Highly skilled engineers working for BT Openreach began five days of strikes on Monday this week, in a battle over pay and conditions.
The walkout—the longest round of strikes so far—was an escalation by the CWU union members against bosses who have refused to back down.
The strikers were insulted when bosses offered union officials just 30 minutes of talks ahead of the action.
Graham Colk, the CWU’s Openreach regional coordinator for Wales and the Marches, told Socialist Worker, “People felt insulted by the 30 minutes. I guess it’s a game of bluff, but 30 minutes is not enough to properly debate anything.
“The members have taken that as their concerns being dismissed.”
The 170 strikers—a group of workers known as Repayment Project Engineers (RPE)—are fighting against new contracts that will change the nature of the job.
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 union recognition—and mean worse pay and conditions for new starters.
One union rep told Socialist Worker that bosses have pushed ahead with plans to recruit workers on the new contracts. He said managers have also been taunting strikers.
But Graham said the strikers can see they’re having a major impact. "Their work involves ensuring that major construction projects don’t disrupt telephone and broadband lines—so their strikes can cause big disruption.
Members are telling me that things that would have been done didn’t get done when they were on industrial action. There’s not that many of them but they’ve had a massive impact.”
The strike comes as an even bigger dispute is brewing across BT. Bosses plan a major “reorganisation” that could mean compulsory redundancies as well as attacks on pay and conditions. The CWU says it plans to ballot all of its members across BT.
A CWU rep said bosses may feel they can’t be seen to lose their assault on RPEs—but that this has just made strikers more determined. “The tactics that they’ve got going on are unbelievable,” he said.
“They’re winding the members up better than any union rep ever could.”