Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Factory workers employed by the metal packaging specialists Envases Group in Liverpool are striking throughout March after their union rep was sacked for “standing up for the Unite members at the factory."
According to Unite, the factory had been conducting a misinformation campaign to try and drive a wedge between the workers and the union. The rep was reportedly dismissed after exposing this behaviour.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says: “The dismissal of a Unite rep is an aggressive, anti-union act so our members have no choice but to take a stand until their friend and colleague is reinstated.”
The workers will be picketing outside the factory at Trinity Park Industrial Estate on Orrell Lane, Liverpool on 14-16, 21-23, 28-30 March.
Victimisation tactics like this have to be nipped in the bud and this is the way to do it.
Pay parity battle for education workers
Education Welfare Officers in Northern Ireland are continuing industrial action in a bid to win pay parity. These social workers employed by the Education Authority are paid less than counterparts working for Health and Social Care Trusts while offering vital support to children and young people struggling to access education and services.
Their union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) has announced a further 16 days of strike action to run from March 8 to April 1 following strikes earlier in the month, making this the longest running strike since the creation of the Education Authority.
Unite to extinguish Cadent’s flame
More than 2000 Unite members employed by Cadent Gas are to ballot for strike action after rejecting a real terms pay cut.
Despite making an operating profit of £901 million last year the company is offering these skilled workers a below-inflation rise of 4% in addition to continually reducing pay and conditions for new staff over several years.
Cadent supplies gas to a wide range of areas, including North London, the North West and East Anglia, meaning that any industrial action has the potential to cause serious disruption to homes and businesses.
Victory for XPO logistics workers
XPO drivers and warehouse workers have won pay rises of between 15 and 27%. Having delivered a solid vote for strike action, and then rejected a deal that was clearly aimed at dividing the Risby site from the other sites, XPO was clearly demoralised when the ballot on the deal was rejected by Risby as well as the other sites
The show of solidarity concentrated XPO’s mind wonderfully and resulted in a deal that benefitted all sites. “The bond of solidarity forged in this dispute will stand us in good stead going forward” one rep told NFTF, with a grin.
The wheels on the bus go round and round…
Stagecoach West has followed the same route as other Stagecoach companies and – in the face of large votes for strike action – conceded pay rises of up to 12% for 2021-22.
The 380 drivers, members of Unite the union, work from garages in Bristol, Cheltenham, Stroud, Coalway, Gloucester and Swindon are celebrating the victory in the first stage of their campaign against the low pay in the industry. It was the first time the garages had ever voted for strike action, and the confidence is sky-high.
1,000 bus drivers employed by Arriva at the Brixton, Croydon, Norwood and Thornton Heath garages are threatening strike action from 21 March, their union, Unite, announced on Tuesday. The company has offered a miserly 1.5%, at a time when inflation is running at 7.8% and was decisively rejected by the 95% of drivers who voted to strike.
Their confidence will have been strengthened by the news that their fellow Unite members at Arriva’s Dartford and Gray’s garages have called off their disputes after accepting an improved offer from the company.
Unison joins the fight in HE
Last week, we reported that Unison branches in higher education had been out on strike in recent weeks. One such branch has been the University of Gloucestershire having only been offered a 1.5% pay offer. This follows on from a 0% pay freeze in 2021.
The branch, which comprises non-academic members of staff, was left with no real choice but to strike given the paltry offer when considering the scale of increases in inflation and the general cost of living crisis.
As their Branch Convenor Joe Sucksmith states:
“Despite working throughout the pandemic to keep campuses open and students and staff safe, at considerable personal risk, many of our members are now struggling to pay the bills and afford basic provisions.”
Joe Sucksmith is likely to be on the ballot as a ‘Time For Real Change’ candidate for UNISON Service Group Elections for Higher Education in the South-West upcoming this spring.
Distribution struggles continue: DHL workers at Sainsbury’s set to ballot
Over 250 warehouse workers employed by DHL are to be balloted for strike action over low pay.
