Category Archives: strike action
Fighting the next round of council cuts
Below we publish an article by Nick Chaffey, a Socialist Party member from Southampton, regarding the way forward in the fight against council cuts. It first appeared in the February edition of Socialism Today, the monthly magazine of the Socialist Party. The Labour council here in Coventry voted to pass on another £19 million of cuts to the people of our city. Union members at the Council need to discuss how we respond to this.
We welcome comments and feedback.
Fighting the next round of council cuts
By Nick Chaffey
During February and March councils are meeting to decide budgets for the year ahead. Google ‘council job cuts’ and you will get a map of Britain with endless stories of local services falling apart at the seams. It is clear that council workers and communities face another wave of damaging cuts. What are the prospects for a fight-back from council unions and the community? What alternatives are being posed to cuts?
The ConDem coalition is out to decimate council services. Cuts to the local authority budget have been the biggest of any government department: Unite the union estimates a 43% real terms cut in funding (over £6 billion) in the five years to 2015. Urban areas have been hardest hit, with Liverpool city council facing a 62% cut in funding between 2010 and 2017. In the current financial year, councils have received 73.6p for every £1 of central government funding they had in 2010.
Increasing numbers of councils are struggling to find services left to cut, with 28% of unitary authorities in a state of ‘high financial stress’, according to the Audit Commission’s, ‘Tough Times’ report. Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for Wolverhampton council, is just one of many raising the prospect of Detroit-style bankruptcy: “We are now realistically looking at the prospect of becoming insolvent unless we make very deep and very fast cuts to address this enormous budget deficit which has been forced upon us by government”. Even Tory Local Government Association chair Sir Merrick Cockell talks of cuts stretching “essential services to breaking point in many areas”.
Rather than mobilising opposition to the government cuts, councils – including every single Labour council – have turned to cutting jobs, services and terms and conditions, as well as privatisation, to balance the books.
Since 2010, 400,000 council jobs have been cut – 20% – with those left in work struggling to maintain services on less pay, many with cuts to their terms and conditions. Local government workers have suffered a £3,544 cut in pay since 2010. Over one million local government workers earn less than £21,000 a year. Just over half a million of these earn less than £15,000 a year.
Adult social care services, youth services and libraries have been decimated and are continuing to face cuts. Whole communities have nothing left but the local school, which is likely to be under threat of privatisation to academy status. Councils report increases in demands for looked after children as well as an increase in homelessness, in part due to the hated bedroom tax. The financial pressures on families whose incomes have been squeezed and costs increased, have meant growing demands for food banks, as well as increases in rent arrears, evictions and court summonses for council tax.
Enormous anger is set to boil over among council workers and service users. No wonder a recent Guardian poll showed huge anger among voters, mainly over broken promises
made by politicians. That means falling turnouts in council elections, where just 30% typically come out to vote. While politicians have attempted to calm the waters and paper over the cracks of the crisis, the Met Police’s request for the use of water cannon on the streets of London by this summer shows an awareness of the real mood in society.
In the face of a combination of Labour’s failure to oppose cuts locally and nationally, and the lack of a national fight-back led by council unions, Unison, Unite and the GMB, the Tories have been encouraged to go further still. A further 10% cut in council funding is reward for their obedience.
What is the alternative? Writing in The Guardian on 7 January, Andy Sawford, the shadow local government minister, spelt out Labour’s position in black and white: “The next Labour government will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock”. Wringing their hands, pleading for sympathy with the difficult choices they have to make, Labour councillors have dutifully carried out the austerity cuts. It is an abject failure to provide leadership to the millions looking for a way to defend themselves and their families from the brutal cuts.
Attempting to justify their pitiful surrender, Labour councillors and their supporters in the unions, are adamant they have no choice. They are determined to silence and dispel any support for an alternative. In the run-up to budget meetings it is essential that these myths are challenged and a clear case is made for what councilors can and should do.
