40,000 BT workers in the UK vote to strike, but the Communications Workers Union pledges not to ‘react instinctively’

Thousands of BT telecoms and call center workers could go on strike within weeks. On June 15, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) conducted a vote for workers in three categories (BT, Openreach and EE subsidiaries) of the BT Group.

If the strike continues, it will be the first nationwide stoppage of BT workers in 35 years. This strike took place in 1987, three years after the former public service was privatized by the Thatcher government.

30,000 of the company’s Openreach engineers voted 95.8% to strike with a 74% turnout and the 10,000 strong BT department staff (including 9,000 appeals), voted 91.5% for a participation rate of 58.2%. EE workers, the lowest number of voters on the ballot, backed the strikes with a 95% majority but with a turnout of 49.7%, just eight votes to meet the threshold required for a legal stoppage under anti-strike laws.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward (left) and Deputy General Secretary for Telecommunications and Financial Services Andy Kerr (right) at the union’s May 25 online meeting to announce the countdown to the ballot for the strike [Photo by Screenshot-CWU Facebook]

The vote reflects workers’ anger that has been simmering for months. In March, the CWU rejected an offer to pay significantly below inflation from BT by £1,200. BT then announced on April 7 that it was giving a revised £1,500 offer to 58,000 frontline workers, from the start of this month, saying it had concluded negotiations with the CWU and effectively imposed the OK. Billed as the highest pay rise given in 20 years, the deal was between 3 and 8% depending on base pay. The CWU calculated that the imposed deal was only worth about 4.8% overall.

In March, RPI inflation was already at 9%, rising to 11.1% in April before reaching nearly 12% last month. The sub-inflation diktat was imposed by a company posting annual profits of £1.3billion this year, while offering £700million to its shareholders.

A request for a 10% increase arose independently from engineers, call centers and store employees. Forced to call a ballot, the CWU also adopted the 10% demand at this stage.

The role of the unions as organizations dedicated to suppressing the class struggle is clear in the CWU bureaucracy’s refusal to stage strike action in a dispute now in its fifth month.

His response to this week’s massive mandate for strikes was to announce another postponement. The CWU has pleaded with BT management to resume talks, with general secretary Dave Ward saying the strike vote would not see a “gut reaction from the union”. He will give the management of BT until the end of next week to enter into talks and see if they “are ready to put aside the imposition of a salary and come to the table with a significantly improved offer”. Only then will a strike date be set, giving BT an additional seven days’ notice required by law.

The main issue that irks the CWU is that BT decided to push through its pay cut without the intervention of a union bureaucracy that has proven to be a tool of management complaints in dispute after dispute. Speaking after the strike vote, Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr said that while BT’s wage offer “wasn’t good enough, the biggest problem was enforcing it”.

The primary role of the unions is to delay the initiation of any strike, using endless consultative votes and negotiations aimed at demoralizing workers, staggering industrial action and preventing a unified movement of the working class. Where this is not possible, they sanction one or a few days of strike action to dissipate the workers’ anger.

If all the sections of workers currently in conflict – whether they voted to strike, whether they are or must be voted – were to be mobilised, the action would involve around 3 million workers. Yet such is the repression of the struggles by the unions that no major strikes have taken place in Britain this week.

After 40,000 railway workers staged three 24-hour strikes last week and 10,000 London Underground workers went on strike for one day, the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) resumed on Thursday talks with Network Rail. In language similar to that of the CWU, RMT Principal Assistant General Secretary Eddie Dempsey, when asked if the union would sanction any more strikes this month, replied: “We told people that we weren’t in a hurry… We don’t. take these measures lightly. We are in no hurry to run into the meeting room and name other measures.

The RMT is seeking a deal based on what would be an actual pay cut of just 7% and a token commitment to “no mandatory layoffs” by the company. The union has started talks despite Network Rail launching a Section 188 consultation process, effective July 1, over the redundancies. The company is seeking to cut more than 1,500 jobs as part of its cost-cutting program.

Sky News noted of the resumption of talks that “reforms will inevitably require redundancies, but [that Network Rail] believe that 95% of these goals can be achieved through a voluntary process. This is entirely consistent with the RMT’s longstanding manual for allowing jobs to be negotiated, provided this is done on a ‘voluntary’ basis. The union “would have prepared its own proposals on modernization and cost reduction, including over £200m in potential savings, in part by ending reliance on contractors”.

The mood of workers to fight means that as soon as the unions try to sabotage one dispute, another breaks out. This week around 2,400 managers across more than 1,000 delivery offices in Britain (86% in favour) and Northern Ireland (89%) voted to strike against the job cuts. The CWU is also voting with 115,000 postal workers for industrial action against the imposition of a 2% pay premium this year by Royal Mail Group. The results will be announced on July 19.

Seven hundred BA ground workers at Heathrow Airport voted to strike last month. Their salary was reduced by 10% during the pandemic. If the conflict is not closed by the GMB and Unite unions, strikes could take place as early as July 8.

In education, hundreds of thousands of teachers are demanding a pay rise. The National Education Union and the National Union of Schoolmasters-Women Teachers’ Union have called for no action, most importantly the NEU, saying only that it may hold a strike ballot in the fall , but only after teachers are forced to vote in another advisory ballot. .

The Socialist Equality Party’s statement, ‘Lessons from Britain’s rail strikes’, explained: ‘Conditions are emerging for a general strike to bring down the Johnson government and end pay cuts and deepening social inequality. But it means a political struggle against the sabotage of the TUC and Labor who are the de facto partners of the Tories.

The threatened strikes in the UK are part of a global upsurge in the class struggle, expressed in a wave of industrial action including general strikes in several European countries. Friday, the Daily Mail led its online edition with the title “Get ready for ‘Stay home in the summer'”.

He noted that Ryanair staff were on strike this week at the airline’s Spanish bases, affecting 10 airports. EasyJet cabin crew in Spain, who want a 40% increase in their base pay, are due to hold a nine-day strike this month. Ryanair and EasyJet workers are on strike in defiance of the company and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE)-Podemos government. He put down a three-day Europe-wide strike by Ryanair cabin crew last week by imposing draconian minimum services, making the strike illegal for most workers.

The MailThe report also lists: “Paris Charles De Gaulle: strikes this weekend; Orly airport: strikes this weekend; Adolfo Saura Madrid-Barajas: Ryanair staff strike this weekend; Ibiza Airport: Ryanair staff strike this weekend: Leonard Da Vinci Int. Airport: Disruption caused by French ATC strike… Copenhagen Airport: Chaos if SAS airline staff vote to strike this week; Oslo airport: chaos if SAS airline staff vote to strike this week; Stockholm Arlanda: Chaos if SAS airline staff vote to strike this week.

Comments are closed.