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Caterpillar bulldozer

Caterpillar bulldozer. Photo: Public Domain

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

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Unite members at three Caterpillar factories in Northern Ireland began striking this week. The workers decisively rejected the company's latest pay offer which Unite describes as "insufficient" and tied to compulsory overtime. The workers downed tools for four days from Monday 11 April, will lead further four-day stoppages from 25 April and 3 May and five days the following week - a total of 17 days of strike.

Novara Media reported that the day after Unite notified Caterpillar of the strike, the company sent an email to all of its administrative and management staff around the country offering "incentives" to come to Northern Ireland as strikebreakers. The incentives reportedly include "£12 hourly bonus pay, flights and full-board hotel accommodation".

Unite has warned that bringing in untrained workers in productive roles is a huge health and safety issue. On the first day of the strike, one of the strikers was injured by an HGV driver attempting to speed past the picket line (he luckily escaped with minor injuries). Novara Media's Steven Methven points out that a similar tactic used by John Deere in the US to break a strike last year resulted in multiple injuries on site within hours of the strike beginning.

Caterpillar's callous behaviour and clear disdain for its workforce is shocking. The strikers deserve full solidarity in their struggle.

Photo: @UniteunionNI / Twitter

The union delivers for DHL drivers

Over 100 HGV drivers, members of Unite the union, working for DHL Tradeteam out of the Burton-on-Trent depot are celebrating this week. They voted overwhelmingly to call off their proposed strike action and accepted an improved offer worth over 7.5%.

More welcome though is the deal they have struck means no driver has to accept a job route that would take them over 11.5 hours, but if they do accept such a route they will be paid a new premium rate. It was the excessive hours culture that rankled with the drivers.

At DHL's Aberdeen depot, 30 wagon drivers have just won union recognition and an 8% pay rise (with a further 5% minimum guaranteed next year). It follows a 3-month organising drive by the Unite union, which saw membership grow by more than 30%. As one driver put it:

“There’s power in a union, and this deal proves it”.

Cross-union bins strike in Manchester, wave continues elsewhere

Workers in both Unite the Union and GMB have been engaging in industrial action for months, in a wave that is still very much ongoing. The services in the city, outsourced to private company Biffa PLC, have bargaining groups involving both unions, who have jointly described the employer’s offer of 1.75% pay rise as “insulting”, particularly in light of the major profits Biffa is currently bragging about.

Both unions have agreed to coordinate action, and this is the first time that workers in these two major unions enter a dispute simultaneously. GMB and Unite in Manchester are both pledging strong support for the workforce, as has Unite leader Sharon Graham. Unity on the ground may well help shape the outcome of this dispute.

Elsewhere in the country, GMB members were claiming positive outcomes in numerous areas, such as Mansfield where a plus-inflationary rise has been agreed, Somerset where rises of 4.5% have been agreed to over two years and West Sussex where action is being postponed in return for pay talks that are claimed to be more serious.

Meanwhile, Unite’s major dispute in Coventry continues, and as of this Thursday has been joined by bin workers in nearby Rugby, as well as the London borough of Hackney, with both sites boasting of a massive increase in union membership density. All three disputes are against Labour councils which are going into local elections in less than a month, making public pressure a major factor in the disputes.

Photo: @UniteWestMids / Twitter

Goldsmiths UCU renew fight against redundancies

Goldsmiths UCU have secured another brilliant ballot result to continue their ongoing local dispute. This comes as bosses have announced 16 redundancies across History, English and Creative Writing and professional services staff.

76% voted yes to continue strike action and 84% voted yes for action short of strike, on a 57% turnout. They also secured another two strong yes votes on the USS pensions and 4 Fights disputes.

On Wednesday the workers held very well attended in-person and online solidarity rallies, where workers shared powerful stories following the announcement of the redundancies.

Talks are currently ongoing at ACAS, and industrial action will continue with a marking and assessment boycott. If management doesn’t scrap the redundancies the workers will strike during induction week in September.

Cadent workers to turn off the light

Around 2,000 GMB members employed by Cadent Gas are to strike after rejecting pay offers of 2% for 2021 and 4% from 22 July.

While a date has not been confirmed for the action the union has said that it may occur as soon as 22 April, potentially disrupting supplies for tens of thousands of consumers.

Despite making £900 million last year the company is refusing to offer its operational field workers a rise in line with inflation, choosing instead to impose a real-terms pay cut that has rightly angered staff.

Mini workers: big strike

150 warehouse workers and shunter drivers, represented by Unite, at the Oxford Mini plant are to strike for 8 days in April and May over pay. Logistics firm Rudolph & Hellman Automotive Ltd which provides these workers for the plant has disingenuously claimed that they are offering a 10% pay rise, combining 4% imposed without discussion for 2021 and the 6% on offer for 2022. 

The offers are lower than both inflation and the industry standard, leaving workers with no choice but to strike or quit as the cost of living crisis intensifies.

Sandwell: no leisure with unfair pay

When a company has £3.5 million in profits sitting untouched in its coffers, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think it can pay its workers a fair wage. Yet this is exactly what is happening right now at the outsourced Sandwell Leisure Trust: lifeguards, gym instructors, receptionists and all the staff who give Sandwell residents the chance to stay fit and healthy in these challenging times are being refused the pay rise they deserve.

But workers are not taking no for an answer: this week an extraordinary 84% of GMB members across all nine of the SLT sites voted in favor of further strike action. The 12-month rolling dispute is the longest-running in Sandwell borough’s history, and the strikes have been so effective that the council just last month terminated early its 30-year contract with SLT.

For workers, however, their future still hangs in the balance: with the council deliberating whether to bring leisure services in-house, the Labour-run council should be asking itself whether yet another example of failed outsourcing means these vital services should be brought back into democratic and local control, with immediate effect?

