BT workers kicked off their second round of national strikes on Tuesday of this week—showing they are determined to keep fighting. The strikers—some 40,000 members of the CWU union—are fighting after bosses imposed a pay rise of just £1,500 on all staff—a real terms pay cut for even the lowest grade.
The walkout—on Tuesday and Wednesday this week—follows a previous two days of strikes last month. That was the first national strike in BT since 1987. Now—after their first experience on strike—the workers have had a taste of their power.
Winston Richards, a CWU rep on the picket line at Southwark Telephone Exchange in South London told Socialist Worker, “The first time round some people didn’t want the strike. But when it happened, people said yes this is good—let’s bring them to the table.”
“The approach is much more vigorous this time,” another worker on strike at Colombo House in south London told Socialist Worker. “But restrictions from government legislation stop us from doing what we want to do in the numbers we want.”
Strikers are also encouraged by the fact that they were set to strike alongside other CWU members—in Royal Mail—on Wednesday of this week. That will be 155,000 workers all striking together over pay.
But CWU leaders missed a trick by not having organised joint rallies or solidarity activities for BT and Royal Mail strikers together. Winston said the picket lines and rallies by Royal Mail strikers last Friday could be an example for the BT strike. “People were asking us why haven’t we had a rally, why aren’t we marching on BT centre?” he said.
“I think we should be at BT centre. When we saw the postal workers’ rally at Mount Pleasant on Friday I thought, wow, okay, where’s ours? Why haven’t we had a rally outside BT centre?”
Darren, a striker outside BT Tower in central London told Socialist Worker, “It would be nice if we could join in on their pickets and them join us. With it being August and people on leave, we don’t have enough people to cover all the sites.
“Some of the picket lines we saw from Royal Mail looked like a carnival.”
BT bosses have barely budged since the previous strike—meaning workers know they could be in for a long battle.
Management has begun talks with CWU leaders but still won’t negotiate over pay. Darren said, “We’ll keep this going as long as we can to get them negotiating.
“We’ve got these two days, today and tomorrow, and then I think they’ll go for more strategic strikes. But we’re up for any kind of industrial action to get what we need.”
Winston said that bosses’ refusal to budge had left some workers feeling “apprehensive.” “People are asking, have they come to the table yet? Well, they’re talking but they’re saying they’re not going to talk about pay.
“So people are a bit apprehensive and they’re wondering what’s going to happen now.” But, he added, “One thing is certain—I spoke to somebody who said all of his staff are out again this time. So they understand why we’re doing it.”
For other workers, the insult of bosses’ pay imposition—and their refusal to back down from it—is hardening their resolve.
“It’s the arrogance of it, isn’t it,” Kevin, a striking engineer at Colombo House told Socialist Worker. “Just to say this is what you’re getting and that’s finished.
“There’s a pattern forming in this company where they just do what they want. If we don’t stand up for this now that’s it, they’ll steamroller over everybody.” He added, “I’ll support this strike for as long as we can because if we don’t, they’ll keep taking liberties.
“We’ve got to stand up. So I’m prepared to support it for as long as I have to support it just to send them a message.”
They targeted the Egyptian embassy
But it’s only a change of language
Leeds students have occupied too