By Nick Clark
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BT and Openreach strike is ‘holding strong’

This article is over 1 years, 6 months old
Many of the BT and Openreach strikers like the idea of more joint action with other workers fighting over pay
Issue 2826
Four CWU union members in pink high vis jackets stand on a picket line, two have clenched fists, illustrating a story about the BT strike

CWU union members picket outside Colombo House, south London, during the BT strike on Monday (Picture: Guy Smallman)

Striking BT and Openreach workers ended the second of four strike days on Monday of this week. Now they’re gearing up for another joint day of action with Royal Mail workers on Thursday of next week.

Both sets of workers—all members of the CWU union—are fighting to defend their pay, jobs and conditions. In BT, workers are striking after bosses forced a pay increase of £1,500 on them—a real terms pay cut for all grades. Having already struck for several days since June, workers on picket lines are digging in and are confident they can keep hitting hard.

“It’s holding strong,” Winston Richards, a striker at Shoreditch, east London, told Socialist Worker. “What I’m hearing from a lot of people is that not many people are coming into work—so I’m happy with that. We’re in it for the long haul—this is it, we’re fighting for our future.”

It’s a good sign as workers are set to strike again on Thursday of next week and Monday 24 October. They are also keen to up the action with more strike activity. Announcing the latest round of strikes last month, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the union was considering a protest or rally on one of the strike days.

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. Yet union leaders were yet to call anything as Socialist Worker went to press.

“We should march on Braham Street and Judd Street—Braham street is BT headquarters and Judd Street is Openreach,” John, a striker at Colombo House in south London told Socialist Worker. “The bosses don’t like it.”

“A rally would be a good thing because everybody would be there,” another striker said on Thursday of last week. “We’re just waiting on the powers that be to call it.”

Winston said that he and other union activists in London were planning on calling a rally themselves. He said he’d been inspired by a Royal Mail strike rally earlier this year, and had been talking to postal reps from the CWU’s London Division on how to organise one.

“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,” he said. “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.”

With Royal Mail and BT workers both out on Thursday of next week, it would be a good opportunity to bring them all together. 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.

“You see what’s happening in Royal Mail, you see what’s happening in BT. This is from the top, this is from the government,” said John. “Because they can’t give it to the nurses, the firefighers and all that, then they don’t want private sector workers to get anything too.

“As a private sector worker, I want the nurses and the firefighters to get their pay rise. But if they give it to us, they’ve got to give it to them. They should all bring it into line, have a coordinated national strike and march on Westminster.”

Royal Mail bosses want to run down the company  

Royal Mail workers were set to strike on Thursday of this week. Just like BT workers, they are also fighting after bosses forced a real-terms pay cut on them. And—just like BT workers—they’re also fighting to defend the future of their jobs.

Royal Mail bosses want to push through sweeping changes to working conditions in return for any pay increase above 2 percent. It’s part of a bigger plan to turn Royal Mail into a parcels business similar to courier companies such as Amazon—with worse conditions to match. They have also threatened that, if they don’t get their way, they will break up the business into two separate companies.  That would mean separating their international arm GLS—where they think they can make huge profits—and Royal Mail, which they want to run down.

In a sign they were pushing ahead with the move, bosses last week announced plans to change the holding company’s name from Royal Mail Group to International Distribution Services. Workers already face being forced into later start and finish times to push deliveries into the evenings. And bosses also want to bring in annualised hours—having to work longer in the winter when workload is high to “make up” for summer when there are fewer parcels.

That fight is another thing they have in common with workers in BT. Bosses in BT and Royal Mail both have longerterm projects of wearing down working conditions and breaking the power of the union.

Many BT workers feel the strike has been a long time coming, with bosses gradually eroding their terms and conditions. Over the years, bosses have closed offices and regraded jobs, so new starters come on with lower pay and a worse pension scheme. “People who are in their 40s and have got another 20 odd years in the job, this can’t go on,” Winston, a striker on a picket line in Shoreditch, east London, told Socialist Worker.

He added that he thought the slow erosion of working conditions was a consequence of the union’s attitude of working in partnership with BT bosses. “The company hasn’t done us right—but you expect that from them. But they wouldn’t do that if they didn’t think they could get away with it,” he said. “The union leadership have spent so many years trying to keep the peace that they’ve gone too far now.”

But, he added, that’s why it’s important for BT strikers to stay firm and for the dispute to step up now. “We need to send a strong message back to them” he said. “And the youngsters coming up now need to be aware that there is fight in us.”

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