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London Underground train. Photo: Cookie M / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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Fifty thousand workers on National Rail are striking on 21, 23 and 25 June. It’s already been dubbed the ‘the biggest rail strike in modern history.’ And that’s exactly what it’ll be as thousands of RMT rail workers, having returned a massive 9-1 vote for strike action, prepare to down tools in a three-day national strike over redundancies and pay.

The strike is growing. Aslef union have announced that drivers on Greater Anglia Trains will also strike on 23 June and Hull trains on 26 June. Croydon Tramlink drivers will stage two 48-hour strikes on 28-29 June and 13-14 July. Additionally, TSSA are balloting workers on Avanti West Coast Trains. Nine Aslef ballots close on 11 July across most rail companies in the country. All RMT London Underground workers will strike on 21 June as will some Unite members. Read the full report here, by Unjum Mirza, Aslef Equalities Rep at Brixton Depot.

The 18 June TUC Demonstration is gaining momentum, coaches will be coming from across the country. Many political parties, campaigns and union branches are building and organising for the demonstration as we face a cost of living crisis. Just days before a huge rail strike, this demonstration is crucial: keep pushing for a massive turnout! The link to coaches is here.

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Photo: The People's Assembly

Wealden bin strike: picket line arrests don’t faze strikers

East Sussex police arrested and charged three GMB pickets for obstruction last week in what should be a thundercrack to all News from the Frontline readers.

The refuse workers are taking on privatisation kingpins Biffa over pay. They’ve been striking since April and, despite recent attempts at state intimidation, their determination to get pay justice has remained undimmed.

The current strike action will continue until 25 June with a GMB-led protest on the pickets’ day in court. GMB General Secretary Gary Smith is clear:

‘Across the country and industry working people are organising in the face of an economic calamity made in Downing Street.

‘They can arrest us, threaten us with more anti-union legislation but they can’t kill the hope that collective action represents.’

The bosses and their cronies-in-blue are getting tougher; our side needs to shape up and focus. There will be more of this.

The strike fund is here. You know what to do, and that courtroom protest should be a three-line whip for all south-east trade unionists.  

CWU strike, Crown Post Offices: our kind of counter offensive

Three thousand, five hundred counter staff, members of the Communication Workers Union, walked out on Saturday in their union’s campaign for a decent pay rise. The staff work at Crown Post Offices (the major post offices in big towns and cities) and the knock-on effect of their action meant there were no cash collections or deliveries to post offices on Monday. The action, backed by 97% of the members returning ballot forms, is in protest at the company’s refusal to offer more than a 2% pay rise, and the union says the disruption will continue until the company makes a decent offer.

Postal Delivery Managers vote to strike: the anger is spreading 

The 3,000-plus Postal Delivery Managers employed by Royal Mail have voted 2:1 for strike action over company plans to cut a hundred jobs, whilst recruiting for a new post of Postal Manager, on lower pay. Their union, Unite, has described this as ‘fire and rehire wearing different clothes’. This is on top of the 1,600 jobs Royal Mail slashed in 2021, and is in spite of the £311 million profit the company reported last year. A walk-out would involve 3,000 members at 1,500 sites. The workplaces affected are Royal Mail’s Parcel Delivery offices (not post offices).

“We will fight till it’s over”: RMT resolve kicks in 

RMT Cleaners employed by outsourcing giant Churchill, working on GTR, Network Rail, HS1 and South East Trains were on strike again for five days over the bank-holiday weekend. The workers are fighting for £15 an hour and an end to outsourcing. On the fifth day of action, RMT striker Rose, who had been on the picket at Victoria Station, said at the People's Assembly Rally in London:

“Inflation is going high and we are not getting anything, we get no sick pay, whenever you are sick in Churchill you need to use your holidays … We Churchill staff across the country, we will fight till it’s over, it’s not over! We will also tell the government that it’s time for them to employ us in house.”