Firstly, council union branches and activists must redouble the demands for Labour councilors to refuse to vote for cuts. Is there any doubt that taking such a stand would get enormous support? Under pressure of boiling public anger, Labour has called for the scrapping of the bedroom tax and received support for doing so. The same with its minimal proposals on energy-price caps. Indeed, a campaign to resist local government cuts, to save jobs, libraries and Sure Start centres, and to build 500,000 council homes, would be the basis for driving this government into retirement ahead of schedule.
Shamefully, Labour’s cowardice hides the fact that such demands are inherently modest. Local authorities have reserves of £14.2 billion and actually increased their reserves by £1 billion last year. This is a scandal and such reserves should be used immediately to protect services. While council funding has been stripped to the bone, and wages and benefits are squeezed, the super-rich friends of the ConDem government have been rewarded with tax cuts and a tax regime that sees over £100 billion uncollected and evaded every year. Not only is that enough to avoid cuts but it could also begin to tackle the urgent needs of our communities in building affordable council housing, creating jobs and providing services for the young, elderly and vulnerable.
While Labour councilors today cower in fear of this weak and unpopular coalition past battles were fought and won in the teeth of previous tough times: for example, in Poplar council in the 1920s, Clay Cross in the 1970s, and the epic victory of the socialist Liverpool 47 councillors from 1983-87, where Socialist Party members, then supporters of the Militant newspaper, played a leading role. On the issues of rents, jobs and public housing these battles built the fight-back.
The Southampton rebel councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas have shown what every Labour councillor could do. They put forward a clear balanced budget to Southampton Labour council in February 2013, proposing to use the council’s legal powers to access borrowing, financed by reserves, to fund the budget deficit and protect all jobs and services. Such a defiant stand would be certain to get enormous support and, having bought time and not implemented cuts, lay the basis for a huge campaign to force another government U-turn and restore the money stolen from the council since 2010.
To date the union leaderships of Unison, Unite and the GMB have completely failed to harness the anger of members and the community into a national campaign over cuts and pay. This has left local branches isolated, fighting one by one but also in many cases hamstrung by full-time officials unwilling to sanction ballots for industrial action.
It would be a mistake, however, to believe that opposition will not develop, despite the role of the trade union national leadership. This latest round of cuts could propel local branches, under the pressure and anger of their members, into taking action, as the current strike of residential carers and Unison members in Glasgow shows (with Socialist Party Scotland members in the leadership of the local branch). Developing the possibility of linking such struggles together could be the basis for building a single national campaign. This could also develop around the mounting pressure on national pay, which could feed into a battle on cuts as well.
In the communities, battles on the bedroom tax and campaigns to save libraries, Sure Start and youth centres are mobilising opposition and blooding a new generation of activists. On top of the growing housing crisis, where rent rises and evictions are on the increase, up to 500,000 people have been summonsed to court for council tax arrears. How many of these are council workers themselves or trade union members? It is clear that the council unions, coordinating with the trade union movement as a whole, could build city-wide anti-cuts committees to mobilise mass resistance.
With huge anger mounting against the ConDem cuts, and the pitiful compliance of Labour councils, is it any wonder that voter turnout is so low at council elections, and is falling further? As it becomes clearer that Labour will not fight back, support will grow both within the unions and among the communities for a fighting alternative. It is this space that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is fighting to at least partially fill on 22 May.
This is especially important due to the probable growth of support for the right-wing, populist UKIP at the euro elections, which could spill over into the local council elections taking place the same day. TUSC aims to stand 625 candidates this year, building a national profile for the first time. It is around the experience of battles over the latest round of council cuts that candidates will come forward and support grow for TUSC. Based on a clear case for opposing all cuts and a confident explanation of the powers open to councils to refuse to implement them, the next few months will be an important period in the fight-back to save local council jobs and services.
Council Unions lodge dispute with the employers over pay claim – time to prepare for action!
By a council worker in Coventry
News is coming out that the three council unions – Unite, GMB and Unison, have lodged a formal dispute with the local government employers over the 2014/15 pay claim.
