COUNCIL WORKERS rallied outside Newham Town Hall in east London on Monday lunchtime against a major threat to their trade union branch. At the heart of the fight is the right of trade unions to represent their members, and for members to democratically decide what the union branch does. Up to 100 members of the Unison union joined Monday's rally. They were supported by trade unionists from the local further education college and Unison branches in other London councils.
The New Labour council told elected full time branch officers they must stop their union jobs and report to their previous council jobs by 9.30am on Monday. The council said it planned to evict the union branch from its offices at 12 noon on Monday.
'Come 12 and nothing happened. So that's a bit of a victory,' said Newham Unison branch chair Michael Gavan. 'But the fight to defend our union branch is still on. Ballot papers for official industrial action, including strike action, will go out on Monday of next week.'
The council is refusing to allow elected branch officers into meetings they should be entitled to attend. Union officers are defying the council ultimatum and continuing the jobs they were elected to.
Before Christmas the council made the same threats. Then workers voted by 93 percent in a consultative ballot to hold a vote on strikes. That saw the council back off. Now the council has renewed the attack. The pretext was a union branch newsletter which informed members of developments in key areas between the council and the union. The council is claiming the right to censor the newsletter.
'The council's agenda has always been about firstly silencing us and if that fails smashing us,' says Michael Gavan. 'The council wants a free hand to pursue its agenda of privatisation, and attacking terms and conditions.'
Newham Unison members are playing an active role in strikes for a higher London weighting for all London council workers. Newham's New Labour mayor, Sir Robin Wales, is chair of the employers' body for London weighting. Unison members are right to make a stand, and they deserve the full support of every trade unionist.
CHILDCARE SOCIAL workers in Liverpool were due to hold a mass meeting on Thursday of this week to determine further action in their dispute over staff shortages and workload. The workers, members of the Unison union in Liberal Democrat run Liverpool City Council, have already staged a three-day strike which ended on Tuesday of last week.
Strikers' morale was boosted when during that strike around 50 revenue and benefits staff at the council's flagship call centre refused to cross picket lines. But staff have also been angered by the council docking pay and cutting annual leave from admin staff who didn't cross picket lines. More strikes are needed to force the council to retreat.