Workers in the Unite union at Blackburn with Darwen council struck on Friday of last week in protest at plans to impose a single status pay structure that would cut some wage packets by thousands of pounds a year.
Strikers and other council workers held a lunchtime rally outside Blackburn town hall to highlight their cause.
Some 200 joined a lively march through Blackburn town centre, chanting “Save our pay!” and “No pay cuts!”.
Tony Hayes is a regional official for Unite. “The council issued 90-day notices to the whole workforce that basically said sign the new contracts or be dismissed,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Unite members have been taking action – one-day or two-day strikes – for the last three weeks.”
Other workers in the council are represented by the Unison and GMB unions, he added, though neither of these had joined the strike action.
Many of the striking Unite workers are employed in the council’s environmental services division – which means the industrial action has disrupted refuse collection in the borough.
Bin worker David Parker spoke to Socialist Worker about why he’d come out on strike, despite the fact that he was not losing out personally under the council’s new pay structure.
“The situation is really bad for those who are losing out,” he said. “I’ve come out to support them – if they came out on their own they wouldn’t be strong enough to stop the council’s plans.”
Andy is another council worker who came to the demonstration.
“I’m striking for myself and for my colleagues,” he said. “I’m losing £7,000 off my yearly salary. I’ll probably have to sell the house.
“We’ve just got a newborn child too – that’s another mouth to feed.”
The new pay structure is based on the single status rules that were brought in to tackle pay inequality between male and female council workers.
But there is no central government funding for these settlements – leading many councils to fund single status by taking money from one set of workers to give to another, rather than “levelling up” low pay.
Many of the worst hit council workers in Blackburn are low paid women.
“I’m losing £5,600 – that’s a quarter of my salary,” one woman told Socialist Worker.
“I’m not a member of a union, but I’ve come out this lunchtime to support the strike.”
The children’s services department has been particularly badly hit, according to a childcare worker in the Unison union who joined the lunchtime rally and march.
“Some people are looking to lose about 30 percent of their wages,” she told Socialist Worker.
“That comes at a time when we were only going to get a 2.45 percent pay rise anyway, while the cost of food and fuel is going up much faster.
“The council are only interested in their beacon status and in saying they’ve got the lowest council tax increase in the north of England,” she added. “They’re not interested in addressing equal pay.”