Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
Refuse workers covering some 60,000 households across Sandwell Council staged a solid strike this Tuesday.
The strike is the result of a culmination of grievances including what the GMB Union refer to as “contracts within a contract” where refuse workers doing the exact same job receive different pay packages from employer Serco.
Workers have complained of massive pay differences as high as £4,000 – £6,000 a year. Some workers have been forced to work excessive overtime just to pay the bills. Over 80 pickets stood firm against a “culture of bullying and harassment” and have scheduled further strikes at the same time on Tuesday 7th, 14th and 21st September.
Workers told Birmingham Live:
“There has been barely any support from Sandwell council. Quite the opposite actually. It’s almost as if they want to brush it under the carpet.”
While Acas talks continue to resolve the dispute, Justine Jones, GMB Regional Organiser said:
“Our members have been left with no other options but to strike. The blame lies squarely at the door of Serco and Sandwell Council leadership who would rather turn a blind eye to it.”
Ferry workers bouyed by victory.
The long-running dispute on the Woolwich Ferry now looks to be resolved – in the crew’s favour. Like the Bexley bins dispute, an intransigent employer operating an out-sourced service has been confronted by a determined collective response to a bullying and autocratic management style.
Like Bexley, the public body (in this case TfL) has had to bring the service back in-house to ensure delivery. Again like Bexley, the workforce is so disillusioned by the bad faith they have experienced in the past, that – although they are happy with the (new) employer’s commitments – they have made it clear that industrial action is still on the cards if the words of management don’t get reflected in actual practice.
Labour staff strike is on
The results of the Labour Party staff ballot have returned an overwhelming mandate for strike action.
Around 75% of Unite and GMB members voted to strike on turnouts around 80% as they seek to avoid redundancies as part of the new bureaucracy’s trimming down of the party apparatus by axing 90 staff members.
The Party says it hopes to avoid compulsory redundancies and has offered enhanced severance pay.
Vaughan West, GMB Organiser, said:
“Labour Party workers have shown the strength of their anger at this ballot result.
We hope party bosses will now sit up, take notice and talk with unions so we can avoid compulsory redundancies.”
Defend Paul Holmes
Paul Holmes, the recent Unison General Secretary candidate who came second due to a split left vote is facing expulsion from his job at Kirklees Council and it seems that the right of his union are happy to see him go.
Holmes was suspended from his role working for the council and Unison shortly after successfully agitating for strike action when bin workers were allegedly bullied and harassed by the council in 2019. Holmes was branch secretary at the time and the branch was then put into special measures, under the supervision of regional officers.
Earlier this year, when the left took control of Unison’s NEC, they elected Holmes as President but his expulsion from his job at the council would make him ineligible to stand as President.
Supporters are asking for solidarity. There will be a protest outside the hearing on Monday 6th September, 9am at The Clarion, Cedar Court Hotel, Huddersfield.
PCS and the DVLA: Covid workplace dispute enters its twentieth week
The Swansea-based health and safety clash isn’t going away and PCS leader Mark Serwotka has upped the ante with an open letter to the bosses:
“I understand the frustrations people have about the delays to some DVLA services but I want to make it clear that the blame for this lies not with our members concerned about their safety but with DVLA management and the government.
By subjecting us to delay tactics and shifting the blame of backlogs onto committed members of staff, your department is failing to take the concerns of your own workers seriously. That’s why our members won’t let up and we’re currently running a consultative ballot as we seek to keep up the pressure in the next phase of this dispute.”
Fine words from the top but let’s make sure it’s matched by the kind of grassroots solidarity action we’re seeing with the Royal Parks.
Local government pay: can Unison Scotland trail a blaze?
School cleaners, janitorial staff, waste & recycling workers are among those frontline workers Unison Scotland are balloting for strike action.
Unison leader Christina McAnea says: “Council workers have gone above and beyond to keep services and schools running throughout the pandemic. They went to work so others could stay at home.
“These workers, mostly women, are among the lowest paid in the country and have seen their pay drop substantially in recent years.
Now the warm words must be backed with action to ensure the local government employees receive the fair and proper pay rise they deserve.”
The 2018 Glasgow cleaners’ strike was a solid benchmark we can all build upon. This campaign has all the hallmarks of a test case, not just for the UK’s biggest union but the class as a whole.