Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
This week, the retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation, a more accurate measure than the consumer prices index (CPI) which excludes housing-related costs, soared to a 30-year high in the 12 months to December at 7.5%.
The Office of National Statistics identifies disruption to supply chains and increasing energy and fuel prices as central to the cause of the crisis. As inflation rises faster than pay, workers across the board face a real-terms pay cut and increasing financial hardship - the poorest (including those on benefits) hardest hit with the continuing growth in food prices.
While News from the Frontline continues to report significant pay victories secured by striking workers in various sectors, too often unions have settled for far less than could have been achieved and on occasions below inflation. With the Tory government in deep crisis, the unions really need to step up to the plate and urgently shift towards organising and mobilising workers now for a pay revolt to ensure we do not pay the price for the pandemic.
Anything less than a 7.5% pay rise is a pay cut. However, factoring in the ground already lost since inflation climbed each consecutive month since last summer and a decade of austerity to boot, workers should not settle for anything less than double-digits.
Win! Luton airport workers secure pay increase to end strike action
Strike action over the festive period did the trick for Unite members at Wilson James, the subsidiary firm responsible for supporting passengers with mobility issues at the Bedfordshire airport.
The workers are set to receive pay increases of between 4.3% and 20% with immediate effect. Additionally, the workers will receive an enhanced sick pay scheme whereby they’ll be entitled to 80% of full pay for the first two weeks of illness.
Local Unite organiser Jeff Hodge says:
“This was an important victory because it sends a crystal clear message across Luton airport that Unite will always support its members when they make a stand against low pay.”
The airport is Luton’s biggest employer. Bosses everywhere are beginning to get the message that they can’t take workers for granted.
All out strike in Coventry
Coventry bin drivers have escalated their dispute to ‘all out’ strike action from the end of January. The 70 workers will be on the picket line striking over pay Monday to Friday every week from 31 January till 23 March.
The council is still refusing to enter talks with Unite and the union says tensions in the dispute have increased following the council’s use of misinformation and inaccuracies over the workers’ current rates of pay. Strikers and Coventry Trades council have protested this week outside the council.
Victory for the Eastbourne bin workers
In a massive victory for bin lorry drivers in Eastbourne, they have ended their strike action after winning an 11 - 19% pay rise. The workers had been on strike for six days, and were set for eight more days of strike when the council buckled. The pickets were lively and defiant, and reportedly stopped lorries leaving the depot on several occasions despite police intimidation. As Lucette Davies reported last week, the strikers received overwhelming support from the residents of the area.
This victory will inspire confidence among bin workers fighting to be paid fairly. As well as Coventry refuse workers represented by Unite who are already on indefinite strike, the GMB is balloting refuse workers in Ardur, Worthing and three sites in Wiltshire. Amid the latest inflation figures, no worker should have to accept a real-terms pay cut.
RMT cleaners fight for more
RMT cleaners on Avanti West Coast, employed by French multi-national company Atalian Servest, began striking on Thursday night to Saturday night for pay justice. The multi-million pound outsourcing company pays its cleaners below Real Living Wage rates of £9.68 an hour and give them no sick pay. The workers are striking after rejecting the company's measly offer of a 2p an hour pay increase.
Similarly, RMT cleaners employed by outsourcing company Churchill are being balloted for strike action on Thameslink, Great Northern, Southern, South Eastern, Highspeed1 and Eurostar trains.
The workers are fighting for £15 an hour, sick pay, parity with travel facilities that other rail workers and justice in their workplace. RMT says that last year Churchill made a profit of over £11 million with the directors giving themselves £3.8 million. RMT General secretary Mick Lynch said:
“This pandemic has blown apart the argument that their work is ‘non-core’ and it’s time the industry started to treat them like the essential workers they are.”
Goldsmiths workers escalate action
The campaign to stop the disastrous recovery plan at Goldsmiths, University of London is set to escalate this term. Despite three weeks of strike action by UCU members last term, management are still continuing with their plan to sack up to 46 members of staff in the English and Creative and History departments as well as professional services staff from across the College.
UCU has now introduced a global academic boycott of the institution and Goldsmiths Unison has already started balloting for industrial action to join with UCU members in February.
A big UCU branch meeting earlier this week voted to take further strike action this term that is likely to coincide with any national UCU action that is called to defend pensions and working conditions. Please get your union branch and community group to pass a solidarity motion in support of the action.
