Post workers say bosses’ scab plans won’t win

Posted on: August 12th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
line up of parked non descript vans that royal mail plan to use for scab workers

Vans for use of agency workers during the strike lined up in Nottingham last week (Picture: @CWUNEWS)

As 115,000 postal workers prepare to walk out for four days for pay in August and September, Royal Mail bosses are doing all they can to limit the strike’s effectiveness. Managers are plotting to train agency workers and build a scab workforce to try and undermine the strike.

It’s an attempt to use the new laws recently passed by the Tories that freed up employers to use agency workers without any restrictions during disputes.

Royal Mail hopes the sight of people going into work and doing strikers’ jobs will demoralise those on the picket line. And the firm may even set up scab centres wholly staffed by agency workers.

The regional secretary for the CWU union in the Midlands, Mark Harper, told Socialist Worker that these tactics are nothing workers “aren’t used to.” And he added that will in no way blunt the strike’s effectiveness.

 “We have over 100,000 workers walking out—there’s no way they will be able to cover all our work,” he said.

“On Monday last week, white rental vans turned up to our mail centre in Nottingham—not using the normal red ones, that would be too recognisable. Rather than give us a pay rise, they want to waste money on agency workers and vans.

“Managers are trained to drive larger vehicles, and agency workers will do only time‑sensitive stuff—it will barely scratch the surface.”

The vans appear to come from Thrifty cars. Unions should campaign to end any contracts with them and turn up at their offices if they continue knowingly to supply the scabbing operation.

Ben, a CWU member in Nottingham said the process will be “chaos” adding that “it shouldn’t be allowed.”

He said that using agency workers now is a glimpse of the future the company wants.

“Royal Mail is no longer a public service. It’s all for the shareholders,” he said.

“Agency workers and zero hour contracts are what the Tories want. We worked through the pandemic. Now they’re doing this to us. It’s all their idea to save costs—to break the structure of the workforce.”

And agency workers aren’t automatically scabs. Mo, a postal worker in Walsall, told Socialist Worker, “Myself and the union reps will still try to educate them when they try to cross the picket line.”

Mark added, “We have casual and agency staff in the CWU— some are using their days off on strike days. It means Royal Mail is fishing in a small pond for these workers.”

One agency worker, David tweeted, “I’ll be blocking the days out, so I don’t get shifts on the strike days.”

Large numbers, mass pickets and solidarity, are the postal workers’ strengths, and no agency workers will break that.  If bosses set up scab centres, the union should call mass pickets at them for strikers and their supporters.

NHS activists say mood to fight is strong as unions announce ballots

Posted on: August 12th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
picture of Unison union balloon at big march fopr workers rights

Can unions keep up the momentum? (Picture:Flickr/Nick Efford)

Unions are asking hundreds of thousands of health workers if they are prepared to strike over pay. If the answer is a big enough yes, it could electrify the fight over the cost of living crisis.

Activists say the mood to fight is strong, but union foot-dragging risks dissipating the anger and reducing the voting turnout to below the crucial 50 percent level under Tory anti-union laws.

The Unite union, representing laboratory staff and others, has begun a five-week consultative ballot. The nurses’ RCN union will ballot for strikes from 15 September. And the Unison union is balloting for strikes—but not until 3 October in Scotland and 27 October in England.

But Janet Maiden, a nurse and Unison activist, worries that separate and drawn out plans for industrial action will weaken the battle for pay.

“It’s exciting to see so many workers on strike. And it’s even better now that different health workers are being balloted to fight for better pay,” she told Socialist Worker.

“But it would be even better to see Unison collaborating and getting itself in gear sooner.” Janet added that the cost of living crisis, plunging many workers and nurses into poverty, has to be stopped now rather than later.

“The issues we face—rising bills, poverty and being unable to afford food—aren’t going anywhere. And it’s only going to get hard if we don’t strike now.

Bills are going up again in winter and already nurses around me are in distress about how they’ll make ends meet.” In her workplace last week younger nurses who are in the RCN union were discussing going on strike and asked questions about how it works.

“They were talking about not giving notice and being ready to just walk out,” Janet said. “If we all came out on the same day that would be a real show of strength.”

But, “Unison really knows how to pop the bubble of anger and enthusiasm. The reality is members are being stirred up now. They want to fight.

“And the £1,400 pay rise we’ve been offered will start going into people’s accounts while balloting is going on. For some people that is a lot more than what they’re getting now.

