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CWU picket line

CWU picket line. Photo: Joe McCluskey

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

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As CWU members start their latest round of strike action that will see walkouts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the company has announced 6,000 redundancies in a cynical attempt to scare workers from taking industrial action.

The CWU's general secretary, Dave Ward, said:

"This announcement is holding postal workers to ransom for taking legal industrial action against a business approach that is not in the interests of workers, customers or the future of Royal Mail. This is no way to build a company."

Despite all the announcements that CEO Simon Thompson makes, which are designed to kill the momentum of the strikes, workers at the Royal Mail Group get more spurred on for the fight ahead.

Even with the company bringing in scab labour, picket lines up and down the country are strong and hardly any parcels are getting delivered on strike days. We know the posties are winning this, and we know the posties can win this, it is just a case of when will the bosses realise they have lost.

Upcoming BT strikes

Over at BT and Openreach CWU members have taken their seventh day of industrial action with another strike day planned for Monday 24 October. 

With lengthening queues at call centres and engineering jobs stacking up the pressure is really on the bosses to come to the table and negotiate a proper pay rise with the union but despite the obvious effects the strike action is having the bosses are refusing to meet with the CWU. 

The union has decided to meet with BT’s major shareholders on Monday afternoon in an attempt to get them to see the damage BT Group is doing by not negotiating. Whether this tactic works remains to be seen, but what will work is a continuation of the solid strikes we have seen so far in this dispute.

Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr said:

“Members have shown their strength by their continued support for strike action, and this is impacting the company’s performance. It’s now vital that we keep up the pressure, we’ve got them on the ropes…let’s keep them there and we will win the pay rise you have earned,”

It has been announced that all CWU members across BT Group, including members in EE, will be re-balloted in Mid-November.

Support the CWU by visiting a picket line on Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th, you can find your nearest one on Strike Map.

You can also help CWU members by donating to the strike hardship fund. The details are Unity Bank, account name – CWU General Fund, sort code – 60-83-01. Donators should ref “strike hardship”. Or donate via PayPal here.

Another one bites the dust: all out on 5 November

Yet another Tory prime minister is out of Downing Street and yet another one is about to be imposed on us undemocratically. Whoever takes office next week, one thing is clear: they intend to make working people pay for their colossal cock-up. The strikes can deepen the Tory crisis and hit them hard, but to smash them we also need to generalise the struggle and confront them with the broadest section of our class. The People's Assembly national demonstration on 5 November is going to be an important opportunity to mobilise resistance and it's important that the labour movement is centrally involved in building it.

We're asking all trade unionists to pass a motion supporting the demonstration at your trade union branch and if you're outside London try to help put on a coach to the demonstration - you can find a list of currently-booked coaches here along with a form to conact the People's Assembly to request/offer one that isn't already on.

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Photo: Shabbir Lakha

On the buses: Arriva strike continues in Kent

The strike by 600 Arriva bus drivers in Kent is back on after the Unite union members rejected the latest pay offer from the company.

The four garages at Northfleet, Gillingham, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells had suspended their action to allow a vote on the offer.

The company claims that the offer was in double figures, but reps have told NFTF that when you look at the conditions attached, and that only part of it would be consolidated, it was nowhere near the above-inflation target they had set.

Morale is high as they prepare for the shutdown from next Monday to Friday.

Co-op coffin makers: you can’t keep a lid on worker’s anger

As previously reported in News from the Frontline (12 August 2022), Co-op Funeralcare’s sole coffin-making section is in a pay battle with its Unite members.

The fifty Glasgow-based workers have rejected an unspecified but lowly pay offer and have come back with a week’s strike action from 31 October. Their aim is “complete stop” of production.

Unite’s Willie Thomson says:

“Co-op Funeralcare have left our members with no option but to take strike action as they have failed to table an acceptable wage offer.

“We have given negotiations every opportunity to resolve this dispute but the Co-op are failing to recognise the cost of living crisis.”

Unite’s Sharon Graham added:

“The Co-op trades on being different to bad employers; it should not be proposing a real-terms pay cut for their Funeralcare workers.”

And let’s see what kind of solidarity the coffin makers can muster when they start striking on Halloween.

The only light at the end of this tunnel is oncoming rail workers

In the face of the dictatorial strike-banning laws the government proposes, RMT is now re-balloting its mass rail membership to continue the strikes against the failing rail employers. A ballot doesn’t reflect a change in the mood of the union or its members but is simply a bureaucratic demand of the Tory anti-union laws, and workers are almost certain to vote overwhelmingly to continue the struggle over jobs, conditions and pay. Further dates have also been announced by TSSA in Network rail.

The collapse of the Tory government this Autumn has impacted the dispute in a big way. Grant Shapps is now suddenly Home Secretary in the present turmoil (but who knows how long for?) This sees the office of Transport Secretary now filled by Anne-Marie Trevelyan. Her whose sole experience of transport policy up to this point appears to have been demanding that the A1 road be upgraded to a dual carriageway, which does not inspire confidence that she is full of enthusiasm and new ideas for the public system.

