Two of the UK’s biggest unions have had a busy week. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) and the University and College Union (UCU) have both made major announcements. This means that spring will be another major headache for the Tories – and as a Novara Media journalist summed-up on Question Time, the government is running scared as it is.
UCU: 18-days of strikes
First, the UCU has announced industrial action across a massive 18 days. The union and its members will strike in February and March – meaning 70,000 staff at 150 universities will walk out. The UCU posted on Twitter that “every single UK university will be shut down”. Its general secretary Jo Grady said there will also be a:
marking and assessment boycott in April, which will hit summer graduations… we will [also] launch a re-ballot campaign to send a clear message to our employers that we are in this dispute for as long as it takes.
The UCU’s previous action was across three days – now paling in comparison to this next round of strikes. However the issues remain the same: university bosses have cut workers’ real-terms pay by around 25% since 2009. The pension fund that manages university workers’ retirement pots has also been managed appallingly – cutting up to 35% off people’s final pension income. So far, bosses have only offered workers a pay rise of between 4-5%. So, the UCU is upping the ante in a very significant way.
Royal Mail could have given CWU workers £1.7k more pay
Meanwhile, the CWU is re-balloting its members for industrial action against Royal Mail. Its strikes were high profile in 2022 – and the union refused to budge amid Royal Mail’s derisory offers. As the CWU said on its website:
last year’s two national Royal Mail ballots ‘expire’ on 19th January (Pay) and 17th February (Change) respectively. The union is, therefore, holding another national strike ballot, which will encompass all of the issues in dispute.
Ballot papers will be dispatched to members on Monday 23rd January and the result will be declared on Thursday 16th February.
Plus, there were two debates in parliament over Royal Mail, and the CWU’s dispute with it. During one on Tuesday 10 January, Labour MP Dawn Butler noted that:
If half of the money that was given to shareholders was given to the actual workers, then there would be no need for this dispute and strike… the members of the CWU deserve a pay rise and the company can afford it
Indeed – half of the £400m Royal Mail paid out to shareholders in 2021 would have given CWU members an extra £1,739 each in wages that year. Then, on Thursday 12 January Labour MP Kate Osborne had organised another debate in parliament on Royal Mail. CEO Simon Thompson must be getting twitchy with all these MPs airing his dirty laundry in Westminster – because Osborne said during the debate:
Instead of negotiation… Thompson is attacking employees on social media and taking disciplinary action against workers taking legitimate action.
With countless NHS workers also set to hold more strikes along with civil servants, as well as the National Education Union (NEU) ballot closing on Friday 13 January and the British Medical Association (BMA) junior doctors ballot open until 20 February – the Tory government has got continuing problems on its hands. Its response is anti-strike laws, which will attempt to impose minimum service levels during industrial action on some industries. However, as Novara Media journalist Ash Sarkar said on BBC Question Time on Thursday 12 January:
This government is scared of what happens when workers organise collectively together. They’re scared that after 12-years of stagnant and falling living standards… people are realising that the only power they have is collective bargaining and… withdrawing their labour.
The Tories should be scared – because the next few months will be worse for them than the last, and rightly so.
Featured image via BBC iPlayer – screengrab, the UCU – screengrab and the CWU – screengrab