Home care workers in Birmingham began a two-day strike today to stop the total destruction of their service.
The Unison union members are also fighting “devastating” plans that will put workers “below the poverty line”.
The 285 workers at Birmingham City Council’s home enablement service plan a further 12 days of strikes.
Workers rallied outside a meeting of the Labour-run council today.
Mandy Buckley, Unison senior steward, told Socialist Worker that workers “couldn’t wait” to walk out before the strike.
“We’re feeling brilliant,” she said.
“We were looking forward to it because at the end of the day we haven’t got another option”.
Strikers planned picket lines outside council buildings on the second day of the action. Mandy said this is important as “we need to let other members of staff know if the council can do it to us, it can do it to them”.
Bosses have cut 48 percent of jobs in the service in the last year.
After striking in January, February and March, carers voted by 97 percent in June to continue their action.
Mandy explained that workers feel unbowed by taking on Birmingham council bosses, who she says “underestimated” the carers.
“They didn’t expect the strike,” she said. “They expected to wipe the floor with us, but people are more determined now.”
Birmingham council last month announced a devastating new raft of cuts.
These include a proposed £2 million “saving” from the enablement service and plans to force all workers onto part time contracts of 14, 18 or 21 hours.
This would not only plunge them into poverty, but also affect their pensions and ability to claim Universal Credit. Bosses say the new rotas will be decided by a “selection process”—of which the workers haven’t been given any details.
Mandy describes the slashed hours as “devastating”. “You can’t live on them,” she said.
“It would put us below the poverty line.”
The low-paid, overwhelmingly women workforce suffered pay cuts in 2012 that saw many lose up to £5,500 a year. Partly because of this many of them took on second jobs.
But the new shift patterns will make second jobs—many of which will be on zero hours contracts—impossible to get.
The attacks are a result of a “redesign”, which the council paid £12 million to private consultancy firm Newton Europe for.
The home enablement team work as carers to support people in their own homes in the six weeks following discharge from hospital.
It’s a council run service, but job cuts of almost 200 carers in the last year mean that more care packages are being outsourced to the private sector.
Mandy said that further attacks are a result of the council preparing to privatise this much-needed public service. “We were one of the biggest workforces within the council,” she explained.
“But they’ve tried to get us as small as they can, to get it ready for privatisation.”
A privatised, for-profit service means worse quality care for service users.
Mandy said that selling the service off would mean workers with “no experience and lower wages”. “We’ve got years and years of experience”, she said.
“People don’t realise the skills we’ve got. Our job role means we’re a mixture of a counsellor, a social worker and a district nurse”.
And she says the experience of fighting back against the council has been “empowering” for the workers.
“Now people are prepared to stand up for themselves,” Mandy said.
“Even in meetings, before they wouldn’t say their views but now they will”.
The Birmingham home care workers are a beacon of resistance in a society that throws low-paid women to the bottom of the pile.
Every trade unionist should build solidarity to support their battle against privatisation and for the quality adult social care that everyone deserves.
Rush support to firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Birmingham Unison to invite a home care worker to speak at your union branch
Make cheques payable to “Birmingham Unison”. Make clear it’s for the hardship fund. Send to Mclaren building, 35 Dale End, Birmingham, B4 7LN