Around 150 council workers and their supporters gathered on the steps of Hackney town hall in east London on Thursday for a rally to kick off a round of strikes.
Unite union members in education, building services and refuse are striking from Monday over the local implementation of the paltry 1.75 percent pay rise decreed nationally by the Local Government Association (LGA). The workers want Hackney council bosses to agree at least a 10 percent raise.
Claire, who is soon to be on strike, told Socialist Worker, “The pay deal we’ve been offered isn’t good enough when all workers feel the squeeze. Energy prices are going up by 54 percent, and they’ll go up again in October. National insurance is also rising. People can’t afford food now and are forced to look for second jobs.”
Speakers from the Hackney branch of the NEU union, Hackney trades council and the Homerton hospital branch of the Unison union gave messages of solidarity. At the rally workers held up signs that read, “We are in this together” and “We demand 10 percent now.”
John, a council electrician and the strike convenor told Socialist Worker, “What we have been offered nationally is a pay cut, a pay cut of 6.25 percent. We know the council has the budget to pay workers properly, but they choose not to. We worked hard throughout the pandemic.
“Year on year, we are offered a one percent pay rise. It is never good enough, but now with inflation running so high, it’s time that the council helps us out.”
John added that times have been tough for council workers, especially after a cyberattack on the council meant that all its IT systems went down.
“We made sure after the attack that everything still ran smoothly. We worked hard and have been rewarded with nothing,” he said.
John is hopeful that members of other unions will back the Unite action. “Workers in Unison were balloted for strikes but didn’t reach the threshold under the anti-union laws, and GMB union workers weren’t balloted at all,” he said. “That doesn’t mean workers don’t want to fight. They do. And have said they won’t cross our picket lines.”
The strike in Hackney is part of a bigger fightback in the councils against pay cuts.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab, told Socialist Worker, “The Hackney strike is just one example of what’s going on. We are working to bring workers together into a national campaign. Employers say we can’t do it and that we should accept the pay cuts. But our message to members is to stand strong.”
Workers will strike from Monday until Wednesday of next week and then from 3-5 May. They will also hold an after-picket rally at Hackney town hall every day of the strike.
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