By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2812

Workers ready to fight for above inflation pay

Years of below-inflation pay rises are spurring on workers who are getting ready to demand more from bosses
Issue 2812
Dozens of CWU members march on the 18 June protest organised by the TUC holding red trade union banners and wearing pink shirts that say enough is enough

CWU members marched in June, and now they’re getting ready to strike

New major workers’ battles over pay are on the horizon, following the strikes by rail workers last week. Tens of thousands of telecoms workers in BT and Openreach could know this week whether they’ll strike against a pay cut. And education union leaders have suggested strongly that they’ll reject a pay offer from the government.

They’re the latest signs that the battle between workers and their bosses over the cost of living is taking centre stage in British politics. And the move towards strikes is ­gathering pace.

CWU union members working in BT Group—BT, Openreach and EE—all voted overwhelmingly for strikes in three separate ballots that ended last week. The ballot in EE fell eight votes short of meeting the 50 percent turnout threshold demanded by anti‑union laws.

 “People are outraged at the way they’ve been treated over the last couple of years,” Eugene Caparros, a CWU rep in South Wales, told Socialist Worker.

“The members are still angry at not being given a pay rise last year.

“Had the company given them one maybe they could have settled this—but they’ve always got their hands in our pockets.”

Meanwhile, the leaders of the NEU education union hit out at reports that the government could offer teachers a below-inflation pay rise. The Telegraph newspaper reported that Tory education secretary Nadhim Zahawi is planning to propose a 9 percent increase to ­starting salaries and 5 percent for most teachers. But the NEU has already said it will ballot for action if he doesn’t offer an above inflation increase.

The question now is whether union leaders follow through. Eugene said that on BT’s own online platform for its employees, workplace, workers had posted with the hashtag “10 percent and nothing less.”

“That’s what many people are saying,” he said. “The union won’t pick a figure because you can’t negotiate if you have hard lines set down. But we do need something in line with inflation.” Yet CWU general secretary Dave Ward said union leaders would demand BT bosses give workers a “substantial pay rise”—though he wouldn’t say what that would mean. 

And he suggested the union may not call action if bosses were “willing to set aside the imposition of pay and come to the table with a significantly improved offer.”BT workers shouldn’t accept a ­rubbish offer, even if it’s agreed with the union rather than imposed. Eugene said workers were already preparing for strikes. “We’re going to have mass pickets across South Wales if action is called,” he said.


Wobbly Labour support

The prospect of new pay fights is causing turmoil inside the Labour Party. The widespread anger over pay—and support for action—means even right wing, moderate MPs can’t simply oppose strikes.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy had to apologise last week after speaking out against possible strikes by British Airways check in staff at Heathrow airport. He said earlier last month he wouldn’t support strikes for a ten percent pay rise. But a few days later he said he had “made a mistake” and “I apologise to all BA workers” as they actually want to reverse a 10 percent pay cut.

Labour mayor for Greater Manchester Andy Burnham took the opportunity to claim to support workers. In an interview on Sunday he said, “I support the rail workers, I support the BA staff.” But he was careful not to say he supported the strikes—and he followed Starmer in saying a Labour government would work to call strikes off for talks with bosses.

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