Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
The CWU has announced that over 115,000 postal workers will strike for four days over a two week period in their fight for a pay sire above the paltry 2% on offer from Royal Mail.
CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said:
“There can be no doubt that postal workers are completely united in their determination to secure the dignified, proper pay rise they deserve.
“We can’t keep on living in a country where bosses rake in billions in profit while their employees are forced to use food banks.
“When Royal Mail bosses are raking in £758 million in profit and shareholders pocketing in excess of £400 million, our members won’t accept pleads of poverty from the company.”
97.6% voted yes on a 77% turnout and the CWU points out that this will be the biggest mandate for strike action since the implementation of the 2016 Trade Union Act. The posties will be striking on Friday 26 August, Wednesday 31 August, Thursday 8 September and Friday 9 September.
Post Office workers - Crown Office and Supply Chain and Admin workers - in a seperate dispute will strike in coordination with Royal Mail workers on Friday 26 August, and continue with separate strikes on 27 and 30 August. News from the Frontline will keep you posted on where picket lines will be.
Co-op Funeralcare: an early grave for low pay
Govan-based coffin makers have voted for strike action in an ongoing dispute over pay. This is Co-op’s only coffin production site and the strike will have national impact.
The Unite members voted for striking with a 96% ballot on an 86% turnout. The first phase of action will be a week commencing Monday 22 August. The workers are dismissing a 3% offer.
Unite’s Willie Thomson says:
“Workers at Coop Funeral Care are rightly furious. Our attempts to work constructively towards a resolution have been contemptuously dismissed with the Coop displaying an unacceptable ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.
“Our members, recognised as essential workers, deserve better from an employer who promotes social goals and giving back to communities. In the worst cost of living crisis in decades our members deserve better.”
From midwives to coffin makers: workers everywhere are fighting back.
A new low on West Coast Mainline: literally blaming made-up strikes
Avanti, the failing privateer on West Coat Mainline, has resorted to claiming that its failure to deliver a full timetable is the fault of the unions. Like much of the rest of the network, a dispute is ongoing, but Avanti is resorting to truly pathetic tactics by claiming that the enormous cuts to its timetable that it will be making this month on a permanent basis are caused by a 24-hour action on Monday.
The company’s lies, which are of course being repeated by Tory transport minister Grant Shapps, are that Aslef has caused this permanent change to the timetable through “unofficial action”. You can read Aslef’s response here.
Many of the train operating companies are cutting services at the moment, as a direct result of government pressure to reduce costs despite the serious impact that this has on the service.
Avanti is the first company to make these cuts using a strike as a direct excuse. The unions have publicly condemned this fabrication and said that it shows what a terrible idea cutting jobs on the service actually is. Make sure to get to a picket line on Saturday to support the drivers.
Dock strike moves closer
2,000 dockers at Britain’s biggest container port seemed one step closer to walking off the job this week after talks with the port employers collapsed at ACAS on Tuesday.
The company is refusing to improve on its 7% offer, and the union is not prepared to accept what is, with inflation at 11.8%, effectively a pay cut.
The company has found enough spare cash to offer a £500 one-off bonus – not hard to find when its 2020 profits were in excess of £60 million! – but insist they cannot incorporate that into pay.
It is increasingly likely that the strike action due to start on 21 August will now go ahead and with the port handling 40% of the UK’s container traffic, the disruption to the economy’s supply chain and logistics is expected to be significant. The General Secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham is expected to visit the picket line to show the union’s support.
Arriva Kent bus drivers ballot to strike
The ballot of 800 bus workers employed by Arriva Kent closes this week, with the reps confident that the members will reject the 7.4% on offer from the company.
The strike ballot covers the Arriva garages at Maidstone, Medway, Gravesend and Tunbridge Wells, and strike action could follow as early as the beginning of September.
The Unite reps are clear that the company can afford it;
“We have seen what our colleagues in other regions have won, and don’t see why we should accept less. The company has made £56m profit off our backs in the last 10 years, and enough is enough.”
Medical staff fight for fair pay at sea
Mere weeks after unofficial actions on BP oil rigs, Unite has announced that some of its members on Shell rigs are being balloted.
The medical staff on the offshore facilities, who are employed by a subcontractor called United Healthcare Global Medical, have voted to reject a pay offer of 3.5%.
At a time when Shell is making obscene profits like all the fossil fuels profits, there is absolutely no reason why workers in the sector should not be demanding pay rises at the level of inflation.
Another picket line arrest
On Tuesday at the GMB Amey refuse workers' picket line in Surrey, GMB organiser Helen O’Connor was arrested on the picket line and then de-arrested. This follows two previous arrests of GMB official Gary Palmer.
Helen O’Connor said:
“It is of note that these Amey picket lines are situated where Tory Ministers Dominic Raab and Micheal Gove live. These ministers are well cushioned from the cost of living crisis but still expect our members to empty their bins for poverty wages.
