Counterfire’s weekly digest with the latest on strikes and workplace struggles
In a huge victory, Stagecoach bus drivers in South Yorkshire have voted to accept a 10.7% pay increase. The 560 drivers from Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotheram and Dearne Valley began striking against poor pay at the end of November and recently began indefinite strike action which massively disrupted Stagecoach’s bus routes across South Yorkshire.
Stagecoach is the wealthiest bus company in the UK and arrogantly thought they could ride out the strikes. That they have been forced to concede is a testament to the impact the strike had on their whole operation.
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:
“This is a huge win for our members at Stagecoach in South Yorkshire and shows what can be achieved when workers stand together in a union.”
The inflation-busting pay rise shows what can be achieved by workers collectively organising and remaining determined. At every stage the workers stood firm and escalated the action, refusing to back down. In turn, the strikers received a huge amount of support and solidarity from the communities in South Yorkshire and trade unionists nationally.
The bosses have gotten away with deteriorating pay and conditions for too long, and used the pandemic to try and profit even further at the expense of workers. Yorkshire Stagecoach workers have shown the kind of action, determination and solidarity we need to see replicated in disputes and industries across the country to successfully beat them back.
Actavo scaffs fight on!
After twelve weeks on strike in the run-up to Christmas, the Actavo scaffolders at Scunthorpe’s British steel plant have voted to fight on. The ballot for continuing the strike was 83 per cent in favour and is testament to the fighting spirit the strikers have shown throughout.
The strikers face dirty tactics from both Actavo and British Steel. When the bosses get dirty our side has to step up and make the strike more effective. One option is to picket other Actavo sites – after all an injury to one is an injury to all.
We have to get behind the workers with the bottle to stand up and fight. And let’s make every effort to join together all the strikes currently taking place, and show the bosses and their Tory puppets that the working class still has collective power.
Heathrow workers ballot opens
Workers at Menzies, a ground handling and refuelling company, at Heathrow are balloting for strike action from 13-27 January. Over 400 Unite members are demanding an end to a two-year pay freeze and for pay increases in line with the rising cost of living. If the ballot is passed, strike action could begin in mid-February and could cause significant disruption during the half-term holidays.
This strike comes in the wake of several strikes at Heathrow last year, by Heathrow Airport Ltd, British Airways and border control workers.
Coventry bin workers strike on
For Coventry bin workers, Thursday was the second day this week, but day five overall, of a dispute that is likely to be a long one. Braving sub-zero temperature, a strong turn-out of 20-odd Unite members had turned up for the early shift picket line at their depot this morning, and morale was pretty strong.
Unite has prepared for the strike to continue for several days per week for some months, but with the council being completely intransigent in their demands to keep pay down and increase working time and workload, the situation may well escalate even further, and all-out strike is not ruled out.
TfL crisis: As RMT return 94% yes vote, transport unions co-ordinating action hold the key to victory
RMT members returned a huge 94% yes for strike action this week as London Underground refuse to give assurances on jobs, pensions and working conditions in the midst of an ongoing financial crisis driven by Central Government.
General Secretary Mick Lynch said:
“A financial crisis at LUL has been deliberately engineered by the Government to drive a cuts’ agenda which would savage jobs, services, safety and threaten the working conditions and pensions of our members”.
“The same transport staff (were) praised as heroes for carrying London through Covid for nearly two years… politicians need to wake up to the fact that transport staff will not pay the price for this cynically engineered crisis and we will coordinate a campaign of resistance with colleagues from other unions impacted by this threat.”
Aslef, the Train Drivers’ union returned a 99% yes vote for strike action in November last year. The dates for strike ballots from the other two rail unions – TSSA and Unite – remain unknown for now.
Co-ordinated action between the unions could grind London Underground and the entire London Transport system to a halt should Central Government continue to fail to properly fund TfL. The terms of the third bailout came to an end on 11 December 2021 but a short-term extension was agreed to a fast approaching 4 February 2022 as the Government and TfL failed to agree on a renewed financial package and conditions.
The unions hold the power to shift the balance of forces and win if they co-ordinate and mobilise their members on strike against a crisis-ridden homicidal government led by Boris Johnson. London Mayor Sadiq Khan too faces a deepening crisis as his willingness to comply and implement government-driven savage cuts has so far led Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander and TfL finance chief Simon Kilonbach to quit and flee the sinking ship.