DHL have the outsourced contact for Sainsbury’s at Emerald Park, Bristol and cover much of the South West and Wales.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says: “DHL can easily afford to pay our members properly and maintain their sick pay. This is just another case of boardroom greed before workers’ wages. DHL has to do the decent thing or Sainsbury’s supplies will be disrupted.”
Regional officer Shevaun Hunt added: “Strike action will quickly result in empty shelves in Sainsbury’s stores, but industrial action can be avoided if DHL is prepared to make an offer which meets members’ expectations.”
There’s a pattern forming with these kind of disputes and it rarely ends well for the bosses. And nor should it. DHL’s parent company recently recorded profits of nearly EUR 1.2 billion.
The ballot runs from 8 March to 22 March. News from the Frontline hopes the Unite members choose wisely.
More strike action at Ipswich School
Staff at the renowned Suffolk private school have taken their second strike day this week.
This is joint action involving NEU and NASUWT.
The workers are challenging a proposed contractual change that would result in the staff’s exclusion from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).
NEU’s Craig Tournay Godfrey says: “In November 2021, the teachers were first made aware of this when the governors sent what's known as a HR1 form.
"This is known as fire and rehire.
“They have tried all the ways they can as a profession to get the governors to change their mind without the need for strike action. But until the strike action was announced, they just weren't listening.”
Once again joint action gets the bosses’ attention. Workers aren’t going to pay for their cost-cutting, especially at a posh school.
CAIWU wins parity at the BMA
CAIWU outsourced cleaners employed by Churchill working at the British Medical Association (BMA) have won parity in terms and conditions with employees of the BMA.
CAIWU says this follows a year-long campaign and that a year ago the cleaners were facing redundancy. The workers will now receive proper sick pay, employers pension contributions of 12%, 7 days more annual leave, paid breaks and the London Living Wage.
This is another win against outsourcing following the Barts strikers huge victory last week and it comes as hundreds of RMT cleaners, also employed by Churchill are striking for pay justice and against outsourcing (see below).
Stewart strike reaches 70 days
IWGB Food delivery workers employed by Stuart in Sheffield have now been on strike for over 70 days.
The strike action has spread to Chesterfield, Huddersfield, Blackpool and further. They are facing almost 25% cut in pay as the cost of living crisis deepens further. You can donate to their strike fund here.
GXO drivers ballot could hit beer supplies
1,700 dray drivers, warehouse workers and fork truck drivers are threatening strike action if GXO (part of the XPO international logistics group) doesn’t sort out its payroll problems.
The workers, members of the Unite union, are sick and tired of the payroll errors GXO commit week in, week out and are no longer prepared to accept doing a week’s work, hoping to get paid for it.
The workforce at 6 sites (Thatcham, Coventry, Derby, Normanton, Manchester and Livingston) covering more than 20,000 retail outlets, voted 99% for strike action in a consultative ballot late last year. Having got no results, they are now voting in a legal ballot, ending on March 18
Chep strike day of solidarity next week
Trades councils around Greater Manchester are organising a day of solidarity next Wednesday from 8 am to support the striking warehouse workers at Chep Trafford Park.
The workers have been out continuously for 14 weeks after reballoting with an impressive 94% mandate for the second round of 12 weeks of strike action.
If you’re in the area, come down and bring banners, whistles and anything to make noise.
Agri drivers win
103 drivers at animal feed supplier AB Agri are celebrating an historic victory this week. The company originally announced a 2021 pay award of just 2% last October.
The drivers at Bury St Edmunds and Walsingham contacted their union, Unite, expressing their frustration and on-site meetings were held. When Flixborough mill in North Lincolnshire heard of this, they got in touch and the drivers’ reps from all three mills drew up a pay claim.
The claim received overwhelming support from their fellow drivers, but the company “couldn’t afford” it. Originally insisting on negotiating with each mill separately, AB Agri soon got a shock, when the drivers refused to be carved up. “They want to divide and conquer, but we know our strength is in standing together” tells the Bury St Edmunds rep.