PCS members ballot against job cuts
PCS are balloting workers at the British Council over the bosses ‘transformation’ plans. In November the PCS held a consultative ballot which got an 80% yes for strike action on an almost 80% turnout.
The ‘transformation’ plans if not fought against will result in job cuts of 20% with compulsory redundancies, some roles privatised and outsourced, and cuts to allowances of overseas workers.
Both staff overseas and in Britain will be balloted, the ballot for strike action opens on 21 January and closes on 25th February. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“The British Council management need to recognise the strength of feeling amongst our members. They are dedicated and loyal workforce, but they will not be taken for granted and accept threats of redundancies and privatisation.”
Driving home pay rises on Nottingham buses
Nottingham City Transport (NCT) bus drivers have won an 8.3 - 9.3% pay rise after threatening to strike. After rejecting the previous offer, Unite launched a consultative ballot for strike with over 400 drivers and it seems this was enough to drive the company back to the table and to propose a substantially higher pay offer.
First Manchester bus strikes accelerate
With Unite’s bus drivers seeing pay rises after industrial action around the country, Manchester’s First Bus drivers have announced further strike dates throughout January and February.
The drivers are currently on £12.40 an hour and Unite says the shortage of labour in the industry along with the highly skilled and demanding nature of the job means its members are worth more. There is a dispute too around the company’s refusal to backdate pay and honour the August pay anniversary.
Having already taken four days of strike action, 13 further days are planned until the end of February. The 300 drivers withdrawing their labour is crippling the routes they cover.
Unite regional officer Dave Roberts said:
“Strike action has already caused considerable disruption for bus passengers throughout Greater Manchester. This was directly a result of First Manchester’s refusal to make an offer which meets our members’ expectations.
“First Manchester can afford to make our members a fair pay offer but it has chosen not to. Further strikes can be avoided but it requires the company to put forward an improved offer and to return to the negotiating table.”
The drivers will be on strike on 24, 26 and 31 January, and 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, 15, 17, 18, 21, 23 and 25 February.
Carmarthenshire gritters strike suspended after deal offered
GMB, Unison and Unite trade unions have been in dispute with the mid-Wales authority over a collective agreement signed two years ago.
The workers have already taken two days’ strike action this year and had another nine lined up commencing Wednesday 18 January.
Fresh talks began on Wednesday with new proposals yet to emerge.
Gritters are a powerful set of workers who routinely work in dangerous conditions and during ungodly hours. Let’s make sure the respect they deserve is matched by proper pay and decent terms.
First Buses Glasgow inflation-busting pay raise deflated by Omicron!
Just before Christmas, First Bus drivers in Glasgow got an inflation-busting pay raise of between 6%-23%. The increase was dependent on length of service.
This victory for drivers on Glasgow's deregulated bus services started in October 2021 when they threatened to ballot for strike action during the COP26. Management backed down and the result was this stunning pay rise.
The drivers are now on between £11 and £13 an hour. Still relatively low pay for a high-pressured, skilled job that provides a vital service across the whole of Clydeside. Furthermore, expensive ticket prices mean that First Buses are still making a hefty profit.
At the start of the month, First Bus Glasgow had to introduce a Saturday timetable due to levels of staff impacted by Omicron. A timely reminder of why these key workers are worthy of an inflation-busting pay rise and more!
Oh Lord, we’ve won a pay-rise at Mer-ce-des Benz
Mercedes Benz Retail Group (MBRG) originally offered the Unite union vehicle technicians no pay rise. The workforce returned a ‘yes’ for strike action to apply the brakes on production. The union put the pedal to the metal and issued notice for four days of strike action next week.
Mercedes Benz made a swift u-turn while the technicians celebrated one for the road with a 13% pay rise. Victory!
The package includes a £500 lump sum for 2021, while for 2022 a pay restructuring sees 10% moved from the bonus scheme into contractual basic pay, consolidated for future years and a 3% increase for 2022 on top of the new basic pay rates.
Stop the academies
Ahead of the planned conversion of St Matthews CoE Primary School into an academy on 1 February, over 40 of the school's 65 members of staff have been striking to stop the plans since early December. This week, the strikers protested outside the offices of the academy that is due to take over, Cidari Multi-Academy Trust, in Blackburn.
