Woolwich ferry strikers – taking action necessary to win!

by Unite Member

Unite the Union members working on the Woolwich Ferry have been taking discontinuous strike action since 14 May. The union has now issued notice for further strike action – which will consist of strikes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout September.

This determined campaign is in response to the employer victimising union representatives, refusing to negotiate on pay, and cynically using agency staff to undermine terms and conditions. Transport for London (TfL) took the service in-house on 1 January, following a determined campaign from Unite demanding in-sourcing. Unfortunately, TfL used this as an opportunity to attack union organisation by disciplining Unite representatives.

Woolwich ferry ā€” photo BL2002/CC

It is to the immense credit of these workers that they have made the connection between attacks on the union and attacks on pay and conditions. Under huge pressure, TfL has been forced to negotiate, but unfortunately decided to engage in game playing, despite the union suspending the strike action for talks. But the tactics used by the strikers meant that management gained no advantage whatsoever – the action had only been suspended so the members were able to walk straight back out on strike the day after.

The action on the ferry is another example of workers no longer simply giving notice for one-day of strike action. Instead, action is increasingly for longer periods. This is an indication of how workers, including the Woolwich Ferry strikers, are prepared to take the action that is necessary to win.

Woolwich Ferry Dispute Update

10TH JUNE 2021

Woolwich Ferry workers are walking out over a victimised rep. The Woolwich Ferry, is now run by Transport for London (TfL). The workers have taken seven days action in May and June, with the final date on 21 June. Unite’s 57 members voted by an overwhelming 97% for strike action on the ferry, which has seen a number of disputes in the last few years provoked by “poor employment relations”. This led to TfL taking over its operation from Briggs Marine Contractors Ltd. But the workers have dubbed the latest strike as a ‘Groundhog Day’ dispute.

Ballots to defend reps on Woolwich Ferry

23RD APRIL 2021

UNITE members working for Transport for London (TfL) at the Woolwich Ferry site in London began a ballot for strike action on 16 May.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the employer beginning disciplinary procedures against one of the reps and also changing the shifts of other reps, in what is little more than an act of spite which has the aim of taking on and breaking the union. TfL recently insourced the contract from Briggs Marine, promising a bright future that included better work-life balance and access to an improved pension scheme. The work-life balance turned out to be little more than a pay cut, and last week workers received a letter stating that the promised TFL pension scheme was not appropriate after all.

The attack on trade union representatives is a calculated one – the union has a proud record of defending and winning better conditions, fighting and winning a safer working environment and fighting discrimination.

The union has responded as any union should when reps are under attack – not by relying on grievances, internal disciplinary procedures or a lengthy legal process through the anti-worker courts, but instead through collective action by balloting members for strike action. If Greater London Assembly (GLA) members from the Labour Party will not step in to defend workers, then they should stand aside – instead, this is a role that Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates for the GLA will take up without hesitation.

This comes at the same time as Hackney parking wardens prepare to be balloted. Unite members employed by APCOA who run parking services in Hackney are again preparing for strike action after the employers failed to tackle long outstanding pay issues. Now the employers have begun disciplinary proceedings against the Unite rep based on trumped-up charges. Just as with the Woolwich Ferry, Hackney parking wardens have a record of industrial militancy and campaign wins – the last of which was the decision by the council to insource the service in April 2022. But with a further ballot pending, the union is demanding that the council bring forward the date of the transfer back into council control.