A SERIOUS threat hangs over one million council workers and related employees. The government wants to push through a crippling pay and conditions deal. The main elements are:
The whole package has more strings than the proverbial philharmonic orchestra. They even want to make the third year of the pay rise conditional at each council depending on whether or not the unions locally agree to the council's proposed local pay review.
Unions representing council workers rejected this bum deal on 11 March but as recently as 14 April the employers were still insisting on it. Unions, Unison being the biggest, will have no choice but to hold a strike ballot if New Labour keeps playing hardball. The trouble is that the unions' craven pro-Labour leaderships set out to avoid industrial action this year. They put in a weak claim for only 4 percent and a pathetic £200, plus better leave.
With no efforts made to mount a militant pay campaign so far, the government and council employers will be hoping that a strike ballot will be lost. Councils have already been told to start propagandising to "win hearts and minds" of their staffs in advance of the anticipated strike vote.
What the unions urgently need to do is start a real pay campaign from now as they clearly have a fight on their hands even if they did not seek it. Local union branches should start holding workplace meetings. National union leaders should tour the country, slamming the three-year deal. We need hard-hitting union leaflets that highlight the threat to premium rates and three years of below inflation pay rises-actually a recipe for pay cuts. In July 2002 the unions mounted the biggest one-day strike ever in councils. The action forced the employers to improve their pay offer.
That power needs to be unleashed again this year after a period of hard campaigning before any strike ballot.
COUNCIL WORKERS in Newham were set to strike on Thursday to defend their union branch from the New Labour bully boys in the east London borough's town hall. Members of the Unison union backed the strike by 86 percent in an official ballot, and strong picket lines were expected at bin depots, schools and council offices on Thursday.
"We hope Thursday will shake New Labour and their cronies in the town hall," Newham Unison chair Michael Gavan told Socialist Worker. The council wants to savagely cut the facility time available to elected branch officers to carry out their duties.
It also wants the right to censor what the Unison branch can say in its branch newsletter to members. "No trade union could possibly accept that," says Michael Gavan. The council is now telling him he can only have a maximum of seven hours a week on union business, the same as any shop steward under existing agreements.
Newham's New Labour chief, Sir Robin Wales, is a key figure in the London-wide council employers' body and is rumoured to be boasting to other council chiefs that he is showing how to deal with the unions.
Activists in other London councils are hearing noises about similar attacks. Newham Unison members were to discuss their next move in the fight at a rally during Thursday's strike.
London Assembly Respect candidate Oli Rahman was set to tour the picket lines to express solidarity with the fight.