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Müller strike

Müller strike. Photo: @unitesouthwest / Twitter

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

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More than 70 lorry drivers and shunters, employed by the Müller dairy giant at its Stonehouse depot, started an 11-day strike on Tuesday in the long-running dispute over Müller’s attempt to force through weekend working on site.

The drivers, members of Unite, say this flies in the face of an agreement signed by Müller only six months ago that they would not impose roster changes. They say the new rosters (on a 7/2 shift pattern) mean the end of weekends off, with all that means for family and social life, and they are not prepared to accept that their families come second to the employer’s drive for profit.

Arrow XL strikers represent nobody. Nobody!

Over 350 drivers, warehouse workers and clerical staff at home delivery giant Arrow XL started strike action this week. The strike is over an imposed pay award of 5% (following a 2% rise last year, and 3.8% the year before) which the reps says is unacceptable:

“They can increase the pay of the MD to £539,000 – that’s an 84% increase – but new starters here are on minimum wage.”

Unite is calling strike action every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Christmas and is very happy with the response. The company claims that the union only represents 30% of their workforce, which ignores the fact that they are overwhelmingly concentrated at the firm’s main base in Wigan, without which the satellite sites cannot function.

Plus, there is great joy on the picket lines of reports of a manager at Enfield vainly chasing a lorry down the road which had refused to cross the picket line plaintively shouting “They represent nobody! Nobody!! Come back!”

Photo: @UniteWestMids / Twitter

CWU meets with Acas over Royal Mail dispute

CWU and Royal Mail met with Acas last week in a bid to reach an agreement over the company’s plans on pay and change. So far bosses have refused to hold talks with the union and the arbitration body unless strike action was cancelled. But that changed last Tuesday when the two parties met with Acas whilst Royal Mail workers were on the picket lines.

Ultimately this first meeting seemed to be more about arranging a framework for future meetings with Acas and both parties met again on Thursday and Friday. Crucially no strike dates have been suspended for these talks to go ahead and it is vital that we go out and support posties on their picket lines.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said:

“We welcome the mutual agreement to attend Acas discussions as a positive development, but at this stage, it is not a greatly significant one either. This is why the union has not chosen to suspend or call off scheduled strike action.

“Until the employer reins in its relentless attacks on employees, the strikes will continue to take place. Postal workers are completely united in their determination to secure the dignity and respect they deserve. We won’t be backing down until we get just that.”

CWU Acting Deputy General Secretary Andy Furey said:

“As each week goes by, postal workers are becoming angrier and angrier at their mistreatment. Picket lines are growing in numbers and the resolve of all CWU members is hardening – people are not simply accepting what is being done to them by management. Our posties will keep on fighting, and we urge the public to get behind them.”

Photo: Cici Washburn

Engineers take on veteran biscuit brand

The 170-year-old Fox’s Biscuit factory in Batley, Yorkshire, is facing a pre-Christmas strike. In response to a de facto pay cut, Unite-organised engineering workers have planned a one-day stoppage in November, to be followed by a four-day strike later in the month. The company has been enjoying greatly increased profits in the past year..

Britain’s most ironic strike

Unison members at the National Coal Mining Museum have voted overwhelmingly to strike after being after offered wages far below inflation. The museum, which is built on what was Caphouse Colliery until Thatcher shut it in 1985, is funded primarily by the Department of Culture.

Militant sparks get the goods

One dispute that went under the radar recently happened at the Stanlow oil refinery, where workers took unofficial action. One of the strikers, writing for News from the Frontline said:

“Mechanical, electrical, scaffolders and other trades downed tools on Thursday, then walked off-site on Friday halfway through a 24/7 shutdown at Stanlow Oil refinery in a dispute over bonus payments, out-of-scope workers on site, walking time from the clock to the car park and other issues.

“We returned at midday on Monday to see if Essar would address the issues. After refusal, the workers threatened to leave the site again for a further week and within one hour Essar came back with a compromise on the basis that work resumes first thing on Tuesday.”

All hours will be paid for the time the unofficial industrial action took place and there will be changes to the on-site bonuses, including a finishing bonus. The walking time from the clock to the car park has also been doubled.

Asked for his opinion on the deal, he said:

“Although you should never accept the first offer, the majority accepted and I'm glad it's been resolved in favour of the workers. I just hope the agreement is adhered to.”

NFTF thinks It’s great to see militant workers going on the offensive to improve conditions at a time when so many are fighting defensive battles!

Stansted Airport: 11% win for Unite

Unite members at Stansted Airport have called off strike action after accepting a pay rise of 11% for the lowest paid and 10% for other pay grades.

Over 1,000 workers including firefighters, security officers, cleaners and passenger ambassadors had previously rejected a 7.5% pay offer, forcing the airport employers to make an improved offer.

Peel Ports: Liverpool dockers challenge ‘The Huckster’

560 dockers at the Port of Liverpool started their latest two-week strike action aimed at winning an above-inflation wage deal (what used to be called a ‘wage rise’ in old money).

There is considerable resentment on the picket line, as the union had believed they had worked out an agreement with port management, only to have the carpet pulled from under them by the board.

