Local government workers are up for a fight
by Raymie Kiernan in Brighton
Anger at Tory austerity dominated the Unison union’s local government conference in Brighton this week—just weeks before what could be a mass strike.
From teaching assistants to social workers, members have had enough of pay cuts and the slashing of local services.
The union’s strike ballot of 600,000 local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ends on Monday of next week.
The GMB and Unite unions are balloting another 300,000 local government workers. They could all strike on 10 July—as could teachers and civil service workers.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis was “confident” the action would go ahead. He said that more could follow, possibly also involving health workers, firefighters and probation workers.
“The aim is to make it an autumn this coalition will remember, a wave of action never seen before,” he said.
Local government workers’ pay has been slashed by 18 percent in real terms since 2010.
“Some of my colleagues are missing meals to feed their children,” said Sandwell steward Shazziah Rock.
“People are facing the choice between putting electric in the meter or food on the table. And we’re expected to do so much more work as result of cuts.”
Sabera Mulla, a school support worker at Kirklees Council, agreed. “We’ve seen lots of job cuts, people losing hours and changes to job descriptions that mean we’re always being asked to do more,” she said.
Some 85 percent of Unison members say their workload has increased in a new survey. But austerity means that 87 percent have cut personal spending, 60 percent face debt problems and 94 percent think only the rich have seen any recovery.
“If there’s money there for MPs to get a pay rise why is there no money for us?” asked Sabera.
Pay inequality angers Camden council Unison rep Dolly Akin.
“It’s disgusting that council bosses are making these cuts but chief executive’s pay gets higher and higher,” she said. “When we strike we should be marching everywhere and we should make sure they know we’re there.”
Workers at Care UK in Doncaster—who have taken 34 strike days so far—got a standing ovation.
Teaching assistant and York Unison steward Julie Forgan explained that raising solidarity for Care UK strikers had helped organise for the 10 July strike.
“It was when I was doing a collection for Care UK that people started discussing what we would do,” she said. “Striking together means we will completely shut down schools, but we don’t just want people to stay at home.
“So we’re building across the schools, working with the teachers and our People’s Assembly group and inviting all the unions to march together.”
Jon Woods, chair of Portsmouth Unison, wanted to “recapture the spirit” of the united public sector strike over pensions in 2011. “People will expect a march when they strike,” he said.
Activists in Portsmouth are organising a Unite the Resistance meeting to build the strike and discuss what comes next.
“It’s going to be about practical solidarity and joint picketing to maximise the impact,” said Jon. “The idea of escalating is really popular.”
Dolly said, “It makes sense to come out longer next time. The employer won’t take you seriously if you don’t escalate.”
‘The price of not striking is poverty’ say protesting civil service workers
by Annette Mackin
Some 250,000 civil service workers could join the pay strike on 10 July.
Their union PCS has an existing strike mandate, but is balloting to consult its members whether to join co-ordinated action.
Lunchtime protests outside workplaces marked the start of the ballot and campaign for a pay rise on Thursday of last week. Pete Jackson, a job centre worker in Birmingham, said workers should vote Yes to strike.
“I have two young children and the end of every month is a struggle,” he said. “Everyone I work with is struggling with the cost of living and pressures of work.
“We need to link up the issues at work to the attacks on pay.
“The price of not striking is poverty, and a government that thinks it can walk over us.”
Pete emphasised the importance of joint action. “We all need to support each other’s actions,” he said.
“We visited firefighters’ picket lines. But the best solidarity is to strike together until we win.”