Sure enough, Shapps’ plans for “Great British Rail” appear to have been quietly binned by the Conservatives, meaning that they now have no stated strategy for rail at all. The lack of direction is also apparent in the outrageous decision to grant the failing privateers at Avanti West Coast yet another extension on their franchise, despite the fact that it has essentially given up running a full service on England’s vital connections between the Northwest and the South.

This is all very depressing from a transport policy point of view, but it does show that the rail unions have severely dashed government hopes that they could be quickly and easily brought to heel in Shapps’ vision of “modernisation”, which was really just an attempt to get staff and passengers to pay to keep private profits rolling in. The first round has gone to the workers.

The Tories appear to be hoping that rail workers will simply get exhausted in a long dispute with the crumbling network of rail companies, or at least that they can rely on repressive new legislation to crush the strikes while they wrestle with their inability to confront the energy and finance crises. It is vital that the rail workers keep morale up during this time.

Primary school teachers win in Newham

NEU Calverton Primary School Staff in Newham who were on strike in September and October and had set dates for November have won all their demands.

They have won the restoration of 10 days dependency league, for all changes to Ts&Cs to be negotiated with the NEU and no victimisation of strikers.

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Photo: @Newham_NEU / Twitter

GXO drivers kick pay cut into touch

1,000 dray drivers and their mates are due to strike from the end of this month over a below-inflation pay offer of 5% from the employer, which came with strings attached.

With the World Cup due to kick off on November 20, the 4,500 pubs and clubs in London and the South East who rely on GXO for their deliveries will be concerned about explaining to customers that the pub is now as dry as Qatar.

The GXO dray fleet accounts for over 40% of all beer deliveries in the UK, out of 22 distribution hubs, all of which will be affected by the action.

The UK operation accounted for over one-third of GXO’s global revenues in the three months to June, and the workforce is clear that the company can afford to pay up.  

But the dispute is not just over pay: the company wants to shut its Dagenham depot, and increase the workload at its Croydon, Faversham and Greenford depots – without increasing the workforce.

Victory: Unison workers beat OCS

Unison members working for outsourcing company OCS at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust have won their 2-year dispute over pay and leave disparities with directly employed colleagues.

Having taken 26 days of industrial action, the workers have gained a pay rise of 14.7% backdated to April 2022, 7 days extra annual leave, full sick pay parity and enhanced Bank Holiday pay to bring them in line with their NHS colleagues despite the efforts of both the employer and the Trust.

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Photo: @OCSdispute

Barnet and Southgate College UCU strike over pay and workload

Braving the pouring rain on Thursday, striking UCU lecturers at Barnet and Southgate College, north London, were being met with solidarity from students, fellow CWU strikers at the Southgate sorting office, and loud and warm support from the passing public.

The strike, the first in ten years at the college, has been solid across all three sites - Wood Street, Colindale and Southgate - in a dispute with the college management. The three days of strike action at the college coincides with the national strike on pay and workload in the FE sector running from 19 to 21 October.

After years of below-inflation 1% pay rises, management has this year imposed a mere 2.5% rise with an unconsolidated additional payment. Anger among lecturers has also long been rising over management conduct towards staff. Issues include the rising level of duplicated and repetitive administrative tasks, and a lack of support for students with additional learning needs. 

Strikers on the picket line noted that UCU negotiators had been astonished at the management’s obstructive attitude to negotiation.

Janet Farrar, President of UCU, said earlier that the ‘employer needs to realise that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions.’

Barnet College UCU executive alerted the college to serious issues with systems processes and procedures.

The branch secretary, Sonia Kobal said:

“We provided ideas and solutions that could lead to improvements, however, they were dismissed. This not listening approach has led to industrial action. There has been no meaningful negotiation.”

Sunderland Stagecoach strike; hell-bent bosses in the crossfire

Sunderland Stagecoach drivers are to take two further days of strike action on 28 and 31 October as their pay dispute continues.

While GMB members were willing to call part-day strikes in order to alleviate rush hour pressures, the company has refused this offer.

GMB organiser Stuart Gilhespy said of barring striking workers from taking any action shorter than 24 hours in duration:

“Stagecoach bosses seem hell bent on causing as much misery to the people of Sunderland as they can.”

RSA victimises IWGB member

Workers at the Royal Society of Arts, a 270-year-old charity, who are members of IWGB and attempting to get union recognition have been victimised for speaking with the Observer.

The RSA head of senior management, Andy Haldane, former chief economist at the Bank of England has so far repeatedly refused to recognise the union.

One worker, Ruth Hannan had her employment terminated a week early shortly after speaking to the Observer. Other workers are being forbidden to speak, share or comment on the Observer article.

Ruth said:

“Being in a union enables the RSA to be a more collaborative, more forward-looking organisation, and a more democratic place to work.”

