Workers in east London have fired the opening shot in the latest round of council strikes in Tower Hamlets.
The 1,500 Unison union members are striking for three days against attacks that undermine their jobs and the services they provide.
Hundreds of workers staged raucous picket lines across the borough—and are promising to keep on fighting.
They are battling “Tower Rewards”—a new contract imposed on 6 July that smashes up workers’ conditions. It attacks severance pay, travel allowances, pay scales and flexitime agreements.
Disgracefully it’s been viciously pushed through by a Labour council led by mayor John Biggs
And now many more people in Tower Hamlets will know about the strike because a Unison-sponsored ad van is driving round the borough during strike days.
Emblazoned with the legend “Mayor Biggs—Shame on you” it was greeted with cheers from strikers and toots from vehicles as it toured the picket lines.
Unison rep Amina told Socialist Worker, “We’re going strong, we’re not giving up. We want Biggs to come back to the table and have discussions.
“I think everyone is just as frustrated as before and we’re here to picket because that’s what our members wanted.”
Talks previously meant that bosses rowed back on some of their attacks, but management have refused to sit down and end the dispute.
Bob, who works on the lettings team, told Socialist Worker that although he had been at the council for over 20 years, and struck several times, Tower Rewards “saddens me the most”.
“It’s the service users who will suffer, it always is,” he said. “There are people out there relying on me to do this work, and I feel very sad to be out here and forced to stick our heads above the parapet.”
Bob said that he wanted to see Unison “try to organise other unions more aggressively.”
“It annoys me—it always falls to Unison to shout the loudest,” he said.
The NEU was planning to strike with Unison in March before action was called off due to the pandemic.
But the education union didn’t join in with the nine days of strikes in June, July and August.
Housing officer Morag said it’s “absolutely not” the last round of strikes because members were ready to keep fighting.
“It’s really uplifting and people know how important this strike is, not just in Tower Hamlets but in every council across the country,” she said.
One of the key features of Tower Rewards is how it dramatically slashes workers’ redundancy pay. And with all councils under unprecedented strain because of Covid-19 costs, workers fear mass job cuts are coming.
“It’s not just about now, about our contracts and pay, but it’s about the serious impact this is going to have on the local community,” said Morag.
Workers have organised impressive action in difficult circumstances, and with two days of strikes left, they’re looking of ways to escalate the dispute.
On Friday they plan to leaflet the ward of Councillor Kevin Brady, the Chief Whip of the Tower Hamlets Labour group.
And on Monday strikers will march from picket lines to the site of a new council headquarters to demand that bosses call off the attacks.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis wrote directly to Biggs to call off Tower Rewards. But this comes some 19 months after the new contracts were first suggested.
And Unison members voted for five days of strikes after the last round of action—but Unison London region insisted that they would only approve workers walking out for three days.
“I think they’ve put barriers up to the strike, said Morag.
The workers’ strike ballot runs out on 20 August, and they will then consider a re-ballot for further strikes.
But Morag said strikers will keep their heads held high.
“We’re proud of ourselves and the rank and file movement, and proud that we actually fought,” she says.