Reporters for the World Socialist Website spoke to some of BT’s 40,000 striking workers during pickets across the country on Friday. This is the second set of interviews given – the first can be read here.
At the Sovereign Streetpicket line at Leedsmany drivers honked their horns in solidarity as they drove past.
Paul and Danny work for Openreach in network and motorway modifications, removing poles and cables, working with a wide range of clients, councils, motorways, architects and developers.
Paul said: “We are on strike over the imposition of the wage bonus which has not been agreed, it has just been thrown at us. Management refuses to continue consulting. We just have enough. We didn’t get a pay rise last year, although we all worked during the pandemic as key workers.
When you split our pay rise – and we’re on one of the highest team member pay rates – the lump sum payments of £1,500 it’s just the equivalent of a pay rise 1.67% over the two years. It wasn’t really a pay raise, it was a pay cut.
“We have seen with terms and conditions deteriorating and with new employees coming into the business, they are reducing their pay levels. What they pay them is drastically reduced. It can cost up to £10,000 less.
“The cost of everything has gone up, gas and electricity, we have children, and even we who have slightly higher wage rates are struggling to pay our bills. One wonders how the people at the lower echelons are doing. I am paying £200 a month when there was only £70 before for electricity, and it will be up to £500 when the cap is lifted. The insinuation that workers demanding a fair wage deal are causing inflation is false.
Productivity has skyrocketed, Paul said, “It’s fewer people doing more, our work rates have exploded. We have colleagues who leave because of the conditions. I worked for BT for 20 years and I have never seen so many people leave this company as today.
“We had a battle to keep our terms and conditions, but this with pay takes the biscuit. We have to take a stand now; we cannot accept that management simply imposes a wage agreement and does not tell the union about it.
“There is a belief among the workers here that if we don’t fight now, where will it end? This could end in a fire and a rehire situation.
“I agree with what RMT leader Mick Lynch said about a general strike if the Tories brought in all this anti-strike legislation. We watched the Tory leadership debate in Leeds last night None of the candidates offer anything in terms of workers’ rights.
“BT has done well during the pandemic, they haven’t furloughed anyone. We have been badged as key workers. Everyone wanted good broadband if they were working from home. We had to work with very little PPE. Our people are risking their lives to keep working. And we got no pay raise last year and that pittance this year.
Speaking about Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s ban on picket visits to shadow cabinet ministers, Paul said: ‘When we went on strike last year we had a lot of support from local Labor MPs and even shadow ministers. Even Jeremy Corbyn got involved, descending on the BT Tower in London. Now you have Starmer saying no one from the front bench can go on a picket line. What’s going on there? I don’t know which party represents the working class in this country now.
Danny said of the salary award: “It’s a pay cut. I have less money in my pocket than I had this time last year. CEO Philip Jansen gave himself a 32% pay rise and then said there was no money in the pot to pay the key workers who got us through the pandemic. It’s just outrageous, and they’re giving shareholders £750 million in dividends! It’s not fair at all.
“If we don’t fight for a proper pay rise, next year it will be the same. They’ll just impose whatever pay raise they want and say that’s it. We have to fight for it, otherwise it will get worse and worse in the years to come. You should have all workers together.
At the picket line of the Alexander Bain House on York Street, GlasgowBT engineer Martin said that in addition to the busy picket line, workers were holding virtual pickets for staff who were still working from home.
Jack said what was happening to BT staff was happening to workers across Britain as company executives ‘stealed everything’.
“None of the workers gets the money they earn. People here should get money and they don’t. The problem was “capitalism while workers suffer from COVID”. Jack said he agreed with the Socialist Equality Party’s demand for a general strike.
Another Glasgow picket said: ‘I’m also a branch secretary, I’m a consumer worker which means I would take customer calls.
“Everyone is aware of the cost of living crisis because it’s everywhere right now and it’s something people are dealing with every day. I think given the nature of the work that everyone at BT does, it’s a particularly skilled job that we do. The fact that we are not paid enough means that we have to open a food bank here and I know that the workers have to use it. We have a food bank in the building, which is quite inconvenient. They tried to dispel it by saying it’s a ‘community pantry’, but let’s say it’s a food bank in a BT company building. It’s quite embarrassing.
“People now realize enough is enough and there is no turning back. The tide is turning, the hashtag is out for all, #summerofsolidarity. Every worker needs to realize now, and I think it’s time to stand up and fight for what he deserves.
He had seen RMT leader Lynch’s comments that the government might call a general strike. The picket said: “If they want to call an all-out general strike, I think that is something that needs to be taken seriously by every worker. We just let things get so bad in the UK now. I would say that is the general feeling of people here, you can no longer be discouraged and ignore what is happening in the world around you. I think people would be more than happy to join with those who are on their side — neighbors, friends, family — to make sure they don’t find themselves in that position as much as they possibly can. The workers run the country, of course they do – they make it all work. Every business is kept afloat by the workers.