Heathrow: check-in and ground staff have had enough

Hundreds of ancillary workers at western Europe’s biggest workplace are being balloted for strike action between now and 23 June. These are workers who had their pay slashed during the pandemic period and are now expected to maintain the lower rate. Of course, the bosses have had their old pay restored.

Promisingly, the ballot involves both Unite and GMB. GMB’s Nadine Houghton says:

‘BA forced our members into pay cuts during the pandemic, when they had little workplace power to fight back. Now our members are back at work and staff shortages are hammering the company - it is their time to claim back what is theirs.

‘These loyal workers have stood by BA through thick and thin, they have kept passengers moving when staff shortages and IT failures nearly brought the operation to a standstill.’

Unite’s Sharon Graham adds:

‘In a further disgraceful move, BA has now restored the pay of managers but has kept the cut for these workers. This is why our members have voted overwhelmingly to proceed to strike action. This is about paying the rate for the job.’

Bosses’ cluelessness about airport staffing levels couldn’t be more apparent in recent weeks. Let’s hope some sustained joint action can bring them to their senses and that we ensure that the hottest place to be this summer is a UK picket line.

FE: in for the long haul 

Teaching staff at four further-education (FE) colleges across north-west England are striking for improved pay and conditions. UCU pickets at the affected colleges on 7 and 10 June will be demanding pay deals to redress the almost £9,000 salary gap between FE staff and schoolteachers. Action at two other colleges has been called off after staff voted to accept pay deals amounting to between 6.5% and 7.5% respectively.

Moy Park workers ‘refuse to work for chicken feed’

Electrical engineers, lorry drivers and production staff, members of the Unite union, at Moy Park’s Randalstown animal-feed mill in Northern Ireland are on strike for equal pay with their colleagues at other Moy Park mills. The workforce at Randalstown is paid up to £100 a week less than their counterparts at the company’s other mills, and have had enough. The strike has hit the company hard, with a scab workforce only managing to maintain about 25% of pre-strike production.

The strikers have been encouraged by support from other Moy Park sites, and by messages of support from Unite members at AB Agri mills in England. As one of the driver reps from AB Agri’s East Anglian mills put it:

‘We have just won a 12.5% pay-rise for AB Agri drivers through standing together, and standing firm. We would like to see common standards across the industry, and supporting our Moy Park colleagues is the first essential step. Our branch has sent them £250 as a gesture, and if they want more, they only need to ask.’

The end of the Jubilee marked by RMT London Underground strike

On Monday RMT station staff across the London Underground were on strike, crippling the service. Read the full report from the London Bridge picket line here.

Culture workers take further action to save jobs

Staff for the British Council, the cultural arm of the Foreign Office, took action back in March in response to the announcement of hundreds of job losses. The justification is a loss of revenue through the pandemic, which staff are not taking as an excuse with the end of lockdowns in most of the world. Continued intransigence from civil-service bosses is forcing the PCS union members to take further days of action in June. Staff are scattered in British Council offices at numerous sites in Britain and worldwide.

Strike over rubbish pay

Isle of Wight waste collection contractor Amey is facing potential strikes over pay after unionised workers voted overwhelmingly for industrial action. GMB members, who make up nearly half of the workforce, have given notice to strike for two weeks from 13 June if Amey continues to refuse to negotiate collectively for a meaningful pay rise.

Coventry bin drivers: 100% strike vote prompts new deal

Striking Unite members couldn’t have given Coventry Council a stronger message when they voted unanimously to maintain their strike action over pay.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham says:

‘With another resounding vote, these workers are standing firm in their fight for the rate for the job. They have their union’s backing all the way.

‘The truth is that Coventry Council is squandering millions in a failed attempt to break the strike, money that would be far better spent addressing low pay in this workforce and supporting local people through the cost of living crisis.’

Concerted action gets results and within twenty-four hours a new deal was on the table for the workers to consider. Proof, if proof were needed, that unity is strength.

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