without consent and would impact hugely on their work-life balance, particularly with regard to childcare.
Nicola Savage, GMB regional organiser said:
“Changing your long-established hours during the summer when people have childcare responsibilities and commitments isn’t minor by any stretch of the imagination, and you’d expect any management worth their salt to understand that.”
Strike dates have not been set while talks resume.
Test of strength
Biomedical scientists at a Lancashire NHS trust will strike from August 20 until the middle of November in an upgrading pay row. At five-and-half months this would be one of the longest-running industrial disputes currently in the UK.
Unite said that the trust management was more intent on spending tens of thousands of pounds on breaking the dispute than honouring the 2019 pay upgrade deal that they originally agreed to.
The union believes the trust’s actions were at the expense of patients needing efficient analysis of blood examples during the continuing pandemic at the Royal Blackburn Hospital and the Burnley General Teaching Hospital.
Unite regional officer Keith Hutson said: “Our members have voted to strike until November as they have been met by a dogmatic management intent on wastefully racking up thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to break this strike, rather than do the honourable thing and stick to the 2019 agreement to pay the upgrade that was promised.”
Making waves in Lewisham leisure
Leisure centre workers in Lewisham are to be balloted for strike action by their union over alleged unpaid wages and reductions in working hours. The centres affected are Wavelengths Leisure Centre, Forest Hill Pools, Glass Mill Leisure Centre, and Ladywell Arena.
Wages owed have gone unpaid, as has annual leave, and workers have had their hours changed unilaterally, partly due to the closure of the Bridge Leisure Centre.
Employers Greenwich Leisure Limited claim to be a worker led social enterprise, but have ‘form’ in showing themselves to be no different to any other private sector employer with a reliance on casual, zero-hour contracts.
As a unite organiser said, 'when returning from furlough, Lewisham leisure staff are now being told that their regular hours will change – and the managers are treating permanent staff as though they are on zero hour contracts.'
Staff and union are calling for all the services to be brought back in house.
Still on our radar
The UCU University of Liverpool strike still hinges on saving two members from redundancy. A huge achievement given the amount originally faced and the University workers are standing strong. Strike fund details can be found here.
The ballot for Unite members striking to save their site from closure at GKN closes on 31 August. Solidarity can be direct messaged here.
Bexley’s bin workers are still on strike for better pay from outsourcers Serco. This Counterfire article contains a model motion of support as well as strike fund details and a contact for messages of solidarity.
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