Grangemouth oil refinery workers stage solid wildcat strike

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

Solid picket lines at Grangemouth oil refinaery 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 several sites across Britain over pay for engineering construction workers covered by the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI).

The 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.

Striking rail workers say everyone should join fight

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
strike strikers Aslef RMT

Aslef strike in Leeds (Picture: Neil Terry).

The rail network is set to grind to a halt on Saturday, with around 6,000 train drivers ­planning to strike across nine train operating companies. In their battle for better pay, the members of the Aslef union are ­showing no sign of backing down—and now more workers are ready to join the fight.

Aslef members at four more ­operating companies are currently balloting for action. Strikes by train drivers will add to the mounting pressure on the bosses and the Tories. Next week sees bigger waves of action. Rail workers across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies are preparing to strike on Thursday 18 and Saturday 20 August.

It’s a battle to save jobs, protect safety and win a pay rise that beats inflation. Andy, a Network Rail worker from east London and member of the RMT union, told Socialist Worker that strikers are “ready to win.”

“The cost of living is pushing ­everyone to strike,” he said. “And that’s right. We need fair pay—there are people who I work with who no longer have enough money to raise their kids or pay rent or bills.”

Adam is a catering worker for train operating company LNER in Northumbria. He told Socialist Worker, “The mood is strong, full of hope and optimism for a victory. “There is a worry about the loss of earnings and the cost of living crisis. Fundraisers are planned to build a hardship fund for strikers, to keep them on the picket lines.”

Strikes on Network Rail will be boosted by around 10,400 London Underground and Overground workers who plan to strike on Friday 19 August in two disputes over jobs, pay and safety.

Train managers in the TSSA union and electronic control workers in the Unite union also plan to strike on 18 and 20 August.

Strikers have to make sure union leaders don’t settle for less than a clear victory, but action on the railways are only the tip of the iceberg.  Millions of workers sense that fighting back is the only way to ­confront the cost of living crisis.

There could be strikes in the postal service in the near future, with CWU union leaders expected to announce a date for action after Socialist Worker went to press. This would catapult a further 115,000 workers into action.

And 1,600 London bus workers employed by London United plan to strike on 19 and 20 August after refusing a paltry pay offer of 3.5 ­percent this year. In addition to all this, strikes by refuse workers, ballots for action in universities and wildcat strikes by Amazon workers show a growing mood to revolt.

 NHS workers start the votes on key pay strikes

Unions representing hundreds of thousands of NHS workers in England and Wales are this week starting a series of ballots for strikes over pay. The Tory government has imposed a flat rate increase of just £1,400 a year, which for most workers will be an effective pay cut.

The Unite union, which represents laboratory staff and others, has just begun a five-week consultative ballot and asked its members to vote for industrial action. The nurses’ RCN will ballot for strikes from 15 September with a recommendation that members vote yes.

And, the giant Unison union is balloting for strikes—but not until 27 October.

The battle is now on to ensure the biggest possible turnout and the largest yet yes vote for strikes.

In Scotland, where the offer is a tiny 5 percent rise—a big pay cut—the results of unions’ consultative ballots on the offer were due on Friday this week.

The only way to stop the destruction of the NHS, and chronic understaffing, is to back the fight of those who work for it.

Coordinate action to hit Tories

Rail workers have been given strength by huge waves of solidarity from other trade unionists and activists. Network Rail worker Andy said the support is “overwhelming”, adding that “it’s nothing that we expected”.

He believes the solidarity has strengthened the mood among his colleagues to win. “The Tories now have to think twice about attacking us because there’s an army of people behind us.”

But to make the strikes stronger, they ought to be coordinated. Union leaders from RMT, Aslef, TSSA and Unite should call out every rail worker on the same day. And every worker across every industry who has a mandate could strike on the same day.

So, for example, bus drivers and refuse workers in dispute everywhere could strike on the same day as rail workers.

Even those workers who aren’t in a union could be urged to take part. Walkouts by Amazon workers have shown that it is possible to take action without going through ballots and meeting thresholds.

A day—or even better, several days—of united strikes would send a message the Tories could not ignore. And we need more rallies and demonstrations. The RMT has called demos for 20 August in cities such as Sheffield and Liverpool.

These should happen everywhere. They can focus support, build strikes, encourage others to join the battle and provide a forum for discussion.

Every striker has to be actively involved—on the picket lines and in deciding how to take the battle forward. It can’t be left to the union leaders.

