Over 1,000 workers from Barking & Dagenham council joined a lunchtime protest on Monday. Council bosses want to cut the wages and conditions of thousands of employees as part of the “single status” agreement.
The lively rally outside Dagenham town hall was continually interrupted by the horns of supporters in vans and lorries. White collar town hall staff were joined by home helps, refuse workers and gardeners, as the GMB, T&G and Unison unions united in opposition.
Michael has been a grounds maintenance worker for about two years, but has only recently managed to get a permanent contract.
“At the moment I get by because I can work a lot of overtime. But if these changes go through I don’t know how I’ll cope. There will be no extra money for working weekends or anti-social hours,” he says. “That is why there’s such a mood for a fight.”
Part of the bosses’ proposals include forcing employees to work for five days out of every seven – with no extra pay for working at weekends.
“Are they going to pay for my weekend childcare?” asks Samina who works in the council’s revenue department. “My children are at school during the day, so I tend to spend quality time with them at the weekends. What am I supposed to do if the council has me working all weekend?” she added.
Danny works as a gardener in the borough’s parks. “Every worker in my section is here today,” he said.
“Are we prepared to strike over this? You’re damn right we are.
“I stand to lose about £2,000 a year as a result of these changes. How am I supposed to pay my mortgage if they get away with this.”
Barking and Dagenham is a borough with an unwelcome national profile since the election of 12 BNP councillors here last year.
Like many others, Danny was clear that racism should not be allowed to divide the workforce at such a critical time. “This is going to be a united campaign,” he said.
GMB organiser Justin Bowden thinks that the council will be shocked at the size of the turnout and hopes that it will agree to a better deal.
But if it doesn’t, he is adamant that there will be more action to come. “We are running a consultative ballot
on strike action at the moment – and believe me, we are not getting any no votes,” he said.
Health care workers
Joining the rally were dozens of home care workers who have been told that their section will be cut from 157 to just 70 workers.
The carers, many of whom have worked for the council for more than 20 years, are all being told that they will have to reapply for their jobs and that their working hours will be drastically cut.