Workers in BT are heading for a major strike over pay after a vote by union activists this week. If it goes ahead, it will be the first strike across all of BT since 1994.
Delegates to the CWU union’s telecoms conference on Thursday voted unanimously to launch a strike ballot. It came after BT bosses imposed a pay increase of £1,500 earlier this month without any agreement from the union.
Though bosses touted the figure as an 8 percent rise for some workers, for others it’s as little as 3 percent. And with inflation at closer to 10 percent, it’s a real terms pay cut for everybody. Anger at BT burst through in the debates on the conference floor. Delegates not only raged against the forced pay deal but at a steady onslaught on jobs and working conditions.
Mick Bagnall from Central Counties and Thames Valley branch said, “How many times are you going to allow this company to kick you before you kick back? The answer has to be no more.”
And Jonathan Bellshaw from Lincolnshire & South Yorkshire said BT bosses “Do not give a monkeys that their staff are having to use food banks. “It’s time we stand up to them, and it’s time we fight back. This is our time to give them a pasting.”
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr promised delegates, “We are here for a major fight. We are going to win this fight and we are going to get those bosses back to where they should be.”
The new pay battle comes after CWU union leaders backed down from a major BT strike last year, with a deal that sparked a revolt among branches. BT workers had voted by nearly 98 percent for strikes in a consultative ballot after bosses announced office closures, sackings and attacks on conditions.
Union activists were gearing up for a fight until the union’s leadership agreed to a deal that only promised negotiations. Some delegates at the conference gave Kerr and other union officials a grilling over the retreat.
Chris Power from South East Central branch said, “Last year we got bleeding zero percent. We would have been in quite a position to ballot the members for industrial action then. We as a branch would have loved to have seen a statutory ballot for action last year.”
Kerr replied the decision was “really to do with the pandemic and where the country was, and we didn’t feel it was the right thing to have a ballot.”
But now, with BT bosses having once more carved union officials out, Kerr wants a fight. “The biggest change in this company over the last few years, if you look at the head of the company, every other senior executive has never dealt with unions in the past,” he said.
“One in particular is, I believe, absolutely 100 percent anti-union. So we need to put a stand here and now.”
After the vote, general secretary Dave Ward linked the dispute to the bigger cost of living fight. “The whole union movement is in this position,” he said. “This is about resetting the whole relationship between us, our members, and the companies they work for.
“There’s an imbalance of power, there’s an imbalance of wealth that is driving our members into poverty.”
But, he added, “I did hear some during the debate talking about the wider New Deal for Workers campaign. But the messaging is not about capitalism. The messaging is not about the politics of the country.
“The messaging is that our members deserve better because they’ve made huge personal sacrifices and the company has made huge personal profits.”
But as delegates themselves linked the BT fight to the cost of living crisis—with many mentioning friends, family and workmates using foodbanks—the strike has bigger significance than that.
Steve Donald from Greater Mersey branch argued, “Everyone has got up here and spoken about the cost of living crisis. That’s exactly where we are.
“We have to show the members what a bunch of arrogant, selfish, greedy bastards we have at the top. We kept collectively the broadband going. We kept schools going. We kept banks making all their money.
“It ends when we get every single one of our members on our side and give a kicking to these arseholes at the top.”
Royal Mail workers could soon begin a strike ballot in a new fight over pay.
Delegates at the CWU union conference last week voted to launch a dispute if Royal Mail bosses didn’t move on an “insulting” pay offer.
Bosses at Royal Mail put forward a pay increase of just 3.5 percent—well below inflation—coupled with a raft of new attacks on working conditions.
A motion to CWU postal conference last week said the union would declare a formal dispute if an acceptable offer was “not in sight” by the end of the week. Previous agreements between bosses and union leaders say there has to be a four-week talking period after declaring a dispute.
But the CWU says if there’s no agreement after this, it will launch a ballot. Assistant general secretary Terry Pullinger told delegates not to “let our anger outmanoeuvre ourselves.”
But he also told them to prepare for a ballot. “I’m hoping you’re angry and that you’ll take that anger back with you,” he said. “We have to fight with everything we’ve got.”
Reports from disputes around Britain
Security services were involved
Move will increase police racism
Johnson could enrage all sides