How to flush away trump

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
Donald Trump

Donald Trump could be investigated (Picture: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Former US president Donald Trump is angry. He denounced a raid by FBI agents this week at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of a ­witch‑hunt by “radical left Democrats”. He went on to compare it to the Watergate burglary—ordered by leaders of his own party—50 years ago.

The authorities were looking for official papers and investigating if he left the White House with classified records. There are plenty of reports of the Trump administration destroying material after the failure of the 6 January 2021 raid on the Capitol. Trump had to deny he flushed key documents down a toilet.

But such raids and official investigations won’t stop Trump’s plan to push for a second term and take the far right into office again. He hopes to repeat his trick of 2016 of posing as the friend of the forgotten and the abandoned.

As poverty sweeps through the US, this hugely wealthy racist wants to pose as the enemy of the corporate elite and the politicians. But stopping Trump and his far-right friends requires a fight that goes beyond the chosen method of legal battling in the courts.

It will require a battle against everything he stands for by striking workers and movements on the streets. And that also means taking on president Joe Biden as he backs big business and the military.

U.S. Taiwan manoeuvres ramp up war dangers

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
image of nanci pelosi at the podium in a green dress with a huge projection on the screen behind her as she talks about china and taiwan and war

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will (Picture: Flickr/Global Climate Action Summit) w ar

The provocations by the United States over Taiwan have further ratcheted up the danger of imperialist war between nuclear powers. US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi landed in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, recently. She was backed up by an aircraft carrier, two warships, and multiple high-tech F-35 aircraft.

It was a deliberate attempt to impose a new US dominance in the region. The clear message was that the West had shown it was ready to fight a proxy war and pour in virtually unlimited cash and weapons into Ukraine.

Old deals and spheres of influence can be torn up, regime change is possible, and war is still on the agenda. A year since the US’s humiliation at the hand of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the US wants the world to know its crushing armed power hasn’t gone away.

And after the hoped-for defeat of Russia, it will be China that faces an onslaught of economic and military pressure. To ram home the message the US this week approved another $1 billion (£820 million) of military aid to Ukraine. The total of direct military aid from the US is now almost $10 billion (£8.2 billion).

Meanwhile the Tory leadership contenders clash over who can be the biggest cheerleader for war in Ukraine and the most gung-ho against China. That comes as human rights charity and pressure group Amnesty International reported that Ukrainian forces have put civilians in harm’s way.

The Nato-backed military has established “bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals”. The world grows more dangerous as war, economic crisis, pandemics, and climate chaos interact.

As the US encouraged Taiwan to face off against China, the Chinese state responded with its own threats. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “The People’s Liberation Army will never sit by idly.”

And the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, told Joe Biden, “Whoever plays with fire will get burnt.” War in Ukraine, the Russian invasion and Nato escalation have created perfect conditions for the arms firms. The Telegraph newspaper reported that Britain’s BAE Systems is “expecting a flood of new orders from countries preparing for the return of industrial war.”

Such vultures know governments in Britain and across the world will always find the cash for weapons, even as people’s living standards plummet. We need to bring together the fight against the Tories over the cost of living with the battle against war. Not a penny more for the escalation in Ukraine, no to imperialism everywhere.

University cuts show need for resistance

Posted on: August 9th, 2022 by Sophie No Comments
universities university workers strikes UCU

UCU members on strike at Soas university in January 2022 (Picture: Guy Smallman)

All modern language courses at Leeds Beckett university are set to close in the latest assault on university education. The UCU union described the timing of the announcement while workers are not teaching as “cynical”.

It said the move will leave, “staff completely uncertain of their futures and knowing that their chances of seeking other employment is severely impacted”. Languages at Leeds Beckett have been a key part of the institution since the late 1970s.

Meanwhile, staff at Roehampton university in London are facing a fire and rehire attack that will see university bosses cull over 200 jobs.

The university of Huddersfield and the University of Wolverhampton also said there would be cuts to arts and humanities courses. These cuts are ideological and a reflection of a Tory government that continues to devalue certain subjects.

A much larger fight is needed to stop these attacks. Last month the UCU confirmed it would ballot its members across Britain for more industrial action. Strikes that include more university branches could stop the onslaught.

Activists in the UCU must fight hard to make sure there is massive vote for strikes in the coming term over pay, pensions, jobs, contracts and equality.