According to Unison, the employers have cancelled any further talks as they want to wait to see what the new minimum wage will be. The minimum wage is due to be increased in October of this year.
This is a complete insult to local government workers – our pay has fallen by 18 per cent since 2010 if you take inflation in to account.
Last year we got a measly 1 per cent increase, which in real terms was a pay cut. After the Coalition came in to power, all public sector workers earning under £21,000 were supposed to get a £250 payment. The local government employers refused to pay this. Our local Labour council, despite budgeting for this payment, scandalously refused to pay.
We are suffering massive cuts with worse to come. We are doing more for less pay. That rule doesn’t seem to apply to the bankers or the politicians though!
The leaderships of the three council unions need to give a lead. The employers have made it abundantly clear that they will not be meeting our claim of an increase of £1.20 per hour. We need to prepare for action. Now is the time to fight. This isn’t just about pay but about jobs and indeed the whole future of public services.
In October, we wrote
‘Members and activists within the 3 unions need to discuss how we can win a decent pay rise. We need to link the fight for a decent pay rise to that of saving jobs and services as they are very much part of the same battle. We saw on 30th November 2011 that when the unions co-ordinate their action, the fantastic effect that had on members. It was only the decision of the leaderships of the big unions to end the strike action that destroyed the momentum that had been built up. That can’t be allowed to happen again.’
Recent years have unfortunately shown that the old adage ‘weakness invites aggression’ to be true, as a lack of a national fightback from the leaderships of Unison, Unite and GMB to defends jobs and services has only encouraged further attacks on our members.
The employer needs to know that the unions are serious about fighting this latest attack – lets follow the lead of unions like the RMT who have shown that action gets results.
– Fight for the full pay claim
– No to attacks on jobs and services
– Prepare for nationally co-ordinated action
Local Government pay claim – No more ice sculptures should die in vain
Time for co-ordinated action!
By a Coventry council worker
The three trade unions representing council workers have agreed the pay claim.
The GMB website states
‘GMB, UNISON and Unite, the three unions representing 1.6 local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on 16th October agreed to launch a major campaign for a minimum increase of £1 an hour to increase the bottom rate of pay in local government to raise it to a living wage hourly rate. The unions are calling for the same £1 an hour increase to also apply to all pay points above the bottom rate.’
Council workers, like all other sections of the working class, have seen our standard of living drop, as prices rise and our wages have nowhere near kept up with it. Year after year we are getting worse off. The latest announcements about the increase in utility prices underline the situation.
It is estimated that since 2008 we have lost 16 per cent in real earnings. Things need to change, or more and more council workers will be joining the queues at the local foodbanks.
So now the claim has gone in. What will happen now? Clearly the employers are not going to give it to us. The claim will need to be fought for. It seems year after year the union leaderships have put in claims, but haven’t really believed in them, and certainly haven’t had the guts to fight for it.
Little wonder that in the consultation meetings with members over the claim there was more than a degree of cynicism. Will our union leaderships fight? As one Unison member said in one meeting
‘Our negotiators need to show some testicular fortitude’.
This sums up the mood of many union members. After a truly lacklustre campaign last time where we ended up accepting 1 per cent, feelings of many were summed up by a union activist who commented at the time
‘How I feel about it is anger stabbed in the back shafted by my union because it’s the best deal they can get. 1% of nothing is crap and they have got a cheek to try and get new members because they are the union that gets things done! This is false advertising…..action is what’s needed not bull shit.’
This is how many activists have felt. It is in the context of the pensions dispute of 2011, and a general lack of a national strategy to defend jobs and services that frustration has grown.
The acceptance of the 1 per cent pay offer was after Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said we were going to ‘smash’ the pay freeze, destroying an ice sculpture in the process to illustrate our campaign. Unfortunately it did not live up expectations.
Members and activists within the 3 unions need to discuss how we can win a decent pay rise. We need to link the fight for a decent pay rise to that of saving jobs and services as they are very much part of the same battle. We saw on 30th November 2011 that when the unions co-ordinate their action, the fantastic effect that had on members. It was only the decision of the leaderships of the big unions to end the strike action that destroyed the momentum that had been built up. That can’t be allowed to happen again.
