Socialist Worker

Step up solidarity as Tower Hamlets strikers prepare for more action

by Sarah Bates
Issue No. 2712

Striking in a time of pandemic. Determined resistance on the picket line

Striking in a time of pandemic. Determined resistance on the picket line (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Defiant council workers are determined to continue their fight against a bullying management that is forcing through a raft of attacks.

Unison union members in Tower Hamlets, east London concluded their third day of walkouts on Tuesday this week.

They are fighting the “Tower Rewards” programme that attacks pay increments, unsocial hours pay and slashes severance pay alongside a host of other cuts.

Hundreds of workers across the borough have staged socially-distanced pickets and are receiving unprecedented levels of support from passers-by.

“This is the third day but it’s getting stronger, it’s getting more vocal we’re getting more support from the public,” housing officer Morag Gillie told Socialist Worker.

“We’re getting people coming up to us to show their support, cars are honking horns and lorry drivers are supporting us too,” she said.

Further action to beat back these attacks can’t come soon enough. Workers were sacked by the council on Monday this week and re-employed on worse contracts.

The union has given notice to the council of a further three strike days next week, although Unison has yet to announce the dates officially.

Labour

It’s particularly galling that workers are having to fend off this onslaught from a Labour council.

Although ten Labour councillors have broken ranks with mayor John Biggs to oppose Tower Rewards, the attacks are still going ahead.

Workers say one of the main problems with the proposals is that they target low-paid workers, while shoring up benefits for those on higher pay scales.

Social worker and Unison rep Rory McCallum told Socialist Worker that, “People are just very angry.

“It’s claimed to be money saving—but people aren’t really buying that. Councils should act responsibly, but Tower Rewards show that high earners will be getting more.”

Strikers at the car pound on Tuesday

Strikers at the car pound on Tuesday (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The council have so far refused to commission an independent equality assessment that would judge how the proposals will affect black workers, women workers, and those on low wages.

Biggs’ administration claims it is pouring money into “hard-to-fill” job roles like social workers. But even if this turns out to be the case, wage increases shouldn’t come at the cost of slashing other workers’ pay.

And such a ruthless attack from a major local employer will deepen poverty across the borough as a whole.

Tower Hamlets already has the worst child poverty rate in London, with 57 percent of children judged to be living in a household in poverty.

Solidarity

For Morag, a key element to the dispute is how strikers can fight for, and win, solidarity from the widest layers of workers as possible.

“Strikers need to be invited to trade union and trades council meetings, and other workers need to go to picket lines and offer solidarity.

“This is a serious dispute, it’s a long time since an entire council has been balloted—the mood is there for a fight, people are pissed off and determined,” she said.

It’s right to strike over these attacks—and other unions should join the action.

Originally the NEU, GMB and Unite unions also balloted to fight Tower Rewards. But a combination of Tory anti-trade union laws, complacent union bureaucracy and the coronavirus crisis has prevented their members from taking action during this round of strikes.

Workers in these unions should be looking for ways to join in the strike.

And trade unionists in the wider labour movement should point to the inspiring example of workers fighting back in a period dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.

For solidarity details go here. Donations to account name Tower Hamlets Unison, sort code 60-83-01, account number 41020890.

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