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London weighting: Lessons Of The Strike Action
UNISON members in Waltham Forest, east London kept up the selective strike action this week by bringing out school keepers and site services officers. While the action was well supported by strikers, other workers, parents and even school students, the limitations of this kind of action are being to become apparent.
Mike Cleverley, UNISON
While only one school was closed the action clearly demonstrated once again that a quality education service depends upon support staff as well as teaching staff. Pickets were out at schools throughout the borough and workers concentrated their forces where it was most effective.
On 9 December we heard that scab labour might be brought in to do the work of striking staff at Warwick Boys secondary school. This provocation was stopped when it was discovered that essential police checks, to ensure that the scabs were suitable for working in a school, had not been carried out!
The picket ensured that UNISON members in the kitchen and school office refused to cross the picket line. Even though non-union labour was bussed into the kitchen, the demonstration of solidarity gave a real boost to the strikers.
On 10 December, after the union advised that secondary picketing might be illegal, a mass rally was organised outside the offices of EduAction. This is the private company brought in by the Labour council when they admitted that they were not competent to run the borough's education service themselves!
The mostly low-paid staff of the company, who felt they could not break their contracts by striking, voiced their support for our action.
On 12 December, a mass picket was organised at Leytonstone school where the site officer, a UNISON steward, was still working. Because the school had wind of the mass picket and the person concerned was unwilling to face striking colleagues, the head teacher opened the school. Again, kitchen and office staff refused to cross our picket lines.
Important lessons have been learned by all of us in this action and the union will have to reconsider its tactics if this important claim, for a £4,000 London allowance is to be victorious.
Many new members have been won because UNISON is seen to be standing up for an entirely just claim.
Solidarity is alive and well in the working class movement! Not only have people been prepared to respect picket lines but other workers, parents, school governors and school students have all voiced their support with words of encouragement and the tooting of car horns.
Union stewards, elected in times of a lull in class action, who are not capable of giving a fighting lead, will be replaced by a new layer of activists.
The election of a Labour council is no defence of either services or workers' rights. The call for a new party to defend workers' interests against both the Tories and the bosses' lackeys in New Labour will continue to be raised again and again.
In The Socialist 20 December 2003: