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Royal Mail Delivery Trucks

Royal Mail Delivery Trucks. Photo: Global Panorama / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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The CWU has served notice to Royal Mail Group that it will be balloting its 115,000 members across both Parcel Force and Royal Mail for industrial action. The ballot will begin on Tuesday 28th June, just two days before the ballot closes for CWU members working for BT, and the result will be announced on Tuesday 19th July.

Royal Mail bosses, who recently paid out over £400 million to shareholders are trying to impose a paltry 2% pay rise on staff, rip up longstanding agreements on terms and conditions and create a two-tier workforce by giving new starters inferior contracts when they join the business. 

The management previously tried to get the union and its members to agree to these changes, but they were successfully defeated. The Royal Mail group signed up to the Pathway To Change agreement that protected terms and conditions and kicked out the possibility of Royal Mail creating a two-tier workforce. Now bosses at Royal Mail wrongly believe they can use the current crisis, and the unions call for a no-strings pay increase, to rip up that agreement and get posties to do more work for less money.

But the CWU and its membership have seen off the last two CEOs who thought they could walk over them and the predicted strong yes vote that will be delivered on 19th July might just make that a hat trick.

40,000 CWU members in BT, Openreach and EE are also to be balloted for industrial action in what will be the first national strike across BT Group since 1987 over the imposition of a real-terms pay cut. Ballot papers were sent out on 15th June with a closing date of 30th June.

ADCU brings Uber drivers out

The ADCU strike on Wednesday this week was coordinated in solidarity with the rail workers strikes across the country.

Strikers gathered at Aldgate Tower in east London to hear a series of speeches from the ADCU leadership – General Secretary James Farrar and President Yaseen Aslam as well as from the CAIWU, Aslef and an international delegation of drivers from Paris.

Most importantly, the drivers themselves took centre-stage and spoke directly of their own experiences with Uber, TfL and the general cost of living crisis. Uber’s CEO ‘earns’ £21,000 an hour while drivers have to cope with 44% fuel inflation, 29% vehicle cost inflation and 11% household inflation.

The atmosphere turned electric when the static protest transformed into an impromptu march taking the Whitechapel Road in the heart of East London and descending on Uber’s head office. The police scurried ahead to line up in front of Uber’s HQ to protect the bosses while ADCU strikers chanted “Uber, Uber you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side” demanding the bosses come out and face the workers.

More action is being planned as ADCU demands an end to unfair dismissals, scrapping fixed pricing and that Uber respect the Supreme Court Ruling on workers’ rights.

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St Georges Hospital gets solidarity

Rail workers from RMT and Aslef took time off the picket lines on the second day of the national rail strike to join GMB hospital cleaners and hostesses who've been staging a week-long strike at St Georges Hospital in Tooting south London.

The solidarity was extended with all strikers agreeing to a joint protest and march this Saturday 25 June, assembling 11:30 am at St Georges Hospital, Blackshaw Road SW17. Nearest Tube: Tooting Broadway.

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LSHTM: outsourced IWGB workers strike

IWGB outsourced workers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have voted to strike over pay with a 100% yes vote. The workers include cleaners, porters, security staff and post-room staff, all majority black, Asian and migrant workers.

The workers have previously won an end to outsourcing and are due to be bought in-house in August this year. Despite this bosses have refused to recognise the union or enter pay negotiations. The workers say they are being victimised and several members are currently facing disciplinary action.

You can donate to the strike fund here.

Barristers set to strike

A slightly more unusual industrial action taking place – though one caused just as much by the inflation crisis and lack of government spending – is that of criminal barristers defending people who need legal aid.

Around 2,500 criminal aid barristers have actually been taking action short of strike since May, by refusing to take on cases last-minute, but with the government refusing to review pay, which amazingly can be close to the minimum wage for some jobs, they have now voted to proceed to strike action.

The Criminal Bar Association, the trade union representing the lawyers, say that their members have been suffering more than a year of intensified work due to the backlog of legal cases that emerged during the pandemic lockdown and that without improved terms and conditions, people may be forced out of the profession.

Traffic wardens fight for job security

The latest front in the battle against unjust “fire and rehire” attacks on workers is the streets of Wiltshire, as traffic wardens represented by GMB take their second round of strikes this year.

Workers have scoffed at the council’s response to the action, which has been to tell the public “you’ll still have to pay”, despite enforcement having basically ceased entirely in the previous strike.

