As strike activity ramps up again, rs21 brings together ten strikes you should know about this month.
At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic there was a short period where no strikes happened anywhere in the UK, perhaps for the first time in decades. This was due to several factors: balloting companies were unavailable, there were concerns about the possibility of picketing safely as people got to grips with how the virus was being transmitted, and trade unions around the world were reeling from the crisis. With workers being forced to attend unsafe workplaces and denied basic health and safety rights, plus a wave of redundancies and cuts to pay, terms and conditions, the workers’ movement has been scrambling to catch up with the situation and fight back against the attacks on the working class.
Numbers of strikes are still relatively low, but they have recovered significantly from this early desert, and crucial battles are being fought up and down the country right now. A successful legal challenge by Unite the Union in November secured the right of workers to picket their workplaces during the pandemic.
With strikes on the up, publicising them is vital. Too often these strikes receive little coverage in mainstream media, attracting only local media attention – if any. Publicising them enables people to show their solidarity, teaches people about strike action, and creates pressure around the strike. Where it’s possible to show up digitally or in person, this can also make a real difference, giving strikers a boost and a chance to discuss their fight and collect funds.
Strike Map UK is an excellent new initiative for keeping up with strikes. This map can be found on our strike solidarity page. It includes information on strikes across the UK, picket line locations and dates, and how to get in touch to support the strikes.
Strike Map UK have recently improved their website – you can become a member, affiliate your trade union or organisation, sign up as a supporter, and join an announcements-only WhatsApp group to receive regular updates on strike action. The map is dependent on people submitting strikes while they are planned or ongoing, so the more widely it is shared the better.
The rest of this article highlights some recent victories and ongoing strikes, and how you can show solidarity.
1. GoNorthWest buses in Manchester
Status: On strike from 28 Feb
Workers: Bus drivers with Go North West in Greater Manchester
Summary: In another dispute against a fire and rehire scheme, Unite members working at Go North West voted 4-1 in favour of a strike in early February, with the strike to begin from 28 February. They successfully fought off fire and rehire and an attempt to fire a trade union rep last year.
Workers are starting an indefinite strike from 4am this Sunday, 28 February. This is significant as it is rare that workers take indefinite strike action. Socialists should make it a priority to support the steps these workers are taking.
2. British Gas
Status: Strikes ongoing
Workers: Field staff engineers at British Gas, agents, and other workers
Summary: Months into a dispute on job cuts and fire and rehire plans by bosses at parent company Centrica, around 7,000 GMB members took five days of strike action from 7-11 January. A four-day strike in February was suspended for talks between GMB and British Gas through ACAS services. With these workers already having taken 18 days of action, the strikes are now back on after Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea refused to take fire and rehire off the table at negotiations. The next four-day strike begins on February 26 and will end just before midnight on March 1. GMB has stated that ‘more than 210,000 homes are in a backlog for repairs and 250,000 planned annual service visits have been axed… the company is misleading the media that it is catching up after 24 hours.’
Many workers felt it was wrong to call off the strikes for the ACAS negotiations. They had to spend a week in the dark about the status of the dispute. The company has said it will sack workers who haven’t signed the new contracts by 31 March, so there is a tight deadline for victory in these strikes. This is a keystone battle against the wave of fire & rehire plans rolling out across the country in both the public and private sector as the pandemic continues.
3. Sage care home
Status: Active dispute
Workers: Care workers and cleaners at Sage Nursing Home in Golders Green, North London
Union: United Voices of the World (UVW)
Summary: Workers have taken two three-day rounds of strike action in January and February, demanding a living wage of £12 per hour, trade union recognition and full sick pay and annual leave in line with NHS rates. Workers also have complaints about inadequate responses to discrimination, victimisation, and health and safety concerns. Sage’s trustees have refused to recognise the workers’ union, but the Central Arbitration Committee has recently ruled in favour of the workers’ proposed bargaining unit in their bid for statutory recognition. Management have not yet settled, but local support from residents and workers is building.
4. Scunthorpe Steelworks
Status: Strikes ongoing – now entering fifth week of strike action
Workers: British Steel contractors with Brand Energy
Union: Unite – North East, Yorkshire and Humber branch
Summary: Workers sought to be paid in line with the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) in 2019, and have been in dispute with bosses since. Currently they are being paid £2 an hour less than this rate. With no movement from managers, 100% of the workforce voted in favour of six days of strikes that began on 25 January. The contract will transfer to Actavo next Monday 1 March which will mean an end to strike action for the time being. Unite said on twitter that ‘Talks will start with Actavo on 18 March to seek a resolution to the pay issue faced by our members.’
Solidarity: send messages of solidarity and follow the strikes on Twitter at @UniteNEYH
5. Schools in Hackney
Status: Active dispute
Workers: Teaching support and school bus staff at Colvestone Primary School and Thomas Fairchild Community School
Union: Unite and the National Education Union (NEU)
Summary: Teaching support and school bus staff co-ordinated strikes over 8-12 February in two separate disputes in Hackney schools. NEU and Unite teaching staff are in dispute with management over job losses and restructuring which they say would make the school unworkable. While jobs are being lost, school management has meanwhile been recruiting for the well-paid head teacher position. Meanwhile 32 drivers and passenger assistants who take disabled children to and from school voted to strike over health and safety issues and because Hackney Council refused to pay them a one-off £500 bonus to recognise their work during the pandemic.
