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Heathrow Terminal 5

Heathrow Terminal 5. Photo: eGuide Travel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

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

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Up to 70 airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Emirates, Delta, JAL and KLM, could find themselves grounded as Heathrow bosses refuse to budge from the wage freeze they have imposed on their workforce.

The workers, members of the Unite union, have not had a pay rise in three years, so it is not surprising they returned a 93% vote for strike action on a 92% turnout. They say they have suffered a 15% drop in income as a result, but have not seen that pain shared by the directors.

The company is a joint venture operation, whose partners include BP, Total Energie, Q8 and Valero, so it is not as if they can’t afford to pay up.

The chaos caused by the employers’ rush to cash in on what they (wrongly) thought was a demoralised workforce, as a result of the effect of the pandemic on the aviation industry, is reflected in the fact that Heathrow has had to cancel 1,600 flights over the summer, due to a lack of staff caused by the mass sackings they inflicted during lockdown.

They have ended up in the ridiculous position of asking their customers (the airlines) to limit the number of tickets they sell over the summer because of their self-inflicted lack of capacity.

The workforce, meanwhile, sees the chance to get some of their own back. Check-in staff are balloting in the wake of significant pay victories in the industry.

17% at Cadburys: workers get the golden ticket  

Unite have secured a pay rise of more than 17% over the next two years for over a thousand workers at Bournville in Birmingham, Chirk in Wales and Marlebrook in Hereford. 

The staff will also receive a 25% rise in holiday pay. 

Unite’s food and drink officer Joe Clarke says:

“Unite negotiated this deal over three months with Cadbury and it sets the standard for the rest of the food manufacturing sector, which is performing very strongly.” 

This should set the standard for workers everywhere; private sector and public sector. An economy with 177 billionaires can afford 17% for all workers. 17% needs to be our new benchmark.

UCU continues to make FE progress

UCU members at two London further education colleges have won impressive pay deals on the back of determined organising and industrial action. At Capital City College Group staff have accepted a pay rise of 9% for those earning under £30k, and 6% for those earning between £30k and £45k. This deal follows ten days of strikes last autumn and the threat of a repeat wave next term.

At Waltham Forest College, the local UCU branch successfully pushed for a 6% rise plus a non-consolidated payment of £750. These are heartening developments at a time when the union has provided further evidence of how Tory economic policy is punishing workers in the sector. Four in five report struggling to pay bills and eight in ten say the crisis is impacting on their mental health. These two branches have proved union activism can overturn the Association of Colleges’ derisory 2.5% offer.

Bexley Bin Workers take on a Second Privateer

Unite bin workers in Bexley began striking this week, in a dispute about both pay and terms and conditions. This will be the first time they have struck against the new private company, Countrystyle after they effectively saw off the previous contractor. Serco left the London borough last year after heavily losing a dispute to the same workers.

The workforce voted to reject a sub-inflationary pay rise initially and the company responded by attempting to make the work time restrictions on them more severe, such that they could be effectively required to spend additional hours in the depot even if work was completed in good time.

There is high confidence among the staff, despite this petty response, and the strike is thought likely to be solid.

Unite in NI: Derry City & Strabane district council kick off four weeks of strike action 

Monday 18 July sees the start of a third period of sustained strike action by Unite members at Derry City & Strabane District Council in rejection of a risible pay offer from the bosses. 

Local Unite officer Gareth Scott says:

“This strike will paralyse the council. Unite has particular concentrations among waste workers who continued to work throughout the lockdown – they expect basic respect and that means a proper consolidated improvement.

"We have a meeting this Friday (15 July) with council management. We would hope to find a resolution there but we are not optimistic about it.

"The workers want a 10pc increase but that is up for negotiation and the council haven't come forward with an offer. You will see a pattern of escalation. We would expect that the escalation will continue but a decision hasn't been made on that.” 

Northern Ireland has been a hotspot for the industrial uptick for some time now. “A pattern of escalation” certainly fits the mood of the summer.

Crown Post Office strikes

CWU members working for the post office ramped up their dispute with management this week by taking more strike action. Members at Crown Post Office walked out for 24 hours on Monday 11 July and post office supply chain staff staged another 24-hour strike on Thursday 14 July.

This dispute has been running since March when 97.3% voted for industrial action over pay, taking their first strike action on 3 May.

Even in the midst of rising inflation and household energy bills expected to reach £3,300 this winter bosses at the post office have offered their staff just a ‘one-off’ £500 lump sum this year and a 3% pay rise in 2023.

With the company in healthy profits, they can easily afford to offer staff the pay rise they deserve but as CWU members know you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate and with a mandate of 97.3% and solid support for strike action, they’re negotiating from a position of strength!