Saving education: New Vic teachers strike against academisation
The New Vic sixth form college in Newham saw two days strike action by NEU members this week, continuing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.
During the past five years, the former principal and staff have fought off academisation. The new principal has reneged on a previous agreement made by the outgoing principal to not consider academisation until 2025.
The present economically-based principle is driving forward academisation and a change in staff contracts which could see students and staff suffer, with possible redundancies as are happening throughout education now.
The 102 NEU members were balloted and 98% of the 78% turnout voted for strike action and were joined on the picket line three days this week by Newham socialists, East London Unite Community members and others, hearing messages of solidarity from NEU members in neighbouring boroughs, including those also fighting against academisation of their workplaces whether colleges or schools.
Manchester rallies to support Tracey Scholes
There was a fantastic turnout in Manchester on Tuesday to support Go North West’s bus driver Tracey Scholes. Tracey, who has worked as a driver at the Queens Road bus depot for 34 years and was the depot’s first woman bus driver, has been dismissed from her job for being ‘too short’.
Tuesday was Tracey’s final appeal at the depot and many local activists and trade unionists held a protest outside to show their support. Over 28,000 people have signed a petition supporting Tracey Scholes. You can add your name here.
Sainsbury’s and Argos: Usdaw secures £10 per hour basic rate for retail workers
Usdaw has won at least £10 per hour basic rate for Sainsbury’s and Argos shop workers in an unprecedented new deal. This is a staging post in the union’s New Deal for Workers campaign.
This 50p-an-hour top-up could see an extra grand a year in the pocket of some workers.
Usdaw’s Dave Gill says:
“For some time we have been in discussions with Sainsbury’s about increasing retail staff pay to at least £10 an hour, as we call for in our New Deal for Workers campaign. So I am pleased that Sainsbury’s are able to implement this new hourly rate, a rise that achieves that goal and takes most staff beyond the real living wage.
“It’s been a tough time for food retail staff who have worked throughout the pandemic in difficult circumstances. Most of all they deserve decent pay and this offer is a welcome boost.”
This might not seem a head-turning pay increase, but if retail workers are on the march then so is the class as a whole.
Keep up the pressure on Goldsmith’s
National UCU have backed Goldsmith’s staff’s call for an international boycott of the university as part of the ongoing campaign against swingeing cuts at the institution.
The union is asking members around the country not to participate in conferences or events at Goldsmiths, write for journals produced by the college or take up contracts as external examiners. For the union’s full recommendations see the branch’s website.
Having taken three weeks’ strike action at the end of last year, the UCU branch voted in December for a further three weeks of strike action this year. The dates have not been fixed yet.
There is a model resolution calling for support for the boycott here.
B&Q strikers plough through seventh week
After seven weeks of industrial action, the mass picketing at B&Q’s Retford Road site are as big and loud as ever. Solidarity messages from across the Labour movement are flooding in. Local people are bringing hot food and drinks to the pickets and passing vehicles sound their horns in solidarity.
The attitude of the company that covers distribution for B&Q, Wincanton, is bloody-minded. As Pat McGrath, the lead steward puts it:
“It’s a bit like being locked out. The company have been bloody-minded, showing no desire to meet our demands, but I think that is set to change.
“The lorry drivers for GXO who deliver from here are almost certainly going to be out on strike with us after February 1. Three essential GXO depots will be out – Worksop, Doncaster and Cambuslang in Scotland. That will make one hell of a difference, and start to hit Wincanton where it hurts.”
Inflation is driving workers to take industrial action. The offer to drivers of five per cent plus £750 has been overwhelmingly rejected. Drivers are demanding ten per cent and are prepared to fight for it.
GOSH security guards strike imminent
Security guards at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) are fighting to be bought in house and have parity with NHS staff. On 18 January they start 6 weeks of strike action, following a four-day strike in December.
They will be picketing every day from the 21st from 10 am. Please donate to the strike fund here.
Kent dockers to close port
Unite Sheerness dock workers on the Isle of Sheppy, who are employed by GB Terminals are striking over bosses ‘slashing’ their pay and conditions.
The changes, which affect 50 workers, include job cuts and changes to minimum overtime hours, this is essentially fire and rehire tactics. The workers process vehicles that come in by ferry and strikes are set to disrupt imports of cars and vans coming in from Germany, particularly Volkswagen vehicles. GB Terminal’s contract with Volkswagen is up for renewal.
