Socialist Worker

This battle’s for the vulnerable

by Kelly Hilditch
Issue No. 1927

AROUND 300 people demonstrated in Liverpool city centre last Saturday in support of the social workers who have been on indefinite strike for the past 11 weeks.

The dispute began because there was no system of caseload allocation. This led to the social workers being overloaded with work.

This is not just an assault on workers’ conditions.

It means that vulnerable people in extreme crisis situations may not get the help and support they deserve and want.

Since the strike began in August the Liberal Democrat council has talked about pushing through large scale restructuring and potential job losses.

That can only mean more tragedies where children do not receive the attention they need.

It will mean more lurid press headlines scapegoating social workers when the real problem is lack of resources.

One of the striking social workers made it clear that this is not so much a battle about pay and jobs as a struggle for the future of the service.

She said,“We became social workers because we care. And we are principled enough and brave enough to speak out.

“We have come to a stalemate with the employers over the word ‘qualifications’ remaining part of the job description.

“Social workers normally only come to people’s attention when there is someone to blame. Speaking out may be dangerous, but not speaking out is more dangerous. What is at stake is children’s futures.

“And if speaking out is whinging then I am proud to be a whinger. We are on strike for professional, moral and ethical reasons.”

Maria Halford-Smith was on the demonstration in support of a family member who is on strike.

She said, “The strike isn’t about pay. People want to be able to do a good job.

“The council is trying to allow people who aren’t fully trained do the job of a social worker. I’ve never been on a march before, but I think this is really important.

“If the strike fails, children’s lives will be put at risk.”

Another supporter who was on the demo said, “A friend of mine used to be a social worker for Liverpool City Council, but they left due to the lack of facilities.

“They had eight social workers sharing an office. There was nowhere to take the private calls.”

Peter Cranie, a social worker in Salford, was on the demo. He said, “ I’ve just been elected to the national executive of the Green Party. I’m here to support my fellow social workers.

“Public services, youth work and social work are seen as soft targets.

“This attack is the latest in a string of attacks by Liverpool city council on its workers.”

Jon Rogers, who is seeking nomination in the election for the Unison union general secretary election, said, “This demonstration is of national significance—the union needs to mobilise support for the strikers.”

Liverpool is key test for the Unison union leaders

THE LIVERPOOL social workers’ strike is a crucial battle for their Unison union.

But the union leaders have to do much more to win it.

Diane Kelly, the regional convenor for Unison, spoke at Saturday’s rally instead of general secretary Dave Prentis, who was unable to make it to the demo.

A message read out from him said, “I’m appalled by the behaviour of the council in their attempt to break the strike.

“The members of Unison are behind you every step of the way.”

The fact that Dave Prentis was not there reinforced the feeling that Unison is not fully behind the strike. One of the strikers said, “ I am concerned that information about the dispute is not being broadcast more widely by Unison.

“For instance I was disappointed not to see anything obvious on the new website.”

Kathy Liddell of the PCS civil service workers’ union also spoke: “We were on strike yesterday for similar reasons to yours.

“The government wants to cut 100,000 jobs. As far as I’m concerned, your struggle is my struggle.

“This is not just an attack on individual unions. It is an attack on public services all over the country.

“Ordinary working people have to make a stand. We have to beat this.

“The government wants to cut waste—what about the money wasted on private consultants?

“Investment and staff are needed, but this government would sooner pay shareholders than pay wages to social workers.

“People need to get involved and spread this struggle.”

Jan, a social worker from Surrey, said, “We have recently won a similar dispute to the one you are now fighting in Liverpool.

“I’m here with a message of support—keep on fighting, we’re behind you all the way.”

The next step is going to be very important for this crucial strike.

The Liberal Democrat council appears to see winning this dispute as the first step in a wider agenda.

“It is clear that the talks could have been settled if management had been reasonable,” said one striker.

“They want a cheap labour force that is easily replaceable. They want to smash the union. The strike remains solid. We don’t want to go back to a more vicious management. We have to step up the action and force the council to be reasonable.”

Send messages of support and donations to Liverpool Unison, Cotton Exchange Building, Bixteth Street, Liverpool L3 9JR.

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Article information

Sat 13 Nov 2004, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1927
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