BT pay dispute: Avalanche of political support for striking workers as union considers next steps



Members across BT Group are being urged to write to their local MPs, expressing their anger and frustration at the double standards of a hugely profitable company that is imposing real-term pay cuts on frontline employees while splashing out hundreds of millions on shareholder dividends.

The move comes amid a groundswell of mainstream political support that has manifested itself at picket lines across the country. Numerous Labour MPs have publicly demonstrated their solidarity with striking BT and Openreach employees despite the party leadership’s confused position on industrial action at a time of an ever-deepening cost of living crisis.

Undeterred by Keir Starmer’s  controversial sacking of ex-shadow transport minister Sam Tarry following media appearances at a RMT picket line last month, dozens of Labour politicians – national as well as local –  turned out to support CWU protests outside more than 200 BT Group sites the length and breadth of the country on Friday July 29 and Monday August 1.

What started with Jeremy Corbyn’s, John McDonnell’s and Sam Tarry’s defiant riposte to the Party leadership at the BT Tower picket line on the first day of industrial action mushroomed into a heartfelt outpouring of support from a raft of MPs from every wing of the party.

Particularly prominent picket line attendees included Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Lisa Nandy who attended a CWU picket line in Wigan – while up in Scotland the union was offered highly visible support from a raft of Scottish Labour MPs including Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, as well as from the SNP.

By last Monday afternoon, Labour’s national deputy leader Angela Rayner had joined in – proactively contacting the union asking how she could assist and recording a special message of support for striking BT Group employees.

She followed that by sending hard hitting letters to both BT Group CEO Philip Jansen and Tory culture minister Nadine Dorries – with Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, Lucy Powell, acting as joint-signatory.

Expressing their “disappointment” to Mr Jansen that “you have refused to meet with representatives of your workers to find a resolution” they urged the CEO to “do the right thing and take your place at the negotiating table to find a fair pay deal.”  (See full letter here)

Meanwhile, their letter to Nadine Dorries lambasted the Government for “simply sitting on their hands – or worse, deliberately using the livelihoods of low-paid workers as a political football for partisan ends.” (see full letter here)

The intervention of Angela Rayner and Lucy Powell – as well as the outpouring of support by a significant section of the Parliamentary Labour Party – has been warmly welcomed by CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr, who last week made plain his frustration at the position being taken by some senior figures in the Party.

In a forthright interview broadcast by the JOE online news platform, Andy was unequivocal that the Party “has to start supporting workers in this country, and it’s not just standing on picket lines but about the Labour Party being seen to support workers when they are in struggle.”

Andy continued: “There’s a great opportunity here – because what the Tories have done over the last two to three years has left this country in total disarray. If the was ever a need for strong Labour leadership it is now.”


Next steps

The pay dispute with BT Group is now entering a critical phase, with the next steps being discussed at a special meeting of the union’s BT Committee this morning (Thursday)  – followed by a virtual BT Branch Forum this afternoon.

Any decision on further strike days will be communicated to members as soon as the legal requirement to first serve notice on the company has been complied with – but, in parallel with the industrial and political agenda, the union is in the process of setting up meetings with major shareholders.

As well as presenting the union’s case that a fair pay rise is not just deserved but a crucial prerequisite for the return to industrial harmony on which BT’s massive profitability ultimately depends, the CWU will impress the moral case for fair rewards for frontline workers to the many pension funds that have significant holdings.

“Several major shareholders have already contacted the CWU anticipating such a meeting, indicating their desire to participate,” stresses Andy Kerr.

“Many pension fund managers take a particularly strong line on issues of good governance and the corporate social responsibility of the companies in which they have holdings  – so we can certainly have some influence there,” he continues.

“Most urgently, however, we need every member, as well as your friends and families to write to your local MP. We’ve already had some excellent replies and this is shining a spotlight on the company that senior management are undoubtedly finding uncomfortable.”

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