Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
40,000 rail workers on Network Rail and 15 train companies are being balloted by the RMT for strike action over jobs and pay. Network Rail is making £2 billion worth of cuts and has announced that at least 2,500 maintenance jobs will be slashed as a result.
These workers have also had changes to their terms and conditions and wage freezes. The ballot opens on 26 April and closes on 24 May, meaning strike action could take place as soon as June. The RMT says this is their biggest ballot ever, and is organising meetings of workers across the country.
York sweet-makers up the ante
As previously reported in News from the Frontline, York-based confectionery workers are embroiled in a “fire-and-rehire” dispute with Valeo Snackfoods. Valeo is an Irish firm with factories all over Europe.
We’re happy to report workers have now extended their strike action to full days with the first on 14 April.
It wasn’t long ago everyone was condemning “fire-and-rehire”, even Tories. Fine words are one thing, withdrawing your labour is another.
GSK better get their eyes checked
Workers at the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline's factory in Barnard Castle have overwhelmingly voted against the company's "derisory" 2.75% pay offer. Around 700 members of Unite who work for the company as engineers, technicians, warehouse staff and fire crews voted by 86% in favour of industrial action.
The union has now given GSK until 22 April to make an improved offer or strike dates will be announced. GSK made £34bn in sales revenues in 2021, it can afford to do a lot better.
Solidarity with Chep strikers on week 20 of strike
On Wednesday 27 April at 7:30 pm, the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Councils has organised a solidarity fundraiser in support of the ongoing strike at Chep Trafford Park. The event will be held at Six Trees bar, M17 1BN.
This strike is now in week 20 after the workers recently rejected an unsatisfactory offer by almost 90%.
Scottish journos save jobs with strike threat
The mere whiff of a strike was enough to get media bosses backtracking on a redundancies threat. Newsquest was the company and the six threatened posts were based in Glasgow.
The National Union of Journalist’s John Toner says:
“We are delighted that Newsquest has listened to the NUJ chapel and that these six highly-respected writers are no longer facing redundancy. We now look forward to talks with the company about how our members’ undoubted skills can be deployed. As a result of this decision, we have called off our ballot.
“It is important to emphasise the principled stand taken our members, who were and remain unquestionably committed to resist compulsory redundancies if and when necessary. The NUJ has reason to be proud of them.”
It was the solid indicative ballot that did it. Workers’ power times confidence is a force to be reckoned with.
The gathering strike action from NI local government workers
Following their strike action in March, local government workers in Northern Ireland represented by Unite have announced further strikes in the last week of April and early May. The Councils, Education Authority, Housing Executive Further Education colleges, schools and youth service workers have roundly rejected the insulting 1.75% pay offer from the National Joint Council.
Regional Officer for Unite, Gareth Scott said:
“These workers took a powerful first week of strike action only a matter of weeks ago. They also gathered in large numbers at Stormont to highlight their determination to defend themselves from the cost of living crisis.”
Dundee University workers on all-out strike
Dundee University Unison members have come out on strike over proposed changes to their pension scheme again. This is their 3rd such strike over the issue, following 3 weeks of strike action in November 2021.
This “all-out” strike of 300 members has been ongoing all this week, with further days scheduled over the next 3 weeks.
After the impact of the previous strike, university management was brought back to the table to negotiate. However, they have since withdrawn from talks, leaving the union little choice but to strike again.
The proposals to put staff on a ‘defined contribution scheme’ could leave up to 900 mainly women staff members at Dundee University on grades 1 to 6 with ‘poverty pensions’. These grades are the lowest paid staff at the institution. Their pensions could stand to lose up to 40% of their previous value.
With so many lost days of earning, please consider donating to their hardship fund.
Latest on the bins
Bin workers across the Unite and GMB unions in Manchester have confirmed that they will be taking strike action from 3 May. A joint action by the two unions will see workers in all grades downing tools against the Labour administration and their private contractor, Biffa, against a far-below-inflation offer. This action will impact the entire city and will be by far the biggest dispute of the wave of bin workers' struggle so far.
Elsewhere in the country, GMB bin workers are taking action this month after Tory West Northamptonshire council confirmed it had increased payments to the contractor, Veolia, which were not being passed on to staff. Unite bin workers have also voted for action in Cardiff, though this dispute is being themed much more around management bullying and the use of agency staff to undermine working conditions.
Adur and Worthing refuse HGV drivers have called off their strike after accepting the latest pay offer from the council following almost 30 days on the pickets. GMB says that this is an 8.2% increase on a pay offer accepted by another union. Cleansing drivers will receive 10.4% more than the previous offer and some HGV drivers will get 20.7% more. GMB says the pay increases will come into effect immediately and if the council reneges on the deal ‘the union retains the right to strike until November’.
GMB organiser Gary Palmer said:
“They were told it was a great deal - but decided to judge for themselves what they are worth.
“Now have a deal which is not below inflation, but instead reflects market rates for this sort of work and keeps them ahead of the cost-of-living crisis”
RMT cleaners to continue strike
RMT Cleaners employed by outsourcing company Churchill, working on Eurostar, South Eastern rail, HS1 and more will be out on strike for 11 days from 27 April to 7 May. This is their second set of strike action after striking in February. Most of the cleaners earn the minimum wage, just £8.91 an hour, they are fighting for £15 an hour.
RMT are calling for the cleaners to have free rail travel and company sick pay, as this is what all other rail workers are entitled to. In 2020 when these workers were risking their lives working through the pandemic, Churchill made £39 million in profits.
RMT Atalian Servest cleaners on the West Coast Mainline have also been taking strike action in recent weeks for decent pay. As the RPI rate of inflation is currently at 9.9% and we enter a huge cost of living crisis supporting and showing solidarity with these cleaners is crucial.
College lecturers fighting to regain years of lost pay
College lecturers across England are to ballot for strike action after an indicative ballot found 91% of respondents in favour of taking industrial action over pay and working conditions.
Unions UCU, GMB, Unison, Unite and NEU are demanding a minimum 10% pay rise across the board to partially redress a 35% real-terms cut since 2009. They are also demanding action to address unmanageable workloads that are creating a recruitment and retention crisis.
Poor signal from BT
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is adamant that they will move to a strike ballot, and “take [BT management] to a place they’ve never been before” if BT management does not increase their pay offer.
The union is looking for a minimum 10% increase and says that BT is welching on an agreement made last year to increase pay in line with company performance, outlook and the rate of inflation.
The union is confident that the 45,000 workers employed by BT, Openreach and EE will vote overwhelmingly for strike action.
Teaching staff at Shetland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, are to stage 14 days of strike action across April and May after rejecting a pay offer of £1,000 which is equivalent to an average of 2.2%.
Members of the EIS-Fela union are taking action as College Employers Scotland pleads poverty, claiming that government funding shortfalls prevent them from making a fair offer that would more accurately reflect rising living costs.
NEU Conference escalates the fight against the government
Alex Snowdon reports on the debates and decisions at the National Education Union's conference, and the mood to take the fight to the Tories
Critical moment in the universities dispute
With the disputes in higher education at a turning point, Counterfire UCU members discuss the state of the struggle and the tactics needed to win
Hacked off Hackney council workers prepare to strike
Unite members working for Hackney Council have rejected a measly 1.75% pay offer and rallied at the Town Hall ahead of their planned strike action, reports Carole Vincent
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