Fire control operators in Essex have escalated strike plans to eight days this week in an increasingly bitter row over cuts and shift changes.
FBU control members walked out at 07:00 on Tuesday 10 March and vowed not return until 07:00 on Wednesday 18 March.
A new imposed shift system has seen some emergency control operators having to leave their jobs or drastically reduce their hours and pay, with many more considering their future with the service.
The majority of strikers are women, who say these shift changes are unfair and completely unnecessary as there are alternatives on the table that cost the same but would be more manageable for all those working in the control room today and in the future.
Jo Byrne, FBU executive council for control members said: “We celebrated International Women’s Day this past Sunday. These shifts disproportionately affect women with young families, and a number of our members have been forced to leave the service, whilst others have had no choice other than to reduce their hours and pay to fit in with available childcare.”
The strikes follow a 24-hour strike across England over pensions on 25 February. Some 3,000 firefighters rallied at Westminster, taking over the streets around parliament for several hours and blocking traffic. The FBU argues that the fire minister Penny Mordaunt misled parliament in December by claiming no firefighters would lose their jobs over the pension changes, despite fire service employers admitting the guarantee is not a guarantee at all.
The FBU said the pensions fight is not over and more action was likely.
Lewisham school students strike
The struggle against the plans to turn four secondary schools in Lewisham into academies is escalating.
On Wednesday 24 February over 70 people agreed at a public meeting to push the schools to ballot parents of pupils at each school over whether they want the schools to be converted. It also organised campaigning and publicity to spread the message about the threat to our education service.
This was followed on 4 March by a very impressive students’ strike at Hilly Fields school. Around 100 students convened at the nearby park during their lunchtime and didn’t return to lessons until half-an-hour after the lunch-time break had ended. This strike occurred despite management at the school harassing the students who were organising it.
A day later, on 5 March, the school was closed and the other schools severely disrupted as members of the NUT, NASUWT and GMB struck together to stop the academisation. After the picket lines a large and noisy delegation handed in a letter to the Leathersellers’ Company at their headquarters in Garlick Hill. The Leathersellers’ Company runs the Prendergast Federation, which contains three of the four schools with are pushing for conversion. Outrageously, Leathersellers’ have indicated, that they are moving the consultation period to before the Election — leaving just 6 weeks (instead of 6 months).
Unions are discussing escalating to a two-day strike. The students have responded and organised, not just on social media — a sit in at Vale school on Monday 9 March led to 11 students being internally excluded. Ladywell school has threatened 5-day exclusions for student organising.
Anger on the Tube
Members of RMT union on London Underground will meet on Monday 16 March to plan the union’s next steps in the fight against job cuts and ticket office closures.
Tube workers have not taken industrial action in their “Every Job Matters” dispute since April 2014, but the proposed new rosters — which drastically reduce workers’ number of weekends off, increase long working, and introduce “cover weeks” where workers could be told to work anywhere within their group on almost any shift pattern — have been met with significant anger and look like provoking new strikes.
Meanwhile, RMT’s campaigns against the unfair sackings of several of its members continue. Solidarity has reported on the case of Alex McGuigan and Noel Roberts. LU has also now sacked long-standing cleaner activist Clara Osagiede and Karen Guyott, a station worker on the London Bridge Group.
Supporters of the rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker, published by Workers’ Liberty, will be attending the meeting on 16 March to argue that the union call new strikes as soon as possible.
For information on reinstatement cases see here.
Pay offer in QEH dispute
A planned strike by outsourced workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, South London, on Monday 9 March was suspended after bosses made a pay offer.
The workers, members of GMB union, were due to strike for five days in a long running dispute which has seen strikes since October last year. GMB also succesfully resisted attempts by the outsourcing contractor ISS to get an injunction against strikes in the High Court in November.
The offer sees the lowest paid ISS workers receive a rise to the new minimum NHS rate of £7.72 per hour from next month, meaning an 8.7% rise for lowest paid workers. GMB says that increases in pay for higher banded staff have yet to be resolved. The deal also does not completely deal with the two-tier workforce, leaving issues of other terms and conditions such as sick pay and unsociable hours payments unsolved.
GMB will be balloting members on the offer.