Here we produce some older articles from the ‘Council Workers’ page on http://www.coventrysocialists.co.uk, the website of the Socialist Party in Coventry and Warwickshire.
A Unison steward responds to Oliver Letwin (31.07.11)
The comments in the Sunday newspapers from Tory policy minister Oliver Letwin are an absolute disgrace.
He says that public sector workers need ‘fear of job loss and real discipline.’ This was backed up a Cabinet Officer spokesperson, quoted in The Observer who said: ‘It is widely acknowledged that there is a problem with productivity in public services. ‘
If Letwin knew anything about workers in the public sector he would know we already face ‘fear of job loss’ and that we are already face management regimes that on some cases resemble tinpot dictatorships.
Workers that we represent at Coventry City Council are facing the threat of losing their jobs, doing vastly more work because colleagues have disappeared and not been replaced, and all of this whilst having pay freezes (real term pay cuts) and attacks on our pensions. We see first hand what the cuts mean – we deal with some of the most vulnerable people in our city, and we are in a position where we are not able to provide the services that these people need.
Our job is to provide high quality public services to the Coventry people – this is threatened and undermined by the Coalition cuts being so wilfully implemented by the Labour Council.
The biggest cause of sickness at the Council is stress, no doubt caused by this situation. Morale is low, and to paraphrase the esteemed philosopher and Blackpool manager Ian Holloway, some of our members ‘are so low they could walk under a closed door whilst wearing a top hat’
How should we respond? Mark Serwotka of the PCS (the main union in the Civil Service) has correctly termed Letwin’s remarked as ‘nonsense’. The main battle brewing is over the issue of pensions. Nothing would slap this government down more than co-ordinated action between all public sector unions at the earliest opportunity in the Autumn. Unison should remember it has signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with our brothers and sisters in the PCS. Time to turn these positives words in to concrete deeds. Unison members need to make sure this happens, as do members of GMB and Unite who work in local government.
Council Workers show solidarity on 30th June!
What next for unions such as Unison? (16.07.11)
By a Coventry Unison member
With our pensions coming under attack, many Unison members have asked ‘what is my union doing about it, and why weren’t we on strike on the 30th June?’ This is a very good question.
On the lunchtime of 30th June, unions at the Council called a solidarity protest to show support to the unions on strike. There was clearly frustration amongst Unison members over why we weren’t balloted.
Despite hard hitting militant speeches at the recent Unison national delegate conference, our general secretary Dave Prentis and the majority of our NEC have still not yet made any concrete moves towards industrial action.
There were 750,000 workers on strike on 30th June, the unions should get together and name a date in the autumn where several million come out in co-ordinated action.
Unison needs to start mobilising its membership. If it shows a lead, the members will respond. In fact, many members are already demanding action. At all levels of the union, Unison members need to apply maximum pressure in branches, regional committees, and on the general secretary himself to ensure that the union starts to fight.
The stakes are too high for any more delays, prevarication, and obstruction from the leadership.
‘The Socialist’ newspaper received the following letter from a Unison steward in Coventry
As a Unison shop steward I wanted to make a few comments about 30th June. What a day of strike action, shows the potential of what we can do! In the run up and on the day, I have never had so many of my members come up to me and ask ‘why on earth are we not taking action as well?’
With a couple of other Unison members, we visited our local DWP office round the corner from our work to show support to PCS members. As ever, the support was warmly received with the usual accompanying banter about football and such like. We chatted about Unison and why we weren’t on strike as well. They were miffed about the situation, and angry.
We joked that it was like the scene in Blackadder goes Forth (set in a trench during WW1), where General Melchett says to Private Baldrick, ‘we are right behind you’ and Blackadder quips ‘about 35 miles behind you!’ A PCS member said that perhaps Prentis was wearing a pair of pants on his head with pencils shoved up his nose repeating the word ‘wibble’, like Blackadder did, trying to get out of the fight.
A Unison steward, Coventry
How can the cuts be resisted?
Coventry Unison calls for a 24 hour general strike (22.06.11)
By a Unison member
In the current issue of our newsletter, we report how Coventry Unison, with nearly 3000 members at the Council recently agreed two important policies with regard to fighting back against the cuts.
The Socialist Party believes that the cuts can not only be fought, but that it is possible for us to win. It is important that the trade unions develop a fighting, campaigning strategy to build towards this.
