Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
CWU members working in Crown Post Offices and Post Office collections and deliveries held a one-day strike on Tuesday 3rd May. This was the first national strike by union members at the Post Office in several years. The Post Office was split from the Royal Mail Group PLC in 2013 when the latter was privatised.
The strike shut down all 114 Crown Post Offices for 24 hours and no Post Office vans made cash deliveries or collections from all 11,500 sub-post offices in the UK.
The industrial action that CWU members have taken was caused by a failure of Post Office management to recognise the importance of the work Post Office staff did during the pandemic by staying open, and their refusal to even offer staff a pay rise despite RPI inflation currently running at 9.9%.
CWU members smashed the threshold the government has imposed on workers to try and thwart industrial action in the UK with a turnout of over 70% and a 97% yes vote.
The CWU have told Post Office bosses that if they don’t come back with a serious pay offer for their members then other strike dates will be announced.
Wealden’s bin workers on strike
Refuse workers in Wealden, Sussex, are staging two weeks of strike action from May 2 after pay talks between union GMB and employer Biffa broke down. Workers have overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer that Biffa, contracted by Wealden District Council to handle waste collection, has intimated was both final and would be withdrawn should the strike take place.
Although Wealden District Council has reassured residents that negotiations between GMB and Biffa are continuing it may be difficult to find a compromise that won’t be binned by the workers.
Fawley refinery: pouring oil on troubled waters
In a welcome sign that the employers are beginning to see sense, the Altrad Group reinstated the shop steward they suspended two weeks ago for allegedly ‘inducing’ 50 union members to respect the picket line set up by members working for Veolia Services, Trant Engineering and the Altrad Group on contracts at the Fawley Refinery site.
About 100 workers, members of the Unite union, had voted for strike action over a ‘derisory’ 2.5% pay offer, saying that with inflation running at 8% it amounted to a substantial pay cut.
The employers were horrified to discover the degree of solidarity shown by other workers on-site and responded (as is traditional in the construction sector) by scapegoating individuals.
The decision to step back from escalating the dispute, and reinstate the suspended rep, is a welcome sign that pay talks due on Monday may find the employers in a more constructive mood. Today’s strike (Friday, May 5) has been suspended to allow the talks to go ahead.
Veolia Croydon ballot over rubbish pay
100 members of the Unite union, working for outsourced refuse contractors Veolia, are balloting for strike action over the employer’s refusal to offer more than a 2.5% pay increase.
The union claims that Veolia’s Croydon workforce is already paid around £7,000 per annum less than workers in comparable jobs in London boroughs. As one driver put it:
“The fact that we work with rubbish doesn’t mean our pay has to be rubbish too”
He and the union, are confident that the ballot will be overwhelmingly in support of fighting for decent pay.
Lecturer’s dispute in Scotland
College lecturers across Scotland are currently engaged in strike action. This week marked the second week of action, taking three days each week with a further three weeks of similar action planned throughout May.
The dispute is over a well below-inflation pay offer. Lectures and FE staff are also feeling undervalued in the aftermath of the pandemic and delivering results under extraordinary circumstances.
The EIS-FELA have a long tradition of striking back against College Bosses and the Scottish Government. In 2017 they won better pay by taking similar actions.
Picket lines are lively and solid throughout Scotland. A simple web search of "EIS-FELA" online results in the first three pages are messages from College Management regarding the impact of the strike.
To keep spirits up this dispute has an excellent social media campaign. One aspect of this has been celebrating dogs visiting the picket lines. With the hashtag #dugsonpicketlines
Counterfire's retired demo dog Floyd visited the college formerly known as John Wheatley College, and now a campus of Kelvin College, in the East End of Glasgow.
There is a demonstration planned outside Holyrood Scottish Parliament next Thursday, May 12 at 11 am.
Biffa backs down in Manchester
Planned strikes this week in Manchester were called off after bin workers, outsourced to Biffa via Manchester Council accepted an offer which Unite and GMB who both represent them says is worth up to 22% for drivers and between 8-11% for other workers.
GMB union organiser Michael Clark said:
"Our members' voices have been heard – because they stood together. We would like to thank Manchester City Council and their leader Bev Craig for their assistance in the dispute.
"To other unscrupulous employers take note – the GMB will stand firm against any attempts to enforce pay cuts."
Credit to these workers, the threat of strike was enough to force their employer to cough up and contribute fairly to their rising living expenses but why does Manchester City Council, with its huge Labour majority, outsource their bin collection anyway?
First Glasgow strike cancelled
A strike due for May 4 by 60 First Bus workers has been called off. This pay dispute includes cleaners and shunters. 89% voted to strike on a turnout out of 92%.
According to Unite Union:
"The deal ensures a significant pay increase along with improvements to sickness pay which will increase by up to 50%. This will bring sickness pay into line with industrial standards at 80% of full pay for workers."
