Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/859/20879
Council cancels union organising time to pave way for cuts
Onay Kasab, Unite regional organiser
A Tory council in south London has withdrawn vital time for staff representatives to do trade union work. Meanwhile, it is preparing to demolish council services. The timing is no coincidence.
Council workers, residents and service users in the London borough of Bromley are marching on 13 June. We will send a loud and clear message to the Conservative leadership: people and services first!
Trade union facility time - paid time off for elected stewards to organise and represent members - has been abolished. Not by rogue managers, but following a political decision by Bromley Conservatives.
These are no "shy" Tories. They oppose public services: they see them as a tax burden on the rich, which should be profit-making businesses instead. Councillors publicly stated that taxpayers must not foot the bill for trade union 'time off'. This was the sole justification for their attack.
The law makes clear that employers must provide this time. Leaving this aside, general union Unite called the council's bluff, offering to foot the bill - 'costing' the taxpayer nothing. The council refused!
In place of facility time, Unite and Unison trade union branch secretaries must request time case by case. Surprise, surprise - requests have already been refused.
This attack comes at the same time as a mass privatisation programme. In-house staffing will fall from over 3,000 to 300.
Proposals for libraries demonstrate the Tories' sheer arrogance: sell them off, and have volunteers take the place of paid professionals.
The council undertook a public consultation. It asked - in light of the 'need' to make over £60 million of cuts over five years - did library users agree with the council's proposals?
An amazing 83% said they did not agree, and wanted services run directly by the council. Those few who supported the privatise-and-volunteer option likely did so because it was posed as stopping closures. Despite this result, the Tories are going ahead.
This is the same party which says over 40% of union members in 'core' public services must vote for a strike - or it can't happen. Such a system counts not voting as voting against! They clearly have no problem with this gross hypocrisy.
But we are not sitting back and taking it. Unite members have started a campaign, including strike action, to defend services and union rights.
What is happening in Bromley is what awaits the rest of the country. It is now essential the battles in council after council are joined up, and strikes co-ordinated.
The Tories are launching a national campaign to attack public services and trade union rights. That demands a national trade union response - starting with co-ordinated national strike action against all employers' attacks. This could be a step towards a 24-hour general strike against austerity.
Immediately, the Trades Union Congress must organise dissent against the proposed new anti-strike laws. This should include a weekday demonstration outside parliament at their first reading.
In The Socialist 10 June 2015:
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