The New Labour council in Tower Hamlets is so scared of debate that standing up to its proposals can lose you your job.
That is the view of east London tenants, trade unionists and friends of Eileen Short after she was fired on Friday of last week.
As news of the sacking spread, some 300 people rallied outside Tower Hamlets’ town hall to protest over the council’s decision not to redeploy her.
After 14 years in the council’s communications department Eileen had been informed that she was no longer qualified for her job. There was never a suggestion that her work was deficient.
Eileen is a leading member of Defend Council Housing nationally, and has been a vocal campaigner during the recent ballots in Tower Hamlets over the handing over of council housing stock to housing associations. Five of the seven ballots were lost by the council.
Leading off the speeches at the rally, Tower Hamlets Unison branch secretary Jean Geldart said, “This is one of the the most awful days in the history of this council.”
Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ journalists’ union, added, “This is the third time I have had the opportunity to speak outside this council but this is not the last time.
“There can be no peace for members and managers of this council until there is justice for Eileen Short.
“We are also making an FOI (freedom of information) request asking for all the documentation about Eileen’s case and the appointment of consultants to carry out the jobs that should be rightly carried out by Eileen and her colleagues.
“We will continue to fight for justice.”
Workers from the communications section have twice struck for half a day in defence of Eileen. Helen Watson, one of these workers, told the rally, “This is a sad day but we are bloody angry as well.
“We have tried to approach the council to discuss this, we have asked for formal talks, but we have had no replies.”
Respect councillor Oliur Rahman was the only councillor to speak at the rally. He said, “This is a sad, sad day in Tower Hamlets.
“I was told late last night by a very senior Labour councillor that Eileen was getting sacked because top people in the council did not like her policies.”
Glyn Robbins, chair of Tower Hamlets Respect, said, “What is actually happening here today is everything that we in Respect stand against.
“We want to put a stop to victimisation, we want to promote public services and democratise them.
“It is appalling that in the shadow of the birthplace of the trade union movement a Labour council is taking this action.
“I promise you that if enough people vote for Respect in May we will stop the privatisation of council homes, we will get rid of all the consultants, all the freeloaders. We will reinstate Eileen.
“I have a message for the consultant that will be sitting in Eileen’s seat, a message for the chief executive — don’t get comfortable because you may not be there for long.”
John McLoughlin, branch chair of Tower Hamlets Unison local government branch, summed up the feeling of the rally when he said, “Eileen Short is the sort of person a local authority should be proud to employ.
“Eileen has acted with grace and dignity so that even today, in the face of intimidation, in the face of discrimination, Eileen Short is a beacon in the community.”
Members of the communications department were due to meet this week to discuss what action to take now.
A mass meeting in September of last year decided that the entire branch would ballot for strike action if Eileen lost her job.
Unison nationally, and the other trade unions involved in the fight to defend council housing, also have to step up their response to what seem like systematic attempts to pick off key trade union opponents of stock transfer.
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