First Glasgow have just reported a combined profit of £12.6 million.
Carlisle workers can poor pay deal
200 workers, members of the Unite union, at Carlisle’s Crown Bevcan factory are due to launch two 24-hour strikes, over the company’s 3% pay offer.
Crown Bevcan makes cans for the alcohol and soft drinks industries and is owned by the Crown Holdings group, which claims it makes one in every five drinks cans manufactured worldwide. It is ranked number.1 in Fortune 500’s list of companies in the packaging and container industry.
The union reps (shop stewards) point to the company’s trading record of £8.4 billion in net sales last year as evidence that the company can more than afford to up its offer.
If they don’t, then the union will be picketing the Borland Avenue site on May 11 and May 14, with more dates to follow if the company doesn’t respond positively.
Arriva drivers will strike for a pay rise
1,000 Arriva bus drivers in Croydon, Norwood, Brixton and Thornton Heath will be on a 24-hour strike over pay on the May 11 and a 48 hour strike on May 16. The workers rejected a 3% pay rise.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:
“This pay offer is simply unacceptable. Arriva’s drivers are being pummelled by a double-whammy of reduced earnings and rising living costs. Arriva must think again and pay its drivers a fair wage.”
Outsourcing workers brutal treatment goes on
Outsourced workers employed by Regent Samsic at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) who were protesting over the university discriminating against the workers in terms of pay have been suspended.
The workers are being bought in-house but the university is planning to pay them £500 a year less than the current lowest wage at the university. The workers include cleaners, porters and security guards. They are majority black and migrant workers and at least 4 have been suspended.
IWGB Union says it will take legal action against Regent Samsic if the suspensions aren’t lifted. While the workers were protesting on April 21 the University called the police and increased security to intimidate the protesters.
Rene, a cleaner who was suspended after the protest, said:
“I worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic for my university and was still refused a dignified salary after all my hard work. When we came together to peacefully ask for management to listen to us, to hear our needs and concerns, they responded by suspending me from work.
“The disrespect LSHTM has for people like me cuts deeply. I am treated as a second class citizen, and when I try to raise my voice, I am punished.”
Rail disputes heating up nationally
ScotRail finally became a publically-owned train operator last month, which should have been cause for celebration for the workforce, but in reality train drivers in Scotland will be marking the event with strike action over pay.
ASLEF members have overwhelmingly rejected a 2.2% pay offer and will be taking their first national strike in Scotland for 20 years.
This action comes as both the RMT and TSSA unions are gearing up for industrial action in both Network Rail and various other operators on a mass scale unseen for many decades, not to demand pay but to resist the loss of thousands of jobs. 2022 is likely to see disputes on the railways on a historic scale.
Medical logistics drivers hail victory in Coventry
The threat of strike action by GMB members in DHL Life Sciences and Healthcare in Coventry was enough to obtain a vastly improved pay deal.
Following a successful ballot for strike action, the company returned with an 8.8% deal that the delivery drivers have now accepted.
Salisbury traffic wardens: strike and rally for Saturday 7 May
GMB members at Wiltshire Council are taking their anger to the streets they serve this weekend.
The dispute is over a proposed cut in unsocial hours pay that will affect a range of workers, not just traffic wardens.
GMB’s Keith Roberts says:
“Our members unanimously voted for strike action because they simply cannot afford a pay cut.
“Scandalously, the proposed pay cut is deliberately targeted at frontline workers who deal with the public. Already the council is struggling to recruit and retain the staff working unsocial hours, many of whom are poorly paid.
“In contrast, Wiltshire Council taxpayers are shelling out for sixteen council directors to each earn over £100,000, including the chief executive, Terence Herbert, who earns over £180,000, which is more than the Prime Minister.”
The rally starts at 1pm. There will also be a picket line in Chippenham. Combining strikes with a high profile demo sounds like a winner to News from the Frontline.
A hot summer for bosses as council pay battles spread
Unite predicts a brace of council shutdowns over the next few weeks as the list of councils in dispute and workers taking strike action increases.
Renfrewshire council workers are set to join colleagues in Rugby, Hackney, Coventry and Northern Ireland who are already striking.
The brutal reality is that these workers have been solidly pummelled with pay restraint since the 2007 crash and they now facing an historic cost of living crisis.
Unite’s Sharon Graham says:
“What use is 1.75 or two per cent on pay after more than a decade of attacks of pay and in the face of rampant inflation? These offers are not pay rises, they are pay cuts and Unite members are right to reject them.
“Some local authority workers are now having to turn to food banks to feed their families. This is an absolutely shameful reflection on councils as employers.”
We like the cut of Sharon Graham’s jib, but it contains the logic of national fight, as does the spread of existing disputes. Disaggregated ballots don’t really fit.
Our class is being assaulted as a whole and it needs to resist as a whole. Let's have a national campaign against the local government scrooges. Because if not now, when?
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