Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Unite members working for pallet supplier Chep who have already taken four days of strike action this month are set to escalate the dispute by moving to continuous strike from Friday 17 December.
The workers rejected the company’s 2% pay offer which is way below RPI inflation, currently standing at 7.1% for the past 12 months. The lack of engagement by the company to settle the dispute is cited as the driving reason behind the escalation.
Unite regional officer Ian McCluskey said:
“It is highly disappointing that Chep has refused to enter into any discussions or negotiations with Unite since the strikes began, in order to resolve this dispute.
“This dispute could be easily resolved by Chep making a fair pay offer to its workers and entering into talks. The ball is firmly in the company’s court.”
Chep reported massive increases in profits recently, it’s time the workers got their piece of the pie.
Unison members in Portway Lifestyle Centre and Tipton Leisure Centre in Sandwell took strike action on 14 December, in what is now the longest-running industrial dispute in Sandwell’s history.
In March 2021, Sandwell Leisure Trust fired and rehired all 280 staff in order to remove them from national pay, terms and conditions.
Unison members took three one-day strikes in April, June and August to fight against the decision. This fourth day of strikes comes on the back of further cuts to terms and conditions.
Sandwell branch secretary Tony Barnsley said:
“Despite promising not to make any further changes to terms other than pay until March 2022, management have now sent the trade unions proposals to make any Covid-related absence count towards targets and triggers. This proposal effectively breaks their own promise.
“Our members are determined to continue their fight against being unnecessarily ‘fired and rehired’ against their will whilst the trust still has £3.5 million in the bank.”
Coventry council trashes Christmas
Bin lorry drivers in Coventry will be going on strike from 21 December over pay and Christmas working arrangements. Over 70 workers, represented by Unite, voted for 98.5% for strike action on a 90% turnout. Despite the national shortage of HGV-licensed drivers, Coventry council has remained adamant to pay its refuse collectors poverty wages.
But the drivers aren't having it. After a string of successful bin strikes around the country, they know they can win. They will be out on strike for a total of ten days from 21-24 December, 5-6 January and 11-14 January.
GOSH bosses victimise UVW strikers
UVW security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) were on strike last week, demanding to be brought in house and have parity in pay and T&C’s with NHS staff. Since their action began, they have faced union-busting tactics by bosses with overtime shifts cancelled without reason.
Security guard Abiodun Ilouri said:
“I am angry, I’m upset and my family is upset. Everybody knows the reason why he cancelled the shift; because I was an active union member. I was at the picket line. I was on strike for three days asking for equal rights. He knows I am an active member of the union, I am being victimised, I am being picked on. I demand an explanation.”
UVW says that following the strike security guards have also had racist slurs used against them in an attempt to undermine their strike.
Security guard Omer said:
“Privatisation and outsourcing only leads to the benefit of the corporates at the expense of the workers in NHS and creates division. Let’s unite, not divide.”
Bus drivers prepare to strike indefinitely against Stingy Stagecoach
Sheffield bus drivers employed by Stagecoach went on strike for their second week after getting no pay rise in 2020 and below-inflation pay rises in previous years. On 14 December, Unite announced that the drivers will be going on indefinite strike from 1 and 2 January across South Yorkshire.
Martin Mayer, Secretary of Sheffield TUC, said before the announcement: “The strike is rock solid and the latest pay offer was massively rejected which shows the drivers are determined to hold out for as long as it takes to get the pay rise they deserve.”
Night tube strikes continue
RMT night tube driver strikes are continuing this weekend with a 24-hour strike on the Central, Victoria, Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. The strike commences at 4:30 am on Saturday 18 December, the busiest shopping Saturday of the year.
The workers are striking over work-life balance after drivers who didn’t previously work night shifts are being rostered to work on the night tube.
Unison and RCN fail to lead a fight
As both the Unison and RCN industrial action ballots failed to get the turn-out required by law, both unions are in the happy position of being able to say they tried – but the members let them down. That’s not the view from the ground: an RCN rep from Suffolk believes that both unions failed to campaign for a ‘yes’ vote. In her view it’s not apathy, but sheer exhaustion that means many members were not enthusiastic about voting for strike action.
