BT/Openreach strike: for a cost of living busting wage increase

By Paddy Meehan, communications worker

A whopping 95.8% and 91.5% vote for strike action in Openreach and BT respectively with a huge mandate for action with the vast majority of members voting. Even in the smaller EE line of business a decisive yes vote was returned and only missed the legal threshold by 8 votes. Now BT and Openreach workers will be striking on 29th July and 1st August in rejection of the companies below inflation and imposed pay offer. 

This action will bring out over 40k communications workers who have kept homes connected during the pandemic and rolling out the essential fibre infrastructure. All this has made huge profits for the company, this year alone of £1.3billion – £700 million of which was paid out to shareholders. The CEO Philip Jansen has imposed a £1500 blanket pay increase while taking home a whopping £3.5 million. 

The BT Group CEO has been a particularly odious character throughout – presiding over food banks in his own workplaces, ignoring the union and imposing a deal and dismissing opposition to his policies as only a handful of disgruntled employees. This will be difficult to stand over as so many BT Group employees have voted for and will participate in industrial action.

This will be the first strike of workers in BT since 1987, the vote for action shows a strong willingness among members to take decisive action. It should built upon by organising meeting open to all members to ensure the largest possible turn out during the strike including at picket lines and to ensure that members are fully involved democratic decisions about where the strike goes next with the building of a clear plan of industrial action that can build confidence of members and show BT management that workers are serious about winning real pay rises. 

CWU members in Royal Mail have also returned a ballot of 97.6% on a 77% turn out. In total over 150k communications workers will be out in the coming weeks. Alongside transport, manufacturing and logistics workers and the public and health sector in the autumn millions of workers could be taking action against the cost of living. As inflation continues to rise and is here to stay workers need to take action to ensure they are not losing huge chunks of their wages to energy, food, housing and general living expenses price hikes. 

The CWU alongside other unions prepared to take action can play a key role now in coordinating action to fight the cost of living crisis and make sure workers are not made to pay. Protests and rallies with common days of strike and inviting other sectors of workers to participate could give momentum and confidence for more sections of workers to come out. The summer action could be linked to a campaign to bring as much pressure to bear on the company and generalise the action. 

Intransigent senior management and a corporate climate of hostility to wage increases are likely to mean two days of action will not be enough. The CWU Telecoms leadership must show their commitment to fighting for a real pay rise by announcing a significant escalation with multiple strike dates to show Mr Jansen communication workers won’t back down.

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