By Nick Clark
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BT workers call for escalation on eighth day of strikes

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BT and Openreach strikers want more coordinated action with Royal Mail and other workers fighting over pay
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BT and openreach workers, part of the SWU union on the picketline crowded under a gazebo with raised fists and holding flags

BT and Openreach workers stage a solid picket line on Arnold Road in Basford, Nottingham (Picture: Richard Buckwell)

The latest round of BT strikes ended on Monday with workers debating what comes next.

Members of the CWU union are fighting after bosses forced on them a flat pay increase of just £1500 a year—a real terms pay cut for all grades. Monday’s action was the last day of a round of four strikes throughout October.

Strikers on picket lines know their action has had an impact, as union leaders met with BT shareholders on Monday.

The strikes have disrupted BT’s service levels and caused a backlog of repair work. “There was a major outage to the Shetland islands last week. An undersea cable got cut and left them with no phone and no internet,” one striker on Monday told Socialist Worker. 

“The strike disrupted the repairs.” He added, “The meeting with the shareholders is the big thing. Hopefully all the big pension funds turn up as they’re the ones being hit by the stock market crash. Hopefully they’ll put pressure on the board to come back to the table.”

But so far BT’s chief executive Philip Jansen has refused to talk. And with no further strikes yet called by the CWU, there are discussions among strikers about what sort of action can force them to budge.

Some workers want to introduce working to rule, such as an overtime ban, and a programme of rolling, sectional strikes. “People are asking for more work to rule, more strikes spread out over different days so there’s more disruption,” Gareth Hammond, a striker in Hastings, told Socialist Worker. 

“BT has screwed us so badly that the whole workforce has turned. Anything that the CWU suggests that sounds like it would have an effect, people would be up for it.”

Others think they need longer periods of strikes. “We need a full week’s strike—that would really hit them,” a striker at Colombo House in south London told Socialist Worker. “That should be the next course of action.”

Yet the strike also faces challenges. In a dispute where many Openreach engineers work alone, keeping their vans at home, it’s easy for strikers to feel isolated. 

A march and rally by BT strikers in Cardiff last Thursday helped to overcome that among workers in south and west Wales. 

As one striker, Luke, who’d come from west Wales to join the rally, told Socialist Worker, “It’s brilliant to have everyone here today. It feels a lot different to the picket lines where I am.”

That sort of event, repeated in other parts of Britain, could be a big boost for the strike. When CWU leaders Dave Ward and Andy Kerr announced the October strikes, they’d said they would have a mass event bringing everyone together. But that never happened.

“On their video broadcasts they were talking about having a rally. Then they put this thing out that they called a rally but it was just a meeting online,” one striker in south London told Socialist Worker. 

“To me that’s not a rally, and I wonder if that’s just Andy Kerr ticking the ‘I’ve done a rally box’.”

He added, “In our local branch our leading rep Winston tried to get a rally together. His idea was that we all go to Braham street, BT’s head office, all make a noise, bring some banners. But my impression is that the union’s head office didn’t want to get involved or back us up.”

Many strikers also like the idea of more coordinated action with workers in Royal Mail—also in the CWU—who are fighting a near identical attack on their pay. BT and Royal Mail workers struck together last week—and there were some examples of strikers coming together.

But, said a BT striker in south London, “We’re all CWU but we still feel segregated. If everyone gets together and supports each other it would give people a bit more motivation.

“If we do a rally and a load of posties turn up, or when the postal side have a big event and we all turn up, it’s got to benefit everyone.”

  • Donate to the CWU strike solidarity fund to keep the strike going here

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