CWU members marched last month in London and now they’re getting ready to strike at BT

Tens of thousands of telecoms workers are set to walk out for two days in the first national strike across all of BT since 1987. CWU union leaders on Friday called strikes over pay, set to take place on Friday 29 July and Monday 1 August.

It comes after workers including BT call centre staff and Openreach engineers voted overwhelmingly for strikes earlier this month. They are furious after BT bosses forced a flat rate pay rise of just £1,500 on them earlier this year—a real terms pay cut for every worker.

Meanwhile BT made a £1.3 billion profit and paid £700 million in dividends to its shareholders, while CEO Philip Jansen pays himself a salary of £3.5 million a year. 

Colin Bell, an Openreach engineer and CWU rep in London and the south east told Socialist Worker, “When I’m out and about, the members are up for this. They know what’s happening in their pocket. There are some workers having to use food banks that are being operated out of the call centres.”

He added, “BT bosses just went and decided this pay increase with no negotiation at all—they just imposed it. And it’s a derisory offer. For some of the lower paid members it’s 8 percent, but that’s still a pay cut.”

The strike comes amid a growing showdown over pay between workers and bosses in all industries. After striking for three days in June, Network Rail workers are set for another strike later this month. 

The civil service workers’ PCS union announced on Thursday that it will ballot its members for strikes over pay from 26 September. And every group of workers in the CWU union is now embroiled in pay disputes. 

Post Office workers struck for two days this week. And a ballot for strikes in Royal Mail is set to end on Tuesday of next week. 

For Colin, that makes the coming strikes in BT part of a much bigger fightback. “If you’re living in Britain you know you‘re feeling inflation,” he said. “You can see it in your budget. But the major shareholders are getting a nice piece. None of these companies have stopped raking in these huge amounts.”

Announcing the strike dates, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the union would not “take a step back”. But he also emphasised that the union wouldn’t have called strikes if bosses had agreed to scrap the imposition of the pay increase and return to negotiations.

He also suggested that the union would still call off action for talks. “We will take that strike action, and that strike action will be well supported by our members if the company—they’ve got another two weeks—don’t change their mind and remove the imposition of pay and engage in meaningful negotiations,” he said.

Strikes shouldn’t be called off for anything less than a pay rise in line with inflation—currently at just over 11 percent.

Meanwhile, CWU activists are preparing for strikes. CWU rep Eugene Caparros told Socialist Worker earlier this week that activists in South Wales had already begun planning where to picket.

And Colin said the same was happening in London and the south east. “We’re looking at picketing the major stores where they keep telecoms equipment. Contractors are going to come in for them and we want to make sure those places are not in operation.”

“Some of the younger members are worried about what striking might mean,” he added. “But I’m saying you can’t afford not to withhold your labour. You’ve got to make a stand. You cannot let this go on.”

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