OVER ONE million local government workers could be heading for a major pay battle. Last week both sides in the negotiations over the local government pay and conditions deal upped the ante. The giant Unison, TGWU and GMB unions agreed to consult their members over the deal and possible action unless the employers back down before 21 May. The employers issued a press release saying that they would stand firm over their offer of a derisory 7 percent over 3 years.
Unions will urge council workers to reject the employers' offer on the understanding that a further ballot for substantial industrial action would follow.
A joint press release urged candidates in the forthcoming local elections to join the campaign to end low pay and unfair pay in local government. The unions have an opportunity to unite and galvanise council workers against truly nasty pay proposals.
As well as a low basic pay increase, the package also abolishes national premium rates for unsocial hours and overtime-a direct threat to workers on lower grades.
Another element is job evaluation and local pay reviews at councils who haven't undertaken them already. The problem with job evaluation is that without extra funding work that has historically been undervalued (typically performed by low paid women) will not be uprated enough.
Increased gradings for some will be at the expense of downgrading other staff. Many in the unions recognise that the government is looking to take us on.
This means that a one-day strike will not be enough to prompt an improved offer, as happened in 2002. Union members are likely to reject the deal in their ballot.
The task will be to get the highest possible numbers of council workers participating to vote the offer down by an absolutely huge majority.
Union busting no way!
A SECOND day of strike action saw services across Newham council heavily disrupted on Wednesday of last week as members of the Unison union struck to defend trade union rights. The dispute was triggered by the council, which evicted Unison from their union offices and sent union officers on full facility time back to work. During last week's strike workers shut down libraries, school kitchens and offices. Rubbish went uncollected.
A determined campaign of intimidation-including warnings to workers and elected officials alike that "supporting Unison is not without consequences" had no effect on the strike. "In my section", says Jo, "this strike is better supported than the London weighting dispute or strikes in the past".
In response to the first strike, the council has attempted to step up the pressure, insisting that Unison publish an apology, issue a statement that Newham is a good employer and then, after a six-month period, it may agree to restore some facilities to the union. The six month cooling-off period-during which time Unison won't be allowed to take industrial action, communicate with the public or even speak freely to its own members-coincides with the timetable to privatise all council housing in the borough, and with the national pay dispute.
Every Newham worker understands this is about the right to an independent trade union.
"I am a Labour councillor," Sarah Ruiz told a strike rally, "but I am also a member of Unison, and I object to being told what I can and cannot do. I am fed up with the dictatorship we are living in. We are not going to be bullied."
Newham has more CCTV cameras than any other authority, but they were useless when the workers monitoring them kicked off the strike by walking out on the stroke of midnight. Two years ago when we started action over London weighting, they used to laugh at us," one of the first to strike later told a packed rally. "Last night we all walked out solidly. They are not laughing now."
Messages of support from members of the national executive were read out before a lively debate on strategy that once again addressed the question of stepping up action on the political as well as industrial fronts.
Strikers cheered when told that the regional officials have now agreed to take back some of the donations to New Labour to fund facilities in the branch, but strikers quickly went on to say it was not enough.
The suggestion from the region that sectional strike action was the way forward and that only Labour Party members can decide on the donations to Labour was not acceptable to the meeting.
Councillor Ruiz told the meeting, "We need the region to be saying, 'Withdraw all the money now,' because if we stop our contribution, someone will say something to the mayor. There are 3,000 Unison members and we need to remember that when it comes to the ballot box."
A motion was passed unanimously calling for stepping up strikes alongside a big public rally in Newham attended by the general secretary, a demonstration and withholding funds from Labour. A public meeting with Tony Benn and national officials is now planned for just before the next strikes on 26 and 27 May.
We are sending a loud and clear message: "Union busting no way! Newham Unison is here to stay!"