Socialist Worker

Waltham Forest council retreats after school dinners protest

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2053

Around 500 people marched against school meals cuts in Waltham Forest on Thursday of last week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Around 500 people marched against school meals cuts in Waltham Forest on Thursday of last week (Pic: Socialist Worker)

Campaigners against cuts to school dinners in Waltham Forest, east London, celebrated last week after the local council backed down from plans to scrap the service.

The council’s hasty decision was announced on Thursday of last week, as around 500 dinner ladies, parents and pupils marched on the town hall banging an array of pots and pans.

Labour council leader Clyde Loakes was forced to address the angry crowd from the steps of his office through the Unison union’s megaphone.

He said that after having seen the scale of the opposition to the proposed cuts, they would be withdrawn.

Sue Deamer was one of the dinner ladies who had helped organise the campaign.

“Waltham Forest is the second poorest borough in London and we serve hot food to lots of children who only get one good meal a day,” she said.

“Yet the council wanted to privatise our service to save £200,000 – which is about the same amount as the councillors claim in expenses every year.

“The private firms would not have cared about the children. They would have served up sandwiches and reheated frozen rubbish, just so they can make big profits.

“Hundreds of highly trained and experienced staff would have been handed over to them, and many of us would have ended up on the dole.

“A lot of us have worked as dinner ladies for 20 years. Who’s going to hire you when you are 50 years old and expect to be paid a decent wage? Not a private firm, that’s for sure.

“If the council had not backed down there would have been real trouble. People are so angry that I think there would have been a strike.

“This is a Labour government and a Liberal/Labour authority, so why should working people have to be fighting for the basics.

“It’s no coincidence that we are women workers and that we are generally low paid and badly treated.”

Refuse workers, whose jobs had already been privatised by the council, joined the protest.

Tommy Anderson is a shop steward in the T&G union. He told Socialist Worker, “We’ve had attacks on our pay, longer hours imposed and our pensions are continually threatened. The service that we provide has been cut to ribbons.”

The campaign, which had the backing of all the main unions at the council, has forced a complete retreat.

But union activists are clear that they will have to maintain their vigilance against any further attempts to cut and privatise services.

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Tue 29 May 2007, 18:53 BST
Issue No. 2053
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