Socialist Worker

Tower Hamlets workers strike as Labour council forces through attack on contracts

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2712

Tower Hamlets council workers on strike last Friday

Tower Hamlets council workers on strike last Friday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Tower Hamlets council workers vowed to keep up the fight as the Labour-run council sacked and rehired them on worse contracts on Monday.

Hundreds of Unison union members in the east London borough walked out on the day the contracts were imposed. It marked the beginning of two days of strikes against the “Tower Rewards” scheme and followed a solid walkout last Friday.

Amina, a Unison rep at Albert Jacob House, said the turnout was “very high on our second day”.

“Today were officially sacked,” she told Socialist Worker. “So we’re standing out here together in solidarity. We still do not accept what they want to do.”

Amina said that the Tower Rewards scheme would further “systematic racism” because “so many of us affected are low paid, women and BAME”.

She added that Labour mayor John Biggs and other council officials were hypocritical for “taking the knee” at recent Black Lives Matter protests. “You’ve got people like John Biggs taking the knee and then taking money out of our pockets,” she said.

Tania, a social worker, had only joined the union on the day of the first walkout last Friday. “I just felt so bad about what was going on,” she told Socialist Worker. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to join.”

Council bosses have used the police to try to break solidarity by other groups of workers who have refused to cross council workers’ picket lines.

Bin workers in the Unite union, not officially on strike, have refused to cross a Unison picket line outside the council’s refuse depot on Silvocea Way.

One worker said they held out for three hours until “heavier-handed policing” moved people on.

Bullying

The bullying tactics didn’t stop workers from mounting a larger picket line of around 15 people on Monday morning.

Bosses called the police who arrested—and then released—three people for obstructing the highway. Another worker said it was “clear there is lots of support from bin workers”.

Workers have said they will return to picket Silvocea Way.

The “Tower Rewards” scheme would slash severance pay by at least 80 percent, gut the flexitime scheme, cut travel allowances and reduce night work supplements. It would also cut ­workers’ increments as they move up the pay scale.

Tower Hamlets council suspended the scheme at the beginning of the pandemic, but now is pressing ahead.

Workers are furious that a Labour council is pushing through Tory policies. Momtaz, another Unison member, said it was “disgraceful” that the council can do it—“especially as it’s a Labour council”.

“We’ve worked really hard, with a lot of good will, through the pandemic,” she told Socialist Worker.

“This is the thanks that we get.”

Workers’ action has forced splits in the Labour administration, with ten councillors signing an open letter against Tower Rewards last week.

Every trade unionist should support them—and organise strikes in their own workplaces against bosses’ attempts to make workers pay for coronavirus.

For solidarity details and picket line locations go to https://towerhamlets.unison.site/2020/06/30/support-our-strike-how-you-can-show-solidarity-with-us/

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