LARGE numbers of Labour MPs will attend Communication Workers Union (CWU) picket lines again today, in defiance of the anti-union stance taken by party leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Commenting on ‘a momentous day’ for the union last Friday, that is now set to be repeated today, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: ‘Today’s strike has been nothing short of rock solid,’ with 40,000 members on strike and many attending the picket lines.
At BT Tower in central London strikers were joined by ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, ex-shadow chancellor John McDonnell and by Sam Tarry – the ex-shadow transport minister who was sacked by Starmer last week for supporting striking railworkers.
In a defiant riposte to Starmer, Tarry observed that ‘trade unions are on the right side in the fight to defend workers from the impact of an unprecedented cost of living crisis.’
Delegations from the RMT, Equity, Unison and the NEU joined the BT Tower picket line in what CWU executive member Peter Frances described as ‘a carnival atmosphere’, echoed on hundreds of other picket lines across the capital and beyond.
The CWU are demanding a pay rise that matches the inflation rate.
In Birmingham a well attended and upbeat picket line outside BT’s massive new Snowhill site was joined by the Labour MP for Birmingham Hall Green, Tahir Ali – while in the North East the CWU picket line outside BT’s South Shields contact centre was joined by local Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck.
In numerical terms the strongest level of political support was received by CWU picket lines across the North West where attendees included Salford MP Rebecca Long Bailey, Blackburn MP Kate Hollern and shadow minister for employment Justin Madders, who joined a CWU picket line in Birkenhead, with other MPs joining picket lines in Liverpool and all over the country.
The 40,000 BT and Openreach workers, who are striking for a second day for an inflation-busting pay rise again today, are collecting for food banks and have urged members of the public to drop off food to their hundreds of picket lines across the country.
The Openreach engineers and BT call centre workers, made the call after it was reported that 14 million people risk starvation due to many previous food bank donors feeling too financially pressured to carry on giving.
Food banks are no strangers to some CWU members after it was reported earlier in the year how EE, a subsidiary of BT Group, had established a food bank for its poorly paid employees.
The experience of many BT Group workers has led CEO Philip Jansen to be nicknamed ‘Foodbank Phil’.
The strike is against an imposed £1,500 per year pay increase for all employees.
With RPI inflation levels approaching 12%, and BT making £1.3 billion in profit – with Jansen pocketing a 32% wage increase of £3.5 million – workers found this unacceptable, and voted in overwhelming, unprecedented numbers to strike.
CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said: ‘Since BT Group workers have been forced to take historic strike action in defence of their standard of living, it’s obvious that “Foodbank Phil” has no interest in their welfare.
‘But his employees – our members – care about the contributions they make to the society they serve and the country they live in.
‘Just like in the pandemic, working class people will step up to the plate when employers and politicians fail, and are ready to put need before greed.
‘We urge all sympathetic members of the public to attend picket lines in their area and chip in to help out others.’