Socialist Worker

BT engineers walk out over pay and plan more strikes down the line

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2745

CWU union members on the picket line in Swansea, West Wales

CWU union members on the picket line in Swansea, West Wales


Openreach engineers have stepped up their picket lines for their second round of strikes against attacks on their pay and conditions.

There were picket lines at BT offices in towns and cities across Britain, as 170 skilled engineers walked out between Wednesday and Friday of this week.

The CWU union members had already struck for two days last week—but for many this Wednesday was their first picket of the strike.

“It’s a surreal situation being on strike at home,” one striker in Swansea in West Wales told Socialist Worker. “But to see our colleagues all over the country out on strike last week gave us a morale boost. I feel that coming out on the picket line today was the right thing to do.”

He added, “Everybody’s got good will, they’re smiling. A lot of people are stopping and talking to us and we’ve had a lot of support. The weather isn’t great but we’ll be here all day.”

Another CWU member said, “What started with one picket last Wednesday has inspired everyone else. They’re out all over the country—and more are coming out tomorrow.

“Last week was a big boost. A lot of them were out on strike but sat at home. But once they saw the picket line in Newport and the behaviour of managers it’s emboldened them all.

The strikers—a group of workers known as Repayment Project Engineers (RPE)—are fighting attempts to bring in new contracts that will change the nature of the job.

Grade 

Bosses want to shift them onto a managerial grade. They say existing workers will keep their current terms and conditions.

But the new grade will remove recognition—and mean worse pay and conditions for new starters. That’s why strikers stress they’re not just fighting for themselves, but to protect the workers that follow them.

One striker told Socialist Worker, “For myself the change wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference because I don’t have much time left in the company. But people coming on in the future would be on lower pay, and that’s not on.”

BT engineers draw the line over bosses’ attacks with first strike in 34 years
BT engineers draw the line over bosses’ attacks with first strike in 34 years
  Read More

Another said, “The move doesn’t affect us at the moment. But they haven’t confirmed what’s going to happen late on when there’s more people on the new management contract. Where will that put us in five years’ time?”

The engineers plan five more strike days between Thursday 18 March and Wednesday 24 March.

Their strike comes as workers across BT face similar attacks on their jobs and conditions—including the threat of compulsory redundancy—in a separate dispute.

One union official told Socialist Worker that after the RPE strike, “We’re getting more and more people in other parts of BT asking us when are they going to go out.

“The rest of the company are upset with the way they’re being treated." 


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