Despite improved offers from the company, the dockers are adamant that any deal has to include the 132 jobs that management declared redundant once the strikes started.

The spirit is good and upbeat, buoyed by the overwhelming rejection of the latest offer at a dockers’ mass meeting, described by the port’s Chief Operating Officer, David Huck, as “an out-of-date show of hands”.

The longer the strikes continue, the more they are expected to impact the logistics supply chain in the run-up to Christmas.

Photo: Tayo Aluko

Newham bin strike rally this weekend

Striking Unite Newham refuse workers have called a community demonstration and rally on Saturday 29 October, at 12 noon at East Ham Station, E13 9BA. The workers are fighting for a pay rise in line with inflation, an end to management victimisation of strikers and for agency workers to be reinstated after they were sacked for supporting the striking workers.

The refuse workers have taken several weeks of strike action over the last two months. They are calling for local public support.

Now charity workers have had enough

A 3% pay increase and a one-off payment of £1,500 have been given short shrift by 450 Unite members at the otherwise-respected housing charity Shelter.

A ballot for strike action is now open and due to close on Friday 4 November. Unite reports that the charity’s reserves are in excess of £14m and sufficient to support an inflation-busting raise.

Unite’s Peter Storey says:

“Workers have explored every possible avenue but Shelter’s management has repeatedly blocked them and refused to enter into negotiations.

“Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption to the vital services that Shelter operates but this dispute is entirely of the charity’s own making.”

The same set of arguments used against striking NHS workers will be used against these workers. They must be rejected with equal vehemence.

Newcastle bus strikes cancelled

Arriva bus drivers in Newcastle have cancelled strikes over the closure of the company’s Jesmond depot after negotiating relocation payments and one-off payments over the coming months.

Although the depot is still to close, with the site already sold off, drivers voted to accept the compromise struck by Arriva and Unite.

Sour offer rejected in Middleton

Over 50 workers at the Mizkan Euro factory in Middleton, Manchester are taking strike action in response to a below-inflation 5% pay offer.

The workers have already struck for four days, with another bout of three planned from 3 November.

The company makes Branston Pickle and Sarson’s Vinegar and is offering a pitiful rise despite making more than £28m profits.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“Our members at Mizkan Euro are vital to the success of its brands such as Branston Pickle. The company can fully afford to pay its workers fairly but is avoiding doing so in order to boost its profits.

“It is totally unacceptable that Mizkan Euro thinks it can get away without paying its workers a decent pay increase. Our members will continue to receive Unite’s unswerving support.”

Woolwich Ferry dispute

Unite Woolwich ferry workers have just completed five days of strike action after TfL refused to discuss pay with the union.

Unite says management is victimising workers and unfairly suspending them, particularly older workers. During the strike, Unite raised concerns with bosses, as agency staff without critical safety training were being used to break the strike.

PCS unworkable system strike

Workers at 68 magistrates’ courts across England and Wales are currently taking part in strike action which will last nine days.

PCS members have walked out over bosses imposing a new computer system that is “unworkable”. The new system means that some staff are working till midnight recording court cases.

Management has refused to meet with the union to discuss their reasonable and achievable demands which include, stopping new cases from being input on the new system and ensuring there are no further job losses arising from using it.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

“We’ve been left with no choice but to call strike action. Managers are ignoring the evidence in front of them — that this new computer system is simply unworkable. It’s adversely affecting our members’ health and their ability to do their jobs and is detrimental to the delivery of justice”.

The turnout was 61% and the yes vote was 97.3%.

Photo: @PCSMOJNOMS / Twitter

Wildcat couriers' delivery strike

Hundreds of food delivery couriers across Leeds and Derby staged wildcat strikes on 21 October in a demand for better pay and conditions.

Couriers working for Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat/Stuart claim that their earnings have been slashed with employers taking a larger percentage.

Although Deliveroo has partnered with GMB there is no single union for delivery drivers, with this strike largely being organised via WhatsApp.

GMB fails to meet anti-union strike threshold

The first official industrial action ballot at an Amazon warehouse in the UK has fallen foul of the country’s anti-trade union laws.

Workers at the warehouse in Coventry missed out on the required 50% minimum turnout by just 3 votes, but 99% of those who did cast their ballot voted for strike action. This action, organised by the GMB, followed unofficial action by Amazon staff in the summer over a proposed 35p an-hour pay increase.

GMB regional organiser Amanda Gearing said:

"Amazon workers are angry. This is just a stepping stone on their journey in the fight for £15 an hour. GMB Is now talking with activists on site to set out how we take that fight forward."

But as the saying goes, when you fight you either win or you learn. Now union members at Amazon can go again knowing the anti-union tactics the bosses will play and hopefully overcoming them and setting the scene for an historic victory in the UK trade union movement.

On the site:

University dispute: A massive mandate for action: UCU members in universities nationally have voted overwhelmingly to strike

Strike to save the NHS: The time has come for health workers to take militant action over pay and to defend the NHS, argues Caitlin Southern

A fight for the soul of the trade union movement: Lewis Akers, a delegate to the 154th annual TUC Congress, reports from the rescheduled Conference

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