“Many of our members are just drained after 21 months on the front line and there was no energy transmitted in the campaign.”
A GMB rep (also a nurse) feels the same. She left Unison for the GMB because,
“They talk the talk, but that’s all. They were not interested in helping build the vote, It was like ‘If the members are interested, they’ll turn out’. That’s no way to build a campaign.”
“Ferry ferry angry” with TfL
The simmering discontent at management practices has boiled over again on the Woolwich Ferry, as the Unite members that crew the ferries voted overwhelmingly for strike action from the beginning of January.
The 58 workers will strike every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting on 3 January, over the victimisation of two shop stewards, but also over a series of management cock-ups unresolved since TfL took over the contract from the discredited Briggs Marine management.
Hands off St Matts: Preston teachers escalate strike action
Teachers at St Matthews Primary School in Preston struck for three days this week in a bid to stop the academisation of the school. The Governors of the school are planning to force a transfer of employment to the Cidari Multi Academy Trust on 1 February despite staff objections.
Daniel Kebede, President of the NEU, said 41 members were on the picket line on Thursday and were “determined as ever to keep St Matthew's a community school.”
The school's alleged attempts to reschedule a nativity play and class party to clash with the strike days only angered striking teachers and parents more. They have now announced they will be taking eight more days of strike action once term resumes in the new year.
GMB Scotland clinches deal for workers ahead of school strike
Cleaning and janitorial staff at Glasgow schools have voted to accept pay increases of between 4% and 6.4% as part of a deal brokered with privatisation barons Amey.
Thirty-five schools in and around the city were set to strike for three days this week raising the real possibility of school closures.
GMB Scotland’s John Slaven says:
“This is a hard-fought win secured by our members’ strength and solidarity, and it shines a light on the vital roles cleaners and janitors play in the safe and secure running of our schools.”
This is the New Militancy reclaiming ground ceded to the bosses when PFI was running rife. Those days are over.
Carmarthen gritters prepare to strike
Gritters employed by Carmarthen County Council's Highways department are set to strike early in the new year after the 50+ GMB members delivered a 90% vote for strike action. Unite and Unison who represent a further 20 gritters are currently balloting to join the indsutrial action and strike dates will be announced once their ballots close.
The dispute is in response to the Council's continuing breaches of an agreement made with the union two years ago after they took action. GMB regional organiser Peter Hill said that
“despite months of talks the authority seems hell-bent on a dispute with our members. After the last two years where our members worked loyally throughout the pandemic it is a kick in the teeth for them. Carmarthenshire now risks complete road network shut down this winter after the council broke its promise to workers.”
Tesco concedes as Usdaw gets a crack at the whip
As previously mooted by News from the Frontline, the retailing behemoth Tesco has offered driver and warehouse staff at nine depots up and down the country a “much-improved pay offer”.
The workers have been offered a minimum of a 5.5% increase backdated to July 2021 and an additional 0.5% from February 2022. The scheduled pre-Christmas strikes have been suspended.
The ballot is already open and due to close on 22 December. The union is recommending its members accept the deal.
Usdaw’s Joanne McGuinness says:
“Retail distribution workers are key workers who delivered essential services throughout the pandemic; they deserve this pay rise.”
A good result, no doubt, but next time let’s see some joint action from Unite and Usdaw. The Tories and the bosses hate joint action.
Employers Foyled: Port workers win pay rises in Derry
Workers in two disputes at Foyle Port in Derry have both won victories.
After rejecting pitiful pay offers and taking strike action, workers employed by the port and at Burke Shipping Services which is based there have both accepted new offers in what their union Unite has called 'a historic double victory'.
The union says that in both cases workers' demands have 'been met in full'.
On the site:
John Westmoreland reports on the B&Q strike from Worksop
The Scunthorpe scaffolders strike recently entered its eleventh week
John McGrath looks across the Atlantic where Starbucks workers made history by unionising in Buffalo, NY
Shabbir Lakha on Amazon’s deadly approach to worker safety
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