Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
UCU members at Goldsmiths, University of London are set to take three weeks of strike action from Tuesday 23 November in response to management proposals for 52 redundancies and the removal of department-based administrative support.
Academic jobs in English & Creative Writing and History are particularly at risk, along with the radical curriculum that they deliver. Management have developed a "recovery plan", in response to a deficit that was caused by poor financial planning and mismanagement, in conjunction with banks and auditors that jeopardises the very soul of the institution.
Staff voted by 86% for strike action on a turnout of 70% and have attended branch meetings in huge numbers. Staff and student solidarity is being organised along with a series of teach-outs, protests and rallies.
As with Liverpool UCU's recent action against the sackings of health educators, this strike is a litmus test of resistance to the financialisation of higher education and solidarity is urgently needed.
Please consider passing a motion of support for Goldsmiths at your union branch and making a donation. Please also join the picket lines outside Goldsmiths on 23 November - we need a huge show of support on our first day of action.
Aslef on track to defend jobs, T&Cs and Pensions
Aslef train drivers on London Underground have returned an astonishing 99% Yes to strike in defence of jobs, terms and conditions and pensions. Rail workers who worked throughout the pandemic to support the NHS in its Herculean efforts to save lives, are subject to a series of attacks as TfL’s finances evaporated as passenger numbers fell to as low as 5% of pre-pandemic numbers.
A series of government bailouts has kept the Tube afloat but the strings attached have revealed how Covid is being used as cover to undermine the past gains of workers’ struggles. The present bailout between TfL and the government runs out on 11 December. Any attempts to impose cuts on the workforce will be met with an almighty strike response.
Finn Brennan, Aslef London Organiser said:
“Management should be in no doubt that if they try to force through changes to our agreements, working conditions, or pensions, there will be hard-hitting and sustained industrial action across London Underground.”
Jeremy Corbyn offered his solidarity via Twitter saying:
“My full support to Aslef members defending their pay, conditions and pensions – they do a vital job for us all. This was inevitable once the Tory government put directors on the TfL Board, who will not put the interests of passengers, staff and the transport system first”
Harrods: Omnia Omnibus Ubique? Quisquillae!*
Harrods cut 145 jobs last summer citing the pandemic as the cause and leaving the remaining workforce to pick up the workload. Now restaurant workers, waiters and chefs organised by United Voices of the World, are balloting members for a strike during Christmas week demanding pay be raised from £9 an hour (present) to a minimum of £12 an hour.
Harrods was bought by Qatar Holding, the investment arm of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, in 2010 for an estimated £1.5bn. Harrods owners collected £125m in the year to January 2020.
UVW general secretary of UVW Petros Elia said:
“Our members work in the most famous luxury department store in the world, and yet they are paid poverty wages whilst generating millions of pounds in profit for their bosses. Our members are not willing to tolerate this any longer.”
*Translation from Latin, Harrods: All Things for All People, Everywhere? Rubbish!
Sheffield delivery drivers offer Stuart food for thought
Food delivery drivers and IWGB members in Sheffield have issued Stuart Delivery with a list of collective demands. Stuart have until 12 November to respond after which the drivers prepare to strike. The drivers (subcontracted by JustEat to Stuart Delivery) demand:
- No pay cuts!
- £6 minimum per delivery, plus mileage!
- Waiting times to be paid at £15/hr, after the first 10 minutes!
- For Stuart Delivery to resolve insurance issues which have been resulting in wrongful suspensions!
- For Stuart Delivery to introduce a temporary recruitment freeze!
Meanwhile, Deliveroo riders, also members of the IWGB, protested outside Hackney Town Hall this week. This follows an earlier protest outside McDonald’s in September where riders have been forced out to a carpark far away from the restaurant with no toilet, no shelter, and that impacts their ability to earn money and do their jobs.
In an escalating dispute, the riders who describe the job as “lawless” and “soul destroying” are rightly demanding dignity and respect.
Wheels coming off Stagecoach’s drive for profit?
Over 200 Unite members at Stagecoach’s Teesside and Hartlepool depots started their strike action with lively pickets outside the two depots including drivers, fitters, supervisory, clerical, cleaners and admin staff. They have announced 12 days of strike action after a 92% ballot result in favour of strike.
