Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Criminal barristers who have been on indefinite strike since September have ended their strike after winning a 15% pay rise. After their initial rounds of strike action, the government agreed to the pay rise but only on new cases which would have left struggling barristers out of pocket for working on the massive backlog in the courts.
The indefinite action ground the flailing criminal justice system to a halt and forced the Tories to concede and agree to £7m in funding which will apply to the "vast majority of cases currently in the crown court". Criminal Bar Association members voted to accept the offer but have made clear that this pay rise is a first step and that they are prepared to take action again.
The CBA's chair, Kirsty Brimelow KC said:
“The criminal justice system remains chronically underfunded. The onus is on government to properly fund it. Barristers’ acceptance of this deal is a first step in working with government for long-term reform. If the deal falls short in implementation, the CBA will ballot its members again on taking action.”
The barristers have shown that decisive and escalating action is the key to winning.
Ambulance workers to ballot for strike
Ambulance workers and paramedics in London, Yorkshire, North East, West and East Midlands, North West and East of England are preparing to ballot for strike action in response to the government's imposed 4% pay award. Around 7,300 members of GMB voted decisively by 86-95% in favour of striking in consultative ballots.
These workers who were clapped as heroes for putting their lives on the line during the pandemic have continually received slaps in the face from the Tories. Yet another real-terms pay cut goes hand in hand with the underfunding of the NHS and health services that have meant ambulance workers and paramedics are massively overworked with decreasing resources.
We've all seen the headlines of patients having to wait more than 24 hours for an ambulance or waiting more than 15 hours in an ambulance in hospital car parks. The service is at breaking point. One London Ambulance Service paramedic told Counterfire last year that the last lunch break he took was five months ago. Together with NHS workers across unions balloting to strike, these brave workers taking action are the only hope we have of saving our health service and they deserve all of our support.
NIHE strike extended after galling pay offer
Unite members at the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) have extended their strike by four weeks after management failed to improve a “galling” pay offer. So far, they have been offered just 1.75% but according to media reports in Northern Ireland, private companies with outsourcing contracts performing the same work have seen an increase of 20-30% in fees. Which has left the union asking how can NIHE find this money for private companies but not for its own staff?
General Secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham:
“Our housing workers provide vital maintenance and improvement services to social housing tenants. This galling 1.75% offer means they are left with no alternative but to extend their strike action for a pay increase.
“The absence of any movement to address our members’ pay claim and end this dispute from management is a truly shocking failure. Unite is full square behind these workers in their fight for a decent pay increase.”
All-out strike threat wins big for Arriva London bus drivers
Bus drivers in North London working for Arriva have won an 11% pay rise and 10% back pay from April just before they were due to begin indefinite strike action. The strike was due to begin on 4 October but was suspended before it started after Unite members voted to accept the new pay offer, once again showing the strength of hitting the employers hard and fast.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:
“This is a very strong result and establishes what can be achieved when union members stand together in unity.”
52 days of strike on West Midlands Metro incoming
Workers on West Midlands Metro are to take strike action for 52 days, Unite the union has announced. 176 workers on the service had previously voted for strike action on a massive 84% turnout following a poor pay offer. Pay for tram drivers and customer representatives on this service are currently among the lowest rates for this kind of role in the UK. The strike action will be discontinuous, starting on 15 October and ending on 5 January.
Unite regional officer Sulinder Singh said:
“Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption and delays for metro passengers across Birmingham and the Black Country, but this dispute is entirely of the company’s own making.
“Midland Metro has had every opportunity to come forward with a pay offer which tackled low pay and met our members’ expectations, but it has chosen not to do so.”
Strike action will take place on 15, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 29 and 31 October, 1-5, 8, 10, 12; 14-20, 22, 24, 26 and 28-30 November; 1-4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 18 and 22-31 December; and 1, 2 and 5 January.
