The first strike by bank workers in eight years caused major problems for the giant HSBC bank on Friday of last week. Thousands of workers in the Amicus union struck over the bank’s below inflation pay offer.
Workers are angry at this offer, especially after the bank announced record profits of £9.6 billion earlier this year.
The strike involved thousands of low paid, mainly women workers who were striking for the first time in their lives.
Many workers joined the union to take part in the action.
Workers and union reps protested outside the meeting of HSBC shareholders in central London on the day of the strike
An HSBC worker said, “HSBC has totally disregarded loyal staff.
“Some 55 percent of staff are getting either no pay rise or a below inflation pay rise.
“There are other issues involved. We are desperately short of staff, which is recognised by the bank. Despite this we have achieved a 15.5 percent rise in profits.
“I have worked for HSBC for 30 years and I got a below inflation pay rise this year. Unfortunately, my gas bills, council tax and electricity haven’t stayed the same.
“The bank has offered people a derisory lump sum of between £150 and £250 a year dependent on an increase in customer satisfaction. An average cashier at the bank gets around £12,000. The starting salary is below £10,000.
“We have youngsters who start one week and then don’t turn up the week after because of the pay and conditions.
“There is also a lot of understandable grief from customers because they don’t get the service they need.”
Sharon Dixon, an HSBC worker from Worthing, told Socialist Worker, “The bank has made huge profits this year, but they haven’t come to the staff.
“The union has tried to negotiate, but everything has just come to a head.”
Another HSBC worker said, “I’ve never known the morale to be as low as it is across the whole workforce. This strike shows that we are serious.
“This is my first time on strike after working here for nine years.
“The banks say that they are paying the market rates. But they are the market. They can raise pay between 2-3 percent and staff can’t go to work for other banks, because they are paying the same.
“The UK division of HSBC made £2.5 billion profit last year — that’s £45,000 profit per head for the 50,000 staff.”
The bank claimed that only 2.7 percent of its workforce had struck and it had little effect on its operations. But Michael Geoghegan, the head of its retail operations in Britain, raced to Manchester on Friday after the shareholders’ meeting in an effort to boost morale.
Jerry Hicks, a member of the Amicus national executive, told Socialist Worker, “I visited the picket line at the cheque processing and enquiries office on the outskirts of Bristol.
“Workers from the office picketed it. Only three out of 40 workers went in.
“The bosses were nervous. Workers on the industrial estate honked their car horns as they went past and a post worker was turned away.
“The mood was upbeat. An official rang me up afterwards to pass on the pickets’ thanks to me for attending the picket line. There are a lot of workplaces in the area and I will be encouraging Amicus to launch a recruitment drive on the estate.”
Shareholders harangued Sir John Bond, HSBC’s chairman, about his huge £3.6 million pay packet at the bank’s meeting.
One shareholder said, “I hope you can sleep at night because I know people who can’t sleep because they can’t pay their bills.”
The strike showed how positive action can build the union, just as in the build-up to the BBC strike earlier in the week.
The bank continues to take a hard line with the union.
A worker said, “HSBC closed the Amicus union reps office on 4.30pm on Thursday of last week. It has taken away our service to members.
“The union reps have been told to contact the business on Tuesday of this week to see what further action it will take.”
The union is meeting to plan the next stage of the campaign this week. Amicus national officer Rob O’Neill said, “We can call further strikes and we will look at taking more action.”