A further 600 Unite bus workers in Newcastle, South Shields and Sunderland are currently voting on improved offers from Stagecoach. If they reject the offer, they will be joining their Teesside brothers and sisters on strike.
If so, they will be joining Stagecoach workers around the country in the general mood of resistance: Blackwood, Cymbran and Brynmawr garages are due to strike from this Friday (12 Nov); Stagecoach SouthEast have only just avoided strike action with significantly improved offers being accepted at Herne Bay (5.7%), Folkestone (6.5%), Ramsgate (5%), and Canterbury (5.7%). Unite says drivers pay has increased less than 75p an hour between 2016 and 2020, but the directors pay has almost doubled from 93k to 180k a year.
Bus workers at the Hastings garage are voting now on an offer of 5.8%. All of them had voted decisively in favour of strike action if management didn’t come up with an above-inflation offer.
Kinchbus drivers clinch deal
This comes hard on the heels of the 50 drivers at Kinchbus in the East Midlands calling off their strike in return for a rise that not only beats inflation but also starts to erode the ‘new starter’ rate, which was widely resented. 5.3% for drivers with over 6 months service; 8.3% for those with less.
Scunny scaffies’ six week strike
Over 60 scaffolders at British Steel in Scunthorpe are in their sixth week of strike action, in a dispute over pay. The Unite members, who are responsible for maintaining scaffolding structures at the steelworks, have been picketing every day from 5.30am till 2.30pm since the strike began on 4 October.
The dispute has been ongoing since 2019, when workers were employed by the previous contractor Brand Energy. The workers, now employed by engineering firm Actavo, demand that they be paid in line with the national industry (NAECI) rates, which would see them gain a 10-15% pay increase.
In mid-October, the workers held a protest march around the site. Scaffolders at a Mitsubishi Chemicals site in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees walked out last week over pay, but have since postponed their strike after management have made a “new, improved pay offer”.
Veolia rubbished in Sheffield by bin strike
Refuse workers in Sheffield began their first weekly strike on Monday demanding a pay rise that would at least keep up with inflation. Just 4 days after the first four-hour walkout on Monday, Veolia who runs the contract has offered the workers a revised pay offer. GMB has suspended the strike while members consider the new offer.
The quick turnaround from Veolia after it realised that the workers were serious and the scale of disruption that lay ahead, shows the power of collective organising. Whether or not the pay deal is sufficient or not for the workers remains to be seen, but they should remember the power they have and not accept less than they deserve.
Offshore workers win back what was taken
Unite members working for offshore contractor Petrofac have won back pay sacrificed last year and called off strike action. Petrofac had implemented a 10% pay cut and one week’s salary sacrifice last year when oil prices tumbled.
97% of Unite members had voted to strike in the recent ballot, causing Petrofac to see sense. Unite has apparently managed to secure a 5% pay increase from April next year too.
This is being portrayed as a huge 17% win by Unite but if taken in the context of the workers originally reducing their salary, those numbers are something of a distortion. Winning back the pay they had to give up is worth celebrating but not the huge gain it’s being portrayed as.
North West bus drivers divided over deal
Arriva bus workers in the North West have narrowly voted to accept the company’s ‘revised’ offer. The vote was narrow – 934 accepting, 856 rejecting with 6 spoilt ballots (so 52% to 48%) but conceals a deeper tension.
Many drivers were angry that Unite was even asking them to vote on an offer that was substantially the same as the one they had already rejected. It is also the second time in a fortnight that strike action had been called off at the last minute. There had been an overwhelming vote for action in the initial ballot, so Arriva must be rubbing their hands.
However, Arriva would be foolish to regard the vote as anything other than a temporary halt to hostilities. The union would be foolish to ignore an underswell of resentment that is directed as much at the union as the company.
What is desperately needed now is a strategy to heal the obvious rift in the membership, and to rebuild the confidence among drivers that together they can fight and win and that if they choose to fight, they will not just be led up the hill and down again.
Anti-union laws quash DVLA workers
PCS workers at the DVLA in Swansea who have taken strike action earlier in the year over Covid safety have voted to strike but have not met the turnout threshold. Just under 40% of workers voted, so although 79% voted yes, a 50% turnout is required under the anti-trade union laws.
