Shelly Asquith’s TU-esday round-up: 2019 so far

Shelly Asquith


One month into 2019, union members have been on the offensive across sectors, with pay awards coming in as we approach the new financial year. Over the last week, though, the leaders of Labour’s three largest affiliates (Unite, Unison, GMB) dominated the headlines, as the general secretaries met with the Prime Minister about Brexit.

Unison’s Dave Prentis, writing in The New Statesman, said: “I told [May] that the economic calamity of a no-deal Brexit would wreck the economy and cause untold damage to services.” Unite’s Len McCluskey hit out at May for the meeting being “two years too late”, highlighting the manufacturing jobs already at risk, while Tim Roache of the GMB “asked for an extension to Article 50 but sadly the Prime Minister did not agree”.

There is beef with other sections of the ruling class too: GMB members in the Royal Palaces have been on strike. Last Tuesday saw the second day of picketing by beefeaters at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. The dispute is over changes to their pensions, and members in the PCS union have also walked out.

Back in August, members of the CWU at Ericsson rejected a pay deal, and in a consultative ballot, 90% of them voted in favour of a strike. But the union has now negotiated a far higher settlement, accepted by the workers. In the postal service, a ballot by the union at a Northern Ireland delivery office closes today, as 70 workers threaten to strike in solidarity with two colleagues subjected to dismissal.

Yesterday the FBU announced success in its campaign to stop cuts to Merseyside fire authority. Having won huge support from the public and local Labour parties, the firefighters have convinced the authority to instead increase jobs and engine numbers. This follows the huge victory by the union in the Court of Appeal, where it was fighting on the issue of discriminatory pension changes. The dispute with the government has been ongoing since 2015 and has included strike action and a court case, which was covered in this column last year.

The outsourcing battle broadens, as Unison has launched #BringThemIn. Taking aim at University College London, the union is demanding that cleaning staff are brought back in-house. It has already seen success at nearby SOAS, and GMB has also been campaigning on a similar demand at University of the Arts.

More stories we covered last year have yielded success. Following the Glasgow equal pay strike in October, the council there has agreed a settlement of 14,000 claims – a significant victory for the women involved.

And the first ever strike at a Wetherspoons, staged by members of the Bakers’ Union, has settled in a pay rise. The pub chain has agreed to pay the workers in Brighton an extra 60p an hour, while abolishing the youth pay-rate and boosting pay for late night shifts right across the country.

Before Christmas, we told you about the 650 Unite bus drivers in the North East who had balloted for an extra £1 an hour. They kicked off the year with a week of strikes, and have this week accepted a higher pay offer from Arriva. Bravo!

Other workers welcoming in the new year with a pay rise include Musicians’ Union members in arranging and orchestration, Unison members at Wythenshaw hospital after threatening to strike, and members of Unison, GMB and Unite in a jointly agreed a pay deal in the police service. Staff on Cross Country rail, represented by TSSA, also claimed victory in a holiday payment claim.

In union election news, congratulations are due to Dave Calfe as he takes over from Tosh McDonald as President of Aslef. Tosh stood down in December after recently winning a council by-election.

Coming up

Disputes we will be following up on in the coming weeks include proposed action by station managers at Abellio ScotRail. The members of TSSA have voted to strike, raising concerns about understaffing and safety.

The guards at Gatwick airport, who have recently unionised, are voting on strike action to demand an extra £1 an hour. They haven’t seen a pay rise in 12 years.

A total of 3,500 bus drivers in Yorkshire are preparing for a ballot over anti-union bullying by management and the dismissal of two senior Unite reps.

Unison has also issued a consultative ballot to thousands of its members working in schools. The support staff are being asked what level of action they would be willing to take over their pay and conditions. The ballot runs until 5th March.

Usdaw and Community unions are defending their members bearing the brunt of the retail crisis, as both Tesco and William Hill threaten significant job cuts.

And chicken catchers in Suffolk, who are members of Unite, are voting to strike after crying fowl over being forced to work on Christmas and New Years Days. More poultry puns from me if the strike goes ahead…

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