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

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86% of teachers in the NEU have voted to strike for a decent pay rise in a consultative ballot. In a separate ballot 78% of NEU support staff voted yes to strike. The turnout threshold was smashed with a massive 62%. The NEU has given the government a day to respond to their letter calling on them to resolve the dispute.

The union is asking members to keep an eye on their emails and says dates for a formal industrial strike ballot and potential strike dates will be announced within the next week.

Royal Mail's outrageous redundancies threat won't stop the strikers

Royal Mail announced on Friday that it was planning to cut 10,000 jobs, up to 5,000 by March and a further 5,000 by August, as a result of financial losses which it blamed on the strikes. The company's CEO has threatened that this is a minimum and if the strikes continue more redundancies would be announced.

This is a clear attempt to scare the workers into stopping their action and accepting the pay cut and scrapping of their terms and conditions. The CWU's Dave Ward said this was part of the company's plans to "introduce a wholesale levelling-down of terms, pay and conditions of postal workers and turn Royal Mail into a gig economy-style parcel courier", and vowed, “We’re not going to give in on this. There’s too much at stake.”

Jeremy Corbyn rightly responded on Twitter, "Did the strikes force you to pay out £400m to shareholders last year?"

The only solution to stopping Royal Mail bosses ripping off their entire workforce en masse is for the strikes to be escalated. The CWU have 19 days of further strikes already in the diary, but it's beyond time to move past one-day strikes and hit the employers hard and fast. Donate to the CWU strike fund via bank transfer at CWU General Fund, Unity Bank, Sort Code: 60-83-01, Account Number: 33019822

Sounding the alarm: FBU respond to real-terms pay cut

The Fire Brigades Union is to hold a consultative ballot over a new pay offer from the employer. Fire bosses have increased their offer of a 2% pay award to one of 5%. Firefighters and control staff have had years of pay stagnation and seen massive cuts to services, therefore the union is recommending that members reject the offer which is well below inflation.

In anticipation of a rejection of the pay deal and a ballot for industrial action, fire bosses are looking to bring in scab workers. A private sector outsourcing firm, Securitas, has posted job advertisements for contingency firefighters for several fire authorities across the country.

The scab contingency firefighters would be used to try and break any potential strike and are being offered as little as four days training at some stations. And it seems that Fire Authorities are happy to pay unqualified scabs a lot more than FBU members as the advertised rate for scabs is £24 an hour, nearly double most full-time firefighters.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said:

“The way to provide a decent and safe fire and rescue service is through fairly paid, properly trained firefighters. Between four and fourteen days of training is entirely inadequate to appropriately train a firefighter to respond to a variety of incidents and ultimately leaves communities less safe. It’s a half-baked idea and an insult to professional firefighters and to the communities they serve.”

Glasgow RMT and CWU strikes solid

RMT strikers were given a boost on picket lines with Mick Lynch visiting the city for the next installment of strike action. Starting at Queens Street Station, a mass of striking railway workers and activists gathered from just after 7am. Glasgow Central Station which has been the main hub for this strike also had a picket line.

Mick Lynch addressed that picket line around 8.30am. and relayed the huge support the union had been receiving nationally, encouraging him "to keep going". He finished on the importance of workers taking strike action to ensure a decent pay rise. There were picket lines at all major train hubs across Scotland from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.

A short walk from Central Station is Bain House where CWU pickets for BT workers and 999 call handlers had gathered. This picket was solid.

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Photo: Mark Porciani

Jacob’s in Liverpool: workers crackers not to strike

Biscuit barons Jacob’s have been hit by strike action this week. They employ over 700 staff at their Aintree site. Cream Crackers, Club biscuits, Twiglets, Jaffa Cakes and Mini Cheddars are just a few of the popular items affected. 

The workers are rejecting a 4.5% pay offer. The GMB members involved are presently halting individual shifts but considering escalation. 

GMB’s Lisa Ryan says:

“We have gone above and beyond to try to reach a resolution to this – but there is nothing coming from the company right now. This goes back to November/December last year and there should have been an agreement in place by January this year. Other unions at other factories operated by the company have been able to agree pay offers but not here and we don’t know why. 

“Sometimes people in Liverpool get a bad reputation but our members at the factory have been beyond reasonable. They don’t want to stand outside in the cold for 12 hours and lose money.” 

Bad reputation? News from the Frontline thinks that some of that Liverpool docks vibe wouldn’t go amiss here. 

No slow down: Sunderland Stagecoach drivers strike for pay

Stagecoach bus drivers in Sunderland have started 5 days of strikes on 11-15 October over pay.

GMB members on Wearside have rejected the company’s 4% pay offer with union organiser Stuart Gilhespy warning further strikes will occur if the company continues to refuse to negotiate.

Although services have been seriously affected, the situation for Sunderland’s drivers has been made more difficult by workers at depots in Newcastle and South Shields having accepted the pay offer.

Escalation on the Liverpool docks

Peel Ports have upped the ante in their dispute with 500 Liverpool dockers. They issued redundancy notices to 132 port workers this week, in a blatant attempt to intimidate the dockers, who walked out on Wednesday this week for a further 7-day strike. 

The threat resurrects a downsizing strategy that had been proposed and dismissed months prior to the pay dispute. Indeed, Peel Ports was bragging before the dispute that it was looking to expand. It certainly is profitable: it has paid twice as much in dividends in the last 5 years (£300m) as its total annual wage bill, so the money is certainly there.

