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Lorry driving through flood water

Lorry driving through flood water. Photo: Mark Anderson / Geograph / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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Twenty-four tanker drivers, members of Unite, employed by Turners of Soham, are celebrating a 17.5% pay rise, after knocking back an ‘inflation-plus’ offer from the company. It takes their pay from around £34,950 to £42,000 per year.

This shows the benefit of union organisation in the workplace. Turners of Soham are one of the biggest hauliers in the country, and do not recognise trades unions in most of their operations. The Liverpool tanker drivers work on the Cargill contract, and have won union recognition.

The lesson should be learnt by other drivers in the Turners organisation. Tanker drivers working out of the company’s headquarters in Newmarket, Cambridgeshire, are on £10.50 an hour according to the Indeed website. The difference between the Newmarket drivers and those in Liverpool? The Merseysiders have union recognition and collective organisation, Newmarket doesn’t.

Hopefully, the #TruckedOff, #Take a Break campaign, backed by Unite, will be the first step in building that mood of collective strength. The campaign is calling on all HGV drivers to take their statutory break simultaneously at 11am on Monday 1st November. It may seem a small step, but it is the first attempt to get the drivers’ voice heard in the national media reporting of the ‘driver shortage’.

So far it has been dominated by pundits, employers and government, but we are the ones on the dirty end of the stick and so far we have been largely ignored. With luck, it will provide a bridge between the organised and the unorganised sectors of road haulage, and start to build the organisation among drivers that can change the face of the industry.

North-west bus strike postponed

A continuous strike planned for several weeks from Saturday 30th October in the northwest has been suspended. Unite members working as Arriva bus drivers had voted for continuous strike action, but an eleventh-hour deal has been put to them.

Drivers voted 87% in favour of strike on a 76% turnout as they seek better pay. The reported driver shortage is spreading to passenger transport, and this puts the drivers in a strong position, as does their willingness to withdraw their labour continuously for up to twelve weeks, after which, they would need to re-ballot.

One thousand, eight hundred drivers would have been eligible to take part in the strike after they rejected a 2% deal. The new deal is for 3%, which Unite is recommending the drivers accept, despite it being below RPI which is nearly 5%.

The union is in danger of undermining itself if it continues to talk up the issues workers face by rising inflation one day, and recommend workers accept below inflation deals the next. If the drivers vote to reject this deal, the union should respect their mandate and support them fully.

Greta’s call for unity in Glasgow

Greta Thunberg has called for Glasgow City Council cleansing workers to join her and others on the Youth Climate Strike, in George Square, on 5th November. Chris Mitchell, GMB rep for Cleansing has warmly accepted this invite. This exciting intervention came on the back of Living Rent members joining forces with the GMB to highlight the cleaning crisis the city faces.

The questions of strikes and class struggle are a core part of the protests that are emerging around COP26. Coordinated action like this has not been witnessed since the one-day public-sector strike that occurred in November 2011. Or the equal-pay strike in Glasgow during October 2018.

On 5th November, as well as joining Greta and cleansing workers in George Square, people have a chance to attend a People's Assembly rally at Glasgow University’s QMU Student Union at 5pm. This has an excellent platform, along with invited strikers and campaigners to speak from the floor. The People’s Assembly are also hosting an online event as part of COP26 Coalition Counter Summit on Monday 8th November.

Sheffield GMB: the bins are out again

Refuse workers in Sheffield are striking in response to a desultory pay offer from outsourcing kingpins Veolia. The 80% plus strike vote has given the GMB members there a ‘no messing’ mandate.

Strike action commences on Monday 1st November, with further days planned for later in the month and beyond. GMB’s Lee Parkinson says:

‘Our members working at Veolia have taken huge risks working all throughout the pandemic to help keep Sheffield moving. It’s time to value them properly for the work they do. Politicians lining up to thank them won’t cut it; nor will a pay offer that amounts to a real-terms pay cut. What they’ve been offered is an insult.’

News from the Frontline always salutes this kind of talk, but let’s ensure it is backed up with proper resolve. The strikers should be looking to trump the recent Brighton Council victory.

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL): talks take flight as strike action is suspended

The Prospect union has suspended industrial action involving air traffic control staff at eleven airports organised by HIAL.

A framework for discussion has been agreed that integrates the employers’ ‘modernisation’ goals and the pay and safety concerns of the workers.

The union’s David Avery says:

‘Prospect has always said that it wants to work with HIAL to come up with the best way to improve air traffic control services in the Highlands and Islands. This is a good step forward which we hope will eventually form the template for a safer and more effective air traffic management strategy while retaining most of the jobs and skills in remote communities.’

Let’s hope everything goes according to plan. Air traffic controllers are a powerful set of workers and the bosses should never forget it.

HE pensions battlefield opens in Dundee

Members of UCU, Unite, and Unison members at Dundee University have started strike action. On Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th October all staff took action. Now, over the next two weeks, different sections such as the library will take action. Workers at the University voted to strike after attacks on pensions by management created a situation in which the lowest paid workers could lose 40% of their retirement entitlement.

This is the first time Unison have joined this ongoing dispute. The picket lines were large and across the campus. On the first day of action, Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the Scottish TUC, who is due to address the People’s Assembly Rally in Glasgow on 5th November, addressed the picket lines. She told strikers, that “it is a disgrace and they weren’t going away”.

Unite’s James Rouke said:

‘The pandemic is being blamed for it. In twenty years we might be looking back at people who stood on that picket line who are feeling pension poverty. And those coming behind will still be feeling it, while management will only increase the gap between those on lower and higher grades.’

