Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Workers at Bart’s Health NHS trust began a strike this week in a dispute over low pay and pay inequality. Unite members in Royal London, Whipps Cross and St Barts hospitals are taking action against the exploitation that they argue is rife in the sector.
The workers - including catering staff, cleaners, porters and security - are all employed by notorious outsourcing giant Serco, rather than the NHS itself. As such, bringing an end to privatisation has become a key demand of the strike.
The strike kicked off on Monday morning with a vibrant strike rally at the Royal London Hospital. The mood was optimistic and energetic with workers dancing, blaring horns and blowing whistles.
One striker, Bariketu, told Counterfire:
“We are striking for a 15% pay rise, before Serco offered us 1%. We all went to the vote to strike and 98% of us said yes to striking. Then Serco offered us 3%, we demand more.
“We want to be treated like NHS staff colleagues, we demand respect, equal treatment and we are fighting to stop privatisation of the NHS.
“I have confidence we will win our strike demands; we have to fight. All our members are united, Serco will not divide us.”
The workers will be striking every weekday until Sunday, 13 February.
At Croydon University Hospital, hospital porters and domestic workers protested on Monday against their employer G4S over poverty pay. They are demanding the London Living Wage and an occupational sick-pay scheme and could be moving towards balloting for industrial action if G4S doesn't listen. Read Peter Bird's full report here.
In a similar struggle against outsourcing in the NHS, security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital began six weeks of strike action this week. The predominantly Black, brown and migrant guards were outsourced to work for the third-party company, Carlisle, on poorer terms and conditions than their largely white NHS colleagues who are employed in-house. Read Gary Griffiths’ full report here.
GOSH security guard Omer Ahmed will be speaking at News from the Frontline's rally bringing together striking workers on Wednesday 9 February at 7pm.
This concerted action by hospital workers is both a sign of the deterioration of conditions in the NHS and an inspiring example of how NHS workers can fight back. The privatisation of the NHS is only being accelerated by the Tories and the health service has been brought to its knees.
Now is the time to fight back, and all health workers should follow the lead of their colleagues in organising before it's too late. Union bureaucracies who are dragging their feet in responding to the destruction of the NHS will only be pushed into action by pressure from the rank and file which is desperately needed.
First Bus strike suspended
Unite has announced that nine days of planned strikes in February have been put on hold as their members at First Bus in Manchester consider an offer from the company.
The drivers have had five days of strikes so far in their pursuit of a pay rise that will see a significant increase on their current hourly rate of £12.40.
The 300 members will be balloted on the deal. With Unite winning pay rises across the UK in this sector, they will know their benchmark.
No Labour of love
Labour staff at the party’s London HQ Southside and in regional offices, represented by the Unite trade union, have voted in favour of strike action in an indicative ballot over a pay offer of 2%. Those represented by GMB union have voted in favour of accepting the deal.
It was revealed by Politico earlier this month that Labour is asking staff to accept a real-terms pay cut as the party deals with the loss of more than £3m due to falling membership and reduced financial support from trade unions.
Labour’s Unite branch is meeting on February 4th to decide next steps.
Dockers fire and rehire fight
Unite Sheerness dock workers who have been striking against fire and re-hire have cancelled planned strike action for February and March after bosses have ‘taken fire and rehire off the table’ however Unite says discussions over potential job cuts are ongoing.
The strike action by the 50-strong workforce, allied to the refusal of the car transporter drivers to cross the picket line means that the fire and rehire, and the threat to jobs, have been withdrawn.
Unite regional officer Phil Silkstone said:
“GB Terminals have now taken fire and rehire off the table and we are confident that ongoing talks over job cuts can be resolved without the need for further industrial action.”
With job cuts still on the table, it remains to be seen if this is a victory.
Half way there: IWGB food couriers keep fighting
The longest-running gig economy strike keeps getting longer as food couriers employed by Stuart in South Yorkshire refuse to back down. They have now won two of their four demands, but the company has yet to concede on the imposition of a 24% pay cut.
The strikers are escalating their action in creative ways: on Sunday they shut down a Sheffield McDonalds drive-thru for almost an hour, and on Wednesday they stormed the offices of DPD, which owns Stuart.
After 44 days of striking, the workers are showing no signs of giving up and are receiving increasing support. Their strike fund is close to hitting £20,000, you can donate here.
[RE-POSTING WITH FULL VIDEO!]— IWGB Couriers (@IWGB_CLB) February 3, 2022
STUART STRIKE - DAY 43
Sleepy DPD depot got an IWGB wake up call this morning.@DPDgroup_news as owners of @Stuart_Delivery are complicit in the fee cuts and poor treatment.