“There is a need for urgency to get on with it quicker. Otherwise, we could be having arguments about fighting for the difference between what we want and what we’ve been given.”

Unison instead is “too busy” trying to follow anti-union laws that stifle momentum. Janet explained, “Bureaucrats are scratching their heads, wondering how they can get higher than the 25 percent turnout we had last year.

“They’re always behind the membership. And they make you feel like you can’t fight properly in any union.”

Janet added it was important that a meeting of the health executive team was called as soon as the ballot plans were announced.

“But now we need to re-examine the timetable for the ballot. If nurses who are new to trade unionism and action are ready for strikes, that must be happening in little pockets everywhere.”

Janet said the task for activists in Unison now is to “look out for potential new activists while fighting this pay battle.” And to fight for the future of the NHS, with low staffing numbers a constant issue while on shift.

“It means we can find out who’s out there,” she said. “Situations like this always throw up amazing people in corners you didn’t expect to find them.

“We also have to argue with people who say that we’re paid better in comparison to others. People say it’s not okay for us to leave our patients. But they’re suffering now anyway.

“We’re demoralised, so patients will continue to suffer more as more nurses quit. A number of colleagues say they’d earn more in Costa. We’re talking about the future of the service here.”

Striking while the momentum is building is vital for successful strikes to win pay. But it’s also crucial to build workers’ confidence to inflict the changes across society that are desperately needed.

The workers’ revolt at Amazon keeps spreading

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Amazon workers stage sit in Bristol fulfillment centre on Thursday morning in a series of wildcat strikes

Bristol Amazon workers added to the wave of wildcat strikes on Thursday (Picture: Twitter/@walkout20201)

The revolt at Amazon goes on—workers struck and held a sit-in at the Bristol BRS1 centre on Thursday morning. Workers also walked out on Thursday at the BHX1 Site in Rugeley.

Wildcat walkouts, slowdowns and strikes at Amazon fulfilment centres have continued in several areas despite intimidation from managers and bosses. Dave*, who works at the BHX4 fulfilment centre in Coventry, told Socialist Worker, “Managers were telling us if we do protest, we won’t be paid from the minute we leave our work areas.” 

He added that managers are even trying to use “divide and rule” tactics, to ensure that workers don’t take action.

“Managers are telling some workers they’ll be rewarded if they keep working. Some are also being given easier jobs than others. Of course, people are getting rattled by this. 

“I feel like the managers are trying to get us to go against each other instead of the issue of pay.”

But despite all this, Dave said that workers still want to fight as conditions worsen at Amazon. 

“People are still angry,” he said. “The British arm of Amazon made £20 billion between January and June this year. 

“Things have got a lot worse since Jeff Bezos decided he wants to play astronaut. The new CEO has no idea what goes on in the warehouses. And this lack of care plays out in our fulfilment centre in Coventry. 

“On Wednesday a staff member had to be taken away in an ambulance, but the board didn’t count it as an incident. 

“This job is slowly becoming a rapid descent into hell, but most of us can’t afford to leave,” he added. 

Workers at the Coventry and Tilbury deports sparked a wave of sit-ins and walkouts last week after hearing they would not receive a pay rise of more than 35p or 50p an hour.

In several depots, workers have now been told they won’t receive a pay rise at all. Anger at this news quickly spread to other fulfilment centres, from Bristol to Leicester, and turned into action.  More than 200 workers at the depot in Swindon struck and protested in the canteen on Monday of this week. 

One worker said, “The management has announced they won’t approve the pay rise or change their decision and say they can’t help us.

“Amazon is a very profitable company, and we deserve fair pay. Just 35p is next to nothing in a situation like this. That works out to £700 a year, which will cover maybe two months of energy bills.

“It’s worrying me because mortgage rates have gone up, as has the price of fuel, groceries and energy. We have families—how will we pay the bills?

At fulfilment centres in Dartford, Tilbury,  Belvedere, Hemel Hempstead, Chesterfield and Rugeley, workers took part in “slowdowns” this week. 

This means that they picked only one package an hour.

Dave said he expects a new wave of anger in Coventry and elsewhere when the new “pay rise” comes into operation next month. 

“Hopefully once September comes and we actually see how badly we’ve been screwed with the “raise”. That’s when it really starts,” he added. 

Dave and other Amazon workers are making it clear that they won’t allow this corporate giant to get away with paying them pennies anymore. Workers must keep putting pressure on Amazon, escalate strikes and call for staff in more fulfilment centres to join them. 

