40,000 BT workers in UK vote to strike, but Communication Workers Union pledges no “knee jerk reaction”

Thousands of BT telecoms and call center staff could strike within weeks. On June 15, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) balloted workers in three categories—BT, Openreach and EE subsidiaries—across the BT group.

If the strike goes ahead it will be the first national stoppage of BT workers in 35 years. That strike took place in 1987, three years after the former public utility was privatised by the Thatcher government.

30,000 of the company’s Openreach engineers voted by 95.8 percent to strike on a 74 percent turnout and staff in the 10,000-strong BT department (including 9,000 call center workers) voted to strike by 91.5 percent on a 58.2 percent turnout. Workers in EE, the smallest number voting in the ballot, supported strikes by a majority of 95 percent but on a 49.7 percent turnout—falling just eight votes short of meeting the threshold required for a legal stoppage under anti-strike laws.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward (left) and Assistant General Secretary for Telecoms & Financial Services Andy Kerr (right) at the union’s May 25 online meeting to announce the countdown for the ballot for strike action [Photo by Screenshot-CWU Facebook]

The vote reflects anger among workers brewing for months. In March, the CWU rejected a substantially below inflation pay offer from BT of £1,200. BT then announced April 7 that it was awarding a revised proposal of £1,500 to 58,000 frontline workers, from the start of that month, stating that it had concluded negotiations with the CWU and effectively imposing the deal. Touted as the highest pay rise awarded in 20 years, the deal was between 3 and 8 percent depending on base salary. The CWU calculated that the imposed deal was worth only around 4.8 percent overall.

By March, RPI inflation was already at 9 percent, rising to 11.1 percent in April before reaching nearly 12 percent last month. The below-inflation diktat was imposed by a company posting annual profits this year of £1.3 billion, while gifting £700 million to its shareholders.

A demand for a 10 percent increase arose independently from engineers, call center and shop workers. Forced to call a ballot, the CWU at that stage also adopted the 10 percent demand.

The role of the unions as organizations dedicated to the suppression of the class struggle is clear in the refusal of the CWU bureaucracy to mount any strike action in a dispute now into its fifth month.


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