Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Unite members at Chep in Trafford Park are completing their third week of continuous strike action over pay after taking three single days earlier in December. The 70 members rejected a 2 per cent raise and are holding out for at least 5 per cent which would put them closer in terms of pay to Chep workers around the country.
Manchester Trades Council has organised an online rally on 12 January at 7pm which will feature one of the striking workers, Gary Walker. Register in advance here.
Community support has been strong with various groups attending the picket to show solidarity and many truck drivers have refused to cross the picket line.
Picket Malcom Bostock said in the Morning Star:
“The mood on the picket line is that we are hungry for this action. We are all up for it and full of beans.
“The public are being really good. We have got former employees turning up to cheer us on and asking what we need. 70 per cent of the wagon drivers arriving at the picket line are turning back.”
Plymouth: ‘the dust’ settles
The 46 dustcart drivers working for Plymouth council are celebrating a New Year which finally recognised that they are not unskilled. The regrading, won by Unite the Union, sees their pay increase from a base rate of £24,000 to £27,000 – a 12.5% increase.
Partly this is a consequence of the national shortage of HGV drivers, partly it reflects a marked rise in combativity among local authority workers tired of years of austerity (witness Thurrock, Bexley, Glasgow to name but a few); but it is also a mark of the increased willingness of workers to resist attempts to make us pay for the cost of Covid.
The public commitment by Unite’s new General Secretary, Sharon Graham, to support members fighting to maintain or improve their pay and conditions no doubt helped to boost confidence, but the mood of resentment, and resistance, is not confined to members of Unite. It may be that the disputes in ‘the dust’ are a foretaste of a wider mood in local authorities.
Somers Forge strikes extended
GMB workers at Somers Forge in Halesowen who’ve commenced 3 days of strike action over pay in December and January will be on the picket lines on 12, 21 and 24 January.
The workers produce metalwork to the defence industry and supplies the MOD. Members rejected the latest pay deal of 4% which was not backdated to April. Bosses lost the trust of the workers when they reneged on a previous two-year deal after just a year.
Charnwood Borough Council: new pay deal emerges as workers prepare to strike
Bin workers voted to accept an enhanced pay deal from outsourcing barons Serco just before the Christmas shutdown.
Planned strike action was the culmination of an extensive campaign in the Leicestershire borough led by GMB members.
GMB’s Jim Clarke says:
“This is a big win by GMB members and reflects the fact these are key workers delivering vital public services for local people.
Support from local people for refuse workers in Charnwood has been overwhelming, and I would like to pass on the thanks of our members to them.”
Details of the deal are presently unavailable to News from the Frontline.
B&Q strikers can do it!
B&Q Wincanton workers in Worksop have been out on strike since the beginning of December over a below-inflation pay rise. Initially the strike was one week on, one week off, but they are now out on continuous and indefinite strike. Picket lines have been out in force and the workers are determined to win.
Workers at nine Tesco distribution centres have voted to accept an improved pay deal after threatening strike action.
The action was due to take place at centres in Daventry Clothing, Goole, Hinckley, Lichfield, Livingston, two sites at Magor, Peterborough and Southampton was suspended by the workers’ union Unite before Christmas.
The company’s offer includes a 5.5% pay rise backdated to July and a further 0.5% from the end of February.
It was overwhelmingly accepted by the workforce.
New year CrossCountry strike
The RMT CrossCountry New Year's Eve strike received solid support, while at Edinburgh Waverley the action was joined by Gate Gourmet staff in a long-running struggle against bullying and for dignity and respect in the workplace.
The CrossCountry strike involves train managers and senior conductors in a fight to stop the dilution of the safety-critical roles of the guard as part of a cost-cutting exercise.
Services affected ranged from Aberdeen and Edinburgh and Glasgow Central and Edinburgh in the north all the way down to Plymouth and Penzance in the south.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said:
“This dispute could have been resolved weeks ago if our members were simply allowed to get on with their jobs rather than having their long-term futures and their safety-critical roles threatened by this cash-led assault by CrossCountry . The company have knocked back that sensible and rational approach and that's why services are disrupted.”
The action appears to be a prelude to anticipated compulsory redundancies across train operating companies and Network Rail. TSSA general secretary has warned "a national rail strike in 2022 is very much on the cards".
Vauxhall Luton: workshop cleaners suspend strike as pay talks resume
Cleaning staff at Vauxhall Luton have suspended their scheduled pre-Christmas strike action to return to the table with outsourcing kingpins Mitie.
The Unite members are challenging the barely legal pay rates Mitie workers have put up with for too long.
