UP TO 14,000 BT workers are set to strike for 24 hours on Monday. The action is the first in a series of stoppages called by the workers' CWU union in a fight to stop a divisive new pay and bonus scheme. Those involved in the action are engineers and control staff doing work for BT's residential customers.
BT was a few years ago Britain's most profitable company and its management had ambitions to be a big global player in the telecoms market. The firm is still making big profits, but has fallen a long way from those days. Failed business ventures abroad and competitive pressures from rivals have seen BT plunge into trouble.
Its response is to seek to boost profits and share prices by attacking its workforce. One prong of that attack is BT's move to relocate some of its call centres to India to try and take advantage of cheaper labour - a move which sparked protests at BT call centres last month.
The company is also wants to impose a new pay and bonus scheme called Self Motivated Teams (SMT) on its engineers. The basic notion behind the scheme is to end the long established tradition of workers getting the same rate for doing the same job in different areas of the country.
Instead the firm wants workers to work harder, and to compete against each other. Instead of national, guaranteed and decent pay, rates will be linked to 'performance'. If it succeeds this divisive scheme will not just weaken the engineers' organisation and ability to resist future company.
It will also make it easier for BT to push through more attacks on all of its workforce. BT has tried to impose the scheme. It claims it is voluntary but hopes to use its well worn tactic of wearing down opposition until the scheme is accepted across the board. The SMT scheme was rejected by a national delegate conference of the workers CWU union, and then rejected by a nine to one margin in a ballot of workers affected.
A ballot for industrial action to resist the scheme then saw a two to one margin backing strikes. Too often in the past the leaders of the BT section of the CWU union had opposed company attacks, but only gone through the motions of resistance without mounting a serious campaign and fight. This must not happen this time.
Calling action is a very positive development. But that needs to backed up with a real campaign. There must be clear material from the union leaders spelling out what the dispute is about, and campaigning to win support for the fight among other BT workers.
Most of the residential engineers now go out to work from home rather than from centralised depots. But union branches are likely to organise rallies in most areas for next Monday's strike. In London a strike rally is due to be held at 11am at BT Centre in Newgate Street near St Paul's tube station.
The more other BT workers and trade unionists are encouraged to support such protests the better it will prepare for the further and more hard hitting action that will be needed to beat off the company's attack.