Birmingham home care workers rounded off their latest week of strikes by securing a promise of total support from Unison union general secretary Dave Prentis.
“We will win—we cannot afford for Birmingham council to win,” he told strikers when they visited Unison headquarters in central London last week.
Some 50 strikers made the trip on the second day of a five-day walkout.
The home carers will start a five-day strike from next Wednesday. This will be followed by five days of walkouts from 24 September and a further five days from 5 October.
They are part of the 270-strong home enablement team, which supports people in their own homes in the six weeks following discharge from hospital.
They are employed by Labour-run Birmingham City Council (BCC) and are striking against plans that will effectively demolish the service.
The council wants to cut £2 million from a much-needed service which enables people to live independently at home.
The low-paid workers—most of them women—have struck for 17 days since January. Initially the dispute was about a new rota system and 40 percent job cuts.
But since then, council bosses have managed to slash jobs by 48 percent—and are trying to axe more.
They want the equivalent of 55 jobs to go, and all other care workers to be forced onto part-time contracts.
This means more work will be tendered out to the private sector, and posts filled by those with less training and experience than the council home carers.
The cuts to hours will devastate the workers, pushing many of them into poverty.
And the irregular shift patterns will mean they won’t be able to hold second jobs—which many have taken in order to survive.
Sharon Lawrence is a single mother and has worked for BCC for 15 years.
She said the threat to her job makes her worry about her financial stability—and that it’s already having an impact on her and her daughter.
“I don’t know if she’s going to have any Christmas presents to open this year—I really don’t know,” she said.
“During the six-weeks’ holiday we’re normally going away and doing little camping trips and days out. But I haven’t been able to do any of that because I don’t know what the future holds.”
Prentis needs to turn his words into action. He must put Unison’s considerable finances and political clout into supporting the strikers.
Coordinated action in BCC and beyond could raise the profile of the dispute and shame bosses into backing off.
The care workers cannot be left to fight this important battle alone. Every trade unionist should think about what they are doing to ensure their success.
Make cheques payable to Birmingham Unison and make clear it’s for the hardship fund
Contact Birmingham Unison to arrange a home carer to speak at your union meeting