Felixstowe strike anchors down port profits
The second 8-day strike by 1,900 Felixstowe dockers ended at 7am on Wednesday 5 October, with no settlement in sight as yet. The CEO, Clement Chen was in Hong Kong this week, discussing future plans with the port’s owners (or ‘receiving orders’ depending on who you talk to). The company’s line has been that the strike was crumbling as more dockers drifted back to work.
The reality is slightly different. The number of vessels held at anchor increased dramatically in the course of the first strike (the load capacity of vessels at anchor rose from around 27-28,000 TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalents – the standard unit for shipping containers) to over 60,000 TEUs by the end of September. More significantly, the turnaround time for discharging and loading a vessel at the port rose from between 1-2 days before the strike, to 8 days during the (8-day) strike.
The port incurs heavy penalties for holding over a ship, and the congestion caused by the first strike has not yet been cleared, so the cost to the company has been considerable. When it comes to the strike crumbling, we are told that the port achieved ‘around 500 container movements on Monday and Tuesday’. That is the number of containers that would be expected to exit the port in an hour at peak periods in normal times.
The dockers are upbeat, and the shop stewards intend to consult the membership on the way forward, when they see what the company comes up with next. As one rep put it:
“The port needs to remember, you can’t sell Xmas crackers in February, and without us, they won’t get unloaded in December.”
University support staff have had enough
Unison members working in admin, facilities, security and catering at twenty universities around the country began striking over pay last week. The employers at these institutions offered staff just a 3% increase in pay, prompting Unison workforces to take action to demand inflation-matching pay.
Picket lines were held on campuses over the last week, with some continuing this week. The strikers in Manchester Metropolitan and Liverpool Hope Universities attracted positively local press, and Wavertree MP Paula Barker came to the LHU picket to show support.
Railroading the Tories
On the railway, it has been a full house of industrial action. More than 50,000 workers took action on 1 October and were out again last week. The RMT, Aslef and TSSA unions were joined by Unite the Union members in rail control rooms on the 1st, meaning that every single transport union is united in the action. Picket lines were lively and well-attended up and down the country once again, and the dispute is barely letting up, with further train drivers’ action during the week and further action by other grades taking place by the end of last week.
Rail workers are proving that they can bring the system to a standstill consistently, forcing the government to mostly give up claiming that they will impose significant changes to job terms and conditions. Real gains on pay remain to be achieved, and with Tory plans for the future of the railway currently in tatters, the dispute continues.
Welsh NHS workers vote to strike
Unite workers in NHS Wales have voted 70% in favour of action against an imposed pay deal. The dispute is a direct confrontation with Wales’ Labour administration and the Unite Wales health convenor said:
“Much of the blame can be apportioned to the Conservative Government in Westminster, however Wales is a devolved nation. The Welsh Government has a key role to play in finding a solution that will hopefully avert an NHS strike”
An injury to one is an injury to all: All out in Barnet
Barnet local government workers have made history by declaring all-out continuous strike action of local government municipal repairs workers in defence of one of their own members. The worker had suffered injury in his job but was not being paid. This prompted the local Unison branch to successfully bring action against the now-Labour council’s “Barnet Homes” department last week.
This is the first time Unison members have taken continuous strike action in its three-decade history. Branch secretary John Burgess said:
“I am deeply humbled by the act of solidarity from all of the members of the National IAC. Our dispute is very simple it’s about solidarity for a work colleague who was injured at work. Members of IAC understood why we have asked for continuous action and I want to thank them on behalf of our members and reps for their support. Our campaign is already capturing widespread support from across the Labour movement. Everyone who reads about this dispute is equally shocked and appalled that an employer would seek to defend the indefensible. Our members are ready for this strike. The employer still has time to resolve this dispute the means to end it has been provided by Barnet Unison it is all down to them now.”
On the site:
The resistance is building: protesters march against London bus cuts: Peter Bird reports on a Unite-organised march in south London demanding a reversal to Tory plans to cut London buses and bus routes
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