By Nick Clark
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BT workers want more united action as they stage fifth strike

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The CWU union members' walkout comes during a month of strikes by post, telecoms and rail workers
Issue 2826
Around 13 people stand on a picket line, some in pink high vis vests, some in holding CWU union placards, during the BT strike in Hastings

Solid picket line in Hastings during the BT strike

Workers in BT and Openreach walked out on the first of four new days of strikes on Thursday, with 999 call handlers joining the action for the first time. And—with a day of coordinated strikes with Royal Mail workers later this month—many strikers were looking towards more activity and united action.

The workers at BT Group—members of the CWU union—have already struck for four days. They’re fighting after BT bosses forced on them a £1,500 pay increase—a real terms pay cut for all grades.

With bosses refusing to budge, the union stepped up its action by bringing 999 call handlers into the battle. “The 999 callers have to come out because some of our call centre workers are using foodbanks that BT has set up in its own offices,” one striker, John Harney, told Socialist Worker. “And we still haven’t heard anything from foodbank Phil”—chief executive Philip Jansen.

Workers are set to strike again on Monday of next week, and Thursday 20 and Monday 24 October. They are also keen to up their action in other ways. Announcing the action two weeks ago, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the union was considering a protest or rally on one of the strike days.

Union leaders have yet to call anything—but strikers are keen for something to happen. Bringing strikers together could be a big boost for the campaign—especially as many Openreach engineers spend much of their time working alone in their vans.

“A rally would be a good thing because everybody would be there,” one striker at Colombo House in south London told Socialist Worker. “We’re just waiting on the powers that be to call it. We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes because of confidentiality, they can’t pass it on.”

Winston Richards, a CWU rep at the Southwark Telephone Exchange in south London, said he’d been inspired by a Royal Mail strike rally earlier this year. “I saw they had that big rally outside Mount Pleasant and I went to see what was going on,” he told Socialist Worker. “My word—they had a stage, speakers, everyone gathered around. Wow, this was good. So where was ours? We need to hold a rally and a meeting to thank strikers for their support and remind them what this is all about.”

Winston even added that if the union’s telecoms and financial services executive committee didn’t call something, he’d look into organising a rally along with other reps. “I’ve said to others that, on the 20th or the 24th, regardless of what the executive does, we’re going to have to do something. We need to organise a hall and speakers, regardless of what they do. For too long we’ve been relying on the executive to lead us.” 

Winston also said he’d met with CWU activists from Royal Mail to talk about how to organise. BT and Royal Mail workers are all set to strike together on Thursday 20 October, and Winston said unity in action was important.

“They’ve given us some good ideas of what to do,” he said. “On the 20th we should not just have a BT rally. It’s got to be a CWU rally where everybody gets together, because there are some people who complain that the union’s leaders only care about Royal Mail. I say don’t fall for that—don’t get into this ‘us and them’ nonsense. It’s all the CWU.”

Many strikers like the idea of more joint action with other workers fighting over pay—at times bringing it up themselves on the picket line. “Somebody asked me if we should all have a national strike,” said John. “I think we should. All the unions should come into line and just call a two-day strike, it would grind the country to a halt.

“This is a planned attack by the Tory government working with big business to suppress the working person. It’s the profits for the rich—we’re paying for their profits.”

“It’s the government, the Tories that are pushing this,” a striker at Colombo House said. “They should be telling managers, we’re in an economic downturn, negotiate with your workers.

“But they’re not pushing this as they’ve got a different agenda. They want to push down everyone’s wages. Liz Truss wanted to lift the 45p tax rate for the higher earners. If she’d done it at the other end, raised the income tax threshold by £1,000 it would have helped all the poorer people. There should be a national strike—if one day everyone came out on strike, that would show Liz Truss, wouldn’t it?”

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