Up and down the country councils are launching assaults on the terms and conditions of workers.
Some are using the economic crisis as the excuse. Others claim they are privatising for ideological reasons.
For instance, the leader of Southampton city council has threatened to outsource and privatise a raft of key services.
Tory councillor Alec Samuels said services such as rubbish collection and disposal could be sold off.
Samuels wrote on a Tory website, “For ideological reasons we are going for outsourcing, externalisation, privatisation, wherever possible and sensible, especially but not exclusively in the leisure and recreation area. Naturally there is a lot of in-house resistance.”
In response Mark Wood, Unite union branch secretary, said,“We are fully aware of the Conservative dogma to privatise for privatisation’s sake – just to look after their friends in big business.
“Private companies very often make their profits from taxpayers by driving down quality and service levels. We are likely to enter into an extended period of confrontation and industrial dispute.”
The financial crisis is encouraging councils to push through cuts to services and the conditions of their workers.
It has now emerged that some 125 councils have money trapped in Icelandic banks – putting workers’ wages and pensions at risk.
Doncaster, Berkshire, Aberdeen, Powys, Hull and York are among many councils making cuts.
It is in Hammersmith & Fulham council in London that the clearest battle lines are being drawn.
A staggering £40 million has been wiped off the value of Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s pension fund.
From a high of £463 million in August, it fell to a low of £422 million last week, a drop of 8.8 percent. In just two days it plunged by £12 million.
In addition, £950,000 was invested in three institutions that have failed or been forced into takeovers – Lehman Brothers, AIG and Merrill Lynch.
The council, along with Kent county council, is considering a proposal to buy oil in bulk on the futures market.
Hammersmith & Fulham is now driving through a series of cuts, allegedly as a response to the crisis. And it has taken the extraordinary step of demanding to renegotiate the terms and conditions of every single council worker.
It has admitted that the new conditions will be worse. One symbolic part of the plan is to outsource the council’s call centre to Rochdale.
The pay dispute has been hived off to arbitration, and thousands of workers are already losing money under the single status deals.
This latest round of attacks in local government should be a warning to activists that the bosses will be quick to attack in the crisis.
The unions need to respond quickly and decisively.