The 50th edition of Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
You wait for years for bus workers to exert their muscle, then a spate of strike ballots all arrives at once. News from the Frontline has reported in previous bulletins on the disputes across the country.
The latest success comes from Stagecoach South Wales, where 230 Unite members have just seen double-digit pay rises. After seventeen days of industrial action, the company conceded a £1-an-hour pay rise. This takes the basic hourly rate to £10.50 an hour.
Six Abellio garages are now joining the party across southwest London. The 950 drivers are being balloted for strike action over the company’s attempt to alter the drivers’ schedules. Schedules are fundamental to drivers’ working conditions - most drivers arrange their family life, childcare responsibilities, and social lives around them - and the company is blatantly breaking an agreement to consult before changing them.
Drivers who have for years worked the early runs are being told their shifts have changed to afternoon and evening schedules, and vice versa. The 54 routes affected include one of London Transports oldest bus routes, the 24 bus. The drivers are adamant that they will not accept the company’s highhanded approach:
“The company says it’s necessary for the computer algorithms to work properly. They care more about their computers than the flesh-and-blood human drivers. Well, computers can’t drive buses.”
Stop press! Turning up the heat gets a win for Unite at Glen Dimplex UK
Three days of strike action did the trick for a living-wage pay demand at the Portadown-based home-heater manufacturer. The dispute had been rumbling for months but there’s nothing quite like the withdrawal of labour to get the bosses’ attention.
The union says:
“Unite can now confirm that our members at Glen Dimplex voted with a 67% majority to accept a hugely improved pay offer. This provides an inflation-busting 13.5% pay increase as well as a payment recognition of workers’ service throughout the pandemic.
“The offer was secured after Unite members launched three days of strike action. Well done to all our members and reps on securing this huge victory!”
A pay rise of 13.5% should be our New Normal, but that’s going to take a fight.
The Grinch comes to DHL Bristol
One hundred and forty DHL drivers on the Sainsbury’s contract out of Bristol are being balloted on strike action by the Unite union. DHL is refusing to increase pay by more than 3%, and insisting on an 18-month deal. The drivers want a rise that at least keeps up with inflation, currently running at 5.9%.
A strike would mean Sainsbury’s stores across the southwest facing empty shelves in the run up to Christmas.
After protracted strike action in 2020, and selective strikes this summer, Unite members at Rolls Royce Barnoldswick have accepted an enhanced agreement, with commitments from management that there will be no compulsory redundancies for five years and manufacturing will be undertaken on the site for at least ten years.
The Unite union is rightly celebrating this as a victory, given that management were looking to close the plant altogether. As Unite Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner put it:
“Through the leadership of their shop stewards and local Unite officer, a confident, well organised workforce have once again demonstrated their willingness to act collectively and win. This dispute should act as an inspiration to all facing similar challenges as we transition to a greener economy.”
Unite’s successful campaign involved strong support from the entire local community. Local people saw clearly that Rolls-Royce’s continued presence was essential for the town’s future.
Barnoldswick workers have to be vigilant and ready to fight again. Rolls Royce have proved again and again that they are not to be trusted.
Teachers in the NASUWT at Furrowfield School in Gateshead are taking the first of eighteen days of strike action against management practices which are having an impact on their health, safety, and wellbeing.
They have faced bullying and intimidation, and attempts to undermine their employment conditions. There have been significant issues at the school for a long period, with members taking strike action earlier this year at the school.
RMT safety strike
RMT East Midlands train managers and senior conductors are commencing further strike action over pay, safety, and conditions. The workers are in two separate disputes, and were striking during spring and summer. Further action was put on hold as the RMT entered talks, which have failed to resolve both disputes.
The managers are striking over new working arrangements which the RMT says are unsafe. The conductors are fighting over pay, working conditions, and issues with contracts. Strike action will commence for 48 hours from midnight on 3 December.
UVW fighting for job security
After securing a 100% yes vote, UVW Security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) are striking on 6-9 December. The workers are fighting to be bought in house and have parity with NHS workers.
With many of the workers from black and migrant backgrounds, UVW say this is also a fight against indirect institutional racism. GOSH security guard, Peter said:
“We want everyone to know that what we are requesting is fairness, that’s all. We want GOSH to listen to us, and to see this from a different perspective.”
You can donate to the strike fund here.
Better pay en route: Arriva bus drivers pause strike to consider new deal
Unite Arriva bus drivers in North Wales and Chester started five weeks of strike action on 14 November over pay. Nearly all bus services were cancelled as 400 drivers went on strike.
On Thursday, day 4 of the strike, the Arriva bus company has come back with an improved pay offer, which would see the annual salary of a bus driver go up by £1,251.
Unite has decided to suspend strike action while it ballots its members about the improved pay offer. Read Ben Alofs' full report here.
Several new disputes are brewing in the civil service. The PCS union is balloting members at HM Courts and Tribunals Service on concerns about a new IT system, which it says is placing 3,000 jobs at risk.
PCS said the new digital case-management system for the courts has sent work related stress and anxiety levels among officials ‘through the roof’. PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka said a strike ballot could follow the current consultative ballot, which runs until 2 December. He explained:
“HMCTS have launched a system which is not fit for purpose and has caused staff huge levels of stress and anxiety.”
