Lancashire set to face a summer of discontent as workers consider more strikes

Lancashire is facing a possible summer of discontent with workers from a variety of sectors considering industrial action over pay and conditions.

This week the RMT union launched a series of strikes crippling the rail system across the country, with places such as Blackpool particularly hit by a lack of services, while teachers, nurses and other NHS workers and even barristers carrying out legal aid cases, are either voting to strike or awaiting pay offers before deciding on industrial action as the pressure mounts in the cost of living crisis.

Union bosses have said workers who have kept the country going by working through the pandemic being asked to take another hit by accepting pay rises that are in some cases less than a third of the hike in fuel and food price inflation.

But Lancashire Conservative MPs said the strikes were avoidable and unions should bet back to the negotiating table.

Trades union members in Blackpool turned out to offer support to the RMT union workers on strike over pay and conditions

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Ken Cridland, secretary of the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Trades Unions Council said that so many people, many of whom had done their bit to keep the country going, were now feeling that the Government and bosses were taking them for a ride.

He and his members took part along with other union groups in the cost of living crisis march in London last weekend and were supporting the rail workers on their picket lines.

He said: “The RMT are first in the queue. They have been presented with an ultimatum. The Government has withdrawn £4bn of funding and they have been told their pensions are under threat, their number of workers are under threat, the offices they man are under threat and their pay is going to be 3 per cent when inflation is between 9 and 10 per cent and rising.

Trades union members in Blackpool turned out to offer support to the RMT union workers on strike over pay and conditions

"They have asked for 7 per cent, so in effect they are only asking for a pay cut in real terms.

"They feel it is just too much. They are the first but we also have the communication workers union with staff in Openreach and the Post Offices are also worried, the teachers are going to decide what to do when they get their pay award soon as are the NHS staff.

"All these people have carried on working through the pandemic and like many public sector workers have taken big hits through the austerity years and now are being told to take another hit.

"During the austerity years we were all told to take a hit now and there will be a better world in the future, we’re all in it together as the Conservative slogan went, but they have seen themselves get poorer and watched the rich getting richer. They feel conned and it looks like the Government is trying the same thing again. People are not as gullible as the Government and their allies think and many are saying enough is enough.

Blackpool South MP Scott Benton said unions should get back to the negotiating table and call off rail strikes

"It is very difficult to get a successful ballot for industrial action under the current law and so it just shows the strength of feeling among RMT staff to have got to this stage. Some of their low paid people, the ones that clean the carriages etc, will find it very hard to go on strike.

"They understand the inconvenience this causes, but this is a last resort when they have been pushed into a corner.

"We all wish it would not happen, but everyone wished the P&O Ferries scandal did not happen, but employers just seem to be able to get away with blue murder and workers are told to carry one. The only thing workers have is the right to withdraw their labour and they are hoping everyone will understand.”

Meanwhile in the NHS, a culture of long hours and high pressure has led to many staff leaving. Some outsourced staff in Lancashire are currently in dispute asking for the same sick pay and holiday pay as NHS staff.

Domestic and catering workers employed by OCS at The Harbour, Blackpool are taking strike action

The porters and cleaners working for private company OCS at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust at hospitals, mental health units and clinics in Blackpool, Ormskirk and Preston are set to strike once again to strike for 72 hours from Wednesday 29 June to Friday 1 July.

Neil Smith from the GMB union in Lancashire, which has been recently supporting Budweiser workers at the Samelsbury brewery, said: “The cost of living is sky high and rising and after austerity and the pandemic many of our members are now having to rely on food banks or benefits to top up their wages.

"The GMB is getting prepared for ballots at a variety of places if pay claims that have been voted on by members are not accepted. No-one wants to go on strike particularly with the cost of living as it is and I understand people don’t want to be incovenienced, but at the end of the day it is people’s right to withdraw their labour if they feel there is no alternative and if they do it under the law of the land.”

The union Unison has written to Health Secretary Sajid Javid to ask for a pay deal for 2022-23 that will help health staff cope with spiralling inflation and prevent further workers from quitting their jobs.

Christina McAnea, general secretary said: “We think a pay rise is only a real rise if it goes up by more than living costs – a pay rise below inflation is a pay cut. NHS pay has lost value compared to pay rates in 2010.”

Meanwhile teacher union leader Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU warned: “If there is no significant improvement on 3 per cent – which will leave an 8 per cent gap with inflation this year alone – we cannot avoid a ballot. The mood among teachers has changed. The strains are showing. One in eight of new graduate teachers are leaving in their first year.”

Ken Cridland

But the Conservative MP for Blackpool South, Scott Benton, said: “The strikes which Labour have backed, will shut down the UK’s transport network – disrupting the lives of thousands of people in Blackpool who are travelling to work, college, or to visit family and friends.

"We need to see a sensible compromise for the good of the British people and the rail workforce.

"The unions are harming the very people they claim to be helping. By going ahead with these rail strikes, they are driving away commuters who ultimately support the jobs of rail workers, whilst also impacting businesses and communities across the country. I urge the unions to get around the negotiating table and to call off these irresponsible and reckless strikes.”