Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Over 90% of union members at the Post Office have voted to continue strike action and introduce an overtime ban in their dispute with the employer.
Under the UK’s anti-trade union legislation, trade unions must re-ballot their members after six months for further industrial action to be lawful.
CWU members working across the Post Office network first took strike action back in March over a below-inflation pay offer and a refusal by bosses to sit down and negotiate a better deal. The Post Office has posted profits of £74 million over the last two financial years.
Acting Deputy General Secretary Andy Furrey said:
“After nine bouts of strike action, in a dispute that’s now gone on for nearly seven months, it really says something about the sheer determination of our members that they voted again in such enormous numbers for further walkouts.
“The CEO needs to listen to his workforce and put more money on the table. He’s got nearly two weeks before the action begins so he can still do this, we repeat our message to management – see sense, get back to the negotiating table and offer our members the fair deal they deserve.”
Crown and Admin members will commence strike action at or after 6am on Monday 12 December and before 8pm on Tuesday 13 December.
Supply Chain members commence an overtime and scheduled attendance ban at midnight on the morning of Monday 12 December until one minute before midnight on Saturday 24 December.
Royally pissed off posties join forces with striking lecturers
Royal Mail workers continued their strike action and coordinated with higher education workers in UCU for three days over the last two weeks. On the third strike day on Wednesday, UCU held a national demonstration in London with thousands of strikers and supporters marching from King’s Cross to the University employers HQ.
Joe McCluskey reports, “There was a great showing of solidarity in Stoke-on-Trent on Wednesday as striking lecturers from Stoke 6th Form College and Staffordshire University joined the picket line outside the Royal Mail Delivery Office.”
Caitlin Southern added that, “The atmosphere at Newcastle University’s main picket line was upbeat despite the freezing weather with a good turnout even though some of the strikers had gone down to London for the national demonstration.”
In Lincoln, UCU pickets were joined by CWU strikers. Pat Sikorski said “The message from the posties was loud and clear: “Together we will all win!” It was a tremendous turn out as half UCU regular picketers were down in King’s Cross for their national rally. The 1,500 posties covered by the Lincolnshire and Doncaster District are completely solid.”
The CWU will be holding a rally in support of their long-running dispute with Royal Mail. The union is asking members to assemble at 1pm at Parliament Square in London on Friday 9 December, transport will be provided by local branches. You can find out the details of transport from your area by contacting your branch.
Watch Alistair Cartwright’s interviews with striking lecturers at Birkbeck University here.
CWU reach an agreement with BT, but not everyone is happy
The CWU has reached a ‘Final Agreement’ with BT Group following a dispute over pay that has seen the first national strike across the company since 1987.
Whilst in the current climate, where it seems national companies are digging their heels in and refusing to make decent offers to resolve disputes, reaching a deal may seem to be a positive step but members are not too happy with the proposals.
The deal, if accepted, would see all CWU grades get a permanent increase of £3,000 pa (pro-rata). But in percentage terms, this represents a below-inflation pay award for most grades.
With RPI inflation currently at 14.2% and the deal representing just under a 10% increase for OpenReach engineers, it is no surprise that many members have reacted negatively to the deal on the union’s social media pages. In his article analysing the state of industrial struggle at the moment, Unjum Mirza relays some of the responses to the deal.
A consultative ballot will now take place via email and it is to be concluded just before Christmas. It is now imperative that rank-and-file activists within the CWU campaign for their colleagues to reject the deal, as the Junior Doctors did in 2016, and push the union to fight for a better deal and real pay increase.
The CWU Executive Committee is recommending members accept the deal.
RMT: national cleaners’ £15 strike
Over 1,000 RMT cleaners working across the rail nationally have voted to strike for a pay rise to £15 an hour.
The workers employed by outsourcing companies Churchill, Mitie and Atalian Servest are also fighting for pensions, sick pay and holiday pay. The national strike will take place on 22, 23 and 31 December.
