Shelly Asquith’s TU-esday round-up: Back to school, driving change and fighting the power

Shelly Asquith

It’s not just parliament being shut down, or even the streets outside. While it might not yet be the general strike some on the left have called for in response to Boris Johnson’s prorogation and ‘no deal’ danger, union members across the country are nonetheless flexing their collective muscle. Here’s the current run-down of industrial disputes.

Indefinite action

Workers at Harland and Wolff are now in their fifth week of occupation. The shipyard, in Belfast, is now operating under worker control until a buyer is found. The unions Unite and GMB continue to call for renationalisation of the yard.

It is now week seven for the indefinite strike by heroic PCS members at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in Westminster. Yesterday the campaign for a London Living Wage escalated as the cleaners and caterers were joined by receptionists, security guards, porters and post room staff who will now join them on strike for two weeks before beginning rolling strikes. Readers can continue to support the workers by donating, visiting or by writing to the Secretary of State.

And it’s the fourteenth week of strike action by Bromley Library workers in Unite. This indefinite strike continues as the union demands action on pay and staffing levels and advocates a London-wide boycott of contractor Greenwich Leisure Limited.


Delivering results

Last month I wrote of the USDAW strike at a Sainsbury’s distribution centre in Essex. The workers there have now undertaken four days of rolling strike action as they continue to fight the employer over a new sickness pay policy. 

The CWU are hoping to win a yes vote in their current strike ballot of postal workers. The dispute with Royal Mail is over job cuts, legal protections and the breaking up of the company, among other things. It’s worth checking out the #WeRiseAgain hashtag for the inspiring photos of their gate meetings, and you can use one of their posters to show support in your own home.


Driving change

Transport workers’ strikes are taking place across the country. In the RMT,  South Western Railway workers completed their final day in a four-day strike yesterday in the ongoing fight to #KeepTheGuardOnTheTrain. A dispute over grading is the centre of a strike by maintainers on the Tyne and Wear Metro and will last all weekend, and the union also has members out for two full weeks starting tomorrow at Wabtec Faiveley, a firm that manufactures stock for train operators.

Trains running between Edinburgh and Glasgow have been cancelled for two weeks running now as TSSA members conduct a work-to-rule over ScotRail changing Driver Team Managers’ job roles.

Meanwhile road workers in Unite at Hertfordshire County Council have also voted in favour of a strike as they are forced to sign new contracts that could see them lose up to £12,000 a year in income.

Staff at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency in Nottingham are mid-way through a month long strike over working conditions. The 500-strong PCS membership are being made to work longer hours and the strike is expected to cause considerable disruption to DVSA services. You can send a message of support here.

Health strikes

Two groups of Unite’s members in health are in dispute. The Lincolnshire health visitors will strike all next week in their escalating fight for pay justice. The workforce, made up of mostly women, has already been on strike for 17 days, and last week were joined by Jonathan Ashworth on their picket line.

Pharmacy support workers in Tayside, Scotland, have all voted to strike in a grading dispute, and are due to set a date for the walk-out.

Unison took 300 members out on strike for the second time at Blackpool hospital last week. The workers, employed by outsourcing firm Compass, are demanding parity with NHS pay grades.

It’s a lock-in

From Monday, workers at AB-Inbev beer brewery in Magor, Wales will begin an overtime ban. The dispute could come to a head (…sorry) with strike action if the Unite members are not granted a pay rise at least in line with inflation.

Joining them could be workers at Diageo, a firm which makes whiskey and other spirits in Scotland. The GMB members are the distillery are sour over a similar pay issue.

Fighting the power

The Drax power station in North Yorkshire will be hit by two 24 hour strikes followed by a continuous strike, starting this week. From this Thursday, workers in Unite employed by Altrad-Hertel will picket all entrances as they battle the bosses who have disgracefully refused to register scaffolders under the ‘blue book’ terms and conditions for the sector –the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI).

Update, September 4th on 5.30pm: Hertel has now recognised its workers under NAECI and the strikes are no longer going ahead.

Back to School

We could be hit with a wave of education strikes this term as both the NEU and UCU begin balloting. Members of the NEU in sixth form colleges, which have been hit hard by cuts, are voting for strike in a national dispute over pay. The union is calling for above-inflation increase to all teacher pay points. 

From Monday UCU will begin balloting 50,000 of its members in an ongoing dispute over pensions. It follows members at Tower Hamlets College who walked out last week over pay and conditions. The UCU is the only union so far planning a walk-out on 20th September for the ‘climate strike’; albeit a week or so before university terms start proper; but with TUC Conference taking place next week it’s expected that other unions will back and join the action.

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