They are striking for 24 hours every Wednesday in January, in February they plan to strike for 21 days and 20 days in March.
Posties’ union delivers for O2 workers
Communication Workers Union (CWU) at Telefonica Retail which owns O2 has secured a 10% increase in their base pay.
This agreement arose out of the cessation of a previous target-driven bonus scheme.
CWU’s Tracey Fussey says:
“The CWU has always believed that excellent customer service is best supported by a decent base pay, and we’re delighted that the business has listened so constructively our concerns over the former bonus structure.”
It’s good to see incentivised individualism flounder, but even better to see the results of workers’ collectivity make the wage packet.
Chep strikers resolve grows stronger by the day
The Unite members striking at Chep in Trafford Park are about to finish their fourth week of continuous strike action with no sign of backing down until their demands for a fair pay increase are met.
Manchester Trades Council organised an excellent rally earlier this week which featured Chep Manchester rep Gary Walker who spoke around the issues they have faced and the journey the workers at the depot have been on. There were solidarity speakers from Chep Pontefract and local MP Rebecca Long-Bailey.
The resolve on the picket line is stronger than ever. Despite a few scabs staying in to run a small operation, the depot has faced a crippling shortage of repaired pallets which is causing an impact on the national operation.
These workers are determined to hold out until their demands are met and the union has thrown their full support behind them.
Refusing to back down: bin strikes to spread across south coast
Refuse collectors in Eastbourne were on strike for their third day this week over pay and conditions, and are out again from Friday 14 till 28 January. GMB has launched a consultative ballot of refuse workers in nearby Ardur and Worthing which could see the bin strikes spread across the south coast.
The strikers are standing strong despite intimidation from Sussex police in response to pickets allegedly blocking non-striking lorries from leaving the depot.
Striking dustcart driver Rob Baker told Counterfire on the days they were working in between strike days, the overwhelming majority of residents came out to support the refuse workers and told them to “stick to it, keep going, beat the council and get what you deserve.”
The longest-running gig economy strike
Stuart delivery drivers who deliver for JustEat are back out on strike over a 25% cut to their pay in what is now the longest-running gig economy strike. The workers represented by IWGB union were on strike for 18 days in December and have resumed their strike this week, protesting the company’s management and picketing outside McDonald’s branches. The strike started initially in Sheffield and has since spread to Chesterfield, Sunderland, Huddersfield and Blackpool.
The strike fund has already collected over £15,000. You can donate here.
Waltham Forest refuse workers rally for fair pay
Waltham Forest Town Hall was the backdrop for a show of solidarity by Unite and GMB members of the Refuse and Cleansing Team on Thursday.
These workers have been outsourced to private company Arbaser who pay them far less than workers doing the same jobs in neighbouring Boroughs, the drivers, loaders and street cleaners, being the worst paid at around ten pounds an hour.
The workers are demanding a pay rise, in line with their counterparts in Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets and want the service to be bought back in-house.
Stop the presses: Scottish print workers strike back
Print and publishing workers employed by FLB in Dalkeith began the first of a series of 24 hour strikes this week. The workers represented by Unite are striking against a pay freeze and voted at the end of last year by 95.7% on an 84.4% turnout to strike. The latest offer the workers had been offered before the strike began was 2.75% which was rejected.
The 24 hour strikes will continue every Wednesday to Thursday until 31 March.
“The main thrust of our campaign is to have a kind of catch up with the rest of the industry” @uniteforflbpay
— Unite Scotland (@UniteScotland) January 12, 2022
West Belfast women’s hostel occupied by workers to stop closure
Workers of Regina Coeli House in West Belfast, the only female-only facility providing shelter and support for women at risk of homelessness, addiction, mental health and domestic abuse, have occupied the building to save it from closure.
The facility is due to be closed at the end of February and over the course of the pandemic vulnerable residents have been transferred out to mixed-sex facilities.
The workers have taken control of the building and say they will run it themselves and continue to provide support for the remaining residents until Stormont intervenes and ensures it stays open. Community activists, the local Sinn Féin MP and trade unionists protested outside the building on Wednesday evening in support of the workers and called for the Communities minister to find the funding for the building and stop its closure.
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