THOUSANDS OF council workers in Hackney, east London, struck for a day on 20 December in a big escalation of the battle against cuts pushed through by the ruling Tory-Labour coalition. The action before Christmas was extremely effective and needs to be built on now, because very serious challenges lie ahead. The unions organised emergency cover, but apart from that there was an almost total shutdown in both the manual and white collar services.
Strikes by GMB and UNISON union members, and solidarity from teachers, meant that 24 schools closed. At some schools there were 100 people picketing in a tremendous display of unity and determination. From early morning pickets were out at all the main depots.
Janet, a striking UNISON member at the Morning Lane complex, told Socialist Worker, 'We have been pushed too far by this council, which wants to make the workforce pay for the council's mistakes and the government's cuts. 'This is not just about defending our jobs and our pay. It is about stopping a very serious assault on the services used by the local community.' By 9am big groups of pickets ringed the town hall. Members of the UNISON, TGWU, GMB, UCATT and MSF unions came together to show they were ready for a serious fightback.
In the afternoon an exuberant march from Hackney to near the luxury offices of the finance houses in the City made the point that there is plenty of money to fund services but it is in the wrong hands. 'It was great we were all out together, and I really felt we had a bit of power to make the council and the government listen to us,' said Mick, a GMB member in the gardeners' section.
The only poor aspect of the day was the lack of strikes in the newly-privatised bins and street cleansing sections. Regional union officials stopped action for fear of the anti-union laws. At a lunchtime rally speaker after speaker warned the council's managing director, £150,000 a year 'Mad Max' Caller, that unless he backed off more strikes would be on the way.
Those strikes are needed quickly. Council leaders are continuing with their cuts, urged on by the government.
They agreed a wholly misnamed 'recovery package' on the day of the strike. It means cuts of £4 million before April, a further £25 million in the financial year 2001-2, at least an additional £10 million in 2002-3 and another £11 million in 2003-4.
Even those swinging the axe admit that the effects will be far reaching. Savaging In a joint statement, councillors Jules Pipe (Labour) and Eric Ollerenshaw (Tory) said, 'This will be a painful process to come. We will have to make staff cuts, and we will have to make changes to the terms and conditions of staff.' The council boasts that the government is fully behind its assault on services and workers. New Labour ministers are certainly enthusiastic about ramming through yet more privatisation and savaging the unions.
Loans have been provided to Hackney from central government on the condition that the austerity programme goes through. But disgracefully Hackney's grant from the government next year will see one of the lowest increases in Britain. It 'rises' by just 3.3 percent, 2 percent lower than the average. When inflation and the increasing number of poor people in the borough are taken into account, the rise is actually a cut.
The disgusting Tory-Labour alliance is hell-bent on cuts. Only a serious escalation of the resistance, to all-out and indefinite strikes as soon as possible, can stop it in its tracks.
Telford & Wrekin
TWO HUNDRED people lobbied Labour-run Telford & Wrekin council a week before Christmas against proposed cuts aimed mainly at the community services section. Council union members joined the lobby, but the largest number were local people from a variety of community groups. They included charities facing massive cuts in their grants, play groups, women's groups and others.
Many parents brought children who use the threatened community services. Protesters effectively occupied the council chamber, singing alternative Christmas hymns. The mood was very angry. Most of the council meeting was inaudible because of the noise.
A public meeting to oppose the cuts is now being organised, and many council workers on the lobby were applauded for calling for strike action. Speakers from the newly-formed Socialist Alliance in Telford also went down well when they said New Labour can find the money to avoid making cuts.