THE Lengthy all-out strike by more than 100 social workers in Liverpool’s adoption, fostering and at-risk children’s units came to an end this week as strikers reluctantly accepted a return to work. The return to work deal, which sells the strikers disgracefully short, was negotiated last month by regional officials of the Unison public sector workers’ union. Unison’s industrial action committee then voted to recommend the deal and withdraw support for the strike.
This decision came despite the protests of strikers, who were not happy with the terms agreed between Unison negotiators and the Liberal Democrat controlled council. Unison United Left members on the industrial action committee opposed forcing an end to the dispute, but they were outvoted.
The social workers’ strike had remained solid for 20 weeks. In November a meeting of Unison members across the council voted to ballot for action in support of the strikers.
The council refused to use the term “qualified social workers” in a document detailing workloads. Strikers feared the lack of the word “qualified” would open the door to the deskilling the workforce. The deal negotiated by Unison officials talks only of “registered” social workers. Strikers had previously rejected such a compromise.
The Liverpool strike started on 24 August when social workers walked out over staff shortages, heavy workloads and council plans to “modernise” social services by diverting resources into “one stop” call centres.
The dispute was marked by management attempts to bully strikers and victimise union activists. At least one council worker who was not on strike is facing disciplinary action for refusing to cross picket lines.
There is concern among strikers that the return to work agreement does not give them sufficient protection from an expected further round of management victimisation.