Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
The university strikes next week are crucially important because they are about rolling back the attacks on higher education workers’ conditions from employers, who want them to work harder for less money in real terms, and to deny them a decent income when they retire.
Staff in 58 universities across the country are taking action to defend pensions and employer failings on pay, casualisation, conditions and equalities. Some of the employers’ attacks are taking on draconian local form. Staff at Goldsmiths in London are engaging in three weeks of continuous strike action after management announced 52 redundancies as part of a restructuring package.
After two decades of deteriorating pay and conditions, and more recently major staff sacrifices during the pandemic to keep the sector going, university staff deserve better than to be treated like dirt. The marketisation of education means the conditions of staff are worsening, while vice chancellors and others who run the universities pick up huge bonuses and vastly inflated salaries.
The losers in all this are not only staff but students, who are praised as ‘customers’ but whose education is narrowed by constant reliance on metrics, while they are taught by overworked and underpaid – and often casualised – lecturers.
Striking for our lives: News from the frontline online rally
In the last year, 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 here.
TSSA ballots for action on Avanti West Coast
Rail workers represented by Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association have voted in a massive majority to engage in strike action on the West Coast Mainline, following what the union described as a ‘severe breakdown in industrial relations’. Normally one of the less militant sections of the transport workforce, staff have been moved to take action after grievances have piled up on one another since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Workers have accused the company of imposing an effective, but undeclared, wage freeze since 2020, as it refuses to discuss pay with recognised representatives. It has also imposed arbitrary changes to shift patterns, and refused to replace staff who have left, greatly increasing people’s workloads. The company is demanding more work for less pay, and using the ongoing problems of public transport as an excuse.
The almost 85% ballot result for strike action is an almost unheard-of level of support for action, and reflects real anger amongst a workforce that has been struggling to maintain essential services, often at personal risk, through the crisis of the past eighteen months. It also points to the very real likelihood that similar disputes will happen in other parts of the rail network. Dates for action are likely to be declared soon.
Unite cuts deal with Ford bosses to protect workers’ pay
Extensive negotiations between Unite the Union and the motor giant Ford have resulted in a satisfactory two-year deal.
The deal comprises an increase of 5.1 % (secured when RPI was at 4.9%) from now on. For the second year of the deal, workers will receive a pay increase in line with the retail price index (RPI) inflation rate, which is currently standing at 6%.
Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says:
‘This is a good pay deal for Ford workers and will ensure that the wages they bring home keep pace with the UK’s rising living costs.
‘This demonstrates how the union’s focus on fighting to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of our members is producing vital wins in pay disputes.’
Unite should be punching a little harder than this. Car workers still command a lot of respect in our movement, and rightly so.
RMT strikers don't go gently into the night tube relaunch
RMT tube drivers commenced strike action on Friday 26 November over the return of the night tube. During the pandemic, part-time night-tube drivers were rostered onto day shifts to help cover driver shortages caused by sickness and self-isolating, given that the night tube was suspended.
Now, in an agreement signed off with Aslef, the grade was ‘consolidated’ with part-time night-tube drivers offered the opportunity to go full-time. The resultant eradication of the night-tube grade means existing full-time drivers, contrary to the agreement in 2015, will have to do some night shifts, which RMT says would wreck the work-life balance for drivers.
The 2015 night-tube agreement was across all grades. It is a shame, therefore, that this action hasn’t been co-ordinated across all the grades.
With the TfL funding crisis coming to a head, we have to extend solidarity work on the ground urgently, among the rank-and-file, and across unions, on the eve of the huge, imminent, and inevitable struggles to come on the tube.
The night tube is set to return on 27 November. Strikes began at 4:30am on 26 November on the Victoria, Central, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. The Central and Victoria lines will also 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.
Truck welders dump bad deal
Unite welders at Thwaites in Leamington Spa are balloting for strike action after rejecting a pay offer of 3% - half the current RPI inflation rate.
Thwaites make dumper trucks, and should the ballot meet the threshold, action will take place from January. The results are due after the ballot closes on 7 December.
Unite regional officer, Su Lowe said:
‘This is a loyal, highly skilled, and dedicated workforce who are only taking strike action as a last resort.
‘The company has a very healthy order book and the ability to make a fair pay offer. A failure to do so will result in a retention crisis as workers leave for better paid jobs elsewhere.
‘Thwaites can still avoid industrial action by returning to the negotiating table and making a renewed pay offer which meets our members’ expectations.’
Panasonic, profits, and the pandemic
Workers at Panasonic’s Pontprennau depot in Cardiff have voted to continue with further strike action, backed by the GMB union. After doing their bit in response to the Covid-19 crisis in 2019, and accepting a pay freeze, Panasonic this year ‘rewarded’ them with a derisory offer of a 1% pay increase. After inflation, this represents a real-terms pay cut. The insulting offer was justifiably rejected. Panasonic’s response was to withdraw the offer entirely and also withdraw from negotiations.
Panasonic, which has enjoyed a sixty-billion turnover, has received widespread condemnation for its actions, with GMB regional organiser, Nicola Savage saying ‘everyone can see how unjust this is…’
Workers gathered outside the depot on Monday to demand Panasonic re-join negotiations, but so far the company remains belligerent in its profiteering. Further strike dates are scheduled for the 29 November and 6 December.
The behaviour of Panasonic can be viewed in no other way than as blatant exploitation of the Covid-19 pandemic and the loyalty of their workers. Disgraceful profiteering in the face of a crisis in which working people have been at the frontline, protecting life and livelihoods, while the rich, and companies like Panasonic, have raked in profits, and happily taken ‘support’ from the taxes paid by their employees.
