Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/386/4373
Fighting cuts at the Housing Corporation
NEW LABOUR wants government services to be more efficient. To most of us this would imply projects completed on time and on budget, phones answered more quickly, filing kept up to date... but when Gordon Brown speaks of increased efficiency, he just means less money.
My employer, the Housing Corporation, comes under the control of John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister. We invest £1 billion of public funds in affordable homes through housing associations, and we regulate landlords to protect tenant interests. For us, efficiency has meant being branded faceless bureaucrats, and a restructuring to lose 12% of our staff.
Through our trade unions, UNISON and Amicus, we have been organising a fightback that has grown over the last few months. Members are angry at the way management is implementing the cuts.
So we armed ourselves with an understanding of employment law and challenged their lack of consultation, forcing them back to the drawing board on proposed restructuring.
We had a consultative ballot to stop directors getting carte blanche to cherry-pick favourites for new posts. We won 95% support and major changes to the proposals.
On 9 March, 32 staff lobbied outside our Headquarters in London to demand guarantees of no compulsory redundancies, a freeze on external recruitment and a reduced workload in line with the number of jobs lost - a decimated workforce would otherwise be taking on the work of redundant staff.
Management - never knowingly in tune with the coal face - has been visibly shaken by the unexpected militancy of staff. A Board member 'dropped by' the protest lobby to find out what was going on.
Senior managers hand-delivered reassuring and conciliatory letters to the empty desks of protesters. We have won significant gains, but need to keep building the confidence of workers new to industrial struggle.
Across the civil service - the backbone of the public sector - 104,000 workers are to be made redundant, just as people on invalidity benefit are being bullied back to work.
Even so, drastic cost-cutting will only realise 6% of the amount needed to balance the government's books. We believe the cuts would make us more bureaucratic, less accountable and less responsive to those we serve, and we will continue to fight them.
In The Socialist 2 April 2005: