‘People feel really pinched’: UK unions remain defiant as strike costs bite | Daily News Byte


Unions are appealing to the public to give money to support striking workers as they wage a winter war with government and private sector employers over pay.

The RMT Rail union is selling padded jackets and beanies to keep warm on picket lines, along with £1 downloads of a fundraising single by indie band Primal Scream. Glaswegian postmen have released a calendar which will help the Communication Workers Union’s action on Royal Mail and the Royal College of Nursing’s campaign to raise NHS pay.

Both the CWU and RCN are calling for donations, while the Public and Commercial Service union is charging members an extra £3-£5 a month to help sustain a series of strikes by driving instructors, border guards and jobcentre staff. other

“We must ensure that we can sustain this strike, and win,” PCS said in a call to members last month. It expected the first month of its targeted action to cost around £1mn in strike pay, which would come from its £3mn fighting fund, so that those directly involved would not lose out. If the dispute escalates to all-member action, however, a large number of strike pay cannot be afforded.

Ministers’ refusal to discuss pay with public sector unions suggests they are hoping strikes will eventually run their course as financial pressures force workers to retreat and public support thins.

However, a YouGov poll shows that two-thirds of public support nurses and ambulance crews are on strike, while half are likely to take action by teachers. Although rail workers received less sympathy, the majority blamed the government or rail employers for the disruption rather than unions.

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Unions insist they are ready for the long haul. He points out that donations regularly flow between groups to help those caught up in costly disputes. Leaders are also taking a strategic approach by calling different groups of members at different times in a rolling program of action designed to create continuous disruption of services by limiting the hit to the wages of individuals.

The RCN planned its first two days of strike action at only half of the places in England where it has a mandate for industrial action, with the option of extending its campaign in the New Year open. Meanwhile, strikes by ambulance crews – led by the Unison, GMB and Unite unions – have involved relatively small numbers but have sparked deep alarm about the potential harm to patients.

Major unions representing NHS workers are able to offer strike pay of up to £50 a day – or in Unite’s case £70 – to workers who apply after losing wages. Workers are still taking a big hit, however: £50 will replace just half of a newly qualified nurse’s pre-tax salary, with anyone moving up the pay scale further losing out even more heavily.

“We don’t earn that much and we lose a day’s pay,” said Cheryl Kerr, a nurse working in clinical education at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, who found it a difficult decision to join the RCN strike.

But the 53-year-old, who commutes an hour-and-a-half from her home in Luton to the hospital because she can’t afford to live in London, said she was taking a stand for the future of her profession as a junior nurse, along with many families, struggling to make ends meet. .

Cheryl Kerr

Cheryl Kerr: ‘We don’t earn as much and we lose a day’s pay’ © Anna Gordon/FT

While many workers express similar resolve, Royal Mail and those involved in one of the rail industry’s longest-running disputes are coming under increasing financial strain. With a high proportion of their membership involved in disputes, neither the CWU nor the RMT could afford strike pay, and instead offered ad hoc hardship payments to those most in need.

Royal Mail claims around 12,000 postal workers out of the CWU’s 115,000 membership came to work on the most recent strike days – although the union denies these reports, inviting skeptics to “visit any picket line in the UK” to test the resolve of its members. .

Network Rail, the state-owned infrastructure operator, meanwhile noted that more than a third of RMT members had voted to accept its latest pay offer, despite pleas from the union to reject it, saying some would now be willing to compromise rather than lose more pay. The company estimates that the signaller, on a salary of £56,000, will lose £2,340 on the scheduled strike in December and January alone, after Christmas overtime rates are taken into account.

Network Rail estimates around 2,000 RMT members went to work during last week’s industrial action, leading chief executive Andrew Haines to claim the strike has begun to “break”. But the union said there was “rock-solid support”.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch admitted that rail workers had taken a “serious deduction from their wages”, but argued that last month’s clear vote to continue the strike showed that despite the squeeze, members were committed to action.

The union overturned a ban on Network Rail staff working overtime when it announced a series of strikes over Christmas, allowing staff to recover some of their lost earnings. But an RMT official who manned a suburban London picket line during last Friday’s strike said some members were now working strike days because of mounting financial pressures.

“People feel really pinched,” she said, adding that most people have now lost at least a week’s wages, depending on whether they were rostered to work on strike days.

She said the determination for a better deal was strongest in areas beyond London, but for rent payers in the capital, “it’s getting really tough”. But she added that job security and quality are at stake, “so much more than pay”.

Union leaders warn that far from being overwhelmed by cost of living pressures, workers who have lost wages will now decide to hold on until they have something to show for their efforts.

“It’s obviously always difficult for people to take strike action because they lose pay. But I think people are also very invested in it now,” TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell said.

“Employers have to recognize that in order to get things back on track, they have to recognize the sacrifices that workers have made.”

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