Shelly Asquith’s TU-esday round-up: A bumper edition for the year end

Shelly Asquith

It didn’t have to be like this, did it? We needed tougher measures to enforce safety, contain the virus and protect jobs: all calls the labour movement has made since the start of the Covid crisis. There is so much to be angry about, but there is hope and inspiration to be found as working-class people fight for the safety and dignity we deserve. Here is the last in trade union industrial news for 2020, and it is a bumper edition for the year end. See you in 2021: unionised, immunised and ready for the struggles ahead.

Send me the location

Exclusive! Do you want to see all the latest strikes visualised? Of course, you do. Strike Map is here, and it is dropping more pins than a strike at a bowling alley. Check out where the latest workplace battles are taking place, submit your own and plan your journey to your local picket line. Trade unionists Henry Fowler and Robert Poole have launched the site and are working with reps to gather intelligence and develop it further. Give it a visit and a share.

Gas pedal

More than 7,000 British Gas workers will be called on to walk off the job between January 7th and 11th after GMB members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in response to the company’s fire and rehire proposals.

The inspiring strikers at the Rolls Royce site in Barnoldswick continue their strike, now in its seventh week, as they battle to save their jobs. The strike is scheduled to run until December 24th. You can find ways to support the fight here.

Members of UVW at a SAGE care home in North London will announce strike dates in early 2021 as they face down a hostile employer who refuses to engage or recognise the union. The key workers are seeking a fair pay deal and improved sick pay. The members received some cross-union support as Unite’s London and eastern region declared their desire to join them on picket lines in a letter signed by their doctor member representatives.

The CWU has conducted a consultative ballot on its BT Group membership, returning an impressive 97.9% vote in favour of strike action. The dispute is over job security, as bosses hell-bent on making redundancies also attack pay and conditions. The union says this vote is the most important to have taken place by these workers since the 1987 strike. Prospect, who represent managers in BT, also launched a ballot and received 96% support to strike over plans to halve redundancy pay. The two unions have issued a joint statement committing to “fighting together”.

A joint union strike is really painting a picture of despair as workers at International Paint in Gateshead announce a two-day stoppage. The action, as called by Unite and GMB, involves an overtime ban from January 4th. The 400 plus workforce are seeking a 3% pay rise and national collective bargaining rights.

Trouble at sea

Ferry staff at Wightlink in Guernsey began balloting for strike action on December 14th as RMT opposes plans to withdraw pension rights and impose changes to working conditions.

Some 40 tractor tug crew members in Davenport docks will go on strike over changes to their rota that risk a dangerous increase in fatigue. The Unite members will walk out between December 25th and 30th, and again from January 11th until January 16th.

Driven to action

Thousands of bus drivers in the capital could strike in the new year, as up to 20,000 of them prepare to be re-balloted over pay and safety concerns. Unite says new plans will see members losing 8% of pay and risk driver and passenger safety. Bradford bus drivers in Unite already voted to strike over being made to work extended shifts and are set to announce strike dates in early January.

Bus drivers employed by Stagecoach in the East Midlands are also balloting to strike in a battle for safety. Despite dozens of bus drivers tragically dying from Covid since the start of the pandemic, Stagecoach is planning to roll back measures considered by RMT as essential to safety. The company has reintroduced cash handling after having introduced contactless payment as a means of limiting virus transmission.

The strike at the Leeds-based bus manufacturer Optare, now in its ninth week, will continue through to the new year, Unite has confirmed. The 100-strong strike is over the company’s failure to honour a promised pay rise. Workers at another Optare factory, in Selby, have also joined the strike as of January 21st. Such a lengthy strike action at this time of year is a hard graft on members – you can donate to the Optare strike fund via Unity trust bank, account name: NE/200/1 Optare Branch, Account number: 20327132, Sort code: 60-83-01.

Ambulance workers at two London hospitals are threatening a “wave of strike action” in the new year after voting yes to action in an indicative GMB ballot. The workers, employed by HATS Group at St George’s and St Mary’s hospitals, are in dispute over several issues including attacks on terms and conditions. The union is also calling on the NHS to bring these contracts in-house.

Last week, taxi drivers took part in a protest – in their cabs – outside the Scottish parliament demanding financial support for cabbies after a survey found 80% have lost up to three-quarters of their income.

Scotrail guards are on strike at Glasgow Central station. The RMT members are in dispute over the use of disciplinary procedures. Strikes days are December 20th and 27th and the January 3rd, with a ban on overtime throughout the period.