The RMT are saying that the ‘ultimate’ goal is for the cleaners to be bought back in-house.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said:
“Cleaners are an integral part of our railways and it is a national disgrace that many languish on the minimum wage, with no company sick or holiday pay, when they were rightly considered heroes during Covid.”
Mixed results in NHS ballot
Despite the disappointing result of the Unison ballot that saw the majority of branches fail to reach the turnout demanded under the undemocratic trade union legislation, Unison ambulance workers including 999 call handlers, ambulance technicians and paramedics will join colleagues in GMB and Unite in striking before Christmas.
Ambulance staff in London, Yorkshire, North East, North West and South West England will take part in the dispute while Unison officials decide what steps to take in areas where turnout was slightly below the threshold.
While no health trusts in Wales had legally binding ballots, ambulance staff in Northern Ireland have already voted for a week of action short of a strike from 5 December followed by a one-day strike on 12 December.
Unison in Scotland is recommending that staff accept the latest offer from Holyrood of a minimum £2,205 pay rise in a ballot closing 12 December.
Unison general secretary Christine McAnea said:
“The decision to take action and lose a day’s pay is always a tough call. It’s especially challenging for those whose jobs involve caring and saving lives. But thousands of ambulance staff and their NHS colleagues know delays won’t lessen, nor waiting times reduce, until the government acts on wages. That’s why they’ve taken the difficult decision to strike.”
Unite: Imperial College London walkout
200 Unite members walked out at the top-notch science university on 30 November in response to a pitiful 3% pay offer. Unite members will include the technical support staff, key workers in an institution like Imperial. The strike coordinated with the UCU national strike and members of the two unions held a joint picket line.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says:
“Imperial College can absolutely afford to put forward a proper pay rise to these workers, who are struggling with rocketing living costs in the one of the most expensive cities in the world.”
Let’s make sure all the striking higher education unions get behind one standard in the New Year. That’ll involve agnation from below.
Strikers beef with Quorn
The 60 workers on strike at the Quorn ‘meat-free paste’ factory in Billingham received a boost this week when supporters protested outside the Plant Based World Expo event in London, sponsored by Quorn. The company claims to be ‘ethically-driven’ but the protestors exposed the other side of the company.
The 60 members of Unite are striking over a ‘derisory’ 3% pay offer from the company – which made £7.9m pre-tax profit last year, and paid its top director £1m.
As one striker worked out:
“If he could tighten his belt, and survive on just £8,000 a week, he could pay us all an extra £10,000 a year. It’s disgusting.”
Sellafield cleaners act on cost of living crisis
Over 300 GMB cleaners working at Sellafield nuclear power plant, employed by Mitie are voting to strike over pay. The ballot closes on 8 December.
GMB organiser Oli Slack said:
“Sellafield’s cleaners do a difficult, sometimes dirty job keeping this huge nuclear site running smoothly. Bosses promised them a pay offer at the beginning of November to help with the devastating cost of living crisis. But so far they’ve had nothing and workers are angry”
Amazon workers’ campaign steps up in Coventry
On Friday, the GMB union held a protest at Amazon’s huge Coventry hub site, a public stepping up of the drive to obtain union representation for warehouse workers in this country.
The union had invited the wider labour movement to turn up for the demonstration. It was timed to catch the late afternoon traffic rush and was greeted by hundreds of drivers enthusiastically honking their horns in support, a strong show that the unionisation has widespread support.
The campaign for workers’ rights at Coventry Amazon has been going on in a serious way since August and has already come close to the workers taking industrial action. Union activists have been recruiting members since Amazon attempted to fob its staff off with an insulting 50p pay rise. They have been managing to recruit well, despite significant challenges.
There have been some profound acts of solidarity and initiative: in order to help spread the word through significant language barriers among a hugely diverse workforce, workers have been translating the union leaflets for one another. Membership grew well, and the union went for a strike ballot. This initially failed, but only by a tiny number of votes and it seems like a lot of the workers were simply struggling with the antiquated postal balloting system unions are still forced to use by the state.
