As the B&Q strike in Worksop enters its seventh week, the strikers have every reason to be optimistic writes John Westmoreland
After seven weeks of industrial action the mass picketing at B&Q’s Retford Road site are as big and loud as ever. Solidarity messages from across the Labour movement are flooding in. Local people are bringing hot food and drinks to the pickets and passing vehicles sound their horns in solidarity.
The attitude of the company that covers distribution for B&Q, Wincanton, is bloody-minded. As Pat McGrath, the lead steward, puts it,
“It’s a bit like being locked out. The company have been bloody-minded, showing no desire to meet our demands, but I think that is set to change.
“The lorry drivers for GXO who deliver from here are almost certainly going to be out on strike with us after February 1. Three essential GXO depots will be out – Worksop, Doncaster and Cambuslang in Scotland. That will make one hell of a difference, and start to hit Wincanton where it hurts.”
Inflation is driving workers to take industrial action. The offer to drivers of five per cent plus £750 has been overwhelmingly rejected. Drivers are demanding ten per cent and are prepared to fight for it.
To quote Pat McGrath again:
“We’ve told the company we are not going to settle for anything under RPI. Why should workers struggling to get by take a pay cut when the company is announcing record profits? The feeling of betrayal is driving our strike.”
Political leadership is important
When asked about what he finds most inspirational about the dispute, Pat answered unequivocally that the diversity and common purpose of the pickets is what moves him.
“I would guess there are seven or eight ethnic groups on the picket line for whom English is not their first language. When East European workers started coming into Worksop there was resentment, but we took it on. For the past few years I have argued that we should not be divided by the racism that the Tory press stirs up.
“We affiliated to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign too. And now those arguments are finding a practical resolution. Our pickets have old and young, men and women, as well as a mix of nationalities. It is great to see people get to know each other and start to show solidarity.”
The Worksop strikers deserve the wholehearted support of the Labour movement, and there are demonstrations planned outside B&Q stores in the near future. But as Pat says, “We need to take the protest to the main offices in Southampton where we can muster the best of the Labour and trade union movement.”
The anger and optimism of this strike needs to penetrate the offices of Labour and the TUC. With more workers willing to take strike action we have to join the strikes together and put real working class demands on the agenda. If the Worksop strike is anything to go by change is coming.
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John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.
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