Stormy scenes in Newcastle
UNION LEADERS met Tony Blair last week to talk about New Labour's privatisation plans for public services. The very same day home care workers in Newcastle decided to take a more direct approach. They stormed the offices of the leader of the council to try to put a stop to privatisation.
Around 150 workers invaded councillor Tony Flynn's offices, demanding to know whether their jobs are safe. The council plans to hand care services like cleaning and shopping to the private sector. As many as 300 jobs could be axed. The workers had just had a mass meeting in Newcastle Civic Centre's banqueting hall.
They decided they were in no mood to be fobbed off. They had heard from the people they look after that, from next month, anyone who is visited less than ten times a week will be served by agency workers. Care worker Pauline Mallenby said, "We are just being sold down the line. We want answers, but Tony Flynn has not been prepared to come to any of our meetings." Let's hope last week's action is just a foretaste of what Blair and New Labour have got in store if they press ahead with privatisation.
Resistance in Waltham Forest
EDUCATION workers in Waltham Forest, east London, are balloting for strike action against privatisation. They are determined to stop the education service being handed to EduAction, which is backed by arch-privatisers Amec Construction and Nord Anglia. This is a test case for New Labour.
Government minister Estelle Morris has personally pushed through this "outsourcing", while the New Labour council has treated local people with contempt.
To workers privatisation means corruption and disaster. Ensign, owners of Group 4, withdrew from the process after �5,000 of "incentives" to council consultants were exposed. EduAction can't even complete a satisfactory bid, which has forced the council to delay signing contracts.
Last week the council's other major privatisation collapsed, and it took back the housing benefits section from ICL after two years of failure. Parents against privatisation have already organised one successful lobby. Now the council faces the prospect of united action by members of the NUT, TGWU and UNISON unions.
Other union members are already saying they will not cross picket lines. This spirit is the result of joint shop meetings organised at rank and file level.
The UNISON branch has also fought off an attempt by national officials to stop the ballot. A demonstration and mass lobby of the council are now planned by the unions. They will coincide with the result of the strike ballot. Shop stewards are calling this "Decision day". Union members and parents planned to leaflet every school in the borough this week for the lobby. There is now a serious possibility of stopping privatisation in Waltham Forest. Waltham Forest TGWU member
- March and lobby, Wednesday 11 July, assemble 4.30pm, Town Square, Walthamstow High Street.
Council workers and service users lobbied Hackney council in east London last week. After a number of recent by-elections the council is now run by New Labour and is no longer a Labour-Tory coalition.
But this has not meant any reduction in attacks on workers and services. The council's "improvement" plan means that three council nurseries will close or be sold off to the private sector. Several community nurseries (which get a grant from the council) are also under threat.
Parents from the threatened St John's, Fernbank, Wetherell, and Oranges and Lemons nurseries joined the lobby last week. They are determined to fight to defend affordable childcare and not let private firms grasp their children's care.
At the same time, around 1,000 council workers have received 90-day redundancy notices. This is an attempt to intimidate them into signing new, worse contracts. Stephen Byers, the secretary for transport and local government, said last week that Hackney's problems mean he was "minded" to take over direct control from the council.
This would mean the abolition of the last vestiges of local democracy, and cuts pushed through from the centre. More power would be handed to unelected bureaucrats and private firms. Instead of making such threats Byers should be restoring the �60 million looted from Hackney's central government grant by New Labour since 1997.
Workers in Hackney's privatised street cleaning section, run by Serviceteam, won a brilliant victory last week. It will do much to boost morale throughout the council workforce. Two workers at the Millfields Road depot were suspended after they responded to bullying by management. The whole shift walked out unofficially in their support and threw up picket lines.
Within a few hours management had given in. They reinstated the two and agreed to pay everyone who had gone on strike.
THE NEW Labour county council in Northamptonshire has just published plans to close down 17 schools, sell off 13 sites and introduce PFI/PPP privatisation to school buildings.
It also plans to introduce a privatised City Academy, increasing selection in the town, and establish a church school in an area with the highest proportion of ethnic minority students in the town. A demonstration was planned outside the full council meeting on Monday. Parents and the NUT union have called a public meeting on Monday 9 July at 7pm in Ecton Brook Middle School.
DUCIE HIGH School in Moss Side is set to be the first fully privatised school in Manchester under the City Academy scheme. A 50-strong meeting last week launched a campaign to oppose the plan.
The school is to be virtually given away to a local business consortium, Manchester Science Park. A speaker at last week's meeting explained what this means: "The school will be owned and run by the sponsors. We will pay 95 percent of the bills and they will own it."
John Illingworth from the NUT pledged a "strong and militant campaign" to fight privatisation.
ASHFIELD council in Nottingham has become the first council to apply to set up an "arm's length management organisation" to run council housing. This has already been described by council workers as the "Battle of the ALaMO". The council knew it couldn't win a vote of tenants for a transfer of its council housing.
It is now attempting to go for this "arm's length" organisation because it doesn't require a ballot. A UNISON branch meeting last week opposed the plan.
ANGRY parents, school staff, governors and members of the community packed a "consultation" meeting about the closure of Leopold Primary School in the Chapeltown area of Leeds last week. Representatives of Education Leeds told those present that their school had to close because of "surplus places" in the area.
Education Leeds is the new "arm's length" company running education services. It is estimated that �3.5 million was spent setting up Education Leeds, which employs private firm Capita. $ PROTESTS ARE continuing over Brent council's decision to lease a school to Sir Frank Lowe. Lowe, knighted recently for services to Labour privatisation, is to pay out �2 million in order to receive �8 million of taxpayers' money to set up a sports academy, and to take over the local sports centre next door to the school. A lobby is planned on 9 July, 4pm, at Brent Town Hall.
PUBLIC meeting against privatisation,
Wednesday 25 July, 7.30pm, Willesden library, Willesden High Road, London NW10. Speakers include Bob Crow, RMT deputy general secretary; Geoff Martin, UNISON London region convenor; Bernard Regan, NUT executive member; Hank Roberts, Brent NUT secretary.
PUBLIC MEETING: Education not for sale
Wednesday 11 July, 7.30pm, Hampstead Town Hall. Speakers include Michael Ball, Pimlico School governor; Melian Mansfield, CASE; Bernard Regan, NUT executive member; Tony Brockman, former NUT president.