“Strikes Will Need to be Generalised”: united Fightback on CWU Pickets

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We spoke to workers on CWU picket lines in Glasgow during an historic telecoms strikes.

On picketlines across Scotland today (29 July), first time strikers from Britain’s telecoms industry spoke of the need for united action with workers from other industries.

The two day strike on 29 July and 1 August is historic, and telling of the new period of desperation created by spiralling prices. It is the first telecoms strike in Britain since 1987, and the first ever national telecoms strike. Around 40,000 workers are participating.

Workers in BT and the broadband provider Openreach struck and picketed in number in cities, towns and suburban sites never touched by industrial action before.

In Langside in the south of Glasgow, Openreach engineer Mick Kane told Conter: “We’ve had a pay award imposed. For me its not enough.”

He said that company communications were spreading misinformation, implying that workers had received a high award to deal with inflation.

But the reality, he said, was worsening employee poverty: “Some of these people are struggling to afford to go to work, due to the extent of the cost of living crisis. Down south they’ve got community pantries in some of the BT buildings. Food banks. They are boasting about this, and its a disgrace. We shouldn’t need food banks.”

Many were shocked last month when it was revealed that BT were operating a food bank for employees at one of its Tyneside call centres, offering essentials like dried food and supplies for infants. The company had even incorporated its EE branding into the initiative – calling it the “Tyneside CommunitEE pantry”.

He was annoyed that the media was seeking to pit groups of workers against each other: “They keep saying ‘what about nurses’, well my wife is a nurse.” Workers, he said, could only rely on themselves to improve pay. Local residents also attended the picket in the suburb of Glasgow.

The business press has carried the BT spin that workers should be thankful for a £1,500 bung in place of a pay rise negotiated through the CWU union. Spread over at least two years, the one-off payment is well-below inflation, effectively a pay cut. BT increased prices by 10 percent last year, and the CEO awarded himself a 32 percent pay rise.

Speaking from a city centre picket line Carolyn Lindsay, a CWU branch officer who works in consumer liaison was also angry at the weak, and non-negotiated pay offer: “Not only did BT not negotiate a pay rise, it wasn’t a good enough pay rise.

“It’s a flat rate of £1,500 [per annum], considering there was no pay rise last year, considering there was a £1.3 billion profit, and additionally they announced a £400 million profit for the last quarter alone. We are now saying enough is enough. Because we are the people who made those profits.”

She praised delegations from unions who had come to the picket lines, and said that the potential existed to build a united workers movement: “It’s going to make a difference if the momentum continues. It’s going to make such a difference for generations to come if we continue the way we are going. We’ve had RMT, Unison, Unite we’ve had everyone along today.”

Also on the city centre picket line, RMT Scottish regional organiser Gordon Martin told us: “These men and women are fighting for pay justice, they supported us in our fight for pay justice.

“Everyone in Britain is under the cosh of a cost of living crisis that is going to become an emergency.

The response he said, had to be united working class action: “I think it’s inevitable that the strikes will have to be coordinated and generalised. That’s the only way forward. And if we stand united we can send a clear message to the bandit Tories at Westminster that the working class people of Scotland and Britain aren’t going to pay for their profiteering.”

Further strikes are expected on Scotland’s railways, the Glasgow tube, and Royal Mail among many other groups as RPI inflation rises to almost 12 percent.

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