Who will be next in the disruption bingo? Get your markers ready ????️ pic.twitter.com/n7qjqydwqQ
Another big truckin’ win
100 HGV drivers employed by logistics company GXO (formerly XPO) in Avonmouth are celebrating a double victory over the company. The drivers, members of Unite, had voted for strike action over a number of issues, including rosters, and restrictions on booking holidays.
The eventual deal, struck this week, has resolved the work/life balance issues but the bitterness toward the company had grown as the firm dragged its feet on resolving the issues.
Consequently, the union reps let the firm know that they would not win back the goodwill of the drivers until they showed their appreciation in a material way. The result: a 15% increase on basic pay, dating back to February last year, and due to be revisited in August this year.
Victory for Highlands and Islands Airport workers
Last year, News from the Frontline reported on the action short of strike including overtime bans taken by Prospect air traffic controllers at Highlands and Islands Airport since January 2021. They took the industrial action over plans to relocate their jobs to Inverness.
Following the sustained action and refusal to cooperate by the workers, the HIAL bosses have scrapped the remote towers plan and committed to air traffic control modernisation plans are agreed by Prospect to ensure they work for the staff and local communities.
Barrow workers refuse to back down
GMB refuse workers in Barrow in Cumbria are being balloted for strike action. The workers are employed by FCC Environment and the ballot will close on the 7th of February.
This comes while GMB is also balloting Wiltshire refuse workers and have won following strike action in Eastbourne.
Michael Hall, GMB orgainser said:
“Despite inflation running above seven per cent, all Barrow’s refuse collectors are asking for is a three per cent pay rise, so they can keep their heads above water.”
With the cost of living crisis becoming more severe by the day, unions should be fighting for above-inflation pay rises for all workers.
Coventry bin drivers escalate strike in face of council dirty tricks
Coventry bin drivers (HGV drivers) are escalating their struggle against increasing aggression by the Labour-led council. The Labour council has shockingly employed strike-breakers at inflated pay rates – greater than the pay claim made by Unite the Union – to try and undermine the strike, in addition to diffusing misleading propaganda. Read Kieran Crowe and Jack Sherwood's full report here.
Goldsmiths strike resumes against redundancies
UCU Goldsmiths workers who are commencing their second set of strike action next week against 52 planned redundancies will be on the picket lines Monday 7 and Tuesday 8 February from 8am - 1pm.
The financial case for the redundancies has been shown to be invalid as the institution is running a small surplus this year. Alongside the strike action over the next four weeks and the greylisting of the institution, the branch recently passed a motion of non-compliance - that is mass resignations from voluntary institutional committees which depend on academic labour for the institution to function, and boycotting their imposition of a common curriculum which will drive down standards and lead to further redundancies.
Workers will also be out on strike on 14-18, 21-22 February and on the picket lines with Unison HE workers 28 February - 4 March.
Sandwell strike runs and runs
Staff at Portway Lifestyle Centre and Tipton Leisure Centre have taken further strike action in what has become the longest-running industrial dispute in the history of the West Midlands town of Sandwell.
The strike comes as part of a continued fight against fire and rehire tactics used by employer Sandwell Leisure Trust.
In March 2021 the trust fired and rehired all 280 staff. The new contracts have led to pay reductions and worsened employment conditions.
Four one-day strikes have already taken place over the past nine months – in April, June, August and December 2021.
Unison Sandwell branch secretary Tony Barnsley said:
“Staff are being fired and rehired against their will and they’re determined to continue their fight against this. The trust has £3.5 million in the bank, so they can’t justify this as a necessary cost-cutting exercise.”
Dagenham cleaners settle
Cleaners at Ford Dagenham and the Ford Dunton Technical Centre in Essex have accepted a 5.1% pay rise for 2022.
More than 150 cleaners, Unite members employed by Hamton Environmental Services cleaning contractors, have overwhelmingly voted to accept the one year deal backdated to 1 January.
It includes a commitment by senior management to sit down with Unite to discuss specific concerns members face regarding the company’s sickness policy in an effort to try to reach an agreement.
Victory for NewVic college
After striking for 12 days against plans to academise, NewVic College has backed down and announced in a joint statement with the NEU that they will remain an independent sixth form college with no review of the decision until at least 2025. They have also formed a joint negotiating and consultative committee to work out grievances over workloads and bullying.
This is a huge victory for teachers who stood strong and engaged the local community.
FCA workers decisively reject pay cut
Last week News from the Frontline reported on staff at the Financial Conduct Authority balloting for strike action in response to a pay cut. Unite reported this week that the staff voted by 87% for strike action on the consultative ballot and will now move to a formal ballot for industrial action if FCA CEO Nikhil Rathi doesn’t scrap the cut.