Scotland’s NHS workers seek 10%

35,000 NHS workers in Scotland are taking part in a consultative Unison ballot to determine whether to reject a 5% pay offer and strike for 10%.

Unison maintains that an improved offer is vital to address high staff turnover and shortages as inflation continues to rise. Despite the Scottish government insisting that 5% is more than generous, ASLEF has secured a deal worth up to 10% for Scotrail workers which establishes a precedent for higher pay.

Strike threat drives up pay 

School bus drivers employed by HATS for the London Borough of Southwark have suspended their upcoming strike action after accepting a 10% pay rise.

Following eight years without a pay rise, the workers successfully balloted to strike through GMB union and were prepared to walk out. Considering this is under the current rate of inflation of just the last year, let alone the accrued real-terms deterioration of their pay over 8 years, 10% is hardly enough, but it does show the power of workers organising collectively.

Let’s hope the new confidence after this win will lead to workers in Southwark and elsewhere to push for more. 

Tram Drivers deliver another solid 48 hour strike

Aslef members on the Croydon Tramlink walked out on another solid 48 hours strike this week following two days of action at the end of June during the Wimbledon games. 

Workers have received an insulting 3%, a real-terms pay cut at Tramlink operated by Tram Operations Ltd, a FirstGroup company as inflation has soared to 11.7% RPI and is projected to increase further still. As the cost of living bites, ninety-nine per cent of members voted in favour of the strike. 

An Aslef organiser said:

"There was great support for our action today with a constant stream of passing vehicles hooting and waving. Everyone knows that rising bills means wages have to be increased. It is time that TfL told Tram Operations Ltd who operate the trams on their behalf, to stop playing games and make a fair offer."


UCU members under attack

UCU Queen Mary University workers in East London who have taken strike action both locally and nationally this year have been threatened with 100% pay deductions for action short of strike and not rescheduling lectures missed due to strike action.

QMU UCU says management has begun submitting names of those involved in the action to HR who are outrageously docking either 21 or 42 days' pay from staff. You can donate to their hardship fund here

Brighton bar strike leads the way for hospitality workers

UVW Saint James Tavern workers in Brighton who were on strike fighting for improved terms and conditions for two days last month have given notice for 20 days of strike action in July and August.

UVW says that during the first two days of strike action management illegally sacked and suspended workers and workers were physically assaulted. The strike dates are; 23-25 July, 4-8 August, 12-15 August, 19-22 August and 26-29 August 

Loopholes and two-tiers: Falmouth UCU begins balloting 

UCU has begun balloting higher education workers at Falmouth University to stop the establishment of a two-tier workforce. University management has forced new employees onto employment contracts through a private subsidiary in order to bypass the Teacher’s Pension Scheme and instead place them on an inferior scheme which doesn’t recognise national bargaining agreements with the UCU. 

This is a sinister attempt to worsen the terms and conditions of staff and to undermine the union which is not only outrageous for staff at Falmouth but if unchallenged could be replicated by other universities.

Falmouth UCU branch members who attended a meeting last month voted by 98% to ballot for industrial action and if the vote is successful, they will prepare to strike in the new academic term.

TUC heatwave campaign

The TUC has launched a campaign to introduce a legal maximum working temperature in order to protect the health of workers. While there is currently a requirement for employers to take ‘reasonable’ steps to ensure tolerable working conditions, this is not codified and is therefore unenforceable.

This campaign aims to introduce an absolute indoor maximum temperature of 27-30 degrees Celsius, with employers required to take action to lower temperatures once the mercury reaches 24 degrees while also ensuring access to water and shade for outdoor workers.

Is it too hot to work? | TUC

From the website:

'The working class is back': Solidarity and strength at the Durham Miners Gala: Mark Porciani reports on a day of epic working class solidarity and mobilisation at the Durham Miners' Gala.

Why barristers are striking and why you should support them - video: Counterfire's Shabbir Lakha speaks to Kerry Hudson, a criminal defence solicitor and former president of the LCSA, on the criminal barristers' picket line about the crisis in the criminal justice system and why barristers and solicitors are taking action.

Unison higher education workers ballot to join the battle: Nathan Street reports on Unison's ballot of higher education workers at 94 universities, the possibility of coordination with other unions and the solidarity needed to win.

University staff set for more action in the autumn to fight for jobs and decent pay: Coordinated national action is by far the most effective way to curb this assault from Tory ideologues and university managements, write Counterfire UCU members.

The next round of rail strikes: time to tear the Tories apart: Unjum Mirza reports on the next round of railway strike dates and the need for co-ordination and escalation to beat back the Tories.

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