Striking homecare workers in Birmingham are taking their fight against the Labour-run council to the city’s residents.
The Unison union members are fighting council bosses’ £2 million cuts package that would slash their hours and pay and prise open their service to privatisation.
They knocked on hundreds of doors in deputy council leader Brigid Jones’s ward in Selly Oak during their walkout last Sunday.
Unison member Helen told Socialist Worker they had “found a lot of support” with people signing their letters of protest. “Everyone loves our service,” she said. “A lot of the care in Birmingham is private and it’s not the same.”
The 280-strong home care enablement team is a free, council-run service that helps people live independently in the first six weeks after they leave hospital.
Around 100 home carers and their supporters, including Labour members and uniformed FBU firefighters’ union members, were out last Sunday. The workers received so much support from shoppers at the local Co-op they ran out of leaflets and letters within minutes.
The home care workers are determined to keep up the fight after over 45 days of strikes in their 18-month long dispute. Helen said, “I’ve worked in the service for 30 years and this is the most drastic action that we’ve taken over cuts.”
She added, “Eighteen months is a long time and we want it to stop, but we are very, very determined.”
Before Christmas the Unison members voted overwhelmingly for more strikes. They voted to strike by 97 percent on a turnout of 73 percent—a better result than in both of their previous ballots.
Sam, another Unison member, told Socialist Worker she felt they had no choice but to keep up their fight. “It would be devastating if the cuts went through,” she said. “It would leave me penniless and I’d have to get a private job.
“We are determined because these are our livelihoods.”
The workers were set to walk out on Wednesday and Saturday of this week, and on 25 and 26 of January.
Every trade unionist should build for their fight support and trade unionists in the West Midlands should join them on campaigning days. And national Unison leaders should give the striking women their full backing.
If the council pushes through this attack, it will use it as a precedent to go after other groups of workers. There is potential for a fight alongside other workers.
Around 300 bin workers in the Unite union are on a work to rule and 30 bin workers in the Unison union have now voted to join the action.
The two workforces striking together against the council would be a powerful form of resistance.
Complaints from Labour won’t stop campaigning
Home care workers are furious at hypocritical allegations of sexism made by the Birmingham City Council.
Councillors complained that female councillors were being targeted by campaigners.
But it is the council that is attacking an overwhelmingly low-paid, women workforce.
The Unison West Midlands region said, “We had feedback that some in the Birmingham Labour Group think it is wrong to hold women councillors to account, or that it is some type of gender?based campaigning.”
Home care worker Helen told Socialist Worker that such claims were “just ridiculous”.
“We’re campaigning in their wards because of what they’re doing,” she said.
Unison sent a letter to the council signed by four of the region’s senior lay officials, all of them women.
They are regional convenor Jenny Forbes-Reid and assistant regional convenors Dawn Downs, Amelia Rout and Sue Brealey.
It said, “We resent the implication from some in the cabinet that any male Unison official could force our low-paid women members to do something they wouldn’t want to do.
“When women politicians take the decision to cut the pay of low-paid women they should not be surprised when these low-paid women want to hold them to account.”
It is another sign of how desperate the Labour council is to discredit the home care workers and ram through its terrible attacks.