A number of unions are beginning to take action across different sectors. For example the CWU, FBU, NUT / NASUWT, UCU etc. Now is the time for the trade unions to co-ordinate the various disputes and name the day for joint action, for a 24 hour general strike.
The capitalist crisis has not gone away and we as members are suffering. The situation is even worse for whole swathes of unemployed workers, the youth, the sick and the elderly. We have to fight back now. To not lead a fightback now would be an abdication of responsibility. Socialist Party members in the trade unions will be building support for a strategy that can win a pay rise and can defeat the cuts, whilst at the same time building support for a socialist opposition to capitalism.
Help us in this task by joining the Socialist Party – click here
‘The stakes are too high for education and for teachers’ Report and pictures from Coventry and Birmingham
‘The stakes are too high for education and for teachers’
Report and pictures from Coventry and Birmingham
Teaching unions NUT and NASUWT took successful strike action today. See this article here for background information .
There were picket lines at various schools across Coventry, followed by a huge regional rally in Birmingham.
NIcky Downes, Equalities Officer for Coventry NUT (personal capacity) commented
Today saw a successful strike that saw the vast majority of schools closed or predominantly closed. Many teachers went to Birmingham where a march was led by the striking teachers from John Gulson school. One teacher at the rally got a standing ovation for calling for further action until Gove backs down.
Jane Nellist added
Over 3000 teachers attended a demo and rally in Birmingham city centre on the second of the regional strikes by NUT and NASUWT members. Teachers from across the Midlands joined a lively protest. They applauded and cheered as speakers addressed the rally in the ICC. The attendance exceeded all expectation and an overspill room had to be set up. Teachers were in full agreement with the disastrous impact on education that this government was having.
The loudest of all applause was for the commitment for further strike action. Including the idea of co-ordinated strike action with other unions.
What was clear was that the determination to fight this government, especially of young teachers, was evident. Teachers left clear that they cannot afford to give up this fight-the stakes are too high for education and for teachers.
Socialist Party members visited picket lines to show support and bring greetings from their own trade unions, whilst party members in the teaching unions are pushing for a continuation of the battle. We make an appeal to all teachers to consider joining the Socialist Party to help us build the ideas of struggle, solidarity and socialism in the unions. To apply to join click here
“We can’t afford not to strike”
The article below was originally printed in the current issue of ‘The Socialist’ newspaper
Jane Nellist, National Union of Teachers (NUT), Coventry joint secretary, personal capacity
Last term’s strike in the North West showed how determined teachers are to defend their pay, pension and working conditions. On 1 October NUT and NASUWT members across the East and West Midlands, Eastern, Yorkshire and Humberside regions will join together to take one day of strike action.
When I explained in a school meeting about the changes to the pay policies as well as the likelihood of more attacks from Tory education minister Gove on our working conditions, including longer working hours, fewer holidays and less preparation (PPA) time, teachers were even more determined to take strike action. What’s more, they wanted the day to be named for national strike action in November.
“We cannot afford not to strike”, that was the view of one young teacher in her second year of teaching. She went on to describe how she often ends up in tears because of the pressure. She feels she can’t possibly achieve the workload without working every evening and all weekend. “How can I do this until I’m 68?” she asked. “How could I do this if I had a family?”
Teachers are realising that if they move schools, there is no guarantee that their new school will pay them the same rate. It’s going to be harder to move up the pay scales, with more links to ‘performance’ and the goal posts changing regularly.
Already we have lost over 15% of our take-home pay with frozen cost of living increases and pension increases. With mortgages harder to get, it’s going to make it more difficult for teachers to get housing.
If it had not been for our two days of national strike action in 2011, the cuts could have been much worse. We know that taking action can make a difference!
Although an inconvenience to parents, they understand why we are forced to take this action.
Following further regional strike action on 17 October, the NUT and NASUWT are planning national strike action if the government fails to listen to their demands.
