Council workers in Newcastle have been boosted in their fight to beat off threats of privatisation. One of the key companies involved in the privatisation has pulled out.
'This is very significant. Now we will be fighting to turn words into reality,' says city council UNISON union branch secretary Kenny Bell. The council had wanted to push through a massive Private Finance Initiative programme beginning with IT and street lighting, but moving on to education, housing and libraries.
Last month UNISON members held a day of action, in which hundreds stayed away from work despite a court injunction ruling strike action illegal and national union leaders withdrawing support. Now private company CSL has withdrawn its bid to take over services and staff. A bid from BT is still on the table, though that bid leaves staff as city council employees. 'The BT bid is unacceptable and we are in detailed negotiations,' says Kenny Bell.
Meanwhile the city's ruling Labour group has voted unanimously for a motion which effectively reverses its previous stance. The motion stresses the council's commitment to public services, and argues that private sector involvement should only be looked at if there are 'significant service improvements'.
The motion commits the council to campaign against the Labour government's privatisation policies. 'We've now got to fight to get this translated into reality,' says Kenny. 'We'll be keeping up our Public Services Alliance campaign, which unites trade unionists, community groups and tenants. We are in no doubt, though, that this shift is down to our day of action and also growing public anger.'
SOME 55 UNISON shop stewards from across Derbyshire County Council met in Chesterfield on Saturday to hear their union's general secretary, Dave Prentis, speak on the fight against privatisation. The meeting came against the background of the Labour council's plans for more Private Finance Initiative schemes. PFI has already been used to rebuild two schools in the county, and now two more schemes are planned.
UNISON branch secretary John Owen said, 'Why do big business want to get involved in health and education? To make money. In 30 years time the people of Derbyshire will still be paying for these schools, and they won't even own them.' The union is threatening possible industrial action if the new schemes go ahead.
Thousands of council workers in Bradford have voted by 78.5 percent to take strike action over the council's attacks on their terms and conditions.