— Ellen Morton, Glasgow
On Friday 31st July and Monday 1st August 40,000 BT and Openreach workers in the CWU are going on strike for the first time in over 35 years. Revolution Scotland supporters joined workers on the picket line at the BT office Alexander Bain House in Glasgow to show their solidarity and talk to the workers involved in this historic strike. The workers who were interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous to protect them from repercussions by management.
This action is being taken because they have been offered a £1,500 flat pay rise this year. In a situation where inflation is at 11.8%, this means a huge real terms pay cut for the thousands of workers employed by these companies. The workers we spoke to were very aware that the money exists within BT to pay them far more than they get currently, but that it is in the hands of the shareholders and the CEO:
“Last year BT made £1.3 billion in profit. That was because of us coming in through the pandemic risking our lives plus the lives of the people we live with. We were going into people’s homes to make sure they had internet access when it wasn’t really safe to do that. Then they gave their shareholders £700 million because of those profits. It’s a joke to say that they can’t afford to give us a pay rise when they pay their shareholders that. It’s ridiculous. We’re the ones that made that profit and we’ve been offered basically nothing.”
“Philip Jansen [the CEO of BT] gave himself a 32% pay rise this year. And he’s already on a £3.5 million a year salary and has all these villas abroad. He has more than enough money. Yet he has the cheek to tell us we’re being greedy asking for a pay rise. The money is there to pay us all much much more.”
The wages at BT are already abysmally low for many, and workers were clear that they had to stand up and fight to avoid being thrown into poverty:
“Here at BT we call Philip Jansen Foodbank Phil. The wages aren’t so bad for people who have been here longer but of the younger staff and the newer staff they are really low because they came in on different contracts. It’s crazy because there are people sitting in the same office doing the same job and some are being paid less. We have a foodbank here in Glasgow and they have one in the Tyneside office too. It’s not for people to donate food but for staff to take food out of because they don’t get paid enough especially if they have kids. It’s got stuff like pasta and baby formula in it. They call it a ‘Community Pantry’ so it doesn’t sound so bad, but we all know it’s a foodbank. To me it’s just crazy that you can be in work, working hard all day and still not make enough money to buy food. It’s just not right.”
“It used to be that you could do a weekly shop just for yourself for £10 or £15. That’s just not how it is anymore, it’s going to be £30 or more. And then you have the energy bills going up and the rent going up as well. Our wages just don’t keep up and that’s the same for everyone at the moment. That’s why I support the RMT strike too, and I think there will be a lot more other strikes because we’re all in the same boat. I think the TUC should call a general strike because it would be a lot stronger than all the strikes happening separately at the moment. We are much stronger all together.”
While Philip Jansen is known for his union-busting activities in the past the workers we spoke to in Glasgow were clear that they were ready for a fight:
“The managers were told from the high-ups to ask us who’s all going on strike, tell us not to go and they had a meeting telling the apprentices they might not get their qualification and stuff like that. They want to try and get the younger ones to go in because they don’t know their rights and the law and stuff like that that the older ones do. But look there’s plenty people here so that didn’t really work. People talk to each other. I know it’s hard to lose a day’s pay, but the way things are now we can’t afford not to go on strike. Or next year it will be the same a tiny pay increase and the same the year after that. We have to draw a line and say enough is enough.”
“They won’t even come to the table to discuss it [the pay offer]. He [Philip Jansen] has to realise that we won’t be broken. There will just be more and more strike action until he gives us a decent offer.”
It was fantastic to feel the fighting spirit of the workers at the BT picket line. Like millions of other workers, they are refusing to let the economic crisis be passed onto their shoulders due to current levels of inflation. A report from the Office for Budget Responsibility already shows that in 2021 disposable income dropped by a further 2%, pushing living standards for workers to their lowest since records began. Meanwhile the capitalist class are recording bumper profits. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that average pay for directors of the UK’s biggest companies increased by 29% from £2.01 million in 2020 to £2.59 million in 2021.
Workers will not take these attacks lying down. As well as in BT and Openreach, workers in the RMT are also in the middle of historic national strike action. More and more workers are moving into struggle with planned strikes of council workers, civil servants, teachers, postal workers, barristers, refuse workers and healthcare workers in the next few months.
Because workers across the board are all facing the same attacks on wages, conditions and standards of living, coordinated action is needed. United action by large sections of workers is always stronger than each workplace carrying out their own separate strikes for nearly identical demands. The TUC should link up the strikes and call for united action including a 1-day national strike and protests across the country against the attack on real wages.
Above all we need a militant trade union movement fighting for a bold socialist program. This cost-of-living crisis is caused by the rotten capitalist system which can only keep itself afloat through attacks on the working class. Together the working class can bring this system down and replace it with a planned economy under democratic workers control which can provide a high standard of living for all. This is what we are fighting for.