Angry Hackney Workers Ready for Struggle

HACKNEY COUNCIL workers were so outraged by the speech of Mad Max Caller, chief executive of Hackney council, that some of them tried to pull him off the stage of the Hackney Empire at the 21 November mass meeting.

Bill Mullins

One worker, mad with anger, jumped onto the stage. Hackney’s boss made a hasty “exit – stage right” out of the theatre.

Caller tried to justify to the packed meeting why he wanted to cut their wages and sack hundreds of their colleagues to solve the council’s crisis. “It’s your jobs or the services,” he told the stunned gathering.

The day before the meeting a leaked report revealed that the council was facing a deficit of £76 million. Max had already put through a massive cuts budget when it was thought that the deficit was £40 million but every council worker was left in no doubt that they were in for the “most serious fight that they had ever faced”, in the words of Gary Nash TGWU branch secretary.

Caller had asked to address the mass meeting and take questions. I don’t know what he expected to get out of it but it was the best thing that could have happened to develop the struggle.

Worker after worker came to the microphone and asked why he expected them to shoulder the burden of the crisis.

One worker demanded to know how much he’d got in backhanders from the private company that had made such a mess of managing the council tax and housing benefit departments.

To huge applause a housing worker demanded to know how Caller on his £150,000 expected her to live after he had cut her wages by half.

A night care worker was almost in tears as she accused Caller of wanting to drive her into poverty along with 200 of her workmates if he cut her wages by £50 per week.

Carlene Edwards, a library worker and Socialist Party member, brought the mass meeting to their feet when she demanded that Caller resign – and the whole council as well. “I’ve worked for the council for two and half years but I’m still considered a temporary worker”.

Caller had said that his job was to protect the permanent staff, “even if it means letting go the hundreds of temporary workers on the payroll”.

“We have to demand back the £50 million robbed from the council by the Labour government, not cut our jobs and conditions,” said Carlene.

Brian Debus, UNISON chair and Socialist Party member, moved the main resolution from the shop stewards. This outlined a series of actions including all-out support for the 25 November demonstration and the community conference on 3 December (see back page).

He also called for all council workers to join the day of action on 29 November and lobby the council meeting. “Leave your workplace at 12pm and join the mass lobby” said Brian.

The meeting voted unanimously for his resolution, including an all-council strike on 18 December, after the strike ballot result has been announced.

A teacher’s leader earlier had said that he’d instruct all his members not to cross a picket line on that day: “So make sure that every school in Hackney is picketed on 18 December”.

Clearly after this meeting, Hackney’s workers are ready for a mighty struggle. It is unfortunate that some of the most decisive sections such as the bin workers will already have been privatised by 18 December and therefore legally not able to participate in the strike action.

Nevertheless, this meeting was a gigantic step forwards in the campaign and shows how this struggle can be won.