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GOSH court rally

GOSH court rally. Photo: Clare Solomon

Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles

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UVW security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital held a protest on Wednesday outside the Royal Courts of Justice after the Hospital had served a draconian legal injunction from the High Court attacking their right to strike.

Read John McGrath’s full report here. Donate to UVW’s legal fund to fight the injunction and support the strikers here.

UCU strikes round up

UCU University workers were back on strike this week in their second round of recent action in defence of their pensions. Read reports from picket lines across the country here and read about why solidarity from students is more crucial than ever before here.

Management at many of these universities are going out of their way to undermine the strike and discredit the union. Queen Mary, City University of London, Manchester Metropolitan, Newcastle and Bristol universities have said that they will withdraw 100% of workers wages for Action Short of Strike (ASOS).

ASOS could include not covering absent staff and staff not rescheduling lectures cancelled due to strike action. This is an outrageous attempt to discredit strike action taken by workers.

Falco a lecturer at Queen Mary University (QMU) in London said:

“Many colleagues haven’t had a pay rise since 2009. So that’s a long time, unless you were promoted you are basically losing out, the worst is the pension of course.”

The Vice-chancellor at QMU has also emailed all students saying they can not go on the picket lines in further attempts to undermine the strike. Falco also spoke of how the university is constantly talking about diversity, equality and so forth and that these actions show how thin a veneer that is.

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PCS at Fujitsu: 77% say yes to strike action

PCS members have given bosses at Fujitsu Services UK an emphatic middle finger to a rubbish 1.5% pay offer.

They’ve voted by 77% for strike action and 90% for ASOS (action short of a strike).

Coming after a pandemic pay freeze, this lousy offer is adding insult to injury.

PSC say their members are “furious”. Let’s get that anger turned into action.

PCS at Pompey: a showdown in the offing

PCS members at Portsmouth Council are set to ballot consultatively over the cost of living crisis.

The union is presenting a range of demands including a 10% pay increase and a cut in the working week.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka says: “Civil service staff who have kept the country going throughout the pandemic have suffered over a decade of real terms pay cuts and declining living standards.

“While the Prime Minister was busy having lockdown parties, our members made heroic efforts delivering Universal Credit, the furlough scheme and keeping ports and airports open.”

News from the Frontline is pleased to see that 10% pay demand. That’s what not paying for their crisis means in real terms.

Wiltshire next in line for dust strike

GMB members working for Hills Waste Solutions, Wiltshire Council’s contractor, have fired back against a measly 2% pay rise with a 98% vote to strike.

The union says that 250,000 homes risk piling up waste if the employer doesn’t return to the table with a better offer for its members.

Regional organiser Nicola Nixon said:

"Time is running out if Hills wants to get back around the table to discuss our members' pay expectations of a 7% increase before any possible major disruption of waste and recycling collections for more than 250,000 homes.

“We can’t negotiate on our own and, despite GMB having the largest membership, Hills has done nothing to make us think that is going to change.”

Unite at Heathrow: workers’ pay takes off after strike threat

Strike action at Menzies Aviation was called off on Friday 11 February after the bosses were brought to their senses.

The staff affected are involved in ground handling and refuelling work. Workers are now looking at a 7% pay increase backdated to 1 January this year and a range of one-off payments.

Heathrow Airport is the largest workplace in western Europe.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says:

“This is an excellent result for our members at Menzies Aviation who have overturned two years of pay freezes to secure significant increases. It shows what workers can achieve when they stand together in a union.”

Our movement should always pay special attention to what’s happening at Heathrow.

Manchester turns out to support Chep strike

There was a cracking turnout for the Chep Trafford Park strikers on Wednesday morning, the day the company finally agreed to start discussions with the union.

Arranged by Manchester Trades Council, banners and flags from various unions, trades councils and activist groups were on display as speeches of support were read out.

The morale is as high as ever on the picket line after a fresh mandate of 94% in favour of another 12 weeks of strikes. The picket continues 24 hours a day from Monday to Friday, get down and show some support if you can.

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Bus strikes spread to the South West 

An estimated 360 bus drivers for Stagecoach based across the South West in Bristol, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Stroud, Coalway, and Ross-on-Wye have balloted resoundingly in favour of strike action through their union, Unite.

