Socialist Worker

Council strike shows unity that can win

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2258

Birmingham Unison Connexions members picket their offices on 4 June. Connexions workers were set to join strikes on Thursday of this week. The city’s Con-Dem council approved a 30 percent cut for Connexions, putting 36 jobs at risk

Birmingham Unison Connexions members picket their offices on 4 June. Connexions workers were set to join strikes on Thursday of this week. The city’s Con-Dem council approved a 30 percent cut for Connexions, putting 36 jobs at risk


More than 10,000 Birmingham council workers were set to strike on Thursday of this week—joining the 30 June revolt across the public sector.

The Unison members’ strike is a beacon in the union as its general secretary Dave Prentis raises the idea of more of its million members walking out in the autumn (see page 15).

Workers in Birmingham are fighting attacks that they have nicknamed the “Martini contract” (see box right).

This will mean massive cuts to pay and conditions.

The council has already started the process of sacking anyone who refuses to sign.

But workers resisted, voting by 76 percent for strikes and calling a walkout across Britain’s biggest council.

Unison branch secretary Graeme Horn told the union’s conference last week that Birmingham was the “second city, but second to none in terms of the savagery of the cuts”.

The council plans to axe more than 7,000 jobs in the next four years.

And huge cuts to allowances will effectively mean wage cuts of thousands of pounds for low-paid workers.

The contract is a big threat. “Today it’s Birmingham, tomorrow it’s everywhere,” Graeme said.

“It’s an absolute nightmare contract,” added assistant branch secretary Caroline Johnson.

“It means no more Monday to Friday—we are all 24/7.”

She explained how members’ anger against it has grown as the campaign got going.

Organised

“The management organised what we called a ‘cattle market consultation’. They had a small room with booths where they shunted workers through and told them what they were going to do. We had a stall and recruited to the union.”

After that, activists pushed for the union to call mass members’ meetings.

More than 3,000 workers came—and dozens got up to speak passionately against the cuts.

Since then the workers have been organising. They have held street stalls and a public meeting to build support in the run-up to the strike.

Their plan for the day was to picket and protest in the morning, and then come together for a joint lunchtime rally in the city centre.

This is the kind of unity that can shut down the city for the day and have a huge impact on the bosses.

“We’ll be picketing local workplaces,” said Graeme. “We’ll be taking part in ten local protests. We’ll be rallying with the teachers, college workers and civil servants.

“Come and join us.”


The Martini contract...‘Any job, any time, anywhere’

The contract, named after the 1970s drinks advert, means:

  • You’ll get a massive pay cut. For example, a home carer earning £14,500 will lose £4,500. The lowest paid will be hit hardest.
  • You can be forced to work evenings and weekends—but weekend pay, shift pay and unsocial hours pay are all being scrapped.
  • You’ll be expected to do any job in your “job family”—a housing officer one minute and a social services worker the next.
  • You can be told to work anywhere in the Birmingham conurbation, with no travel allowances.
  • The code of conduct goes from one to 30 pages and bans workers from speaking out against the council, even in their own time.
  • ... and if you don’t sign, you’re sacked!

Pickets from 7am, local street protests from 10am and city centre rally at 12 noon, Victoria Square, Birmingham B1 1BD.

For more details see www.birminghamunison.co.uk


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