Once more unto the picket lines: who is on strike right now, and why?

Shelly Asquith
© UCU

Once more unto the picket lines. Right across the country, there are battles taking place over pay, pensions, safety and more, and in many cases industrial action is taking place or is on the cards. For Labour members, we are tasked with taking note, and helping tip the scales in the workers’ favour.

Last night I attended a meeting that heard from several reps involved in current strikes. Every one of them emphasised how support and solidarity from outside the dispute has helped boost morale, as well as help pile pressure on employers to cede to demands. So, why not find out where workers near you are taking action, send a message of support, make a donation, or even put in an appearance at the picket line?

University challenges

Today’s the day the national strike by UCU members kicks off, in a total of 58 universities, over pay and pensions. A full list of institutions can be found here, and strikes continue on both the 2nd and 3rd of December.

“These national strikes have to be successful because that will help reinforce local strikes,” Feyzi Ismail, a UCU rep at Goldsmiths, said last night. The Goldsmiths branch of the union has already been on strike for a week: they are out for three weeks in total, in a battle to save 52 at-risk jobs as the College plans cuts across entire departments. You can donate to #GoldStrike here.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) have also begun balloting higher education members over pay.

School’s out

Elsewhere in education struggles, teachers in the NEU are conducting an indicative ballot for strike across 23 private schools managed by the Girls’ Day School Trust, as management proposes to pull out of the national Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

Members of NASUWT at Furrowfield School in Gateshead have taken 18 days of strike action as they demand an end to bullying behaviour from management.

JustStrike

Food delivery couriers employed by Stuart, contracted by the JustEat app, will be on strike from Monday 6th December as they resist cuts to pay. The drivers, in the IWGB union, have won support from local Sheffield MPs.

Tesco delivery drivers in Usdaw are currently balloting to strike in dispute over pay. While Tesco has seen its profits soar during the pandemic, the workers are demanding a better deal. Ballots are being conducted by members in Daventry, Goole, Hinckley, Lichfield, Livingston, Magor, Peterborough and Southampton. If strikes go ahead, they will take place during the festive period.

Engineers at Weetabix have now been on strike for ten weeks, fighting plans to fire and rehire them on worse contracts. You can add your support to the Unite campaign here.

Life support

Workers across the health unions have decisively rejected the government’s 3% pay offer. Members of GMB are now balloting to strike in response. We can also expect the results of an indicative ballot by Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to members in England and Wales this week, while members in Scotland have already showed support for a strike in the same ballot.

The staff who regulate safety in our health services, at the Care Quality Commission (CQC), are also to be balloted by UNISON.

In Berkshire, four hospitals are seeing strikes this week as GMB fights to protect the terms and conditions of members in housekeeping, cleaning, catering and car parking services, which were all recently privatised.

Security guards at Great Ormond Street will strike for equal treatment, seeking annual leave and sick pay offered to in-house NHS staff. The UVW union members will be on strike on the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th December.

Losing authority

UNISON members begin balloting today for a potentially massive strike in local authorities. Public sector workers have been offered a 1.75% pay rise, despite years of real-terms pay cuts. The public service unions are instead calling for a 10% rise. As UNISON rep Simon Hannah put it, they need to get “the biggest vote in the history of the British trade union movement” to make the threshold, as an enormous 400,000 workers will be asked to vote.

There’s a good chance you know someone who works in local government: ask if they’re a member, and if they are, tell them to vote. Unite and GMB, who also have members in local government, have previously run indicative ballots of the pay offer.

Elsewhere in local government, after a massive strike by cleansing workers in Glasgow during COP26, GMB will now ballot more of its members at the council over pay.

Unite will also ballot cleansing workers in Coventry over pay and Christmas working arrangements.

Civil disobedience

Resistance is running high in sections of the civil service. Prospect members have voted to strike at Natural England in a fight over pay, with PCS members there are also currently balloting.

Prospect members at the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) at Porton Down are due to finalise a strike ballot tomorrow, 2nd December.

Border force staff in PCS have joined in a legal challenge to the Home Secretary’s plans to being a ‘push back’ of small boats in the channel, which the union says is “unlawful, unworkable and above all morally reprehensible.”

Scaff on Strike

Scaffolders in Scunthorpe, employed by Actavo, are now in their ninth week of strike action, having begun their walk-out on 4th October. The Unite members are demanding to be paid the nationally-agreed pay rate for the job. They are planning continuous action to the end of the year. The strikers’ resolve is as strong as the structures they build. One Unite rep at the site said last night: “if you stick together, something will give eventually”. LabourList readers can donate to the Scunthorpe scaffolders strike fund: Account no: 20173962 Sort code: 60-83-01.

Shut up shop

More than 450 workers at B&Q warehouse in Wincanton, Worksop are striking every day this week, in opposition to low pay and union victimisation.

Workers at Chep, which manufactures pallets sold to major brands, have announced strike dates as they battle for a pay rise. Chep UK, which is based in Trafford Park, Manchester will see strikes by Unite members on the 3rd, 6th, 10th and 13th December.

Recently a strike by Community union members at a Clarks shoes distribution centre in Somerset lasted for six weeks in a fight over fire and rehire. The union and employer are now in conciliation talks with ACAS. Let’s hope management are quickly brought to heel.

Workers in the GMB at Panasonic in Cardiff are set to go on strike again next week, on Monday 6th December, in a dispute over a successive pay freeze.

Mind the gap

In two weeks, TfL’s funding arrangement with the Department for Transport expires, and there is a risk of enormous funding gaps in the budget for London’s transport. Not good for economic recovery or curbing climate change, and certainly not good for workers.

Today transport unions are protesting in Westminster, while ASLEF returned a big mandate for strike action in prepared opposition. Unite is threatening to mobilise its 22,000 bus drivers in the capital.

The RMT is in dispute over new plans for the Night Tube service. The union is opposing plans that it says will force members to work additional weekend and night shifts, and “wreck work life balance”. They will be back on strike 3rd-5th December, 10th-12th December and 17th-18th December.

On Avanti West Coast, TSSA members are gearing up for a strike over a range of issues including pay and staffing levels, as they vote on whether to take action.

A trio of unions are taking joint strike action at an offshore throughout December. The RMT, Unite and GMB members, employed with North Sea contractors Ponticelli and Semco, are resisting attacks to their terms and conditions.

Over in Edinburgh, workers employed by Rail Gourmet, which provides food on trains, are planning a strike over the new year, between 31st December and 3rd January. The RMT members are in dispute over abuse and bullying.

Driving change

A special mention goes to the bus drivers in Wales, who recently won a dispute over pay. At Stagecoach in South Wales, 230 drivers went on strike for 17 days. Unite rep Lee Hunt last night underlined how the action has resulted in a much stronger presence for the union in the garages: “we had 30% membership when we started, and 100% membership when we went on strike. Not a single member crossed the picket line”. At Arriva Wales, 400 drivers took five days of strike action before accepting an improved pay offer.

Away from Wales, bus drivers are still walking off the job over pay. Drivers at Stagecoach in Yorkshire will take strike action in Barnsley and Rotherham every day between 27th November and 4th December, and in Sheffield, everyday between 28th November and 5th December. In Manchester, bus drivers in Unite are balloting.

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