Shameful attack on Hackney couriers
Following a recent protest by food couriers working for Deliveroo, UberEats and JustEat in Hackney, the IWGB union representing the workers have said the drivers were targeted by a police immigration raid. A tweet from the Metropolitan Special Constabulary announced that 8 riders had been arrested for “immigration offences”.
If true, this is an outrageous attack on workers for attempting to organise for safe working conditions, especially migrant workers and precarious workers who are among the most marginalised. It’s unsurprising that the police would step in to do the dirty work of unscrupulous bosses, but it is nonetheless abhorrent.
Service update: Strikes to hit the undergound
All London Underground RMT members will commence two sets of 24 hour strike action on Tuesday 1 and Thursday 3 March following a 94% yes vote. The workers are striking in defence of their pensions, jobs and working conditions as bosses are making billions of cuts to TfL on behalf of the Tory Government to cover costs of the pandemic. London Underground has made no assurances that workers will not have their jobs, pensions or conditions attacked.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said,
“The politicians need to wake up to the fact that transport staff will not pay the price for this cynically engineered crisis. In addition to the strike action RMT is coordinating a campaign of resistance with colleagues from other unions impacted by this threat.”
Historic Girls Day Trust strike
Around 1,800 NEU staff working in the Girls Day School Trust (GDST) which consists of 23 schools are commencing strike action in defence of their pensions. The trust is forcefully removing teachers from the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS), this would see workers pensions reduced by at least 20% a year. This is the first time teachers working for the trust have taken strike action in 149 years. The first day of strike action will be Thursday 10 February with further dates planned for 23-24 February and 1-3 March. Sign the petition to support the workers here.
Cleaners vote by 100% to strike!
Hundreds of RMT cleaners employed by Churchill working on Thameslink, Great Northern, Southeastern, Southern, Eurostar and High Speed 1 rail networks have voted to strike in huge numbers. Two of the ballots secured 100% yes votes. RMT say they are meeting to plan next steps.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said,
“Churchill’s cleaning company paid a £12 million dividend last year, while many of our members are on £8.91 or £9.50 an hour. Churchill can more than afford to lift pay and conditions on these contracts and our members have shown fantastic collective resolve in smashing the Tory ballot thresholds so the ball is in Churchill’s court.”
Strikes take off at Heathrow
Four hundred workers, employed by ground handling and refueling company Menzies, are due to go on strike at Heathrow Airport from Friday 11 February. This comes in the wake of several strikes at Heathrow last year, by border force, Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) and British Airways workers.
Similarly to HAL, Menzies fired-and-rehired over 800 of its workers at the peak of the pandemic, which, according to Unite, resulted in some workers losing up to £9,000 in wages per year. Now, the workers are demanding an end to a two-year pay freeze and pay increases in line with inflation.
With Menzies workers split between several important functions at the airport, Unite claims that this strike will cause significant disruption to half-term breaks and ski holidays and could potentially trigger a ‘domino effect’. The workers will be on strike from 12am on Friday 11 to 11.59pm on Sunday 13 February.
Actavo under pressure from Scunny scaffs staying strong
The Unite Scunthorpe scaffolders employed by Actavo and who work at British Steel are on their 14th week of action and are determined in their fight.
The workers have been picketing at other sites including the Lindsey Oil Refinery and are getting a very good response from workers. This week the strikers protested outside Grimsby MP Lia Nici's constituency office.
The scaffolders are ensuring Actavo is under increasing pressure and the reps say morale is high. Full report from Counterfire to follow in the coming days.
Email Actavo's CEO here and donate to the strike fund: Sort Code: 60-83-01 Account No: 20173962 Name: Unite North East Region 1% Fund Reference: Actavo Limited
St Matthews teachers stronger for the future
Despite a militant struggle by NEU teachers at St Matthews school in Preston, the school was on Tuesday transferred to Cidari Multi-Academy Trust. 40 of the 65 staff members led 12 days of strike action against the plans to academise, but unfortunately the school's governors decided to ignore them. However, the teachers have said they are now better organised and have a stronger union than they did before and they've shown the incoming academy administration that they are willing and capable of fighting.
High Court quashes Tesco's fire-and-rehire plans
42 workers at Tesco's Daventry and Litchfield distribution centres have won their legal battle against Tesco over its plans to fire and rehire them on lower pay and less favourable terms and conditions. Tesco workers in Scotland are currently taking the company to court over the same issue. The victory for workers and for Usdaw could be a legal precedent that affects numerous companies currently attempting to fire and rehire their employees.
Can't pay, won't pay: protest on 12 February
Following the government's outrageous lifting of the energy price cap which will see household energy bills rise by £700, the People's Assembly has called or supported protests taking place around the country on Saturday 12 February. This assault on working people has to be resisted and it's important that the labour movement mobilises on the streets. Find details of a protest near you here.
The Strikers Speak - Wednesday 9 February
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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