The long-running battle to save a vital social care service in Birmingham from privatisation and collapse is at a critical moment.
Over 270 home carers in the Unison union began a five-day strike on Tuesday in an effort to halt £2 million of cuts.
Strikers say the Labour-run council’s plans are “a cut on the most vulnerable in society”.
The latest action rounds off a month of resistance that saw workers strike over nine days in August.
And last week a meeting of Unison members voted unanimously to call more strikes. These are likely to take place in September.
The strike days have been filled with members’ meetings, mass leafleting, and picketing council workplaces.
Mandy Buckley, a senior Unison steward, told Socialist Worker, “There was so much activity last week that we ran out of leaflets.”
She said carers are organised leafletting sessions targeting key councillors’ constituencies—and that strikers are leading the decisions.
“People are coming up with ideas and offering to go and do speeches,” she said.
“We’ve got a media team and a finance team—this is something that would never have happened before.”
The carers are members of the home enablement team, which supports people in their own homes in the six weeks following discharge from hospital. Council bosses want to axe the equivalent of 55 full time jobs from the service, and force all workers on to part time hours.
It is not the first attack carers have faced. Last year the council announced plans to axe 40 percent of jobs—but eventually slashed 48 percent.
The latest cuts would put carers on the poverty line. And shift changes would mean they couldn’t work second jobs—which they need in order to survive.
“We’ve already had cuts, this is a cut where nobody would be able to manage,” said Mandy.
She added that solidarity for the home carers—most of whom have never struck before—has helped build strikers’ confidence.
“It’s been absolutely brilliant,” she said. “We’ve got support from all the unions, and we’re getting invites to speak at different places.”
A delegation will be speaking at the TUC union federation’s conference in Manchester on 9 September.
Mandy said the strikers have received donations from Labour groups, trade union branches and pensioners’ organisations. “They make strikers feel like everyone’s supporting them and they can win it,” she said. “It’s giving them the ability to put forward more strike action.”
But more is needed to finish off the council’s plans for good. Talk from some sections of the council “seemed quite positive last week” Mandy said, adding that until strikers “see it written down” they would refuse to suspend any action.
Strikers were set to meet Unison general secretary Dave Prentis at the union’s national headquarters in London on Wednesday.
Mandy argued that “political pressure on the councillors and within the Labour group” would help home carers.
Trade unionists should organise financial collections for home carers in their workplace and invite a striker to share their inspiring story.
The Unison leadership should use every financial, political and industrial weapon in its arsenal to support workers who are on the frontline in the battle against austerity. A victory for the home care workers would be a victory for everyone who wants to see an end to Tory austerity and cuts.