Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/473/2038
Southampton care workers
Stop the Valentine's Day pay massacre !
Workers in six Southampton care homes received huge local support last weekend during a three-day strike to stop vicious wage cuts being imposed by the city council.
Nick Chaffey, Gavin Marsh and Jamie Davis
Not content with just picketing their workplaces in the freezing cold, nearly 200 care workers, most of whom have never been on strike before, took the protest to the council offices where they shouted and chanted their anger.
The council tried to use agency staff to break the strike but were shocked when some refused to work and instead joined the union and the picket lines.
Letters were delivered to care workers over Christmas, announcing that their contracts were to be terminated and giving them the 'choice' of being re-employed on new ones - on significantly lower pay. The cuts range from £1,300 to £7,000 a year. Workers were enraged at management's attitude, who suggested staff could get jobs at Tescos if they didn't like working for the council!
A worker at one of the homes for eleven years, Cheryl Banbury, told the socialist that she stands to lose £2,263 a year. "My mortgage payments have just gone up, so I have been sitting at home night after night worrying about how I am going to manage. I can't get a second job because of the hours I work. Management have said they don't want to listen to 'sob stories' so we have no choice but to fight."
Care worker Kathleen Bolton said: "I stand to lose over £1,000 a year, but what is making everyone really angry is that they gave us a pay rise in 1999 when they reassessed our jobs. For them to do a u-turn a few years down the line and tell us that we are not worth the money after all is a real insult."
Another worker commented: "I've worked here for 27 years and we work hard and do a good job. Just because private care workers get less doesn't mean we should get less, it means they should get the same as us."
This situation is just the tip of a massive £6 million cuts iceberg in Southampton council, with around 100 threatened redundancies and the privatisation of 800 jobs. Over 100 care workers have filed individual grievances to the council over the cuts. One said: "It's crazy, it will cost the council thousands of pounds in working hours to deal with the grievances, plus untold costs if they go to tribunal. It would be far cheaper for them to just pay our wages."
These workers have a battle ahead, but have huge public support, including from clients and their families. A decision by UNISON members to ballot for council-wide action must be urgently carried out. The council has already been rocked by the fierce determination of the care workers and widening the dispute will intensify pressure on them to back down.
The next strike day is 14 February and will include a mass lobby of the council budget-setting meeting.
As the cuts were agreed by all three parties on the council, Tory, Labour and Liberals, some strikers are discussing who they will vote for in the May elections. One striker has expressed willingness to stand as a candidate herself and other anti-cuts strikers and campaigners should consider doing likewise to help present a real alternative to pay cuts and job losses.
In The Socialist 7 February 2007:
Civil servants' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party Marxist analysis