News from the rank and file

Simon Pearson rounds up some of the latest industrial struggles from the front line of the trade union movement.


Public service workers struggle in cost of living crisis

On Wednesday (17 November) the Office for National Statistics announced the CIPH (Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs) rose by 3.8% in the 12 months to October 2021 up from 2.9% in the 12 months to September. The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rose by 4.2% in the 12 months to October 2021, up from 3.1% in September. This rocketing of inflation hurts workers and their families as wages fail to keep up with the spiralling costs of necessary items such as food and transport costs.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:

“The government has been passing off pay cuts for public service workers under the guise of wage rises.

“The 3% increase for NHS staff is a pay cut in all but name. It doesn’t even keep pace with the cost of living and is no way to deal with the staffing crisis.

“Council and school staff have been offered less than half the rate of inflation and many public services are still enduring a pay freeze.

“Care is on its knees and the workers who provide it are on poverty wages, unable to pay their spiralling bills.

“The truth is millions of key workers are falling further and further behind while wages increase in other parts of the economy. So much for the myth of levelling up and the desire for world-class public services.”

Save London’s public transport: stop job cuts, attacks on working conditions and fare hikes

Transport workers in London find their wages, pensions and conditions of service under attack as the funding crisis threatens jobs and services. The current government bailout for TfL runs out on 11 December and as the clock ticks down the rail unions have called a demonstration outside Parliament on Wednesday, December 1, assembling at 11 am at Old Palace Yard. The unions are calling on the government to stop its attacks on transport workers and restore the operating grant to TfL.

The ITF also has a petition in support of London’s transport workers which I would encourage everyone to sign. The petition can be found here.

Tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country

So said, George Orwell in 1946, and if everything does depend on tea then Unite are correct to request urgent talks with Unilever over the sale of their tea division to CVC Capital Partners who were part of the group at the heart of the collapse of high street giant Debenhams.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“The story of private equity buy-outs in the UK very often has a fatal pattern of debt loading, asset stripping and job cuts as short-term shareholder dividends soar. We will not allow another case of corporate betrayal to ruin another iconic product.

“The sorry consequences of CVC’s so-called ‘investment’ in Debenhams, which crashed last December, are there for all to see with hundreds of shops shut and thousands of jobs gone. 

Residents in Manchester may have to wait for that bus

Residents in Greater Manchester have been warned of travel disruption in the new year as workers at First Manchester ballot over pay and conditions. Union representatives have made no headway in a series of meetings with management failing to table a pay offer that meets the aspirations of the workforce. The drivers are also balloting about ongoing issues regarding working patterns and shift rotas. Emergency procedures were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, which members accepted, but they have become increasingly concerned that previous arrangements have not been reintroduced as passenger numbers have increased.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

“Our members at First Manchester are not going to accept low pay and poor conditions any longer.

“Unite is a union which prioritises the jobs, pay and conditions of our members and it will be ensuring that the bus drivers at First Group get the union’s full support throughout this dispute.”

350 drivers at the Oldham depot which serves Greater Manchester have been balloted with workers making it clear that they will no longer accept low rates of pay, with the hourly rate of pay for a highly skilled bus driver being just £12.40 an hour. First Manchester should now make a serious pay offer and address the workers concerns over shifts and work patterns. Can the second largest bus operator afford an increase in drivers wages? Last years statutory operating profit of £224.3 million for First Group would suggest it can!

Solutions for a better world?

So says Panasonic in one of its many adverts, but not if you are a worker at its Pentwyn site in Cardiff, where the workforce has been offered a miserly 1% pay increase. Panasonic Cardiff is part of the £60 billion TV and electronics conglomerate, where according to its website it is making “people” central to our activities, and thus focusing on “people’s lives.” A bit of focus is needed on the workforce, who have now had a two-year pay freeze and it is indeed time to #PayUpPanasonic. It is really disappointing to see such a large company as Panasonic, withdraw its pay offer and from the pay talks altogether and refuse talks through the conciliation service ACAS. Staff are now set to strike on the 22 and 29 of November and 6 of December, with more dates expected to be announced soon. 

Nicola Savage, GMB regional organiser said:   

“This issue isn’t going away. 

“Our members deserve a real pay rise, and we will fight until we get them one. 

“We want to thank the politicians and the public who have been so supportive so far and ask them to get behind us again on social media in the coming weeks. 

“Everyone can see how unjust this is, it’s time that Panasonic understands that and come back to the table.” 

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Simon Pearson is on the Editorial Board of the Anti*Capitalist Resistance and is a Midlands-based political activist.

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