trade unions

Trade unions ready for cross-sector walkout to demand better pay


Amid soaring prices of staples and reports of record corporate profits, UK trade unions have been growing ever louder in their calls for members to take to the picket line. This year has seen significant strike-related disruption of rail and mail services, and many other workers may follow suit. Nurses are currently voting on strike action, and last week, the two largest teacher unions announced their intention to ballot members. Workers’ unrest is not limited to the public sector. In Coventry, Amazon workers defied the company’s anti-union policies by balloting workers on strike action. The cost of living crisis is threatening to plunge millions of workers into poverty leaving them unable to afford daily basics. Pay increases on offer by management in many sectors would do little to address mounting financial pressure on workers. If trade unions coordinate their actions, the UK could face strike action by over one million workers.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary has approached GMB and Unison bosses to discuss joining forces for workers. Insisting that the aim was “not to strike” but “to get money in the hands of workers who are doing a fair day’s work and expect a fair day’s pay”, Graham said:

“We’re trying to get money into the hands of workers as this Government is trying to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. We need to give workers the best chance of getting more money in their pockets so they can feed their families and don’t have a situation like they’re in now. Part of that is unions working together.”

Workers who do strike, forfeit pay as a result of which they face even greater financial challenges, which is something Graham wants to avoid. Speaking to reporters, she called on the opposition to make it “very, very clear which side it is on.”

Trade unions rally against new strike legislation

After months of strike-related travel disruption, the government is set to introduce legislation that would force transport workers to maintain services during strike action. Trade unions are vehemently opposing the legislation on the basis that it undermines workers’ legitimate right to strike. The government wants to push the legislation through within the first month of parliament sitting to ensure strike action by transport workers does not lead to a shutdown of services. It hopes to have the bill up and running next year.

But unions are rallying against the bill, vowing to “oppose them every step of the way.” Speaking to reporters, Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary said:

“The changes are unfair, unworkable, and incompatible with our international commitments.”

A spokesperson for the government said:

“The government stood on a manifesto commitment to introduce minimum service levels. As we have seen only too often in recent months, it is wrong that strikes are preventing hard-working people and families up and down the country from getting to work, doctor’s appointments, and school.”

First rail and mail workers, then junior doctors and nurses, and now teachers and Amazon workers

The appetite for strike action is growing with more and more unions balloting members and workers demanding better pay. After transport and postal workers took to the picket line earlier this year and both junior doctor and nurses’ organisations began urging members to vote for strike action, the two largest UK teacher unions followed suit last week. The NASUWT, a TUC-affiliated union for teachers, will ballot its members with voting to close on 9 January, while National Education Union (NEU) members will also receive their ballot papers in the coming weeks after a sizeable majority said they supported such a vote.

The teacher unions rejected the government’s 5%-pay increase offer, demanding instead a 12%-rise in line with price increases. A preliminary NEU ballot with a 60% participation rate saw 86% of teachers vote in favour of strike action which far exceeds the legally required 50% rate criteria for the strike to proceed.

Meanwhile, Coventry Amazon workers are set to become the first in the UK to strike next week. The global delivery giant is notoriously anti-union refusing to engage in negotiations altogether not just in the UK but all over the world. This, however, hasn’t stopped Amazon workers in the US, Germany, France, Poland, Italy, and Spain from unionising and taking to the picket line to demand better pay and working conditions.

Across the UK, staff members were angered by the company’s below-£1-pay increase offer. Because Amazon doesn’t allow unions, the workers have been supported by the GMB union for nearly a decade. The spontaneous work stoppage by Coventry warehouse staff in August was mirrored at fulfillment centres in Essex and Staffordshire.

Globally, Amazon is facing worker unrest with workers establishing unions and collaborating against it across the world. Coventry workers were joined on Tuesday by the vice president of the Amazon Labor Union, Derrick Palmer:

“We knew we had to do something unorthodox, something unheard of, to beat a giant like Amazon. Collectively we made a lot of noise and we stuck together through thick and thin, and ultimately that was how we were able to defeat them.”

André Scheer, of the German union Verdi, urged for “coordination, collaboration, between Amazon workers across Europe and worldwide.”

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