Socialist Worker

'It's about survival'

by MATTHEW COOKSON reports from Manchester
Issue No. 1810

IT WAS a festival of revolt against low pay. The strike was held in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games. There was enormous bitterness that the council 'are spending more on the Commonwealth Games than they are on people', as Bernard, a TGWU union member, said.

Hundreds of people rushed to join the unions in the run-up to the strike. There were picket lines outside every council workplace. The strike bit deep into services. Over 300 schools shut and 98 percent of the 1,900 workers in Salford social services struck.

The Hammerstone depot in north Manchester is normally a hive of activity between 7am and 10am. There was no movement in the yard on Wednesday. Amicus union members who work at the depot and were not officially on strike refused to cross picket lines. 'We're not prepared just to sit back,' said Patrick Heathcote, a road sweeper and GMB union steward at the depot.

'Everybody's prepared to make a stand to show how serious we are about low wages. This has been building up for a long time. People need equality, including equal pay. People have to put in overtime just to get by. Management say we do it by choice but it's a matter of survival. We shouldn't have to work six days a week.'

'Some of our workers aren't even on £5 an hour,' said Tommy, a young GMB steward at Bessamere Street depot. 'I work cleaning hostels, cleaning up blood and stuff. Other people fumigate cockroach infested houses. And they still can't give us decent pay. It comes to something when you're striking against a Labour government-it's supposed to be for us. I won't vote Labour again unless they get rid of Tony Blair.'

'I've got a family with one kid and another on the way,' said Paul Allcock, a Unison member. 'By making a stand we're setting the ball rolling.'

There was a 100 percent strike at the Kay Street depot in north Manchester. Thirty out of around 115 workers picketed. 'Today has been amazing,' Jane Cooper, a Unison member, said. 'Everybody in my workplace-the Women's Direct Access office-who's in a union came out. I've worked for the council for 11 years and never been on strike before. I'm really impressed by it. It's good seeing everyone picketing. People have got more confidence. We're more together.'

'We're a group of part time, low paid women workers,' said Deborah Darby, a home carer in Rochdale. 'We earn just over £5 an hour. It means some people have to look to get another job as well. Today has been a brilliant day. I've really enjoyed it.'

Over 250 strikers rounded off the day by marching round Manchester Town Hall singing 'Low pay, no way' and 'I'd rather be a picket than a scab' to the few people inside.

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