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Birmingham home carers victory - Strikers push back cuts council
Birmingham Socialist Party
Birmingham home care strikers are victorious! There is finally an end to the Birmingham home carers' 20-month long dispute, with over 80 strike days, against attacks to their working patterns and pay - and indeed the service itself - by Birmingham Labour Council.
This will be another blow to the council who recently lost to another group of workers - the Birmingham bin workers who won their fight against blacklisting in March this year.
The Birmingham home carers were defending their working hours as the council originally proposed a pattern of three split shifts. But as the dispute escalated the council changed this to cutting all contracted hours to part time - meaning some staff would lose up to £11,000 a year!
The council used every dirty trick to wear the workers down - isolating them in one-on-one meetings, pushing voluntary redundancy and other heavy-handed managerial tactics. The workers still stood strong with continued support for strike action which was led by public service union Unison. This was a battle of wills with the council wanting to save face and not lose to another set of its workers.
However, it was the workers who came out on top with the council withdrawing every proposal and the staff being able to keep their jobs under current hours and shifts.
While this is an amazing win for the workers and communities of Birmingham, there are no illusions that this story is completely over. The battle over hours may be behind them but the war over saving the service indefinitely is far from complete.
Only this year the council voted to scrap another 1,000 jobs - where these will come from is yet to be made public. Will this be the entire home care service? Will they attack the bin workers again? Who knows - but one thing is clear, no worker is safe while the Labour council continues to carry out the Tories' dirty work. This Labour council is more afraid to stand up to weak and wobbly Theresa May than of their own workers going below the poverty breadline.
The best way for the home carers to ensure their jobs are safe in the long term is to link up their issues with all council workers facing similar attacks.
A citywide council strike would not only stop the Labour councillors in their tracks, but it would also show to the workers and people of Birmingham who really has the power in society. It's the workers who keep everything going. It would firmly pose the question of the need for councillors who stand for the working class.
There is potential for Birmingham to act as a catalyst. Trade unions, local communities and activists can build towards a wider campaign across other councils for coordinated strike action to end this weak, divided and hated Tory government and its austerity agenda and attacks on our services. In every council there is the potential for this.
The battle to save the Birmingham home care workers' hours and pay was long fought and turbulent. Unlike the recent Birmingham bin strike, the home care dispute did not receive nearly as much press coverage or wider publicity.
The fact it took Birmingham Labour council 20 months to settle shows the council have no regard for a service which looks after vulnerable citizens.
Besides striking, the home carers also had to apply political pressure on the council. In 2018, Unison's regional leadership just followed the tactic of trying to appeal to councillors' emotions. But Unison members became frustrated with the lack of development and the union was forced to take more decisive action against the councillors.
Finally, political pressure was built, exposing the hypocrisy of a Labour council, which is meant to be on the side of workers. Strikers targeted specific cabinet members by door knocking and leafletting their wards, letting communities know exactly what these so-called representatives were doing to a public service. Additionally, with the development of the bin workers going on strike at the end of 2018 - the workers, with the support of the Socialist Party, held a joint day of action.
From this pressure, cracks within the Labour council began to show. Not only did cabinet member Councillor Majid Mahmood step down from his position but there was an open letter signed by 23 councillors to Council Leader Ian Ward, voicing their anger at the handling of the disputes.
The day of joint strike action gave a glimpse of what could be possible when workers link up. It's the role of the unions to now start building a mass campaign among all its workers to build for a coordinated citywide strike against austerity and to save all services. While the council has capitulated to the workers on this issue, it still has cuts on its agenda so no council workers are truly safe.
Furthermore, Jeremy Corbyn needs to come out publicly on the side of these workers. His complete absence during the home care and bin strikes did not go unnoticed by the strikers. He needs to call on these councillors acting as the Tories' axemen either to stop or work alongside the workers trying to defend these public services or step aside. If he doesn't, he will jeopardise the massive support he was able to build on his anti-austerity manifesto during the 2017 general election.
The affiliated trade unions should refuse to pay any money to any councillor or MP who is continuing to cut public services and attack their members. Instead they should put their own candidates forward who will stand on a no-cuts budget, refuse to carry out austerity and stand on a workers' wage so they continue to reflect ordinary people.
We need councillors who are prepared to fight and put forward socialist policies - such as building council homes, council services being brought back into public ownership and all cuts carried out in the city of Birmingham reversed.
In order to change the council, the unions need to carry out a coordinated campaign across all council departments for an all-out strike against cuts to council jobs and services - then not only would the home carers be safe from current and future attacks but councillors who are unwilling to back the unions will be brought down and fighting ones put in their place.
In The Socialist 22 May 2019:
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