Despite the frustrating loss, Amazon was sufficiently shaken to “spontaneously” award £500 bonuses to staff not only at Coventry but at other British sites. Confidence, as seen at the protest is growing and the union will go for another ballot with a view to striking to force Amazon to finally grant recognition.
Sheffield UCU strike
UCU members at the privately run University of Sheffield International College staged 3 days of strike action 28-30 November and will work to rule from 1 December as their pay dispute continues.
UCU is demanding a minimum rise of at least 12% to combat the cost of inflation, while employer Study Group refuses to offer more than 5%.
The third day of their strike coincided with the national UCU strike, and they held a joint rally in the town centre with strikers from University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University, CWU strikers and Sheffield NEU.
Greene King workers bitter
188 Unite members, working for Greene King, will strike next Monday for 5 days. The company has refused to improve on a pay offer of 3% (plus a one-off unconsolidated payment of £650).
Greene King runs 2,700 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the UK, and is owned by CK Property Assets, who bought it in 2019, for £27b (yup, £27,000,000,000). The group also owns the Port of Felixstowe – so not short of a bob or two then.
The brewer’s three sites at Abingdon, Eastwood and the headquarters at Bury St Edmunds will all be affected. The company brews include IPA, Speckled Hen and Abbot Ale.
Shop stewards from the Port of Felixstowe intend to travel to Bury to show support:
“We benefitted from solidarity during our strike – it’s time for us to show a bit of that back.”
Out of road in talks with the Rail Delivery Group
TSSA, the white-collar transport union, has pulled out of talks with the combined employers on the railways as of Tuesday. The other unions – RMT and Aslef – had already ceased discussions with the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) when it came out last week that the government and the treasurer have prevented the employers from making any actual offers on pay or conditions: in other words, there is now no negotiation process at all, and the Tories are simply conducting a direct war on the workforce.
Members of TSSA in Network Rail and multiple train operating companies are now being re-balloted for action, which they are likely to vote to do given that RMT members already have.
The companies with ballots are Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands, LNER, Northern, Southeastern and Transpennine Express. All will close by Christmas.
The union is holding a national meeting of reps this week and a national-level members’ online meeting next week.
GMB: Wiltshire parking wardens to strike over pay
GMB members are threatening strike action again after council bosses reneged on a previous deal.
Local organiser Andy Newman says:
“We thought that a deal had been reached with the council, and called off a strike in the summer because the council agreed for pay protection for the lifetime of the contracts of existing staff, which guaranteed that they would lose no money.
“In the current cost of living crisis, actually taking money away from staff is crazy, and even the suggestion of a future pay cut has caused a crisis of retention and recruitment.”
The workers are set to take a full seven days commencing 10 December. This will include two of the year’s busiest Saturdays.
News from the Frontline doesn’t need to tell our readers that actions speak louder than words.
Stowmarket factory strikes from strong ballot results
Over 70 production workers at Akzo Nobels factory in Stowmarket, makers of Dulux paint, struck this Wednesday.
Unite the union reported a 94% vote for the strike, which is in protest over the company’s 4.3% pay offer. The strikers were joined on the picket line by shop stewards from the AB Agri mill in neighbouring Bury St Edmunds, who are themselves preparing to ballot for strike action over pay.
Biffa workers tell company to bin pay offer
More than 220 refuse workers, employed by Biffa on the Wirral’s outsourced waste contract, are due to strike for 5 days from Monday.
The Unite members are protesting against the low wages paid by Biffa (HGV drivers are on £11.95 an hour, and street sweepers earn barely above the minimum wage, at £10.70 an hour.
The shop stewards told NFTF that the union claim is for 15%:
“the company can clearly afford it, as they boasted in their latest accounts that the company has seen record growth, and revenues have increased by 38.5%. We are only asking for a share in their bonanza.”
