Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/341/5709
Defending trade union rights in Newham
"We've got to stick together on this one"
OVER 4,000 UNISON members in Newham, east London, are balloting this week to take strike action. The council is attempting to evict the union from its premises and withdraw full-time facilities from the three main branch officials.
Bill Mullins spoke to Dave Fish, a UNISON shop steward in the street cleansing department. He told the socialist why they are balloting for strike action.
"We have to go for at least a week-long strike against the council. One-day strikes are a waste of time, we should bring sections of the workforce out on all-out strike. That will have the biggest effect on the council.
We should bring out the dustbin workers, the schools staff; we should ask the other unions to come out with us as well. Robin Wales (the Labour mayor) is trying to do to us what Maggie Thatcher tried to do to the unions - that is to crush them. What the hell are we still paying money to the Labour Party for?
The other week at a meeting with the management they told us that they were introducing a private company to do the street cleaning in Little Ilford (a part of Newham). When we protested they said it was only a pilot scheme and our jobs would be "safe". What are they doing a pilot scheme for then? They even told us that the workers on the scheme were not allowed to join the union.
Well we were told the same over agency workers but we got them into the union. Now the same bloke, Gerry Reagan, who told us that, is now in Hackney trying to do the unions down there as well. I saw him the other week and asked him how many workers he'd sacked today.
We speak our minds in Newham about these things and we want the other unions to do the same. Unfortunately that is not always the case. At a meeting a few months ago with Robin Wales and all the council unions, the GMB bloke asked us all to hold hands around the table rather than shout at each other. What can you say to that? It takes your breath away.
Nobody's job is safe with this lot; everybody's worried about the job. The parks department has been privatised and handed over to a company called Clearway, what wages are they paying them, £4.50 an hour or what?
It would be good if all the unions across London came out on strike together, the teachers, the fire fighters, the postal workers, the council workers. We've all been on strike over London weighting.
I used to work in the "blitz team" for social services, cleaning out homes, getting rid of dead dogs and cats all for £12,000 a year. Then I went to street cleaning and increased my wages by 50%. Who wants to go back to low wages?
The bosses tell us if you don't like it then there are 12 others out there who will do your job. Newham has got east European workers who go up to the west end to do cleaning for £4.50 an hour. That's what the bosses are threatening us with. We've got to stick together on this one.
The council wants us out of the building so they can sell it to developers. Meanwhile they offered us a room the size of a broom cupboard as a replacement, they must be joking."
The council have turned down an offer of arbitration from UNISON. The ballot for strike action closes on 4 April.
In The Socialist 3 April 2004:
Workplace news and events
International socialist news and analysis