NEU rep Julie Copeland told the Lancashire Post,
“We are being painted as the reason the children are missing out on school, but we have tried everything to [avoid that] - and the only reason we are doing this is for the children, no matter what anyone says.”
As reported last week, a similar battle is taking place in Newham, where staff at New Vic College are also striking against academisation and bullying of staff by the school's management. Please send messages of support to [email protected] or [email protected].
Hackney food delivery riders kick up a storm
Food couriers working for Deliveroo, UberEats and JustEat protested in Hackney on Thursday, the third time since September, against the appalling conditions they are facing. Riders waiting to pick up orders are forced to wait in a car park-turned-Covid testing centre without shelter or access to a toilet and often face harassment from police and hefty parking fines.
On Thursday riders marched (and rode) to Hackney Town Hall demanding the council and food delivery app companies provide the necessary infrastructure for the riders to work safely and without having to pay for fines.
They received support from local MP Diane Abbott, who said,
“I applaud the actions of delivery riders and drivers to secure better conditions.
“This is really important during the pandemic. The pay and working conditions of delivery drivers like you are important to us all. Only unscrupulous employers benefit from a race to the bottom, but all workers are damaged by it.”
Riders are key workers. We should not be forced to pay for the space we need to do our jobs!— IWGB (@IWGBunion) January 20, 2022
???? Riders deserve a safe space to work!
???? Riders deserve access to toilets!
???? No more unfair £££ fines!@hackneycouncil @mayorofhackney @McDonaldsUK @Deliveroo @ubereats_uk pic.twitter.com/OUKdKiYr9L
Brave Regina Coeli House workers continue their occupation
Workers at Regina Coeli House in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s only all-women homeless accommodation facility, have maintained their occupation for eleven days to oppose the facility’s impending closure.
In response, the management has suspended the workers, sent eviction letters to the remaining residents and food deliveries have ceased.
The workers have however received a huge amount of community support. Over 10,000 people have signed a petition demanding the facility remains open, Belfast City Council voted to support the workers and called on Legion of Mary to meet with them, and a solidarity camp has been established near the facility at the Glen Road roundabout.
Unite Regional Secretary Jackie Pollock said,
“Our members working at Regina Coeli House have showed incredible bravery in taking the stand that they have in the face of threats and pressure. We now need to see other people – those in authority – be as brave and inventive in enabling the retention of Regina Coeli House.”
Protest against G4S not paying hospital workers Covid sick pay
GMB cleaners and porters at Croydon Hospital employed by G4S are preparing to protest to demand Covid sick pay and to be brought back in house. Unbelievably, the private NHS contractor has stopped paying its employees occupational sick pay for testing positive for Covid. This has meant workers being forced to come to work with Covid symptoms because they can’t afford to self-isolate.
GMB organiser Helen O’Connor said,
“Our hard-working members are sick and tired of being abused and exploited by G4S. They are on poverty pay and to add insult to injury they are being denied wages if they come down with Covid.
“If G4S is not willing to ensure that their staff and patients are as safe as possible during a pandemic they cannot continue to hold the contract.”
The protest will take place on Monday 31 January at 12pm outside Croydon University Hospital, 530 London Road, CR7 7YE.
Workers unite! B&Q strikers and Scunthorpe scaffolders rally together
John Westmoreland reports on the joint rally in Worksop earlier this week. There is a national day of action in support of the Actavo scaffolders on Monday, organised by the People’s Assembly.
If you can then please get down to support these workers from 11:30 at one of the four sites:
- Livingston - Houston Industrial Estate, 6 Muir Road, EH54 5DR
- Dublin - Westland House, New Nangar Rd, Fox-and-Geese Common, Co. Dublin, D12 SK12
- Brigg - Island Carr Industrial Estate, Island Carr Rd, Brigg, DN20 8PD
- Chepstow - 3 Severn Link, Newhouse Farm, NP16 6UN
Victory for trailblazer Tracey Scholes
Tracey Scholes, the Go North West bus driver who was dismissed from her job for 'being too short' has won her appeal and her job back. Read Chris Neville's full report here.
The Strikers Speak
Following our successful rally, News from the Frontline has organised a second meeting with striking workers and workers in dispute on Wednesday 9 February at 7pm. As workers organise, strike and fight back, building solidarity with striking workers and linking the struggles couldn't be more important, it's an urgent task for us all.
Please register now on Zoom and share widely.
Before you go...
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