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From: The Socialist issue 201, 13 April 2001: Dinners For Them... Dole For The Workers

Search site for keywords: 35-hour week - Knowsley - Unison - Council - Strike - Merseyside - Roger Bannister

Knowsley Unison - Council Concedes Historic 35-Hours For All Deal

UNISON MEMBERS in Knowsley council on Merseyside have won a major victory in defending their 35-hour working week and extending it within the council workforce.

After a total of six days strike action between 1 February and 8 March by UNISON members, the council conceded the union demands.

A special general meeting of Knowsley UNISON on 9 April voted unanimously to accept the agreement negotiated between UNISON and Knowsley council.

Branch Secretary Roger Bannister said: "We fought this campaign on two slogans, 'Defend the 35-hour week' and '35-hours for all', this agreement achieves both of these objectives!

"This agreement will undoubtedly set a target for other local government branches to aim for over the coming period, provided that members are well organised, and have a fighting leadership."

Council attack

THE COUNCIL had served notice on the 35-hour week agreement from 1 February, using the Local Government Single Status agreement as the pretext.

They attempted to isolate 35-hour week members by denying them promotion and recruiting only to 37-hour contracts; so that in a relatively short period of time the 35-hour week would become a thing of the past in Knowsley.

But this strategy took no account of the anger of UNISON members at this attack, nor of their determination to fight back. A strike ballot of over 1,300 members voted by 78.6% to take action. By the time the first one-day strike took place union recruitment had swelled the ranks of strikers to over 1,400.

Throughout the dispute, management miscalculated. The Chief Executive wrote to all members over the Christmas holiday urging them to vote "NO" in the ballot, (the ballot result shows how few of them actually paid any attention to this advice!)

Then management appeared to assume that the strike would not happen. So, when UNISON offered to suspend the action for the 56 days allowed under law if they suspended their 37-hour proposals the council refused, only offering a partial concession.

The branch annual general meeting took place shortly after the first strike, and management circulated scurrilous literature urging members to attend and vote to end the strike.

In the event a massive turnout voted to endorse the actions of the strike committee and to escalate the dispute.

Salary advice notes then arrived three days early, in an attempt to create an anti-strike mood by showing how much pay had been deducted. Even this stunt backfired for two reasons.

Firstly, the deductions net of Income Tax and National Insurance were not as great as some members feared and, secondly, because it was such an obvious stunt. (Many members had never received their notes on time before and had been told that it was impossible for this to be done!)

Strike victory

THE STRIKES were held over one or two-day periods, determined by the strike committee, and they closed virtually the whole council.

Members of TGWU, GMB, UCATT, AEU and NUT unions refused to cross UNISON picket lines.

The last day strike was as solid and effective as the first. Eventually, management agreed to UNISON's proposal to attend talks with a "third party" facilitator.

These talks lasted four and a half days, and the agreement which was hammered out has to be seen as a major victory to UNISON.

This is because whilst it allows the council to recruit to 37-hour contracts, it protects the current 35-hour week and commits the council to putting the entire Single Status workforce onto a 35-hour week in two stages over the next seven years.

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