Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/790/17814
Hull city council unions force cuts climb-down
Mike Whale, chair, Hull city council trade unions
The threat of industrial action by Hull council unions has forced a climb-down by the authority in its attempts to impose huge cuts in terms and conditions.
The workforce has been balloted twice and each time rejected cuts packages of £2.8 million.
While the authority has been forced to retreat, it would be wrong to trumpet this as a complete victory for the trade unions. It is still the case that a Labour council is imposing some cuts, mainly on overtime and car user rates, which will seriously affect sections of the workforce.
The new set of proposals will still have to be put to the workforce in the form of a ballot, but the local unions believe that in the current situation this is probably the best we would be able to achieve.
It is a particularly humiliating defeat for the senior officers of the authority who seemed determined to impose the worst cuts possible on the poorest sections of the workforce while protecting their own lavish pay.
At times over the last year or so, it has seemed as if some of the senior officers have been deliberately trying to provoke a confrontation.
Last week, for example, before the end of the 45-day "cooling off period", officers started to hold meetings with staff to explain how the process of dismissal and reengagement might happen.
This was provocative and threatening in the extreme. Some officers simply told staff that if they didn't sign new contracts then they would lose their job!
The senior officers completely ignored the attempt to try and resolve the dispute and resorted to trying to stampede the council into the "dismiss and reengagement" process.
The unions will be demanding that disciplinary action be taken against those responsible. While the senior officers wanted to implement the cuts, they will argue that they were only following orders from the Labour-led cabinet, which agreed to the cuts and dismissal and reengagement of the workforce if the cuts were not accepted in the first place.
It was the cabinet member with responsibility for HR, councillor Phil Webster, who intervened (to his credit) to try and search for alternative ways forward when it became clear that the unions would actively oppose the cuts. There is no doubt that Phil Webster did not and does not want to carry out cuts.
This applies to all of the Labour cabinet and the Labour councillors as a whole.
However, if they are opposed to cuts, then they have to be prepared to make a stand like councillors Gary Wareing, Jill Kennett and Dean Kirk and vote to refuse to implement the cuts at all.
The cabinet and Labour group should use this opportunity to start a campaign with the trade unions and local communities to force the Tories to return the £100 million stolen from the city.
If they don't, then all we have done is postpone a battle.
Victory against victimisation
Russ Bowering is the Wilmington One. He has been a Unison activist for many years and has been victimised for his trade union activities.
However, Russ has won a total victory against his employer, the waste disposal company FCC. FCC was originally a council run service.
Undoubtedly the key element behind Russ's victory was the threat of strike action by 25 fellow Unison members.
Another important element was the warning from Hull city council that it would implement its anti-blacklisting policy and refuse to use FCC in the future.
While Labour councils are implementing cuts up and down the country, it shows that pressure can be put on them to adopt anti-blacklisting and other policies which can help support threatened workers.
Russ's story shows how management can use the flimsiest of excuses to discipline workers who promote trade unionism.
Russ's job was to load wagons with waste. To do this he had to drive a front loading shovel into already stored waste.
The shed where the waste was held was divided by a wall. One side had green waste and the other ordinary waste.
In two separate Health and Safety meetings in 2009 Russ had pointed out to management that the shed was not safe because the wall separating the waste was not properly secured.
This meant that as he drove his shovel into the waste, it put pressure on the separating wall. The inevitable happened last July and the separating wall panel collapsed.
After trying and failing to contact his supervisor by radio, who was off site, Russ took the decision to leave the area himself so that management could be informed as to what had happened.
Leaving the area was the reason management used to try and discipline him and he has been off work since July.
A significant part of the victory was that not only was Russ reinstated, but he was reinstated on his original pre-TUPE terms and conditions.
Management had insisted that if he was to return it would have to be on less favourable terms and conditions.
This victory should encourage other victims of blacklisting and victimisation that they can win if the trade unions take up the cudgel.
Another warning to the labour movement from Russ's experience is that firms running privatised council services will try to reduce pay, terms and conditions. That is why trade unions have to fight council privatisations.
Russ would like to publicly thank all trade unionists who sent messages of support. He is determined to help others who have suffered like him and spoke at the National Shop Stewards Network Yorkshire conference on 23 November.
In The Socialist 27 November 2013:
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party review