Two all-out strikes are showing how collective action changes working class peoples’ ideas. These Unite union strikes in Manchester and Worksop have allowed workers to come together as a workforce rather than be divided.
And with attacks coming on working people’s living standards, pay is a central issue. Escalating a strike to all-out action is an important tactic to give workers the best chance of beating the boss. Other strikes should follow this lead.
Workers from Wincanton B&Q warehouse in Worksop are on an all-out strike to win a six percent pay rise, and to battle victimisation of their rep Pat McGrath. It’s their first strike in 16 years.
At the end of November, 475 workers struck on a bi-weekly cycle of strikes followed by an overtime ban.
But the strikers quickly realised that going back in for a week gave the company a chance to build stock and prepare for the upcoming week.
“It was not having a massive impact,” rep Pat explained to Socialist Worker. “We made preparations for another ballot, and since 27 December we’ve been on continuous strike.”
Pat said unity between workers has been high. Before the strike, this was not always the case.
“For some of the strikers, English is not always the first spoken language—we have a lot of eastern European workers.
“It’s a diverse workforce, but a lot of solidarity has been shown. There’s a relationship building up with people—they may only have crossed paths on shift changes.
“And the workforce isn’t male dominant. It’s about 40 percent female.”
The effect of being out on strike has brought workers together, who had been divided particularly over issues of race.
“I’ve heard a bit of resentment, that ‘taking all our jobs’ nonsense. There has been some bigotry and ignorance. This kind of thing comes from the right wing press. I’d say in response people only migrate when it’s a necessity.
“They’re not paid with gold, instead they’re exploited by landlords and cheap labour over the years.
“But now people are stood together shoulder to shoulder—a relationship has been built. I’m proud of them all—there’s no racial element now.
Solidarity with B&Q Wincanton strikers’ pay fight.
Unite union senior rep Michelle tells us the strike has “pulled everyone from all shifts, all departments together”.
— Socialist Worker (@socialistworker) January 15, 2022
“They see each other as comrades and not the enemy—now the enemy is Wincanton.
“Solidarity between the eastern and western European workers is really, really good.” B&Q is owned by parent company Kingfisher, which also owns other companies such as Screwfix. Dividends for shareholders are up 40 percent, and profits are up by 60 percent.
“When you’re paying dividends to shareholders you can afford to pay workers a decent wage,” Pat argued.
With living costs rising, Pat said the strikers are “hellbent on winning” a wage rise.
“People have had enough, especially of in-work poverty. It shouldn’t be there,” he added. “We have members facing evictions, using foodbanks and having problems with Universal Credit.
“We’ll keep fighting for inflation plus. The company has accused us of moving the goal post. We’re not moving the goal post, inflation is.”
The all-out escalation also means workload has spiralled, putting bosses on the back foot. Agency workers cannot cover the additional work.
“Some 95 percent of the workforce is in the union, so the company is really struggling,” Pat explained.
“They’re getting about 50 loads out a week—that’s not even 20 percent of the normal rate. They thought they might get away with it.”
Cambuslang, Scotland, is the location of the second national B&Q distribution centre.
GXO lorry drivers have voted to strike also over a below inflation pay offer. HGV drivers employed on behalf of B&Q by GXO are also considering pay strikes at another nationwide distribution centre in Doncaster.
The strike has had a lot of local support, with people bringing hot food and drinks to the picketers and not wanting to cross the picket line.
Others have set up stalls at the front of the site to leaflet.
Anti-trade union laws place limits on how pickets can run, including how many people can be outside the workplace. The legal maximum is six.
“But we’ve had hundreds down there,” Pat said. “And the company has sent all the strikers threatening letters about the size of the picket and saying it’s in breach of their contracts.”
These threats won’t stop the determined strikers. Plans are even being made for a demonstration at the B&Q head office.
Pat added, “We’re out at half four every morning. It’s cold and wet. Pickets are on for 18 hours.
“Between 11 am-12 pm there’s hundreds down there waving flags and they’re proud to be there.
“They’re not hiding and thinking ‘don’t let the managers see me’. They know we’ll protect them.”
“We’re not going anywhere—no chance.”
Strikes that change people’s ideas are great, but strikes that change ideas and win are even better.
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