Over 85,000 Unison union members working in local councils across London are moving towards action over pay. In a few weeks workers in all the 32 London councils will be taking part in an indicative ballot organised by the union. If that goes well a ballot on action will follow, and could coincide with May's council elections.
More and more council workers are finding the high cost of housing, transport and much else makes it impossible for them to manage in London. Many of our members are low paid workers in nurseries, offices and libraries. They are home helps, caretakers and school meals workers. In inner London boroughs council workers get an allowance (called London weighting) of £2,646 a year, and £1,407 a year in outer London boroughs. This is inadequate to cope with the extra costs of living and working in the capital.
In my branch the biggest source of inquiries to the union office from members in recent weeks has been people asking what is happening in the campaign over London weighting. In Lambeth in south London a union meeting voted for action over the issue.
The unions are claiming a rise to a London weighting of £4,000 for everyone. When you consider that police in the capital get £6,000 a year 'allowance' for extra housing costs then our claim is quite modest. The councils, overwhelmingly New Labour, are refusing to seriously discuss the issue. Action will be needed to shift them.
At a meeting of secretaries of Unison branches across London last week everyone agreed we had to move towards action. There was a debate between some, like me, who argued we should move straight to a ballot on action. Others argued for an indicative ballot first. As that ballot gets underway, a serious campaign is needed to ensure a big yes vote. With other groups of workers from the rail to the post also fighting or voting on action over pay, the time is ripe for us to strike and win.