Interestingly, the trade paper, Material Recycling World, says:
“[The] strike threat at Wirral comes after a lull in industrial action in the local authority waste sector. This year saw a rash of strikes [across] … Scotland, Northern Ireland and numerous parts of England.”
So even the bosses are aware of the discontent over low pay. Perhaps Biffa management should read their own paper.
Scottish teachers keep up the pressure
Teaching union Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) kicks off the 2023 action campaign with sixteen consecutive days of action commencing 10 January.
EIS general secretary Andrea Bradley says:
“We have been forced into the escalation of this action by the lack of willingness to negotiate properly and to pay teachers properly, by a Government that says it wished to be judged on its record on education. The judgment of Scotland’s teachers on the matter of pay is clear, with the first programme of national strike action that we have engaged in for four decades.
“It is now for the Scottish Government and Cosla to resolve this dispute, and prevent further strike action, by coming back to the negotiating table with a substantially improved pay offer for all of Scotland’s teaching professionals.”
The education workers are fighting for a 10% pay rise. There’s a lot to admire in EIS’ “no messing” approach.
Outsourced cleaners protest poverty pay
GMB cleaners and hostesses employed by outsourcer ISS, working at South London Maudsley NHS Trust (SLAM) held a lively protest outside the hospital on Denmark Hill while at work on Thursday over pay.
The workers are fighting for an end to poverty pay, they want £13.60 an hour and sick pay parity with NHS staff and an end to a multiple-tier workforce.
The protest was loud with dancing and drumming and chants of ‘ISS pay us now’. Several managers were surrounding the protest, pressuring the workers to return to work but they carried on for a little while longer regardless.
— Cici Washburn (@CiciWashburn) December 1, 2022
PCS members at DVSA to strike in December and January
Driving examiners and rural payment agency staff are the first to go on strike following the PCS union’s ballot of civil servants last month.
The union balloted its members over cuts to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and attacks on jobs, pensions and pay. Just under 70% of union members at the DVSA took part in the ballot with a 92% yes vote for industrial action.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“This is the first wave of the hardest-hitting industrial action the government will have faced in decades and will cause a massive amount of disruption.
“The government, which has spent years turning a blind eye to our pay demands, will no longer be able to ignore us.
“The government is in the position to stop these strikes by putting money on the table. Ministers must know we will not stop until our demands are met and our members receive the decent pay rise they need to get them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”
PCS members will receive strike pay at their normal full rate of pay from the union.
- North-east England and Scotland – Tuesday 13 to Sunday 18 December
- North-west England and Yorkshire & the Humber – Monday 19 to Saturday 24 December
- East of England, East Midlands and West Midlands – Wednesday 28 to Saturday 31 December and Tuesday 3 January
- London, south-east England, south-west England and Wales – Wednesday 4 to Tuesday 10 January
Win on the bins in Suffolk
Bin workers in Unison in East Suffolk called off strike action without ever taking it.
The privatised employer, Norse, has conceded significant pay increases. The workers voted to accept the new deal after receiving increases that matched those of nearby authorities and amounted to a 23% rise for the lowest paid.
Offshore oil workers on North Sea facilities operated by Petrofac out of Aberdeen on behalf of Repsol Sinopec Resources are to strike on 8-9 December after a Unite ballot saw 98.3% of members vote in favour.
The dispute revolves around pay cuts and working rotations that the union maintains force the workers to go over Working Time Directives.
Five things to do this week:
1Join the CWU Postal worker national strike rally in Parliament Square on Friday 9 December at 1pm
2Donate to CWU strike fund
3Read Unjum Mirzas analysis The strikes: How we fight and how we win
4Make sure your branch and trades’ council passes this Stop the War Trade Union Conference motion
5Register for Counterfire’s meeting in London: The Strike Wave: Can It Win?
Before you go…
Counterfire is expanding fast as a website and an organisation. We are trying to organise a dynamic extra-parliamentary left in every part of the country to help build resistance to the government and their billionaire backers. If you like what you have read and you want to help, please join us or just get in touch by emailing [email protected] Now is the time!