Amazon workers joining a coordinated strike of bus drivers, rail workers, BT workers and Royal Mail workers, who all have mandates to strike, would send a strong message to the bosses and the Tories.

  • Dave is a pseudonym

After Amazon in the US—fighting to set up a union at Trader Joe’s

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Image of a family holding placards in support of Trader Joe unite, a new union in America

Trader Joe’s Unite support rally in Minneapolis, 6 August (Picture: Twitter/@TraderJoesUnite)

It’s not just in Britain that workers who are seen seen as “unorganisable” are showing they can resist the bossees and unionise.

From Amazon to Starbucks, workers across the US are building unions and taking action. Now workers at supermarket giant Trader Joe’s are getting organised. 

Sarah Beth is a Trader Joe’s worker in Minneapolis. She told Socialist Worker that workers at her store are “excited” to hold a collective vote on whether to set up a recognised union later this month. “There are three main reasons why we are unionising. The first is pay. The second is benefits including healthcare and also safety on the job.” 

“Trader Joe’s hires people on ‘competitive wages’ but doesn’t raise the pay of those already working there. This means someone who has worked there for two or three years earns less than someone who has just started. We want a fixed rate of pay that is livable, and so that people don’t feel like they are living pay cheque to pay cheque.” 

“Trader Joe’s was for some time known as a good company with a higher standard that treated workers better than other grocery stores. But over the years, good health care and benefits have been eroded. 

“Also we sometimes don’t feel safe on the job. We have asked time and time again for the proper safety training to deal with dangerous situations in store, but we’ve been refused. 

Sarah Beth added that the disintegration of conditions and pay started to happen during and after the pandemic hit. She added that this is not unusual and that workers across the US realise they need to fight for better

“In general there’s a lot of inequality but also discontent in the US,” she said. “After Covid, things were broken. It really changed the way people viewed labour. 

“Of course, trade union membership in the US is very low and has been even more eroded by the union-busting of big companies. But people now see being part of the union as a solution. So there’s a resurgence of people taking ownership and organising.” 

Sarah Beth also added that the radicalism seen during the uprising in Minneapolis after the murder of George Floyd has spilled over into trade union struggle. 

“One thing that has helped us in our store is we have radical young people, who have no loyalty to corporations. They truly question the system and want to change it. We will vote on whether to unionise later this month, and I’m very confident we will win.” 

Only a small number of Trader Joe’s branches are currently pushing to unionise, but Sarah Beth said there is real potential for it to spread. Some stores have elected to be part of the Trader Joe’s United union. Others have decided to be part of larger supermarket unions. 

Already workers at Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Massachusetts, voted to unionise into Trader Joe’s United, voting by 45-31 to join the union. 

This is only a beginning for Trader Joe’s workers in the US, but workers are clear that union busting and anti-trade union laws won’t stop them anymore. 

Grangemouth oil refinery workers stage solid wildcat strike

Posted on: August 10th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments

Solid picket lines at Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland

Hundreds of oil refinery workers in Grangemouth, Scotland, have downed tools and stormed out on unofficial strike demanding a pay increase.

Around 250 workers joined a picket line outside the Grangemouth refinery, a petrochemical plant owned by a joint venture between PetroChina and billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group.

The workers from five different contractors stood across the A904 road, temporarily blocking tankers from accessing the industrial site. The action was in response to the Engineering Construction Industry Association’s (ECIA) “refusal to recognise the cost of living crisis”.

The picket line developed into a protest with marching workers carrying a banner reading, “ECIA let’s talk.”

Grangemouth refinery supplies over 60 percent of the petrol and diesel for forecourts in Scotland. Last year Ineos Group recorded gross profits of £2.95 billion.

But workers for contractors at the plant have received just a 2.5 percent pay rise back in January and are set to receive another meagre 2.5 percent pay rise next year. With inflation at 11.8 percent and set to rise up to 15 percent next year, workers will suffer a big real terms pay cut.

The strikers have vowed to return to picket lines every two weeks until a new pay deal is accepted.

The Grangemouth action was part of a protest at around 20 sites across Britain over pay for engineering construction workers covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI). Workers came out in particularly big numbers at Humber Refinery in North Lincolnshire, owned by energy group Phillips 66, and at the Valero refinery in Milford Haven.

The Graqngemouth workers distributed a leaflet that read, “Some of us worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country running, some of us were made redundant. We accepted changes to the agreement and took a pay freeze to help the employers and to keep the industry moving during lockdown.

