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Why BT workers should reject the new deal—and strike to win

This article is over 1 years, 4 months old
Reacting to news of the deal online, one striker said it was a ‘really poor settlement’
Issue 2833
BT workers on the picketline in Chatham, Kent. Strikers are wearing pink CWU union high visibility vests and placards which reads I am striking for a proper fair pay

BT strikers on a picket line in Chatham, Kent, earlier in the battle

CWU union leaders announced a rotten deal on Monday to end strikes by telecoms workers in BT and Openreach. 

Workers in BT Group have struck for nine days this year after bosses imposed a flat-rate pay increase of £1,500 on them in April. This was a real-terms pay cut for all grades. Yet rather than overturn that, the deal all-but repeats the same for next year. It adds yet another flat-rate increase of £1,500 to be paid from January 2023 until September 2023.

The CWU says that the £3,000 total represents a 10 percent pay increase for some of the higher grades and 15 percent for some of the lowest. But this is over a period of 17 months. And, being a flat-rate increase instead of a percentage of pay, it means some workers lose out by more than others.

Workers can win more if they reject the deal and keep fighting. Reacting online to news of the deal, some strikers said it wasn’t enough. Others warned that it would set a precedent for more flat-rate pay deals in the future.

“This really needs to be backdated otherwise it’s not a pay rise for 2022,” one striker, Mark, said. “It also allows the company to deliberately delay further pay awards for several months in order to avoid paying any increase for a full year.”

 “I don’t want to sound unappreciative of our union, but this is a really poor settlement,” another, Malissa, added. “There is no mention of the September 2023 review being backdated. The £1,500 should be backdated for it to be meaningful. God only knows what nonsense next year will bring.”

Another, Lee, said, “A flat payment is a worrying sign. Percent raises should be the aim in future in my opinion. This is technically still below inflation for me percentage-wise.” 

On top of that, the union leaders’ statement hinted at a return to cooperation with bosses as they implement cuts. “As part of the conversations with BT we have agreed to renew and strengthen the way we work together,” it said.

“This will be important as the company seeks to deliver its commitment to reduce cost and improve efficiency.”

Yet that’s at odds with the feeling among many CWU reps who feel the union should have confronted BT bosses much earlier, after years of eroding jobs and conditions. It also risks wasting the beginnings of a new, active and combative layer of union members and reps built after striking for the first time.

As one rep, Matt, told Socialist Worker recently, “We’ve got a more united workforce now. We’ve been going out on picket lines and networking. There’s engineers who’ve never really known each other before. The new starters, who’ve only been on a couple of years, are ready for it, up for it.”

The union leaders’ statement tells them that striking can’t win a proper pay increase. It said the CWU leadership “had the strong view that it is the maximum that can be achieved by negotiation leveraged by your industrial action.”

But it could fight for—and win—much more by building on the strength that the united strike activity brought.

It could make good on its promise—which it never fulfilled—for a rally of all strikers, then use that to inject new energy into the fight. Instead it is putting the offer to a vote, set to end before Christmas.

BT Group workers should vote to reject the deal—and demand to carry on fighting.

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