'WE'RE FIGHTING to save our jobs, save our pensions and to not be privatised.' That is how Nicky, a striker and Unison union member at Tory-controlled Westminster council, central London, summed up the battle to stop the wholesale privatisation of services. Nicky, along with 76 other members of the parking department at the council, has been out on strike for three weeks.
They have been joined, in a rolling escalation of strikes, by other sections of the council. Twenty five workers in the planning department joined the strike last week and are still out. Seven workers in the commercial waste department struck for five days last week. And this week 80 workers in the environmental health department joined the action.
Some 50 of the striking workers picketed on Tuesday morning. These workers say they are going to mount 24-hour pickets. Workers in the planning department who are not on strike are working to rule.
But this week they decided to join their colleagues on strike. Nicky, a call centre worker, says, 'Under privatisation most staff here will be transferred to the private consortium, Vertex SW1. 'Privatisation equals cost cutting. Nothing is guaranteed for staff or for the public.' The strike has already had an impact.
Management have put back the transfer of services to the private consortium until November. Now workers are determined to keep escalating the action. Unison shop steward Robert Wong told Socialist Worker, 'I've worked in Parktel for five years. The privatisation of our department is like a green light for all the staff to be transferred to the private sector. We are all worried about being employed by a private contractor which is listed on the stock market. The main concern for these stock market companies is making a profit at the expense of everything else, especially staff. Once they transfer us anything can happen-new contracts, restructuring. We could wave goodbye to our pensions and our rights. I'm so angry about what is happening, and proud that we have decided to fight. We want every worker who can to support our fight, because we are not just fighting for ourselves.'
Westminster strikers have been picketing and leafleting to win support, and on Monday of this week they were joined by Unison members from other councils. John McLoughlin from Tower Hamlets Unison brought money raised around his workplace.
He told strikers, 'Last week I was proud to hand over a £500 donation from our branch. This week I'm even prouder to give £475 which was collected in just one hour from workers at the council on Friday afternoon. We had put a leaflet around the day before letting them know about the strike. Anyone standing up to privatisation can get this kind of support in any workplace,' he added. The Westminster strikers are planning to organise delegations this week to local workplaces to raise solidarity.
They are urging trade unionists to get behind their fight through doing workplace collections and inviting strikers to speak. They are also asking other union branches to adopt one of the departments which are striking or set to strike under the programme of rolling action.
For details of how to raise solidarity, and to send donations, contact Westminster Unison, First Floor South, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QP. Phone 020 7641 2389 or 07956 579 466. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org