“Now we are asking the ECIA to come back to the negotiating table because of these once in a lifetime events. So far, they have point blank refused. We cannot allow this cavalier attitude to continue.”

The Grangemouth workers have a history of militancy. Having suffered a terrible defeat in 2013 it’s great to see the workers once more making a stand.

Ineos threatened to close the plant and cut 800 jobs. The Unite union accepted some cuts.  Workers lost their final salary pension scheme, and bosses imposed a three-year pay freeze and worse contracts. Others fared worse and lost their jobs. 

Unite also accepted not to strike for at least three years. The spirit at the plant, which has been rebuilt by actions since 2013, now is great to see.  

As prices soar, the energy regulator bails out bosses

Posted on: August 10th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Image of a bar chart comparing Ofegem statistics and cornwall insight. The title is Energy price cap forecast to rise to £4,200

Energy price cap could jump to £4,266 in January, says Cornwall insight

The energy regulator Ofgem has changed how it calculates gas and electricity price rises to favour the bosses. And it means the deluge of energy price rises is predicted to be even worse than the most chilling forecast a month ago.

Household energy bills in Britain are now projected to peak at more than £4,420 a year on average next spring. That is nearly £90 a week just for your basic energy supply.

The energy consultancy Cornwall Insight, which is among the most accurate forecasters of energy bills, warned the price cap could rise from £1,971 a year on average at present to £3,582 in October—an increase of more than 80 percent. The cap would then jump to £4,266 in January before peaking at £4,427 in April next year,

It raised its forecasts for coming pain following an outrageous move by Ofgem. It has announced that the fat cat energy suppliers will be allowed to recover the full costs of buying energy for the coming winter at current wholesale prices. This will apply whatever the companies actually paid.

Suppliers are being allowed to charge more up front this winter so that they can quickly recoup the costs of buying energy in advance.

Ofgem also confirmed at the same time that the energy price cap will be updated quarterly, rather than every six months. So the price rises will come even quicker than before. Again the justification was to allow companies to make enough money to keep shareholders happy.

Ofgem insisted it had to make changes to the price cap to avoid another slew of energy company collapses because of the privatisation model. Since January 2021, more than 30 energy retailers have gone bust.

The costs of dealing with those failures is expected to exceed £4 billion—which ordinary people will be expected to pay through a levy on households’ energy bills.

All this comes as a survey by comparison site Uswitch suggested many people are already falling behind on energy payments. Total debt owed by households is three times higher than in September last year.

Almost a quarter of households owe £206 on average.

Ofgem will announce the October price rises on 26 August. That is the day 115,000 Royal Mail workers are set to strike.

It should be a united day of action across the whole working class with every group of workers who can strike out together and monster marches and rallies.

Labour is virtually silent or actively opposes on the urgent measures needed now. These have to include democratic public ownership of utilities such as energy and a freeze on price rises.

There would have to be above-inflation pay rises in the public sector, a big rise in benefits, abolition of anti-union laws to encourage workers to resist, a rent freeze and much more.

As union announces four Royal Mail strikes, let’s strike together

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Jeandre Coetser No Comments
Royal mail workers outide a post office after balloting in success for strike action. They are holding CWU posters which reads I'm voting yes with raised fists in resistance

Postal workers, like these ones in Wantage, voted for action in vast numbers

Around 115,000 postal workers in Royal Mail are set to strike for four days in August and September. Their action should be a focus to build massive strikes to transform the present scale of resistance over pay and against the Tories.

On Tuesday the Royal Mail workers’ CWU union announced strikes on Friday 26 August, Wednesday 31 August and Thursday 8 and Friday 9 September.

It follows bosses’ imposition of a below-inflation “rise” of 2 percent. And that’s even more poisonous after the company has recently announced a £758 million profit, paid £400 million to shareholders and handed millions to its executives.

In response workers voted 98 percent for strikes on a 77 percent turnout.

Jane Loftus, vice-president and postal chair of the CWU, told Socialist Worker, “It’s outrageous that Royal Mail, a company awash with profits and handing millions to its top bosses, wants to cut the pay of the workforce in real terms.

“Everywhere now people are saying they have had enough and aren’t going to take this sort of treatment anymore.

“We want our pay strikes to be an encouragement to others to fight. Royal Mail management may well act in a ruthless way, but the CWU can beat them if we use all our strength. We’re looking for support and solidarity from workers everywhere.”