The two policies adopted by Coventry Unison are significant and could play a positive role towards such a strategy. They should be discussed by all trade union members at the Council as part of debating the way forward. We will be commenting on the second policy – that the Council should refuse to implement the cuts, very soon.
The TUC should co-ordinate a 24 hour general strike against pension attacks
The first motion looks at the issue of the TUC co-ordinating a 24 hour general strike. This is particularly relevant for many reasons. After the 500,000 strong TUC demonstration against the cuts on 26th March, many of those who attended this magnificent protest rightly asked ‘what happens next?’
A 24 hour public sector general strike would send a warning shot across the bows of the government – it would also have the tremendous unifying effect of all public sector unions acting together. We would feel our collective strength, and importantly the government would know it was in a serious scrap if it continues to pursue these policies of austerity. However, it would be likely that even a total stoppage in the public sector for one day would not be enough, but it would set the basis for escalating the required action.
Call for general strike blocked from discussion at Unison regional council
Our motion was passed by our branch committee meeting, both as a statement of branch policy but also to send to the West Midlands Regional Council of Unison.
Before we go any further, it is worth stating that a growing number of national conferences of different unions havepassed this as policy. For example, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) conference passed a very similar motion unanimously.
Therefore, it was with great frustration that the Unison regional council ruled our motion out of order. On what grounds we are not clear, other than it ‘was not competent.’
Why would our union not allow it to be discussed? Who could argue that a 24 hour general strike was not valid for debating (even if people do not agree with it)? For some activists who have been involved in Unison for some time, this is not a new phenomenon.
At this year’s National Delegate Conference nearly a 3rd of motions have been ruled ‘out of order’. The attitude of Unison over the last few years has been one of ‘fiddling whilst Rome burns’ as attacks (often under a Labour government) have been directed at our members such as increased pension contributions, job losses, pay freezes. The situation is even worse in sectors like the NHS, where our union with 1.3 million members, and hundreds of thousands of members in the health service, has raised barely a whimper over the introduction of Private Finance Initiatives, closures etc.
Need for co-ordinated action
The fact is that Unison (and GMB and Unite) should have been taking action on 30th June with PCS, ATL, UCU and the NUT. It is welcome that Prentis, our general secretary, has called for co-ordinated action for the Autumn and has banged the drum at our national conference which is taking place at the time of writing.
A word of caution though. This is because he is feeling under pressure from the membership and also other public sector unions.
Socialist Party members on the National Executive Council recently tried to commit the union to action on pensions no later than 31 October 2011 but this was not agreed by Prentis and the right wing majority on the NEC. So we are seriously going to have to put the pressure on.
Reclaim our union! For a fighting and democratic Unison!
Unison has around 1.3 million members. It is high time that the power of our union was used to lead a serious fightback in local councils, in the health service, education and elsewhere.
For Unison to start realising its potential, we will need to struggle to transform it from its current state into a truly democratic and fighting union. Socialist Party supporters in Unison are committed to this aim and we would encourage readers to contact us to discuss building support in Unison for these ideas, policies and a fighting strategy.
‘The Socialist’ Coventry Local Authority Bulletin number 6 is out now! (21.06.11)
The latest issue of our newsletter for workers at Coventry City Council is out now. The newsletter concentrates on the looming battle over pensions with 750,000 public sector workers due to take strike action on 30th June.
Unfortunately the council unions – Unite, Unison and GMB have not asked their members if they wanted to strike. They are now talking about action in the Autumn. Members of these unions need to make sure this happens and continue to up the pressure on our respective leaderships. There are also articles on the following issues;
– the Appraisal and Competency Framework
– the battle to get our £250 increase
– details of a meeting on 30th June organised by supporters of the National Shop Stewards Network in Coventry
If you are visiting this page after reading the newsletter, thanks for taking the time. We hope you enjoy what you read and would encourage you to get in touch with us. If you would a copy of the newsletter, or would like regular updates from us, please contact us by sending filling in the form at the bottom of the page.
See below for an article concerning the waste bin review.
We will shortly be adding an article which will discuss ‘How the cuts can be resisted?’ as advertised on the newsletter.
Waste bin review – a load of rubbish? (21.06.11)
Workers at the council will have recently experienced the disappearance of many bins from their offices. These have been replaced by fewer bins placed in strategic positions around offices. The ‘bin the bin’ review has seen hundreds of bins removed. This is another ABC project.
In communications on the intranet, the review has been lauded a great success. The official line is that cleaners can now spend time doing more ‘important’ things like cleaning public areas. However, there are we think, two sides to every story, and questions that need to be clarified.