Polyflor Radcliffe workers not giving in

The ongoing strike at the Polyflor flooring factory in Radcliffe carries on and there is no sign of the workers giving in.

The latest offer was rejected by a whopping 97.5% of GMB members and there will be two weeks of strike action from 31 October (the bosses have shut the factory down next week).

If you or your union branch can support this strike financially, there is a Just Giving page set up here.

Another bins victory: GMB in Richmond

Richmond refuse workers have called off three weeks of scheduled strikes after one day of walkout following an enhanced pay offer.   

Subcontractors Serco have confirmed that the pay rise is in the region of 15% and kerbside collection in Richmond has resumed this week.

GMB’s Paul Grafton says:

“GMB is pleased that the dispute could be resolved after only one day of action. The members were never after anything more than a pay rise which reflects the current economic climate.

“With inflation at 9 per cent, it was vital for these key workers that they receive a pay rise above this, otherwise their pay would be going backwards.”

A three-week strike schedule matches the heft of the initial 98% strike vote. GMB’s success here is self-evident.

Windfarm dispute builds up to a storm

RMT members working for Orsted at a range of electric wind farms are escalating their campaign against a sub-inflationary pay offer of 3.5%.

Workers already engaged in a day of strike action last week, the next stage will be protesting at the Danish multinational’s British headquarters at the company’s total intransigence.

Like all renewable energy companies, Orsted is benefiting hugely from the surge in energy prices that has been caused by the rise in the price of fossil fuels. Comrades wanting to show solidarity with renewable energy workers can support the protest on Monday at 1 pm at 5 Howick Place London, SW1P 1WG. There are many major protests taking place against the fossil fuel industry, this is an opportunity to fight for justice in the green sector too.

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Photo: @RMTunion / Twitter

UCU at Falmouth Uni: striking back at bosses’ two-tier venture

As academics’ union UCU’s national pay ballot comes to a close, members in Cornwall are getting stuck into a local battle.

Falmouth University are seeking to fragment their workforce with the introduction of a discrete company, Falmouth Staffing Ltd (FSL).

This is classic divide-and-rule tactics given a neoliberal update. Already new starters are being side-lined into inferior pension options. The local branch have seen through this nonsenses and acted.

Falmouth UCU’s Tom Scott says:

"This really is a red line issue because it threatens all the major agreements made between universities and unions over the last 30 years.

“When the university started using the subsidiary company to employ new staff, it assumed existing staff wouldn't mind, but being part of a union is all about solidarity and we've been really impressed that so many staff went on strike today and showed up to the picket line in support of their newer colleagues.”

Let’s hope this attempt to divide and corral staff comprehensively backfires.

Heading towards strikes in all sections of education sector

In a significant step for professional unity across the education sector in its fight over pay, the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) are to ballot for strike action for the first time in its 125-year history. This comes on top of the upcoming strike ballots in the NEU and NASUWT. A survey of 64% of the NAHT’s 35,000 members showed 55% willing to be balloted on a full walkout. This indicates a clear possibility of a formal strike ballot meeting the strict thresholds enshrined in the Tories’ anti-union laws.

School leaders’ salaries have declined by 24% in real terms since 2010 and they are acutely affected by the retention crisis brought on by the Tories’ running down of our education system. This latest move by the NAHT presents a welcome opportunity to broaden the fight over pay.

Unison balloting at the FSA

Unison members at the Food Standards Agency are being balloted for strike action after rejecting a pay offer of 2-5% earlier this year.

Unison had put in a pay claim of 10% to mitigate rising living costs in line with inflation. The ballot runs until 31 October, with the potential for action in time to disrupt meat supplies into the Christmas period.

Mike Short, Unison head of local government said:

“FSA staff play a vital role in keeping contaminated meat off people’s plates. These employees protect consumers, ensure good animal welfare and must be rewarded accordingly.”

NHS ballots update 

Following positive indicative ballots health unions across the UK are coordinating ballots for industrial action over pay.

The RCN ballot is running nationally until 2 November, while the GMB and CSP are balloting in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively with further votes to follow.

Unison and Unite have yet to open their ballots but if members do vote for action as the unions are encouraging, Unison General Secretary Christine McAnea predicts that the strikes will be coordinated for maximum impact.

UCU FE strikes spreading like wildfire

UCU FE workers at five colleges in London and several more nationally were on strike again this week.

Picket lines at Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney colleges were well attended and lively.

Southwark College held a very determined and loud strike rally on Wednesday to welcome a senior boss who was visiting the college for a meeting. For the London colleges, this was their last week of scheduled action, although the workers were very clear that the fight goes on.

On the site:

Welfare not weapons: The TUC vote for more arms spending is deeply mistaken: As several of the excellent speeches against the motion outlined, it is always working people who suffer from wars, writes Chris Nineham. Join Stop the War's national Trade Union Conference on 21 January 2023.

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