Striking Barnet council workers bellowed out a determined chant from their picket line on Thursday morning, “Say no to easyCouncil”.
This is the latest strike in a long-running fight against the Tory council’s plans for mass privatisation. Their union, Unison, says the north London council's plans will leave council services hollowed out like a budget airline.
“We're talking £2 billion worth of contracts here,” branch secretary John Burgess told Socialist Worker.
“And this isn’t ordinary outsourcing. The council have said they don’t care where services are delivered from.”
There is already a huge “To Let” sign outside the council’s offices. It expects 70 percent of its workforce to be outsourced by the middle of next year.
“There are workers in parking who’ve been told basically ‘Your job’s moved to Croydon’,” said John. “That’s two hours travel time—and it costs £2,500 a year for a travelcard to get there.
“But if they don’t go, they don’t get any redundancy money.”
The bulk of services are likely to move out of London altogether, as the council plans to shift everything apart from jobs that require a physical presence in Barnet.
They want the central council’s only role to be “commissioning” services from private contractors—like the Tory plans for the NHS.
Bidders so far include huge corporations such as Serco, BT, Capita and IBM.
Up against these multinationals, the 40 pickets were in good spirits. They wore orange “no to easyCouncil” T-shirts and held banners saying “Keep public services public”.
Giselle works in environmental health—one of the groups of workers that kicked off the industrial action in Barnet.
“We started over a year ago with action short of a strike,” she said. “And we’re still here struggling on today.
“The council refuses to have any meaningful discussions about our future.”
She pointed out that privatising regulatory services like hers will cause big problems. “How can we be working for someone we’re likely to take enforcement action against?” she asked.
And she also saw the link between what’s happening in Barnet and the government’s attacks on pensions.
“If we’re going to be outsourced, there will be issues over the pension,” she said. “Are they really going to pay out the same pension we got working in-house?”
After picketing in the morning, strikers went to do volunteer work, painting and decorating for a local charity.
The union argues this shows the target of the action is the bosses, not local people, as they aim to build support in the community.
“The council has thrown £15 million at an army of consultants who are now embedded within that building,” added John Burgess.
“We’re guinea pigs testing Cameron’s blueprint for public services. You can’t just do one day of action and that’s it.
“This is about services, and it’s about people’s lives.”