In the not often seen small print, it appears that some cleaners may have had their hours reduced. If this is the case, then this should be opposed by the unions. It is acceptable for anyone to have hours and pay cut.
There could also be potential health and safety issues, if offices are being cleaned less, this could also affect sickness levels.
Cuts are a key aim of the ABC (A Better Council) programme. The employer though has sought suggestions from staff through ABC’s offshoot, also called ABC (A Bit Creative). This is where the council want staff to make suggestions. Be very aware that any suggestions you make could mean cuts in staffing levels, pay, services etc. This is a ‘clever way’ for the employer to get staff involved in the cuts programme.
So to conclude, the ‘bin the bin’ review is just the latest in a growing line of reviews that are chipping away at our jobs, pay and public services.
Workers face increasing stress at Coventry City Council (19.06.11)
By a council worker
A report featured in a recent edition of the Coventry Times newspaper has showed that there has been an increase of 25 per cent in sickness due to ‘stress, depression and anxiety’ at Coventry City Council
This will come as little surprise to many employees of the Council.
Cuts are beginning to bite, employees are doing the work of colleagues who have not been replaced and we are fed up with being ‘reviewed’ constantly.
Ironically, the title of the council’s cuts programme is ‘ABC – A Better Council.’ We have to ask, a better council for whom? The staff, who are doing extra work for less pay and worse pension? The people of Coventry, who are having services and facilities cut?
If you put staff under extreme pressure, it is inevitable that stress will increase. It does not help when your job is under threat and that ‘Fundamental Service Reviews’ are trying to make cuts.
Stress and depression at work can have a terrible effect on people’s lives. The increased stress, as some unions have pointed out, is increased by the threat of redundancies. We need to deal with this collectively. Increase in stress is just the thin end of a very big wedge.
Unions need to start taking action sooner rather than later over cuts in our pay, pensions and jobs.
Unison conference 2011 – No to pension attacks! (16.06.11)
Council workers are facing unprecedented attacks – in the form of massive job cuts and a tearing up of terms and conditions in many areas.
In just two weeks time it is expected that the government will announce their intention to impose a 3% increase in public sector pension contributions. This is a pay cut in real terms and comes on top of a two-year pay freeze. Unless defeated through mass strike action, many workers will be faced with the choice of pay up or be forced out of the pension scheme.
The government is also proposing a career average instead of final salary scheme. They plan to cut the local government pension from 1/60th of our annual salary to as low as only 1/100th and they want to make us work till we are 68.
These changes, if effected, could cost some workers up to £1,000 more a year for a pension worth nearly half of what they would get now.
Even some of the employers are panicking. They are predicting that 20-40% could leave the schemes, sending the funds into downward spirals.
If the government gets away with it, this would be the biggest attack on public sector workers’ pay and conditions in a generation. That is why it requires the unions to use the full strength of the five million public sector trade unionists.
Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison has now declared that Unison will ballot over the summer or early autumn for strike action over pension attacks if the meeting with government on 28 June does not lead to a deal. Prentis also said: “It will not be one day of action – it will be long-term industrial action throughout all our public services to prevent destruction of our pension schemes.”
This is to be welcomed by Unison members and other public sector trade unionists. This shows that trade union leaders can be forced to ballot for action, when faced with an onslaught of attacks from this government and growing anger from public sector workers.
The start of the fightback will come from the three quarters of a million workers in education and the civil service who are preparing to strike on 30 June.
Unfortunately Unison will not be taking action with other unions on 30 June but the union leaders are calling on all members to support the lobbies and demonstrations and for members not to cover the work of the strikers.
Only recently Socialist Party members on the Unison national executive tried to commit the union to action on pensions no later than 31 October 2011 but this was not agreed. At a local level there are Unison branches whose members are demanding to ballot for strike action against cuts. They are being prevented from doing so by the union leadership. These ballots should now immediately be sanctioned.
We must now give full backing to the 30 June strike and use it to build for an all public-sector strike that would rock this government to its foundations.
- Unison must be ready to start the pensions ballot immediately if the government refuses to back down on pension attacks
- For an all public-sector strike in defence of pensions
- Defend the final salary scheme
- No increases in contribution rates
- No to lower pension benefits
We produce a newsletter – ‘The Socialist – Coventry Local Authority Bulletin’ that outlines a fighting strategy to defend our terms and conditions, jobs and public services in general.