United to save services
AROUND 250 council workers and supporters held a lively march through Bootle on Merseyside last Saturday in protest at the closure of seven council run facilities.
The closures by Sefton council are an attack on elderly and disabled people, as well as low paid women workers. "What they are doing is disgraceful. They are hitting the most vulnerable and privatising homes," said Linda McDonald, one of the demonstrators. "I feel disgusted," said John Southern, an ambulance driver. "The council talks about 'managed decline' of services. They allow them to run down and then say it's uneconomical to repair them!"
Around 1,000 social services workers, members of UNISON, held a two-day strike on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week against the closures. The strike was solid despite intimidation from the council and managers. The council, run by Liberal Democrats and Tories, tried to stop the strike by taking UNISON to court.
They failed. Between 300 and 400 council workers joined picket lines and stopped services across the city. But they faced managers trying to scare workers by taking photographs of them on the picket lines.
The council is carrying out the cuts under New Labour's "Best Value" scheme. This is a repackaging of the Tories' compulsory competitive tendering which has meant extending competition and the market into services. Nigel Flanagan, UNISON branch convenor, says, "The unit cost of care provided by the council is �1,100. The unit cost of care by the private sector is �275. You are obviously not going to get the same quality of care."
Workers and service users started campaigning last November when the cuts were first announced. "It was a total shock when we heard about the closures. We lobbied the council, held meetings and demonstrations," said one social services worker. We got 12,000 signatures on a petition. The council ignored them."
Now workers are demanding a ballot of the whole UNISON union branch to escalate the action beyond the recent three days of strike action. The council has already rushed through three of the seven closures. Residents were moved out to the private sector, and 130 workers have been told they will be offered jobs in other departments. But some fear there will be compulsory redundancies.
Last Saturday's demonstration gave the campaigners a boost. The demonstrators broke into applause when UNISON national executive member Roger Bannister condemned privatisation.
"It's no surprise our union's conference voted to review its links with the Labour Party because of the great disappointment with the Labour government," he said.
Other speakers included Neil Thompson, Lancashire firefighter and Socialist Alliance candidate in St Helens. The council was due to hold further talks on Tuesday, and more strike action is planned if the closures are not reversed.
- Send messages of support and donations to Nigel Flanagan, Sefton UNISON Branch Convenor, UNISON offices, 209 Linacre Lane, Bootle L20 6AD. Phone 0151 934 4760 or 07980 914 983.
TELFORD UNISON plans a lobby on Monday of next week outside the disciplinary hearing for suspended UNISON officer Mike Jeffries. Mike has been suspended by the council for an outrageous six months for campaigning against cuts and job losses. He is threatened with possible dismissal.
Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Sandwell UNISON branches have pledged to bring banners to the lobby, and other unions, campaigns and community groups are being asked for their support.
- Lobby, Monday 16 July, assemble 8.30am, committee rooms entrance, Civic Offices, Telford town centre.
- Fax messages of support to Telford UNISON on 01952 201 427.
- Fax messages of condemnation to the chief executive of Telford & Wrekin council on 01952 290 820.