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Bristol CWU Royal Mail picket line

Bristol CWU Royal Mail picket line. Photo: Susan Newman

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

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The CWU have announced 19 more days of strike action in response to Royal Mail’s latest attempt to weaken the union. Following last week’s proposals to bribe non-operational managers to be scab labour in delivery offices, bosses have now served notice on several national agreements.

By signalling their intention to withdraw from these major national agreements, it is clear that Royal Mail are moving to sideline the union so they can turn the company into a gig-economy employer.

The 19 days of action which will include Black Friday and Cyber Monday, will see workers in each function of Royal Mail taking industrial action.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said:

“This is a significant announcement, but it is one which matches the level of anger our members feel at the way Royal Mail Group has treated them. Postal workers across the UK now face the fight of their lives to save their jobs and the service they provide to every household and business in the UK.

“If Royal Mail Group are allowed to get away with this, then it sends a green light to every rogue big business in the UK. We will not stand by and see the Royal Mail Group become the next P&O”

Industrial relations are now at an all-time low across Royal Mail Group with cleaners, maintenance engineers and related admin workers also voting for strike action this week with a massive 93.5% yes vote on a 66.7% turnout. This means that all workers across Royal Mail, except mechanics, now have a live mandate for strike action. Even Royal Mail managers, who are represented by Unite the union, still have a mandate for strike action under the 2016 Trade Union Act.

This is big play from the CWU. Let’s make sure we deliver the solidarity they deserve. 

Kick-starting the autumn of anger

This Saturday 1 October, almost 200,000 workers will be on strike. CWU postal workers, RMT, Aslef and TSSA rail workers will be out along with Liverpool and Felixstowe dockers.

1 October also marks energy prices rising with strike rallies and protests against the cost of living have been called across the country.

Tory disarray is one thing, our side channelling the nation’s fury is another. Read Unjum Mirza’s analysis on the strikes here.

More disputes out outside the courts

The barristers are not the only workers taking action in the legal system.

Following action by privatised security at HM Courts and Tribunals Service and a brief pause for the royal funeral, the PCS has announced another strike ballot. Clerical staff in ten courts have returned a near-unanimous vote for full industrial action.

The government will under be incredible pressure from the situation in the court system. So much for the party of law and order.

Liverpool dockers: international solidarity kicks in

The 500 Liverpool dockers who have been on strike over the last fortnight will be resuming their strike action next month, and will be joined by nearly 100 control room staff who have voted to join the strike, from 11-17 October. The port’s dock masters, shift managers and vessel traffic officers are currently balloting as well, which would mean the port “will literally become inoperable”.

The dockers have been buoyed by the refusal of Southampton dockers to work diverted vessels, and messages of support have been coming in from dockers around the world.

The picket line has seen delegations from Southampton, but also representatives of Latin American dockers as well as messages of support and strike fund donations from US dockers' unions.

Civil servants: they’ve had enough 

PCS members across 214 government departments are being balloted for strike action over pay, pensions, jobs and redundancy terms. The ballot of 150,000 members, which is disaggregated, opened on 26 September and closes on 7 November with the results expected to be announced on 10 November.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“The government has ignored our demands for a fair pay rise, so we have no choice other than to launch what is the most significant ballot for strike action in our history. 

“Our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis, with many of them having to claim the benefits they administer themselves, some skipping meals because they can't afford to buy food, and others having to use foodbanks.  

“We’re fighting for our members, to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and I’m confident we’ll force the government to retreat on this and give them the pay and working conditions these pandemic heroes deserve.”

Battle of the buses continues: GMB in Sunderland

Stagecoach bus drivers in Sunderland are to strike on 11 -15 October after rejecting a 4% pay offer. GMB members voted 93% in favour on a 83% turnout, meaning around 200 drivers will strike over those days.

GMB official Stuart Gilhespy said:

“Sunderland’s bus drivers have voted for strike action. This was the last thing anybody wanted, but Stagecoach left them with no choice. They are desperately struggling with this cost of living crisis and Stagecoach bosses are trying to force them to take a huge pay cut. Sunderland will grind to a halt and the blame lies entirely with Stagecoach.”

Scottish unis: Unite to ballot

Unite the Union has launched a ballot for industrial action across 11 Scottish Universities over a pay offer of only 3.1%. The dispute with the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) will see 2,000 members, who work as cleaners, janitors, estates staff and technicians, vote on industrial action from 27 September to 21 October.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary said:

“The pay offer on the table from the UCEA is completely unacceptable at a time when inflation is 12.3%. 

“The pay inequalities across Scottish universities are outrageous in a sector which is totally dependent on public money. 

“No university principal is facing a cost of living crisis but our members certainly are and this offer which represents a massive pay cut can only make that worse. They will have our full support in this fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

Beds, Bucks and Herts on the buses: high profile picketing gets results

Around 100 Unite members in the northern Home Counties have voted to accept offers of between 10.4% and 11% across the region.

A whole raft of strikes across Luton, Aylesbury, High Wycombe, Milton Keynes, Ware, Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead will now no longer go ahead.

