Socialist Worker

Birmingham council workers' mass meetings demand strikes

by a Unison rep
Issue No. 2237

More than 3,000 council workers voted unanimously for a strike ballot at four mass meetings in Birmingham yesterday (Tuesday).

They unanimously backed a plan for strikes, and vowed to vigorously campaign for a yes vote in an official ballot.

And six coaches were filled from the meetings for the TUC national demonstration against cuts on 26 March.

The mass meetings were called to discuss the council's cuts proposals: removing allowances, including those for shifts, night work and anti social hours, as well as imposing new ultra-flexible contracts.

Management have tried to make out that “over-paid” council workers are just whingeing about losing out on car allowances and other 'perks'. But this is a totally distorted picture.

The council's proposals hit the lowest-paid workers hardest.

Care workers would lose up to a third of their pay—at a time when the council has already spent £60 million on consultants this financial year.

The reality of the cuts was reflected in contributions from the floor.

Library workers, home carers, park rangers, gravediggers—speaker after speaker told about how they were losing up to £4,000 from already low salaries.

One support worker said, 'I love my job, it's my life. But I won't be able to carry on doing it. And it's not just my job—this is an attack on all the working class people of Birmingham. If we don't take action there'll be nothing left.'

A family support worker told how the new 'any time, any workplace' contract meant she had 'no idea' how she would manage with childcare.

The contract affects admin staff, as more and more of them would work from fewer buildings, working any five out of seven days. This could open the door for massive job cuts.

The branch leadership and members have shown they are willing to fight. We are now demanding a ballot and the backing of the regional and national union officials, many of whom now realise that they have no choice but to fight.

The anger council workers feel was matched by the tone of the speakers on the top table. Caroline Johnson, assistant branch secretary, introduced the meeting by explaining why the cuts are not necessary, highlighting the number of millionaires in the Con-Dem cabinet, the grotesque pay of the bankers and the level of tax avoidance.

She then went on to point out the actions of the two million Egyptians on the streets in Cairo and the militant student movement in Britain.

There was a torrent of class anger expressed in the meetings.

As one of the mobile night carers put it: 'I'm fearful for my job. But I'm also angry. Senior managers are curled up in their feather-bedded suburbia dreaming about their £100,000+ salaries whilst we're out in all conditions providing a service for vulnerable people.' Or to put it another way, 'we're ruled by a bunch of crooks.'

The clear mood of the meeting meant that none of the speakers pulled any punches about the need for strikes.

Tens of new stewards were recruited and six further coaches filled to go to the TUC demo on 26th March—which makes eight coaches so far.

Birmingham Against the Cuts and Unison have called a local demonstration on 26 February and a lobby of the council meeting on 1 March.

There now needs to be both a prompt ballot and a strong campaign for a yes vote, preparing the ground for the kind of concerted industrial action that can stop the cuts this Con-Dem council is attempting to impose on the people of Birmingham.

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Wed 2 Feb 2011, 12:54 GMT
Issue No. 2237
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