Meanwhile a consultative ballot over job losses and cuts at the British Council has just started. The Council is planning to close some overseas offices and reduce staffing numbers by 2,000 globally. The job losses are targeted at lower grades while new management positions and a new deputy-chief-executive-officer post are to be created. The PCS union is demanding no forced redundancies, a negotiated process for any changes, and no privatisation.
The PCS union has also begun balloting its members working for Natural England in a consultative ballot for strike action. The union argues that there has been zero pay progression for the lowest paid workers and some are being paid £3,000 less than those in other parts of the department.
Sage care workers’ victory
UVW have called a victory after Sage Nursing Home workers who took two days of strike action in late October, fighting for £12 an hour, have won the London living wage from 1 December. The workers were on the minimum wage or just above, so this will be a 5-11% increase.
The workers are also fighting difficulties with their working conditions, staff shortages, and lack of respect from management. Senior care worker at Sage, Bile said:
“We went above and beyond to stand for what we deserve. We know that none of us acting alone can achieve success and we understand that there is still a way to go. We need to correct the legacy of past injustice and insist upon the will to change. Let there be work, bread, water, and water for all!”
Care worker Julia said:
“We held picket lines, distributed thousands of leaflets to the local community; seventy thousand people signed our petitions; members of Parliament signed an early day motion. We delivered this win, but the battle is not over. We are clear we must keep fighting to get what we want and what we and the residents deserve.”
Night tube strike
RMT tube drivers will commence strike action on 26 November over the return of the night tube. Part-time night-tube drivers became full-time employees after the night tube was suspended during the pandemic. Now full-time drivers will have to do some night shifts.
The RMT says this would wreck the work-life balance of the members. The night tube is set to return on 27 November.
Strikes will start at 4:30 am on 26 November on the Victoria, Central, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. Central and Victoria lines will strike from 8:30pm on 27 November to 4:30am on 28 November. Similarly scheduled strikes are planned on the Central and Victoria line for 3-4, 10-11 and 17 December.
Zuckerberg’s mess: Facebook cleaners in London to protest against outsourcing
As previously reported on News from the Frontline, cleaners at Facebook’s London offices are preparing to ballot for strike over excessive workloads, and the dismissal of their trade-union rep.
They will be protesting outside Facebook’s office at 10 Brock Street, NW1 3FG on Friday 26 November at 4pm. Speakers will include John McDonnell MP, James Farrar of the ADCU, and Glenroy Watson, the RMT Black Solidarity Committee’s Secretary.
If you’re in London, please get down there to show your solidarity, and donate to the campaign fund here.
UCU strikes are go
UCU has announced three days of strike action from 1-3 December in 58 universities over proposed cuts to pensions and the four fights. Members across the 64 branches that attained a mandate for supplementary action short of a strike (ASOS) will also start working to contract from 1 December.
It’s important that the union now pulls together and does everything within its power to mobilise members at every university, to win the support of students and wider public opinion, and to build solidarity with the wider labour movement.
Separately, UCU members at Goldsmiths will begin three weeks of strike action next week to resist the university’s proposals for 52 redundancies. Goldsmiths strikers will be out on picket lines from 8am on Tuesday 23 November, and will hold a rally at 12pm with speakers including Jeremy Corbyn and Michael Rosen.
This is a pivotal moment in what has become an unprecedented conflict in UK higher education. United we can win the fight against intransigent employers, the USS trustees, fat-cat bankers and eleven years of Tory cuts to public funding.
Workers turn the screw: Unite members at B&Q Worksop set to strike before Xmas
Over four hundred Unite members at the DIY emporium’s Wincanton warehouse are set to strike over the forthcoming holiday period. The dispute centres on union-busting and a pay demand.
The solid schedule comprises two weekly cycles of all-out strike action followed by a seven-day overtime ban which will begin on 28 November and continue until 20 February.
Unite’s Garry Guye says:
“B&Q will not be pleased that its Christmas stock will be disrupted because Wincanton has caused a row with staff with its insulting pay offer and attempts to undermine collective bargaining.
“There is still time to avoid strike action, but Wincanton must end the union-busting and table a pay offer that meets our members’ expectations.”
Retail workers have a high profile among the working class so it’s always good to see them stepping up to the plate. And everyone hates union-busters.
Resisting Priti Patel's hostile environment
The PCS union has threatened legal action over Home Office plans to make border agents carry out international-law-violating attacks on refugees. Read Floyd Codlin's report here.
Pickets, precarity and 'power to the people': The struggle intensifies at the Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art lecturers are fighting back against attacks on terms and conditions of work in Higher and Further Education. Read Peter Bird's picket line report here.
Weetabix takes the biscuit
As Weetabix workers continue to strike against the assault on their pay and conditions, community activists stand with the strikers. Read Margery Thorogood's report from Unite's day of action in Windsor.
Why NHS strikes are necessary
Read GMB union organiser Helen O'Connor's article about the NHS crisis, and why clinical staff must join other NHS workers in strike action to save the health service.
Striking For Our Lives: News From The Frontline
News from the Frontline has now published 50 bulletins rounding up industrial struggles, strikes and workers' action. During this time, we've seen a significant increase in trade union activity and in workers getting organised.
As the Tories continue to try and make working people pay for their crisis and unscrupulous bosses attempt to ramp up their exploitation, we've organised an online rally to hear from the workers resisting on the frontline.
Join us on Tuesday 30 November at 7pm to hear from a fantastic line up of speakers and get an idea of how workers are fighting back. Register on Zoom here.
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