Amidst a cost of living crisis, the dispute is centred around low pay with many drivers only paid under £11 an hour. Currently, Unite is attempting a last gasp effort at successfully resolving the pay dispute short of strikes taking place.

It is reported that Stagecoach’s parent company made a profit of £58.4 million and has £875 million in liquidity so there is plenty of money for the employer to present a fair pay offer

Pension strike makes history at independent schools chain

Thursday 10 February saw the first ever strike at 23 independent schools in the GDST group, by members of the National Education Union (NEU).

All picket lines were well staffed, with many students and some parents expressing their support for the fight over continuing membership of the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS). Management attitudes varied across the group with some school management trying to bully and intimidate support staff into supervising children on strike day.

Most schools saw agency teachers being brought in, despite assurances that this would not happen but none of the supply teachers had been told that they were being sent in across teachers picket lines and many expressed anger at this.

The next two strike days are crucial to maintain the momentum of the dispute. A number of messages of support were sent in to the NEU before and on strike days, including a short video from former student Miriam Margolyes.

Messages of support and solidarity should be sent to GDST NEU Branch Secretary Kester Brewin at [email protected]

Slapped in the face with a KitKat

Outsourced domestics and catering staff across Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust are threatening strike action over a lack of pay parity with in-house colleagues after a collective complaint was dismissed by their employer OCS.

They are paid less per hour and are not entitled to the same pay and leave enhancements for working unsocial hours as those on Agenda for Change contracts. Rather than a much-deserved pay rise for putting their lives at risk during the pandemic they were offered a KitKat, as their employer sticks a different two fingers up at them.

RCN succeeds where Unison fails

Royal College of Nursing members in Northern Ireland have voted overwhelmingly to reject a 3% pay increase, with 92% of those voting finding the offer ‘unacceptable’.

Health and Social Care workers there were the last in the UK to receive last year’s equally insulting pay award as ministers wheel out the usual excuse that 3% is all that can be found in the budget. The RCN is now considering the next steps towards ensuring that nurses are properly paid for their vital work.

No pay rise, no fares

Conductors working on the TransPennine Express took the first of four weekly 24-hour strikes on Sunday 13 February. The RMT members are striking for increased pay for working on their days off and Sundays and following a two-year pay freeze and working through the pandemic.

They will be taking further 24 hour strikes on 20 and 27 February and 6 March as well as withdrawing from overtime and electronic ticket scanning from 14 February until further notice.

Unison join #GoldStrike

Unison members at Goldsmiths University have voted overwhelmingly to join their UCU comrades in strike action against planned redundancies and restructuring.

The joint strike action increases the effectiveness of the strike and shows the workers are united against the management. Unison members will be out on strike together with UCU strikers on 2-4 March.

Living wage? Just do it

Cleaners at NikeTown in Oxford Street, represented by the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union (CAIWU) have won the London Living Wage of £11.05 per hour and double-time Bank Holiday pay. They had secured a commitment for these from their employer in 2017 (Cordant), but following SB-FM taking over the contract, this commitment has only come after the union demanded it.

A statement from the union notes that this is the problem with the outsourcing model and frequent change of employers for the workers, and that their rights will only be secure if they are brought in-house.

Show your support for rail cleaners strike

On Wednesday 23 February at 11 am, join hundreds of striking RMT cleaners protesting outside Parliament. The cleaners are employed by Churchill and work on multiple rail companies in the South East. They are striking for decent pay in several separate ballots, two of which secured 100% yes votes.

St George’s workers win sick pay

Cleaners and hostesses employed by Mitie at St George’s Hospital in Tooting have suspended a protest action after bosses backed down over sick pay. According to the GMB, the workers have now been offered a sick pays scheme plus the £40 vouchers they were promised at Christmas. 

Unite seeks pay rise for construction workers

Unite the union has lodged a claim for a 10% increase across the board for the half a million construction workers covered by the Construction Industry Joint Committee (CIJC).

The union says the hike is necessary to keep ahead of inflation but also is needed to attract new entrants to the industry which has suffered a severe shortage since Brexit. The union also warns that failure by the CIJC to make significant earnings increase risks making the CIJC “irrelevant to construction workers”.

It is excellent that the union is putting down a marker like this, but unless it ensures that employers pay the rate for the job, then any national agreement risks irrelevance anyway – which means the union needs to step up to the plate regarding the Scunthorpe scaffolders dispute.

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