By Nick Clark
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2785

How to build the vote for council and school strikes

Winning a high turnout is essential, here are some tips to achieve one
Issue 2785
15 strikers and supporters with Unison flags and a banner saying "Fighting fire and rehire"

Sandwell workers are striking (Pic: Sandwell Unison)

There is just under a month to go before the end of a major ballot for strikes by school and council workers in England and Wales.

Some 375,000 workers could strike after council bosses offered them a pay increase that’s well below inflation—effectively a pay cut.

The ballot of Unison union members is set to end on Friday 14 January. Union activists are striving to ensure the voting turnout meets the 50 percent threshold demanded by Tory anti-union laws.

Cath Lewis, an activist in Leicester, said Unison members thought of ways to get the turnout following a pay campaign meeting last week.

“People were volunteering to go to different workplaces, to do videos of posting their ballots, trying to think of different stunts we can do to prompt people to vote,” she told Socialist Worker.

“It showed that there are people interested in doing stuff for the union.”

Where activists have campaigned, they’ve found a pool of bitterness after years of austerity that can feed into a strong vote for strikes. But the national campaign from the union’s bureaucracy has so far been lacklustre and conservative.

Ameen Hadi, an officer in Salford City Unison, said regional activists have to ensure a good turnout by tapping into workers’ bitterness.

“Inflation is running close to 6 percent, and we’re going to get stung with a national insurance increase,” he told Socialist Worker. “A lot of people in my branch can’t afford to put the heating on during the day.

“During austerity we’re already working one day a week for free—it’s over 20 percent we’ve lost in real terms over the last few years. We’ve also lost half of our jobs in local government over the last ten years.

“People in children’s services are working maybe 20 or 30 extra hours a week.”

Ameen said that’s why Salford City Unison has had several successful pay campaign meetings—with people who came saying they’ll encourage others to vote.

“We’ve created an atmosphere in meetings that means we’re more confident in meeting the threshold,” he said.

“You have to tap into the anger at the moment.”

Sandwell action against fire and rehire

Workers at Portway Lifestyle Centre and Tipton Leisure Centre struck against fire and rehire attacks on Tuesday of this week.

Bosses at Sandwell Leisure trust want to remove all staff from the national NJC negotiating body on pay, terms and conditions.

Bosses promised not to change any terms and conditions until the agreement expires in March 2022.

But now they want to make Covid-related absences count towards disciplinary triggers. Members of the Unison union have already taken three one‑day strikes in the dispute, which has been running for more than a year.

They voted by 85 percent on an 83 percent turnout to keep fighting.

Sandwell Unison branch secretary Tony Barnsley said, “Our members are determined to continue their fight against being unnecessarily fired and rehired against their will while the Trust still has £3.5million in the bank.”

Round one to Paul Holmes

The Unison union has ended its suspension of leading left wing activist Paul Holmes.

Unison suspended Paul along with other branch officers, Nick Ruff and Cath Kinder, in January 2020.

But Holmes was told last week the suspension was lifted without any action against him.

Paul, who was elected Unison’s national president earlier this year, is still suspended from his job at Kirklees Council.

As branch secretary of Kirklees Unison, Paul has led strikes and campaigns against council cuts. Bosses suspended him in November 2019, and his disciplinary hearing has only recently ended.

He had not heard the result as Socialist Worker went to press.

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