Socialist Worker

Birmingham prepares to defy council job threats

by Viv Smith
Issue No. 2220

Birmingham’s Tory council has issued redundancy notices to 26,000 council workers, telling them that they have to accept massive wage cuts or face the sack.

The council wants to abolish allowances—additional payments workers receive for working unsociable hours and difficult shifts, including weekend working.

Allowances can make up a third of an employee’s take home pay.

A worker who currently earns £15,233 a year could see their wages slashed to £11,794—a loss of £3,439 or 23 percent.

Someone who now earns £19,027 could drop to £13,125—a loss of £5,902 or 31 percent.

As councils across the country look to slash their budgets, many will be looking at what happens in Birmingham as a test case.

The unions will need to match the scale of the attacks with hard-hitting, mass strikes.


Those hardest hit by the wage cuts work in residential care, children’s homes, libraries, leisure centres, museums, home care and night security.

“I’m devastated by what the council is doing,” Pat, a care assistant in Birmingham, told Socialist Worker. “It makes me feel sick.

“People are so anxious they’re going crazy. When I go to work, as I get close, I start sweating due to stress.

“I’ve worked as a care assistant for 20 years, helping those who can’t look after themselves.

“We help people wash and dress, take care of their needs—but we are being chewed up and spat out by the council.”

Pat has already seen four of the homes she has worked in closed down in recent years.

“This latest attack is part of a long-standing campaign to sack staff and sell off our care homes,” said Pat.

“We used to have 29 ­council‑run care homes—now there are eight, and those are being run down.

“The council brought in private companies to build mega care homes.

“We were told that eight would be built—but they have only built four, so there are no jobs available.

“Private homes pay low wages—just above the minimum wage—and conditions for staff are worse.

“These people run the homes for profit. They think it is enough to sit elderly people in front of the TV or radio all day, but that’s no quality of life.

“When council homes are shut, staff are made redundant—if you don’t want redundancy you are put on a list and shuffled about from job to job.

“And of course the closure of a home hits residents hard.

“I supported a man who was blind. When he was told he was being moved he just shut down—he stopped eating and died. He couldn’t face the move.

“It’s a disgrace. These are people who have spent their lives contributing to our society.

“Now we have been told that we have 90 days to accept these attacks on our wages or get out.

“This Tory council just wants to get rid of the workers. I’m going to lose over £4,000 a year. I can’t survive on such a low wage.

“Five years ago maybe you would have had a chance at getting another job but not now—there are no jobs.

“We work for pennies to keep a roof over our heads and they are taking it away from us.

“The poorest are being hit the hardest—the shopping bill isn’t going down, but our wages are.”

Sunday 3 October demo and strikes should be a part of fight

Birmingham workers are building the Right to Work protest outside the Tory Party conference as part of their resistance.

One said, “We want the Tories to look out of their conference window and see thousands of us marching saying, ‘We won’t put up and shut up’—I want them to feel sick for a change.

“And we have to ballot for strike action—care assistants don’t like to strike but they have left us with no choice.”

Mark Rose, branch secretary of Birmingham City Unison, told Socialist Worker that the union is calling on its members to attend the protest against the Tories.

“People are facing financial ruin because of this council’s plans,” says Mark.

“Two thirds of our members stand to lose as much as 30 percent of their income.

“We need to send a signal to the Tories—get ready for a winter of discontent.”

Unison has launched a campaign demanding the resignation of council chief executive Stephen Hughes.

The union wants Hughes out because of what it terms his “politically motivated agenda”.

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Article information

Tue 21 Sep 2010, 17:36 BST
Issue No. 2220
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