Unite regional officer Jeff Hodge said:

“This deal is another example of why workers looking to improve their wages and terms and conditions should join Unite and organise their colleagues to join too.”

Unite are on a roll here. Let’s hope their success carries on into Kent.

Windfarm workers have the power

Walney Wind Farm, off the coast of Cumbria, is the second largest offshore wind plant in the world and has been a tempestuous workplace in 2022. The RMT has already been in dispute with the employer, Danish power giant Orsted, over health and safety concerns earlier in the year.

Despite huge profits, Orsted has offered a 3.5% pay “rise” to staff, prompting one round of strikes already last week with another stoppage on Friday. The RMT reports that the company is still not negotiating, meaning the dispute is likely to continue for some time.

CWU action: emergency workers join in

999 handlers are to join the CWU strikes next month across the BT network. Around 400 emergency call handlers are set to take industrial action on 6, 10, 20 and 24 October over a below-inflation pay offer along with engineers and call centre staff.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said,

"999 operators are using foodbanks, they're worried about the bills and are being stretched to the limit. It's no surprise that the goodwill of workers has run dry, and that services will now be hampered."

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Photo: Unjum Mirza

New Covent Garden security staff still fighting for a living wage

Security guards at London’s New Covent Garden market staged an initial 3 day strike September 25-27 over poverty wages. Despite providing health and safety as well as first aid cover in addition to security services they are currently paid an hourly rate of £9.69.

The London Living Wage stands at £11.05, leaving these workers critically underpaid. Employer OCS Group UK Ltd has refused to negotiate with the guards and Unite despite making healthy profits, leaving the door open to further industrial action.

Grundfos: Pumping profits and poor pay

Around 160 workers at pump manufacturer Grundfos’ Sunderland site are set to take escalating strike action in the run-up to Xmas after rejecting a 3.6% pay offer against the advice of Unite.

They are taking 1-day action on 28 September and 4 October, followed by 2-day stoppages in the following weeks and potentially increasing to full 5-day actions if the company does not improve the offer. Grundfos has claimed that “challenging trading conditions” have left them unable to offer a larger increase at this time.

A Denmark-based firm, Grundfos is the largest pump manufacturer in the world. Last August they announced the strongest half-year results in their history. The workers are right to go in hard.

Port of Felixstowe: grassroots militancy from scratch

1,900 dockers at Felixstowe also started their second wave of strike action this week, in the face of a concerted campaign of intimidation by management. Although there are only about 80 scabs working, the company is leaning on supervisory staff to return to their original roles, to at least present the semblance of a working port, for propaganda purposes.

The picket line was visited on Thursday by Peter Kavanagh, the Regional Secretary of the dockers’ union, Unite. He pledged the “unwavering support” of the union, for as long as the dockers required it. This was a positive morale-booster for the pickets, who are smarting from the knowledge that Felixstowe dockers unloaded a vessel diverted from strike-bound Liverpool.

Although the case for solidarity was put to the dockers, port management openly threatened that refusal to work could lead to dismissal. The union could not offer support without breaking the Tories’ anti-union laws, and the fear factor won.

As the rep who spoke to News from the Frontline during the last strike repeated:

“We are not Liverpool. We do not have their tradition of militancy or solidarity. We are building a spirit of collectivity here from the bottom up, and it takes time. The worst outcome here would be a tit-for-tat response among the different ports. The only winners there would be the port employers.”

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Photo: @UniteEconomy / Twitter

GXO dray strike ballot: last orders for the bosses

Over 1,000 members of Unite working for GXO on beer and drinks delivery contracts are being balloted on strike action over the company’s refusal to offer more than 5% in the current wage round.

The ballot, which covers all GXO drinks logistics sites from Aberdeen to Anglesey, could mean a dry Xmas and a dry World Cup, if the company does not improve its offer. The ballot ends on 6 October, and Unite is confident of a high turn-out and an overwhelming vote for action.

UCL security staff: totally solid

IWGB security workers at University College London (UCL) have voted to strike with a massive 100% yes vote. The workers are fighting for an end to outsourcing, for union recognition and decent and dignified pay. Strike dates are to be announced shortly and you can donate to the strike fund here.  

Action against outsourcing: University of the Arts London vs GMB

GMB UAL High Holborn outsourced cleaners working for OCS have been on strike from Monday to Friday this week over understaffing. Ten years ago there were 14 cleaners employed at this site, an 11-storey building, now there are just 6 workers, with 4 working in the morning and just one working at a time for the rest of the day and evening.

This understaffing has caused workload to triple, which the workers say is dangerous and excessive. The cleaners are demanding five more staff be employed. The picket lines have been lively and well supported with CWU postal workers joining in solidarity. The dispute is ongoing, GMB says the strike will continue until they have won. You can donate to the strike fund here.

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Photo: Unjum Mirza

On the site:

Further Education fights back: As the union fightback rises nationally, ten days of strike action in Further Education marks a significant return to industrial action in the sector, argues Tom Whittaker

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