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FBU picket line, 2013

FBU picket line, 2013. Photo: Roger Blackwell / Flickr / CC BY 2.0, license linked below article

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

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Firefighters and control staff have voted overwhelmingly to reject a 5% pay offer in the union's consultative ballot.

Of those eligible to vote 78% took part and 79% voted to reject the offer in the ballot which was open for 2 weeks. An official industrial action ballot will now take place which opens on Monday 5th December and closes on Monday 23 January.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said:

“FBU members have spoken. This result of the consultative ballot, on a two-week turnaround, shows that there is remarkable strength of feeling amongst firefighters and control staff on this derisory pay offer. The ball is in the employers’ and government’s court.

“There is still an opportunity to resolve this dispute and we will be writing to Fire Ministers and government departments across the UK requesting urgent meetings.

“We have firefighters using foodbanks. Our members worked through the pandemic to help protect their communities, taking on extra duties to do so. A further real terms pay cut is an absolutely disgusting way to thank them. Whilst strike action is always a last resort, our members simply can’t go on like this.”

Aslef rail strikes steam ahead

Aslef drivers will be striking on Saturday 26 November across 12 TOC’s; Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, Cross Country, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, Greater Anglia, London North Eastern Railway, London Overground, Northern Trains, Southeastern, Transpennine Express and West Midlands Trains.

Meanwhile RMT rail workers have returned a massive yes vote on their re-ballot to strike on Network rail - over 91% on a 70% turn out. The full ballot results can be found here.

Abellio: 1,000 bus workers say “Enough!”

Around 1,000 bus workers, members of the Unite union, are due to bring Abellio’s bus operations in South and West London to a halt in a row over pay.

The workers are angry that the company has not even made an offer, in pay talks so far.

An activist at the Twickenham garage told NFTF:

“We are among the lowest paid bus workers in London, and the company is losing drivers hands over fist to companies that pay more. The RATP depot next door won their pay rise a few months ago through fighting for it. We have learnt the lesson from that.”

The activist went on to say that she thought the union claim for £20 an hour was justified:

“The company might scream blue murder, that we are asking for 30%, but until they start paying a wage you can live on, they are going to carry on leaking staff. People are working silly hours of overtime, just to pay the bills – and the overtime is there because they can’t keep enough drivers to crew the rosters. It’s a vicious circle.”

The garages affected will be Battersea, Beddington, Hayes, Southall, Twickenham and Walworth.

If the company doesn’t see sense, the Abellio workers could see themselves joined by 1,500 Metroline workers. The word in the garages is that they have voted 3:1 to strike for 15%. There has been no official confirmation of this, but if true it will be a massive boost for workers in both companies. Watch this space.

Light rail workers hitting the brakes

Unite metro transport workers have ended one dispute in the North East and may be starting another one in the West Midlands.

Tyne and Wear Metro staff working for private contractor Stadler called off their strike action after obtaining a pay increase that will be backed to the start of the year plus £1000. Two solid weeks of stoppage were cancelled at the last minute for the deal.

Coincidentally, the day those strikes had been due to end will now see their counterparts in the West Midlands Metropolitan area taking all-out action. All 170 driving and service are coming out for two weeks over their very low wages for the sector: a driver is paid less than £22k and all grades are looking for roughly £5k pay rises. On the cusp of a preliminary strike this week, however, and much like Tyne & Wear, the union received an eleventh-hour offer. The members are being balloted as to whether to accept, or to proceed to the fortnight of striking.

EIS on strike: 24 November 

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), the country’s biggest teachers’ union, is striking on 24 November. This will affect virtually all Scottish schools and should be the most sizable strike in 40 years. 

The teachers are after a 10% pay rise. 

EIS’s Andrea Bradley says:

“We hoped not to get to this point [but] with a pay rise for teachers now more than seven months late, and with the last pay offer having been rejected by teachers almost three months ago, the blame for this move to strike action sits squarely with Cosla and the Scottish government. 

