Over 100 striking home care workers and supporters rallied in Birmingham’s city centre on Saturday—their 21st day of industrial action.
The Unison union members are striking to stop cuts and redundancies that would destroy the home enablement service. They are due to strike for another five days from 24 September.
Strikers marched through city centre singing “We are home care workers, we’re on strike”, generating support from passers-by
The 270-strong workforce support service users in their home following discharge from hospital. But Birmingham City Council (BCC)—run by Labour—wants to force all workers on to part-time hours, and slash 55 full time jobs.
The council cuts have meant more care packages are being tendered to private agencies. But strikers say such companies deliver worse care for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Sue Deakin, a home care for 22 years, told Socialist Worker, “Some agency staff only visit a home for six minutes—we’re in there for 30, 45 minutes.”
“We’re not striking for the money, it’s the hours, I’m on 35 hours—can you imagine going down to 21 or 14?”
Bosses plans would represent a devastating pay cut for the already low-paid workforce.
Care worker Faith said she doesn’t know how she’ll cope only working half the hours, “I’ve got a family, I’ve got a mortgage—I can’t survive,” she said.
But she added the workers have “stood strong” during the strike, and she has been part of leafletting council buildings and hospitals.
The home enablement team have never struck before—and many strikers thought bosses didn’t see their resistance coming.
They have escalated the action for nine months—from a one hour walkout in January to a series of 5-day strikes.
And in the context of austerity and council cuts, Faith said their dispute was “setting a precedent for everyone else—other councils will get a fight now.”
Mandy Buckley senior Unison steward told the rally, “We need this money to live on, it’s not pocket money. We want realistic hours, we want realistic shifts we can work, and we want to keep the service for the citizens of Birmingham.”
And she said they were fighting for “jobs for the future”. Many think the council is looking to run down the service and contract it out fully to the private sector.
“They say we can have voluntary redundancy. But we want jobs for young people, if it’s gone—it’s gone”, she told the crowd to loud applause.
Mamoona, who has worked in the service for almost 18 years, told Socialist Worker it was “very important to keep fighting for our rights”.
But she said cuts to the service are a result of austerity caused by a bankers’ crisis.
“The banks looted the country, and they’re making us pay for it,” she said.
“Cuts should be at the top, not the bottom. In the House of Lords—what do they do? They get £35 for breakfast. They are just picking on us, its injustice.
BCC insists that it needs to make cuts of £2 million to the service. Yet the council paid six times that for a “consultancy” firm to advise it on how to make cuts.
“Stop telling us they don’t have money, they have money” said Mamoona.
The inspiring home carers in Birmingham have shown the bosses they have stacks of determination, but it may not be enough.
Unison needs to throw its full and genuine support by the home care workers. For rallies, the union should organise coaches and fill them with trade unionists to join the strikers for a show of strength.
And on strike days, the union should call a day of action for other members in Birmingham to support them.
By standing up to the penny-pinching slashers and axers in BCC, the carers are fighting for all of us. They can win, but they need support from every section of the trade union movement.
Like ‘Support the Birmingham Home Care workers’ on Facebook
Contact Birmingham Unison to arrange a home carer to speak at your union meeting.
Make cheques payable to “Birmingham Unison”. Make clear it’s for the hardship fund. Send to Mclaren building, 35 Dale End, Birmingham, B4 7LN