Some three hundred trade unionists and local residents attended a heated meeting in Barnet, north London, on Tuesday of last week to oppose potential moves to privatise council services.
The meeting, called by Barnet trades council and local branches of the Unison union, was held in response to the council’s consultation on the 'Future Shape' of their services.
The fear is that Barnet will follow the lead of Somerset county council, which has formed the “Southwest One” consortium with Taunton Deane Borough Council and Avon and Somerset police, under contract to the multinational IBM.
A video seen by the meeting showed that Somerset is actively promoting the model with other local councils – which means the outsourcing of services and the transfer of jobs to private contractors. Barnet council is itself being advised by the giant consultancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Dexter Whitfield of the European Services Strategy Unit warned of the dangers of “corporatisation” for council workers and local residents.
For workers it inevitably led to worsening conditions, job insecurity and the undermining of trade union organisation.
For residents it meant the erosion of democratic accountability and public service values by a “contract culture” of secrecy, fragmentation and the ruthless pursuit of profits.
Angry residents welcomed the lead shown by the unions in calling the meeting. It is seen as a first step towards an alliance of all local public sector unions and campaign groups.
John Burgess, Barnet Unison branch secretary, bemoaned that fact than none of the main political parties was “saying what I need to hear” and floated the possibility that a successful alliance could stand its own candidates in future elections.
The trades council and Unison are now calling for a mass rally at Barnet council’s cabinet committee meeting on 3 December which will decide on the future of its services and its 4,000 employees.
The mood of defiance and optimism was set by Lango Gamanga, Unison convenor of the Fremantle care workers, who have been fighting to restore their pay and conditions since their outsourced service was subjected to new contracts in 2007. “Obama has told us ‘We can’, and we can – and that’s what we’re going to do!”
The rally is at 6.30pm on Wednesday 3 December at Barnet House, 1255 High Road, Whetstone, London N20 0EJ. For more details go to » www.barnetunison.me.uk