A moveable feast

Unite members who deliver Walkers crisps are feeling salty and a little cheesed off after employer Eddie Stobart imposed a pay freeze. They will be working to rule with an overtime ban from December 26th to January 15th. After that point, they intend to strike if the employer has not entered negotiations.

Delivery drivers and warehouse workers who keep shops stocked with food items including Tabasco Sauce and Jammie Dodgers have been on strike since December 19th in a fight over low pay and victimisation. The 120-strong Liverpool workforce is employed by DHL. Unite has blasted DHL for disgracefully calling the police on picketers more than 10 times to try and break the action.

Civil disobedience

The civil service is facing two walkouts. Safety concerns are behind why 94% of workers balloted in the government Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department have voted to strike. The PCS members, employed by contractor ISS and working as cleaners, porters and postal service workers, say people are being asked to attend work who should instead be supported to stay safe at home. It comes after four tested positives with the virus. Strike dates are yet to be set. PCS is now also balloting members employed by agency OCS in Courts and Tribunals service. Workers in the department are demanding the real living wage, as well as improved annual leave and sick pay allowances.

Flying pickets

Heathrow continues to be hit by strikes. Last week a 48-hour stoppage in response to fire and rehire tactics also brought to light serious safety concerns. Unite members who work as firefighters, engineers, baggage operators and more face cuts of up to 25%.

Now, the airport will be hit by a nine-day stoppage by 840 British Airways cargo workers who voted 98% in favour of the stoppage over Christmas and New Year. The fight is over plans to fire and rehire staff on worse terms and conditions.

Members of Prospect at Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd will begin industrial action on the January 4th/5th over plans to instal remote towers and make 50 air traffic control staff redundant. The workers are refusing to perform functions that relate to the plan or the closure of facilities.

School’s out

As far as teachers are concerned, the government has failed their tests this term. Covid has made schools some of the most dangerous workplaces with infection rates running high and plans to introduce Covid testing coming too late, causing chaos over the Christmas break. School unions and organisations issued a joint response, labelling government plans “inoperable”.

Teachers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and West Dunbartonshire have all voted in EIS union ballots to formally declare a dispute over Covid safety concerns. They are asking for the same levels of protection as other key workers.

Meanwhile, members of the EIS in colleges have voted for industrial action over plans to downgrade jobs. At Forth Valley College, action short of strike continues after a month in a bid to save 30 jobs. And in North East England, NASUWT members at Furrowfield school have another five dates of strike action planned in January in their dispute over bullying.

Special needs educators in East London have recently been on strike. The Support for Learning Services in Tower Hamlets is facing huge cuts, and the NEU has notified the council of further strike days on 12-13 January 12th-13th and February 3rd-4th. In Hackney, NEU members at Leaways school are demanding improvements to theirs and the children’s conditions in what is a cold and understaffed SEN school.

Unite is now balloting members in two London schools over plans to sack more than half the teaching support staff at Colvestone Primary School and the Thomas Fairchild Community School. The ballot closes on the January 8th.

University challenges

A recent ballot of UCU members at Northumbria University – where 770 students tested positive for coronavirus – returned an overwhelming commitment to strike over face-to-face teaching plans. The employer backed down and the government has now advised online learning to be the default for universities at least until early February. Branches at universities including Roehampton and Manchester Met have also conducted consultative ballots, enjoying huge support for action over safety and workloads – suggesting action in the new year is on the cards.

Elsewhere in higher education, UCU members at the University of East London have voted overwhelmingly for action in response to despicable plans to make more than 100 people redundant. Follow the campaign to #SaveUEL here.

More than 30 security officers, porters and cleaners at the University of Greenwich are balloting for a strike until the December 23rd as they demand Sodexo places them on terms and conditions equal to that of university staff. Their union, IWGB, has identified Sodexo’s pay practices as structurally racist. You can add support by signing their petition and donating to their strike fund.

Winning in the workplace

It is easy to miss the victories through the endless stream of negative news, but there has been some more success in recent weeks worth sharing.

Hundreds of cleaners employed by outsourcing giant OCS will be brought in-house by Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2021, following pressure from UVW. This is the second hospital to make the move after a strike at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust led to workers being moved to NHS contracts.

And a group of 30 drug and alcohol support workers in Wigan and Leigh has just won a fight to be paid at NHS rates as well as achieving recognition for their union, Unison. They had been on strike for a total of 26 days and in dispute for 15 months.

Don’t forget to visit Strike Map to find the nearest strike to you and choose a way to safely show support.

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