Traffic wardens issue an average of 60 tickets a day in the region, and the loss of ticket sales and fines could cost Wiltshire council an estimated £30,000 a day during the week of action.

B&Q warehouse workers ready to ballot

Unite workers employed by Wincanton at B&Q Warehouse and distribution centre in Burton have voted by 98% to strike in an indicative ballot with Unite strongly suggesting an industrial ballot will soon be live.

Unite says that Wincanton will not recognise the union for clerks only warehouse floor staff as bosses don’t want the clerks to be included in upcoming pay talks.  

Unite regional officer Rick Coyle said:

"Unite will not stand for our members being treated as second-class employees. In an indicative ballot of all our members at the warehouse, 98 per cent voted in favour of strike action in response at Wincanton’s divide and rule tactics. 

“We will start formal industrial action proceedings unless Wincanton recognises their warehouse clerks as part of the site's Unite bargaining group.”

Caterpillar attempts to bulldoze through pay cuts

The strike at Caterpillar’s Northern Ireland sites, at Springvale and Larne, enters its third month with the company throwing money at scabs to break the strike. The company is prepared to fork out £850 per night to house strike-breakers imported from England, rather than negotiate with the workers’ elected reps.

Caterpillar has form in this regard, having adopted similar heavy-handed anti-union tactics in the US.

The workforce overwhelmingly rejected the company’s attempt to impose a 2-year pay deal, which would mean a real-term 3% cut in wages and compulsory overtime.

Interface Europe all-out strike

30 miles from Caterpillar, over 100 Unite members at Interface Europe are set to walk out on indefinite strike at the flooring manufacturer’s Craigavon factory.

The strike is over the company’s refusal to meet the union’s pay claim for 11%, only offering less than half that (5.25%) – effectively a wage cut, as inflation reaches 11.7% this month. Pickets will be on site from 06:45 this Monday (27 June).

NHS privateer’s worker mutiny

Fifty outsourced staff across eight Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS sites have voted for strike action with 92.3% of Unison members balloted in favour.

This action comes as both the trust and employer OCS continue to refuse them full parity with NHS colleagues. While the workers have won the same hourly rate they are still denied unsocial hours enhancements and sick pay, while OCS will not agree to backdate their pay claim.

They are set to take action from 29 June - 1 July to win the rest of their demands.

Heathrow staff have had enough

GMB and Unite British Airways workers at Heathrow have voted to strike over pay. The 700 workers include check-in staff and ground handling agents. 91% of GMB members and 94% of Unite members voted yes.

Both unions say that the workers' pay was cut by 10% during the pandemic and it has not been reinstated, a familiar case of workers being made to pay for the pandemic. GMB and Unite say strike dates will be released in the coming days, which could take place during the school holidays this summer.

GMB National Officer Nadine Houghton said:

"Our members need to be reinstated the 10% they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10% bonus which other colleagues have been paid.”

Unite officer Russ Ball said:

"The problems British Airways is facing are entirely of its own making. It brutally cut jobs and pay during the pandemic even though the Government was paying them to save jobs. In the case of this dispute, they have insulted this workforce, slashing pay by 10% only to restore it to managers but not to our members.”

NASUWT teachers to ballot

Teachers union NASUWT is preparing to ballot for industrial action in November should the government fail to offer a ‘restorative’ pay rise of at least 12%.

Teaching is facing a retention crisis after 12 years of continuous attacks on pay and conditions that have seen real wages fall by 20% and which NASUWT is preparing to challenge.

On the buses

Arriva Yorkshire has discovered a (selective) taste for democracy! They are whinging to the local press that the Unite union, which represents the 650 striking bus workers at the company, won’t ballot its members on the company’s “new, improved” offer.

The strikers’ view is clear:

“We voted 96% to strike for an inflation-plus pay rise. Until the company comes up with an offer that meets that, there is no point in wasting our time balloting. If the company is so interested in democracy, they should listen to the 96%.”

The workers have been out on indefinite strike since June 6, and intend to stay out till the company sees sense.

They could soon be joined by their fellow union members at Arriva NW, where 1,800 members of Unite are currently balloting for strike action over the company’s “piss poor” offer of 3% with no strings, or 6% with cuts to sick pay and Saturday rates.

This comes on top of the strikes planned for next week by 370 bus drivers at the Gilmoss garage of Stagecoach’s Merseyside subsidiary Ribble Motor Services.

RMT strike

Read Counterfire’s reports from day one on the picket lines here and day two here.

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