400 carers go picketing
STRIKING CARE workers in Sefton, Merseyside, are at the centre of efforts by campaigners across Britain to stop the mounting closures of council care homes for the elderly and for children.
They struck solidly for three days last week. Even the Liverpool Echo admitted that 900 care and social services workers were on strike from Tuesday to Thursday. "We are not a militant bunch, us care workers," says Angie. "But we've really had enough. It's not a strike about wages or about us. It's about defending the rights of people who were promised a home for the rest off their lives but are now being turfed out."
An amazing 400 strikers joined picket lines on Tuesday. On one, 25 strikers blockaded the entrance to a transport depot. A striker from Melrose House told Socialist Worker, "When top managers evicted the residents they gave two women in their eighties just ten minutes to get ready to go. It's sickening."
A fellow Melrose House worker adds, "I have worked in the private care sector before, for 17 years. I know the public sector is best. No matter what New Labour says. The private homes are increasingly about profit only."
The UNISON union branch in Sefton is now pushing for a ballot for indefinite strike action by workers in the finance department. That drew a huge cheer at a 300-strong rally on Tuesday of last week, which was also attended by striking Merseyside firefighters.
Nigel Flanagan from the union branch also announced moves to call on the national union to ballot workers in the technical services department, which includes bin collection. James Hughes, a striking social worker, told Socialist Worker, "With the escalation in other sections, we need to be discussing escalating action in the sections directly hit by the closures."
The council is closing the homes because it says it cannot afford the �1.6 million to put them in line with health and safety standards. But on Friday of last week it temporarily reopened one of the children's homes it has condemned as unfit to cater for young people decanted from another home. The Sefton care workers' strike should become a focus for UNISON nationally and for the scores of local campaigns against home closures.
- The strikers desperately need financial support. Send donations, messages of support and requests for speakers to Sefton UNISON Offices, 209 Linacre Lane, Bootle L20 6AD. Phone 0151 934 4760 or 07980 914 983.
Defend the union
LABOUR-RUN Hackney council in east London has massively stepped up its assault on union rights as well as working conditions. The council last week suspended Brian Debus, chair of the UNISON union branch, and steward Richard Brunner. Noah Tucker, Hackney UNISON's chief negotiator, has been suspended for the last four months.
Hackney UNISON called a lobby of the revenues and benefits office on Wednesday of last week for the visit of government minister Malcolm Wicks. Max Caller, the council's chief executive, came to the building and snatched a placard away from protesters.
Later in the day he sought to have Brian and Richard disciplined for "disrupting a ministerial visit".
This allegation was then abandoned and a second one dredged up. This time it was alleged that the placard had the words "criminal" and "Caller" on it. Brian and Richard were suspended on an allegation of gross misconduct for defamation of character. The union branch is calling for a strike ballot to defend all the union reps under threat.
An immediate protest was held outside the town hall last week, and another was planned for Tuesday this week.
The suspensions came as the government was deciding whether to take over running some or all of Hackney's services. Labour councillors and Max Caller are trying to look "tough" to satisfy ministers.
The council has issued redundancy notices to around 1,000 workers in an effort to make them accept worse terms and conditions as well as pushing through cuts and privatisation.
- Messages of support to Hackney UNISON, 1-7 Westgate Street, London E8. Phone 020 8356 4071.
- Lobby Noah Tucker's disciplinary hearing, Friday 10 August, 9.30am, 185 Morning Lane, London E9.
- Community committee to defend the Hackney UNISON Three meets Tuesday 7 August, 7pm, Centreprise, 136 Kingsland High Street, London E8.