“They have sat on their hands for far too long, dithering and delaying while the soaring cost of living continues to erode the value of their pitiful offers to Scotland’s teachers.” 

Let’s hope this sets the tone for teachers UK-wide.

Shelter: workers fight homeless charity for money to pay the rent

500 members of the Unite union, frontline workers for the homeless charity Shelter, are due to strike from 5-18 December.

The decision stems from an 85% vote for strike action following a ballot of the union’s members on the charity’s pay offer. To be fair, Shelter is also offering a one-off payment of £1,500 – or about 1% of the salary it pays its CEO!

One union member summed it up:

“People depend on our teams, and we are committed to the work we do. But it’s wrong that people working for a housing charity should experience housing insecurity themselves, because they can’t pay the rent.”

It’s not as if Shelter can’t afford it – it is holding on to £14.5m in reserve funds, 50% more than its target amount.

Jacob’s Cream Crackers strike: no Twiglets at Xmas?

Around 800 GMB members at Aintree’s Jacob’s Cream Crackers factory have walked out indefinitely in pursuance of a pay claim against UK-based Pladis snack manufacturer. 

This is an escalation of action that began as a campaign in September.

TUC Crackers, Club biscuits and Twiglets are just some of the popular treats the workers produce. 

GMB’s Eamon O’Hearn says:

“These workers are rightly angry – they put themselves on the line to keep the company going during the pandemic. 

“Now they need some help to get them through the cost of living crisis. But it’s falling on deaf ears. In fact, more than that, bosses are shifting an iconic British brand to Portugal to undermine their own workers. This kind of naked corporate greed in the run-up to Christmas is disgraceful.” 

Activists everywhere need to keep an eye on this bold transition to all-out continuous.

Go North East buses not going very far

150 engineers, working for Go North East, part of the GoAhead group, have rejected the company’s offer of a 10% pay rise, and have voted for strike action in support of their claim for 12.5%.

A Unite union member explained:

“The parent company posted gross profits of £50M for the last six months of last year, but is not prepared to make sure our pay keeps up with inflation. That is not acceptable”.

The 7 depots affected are Dunston, Sunderland, Consett, North Shields, Washington, Hepburn and Gateshead.

Consett chemical strike

GMB members at Consett chemical firm Thomas Swan are to strike for 5 days between November 30 and January after rejecting a pay offer of 5.1%, capped at £1,000.

Around 100 workers, who put their lives at risk to manufacture hand sanitiser during the pandemic, voted 92.4% in favour of industrial action including an overtime ban from 29 November.

GMB and Unite members to take industrial action in Dumfries and Galloway

Union members working for the ambulance service in Dumfries and Galloway are due to take industrial action later this month over a pay dispute. GMB members will begin a 24-hour strike at 6 am on Monday 28 November and Unite members will be working to rule from 25 November. 89% of union members voted for industrial action over a 5% pay offer.

GMB Scotland organiser, Karen Leonard, said:

“Staff in the Scottish Ambulance Service have worked throughout the depths of the pandemic on the frontline of our public services, all the while dealing with an understaffing crisis and now a cost-of-living crisis this winter.

“These strikes are a direct response to the Scottish Government who have failed to give key, frontline workers the pay rise that they deserve and who have overseen years of managed decline in the health services that so many rely on. Staff are rightly angry with how they’re being treated.”

Top marks for the NEU: sixth form colleges join the new militancy 

NEU members in sixth-form colleges have voted “Yes” to strike action with an 88.5% mandate on a 63% turnout. 

Education workers everywhere have had enough. 

NEU’s Mary Bousted says:

“The close of this ballot is well timed, as it is just a few days ahead of the Chancellor’s latest budget statement on 17 November. The sector has suffered real-terms pay cuts in the region of 20% since 2010. Further below inflation pay increases are simply unacceptable to our members. 

“The government must listen and take notice of the effect real-terms pay cuts are having on our members, and, if we continue down this unsustainable path, the consequences that their leaving the profession will have on both the sector and the young people they teach." 

The objective conditions for some mighty coordinated action are in place. Let’s make this irresistible to our movement’s leaders.