By the time the company had accepted the need for joint-site negotiations, two other mills had joined the fray. The company claimed it could not deal with them as “We don’t recognise Unite at those sites”. Two weeks later (this week) the company sat down with reps from all 5 sites and offered a deal worth 12% for the Suffolk sites (BSE and Walsingham) and 13% for the 3 northern mills.
The increased percentage for the northern sites was at the suggestion of the better paid Suffolk sites, who understood the long-term advantage of closing the pay rates, towards a common rate for the job.
On top of this, the drivers secured guarantees on work schedules and rosters that had long been a thorn in their flesh. The reps involved now intend to spread the news to the company’s other mills and intend to make contact with drivers from other animal feed firms, particularly from the 2 Sisters and ForFarmers groups.
Bin workers strike round the country
Bin collection workers are engaged in strike action around the country. Probably the highest-profile continues to be Unite bin workers at Coventry council which continues without any significant progress being made in mediation.
Coventry council has not only refused to negotiate its assault on terms and conditions but has suspended a striker to intimidate the others during a reballot.
Scabs continue to be employed by the Labour council, on rates that are as high as £10 an hour more than the actual workers. The strikers remain solid, though and the next major event will be a mass rally that Unite will be calling in to take place in Coventry on Saturday, March 26th.
Barrow and Somerset:
Many other similar disputes are now in motion around the country, mostly by GMB members and mostly because workers have voted to reject a net pay cut. A minority are directly employed by the council, such as in North Somerset, much like Coventry, but most are working for very profitable service companies.
This included Barrow workers for the FFC Environment, and Northampton workers for the massive Veolia which is refusing to pass on a penny of a 5.5% increase in funding from the council. The GMB organiser for Northampton, Asia Allison, has further said that the company has been threatening actual pay cuts and arbitrary dismissals.
One of the most notable disputes has been in Wiltshire, where GMB bin workers have been striking over the disparity in staff and agency worker pay, as well as rates of pay.
Tensions with the employer, Hills Municipal Collections, became particularly high this week when video footage emerged of a striking-breaking truck hitting a picketer outside the depot gates.
GMB has written to Wiltshire Council to call for a joint statement on "mutual respect and safety", though neither they nor the local press have yet received a response.
Wiltshire GMB secretary Andy Newman said about the picture as a whole:
“One of the factors here is the power of a good example. GMB has had a reputation for strong organising, particularly in Brighton for some years. But that strength is now spreading, partly because we have built experience on how to win these disputes, but also because word of the big victories being won, like recently in Hastings, inspire other areas.
“These disputes are tough because they are old school. The unions have become very used to strikes almost being symbolic protests, to embarrass the employer, or put political pressure on, but with the bins it really is about stopping the trucks stopping the bin collections and hitting the employer in the pocket.
“Also, organising manual workers possibly takes a different skillset from organising white-collar workers, and the culture of GMB and unite both are effective.
“What I would say is that employers need to have a bit of fear of our combativity, and also initiative. We will mix it up, and do what they don’t expect, and members like it that GMB doesn't feel the need for management to like us.”
Never give in: Churchill cleaners continue fight for fair pay
RMT rail cleaners in London and the South East will be going on strike for 48 hours on Friday, 11 March in a protracted fight for fair pay. This will be their second round of strike action in a little over two weeks after a 24 hour strike on 23 February. The strike will affect rail services across London and the South East, including Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern, Southeastern and Eurostar routes.
The cleaners, currently employed by Churchill Ltd, are campaigning for £15 an hour and to be directly employed by the train operating companies. As a result of inflation - currently at 7.8% RPI - RMT is estimating that the employees on minimum wage would have to earn £1,252 more a year to prevent a real terms pay cut while a worker on the Real Living Wage would need £1,395.
GOSH strike latest
Gary Griffiths reports from a vibrant and defiant rally of striking security guards from Great Ormond Street Hospital on the Counterfire website.
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