Sarah James, GMB organiser, said:

"Whilst providing a valuable lifestyle service to the people of Sandwell, staff are drowning in the cost of living crisis.

“It’s time that our members are paid a fair wage – we urge the trust to come forward with a decent offer and avoid this industrial action."

Photo: @UnisonWestMids / Twitter

The weakest Translink: bus drivers to shut down NI

Over 2,000 bus workers, members of the Unite and GMB unions, working for Translink in the North of Ireland have voted to strike from 25 April, if the company does not improve its miserly 3% pay offer. The strike would effectively shut down whole chunks of the economy, as 1 in 4 households do not own a car and rely on public transport for their travel needs.

The unions point out that 3% doesn’t even keep pace with inflation, so is a pay cut in real terms. Translink bus drivers’ average wage is £23-25,000 per year, for which they have to work weekends and long hours.

The company is shedding crocodile tears over what it describes as an “excessive” strike, and the effect it will have on young peoples’ education (65,000 school children travel to school by bus daily). The union points out that there is an easy solution on offer: stop trying to cut wages by the back door, and increase the pay by 6%.

50 days on strike at GOSH

UVW Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Security Guards are approaching 50 days of strike action. The guards were on strike for 6 weeks with bosses going out of their way to break the strike and served a court injunction on the strikers. The ‘defiant’ workers are now striking every Friday and are holding a large strike rally in Queen Square at noon on Friday 29 April.

Striking security guard Erica said:

“The injunction restricts our pickets to six outside the hospital. GOSH trustees hope to deny us our rights to equality and to speak the truth. But we will not be silenced. We are strong. We are determined.”

100+ days of strike to stop Stuart slashing pay by 24%

Food couriers in Sheffield employed by Stuart, who runs delivery services for JustEat, hit 100 days on strike earlier this month. It has been the longest-running 'gig-economy' strike for some while now and the workers are showing no sign of backing down. They have already won a number of concessions, but are determined to not let up until the company reverses a 24% cut to their basic rate of pay - a shocking thing to do at any time but especially during a severe cost of living crisis.

In nearby Chesterfield, Stuart food couriers who have also been taking industrial action, began an all-out strike from 12 April. Together, the striking couriers have been picketing outside McDonald's and Greggs branches, who are among Stuart's clients, and on multiple occasions have stopped the food chains being able to fulfil any delivery orders.

The steadfastness of the couriers and their solidarity with workers in other areas is proving to be a very expensive thorn in Stuart's side. If the strikers win it'll be a win for workers everywhere and a huge blow to exploitative bosses. The strikers have received a huge amount of support and have so far raised over £30k for their strike fund. You can donate to it here and if live nearby, join their fundraising event in Sheffield on Wednesday 20 April.

Photo: @SYorksCouriers / Twitter

Croydon Council workers strike against below-inflation pay

Croydon Council grounds maintenance workers have announced strike action in the face of an insulting 1.75% pay rise offered by the council.

Strike action has been announced from 25-27 April and from 3-5 May. Over 20 staff who maintain the parks and open spaces in Croydon will be out on strike.

The 1.75% pay offer has been set by the Local Government Association but Unite is urging Croydon council to reject this recommendation, as real inflation is currently running at 8.2%. Furthermore, workers in Croydon council have seen their wages fall by 22% in real terms in the past 11 years of austerity.

While grounds maintenance workers were insourced three years ago, the council have failed to bring their terms and conditions in line with the rest of the council.

In the face of a cost of living crisis and rapidly rising inflation, it is essential workers continue to take action against these kind of disgraceful pay offers.

Legal aid: why barristers are withdrawing “good will”

As previously reported in News from the Frontline, the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) is taking industrial action in response to the degradation of their pay and conditions.

Their dispute is with the government and its depletion of legal aid funding that has resulted in a serious cut in junior barristers’ pay.

The CBA’s action consists of ceasing its “returns” policy whereby barristers agree to accept cases that are returned by colleagues who have a diary clash. The CBA says:

“The action will be maintained until government agrees to a fair settlement of the criminal bar’s longstanding concerns about unacceptably low legal aid fees that are driving hundreds of our barristers out of criminal practice.”

The government isn’t going to like this fraying of the system, that’s for sure.

Ten per cent pay cut? Wiltshire Council are having a laugh

Tory Wiltshire Council are vying to cut traffic warden pay by 10% resulting in a £2K slash for existing salaries.

GMB have stepped straight in with a strike ballot for the affected workers.

GMB’s Keith Roberts couldn’t be clearer:

“GMB members are deeply angry about the proposed pay cut. They are key workers who were out mixing with the general public right through the pandemic, and indeed traffic wardens helped to run the testing centres where they were brought into contact with people who were Covid positive.

“With National Insurance increasing, fuel and energy prices through the roof, and prices in the supermarkets going up on a daily basis, our members are really worried that if this pay cut goes ahead, then they won’t be able to pay their rent or mortgage and won’t be able to put food on the table.”

Here’s another group of workers we can look forward to seeing on the streets in Westminster on 18 June.

Exxon marks the spot: Workers at the UK's biggest oil refinery walk out

Outsourced workers at Fawley refinery in Southampton began strike action on Friday in response to a real-terms pay cut, reports Julie Hope from the picket line.

Svitzer Marine dispute: Teesside tugboat crews win!

Tugboat workers who went on strike have overturned a pay freeze and won an effective 7.5% pay increase, reports John Westmoreland.

Manchester stands with the Chep strikers

Trade unionists and community activists in Manchester marched in solidarity with Chep strikers who remain determined to fight till they win.

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