REFUSE WORKERS and street cleansing workers in Hackney, east London, were due to start a four-day strike this week-and their escalation of the fight has management worried.
Workers announced strikes on Thursday and Friday this week and Monday and Tuesday next week. The original timetable was changed so that Unison union members could get involved alongside their TGWU union colleagues.
The employers, the Labour council, have previously acted with total arrogance and contempt for the workforce. They imposed new contracts which meant wage cuts of up to £3,000 a year and then bluntly refused time and motion studies or referring the dispute to ACAS.
But the council’s tune changed a bit once unions announced the four-day strike. Suddenly there have been talks and various new ideas floated to improve on the original contract.
But quite rightly the unions are not ready to pull back from the strike unless there is a proper deal.
The wage cuts are the result of the way the council is implementing the national ‘single status’ agreement. This is supposed to equalise the conditions of all council workers.
The council bosses have used this excuse to slash wages, worsen the service, remove washing-up time and change working times. This means all workers will be expected to work harder for less money.
AS SOCIALIST Worker went to press Unison members in Newham council, east London, were expecting regional union officials to put in official notice of a strike ballot.
The New Labour council is mounting a major attack on the union branch. It wants to evict the union from its office in council buildings, and cut the number of full time branch officers.
A shop stewards’ and activists’ meeting on Monday saw a strong mood to win the ballot, and meet any move to evict the union from its office with a mass picket. Newham Unison branch secretary Michael Gavan told Socialist Worker, ‘The sooner strikes start the better. That’s how we will force the council to shift-action not words.’
COUNCIL TENANTS and trade unionists in Camden are determined to build on their success in defeating a plan to privatise council homes in the London borough.
Last week they were jubilant when a ballot showed that 77 percent of tenants had rejected the council’s plan to set up an Arm’s Length Management Organisation (ALMO), the first step of a two-stage privatisation process.
Now they are campaigning for the government to give the £283 million it had pledged to the ALMO direct to the council to invest in council housing.
Last week, after the ballot result, tenants and trade unionists from the main council workers’ union, Unison, united to lobby and address the Labour council’s ruling executive.
The Defend Council Housing campaign, which spearheaded the fight, has now called a major public meeting, to be held in the town hall on 10 February, for the £283 million to be released.
Local MP and former cabinet minister Frank Dobson will speak at the meeting and is backing that demand.
Camden’s Labour council leader Jane Roberts, who pushed the ALMO, is also speaking at the meeting and backing the demand for the government to release the money to the council.
Roberts and Dobson will speak alongside trade unionists and Alan Walter, a Camden tenant and national committee member of Defend Council Housing.
The organisers are also appealing to tenants and trade unionists from other London boroughs to join the rally too.
Lesley Carty, a tenants’ association rep in Camden, said at last week’s lobby of the council, ‘This victory shows what we can do if Unison and tenants work together.’
Anton Moctoninan, Camden Unison assistant branch secretary, said, ‘This victory emphasises the importance of building unity between tenants and trade unionists. We’ve shown we can defeat government policy on privatisation.’
AROUND 2,000 people rallied and marched in London last Saturday against soaring rises in the council tax.
There are plenty of reasons to protest. The average council tax bill rose by 13 percent last year. Council tax is very unfair and hits poor people much harder than the rich.
In addition rises in the amount which business pays in local taxation is pegged to the rate of inflation. So last year the rise was less than 2 percent-a seventh of what the rest of us paid!
Christine Johnson from Hastings said, ‘I was on the 15 February demonstration against the war and I’m here again today. I want Blair out.’
The protesters were furious with New Labour-but not all were left wing. There was a block of Tory types and UK Independence Party supporters. Worse, BNP leafleters skulked among the crowd.
Yet the vast majority of the crowd loudly applauded a speaker who condemned the government for pouring money into the war on Iraq while squeezing the poor at home.
The demonstration gave a glimpse of a wider mood in Britain-bitter anger at Labour and the desperate need for a real left alternative.
THE long-running battle by council workers to win a higher London weighting allowance took a new turn last week, when employers pulled out of official negotiating structures in the capital.
The unions wanted to refer the dispute to binding arbitration, as provided for in the structures. The London council employers refused and triggered the collapse of the talks.
The key union at the heart of the fight, Unison, is now going to a national negotiating meeting set for 29 January, and trying to trigger a move to binding arbitration.
There are huge dangers with this strategy. Binding arbitration commits the unions to accepting the result in advance, even if the result is a rotten deal. Unison already has a mandate from members to call more strikes, but has shied away from doing so.
It is also pledged to lobby parliament and call a rally of members in support of the demand for higher London weighting. Yet there is no sign of this.
At the very least a move to talks and arbitration should be accompanied by stepping up the pressure on the employers in this way.
Rahul Patel, branch secretary of Westminster council Unison, told Socialist Worker, ‘The employers have thrown down a gauntlet by collapsing negotiations. The union has to respond, and it is not enough to hope for something from national talks without mobilising our members.’
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