Socialist Worker

Unions united in solidarity

Issue No. 1734

Some 1,300 council workers in Knowsley, members of the public sector union UNISON, struck on Thursday of last week against our bosses' plans to make us work longer hours. The strike was absolutely solid across the council.

We closed down 'One Stop' shops, libraries, and council tax, housing benefits and housing offices, as well as many other sections.

Significantly, after discussions with UNISON pickets, workers in the GMB and TGWU unions in contract services and refuse collection walked out in solidarity. Across Knowsley other TGWU members, with the support of their branch, refused to cross picket lines.

Agency workers, increasingly used by management to run services, told their agencies that they were unavailable for work.

In the afternoon strikers joined forces with tenants campaigning against the council's plans to sell off their homes to lobby a full council meeting. At least two councillors refused to cross the picket line to get into the meeting.

Knowsley council workers are furious that management want to impose an extra two hours work a week.

Management claim that an increase to 37 hours a week for white collar workers is voluntary for existing staff.

But the increase will apply to anybody who gets promoted or whose job gets restructured, as well as new starters.

UNISON members fear further job losses will result from what is in effect a cut in pay. A further two-day strike is set to go ahead on Wednesday and Thursday this week. We will be discussing escalating the strike at a mass union meeting this Tuesday. We are also planning a demonstration, with the support of the UNISON regional council.
DAVE McNALLY and ALISON PHILCOCK

Messages of support and donations: Knowsley UNISON, 71/73 Admin Buildings, Admin Road, Kirkby, Knowsley, Merseyside L33 7TX. Phone 0151 548 0148 or fax 0151 545 0563.


Manchester

Manchester housing workers struck on Tuesday of this week.

They are angry at management proposals which will mean closing 14 out of 24 local housing offices, reducing the opening hours at the surviving offices to four hours a week, and shedding up to 70 jobs.

Management plan to introduce call centres which tenants will have to use for rent and repairs. For the last year the council has run a pilot scheme for these proposals in the Wythenshawe area.

This has seen staff's workload double and rent collection figures go from the best in the city to the worst. Thousands of tenants have signed petitions opposing the closure of their local housing office.

The strike is the first official action in the housing department for over seven years and the first time many people have been on strike. Despite a huge level of management intimidation 60 percent voted in favour of action.

This battle is also about the future of council housing in Manchester. The end goal for the council is stock transfers and mass demolitions of council housing. This week's action can help strengthen the battle ahead.
RICHARD SEARLE, convenor Manchester UNISON housing shop stewards committee; MARION DOHERTY, chair; and BRIAN MACDONALD, deputy convenor (personal capacity)


Medway

Medway councillors in Kent faced a large, angry demonstration when they arrived for their meeting at Gillingham Municipal Buildings on Wednesday evening of last week.

The minority Tory-controlled council was due to ratify cuts in the social services budget, with support from Liberal Democrats. The cuts would see pensioners from five old people's homes moved into private care homes.

In the biggest demonstration the council has faced since the poll tax, up to 100 care home workers, relatives and members of the newly formed Medway Socialist Alliance blocked the entrance to the council offices.

Councillors were forced to run a gauntlet of protesters waving placards and chanting, 'Save our homes.' Faced with this opposition the council voted to defer any decision pending 'further consultation'.

The campaign to save the homes has got off to a flying start and now needs to keep up the pressure.
STEVE WILKINS


Bolton

Five hundred council workers in Bolton backed the call for strike action to defend their terms and conditions at a mass meeting on Friday of last week. Workers have been angered by the employers' intention to reduce annual leave by four days and increase the working week to 37 hours.

There was a defiant mood at the meeting. Everyone feels 'enough is enough'. Public sector workers have been covering for unfilled posts and coping with increasing workloads for too long. The balloting process is now under way.
CHARLOTTE SMITH


Scotland

Some 80,000 UNISON members across Scotland's 32 councils are set to ballot on a new pay offer. The offer represents a shift by the New Labour dominated councils, but it is nowhere near what is needed.

The employers' shift is testament to the determination shown by the three one-day national strikes council workers have staged over the last five months, and the all-out action by some 1,300 workers in the run-up to Christmas. The council's previous offer of 6.1 percent over two years was decisively thrown out in a ballot last autumn.

Now the employers are offering a complex four year deal. UNISON leaders say the offer represents 'a major step forward'. But this has been met with scepticism by many members.

'The offer shows that our action has forced the councils to move a bit, but it's not enough,' says one council worker in Inverclyde. The £5 minimum from next year is good, but we wanted that now, not in year three of the deal!'

UNISON leaders are not making a recommendation yet. Instead they are asking UNISON branches to 'consult' this week before a meeting of branch reps from across Scotland.

The offer will then go out to a ballot of all members. 'We should reject this offer and fight for more,' argued one council worker. 'But the question is, are the union leaders willing to lead that fight if we reject. Are they going to show more backbone?'

Activists need to argue for a rejection of the new offer and demand their leaders lead action to win more.


Round-up

Our local campaign against the proposed privatisation of education services lobbied Waltham Forest council last week.

We joined arms in solidarity with a 100-strong protest led by the local Turkish Community Association against cuts which would cripple the borough's Turkish Saturday school.

We are joining up with UNISON and NUT members, and groups campaigning against library closures to lobby a full council meeting on 15 February.
SALLY LABERN


Workers AT Telford and Wrekin council who are fighting the victimisation of UNISON officer Mike Jeffries got a timely boost last weekend.

UNISON's West Midlands regional council voted unanimously to support the campaign by funding an advert in the local press against the Labour council's attack on the union.

Workers in Telford were expecting to be told this week that UNISON has given the go-ahead for an industrial action ballot.

Fax messages of support to Telford UNISON office 01952 201 427.


Around 70 workers in housing maintenance in Newcastle were set to strike on Wednesday of this week against threats to jobs and services.

The workers, members of UNISON, were also due to join a lobby of the council on the same day.


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Article information

News
Sat 10 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1734
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