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Why we have to fight back now

This article is over 21 years, 7 months old
LOW PAID council workers spoke to Socialist Worker about the jobs they do and why they struck over pay on Wednesday
Issue 1809

‘I AM 51 and a GMB union shop steward in Manchester. I work on the Benchill estate in Wythenshawe as a family service worker. My job involves working with and helping people, teaching basic parenting skills, helping their children get access to services, and so on. I’m based in a childcare centre with places for 50 children.

Our pay is terrible for what we do. After two years training at college and five years experience on the job you can get up to £14,000 a year top whack. The starting pay can be just £10,000. For that we do a 37-hour week with a 20-minute break in the day and 60 minutes to do all the paperwork.

Those pay rates are for qualified staff. We have staff who aren’t qualified, and they get £2,500 a year less for doing essentially the same job. Our shifts can start at 7.30 in the morning, and we can work until 6.30pm. Most of the people doing the job have children and families, and have to pay childcare costs themselves.

We haven’t had a decent pay rise for five or six years. The job is important and useful. But we feel we are not valued and taken seriously, and the pay is just too low for what we do.

It costs the same for a loaf of bread for us as it does for anyone else. They are offering us 3 percent. That might be alright for top managers. But 3 percent for them is a lot more than it is for us. It’s nothing for us. The strike is about more than pay. It’s about people not feeling valued for the service we provide. We’re also worried about being privatised.

There are wider feelings. One worker I spoke to when I was organising picket lines said she expected more from this government-that she expected it to look after us a bit, not go round privatising things. We’ve got two women at work whose husbands have just lost their jobs because of privatisation at Manchester airport. The airport is the main employer in Wythenshawe.

People I work with are really excited about being on strike. It was easy to get picket lines organised, and that’s among nursery workers who are not people who have a reputation for being militant.

Other workers, especially in the public sector, should support us. We are striking together as council workers’ unions. Everyone should stand together with us.’

‘It gets harder to manage’

‘I’M 29 and I work as a care assistant in an elderly persons home in Birmingham, for the city council. I’m a member of the Unison union. We assist people with washing, dressing and anything they can’t manage. We don’t do it for them. We help them-that’s important.

We want to help people live out their elderly years with dignity, and in the most comfortable surroundings and environment possible. I am proud of the work I do, and the people we help really appreciate what we do. I get £5.31 an hour and take home about £154 a week. I survive. That’s all you could say really-just about survive. It’s not enough.

The head of the employers says our 6 percent claim is ‘exorbitant’. That’s a disgraceful comment from someone on his pay and in his position. His 3 percent offer is worth just 15p an hour to me. We didn’t have a pay rise last year, and the year before we got just 15p an hour.

But prices go up, life gets more expensive, and it gets harder and harder to manage. Now management are looking at attacking our sick pay too. We definitely deserve more money for the work we do. The main reason people are striking is pay, but people feel the council and the government just don’t care about people like us and the jobs we do. Morale is really low. Even dedicated people who have worked for years have talked about leaving or looking for other jobs.

People are really fed up with politicians who do nothing for ordinary people. They think they’re all the same. I’m the only one in my family who voted. It’s not just about us council workers. We’re all in the same boat across the public sector.

The slogan ‘Unity is strength’ you see on banners is right. We’re striking together across all three unions. If other people support us and we win it will help everyone else facing the same issues.

The strike is really popular among the people I know and work with. After this strike we need to build up the links between my union, Unison, and workers in the TGWU and GMB unions. And we definitely need more action. It’s good there’s another strike planned for early August.

Personally I’d like to see all-out strike action until we win. The council and the government need to be taught a lesson.’

‘We’re waking people up’

‘I’M A 23 year old youth worker for Nottingham City Council. I work in the Meadows Youth Centre in one of the poorest areas of Nottingham. There are a lot of social problems, especially for young people. We try and provide a safe space where young people can learn about themselves.

It’s about being an adult friend-talking to them, giving advice, giving support that other adults in their lives may not be able to or cannot afford to give. The pay is awful. Up until one month ago I was on just £4.13 an hour. I’ve had a pay rise since. Now I’m on £5.26 an hour.

That comes out at around £150 a week take home, and you have to try and live on that. I need fillings so I have to go to the dentist. But that will cost £40 or something like that, so I can’t. I have to wait until next pay day. Most people doing this work have to do two jobs to get enough money just to survive. I do youth work in the evening and play work during the day.

Some people have to work in banks during the day and then do youth work in the evening. With the pay so low it’s a major problem recruiting and keeping staff. You can go and flip burgers in McDonald’s for more money than we get. Now we face the threat of privatisation as well.

We are on strike for a decent wage to live on so we can give a good service for young people who need it. Our strike is also against a Labour government that is utterly hypocritical. Tony Blair just kowtows to big business on every issue. We all face the ‘neo-liberal’ policies pushed by Blair and the fat cats of big business.

We all have to fight together. I think this strike is waking people up. I am sure it will really radicalise a lot of young workers just getting involved.’

Next week’s Socialist Worker will carry full coverage of the council workers’ strike

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