“The police have had a regular presence throughout the course of the strike even though members advised me there are pockets of high crime in the locality. There is a lot of work for the police to be getting on with but instead, they are using the law and their powers of arrest to intimidate striking workers and their representatives.
“I was arrested for ‘blocking a highway’ even though I explained that I was peacefully supporting workers fighting for their rights. I was swiftly de-arrested when all of the bin trucks got out of the depot.
“Our members remain solid and determined to win this dispute which will end when Amey do the right thing and table an offer that is acceptable to them.”
AQA fail: exam board workers to strike on results days
180 Unison AQA exam board workers have announced strike dates for their fourth round of strike action over pay on the day students receive their GCSE and A-level results. The workers include examiners and customer service staff.
The strike will run from Wednesday 17 – Sunday 21 August and Wednesday 24 – Sunday 28 August and will affect students attempting to contact the exam board on results day.
The workers have been offered a 3% pay rise following a 0.6% pay ‘increase’ last year. Unison says bosses are threatening workers with inferior contracts if they don’t accept the pay offer.
One of the AQA strikers said:
“After the first weekend of strike action, AQA staff were flooded with messages of support, many from people with children awaiting their grades. They don’t mind waiting longer for the results if it means the people working so hard to deliver them get paid fairly. AQA colleagues are coming together to take a stand against what’s happening.
“It was clear from the picket line turnout that there’s growing support, and we’re determined to win a fair resolution.”
Edinburgh: Labour council resorts to Tory tactics
A joint strike by Unite and GMB bin workers has been called for the second half of August for a decent pay rise.
In a shocking move, the Labour council of the city has announced that rather than make the staff an improved offer, they are threatening to use the Tory government’s new strike-breaking legislation to utilise agency staff for replacing the union members.
Other Labour councils have attacked striking bin workers, notably in Coventry where Unite just scored a huge win, but this is a significant escalation, not least because Scottish Labour has previously condemned the National party government for proposing to use substitute workers in a similar way.
The briefs are escalating: all out in September?
Barristers’ showdown with government over Legal Aid payments show no sign of letting up.
The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has announced a new ballot of members to consider full-on walkouts across crown courts in England and Wales commencing early September. Barristers are currently striking intermittently in demand of a 25% pay increase.
The CBA says:
“We anticipate a new prime minister and cabinet will be in place by 5 September. Given the expectation that the ongoing strike action will inevitably lead to the progressive incapacitation of court business, there is no doubt that resolving this dispute will be the critical priority of any incoming justice secretary.”
More action like this and there will be a new government in place. And not a moment too soon says News from the Frontline.
A sweet deal in the chocolate factory
Workers at Barry Callabaut chocolate factory in Banbury, Oxfordshire have secured a 10% pay rise following amicable negotiations between the employer and Unite.
The one-year deal applies to around 200 staff at the site which supplies major companies, making a significant boost to their salaries, bonuses and pensions.
Amazon’s wildcat woes deepen
Amazon warehouse wildcat strikes that started on 4 August are continuing and have spread. There have been sit-ins, protests, walk-outs and slow-downs in Coventry, Bristol, Tilbury, Dartford, Belvedere, Hemel Hampstead and Chesterfield.
The workers have been offered 35p an hour raise and are demanding £2 per hour, Amazon is saying that they will not increase pay. However it is clear the workers have been causing significant disruption and unions say that managers are spending a great deal of time pulling groups of workers one at a time from the warehouse floor to talk to them about the dispute.
The unions say the protests are set to continue. A lively protest was held in London in support of the workers on Wednesday outside the Amazon Headquarters, read the full report here. One of the Zmazon workers told Notes from Below:
"Our struggle is far from over. We have more collective action planned for the following days, as we keep fighting for a proper pay rise."
RCN’s historic strike ballot
The RCN is encouraging its members to vote for strike action for the first time in its history.
Viewing the current staffing crisis as a greater risk to patient and staff safety than strike action, the nurses union will open the ballot on 15 September.
It has been called in response to governmental disdain for NHS staff as rather than offering an above-inflation pay rise to combat years of pay stagnation and tackle the recruitment and retention crisis plaguing the health service, a rise of £1,400 for all pay bands has been imposed.
The BMA has announced it will ballot junior doctors nationally in October if the incoming Tory government doesn't improve their pay offer, and Unison Scotland has today announced it will ballot its 50,000 NHS members in October.
RMT members reject offer by ScotRail
RMT members last week rejected ScotRail’s latest pay offer, continuing in their efforts to reach a better deal. 60% of the union membership rejected the proposal in a referendum last Friday.
Mick Lynch, RMT general secretary, commented:
“Our members have spoken and ScotRail will have to come up with a better deal.”
“If no improved offer is forthcoming then we will ballot our ScotRail members for strike action.”
This would come on top of the rail strikes already planned for Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August. While those do not involve ScotRail Staff, the walkout by Network Rail Scotland will impact ScotRail services.
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