A mass picket-line meeting is scheduled for the fifth day of action to rally the strikes over the weekend and into the second week of action. The strike has support across the whole city. Dundee Trades Council is taking an active role in supporting the action. Further to this, the city council voted to back the strike at a full council meeting.

Oak Park School NEU strike go to city hall 

On 15th November, the NEU Oak Park School strike reaches its fifth month without resolution. The Head teacher, school governors, Redbridge Labour Council Leader Jas Athwal, and local Labour MP Wes Streeting, have all failed to take the matters of concern, including bullying of staff and the sacking of an NEU rep, seriously.

Now, despite a great deal of effort on the part of the NEU to sit down and resolve the issues raised, following the sacking in May this year of NEU rep Keiran Mahon over safety issues during the pandemic, as figures and cases of Covid-19 were rising in the Redbridge area, the school and council are not budging.

There has been a total of 23 strike days so far, and three rallies with overwhelming public support, and the support of parents too. The NEU now believes, having obtained evidence, that the school has been hiring outside agency staff to cover the classes of those on strike, which is illegal. Falsified records to cover this up are alleged and under investigation at time of writing.

The union has given legal notice of a further twelve days of early-morning strike action at Oak Park School after half term. The NEU will take their case to the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, at city hall on 15th November, in the hope he’ll get the school, council and local MP to get around the table with the NEU and resolve the matters at hand.

Please show support for NEU strikers by signing the petition and send messages of support to:

[email protected].

Carers in Scotland demand better pay

GMB care workers in Scotland held a protest outside the Scottish Parliament last Saturday demanding fair pay of £15 an hour. This follows the Health Secretary in Scotland, Humza Yousaf, announcing a pay raise for care workers so the minimum pay will be £10.02 per hour as part of the winter plan for health and social care.

However the workers are very clear that this is not enough. GMB Scotland secretary Louise Gilmour said:

‘COVID-19 has exposed all the underlying problems facing workers in care, problems that were well understood by employers and political leaders pre-pandemic but left unchallenged, and contributed towards care becoming the “crisis within a crisis”.’

UAL cleaners back on strike

University of the Arts London (UAL) cleaners will be back out on strike on 12th November outside the London College of Communication.

The cleaners are demanding they be bought in-house and have parity of terms and conditions with employed staff. As outsourced workers they have less pay, no sick pay or maternity pay, work irregular hours, and have little security.

You can donate to their strike fund here.

RMT: cut climate emissions, not public transport jobs

As the COP26 summit approaches, the RMT have called a protest, ‘Cut Climate Emissions, Not Public Transport Jobs,’ on Thursday 4th November at 10am outside the Department for Transport.

While COP26 is taking place, on 4th November, the DFT will be hosting a day where the private sector will bid for public-transport contracts, which will guarantee profits for private companies, and continue the attack on transport workers’ jobs, pay, conditions and pensions. 

Victory for cleaners

IWGB cleaners at the London Elizabeth Hotel have won their fight for £4,733 furlough wages, which they were denied by their employer Pridegreen.

The cleaners held a protest at the hotel prior to the company agreeing to pay them their owed wages. Pridegreen claimed between £10,000-£25,000 per month from December 2020 to June 2021, while cleaners were left with no income during the lockdowns. Mildre, a cleaner at the London Elizabeth Hotel said:

'This would not have happened if we had not resorted to our campaign and shamed them on their doorstep.

'During the pandemic we have helped to recover thousands of pounds of furlough wages that were denied to low-paid workers by exploitative employers like Elizabeth Hotel, and this only goes to show that the current law enforcement is not fit to protect these precarious workers who need it most.'

Tipping point in the NHS?

There are signs that anger in the NHS is turning into a mood for action. The GMB union is balloting their NHS members for industrial action over pay from 10th November to 15th December. Any strikes would take place in the new year.

More than nine out of ten GMB members in the NHS have rejected the government’s pay offer of 3%, which is below inflation, and amounts to a real-term pay cut. The GMB union has been campaigning for a restorative increase of 15%, or £2 per hour, whichever is highest, to replace what has been lost from NHS pay packets over the last decade. As national officer Rachel Harrison said:

‘After their heroic efforts during the pandemic, NHS workers are now being asked to swallow this miserable pay cut. The NHS is facing a staffing crisis and is creaking under the pressure of the pandemic. A pay award like this is a slap in the face for all health workers and is not the way to fix things.’

Meanwhile, the doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, has also decided to hold a ballot on possible industrial action, which could result in family doctors at the 6,600 practices in England reducing the work they undertake.

The BMA’s GPs committee voted unanimously to reject the plan by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, which included ‘naming and shaming’ surgeries that see too few patients in person. As the committee’s chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, complained:

‘GPs have been left with no alternative but to take this action. All efforts to persuade the government to introduce a workable plan that will bring immediate and longer-term improvement for doctors and their patients have so far come to nought.’

Watch this space.

Sorted! A victory in the post

Gary Evans, a Communication Workers Union member at Llanelli Delivery Office in Wales, who was wrongfully dismissed, has been reinstated.

Last month, his colleagues voted almost unanimously to strike in his defence. Following a 24-hour strike on 13th October that halted postal deliveries, management felt they had no choice but to back down.

This is a fantastic example of what real solidarity can achieve. As Gary’s workmates said after management caved, “when you come for one of us, you come for all of us.”

Congratulations to Gary and all involved.

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