I'm not in the habit of posting news of every strike going on this blog. Or there wouldn't be room for anything else. But sometimes, a strike pops up that is particularly worth reporting and worth commenting on.
Aside from the overwhelming justice of their fight, and the obviously very high level of commitment from people who work in a highly-skilled and dangerous job, this strike action is notable because:
- It is an indefinite strike. These seem to have become very rare in the British labour movement, perhaps especially since the defeat of the miners' strike over twenty years ago. The preferred tactic these days seems to be one-day, or maybe two-day, strikes, which many employers can wear, and which become in effect protest gestures rather than a winning strategy. It may be that in this case, the nature of the industry made indefinite action the only logical choice. But if and when these divers win their fight, I hope the rest of the trade union movement can look anew at the idea of indefinite action.
- The union went to ACAS talks with the employer without calling off the strike. Many unions, RMT included, seem to find it impossible to talk and strike at the same time, and suspend action for talks. This tends to lose the momentum of the action without even winning anything solid for the members. Management can then spin out the talks or offer little concessions that union bureaucrats can dress up like a Christmas tree to justify settling. With the strike still on, the pressure stays on the negotiators (on both sides), and the workers are in a much stronger position. Again, here's hoping that now the union has done this once, it seriously considers doing it again.
The union, and other labour movement supporters, should help to fund workers through a dispute like this. If one set of workers wins an indefinite strike, it will benefit the rest of us too, so it's worth us making the effort to help them win.
RMT has a Disputes Fund from which it can give strikers money. (It's one of those improvements that Bob Crow brought in when he became General Secretary.) I know know how much it has handed out from it in this case, but I hope it has done so generously.
Further money can be raised by asking other members to pay a levy, going round labour movement and community bodies asking for donations, shaking buckets, and setting up a support group that organises fundraising events.
RMT press release ...
MORE THAN 900 North Sea divers and support staff who have been on strike since November 1 have voted overwhelmingly to accept a pay package that will increase current rates by a cumulative 44.7 per cent over the next two years.
703 (84 per cent) voted to accept the deal, with 127 (16 per cent) against, on an 80 per cent turnout. The strike, now in its tenth day, will therefore end forthwith, with an orderly return to work beginning immediately.
The settlement gives an immediate increase of 25 (TWENTY-FIVE) per cent on all rates, with a further five per cent on the new rates next April, and increases in November 2007 and 2008 of RPI plus 1.5 per cent or five per cent, whichever is greater.
The seven employer signatories to the deal will all now pay eight bank holidays, up from four previously, and each has undertaken to agree proper bargaining structures with the union, although pay will continue to be negotiated collectively.
"By any standard this is a tremendous victory for a group of workers who have displayed grit, determination and complete solidarity in their campaign to win a fair pay increase," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"The strike was total from the first moment, and it is to our members' immense credit that not one diving support vessel was operational throughout the stoppage.
"Divers and their support crews do difficult and hazardous work in an industry that makes enormous profits, and this settlement represents a massive stride towards reversing the two decades of pay erosion they have endured.
"Nonetheless, there remain issues to be addressed, and the establishment of proper negotiating procedures with the seven companies provides the framework within which that can now be done.
"Our members in the North Sea came out as one, stood together through ten days of solid strike action, and can return to work proud that their unity has won a signifcant advance," Bob Crow said.