IWGB strike at UCL

Outsourced IWGB security workers at UCL commenced held two days of strike action over pay and fighting for union recognition this week. 

The pickets were very well attended with lots of students and student solidarity banners.

The UCL UCU branch wrote to the UCL president strongly criticising the university for using agency staff to break the security workers' strike. They said:

“There appears to be an attempt to victimise workers exercising their lawful rights to join a union and engage in industrial action.

“Striking staff are being deprived of the option to make up their low pay with overtime, beyond and in addition to the loss of a day’s pay for a day’s strike.”

The third day of strike action was called off by IWGB, at the time of writing the reason is unclear.

Bin strikes latest

Unison bin workers for the privateer East Suffolk Norse have voted in 96% result to strike on the 21st of this month over pay.

The private company made a belief-beggaring low offer of less than £2 plus 75p an hour. Tory East Suffolk council claims the offer is “generous”, despite the same subcontractor paying far more in other counties.

Meanwhile, the bin workers in Waveney, Surrey, ended a strike just four days into what had been set to be three solid weeks after receiving a revised pay. GMB has not yet revealed the details of the revised offer from the private employer, Biffa, but has said that the borough council was significantly downplaying the impact the strike had been having after such a short time.

Unison Scotland rejects NHS deal

Unison members in Scotland have rejected a flat pay rise of £2,205 in a consultative ballot.

Unison Scotland’s head of health Matt McLaughlin said:

“Nobody wants to take strike action but without an improved pay offer, our members will be left with no choice.”

Health service staff represented by Unite will take ‘continuous action short of a strike’ including overtime bans and working to rule from 25 November, while ambulance staff in GMB are planning a 26-hour strike from 6am on 28 November.

Unite is also opening further strike ballots to consult NHS members in frontline patient care including blood and transplant services over pay.

Nearly 10,000 more Unite members will receive their ballot papers to join thousands of their colleagues in voting on industrial action as pressure grows on the government to negotiate a much-improved pay offer for the NHS.

The rolling ballots are to close by Christmas, with the potential for action in early 2023.

UAL cleaners ballot for strike

GMB cleaners employed by OCS, working at UAL (University of London) are being balloted for strike action.

The High Holborn UAL workers were on strike for several days in September fighting for more staff after staff numbers have been slashed since OCS took over the contract. There are just five cleaners at this site, they say the workload is far too much for their numbers and is dangerous.

When the cleaners were last on the picket line OCS hired ten agency cleaners to do the work of the strikers, which in itself shows they are understaffed.

GMB say they met with OCS to discuss the dispute and said of the meeting:

“It would appear that OCS continue to deny the issues our members face regarding workload, calling into question the analysis for why we have demanded five additional staff at High Holborn.”

GMB is now balloting all cleaners at UAL, this will include workers at Camberwell College of Art, LCC, Central Saint Martins, London College of Fashion and more. GMB in the meantime have given strike notice for another day of action at High Holborn.

GMB tells gas profiteers: share the wealth

GMB has announced that its members at Baker Hughes, based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, have voted for strike action. The multinational company, which makes pipelines for the oil and gas industry, has offered workers a 4.5% pay rise with a lump sum.

With the CPI inflation rate at 11.1% and Baker Hughes profits in the last financial quarter being 11.29% it is no surprise that workers are voting to strike.  

Michael Hunt, GMB Organiser, said:

"Workers at Baker Hughes are desperate. They’re struggling to make ends meet and feed their families. 4.5% won’t touch the sides. This is a multinational company making vital pipes for the energy sector. They make a lot of money and have orders for many years to come. It’s time they invest some of the cash into the workforce to help them through the cost-of-living crisis.”

Five things to do this week:

1Join your local UCU and CWU picket lines Thursday 24 and Friday 25 November

2Get to your local Midwives' protest on sunday

3Donate to CWU strike fund

4Register for the Stop the War trade union conference (21 January 2023)

5Join your local Aslef Picket line on Saturday 26 November

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