Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/11128
Council unions in Swansea make a start against cuts
Hundreds of local authority members of the unions GMB, Ucatt, Unison and Unite attended meetings in Swansea on 8 February. The council has put forward a raft of 30+ measures aimed at reducing costs at the expense of our members' living standards and the large attendances demonstrate the anger that exists.
Ronnie Job, Swansea Unison (personal capacity)
The long list of cuts includes:
- Reducing annual leave entitlement to the statutory minimum of 28 days, including all bank holidays and any other closure days. For many members this would mean the loss of 14 days' leave a year.
- Reducing sick leave entitlement and paying no sick pay at all for the first three days of any sickness.
- Doing away with all unsocial hours, shift and weekend working allowances, as well as bonus schemes.
The meeting highlighted important events coming up, including a lobby of the full council meeting on 28 February that is setting the budget, the demonstration in Cardiff on 5 March against the Tory and Liberal Democrat conferences taking place in Cardiff, and the TUC London demonstration on 26 March.
The message from the union top table was that the unions will not discuss conditions covered by Part 2 of the national agreement (green book). This is to be welcomed but a lot of the lowest paid members stand to lose a large percentage of their income if the unions concede on the allowances covered by Part 3 of the agreement and on these terms there will be negotiation.
These workers need the assurance that all cuts in their terms and conditions will be opposed. The Memorandum of Understanding, a document agreed between the joint trade unions and the 22 local authorities in Wales, was held up as in some way providing protection for local authority workers.
The fact that Swansea council can sign up to it while still insisting that they will proceed with these cuts shows what that document is worth. It certainly hasn't protected workers in (Labour) Neath & Port Talbot where workers have now suffered a 2% pay cut and Rhondda Cynon Taff (also Labour), where the entire workforce has until 18 February to sign up to reduced terms and conditions or face the sack.
What the meeting did not do was seriously prepare the members of the four unions present for coordinated industrial action, which is probably the only thing that will force the employer to retreat on the majority of the issues.
There was a suggestion that "somewhere down the line it might be necessary to draw a line in the sand and ask members whether they want to refuse to cross it", which is the most round-about way of warning that strike action may be necessary I've ever heard!
Even if the unions gave the council every measure it is asking for, it would not be enough of a saving to balance the books and it would still come back for our members' jobs, if not this year then next.
We also have to prepare for the likelihood of the council trying to impose these changes when it doesn't get what it wants from negotiation.
A vote for strike action against these cuts cannot be taken for granted, as the vote to accept a 2% pay cut in Neath & Port Talbot shows, but to fail to resist these attacks would be taken as a sign of weakness and would invite further cuts in the near future.
If local authority workers take a public, fighting stance they can draw on support from the entire community that will build a campaign to defeat these attacks and protect all jobs and services.