Given that so many sectors and workplaces have grievances with their employer and with the government, it would be so much more powerful if we joined together and took coordinated strike action on the same day.
What is clear is that we have to stand firm and, if necessary, be prepared to take more strike action. The government attacks are aimed at getting education into a fit state to be privatised – it’s not good for teachers and it certainly isn’t good for our pupils. Just like the young teacher said – we cannot afford not to strike!
Council workers in Glasgow take unofficial action over workload
Unison members in Glasgow today took unofficial strike action today in protest at the suspension of a Unison member and an increase in caseload. Please send messages of support to email@example.com
The report below is from Socialist Party Scotland, the sister organisation of the Socialist Party. SP members play a leading role in Glasgow Unison. Check out their website here. It was posted on their website yesterday and provides useful background to the dispute.
——–By Philip Stott. Posted 16th September 2013
Around 60 Glasgow City Council staff, Unison members employed as part of the Social Work Homeless Team, have agreed to walk out on unofficial action tomorrow in protest at the suspension of a Unison member on Friday and anger over caseloads. A member of the East Glasgow Homeless Team was suspended on Friday after refusing to undertake work that related to an existing Unison grievance over workloads and staffing levels.
Following the suspension, in a great example of solidarity, fellow union members in the East office walked out on Friday afternoon.
The action in the East office continued today (Monday) and following discussions with management and meetings with workers from the five Homeless teams in Glasgow it was agreed that workers from all the Glasgow Homeless teams would refuse to go into work tomorrow (Tuesday).
Although this is unofficial action, Glasgow City Unison is calling for the immediate lifting of the suspension of their member. The union has gone further and are demanding a resolution to the impossible levels of workload being placed on already stretched union members. Unison have called for increased staffing to handle the growing numbers of people requiring a service and also a cap on the numbers of cases that each member of staff has to deal with.
There is huge anger relating to the intolerable pressure on staff in the Homeless service, across the Social Work department and many other departments in the Labour run Glasgow City Council. This is a direct result of the thousands of jobs losses in the last few years resulting in increasing work pressures on fewer and fewer members of staff.
This action by Unison members is to be applauded and underlines the need to build widespread strike action over workload, pay and working conditions which is becoming a huge issue across local government in Scotland. 37,000 jobs have gone in Scotland from public services since 2010 a result of the Con-Dem austerity and the refusal of the SNP-led Scottish government and local councils to fight the cuts is leading to a crisis.
Socialist Party Scotland members are doing all we can to support these workers in Glasgow and link this battle to the need to build mass coordinated strike action against the cuts that are destroying decent public services.
From the Archive – a letter sent from Unison stewards in Coventry to Dave Prentis
We are reproducing this letter from December 2011 sent to Dave Prentis the General Secretary of Unison, from a group of Unison stewards in Coventry. Unfortunately Dave was too busy to reply. It shows the anger of many Unison activists in the aftermath of a hugely successful day of industrial action, which the leadership of Unison, along with many other unions, proceeded to squander. This is why the Socialist Party is working hard in Unison and other unions to build up a strong, combative Socialist group within the union – in order to help reclaim our unions and to fight capitalist austerity. If you are interested in joining us in this important and vital work please click here
We wrote to you just before the TUC urging you to call on the TUC to name the date for the next round of industrial action.
We are extremely disappointed that not only has the TUC not named the date for action in early 2012, but that Brendan Barber and possibly also yourself (?) are putting forward that we sign up to an agreement that would merely see the pension changes delayed until 2014, and even that would be on the basis that when it come in, in 2014, that the unions would not protest about it!
This is simply not good enough. We as shop stewards at our work place spent months preparing for 30.11.11 – hours spent in our own time leafleting for a YES vote in the ballot, meetings and more leafleting in our own time to prepare the strike, win public support and to organise pickets.
Our members did us proud, in our office 95 per cent of people supported the strike (only about 7 out of 124 members of staff crossed), we had our biggest ever picket lines and this week we learnt our branch recruited 171 new members!
