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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 July 2008


Build further action after successful council strike

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

The successful local government strike on 16 and 17 July in England, Wales and Northern Ireland involving unions Unison and Unite, was the biggest strike so far in opposition to the government's pay freeze. By withdrawing their labour, care workers, librarians, bin workers, school staff and others, brought to everyone's attention the number of essential services they provide.

Many schools, libraries, bin depots and other services were closed or disrupted. In some areas, even services were affected that have been privatised out of local government.

Hundreds of thousands of Unison members and tens of thousands in Unite sacrificed two days' pay in protest against a 2.45% pay offer which has followed ten years of below-inflation pay deals in local government. Many of these workers are only on the minimum wage or little more, sometimes having to do an extra job to make ends meet.

Many workers had received letters from management urging them not to strike because vulnerable people and essential services would suffer. Yet these are the very workers who have to ensure these services function with fewer resources and low pay.

The strike was well supported throughout the country but could have been more solid had the union leaderships built for it in a more determined manner as soon as it was called. However the action encouraged a new fighting layer to turn out for picket lines, showing a layer of trade unionists who are becoming more active and looking for a fightback.

PCS union members in the Coastguards, Driving Service Agency and Home Office also took strike action during the same week and passport offices for three days the following week.

The Unison leadership avoided calling strike action for a number of years despite attacks on the pay and conditions of their members. But this strike showed that even leaders who are closely linked to New Labour have had to react to the growing anger of their members as expressed at the recent Unison national conference.

New Labour

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

Unison Local Government strike 16-17 July in London, photo Paul Mattsson

These union leaders put the blame for the derisory pay offer purely onto the local government employers. Yet pay restraint, privatisation and cuts in local government have all been dictated by the Labour government, which council workers are well aware of.

Local authorities have made billions of 'efficiency' savings at the expense of council workers through privatisation, cuts in jobs and services and increased workloads. We must demand that they stop all cuts (except in the pay of chief executives and excessive expenses for councillors) and that the government properly fund councils to ensure improved services and decent pay for those who deliver them.

Anger towards New Labour and its funding by the unions was expressed on picket lines and at rallies. There was support for the Campaign for a New Workers' Party and at the London strike rally the hall resounded with a chant of "break the link".

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, has felt compelled to announce a review of the 1.5 million Unison gives to the Labour Party each year. But this issue would not even have got on the agenda at the recent Unison conference had delegates not voted to debate a motion which had been kept off the agenda - moved by Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly - calling for a review of the political fund.

Union members are gaining nothing from this funding. Before the present talks between Labour and the unions in Warwick, government ministers made it clear that the anti-trade union laws would remain, including the ban on secondary picketing. The link with Labour must be broken and union money used instead to fund election candidates who represent workers' interests.

Further action

Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Lincoln, photo Lincoln Socialist Party

Unison Local Government strike on 16-17 July in Lincoln, photo Lincoln Socialist Party

Unions in local government must make plans for more action and not lose the impetus following the two-day strike. Local government workers in Scotland are currently balloting over pay with possible strikes in mid August and Unison are meeting this week to review their strike and consider more. GMB, not on strike with Unite and Unison, should re-run their ballot in local government and campaign for a 'yes' vote for action alongside other local government workers. Unions should consult their members in local government about how best to progress the action.

The PCS, which has already taken more action than most unions, is consulting its members in all sectors over the summer with plans to ballot for 12 days of varying strike action on pay in September consisting of sector and all-union action. The NUT national executive hopes to ballot in September for discontinuous action, although unfortunately this may not take place until late November.

Unison's health executive, which did not campaign among members against a three year pay deal averaging 2.6% a year, is meeting this week. A motion is on the agenda calling for pay negotiations to reopen on the basis that inflation levels have increased since the deal was agreed. If the Pay Review body refuses to recommend a better offer then Unison health alongside other health unions must prepare to ballot for strike action.

Calls for united action across the public sector received huge support at rallies and meetings during the council strike. In the absence of the TUC coordinating public sector action, the PCS have consistently invited other unions to discuss united action. If the leaders of other public sector unions were as committed to united action as their members, a much needed 24 hour public-sector strike would be possible.

With workers struggling to pay rocketing food and fuel bills and the economy in decline, such determined action is needed to avoid workers paying for this crisis.

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In The Socialist 22 July 2008:

Stop The Gas Price Rip-Off

Car taxes add to inflation misery

Local government strike

Build further action after successful council strike

Reports of the Unsion strike

Pictures of the Unison strike

Socialist Party workplace news

Argos workers strike against insulting pay offer

London bus drivers' protest

PCS strikes

Usdaw election

Socialist Party news and analysis

Punishing the jobless for being jobless

Bankers' dirty tricks?

International socialist news and analysis

Say no to military attack on Iran

Political impasse in the Kurdish region of Iraq

Pakistan: 50,000 textile workers strike


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