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Reports round-up: wildcat construction strike set for this Wednesday

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Construction workers in Unite and the GMB are headed for their latest fortnightly unofficial strike, plus news in brief from workers’ struggles
Issue 2819
A large crowd of construction workers on unofficial strike at the Grangemouth oil refinery

Workers at Grangemouth during the last unofficial strike in August

Construction workers were set to be on unofficial strike on Wednesday of this week. Hundreds of workers on up to 40 construction sites at oil refineries and power plants were due to walk off the job for the second time over pay.

Previously the action took place in a number of sites including Fawley in Hampshire, and Grangemouth near Falkirk. The fortnightly unofficial action is called by Unite and GMB union members.

The “blue book” terms previously agreed by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (Naeci) have not kept pace with soaring inflation. The terms of the Naeci meant that pay was set to go up in January 2022 by 2.5 percent and then by another 2.5 percent next January.

One worker told Socialist Worker, “When this was originally signed we were locked in a two-year deal, but nobody knew the circumstances that were going to unfold. But inflation has now gone way beyond what was agreed.

“There was a caveat in the contract which stipulated that if the inflation rate increased, then they would re-consider. But the bosses are refusing to come back and talk. Meanwhile we are looking at a 10 percent wage cut.”

Union leaders raised “concerns” over pay with the construction bosses in May but were told to wait until 2024. There is pressure for an official strike ballot. But the key is the action on the picket lines since construction workers can’t afford to wait.

Arriva North West fight ends with 11.1 percent

Arriva bus workers in north west England have voted overwhelmingly to accept a 11.1 percent pay offer to end their strike. The workers had been out for more than four weeks on indefinite strike.

Just a day before the new offer, workers had thrown out a 9.6 percent deal, which their Unite union had made no recommendation whether to accept or reject. Workers in Unite, and the GMB union, were right to say no to that, despite the lack of leadership from the top.

The 11.1 percent figure will be seen by many workers as a new target to use and to aim at. It was secured because workers fought, and using an all-out and indefinite strike rather than partial or repeatedly halted strikes.

Certainly they won more than many other groups. But the battle goes on to win more than the inflation rate. Even 11.1 percent means a real-terms cut. And inflation is set to go even higher.

The unions were also wrong to suspend the strike before a vote on the deal. Once back at work it is far harder to restart action.

As the level of strikes rise, it is essential to insist on workers’ democratic control of what action takes place, what demands are put forward, how the battle is waged—and when it ends.

Marching to save routes

An angry protest through central London demanded the survival of London buses as Transport for London plan to axe 250 buses and 16 routes.

Protesters say prices will rise and cutting public transport will have an awful effect on the environment. The protest by 70 activists blocked one direction of traffic as they marched the 24 bus route—that’s one of the services facing the chop.

Bus drivers in the Unite union led and organised the protest and received cheers from all the passing buses. People waiting at bus stops joined in with chants of, “Cut their profits, not our buses”, and “Save our buses.”

Union can win ballot by tapping into class battle

Leaders of the Unison union are preparing a battle plan to win the coming strike ballot over NHS pay in England and Wales. They want to build an army of volunteers in every branch that will get the vote out.

The key tasks will be to get above the 50 percent threshold for action demanded by Tory anti-union laws, and to win a whopping yes vote for strikes. Voting in the union’s industrial action ballot is set to start on 27 October.

Unison last week launched its “Pledge Yes for the NHS” campaign. It aims to win thousands of NHS staff to agree in advance to vote for strikes long before actual voting begins.

Though partly conducted online, it is also a chance to get round wards and departments with printed postcards that can be sent back to Unison headquarters. This will give the union a sense of where strong votes for action are expected. And it will allow activists to target resources at areas where turnout is expected to be weaker.

Workers are encouraged to post their pledges on their social media in the hope that this will build momentum. It’s good to see Unison leaders taking the battle to win the strike ballot seriously.

But so far the campaign is not tapping into perhaps the strongest motivation for a strike vote. That’s the huge wave of action over pay now involving hundreds of thousands of workers.

Presenting the NHS pay fight as part of a widespread movement can give workers that feel ground down a sense of confidence in their collective power. And it can feed the growing mood that says we should all fight together.

Universities flush with cash ahead of new ballot

Universities have a £3.4 billion surplus in their coffers, but they want to use the money for their own projects rather than a pay rise for workers.

The UCU union’s analysis of the funds shows the money is there for pay. It is the background to the cross-Britain strike ballot that is set to be launched next month.

The UCU said universities had set aside £4.6 billion to spend on new buildings next year, an increase of more than a third on last year. But many staff have been offered only a pay rise of 3 percent—a quarter of the RPI inflation rate.

Some unions are already balloting over this. Unison’s vote was set to close this week.

Simultaneously the Universities Superannuation Scheme—the pension fund—has announced a surplus of £1.8 billion. Its dire warning of imminent collapse was used to ram though cuts.

The union is calling for an RPI plus 2 percent pay rise.  Some 145 universities will be balloted for strikes over pensions, pay, equality, contracts and working conditions in early September.

As the ballots are nationally aggregated, if more than half of workers are in favour and the turnout reaches the anti-union law threshold, every institution will strike later in the autumn.

  • Support staff in the Unite union marched around Newcastle University on Wednesday of last week. They were leafleting for a ballot for strikes in September over pay and conditions.

Ballot could mean another dock strike

More than 500 port operatives working at Liverpool’s docks have voted  to strike over a 7 percent pay offer. The Unite union members have also voted to strike over Mersey Docks and Harbour Company’s (MDHC) failure to honour 2021’s pay agreement.

It failed to undertake a pay review, which last happened in 1995, and deliver an agreement to improve shift rotas. On an 88 percent turnout, 99 percent of workers voted to strike.

MDHC grabbed more than £30 million in profits in 2021 and is owned by the Peel Group—based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man. John Whittaker—owner of MDHC—is worth more than £1.4 billion.

More than 60 maintenance engineers at MDHC could also strike over the same offer, and are being balloted until Wednesday of this week.

Strike dates had not been announced as Socialist Worker went to press. But with 1,900 Unite dockers striking in Felixstowe, another dock strike would further paralyse supply lines and put workers in a powerful position.

Weekly strikes test bosses’ mettle

Workers at Metal Improvement Company, which supply companies Airbus and Magellan Aerospace, are taking part in a series of one day strikes.

The company, which produces coatings to protect a range of components for the aerospace industry, made a 26 percent increase in profits in 2021.But the 40 workers were offered a pay rise below the current RPI rate of inflation.

The first strike took place on Wednesday of last week. The second strike is planned on Wednesday of this week and the third is set to take place on Wednesday of next week.

Pay or no spray painters after vote

Coach builder and spray painters at Alexander Dennis Limited in Camelon, Falkirk, have voted for strikes.

Around 400 workers on a turnout of 79.5 percent voted 89.5 percent in favour of action. Workers were offered a 4 percent pay offer by the bus manufacturing company.

The Unite union members have received no pay rise for three years, with 140 jobs lost through voluntary redundancy. Bosses also rejected a proposal by Unite to move production to a four-day week from five days.

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