6. Bus strikes in London
Status: strike ongoing
Workers: London bus drivers employed by French-owned RATP, which operates subsidiaries London United, London Sovereign and Quality Line
Summary: Over 2,000 bus drivers have been taking strike action from 22-24 February in a dispute over pay and working conditions. Some of these drivers are facing pay cuts of £2,500 a year, with terms and conditions also being worsened. The strikes have affected eighty services across west London, and Unite members at London Sovereign in north-west London will walk out again on 3 March.
Solidarity: Tweet support using #LondonBusStrike. Attend the pickets of London Sovereign on 3 March. For updates, follow this Facebook page set up by rank and file bus drivers in the strike.
7. La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School cleaners strike
Status: strike action upcoming
Workers: Cleaners employed by Ecocleen at La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School, South London
Union: United Voices of the World (UVW)
Summary: Cleaners at this prestigious South London school are taking the first strike in the school’s history, ‘pledging to walk out for 40 days and 40 nights’ against wage deductions, poverty pay, and institutional racism. The dispute is centered around outsourcing, as the cleaners are outsourced to private contractor Ecocleen and so are given worse pay and conditions than staff directly employed by La Retraite. They only get Statutory Sick Pay, while all other workers at the school can claim full sick pay.
Some workers have had a full month’s wages deducted by Ecocleen after refusing to work until safety concerns were addressed and a risk assessment carried out – nearly half the school’s cleaners stayed away from work until their health and safety demands were met. UVW intends to take Ecocleen to court to recover the withheld wages from these workers, which could be a landmark case as it is the first legal claim of this type in relation to a Covid-19 safety walk-out.
8. Birmingham School H&S
Status: active dispute
Workers: staff at Langley School, Birmingham
Union: National Education Union (NEU)
Summary: Workers went on strike on 24 February due to ‘Covid H&S concerns as well as unreasonable management practices’.
Solidarity: Send messages of support via their Twitter.
9. Goodlord IT workers
Status: strike days upcoming
Workers: IT workers in the referencing section of lettings platform Goodlord
Union: Unite – London Digital & Tech branch
Summary: Workers are taking strike action between 22 February and 5 March over fire and rehire plans which would see many salaries reduced by £6,000 to below the real London Living Wage. Update: workers decided at the beginning of March to escalate to an indefinite strike. [09/03/21]
Solidarity: Pile on social media pressure using #GoodLordBadLord on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Follow SoBadLord on Twitter and unitelondonitc on Facebook. Messages of support or questions can be sent to email@example.com
10. Babcock (RAF Leeming)
Status: Ongoing strike action
Workers: Babcock Aerospace workers at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire
Union: Unite – Yorkshire and the Humber branch
Summary: Around 50 civilian workers who provide operational and engineering services for RAF aircraft voted in favour of strike action after being refused shift pay that is paid to their colleagues at RAF Valley in Wales for performing the same duties, amounting to a disparity of around £5,000 per year. The workers began three weeks of discontinuous strike action on 20 January as well as a continuous overtime ban, grounding fighter jet training flights. Strike action is continuing and will escalate through March.
Solidarity: Follow the strikes and send messages of support to Yorkshire and the Humber branch of Unite on twitter.
Recent strike victories
British Airways cargo workers strike
Status: balloting on a negotiated deal
Workers: Cargo workers for British Airways (BA), mostly at Heathrow Airport
Summary: After industrial action in 2020, BA workers with Unite the union reached agreements with management across the company reducing the bosses’ proposals to slash workers wages, but cargo workers for BA met with total intransigence from management on their plans to fire and rehire workers. These threats caused a great deal of anger among the workers, who voted 98% in favour of strike action. These workers took nine days of strike action over Christmas and the New Year which caused great disruption to BA’s cargo services, and were preparing to take another nine days of strike action when a deal was struck. Unite is now balloting its members on whether to accept the deal – the key points are:
- End of fire and rehire (the last area of BA where this was a threat)
- Workers will revert to previous contractual provisions subject to agreed changes
- No compulsory redundancies
- Improved pay protection for staff whose pay sits above the new agreed rates
- An increase in pay for a significant proportion of staff
- Members who did not sign the new contract and were dismissed will be offered their jobs back on the agreed terms.
According to a recent press release, Unite expect their members to vote in favour of accepting the deal.
Status: Concluded – won a pay rise
Workers: DHL lorry drivers and warehouse staff in Liverpool
Summary: DHL workers took 10 days of strike action in a dispute at the DHL depot on Portal Way in Liverpool over low pay, victimisation and a ‘complete breakdown of industrial relations’. DHL refused to re-enter talks with Unite at the beginning of February, but then offered an improvement on a previously rejected offer, which was then accepted by members, who called off further strike action. They have won a 3% payrise for 2020 backdated to April, and a further 3% plus £75 for 2021. DHL has also committed to ‘ongoing outside influence to change the workplace culture and improve industrial relations’.
Status: Concluded – won a deal on job security
Workers: staff at Rolls-Royce factory in Barnoldswick, Lancashire
Summary: Workers accepted a deal from managers which has ended a long-running dispute, with strike action since November 2020 over plans to cut 350 jobs at the factory and move aeroplane fan blade production to Singapore. The deal, won through months of campaigning and strike action by workers, has saved hundreds of jobs.