There was a decent early turnout of support for the Unison strike at Silverbirch House in Walthamstow, east London. Speaking to them it soon became clear why they had come out to protest at 7am.
“I do an important job for little money,” said Doris Anane. “I’m here to get my money back – we deserve to get it. My job is the same or even harder, yet they are taking our money. So I’m fighting for myself and my colleagues – for their future. I am here to fight for everyone.”
The lowest paid council workers in Waltham Forest get just £7.40 an hour. This is in contrast with the £106 an hour that the council’s chief executive earns.
With inflation rising and a pay rise of only 2.45 percent, many workers will struggle to maintain an acceptable standard of living. As one striker said, “I’m in debt because of the low pay.”
There was anger at workers who broke the strike. “People crossing the picket lines are trying to curry favour with the bosses and secure their jobs,” said one picket. “If people don’t strike, we won’t win.”
Another pointed out that Unison has a hardship fund for people who experience severe financial difficulties through striking.
For senior managers it was a different story. Many of them did not cross the picket line – but only because they had elected to work at home that day instead.
The irony is that many of these managers may lose their jobs next year due to the government’s “efficiency review”. Perhaps they will then need the union to campaign on their behalf.
The mood was strong elsewhere in Waltham Forest too. Joe Cardwell works on the youth offending team there. She reported, “We’ve had 14 pickets out since 6.45am. The building is practically empty with 90 percent of staff out.
“A couple of people from the drugs project next door refused to go in even though they’re not on strike because they’re employed by the voluntary sector. We’ve had a barbecue going doing breakfast and bunting with all our strike posters.
“We’ve held two strike meetings so far. The first focused on a letter from management saying we’d lose two days pay. The discussion was on how we respond and what a pay cut would mean if we accepted the offer. People signed up for picket duty then.”
“Four people have joined the union as a result of our strike action. One young woman started work last week and is on the picket line today.”
There was a fantastic turnout for the strike at Rowan House community safety unit in Waltham Forest, reports Carole Vincent. Around 15 to 20 people picketed the office. Cleaners came out of the building and said they would like to join the union.
Carole adds that around ten Unison members picketed Davies Lane primary school in nearby Leytonstone. Margaret Skeete, the midday supervisor, told her that all 16 of the midday staff were out.
Nasrin Soogun, the school cook, said that all the kitchen staff were out. Teachers were very supportive and agreed not to cover any work for the strikers or ask anyone else to.
The local government workers’ strike was well supported in Camden, north London. David Eggmore, branch secretary of Camden Unison, said he was “very pleased with the turnout across the borough”.
“We hope the employers will now see sense and return to the negotiating table,” he added. “But we’ll be out again tomorrow and in the future until they do.”
Jeremy Hill is a Unison member who works in legal services at Camden town hall. “We’ve had very good support from the public,” he said. “The Unite union struck alongside us today and we’re looking for greater unity with other unions in the future.”
Rob Jackson joined striking Unison members at Bidborough House. He reported that there was a lively picket lone and that strikers were buoyed when they turned back a worker from the Crown Record Services.
In Islington, north London, the strike closed down six schools and four children’s centres. “Our members just can’t live on what they’re currently earning,” said Rosemarie Plummer, the Unison convenor in education.
“Some of them are asking to have their hours cut so they can claim working tax credits. If MPs can increase their pay, they can afford to give us a 6 percent rise. Our members have to go to second hand stores to get their goods these days.”
Paul Burnham from Haringey, north London, reports, “I work for a small housing association whose pay follows the local government rates.
“I sent round an email and we did a collection at work. I took the resulting cheque for £45 to the Enfield civic centre picket line – it was very well received.”
Pickets were out early at Westminster council’s social services office in Lisson Grove, reports Chris Bambery. “We’ve had two well attended mass meetings and the feeling for the strike was good,” said Stephen Higgins, assistant secretary of Westminster Unison.
Low pay was a problem for all the workers, he added. “At the end of the month I don’t have any buffer left. We’ve accepted below inflation pay rises for years and worked our asses off to help the councils make savings.
“This morning I heard the Local Government Association saying jobs would have to go if they paid out more. But they’ve got billion of pounds in the bank as a result of us working harder.”
In Kensington, west London, Andy Lawson visited an eight-strong picket line outside the town hall. “We’ve had a very positive response to the need to show solidarity and strength,” said Sue, the branch secretary of Kensington & Chelsea Unison. “We’ve signed up lots of new members and are expecting success.”
In Hackney the biggest and most enthusiastic picket lines were at the secondary schools, reports Gareth Jenkins. Stoke Newington school had at least 25 pickets.
Dionne Thompson, the Unison steward there, said they had received good support from the NUT. There was also a good turn out at London Fields primary school.
In south east London, Ian Crosson and Leo Zeilig spoke to pickets gathered outside the Wearside depot, the biggest manual workers’ depot in Lewisham. It contains all the refuse lorries, street cleaners, school buses and other workers.
Around two thirds of the workers were on strike, they report. The picket line included around 15 Unison pickets and five from Unite. Local managers were taking photos of strikers who were trying to stop others from working.
The GMB steward and one of his members ignored management pleas and refused to cross the picket line. At least one agency worker also refused to cross. He had previously spent 25 years as a postal worker and said, “I’ve never crossed a picket line and I’m not going to do it now.”
There has been a long running problem with the number of agency workers at the depot. About 25 percent of the workforce are agency workers with some working two or three years before they are made permanent. The agency has a permanent office inside the depot.
There was a lot of anger directed against the agency as there were far more agency workers working today than usual. These kind of strike breaking tactics are now illegal and one of the union officials is going to formally complain to try and get it stopped.
There was also anger directed at Sir Steve Bullock the New Labour mayor for Lewisham who told workers that the “the strike won’t win” and that “Unison is betraying its members”.
Bullock is one of the key people representing the Local Government Association. He has been knighted for his services to New Labour.
There were 30 Unison pickets at Alperton School, Wembley, on both days of the strike.
Unison rep Annette Meaney reported, “In the last two weeks we’ve recruited 17 new members. We haven’t had a rep for a long time, so I took over the job. We just started talking to each other and I said ‘if we stand together we’ve got a better chance’. We had 30 on the picket line yesterday and 15 came on the march in central London.”
Another picket, Rochelle Haussman, added, “the NUT have been very supportive. They’ve raised nearly £1000 for the hardship fund, and the GMB have refused to cross picket lines.”
Every working class person will feel the pressure
Two inspiring strikes show the way forward