There is now a tremendous potential to unite strikes and make 26 August a focus for the whole working class. Well over 200,000 workers could come out that day—and that’s just the ones with live strike votes now.

If they move in the next 48 hours to give the necessary notice, the RMT, Aslef and TSSA unions on Network Rail, the train operating companies, the London Underground and the Overground could all stop that day. That’s over 50,000 workers.

Add in BT and Openreach—another 40,000 workers also in the CWU—who could be out. Then there are the Post Office Limited counters and cash distribution workers. Then there are local strikes at several bus companies. There are bin workers, health workers and even barristers who are in dispute and could strike.

Around 2,000 workers at Felixstowe—Britain’s biggest container port—have already announced a strike from 21-29 August. So they could be part of it as well.

With Royal Mail, the total is well over 200,000 workers. That would really shake up bosses and the Tories, and it isn‘t against the anti-union laws.

It can go much further. It should be a day for the whole working class. Union leaders must appeal for everyone to join in, come to rallies and marches and, if possible, strike. Make it a big all-union push for action at Amazon and Uber and all the other places where people are seething for action.

A united day could kick off strike ballots in the NHS, the universities, local government, the civil service and other parts of the public sector.

The 26 August is also the day when Ofgem, the energy regulator, announces the next price rises in gas and electricity that will be applied in October. So as well as the pay strikes, the rallies and marches can be open to everyone who wants resistance to the deadly scale of price rises.

It could focus climate change campaigners and anti-racists around the powerful core of working class action.

Friday 26 August should be Fightback Friday for every worker. The only thing that will stop it from happening is if the union leaders don’t act quickly. If they don’t get it together for 26 August, they must be pushed to create united action on one of the other Royal Mail strike days.

They must be pressured to build the individual sets of strikes but also to come together and to lay the basis for even bigger action by millions.

Workers revolt over poor pay + update

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Sarah No Comments
A dozen strikers, holding Unison flags, stare into the camera on a picket line in a pay fight

Workers have mounted strong picket lines throughout the dispute

Health strikers announce fresh walkouts over pay

Health workers battling poverty pay and outsourcing at Lancashire and South Cumbria Trust have announced new walkouts.

Some 50 workers, who are members of the Unison union, want the same pay as those directly employed by the NHS.

This would mean the cleaners, porters and caterers would get extra money for working nights, weekends and bank holidays.

Strikers, who are employed by outsourcer OCS, were due to walk out this Thursday and Friday. They were then set to strike for 48 hours from this Sunday. This will be followed by a three‑day strike from 18 August.

Workers have mounted solid picket lines throughout the dispute, and they’ve been receiving solidarity from the wider trade union movement. This must continue to support these workers in this important dispute.

Felixstowe workers get ready for action

Strikes are set for the port of Felixstowe later this month after workers were offered a below-inflation pay rise.

Talks at conciliation service Acas failed to produce an offer, sparking the action for 1,900 Unite union members.

Strike dates are set for Sunday 21 August to Monday 29 August.

The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company failed to improve its offer of a 7 percent pay increase, significantly below the 11.8 percent RPI inflation rate.

Workers only received a 1.4 percent below-inflation pay increase last year.

Felixstowe is Britain’s largest container port. Some 48 percent of containers brought in Britain come through the port, so strikes could paralyse the country and severely disrupt the supply chain.

Constructing a fight over poor pay

Unite union members at construction supplies companies Birtley Group Ltd and Bowater Doors Ltd announced strikes over low pay.

The 124 workers, based in Chester-le-Street, are spread across the two companies but work at the same premises and are part of the same parent company Hill & Smith Holdings PLC.

Thirteen days of strike are set for Wednesday of this week, ending on Monday 22 August. This will be followed by 16 more days of strikes beginning Sunday 4 September, ending on Monday 19 September.

An overtime ban will also commence from this Wednesday.

AQA strikers score give bosses a fail

Workers at the AQA exam board were set to strike for four days from this Friday.

Members of the Unison union at the Manchester office are battling a 3 percent pay offer.

The soaring cost of living has left many AQA workers unable to pay bills and stay afloat.

Trade unionists should visit their picket lines and offer support.

St James Tavern strike off for talks

A strike of pub workers at the St James Tavern in Brighton has been called off so talks with the leaseholder can take place.

Workers, who are members of the UVW union, planned to strike for 20 consecutive days to demand £11.50 an hour, sick pay and union recognition.

They also demanded the reinstatement of all sacked striking members of staff.