Our members responded, sacrificed a days pay because of what is at stake. They did that because they rightly supported what the union was doing. We have momentum, we have public support. We are outraged at what appears to be the attempt to sell what can’t even be described as a ‘deal’ to our members. This week our branch unanimously backed a motion calling for the date to be named with a programme of industrial action.
Now is the time to name the date for the next action, not to retreat! If reports that are coming out of the TUC are true, this is completely unacceptable. If the reports are incorrect, you need to publicly state what your position is and what you have been arguing for in the talks.
We would appreciate a response to this email, and would again urge you to do what is in the interests of our membership, and name the date for the next action.
Looking forward to hearing from you’
Coventry City Council plan more cuts – vital services and 140 jobs under threat!
It has been announced today that Coventry City Council are planning more huge cuts, this time to adult social care. The £6 million of cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable in our city – and see care workers, many of them female, lose their jobs.
According to the Coventry Telegraph (published on their website) the proposals include the following
* Closing the council’s Aylesford residential care home, Primrose Hill Street, Hillfields, used for 26 people needing post-hospital care.
* Privatising the council’s “home support short-term service” for 850 people a year, where carers visit the elderly and disabled in their homes.
* Closing either Jack Ball House in Potters Green, or George Rowley House, Canley. They are “housing with care” bedsit-style schemes for 23 long-term residents each with “critical” or “substantial” care needs.
* Ending elderly day care services at Frank Walsh House, Hillfields, and Risen Christ, Wyken Croft, and moving users to Gilbert Richards Centre in Earlsdon, described as a “better facility”.
* Ending two day services for adults with learning difficulties – at Curriers Close, Canley; and Whatcombe Close, Henley Green – with services moved to Frank Walsh House.
* Reducing dementia day services at Maymorn Centre, Holbrooks, from seven to five days a week.
* Cutting council on-site housing wardens, grants for community alarms, and other “housing-related support” to external providers of sheltered or private accommodation, where elderly or disabled people are deemed to have lower-level social care needs.
* Cutting grants to charities – such as Coventry Carers Centre, Age UK, Alzheimer’s Society – which provide information and support.
* Cutting subsidised transport to day centres.
* Selling the previously planned new Broad Lane site for the council-run Eric Williams House for dementia patients, which would remain at Brookside Avenue, Whoberley
Labour leader of the Council Ann Lucas has stated that they are carrying out the Tory government’s cuts with ‘a heavy heart’ and this theme was repeated by Cllr Alison Gingell in a radio interview. However this is unlikely to be of any consolation to those bearing the brunt of these cuts and who face a very uncertain future.
Labour could fight the cuts – but have chosen not to
The Labour Council are in position, with a big majority, to rally support across the city for a fightback against both these cuts to adult social care and the cuts in general. As a Unison representative correctly pointed out on local radio this evening, they should be demanding more money from central government. Of course the government is not just going to say ‘Ok then, here is more money.’ It will take a battle and a fight. We might not win. However it is surely better than passing on this Tory brutality to the people of Coventry.
A consultation will be starting shortly. The people of Coventry must make their views known. However, the likelihood is that the Council will plough ahead with these attacks – so the three council trade unions, Unison, Unite and GMB need to start discussing with members about the sort of course that we will need to take. This should include putting on the agenda the very real possibility and neccessity of industrial action.
There also needs to be a political response. Again and again Labour are attacking our union members and the most vulnerable. There needs to be debate in all of the three unions about why we continue to fund a Labour Party that is so willing to carry out the bidding of the Tories and whether they deserve the support of unions in the local elections next year.
We will carry further comment and reports as we receive them.
Picket line on Day 13 of strike at John Gulson Primary School
Teachers belonging to the NUT and NASUWT took their thirteenth day of industrial action today against unfair appraisals and excessive observations. The Socialist Party was there to show support and solidarity for the teachers.
Day 11 of strike at John Gulson Primary School
Please see below for pictures from the 11th day of strike action involving the NUT and NASUWT at John Gulson Primary School in Coventry.