The intimidation clearly didn’t work, as the dockers walked out on Wednesday this week for a further 7 days.

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Photo: @Unite_NorthWest / Twitter

Petrofac platform dispute

140 oil rig workers are currently balloting for strike action against the refusal of their employer, Petrofac, to improve on the scandalously low 3% pay offer.

It’s not as if the company can’t afford to pay up; in January last year David Lufkin, formerly Global Head of Sales at the company, pled guilty to offering and paying around £30m to win UAE contracts worth £3.3bn.

You can understand why the platform workers and technicians might feel resentful, when in the same year, the company cut their wages by 10%.

Nipsa health ballot

Health workers in Northern Ireland are balloting 27 October – 18 November for strike action over pay and workloads.

Nipsa members who provide care packages that allow patients to be discharged from hospital are in some cases working in teams that are 50% under-strength.

With a lack of staff to provide the care packages causing a backlog of patients stuck in hospitals it creates a wider inability to admit patients and causes delays in treatment. This is both caused by and causing burnout as the recruitment and retention crisis bites, something which will only begin to be redressed with a serious above-inflation pay rise.

NEU teachers battle cuts

NEU support staff at Drapers Pyrgo Priory School in Romford are on strike fighting cuts to hours and wages and have been since 17 May.

The NEU said teaching assistants on just £15,000 a year are due to have their wages cut by £100 a month. Bosses at the school which is an academy were paid £1.49 million last year.

The school is the first school to use the government's new scab charter to hire agency staff to break the strike. One agency Pertemps was due to provide staff during the strike but refused once the NEU informed them there was a strike. Another agency provided workers and had since stopped due to the strike.

One of the teaching assistants Patricia Akel told the Guardian:

“It is just an injustice. I asked the temps whether they were teaching assistants but they are teachers,” she said. “I mean, the amount we are asking for as compared to what this is costing the school is ridiculous. They are just digging their heels in and it is spiteful.”

Hull City Council: Lib Dems turn to scab labour

As previously reported, Unite transport workers in Hull are striking against the notorious Stagecoach in pursuit of decent pay. The action is indefinite. 

As one striker says:

“We’re prepared to be on strike as long as it takes to give us a deal we can accept. Someone at the company told me recently there’s not money in the pot but none of us believe that, we know the money’s there.” 

Recent profit declarations by Stagecoach of £73m support this. Overall governors Hull City Council have upped the ante by organising replacement bus services. The bosses always have access to secondary action. 

Unite have a fair head of steam with these bus battles, but our movement can never be complacent.

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Photo: @UniteNEYH / Twitter

Welsh teachers set to join the ranks

Three teaching unions in Wales are preparing to fight the far below inflation pay offer of 5% from the Welsh government.

UCAC union says they have rejected the pay offer and will open a strike ballot next month, the ballot opens on 21 November.

NEU Cymru says they have written to the education minister and will launch a ballot if an above-inflation pay rise is not offered. The NASUWT and Association of School and College Leaders are talking about balloting.

Unison ballots EA members

Unison are balloting members who work for the Environment Agency for strike action over a below-inflation pay offer.

Workers had been offered 2%, which is well below inflation, and an additional £345 but rejected that earlier this year. Now, after years of below-the-cost-of-living pay awards, Unison will be holding the first strike ballot in the history of the Environment Agency. The ballot opened on 10 October and will close a month later.

Teachers strike for decent working hours

Teachers in the NEU have caused multiple year groups in the privatised West Coventry Academy to close in a strike over extreme working hours.

The school is run by academy franchise The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership. The NEU describes the working hours, which are high for teachers in any workplace, as being far higher in the Academy than any other school in the city and has put on six days of industrial action.

Bus strikes in the Southwest

Bus workers in RMT have taken a day of strike action and have three more planned in the next four weeks against First Group in the counties of Somerset and Cornwall.

The company, which is offering lower than inflation pay offer to the workforce of approximately 400 people, has posted strong profits so the money is there.

Midlands Rail depot staff strike

Alongside the ongoing mass strikes on the railways, train depot workers including technical and cleaning workers, are taking strike action against Abellio in the cities of Derby, Leicester and Nottingham.

The company operates as a privateer in Britain, making hundreds of millions in profits, despite actually being owned by the Dutch state, and is offering less than inflation as a pay offer.

Workers took 48 hours of strike action last week and have another 48 hours planned from next Monday, placing the employer under huge pressure while the other disputes also continue.

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Photo: @UniteEastMids / Twitter

Barnet housing workers hold solidarity event

Barnet Unison’s historic all-out strike of housing repair workers in defence of their victimised member is continuing, and the union is holding a solidarity social and fundraiser to build support.

Any comrades in North London can get involved by getting along to:

Support Our Strikers - 6pm, Saturday 15 October - Our Yard at Clitterhouse Farm, Claremont Road, NW2 1AP

On the site:

Get the vote out in the UCU strike ballot: The UCU higher-education sector can win a mandate to strike now with determined mobilisation

In case of Emergency: Strike!: Ross Maidment reports from the picket line in Glasgow as 999 emergency call handlers join thousands of BT and Openreach workers on strike this week

Posties deliver solid picket lines on sixth day of national strike: Counterfire members report from CWU Royal Mail picket lines around the country on the sixth day of the national strike

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