Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Bin workers in Hastings and Rother have called off their planned strike action after securing between 11% and 19.5% pay rises along with a guaranteed bonus of £500-£600 before 1 April. The dispute began when Biffa Municipal Ltd who run the contracts offered workers a measly 1.75% pay rise which was roundly rejected by the workers.
During negotiations, management arrogantly told the union there would be no improvement on the offer and if they didn't accept then "go ahead and have your strike". Well, they went ahead and called a strike ballot which was due to close on 25 February and likely to return a mandate for strike action. Following the recent victory in Eastbourne and Brighton before it, this was clearly enough to cause Biffa to think twice and swiftly retreat.
Refuse workers are fighting back nationally. GMB members in Adur and Worthing also on the south coast are set to go on strike for at least 14 days from 14 - 27 March, across Wiltshire in Trowbridge, Salisbury and Calne will be on strike from 28 February, and in Barrow for six days from 9-11 March and 16-18 March. This is alongside the long-running Unite strike in Coventry, which is due to last till the end of March and the union has threatened to escalate if the Council refuse to paly ball.
As the effects of the cost-of-living crisis deepens, it will only be workers winning pay rises well above the inflation rate that can protect living standards. Refused workers are leading the charge in showing that determined collective action can win big.
London strikes back: The 1 March shutdown
On Tuesday 1 March, London will see thousands of workers involved in several disputes taking strike action at the same time. London Underground workers, staff at 17 universities, ancillary workers at 4 hospitals and teachers at 13 independent schools will be leading a partial shutdown of the capital city. Read Cici Washburn's full article here.
Unite in Wiltshire: Stagecoach strikers threaten Cheltenham Festival
180 bus drivers Stagecoach West – covering Gloucestershire and Wilshire – are set to strike over a month commencing 10 March.
The Unite members are striking over pitifully low pay and have mustered an 84% mandate for their action.
Local Unite officer Shevaun Hunt says:
“Our members are taking strike action as a last resort because Stagecoach has refused to listen. Industrial action will inevitably cause severe disruption to passengers throughout Gloucestershire and Wiltshire and especially during the Cheltenham Festival.”
Stagecoach reported £58m profits last year. Remember: all profits are unpaid wages.
When it comes to pay, Asda price isn't good enough
8,000 Asda lorry drivers, warehouse workers and clerical staff represented by GMB have rejected below-inflation pay rises of between 5 and 7.5%.
This decision brings two-thirds of the workforce one step closer to taking strike action that could cripple the distribution network, causing serious supply issues as they remind the company that profits rely on their labour.
RMT Churchill cleaners strike for pay justice
Cleaners from across London and south east trains empoyed by outsourcing compay Churchill went on strike to demand £15 an hour and better conditions. Read John McGrath's full report from the strike rally here.
Letting off steam at GE
The 75 Unite members working at GE Steam Power’s Rugby site are taking 12 days of strike action over the next 12 weeks. The strikes are due to management’s “arrogant and dismissive” attitude to their claim for flexibility payments.
Unite’s Zoe Mayou said:
“Again and again the company has wasted our members’ time by attending negotiations which they have then stone-walled.”
The strikes will severely impact not only the production of steam turbines on-site, but also the repair and refurb facilities that GE Steam offer for rotating steam equipment, and will continue “until an offer is put forward that meets our expectations”.
90 fellow Unite members at GE Aviation Systems Ltd’s Dowty Propellors, in Gloucester, will strike every Friday for the next 12 weeks, having rejected a miserly two-year deal of 4.5%. It would make sense for the two groups of workers, both employed by the GE group of companies, to forge links – and reach out to other companies in the GE.
Half-baked pay offer rejected
150 Unite members who work for Riverside Bakery in Nottingham will ballot for strike action after they received a pay offer that the union says would leave them worse off due to a reduction in overtime and premiums.
Cheryl Pidgeon, Unite regional officer, said:
“Riverside Bakery and their new owners, PAI Partners, can well afford to ensure that their already low paid workers' financial woes are not further increased.
“With the rising cost-of-living many will be plunged - if they are not there already - into in-work poverty under the current pay offer.”
"They won't break us": UCU strikers step up the fight
Hundreds of lecturers striking over pensions, pay and conditions rallied together with students, administrative staff, security guards and health workers in Bloomsbury’s Tavistock square this Tuesday, before marching on the City of London to make their voices heard. The 500-strong protest was part of 10 days of ongoing strike action across 44 different universities. Read Alistair Cartwright's full report here.
No food, no flight: Unite strikers at Heathrow land one on the bosses
HGV drivers at top-notch aviation caterers are set to strike on 4 and 5 March over pay and conditions following a pensions audit done by Unite.
Do & Co is an Austrian firm and is listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange.
The workers are striking on a 94% mandate. A contractual precondition of the flights is the provision of food so the strikers have a strong hand.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says:
“These HGV drivers at Heathrow have Unite’s full support in their strike action next month for decent pay and union recognition.
“This employer claims that ‘We treat our employees like family as this is a family-run business’ and also says it is a premium caterer with high standards, despite paying their staff some of the lowest rates in the London region – the hypocrisy is breath-taking.”
Nothing says “beware” quite like a boss announcing they treat their workers like family.
City university security guards fight back
Unison security guards working at City University in London took strike action on Monday after rejecting a pay offer of just 1.5%. 81% of workers voted to strike on a 64% turnout. Days before the strike bosses sent security workers an email asking them to confirm if they were going to work through the strike and in an outrageous attempt to undermine the strike offered those who come in a £100 payment for crossing the picket line. Unison City branch replied to the email saying;
“Our members only take industrial action as a last resort, but in this instance our reasons are clear; years and years of decline in real terms pay. City University would better spend its energy in ensuring that its staff are properly paid rather than pursuing an ill-advised anti-union agenda.”
Angry porters ballot to strike
GMB Porters and cleaners employed by G4S at Croydon Hospital are being balloted for strike action over pay and lack of sick pay. The ballot opens on 4 March and closes on 18 March. GMB organiser Helen O’Connor said,
“They are very angry about being denied decent pay and sick pay, particularly as they now face a cost of living crisis, too. Many are using food banks even though they have worked tirelessly in Croydon University hospital throughout the pandemic”.
Striking lecturers threatened with 100% pay cuts
At the UCU protest on Tuesday, QMUL who are one of several universities being threatened with 100% withdrawn wages for Action Short of Strike announced that their branch has voted to ballot for strike action to oppose these attempts by university bosses to break the strike.
QMUL striker Zara explained that this means staff will return to work after strike days not knowing if they will ever be paid for that work. Zara said that this is a ‘vicious campaign aimed at union busting and breaking the strike’.
No war on Ukraine
As the crisis in Ukraine escalates and the dangers to Ukrainian civilians and of a wider war developing increase, the labour movement must ramp up pressure from below on our leaders to de-escalate the situation instead of banging the drums of war.
Already the anti-war movement has come under sustained attack from both Tories, the Labour leadership and the media. The voices for peace must prevail. Stop the War is asking all trade unionists to put this resolution to your branch, and for those in London to join this rally on Wednesday 2 March.
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