Unite’s Sharon Graham says:
“Mitie is a multimillion-pound company, it is shocking that workers are on such low rates of pay and it is disgraceful that the company is not currently prepared to address these issues.”
Local organiser Andy Faughnan added:
“The strikes have now been suspended to allow for negotiations on the outstanding issues to be conducted.
“The suspension of industrial action has been carried out on the proviso that Mitie enters into further talks in good faith. However, if the remaining elements of the dispute are not resolved, strikes will occur.”
News from the Frontline will keep you updated. The bosses might have forgotten “no return to the old normal” but we haven’t.
Coventry bin strikes back on
70 Unite bin collection drivers in Coventry were back on the picket lines on Wednesday 5 January for 48 hours of strike action over pay, with Unite announcing a further 19 days of strikes on Thursday.
Unite says the bosses have failed in talks to table an offer that would bring the workers out of low pay. The workers are also having to work long hours, with overtime leading to many working longer than 50 hours a week.
The drivers are expected to have an HGV licence and start on a basic wage of just £22,183, which is way below the wages of similarly skilled drivers in other jobs. Unite says Coventry Council has been issuing ‘intemperate and widely inaccurate’ statements about the strikes and that the dispute is ‘increasingly bitter’.
Strikes will take place on the following days: 11-14, 18, 21, 26 and 28 January; 2, 4, 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25 February; 2, 5, 9, 11, 16, 19 and 23 March.
General Secretary Sharon Graham said:
“Yesterday’s ground-breaking deal in Plymouth should be a wake-up call to Coventry council that their refuse services will face long term problems if drivers continue to receive poverty pay rates. Unite will fight to defend the jobs, pay and conditions of all its HGV members.”
Refuse workers escalate Eastbourne strike
Refuse workers in Eastbourne are striking against what they describe as “barbaric” working conditions, including having just two toilets between 88 members of staff.
Truck drivers and refuse loaders, employed by Eastbourne Council and represented by GMB struck on New Year’s Eve and will walk off the job on 7 and 10 January, and again for six consecutive days from 14-21 January.
The union claims that it has been “reliably informed” that the council is planning to bring in “unauthorised labour” to undermine the strike action. They said:
“The council is more interested in trying to undermine and bust a lawful industrial dispute than sitting down and resolving the pay and conditions and health and safety issues that are members have within their refuse and recycling service.”
Yorkshire bus drivers out indefinitely
As previously reported, over 560 Unite Stagecoach bus drivers in South Yorkshire are now on indefinite strike following walkouts in November and December.
The depots taking action are Barnsley, Rotherham, Dearne Valley, West Yorkshire and Sheffield. The drivers are fighting to be paid £11.40 an hour. They are currently on just £10.52 in Sheffield and £10.80 in Barnsley and Rotherham.
Priti pushed back on anti-refugee laws by trade union
The seafarers' union Nautilus International has successfully forced an exemption for rescuing refugees from the Home Office. Priti Patel's Nationality and Borders Bill is an attempt to ramp up the Tory government's hostile environment against refugees and migrants. The Bill, using vague language, opened up the possibility that individuals helping drowning refugees in the Channel could be prosecuted.
Thanks to the campaign by Nautilus International, the Home Office has had to make an amendment to the Bill clarifying that those like the RNLI and others will not be prosecuted for abiding by their duties under international conventions to save drowning people.
Another aspect of the Bill which seeks to legalise a policy of "pushbacks" in the Channel is being challenged by a judicial review launched by the PCS Union and Care4Calais. PCS has said its members in the Border Force could strike if they are made to carry out this "morally reprehensible" policy.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said in clear terms,
“Although we are hoping for a positive outcome from the legal proceedings, people should be in no doubt PCS strongly opposes this policy, on moral and humanitarian grounds, and we will not rule out industrial action to prevent it being carried out.”
Chicago Teachers take a stand for Covid safety
This week, members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted by 73% to refuse to teach in-person over ongoing Covid safety issues in schools. Subsequently, the majority of classes in Chicago Public Schools have been cancelled since Wednesday. As Covid cases rapidly rise again, the teachers have said the Covid safety measures in classrooms was inadequate for both teachers and students.
The CTU is demanding a recent negative PCR test to return, school testing sites and home kits, and a massive increase in weekly testing and surveillance testing, as well as a shift to remote teaching when 20 per cent or more of staff are in isolation or quarantine, or when a school safety committee thinks it is warranted.
As Covid cases in the UK soar and the government's pathetic response for schools is to provide 7,000 air filters for 300,000 classrooms, UK teachers should take a lesson from their Chicago peers.
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