Another bin win
More than 80% of unionised refuse workers at Veolia Sheffield, which manages the council’s waste services, recently voted for industrial action in anger at the latest pay offer from the company. The GMB characterised the low offer as part of ‘ongoing attacks’ to their terms and conditions.
The threat of indefinite strike action resulted in an increased pay offer of a backdated 3% increase in year one, a one-off £250 payment for each employee, and a further 3.5% increase for year two. However, with UK RPI inflation currently running at 6%, more struggles lie ahead if workers are to keep pace with the cost of living.
GMB organiser, Lee Parkinson said members at Veolia had ‘stood together in an act of solidarity. It is time to value them properly for the work they do.’
Ponticelli and Semco not so slick as 300 workers prepare to strike
Three-hundred Unite members working on TotalEnergies’ North Sea offshore facilities, employed by Ponticelli UK and Semco Maritime, are set to take strike action, including an overtime ban from early December till late February 2022.
Unite’s ballot returned a 93.6% vote for strike action on a 64.8% turnout, over cuts to pay, and terms and conditions.
John Boland, Unite regional officer said:
‘These workers have worked through the Covid pandemic, losing leave days while involved in Covid testing and while in isolation, they are the people that have kept North Sea platforms producing oil and gas for Total. But now that oil and gas prices are at a new high, vaccines have greatly reduced the impact of Covid, and Total are making millions in profits, our members are being asked to accept cuts to their terms and conditions and redundancies.
‘The only way our members can stop these attacks on pay and conditions is to fight for them. This ballot result is a clear mandate that our members will not accept this appalling treatment.’
DHL fails to deliver for workers
Ninety drivers and warehouse staff at transport-giant DHL’s Bellshill plant are due to strike over pay and working conditions. The workforce rejected the company’s original offer of 9% over two years, and then equally emphatically rejected a so-called ‘improved’ offer. The Unite members at the depot voted overwhelmingly (88% on a 95% turnout) to strike for an end to the company’s insistence on looking at them as cheap, unskilled labour.
This follows hard on the heels of the 14% pay rise won by DHL’s workers at the Bristol site (reported in last week's NFTF). Bellshill workers don’t see why they should settle for an inferior offer.
All aboard the fight for pay
More bus workers around the country are climbing on board the campaign for better pay. The latest to claim their seats are Stagecoach South Yorkshire, where 560 workers at the Sheffield, Barnsley, and Rotherham garages are due to strike this weekend over a ‘miserly’ pay offer of 2%.
Next in the queue are Unite members working for Cambus in Cambridge, where the three garages at Cambridge, Fenstanton, and Peterborough are balloting to strike against an even more tight-fisted offer of 1.5%.
IWGB battle for take away pay
IWGB food-delivery couriers working for the company Stuart in Sheffield, which delivers for JustEat, are striking over 25% cuts to pay. The workers protested in October, resulting in promises from bosses to postpone the cuts; bosses have now reneged on this.
The workers currently are paid £4.50 per drop off, and the bosses are cutting pay to £3.40 per drop off from 6 December. Workers are demanding £6 plus mileage and waiting time over ten minutes.
The workers will be on strike from Sunday 28 November and are protesting against the pay cuts, assembling at noon on 28 November outside Sheffield Town Hall. The workers will hold a motorcade at 11am from Queen Street, arriving at Sheffield town hall in time for the rally at noon. You can donate to the strike fund here.
Four hospitals, one fight: Berkshire NHS workers set to strike
GMB NHS staff working across four different hospitals in Berkshire as cleaning, housekeeping, catering, and car-park staff are set to strike. The workers at the Wokingham, King Edward VII, St Marks and Upton hospitals are set to strike for five days from Monday 29 November. One hundred and twenty workers were transferred from Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust to NHS Property Services (NHSPS) on 1 October.
GMB says it is concerned that NHSPS could change the workers’ pay, terms and conditions, and worried that this is part of a planned restructure of the workforce that could result in the workers not having a link with existing NHS terms of pay.
'Not good enough': Arriva North Wales bus drivers could walk out again
Four-hundred Arriva North Wales Unite bus drivers were on strike last week over pay. The strike has been suspended while workers vote on a new pay offer. A driver told local newspaper The Leader:
“None of us are happy with the deal, and it'll almost certainly be voted down. The strike’s suspension is nothing more than a legal technicality - with Arriva having tabled an offer which is over a certain percentage … But the feeling amongst all the depots is that it’s simply not good enough.”
It seems the mood on the ground amongst at least some of the drivers is that this deal is not good enough and that strikes will resume on 6 December.
Usdaw ballot: Tesco distribution workers demand more pay as the festive season looms
Retail union, Usdaw has started two formal industrial action ballots covering nine Tesco distribution sites after members overwhelmingly rejected the company’s latest paltry pay offer.
The distribution centres involved are Daventry, Goole, Hinckley, Lichfield, Livingston, Magor, Peterborough, and Southampton, giving this dispute a national colouration. The ballots will take place from now until 6 December, with the planned strike schedule featuring the week before Christmas.
Usdaw’s Joanne McGuinness said:
‘Retail distribution workers are key workers who delivered essential services throughout the pandemic, which in turn delivered a 16.5% increase in profit to Tesco for the first half of the year.
‘The potential of industrial action and possible stock shortages in stores in the week before Christmas can be avoided if the company comes back to the table with a better offer that is acceptable to our members.’
Tesco bosses need to start taking turkey, or there might not be any in the shops. The new militancy is igniting every section of the economy, including retail.
Support striking Scunthorpe scaffolders
After eight weeks of picketing, the Actavo scaffolders’ strike is at a critical point and they need our solidarity. Read John Westmoreland's full report here.
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