PCS say they will urgently seek to negotiate with DVLA bosses to discuss workers health and safety concerns. The DVLA had the highest number of cases of Covid of any workplace during the peaks of the pandemic. PCS said:
“It is frustrating for members who have voted for industrial action that they have been denied their democratic right to strike, due to some of the most repressive anti-trade union laws in Western Europe”
Parity pay strike in Wales
Arriva Cymru bus workers in North Wales are gearing up for strike action, following a 95% vote for strike. The garages at Amlwch, Bangor, Hawarden, Llandudno, Wrexham and Rhyl will all strike for seven days next week.
The drivers are furious that not only are Arriva Cymru offering a below-inflation rise – so a pay cut in real terms – but to add insult to injury, the rise they are offering is 10 pence an hour below what Arriva NW, across the border are being offered. This will only exaggerate the already-existing differential of £1.81 an hour.
Another big win for Unite road haulage
The 80 drivers employed by Wincanton on the Argos contract at Basildon have won pay rises of up to 30%. The actual increase depends on the shifts worked.
The company had started from a position of a marginal offer, tied to changes in working practices. They changed their position when the union started to prepare for industrial action.
However, the rise comes with strings such as changes to working practices, including flexibility between the Argos and the Sainsbury fleets. Until Sainsbury and Argos wages are harmonised, this leads to a potential war of attrition between the logistics workforce and the employer as Sainsbury (who bought out Argos four years ago) try to maximise the exploitation of their workforce.
Argos and Sainsbury logistics workers (direct labour and contractors) will need to develop and deepen their collective cooperation if they are to effectively stop Sainsbury’s race to the bottom.
UCU win at United College Group (UCG)
A long-running dispute involving a consortium of North London FE colleges was resolved this week as UCU agreed to accept a deal on behalf of its members.
Amidst the disruption of a recent merger, the bosses had attempted to pull a range of contract reversals that would meant greater workloads for staff.
A 99% vote for industrial action made short work of that. The new deal includes more agreeable terms and brings the casual staff more into line with full-timers.
News from the Frontline hope this deal sets the tone for UCU members getting the results they deserve in their forthcoming national action.
UCU ballot results are poised to usher a new wave of HE militancy
Counterfire UCU comrades say:
“The University and College Union (UCU) has announced some strong results in the recent ballot for strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS). The results, as they have come in, have opened up debate in the union over the appropriate strategy in the next phase of the dispute.
“There is a growing feeling that General Secretary Jo Grady can’t be trusted. The vote on the USS was overwhelming. There is no case for suspending action. The attack on pensions is dramatic and there needs to be a robust response.”
Read the full report here.
Prysmian Cables tied up as workers strike for second week
Unite members working at Prysmian Cables in Wrexham walked out for the second of eight 24-hour strikes this week. The workers have taken action after a below-inflation pay offer and an overtime ban.
Unite regional officer Tony Brady said:
"Our members at Prysmian Cables have not received a pay increase since 2019 yet last year Prysmian Group made 840 million euros in profit.
"Feelings are running very high in the plant at this injustice and the workforce is determined to fight for a decent pay rise."
The strikes are planned to continue throughout November and December is Prysmian don't improve their offer.
Get down to support the Clarks strike
The Community Union, currently in dispute with Clarks over fire and rehire have organised a solidarity march this Saturday 13 November. Assemble at the gates of the Clarks Distribution Centre, Westway Street, BA16 0LN at 11am.
The march will continue to Woods Batch Park where there will be speakers. If you’re local, get there and show some solidarity to these workers involved in a vital dispute.
Before you go...we need your help
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More articles from this author
- The fight has just begun: Day 3 of #UCUstrike
- Clarks victory: workers bring bosses to heel - News from the Frontline
- Picket lines and picket signs: Day 2 of #UCUstrike
- Why we strike, how we win
- 'We're at breaking point': University strikes kick off across the country
- 'We're already strike-ready': London transport workers rally against planned TfL cuts
- Goldsmiths strikers: 'We're not going to let them destroy this university' - video