Council workers back anti-cuts candidate

A MASS meeting of 400 council workers in Hackney has agreed to continue their campaign against attacks on their pay and conditions. Workers are determined that they should not have to pay for Hackney’s financial crisis, caused by government cuts in grants and incompetence and mismanagement by councillors and senior managers.

Jim Horton

New contracts have been issued removing entitlement to contractual redundancy pay and bonus payments. Low-paid workers, facing pay cuts of £1,500 this year, have been threatened with the sack if they do not sign. To resounding cheers and applause at the mass meeting, one council worker ripped up his new contract.

UNISON is advising members not to sign the contracts and will take cases to tribunal for unfair dismissal if the council go ahead with issuing 90-day notices to the workforce. The key to winning this dispute is further industrial action.

A stewards’ conference on 10 May backed selective action but the unions will need to respond with all-out action if management go ahead with mass sackings.

During the seven month-old dispute council workers have received huge support from Hackney residents who recognise that they are also fighting to defend everyone’s services.

In order to build on this community support, council stewards have agreed to support Glenn Kelly as an anti-cuts, anti-corruption candidate for the Northwold by-election on 7 June. Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly is a local government worker, resident in Hackney and a member of the London executive of UNISON.

Initially UNISON branch chair, Brian Debus, was the agreed candidate but the law prevents council workers standing in their own borough. Stewards therefore switched their support to Glenn.

Glenn’s standing allows council workers and all those opposed to the cuts to fight a united campaign for fully funded, high-quality services for Hackney.

The previous Liberal Democrat councillor for Northwold was jailed, along with another Tory councillor, for vote-rigging. While in office these councillors voted for the cuts package. Canvassing the ward has revealed huge enthusiasm for the idea of an independent workers’ candidate fighting cuts and corruption.

Alliance opposition

UNFORTUNATELY THE Socialist Alliance in Hackney, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), has decided to stand a candidate against the council workers in the Northwold ward.

This mistake has been compounded by the decision of the Socialist Alliance executive on 12 May, which voted against a resolution supported by national chair Dave Nellist, calling for the alliance candidate to withdraw and the council workers’ candidate to be given a free run. This is a bad decision when council workers are at a critical stage of their industrial dispute.

Council workers should be given full backing for making a political stand against the hated Labour/Tory coalition running Hackney council. The election of an anti-cuts candidate backed by the stewards would give enormous encouragement to the workforce. Combined with further industrial action, management can be forced to back down.

Hackney Socialist Alliance (HSA) is already standing in the parliamentary seat of Hackney South, and in the Queensbridge and Springfield wards. Council workers want to stand in just one ward, Northwold.

HSA says that their candidate will fight on an anti-cuts platform but will also raise socialist policies. Council workers expect nothing less. But HSA will not focus on the cuts or the fight of council workers.

Free run for New Labour

In the run-up to the strike on 1 May, while HSA had many posters up around Hackney on a variety of issues, there were no posters supporting or even publicising the strike. Meanwhile HSA is prepared to give Diane Abbott, the New Labour candidate a free run in the parliamentary seat covering Northwold. But they’re not prepared to do the same for a working-class anti-cuts candidate.

Although the council workers are not putting forward a full socialist programme they are raising demands that challenge Blair’s capitalist policies, such as an end to privatisation, the return of £50 million worth of grants stolen by the government since 1997 and cancellation of the debts which currently cost every Hackney resident over £400 a year.

But the main issue is that workers in struggle are breaking from New Labour and should be supported by all those seeking to build a united Left alternative.

HSA claims that Glenn does not have the real backing of the council workforce. But UNISON is prevented by its own rules from officially supporting Glenn, however, leading stewards and branch officers have backed him.

The idea of standing an anti-cuts candidate was first raised at the beginning of the dispute in November and was discussed at an anti-cuts conference organised by UNISON on 3 December. (See column, right for a chronology of events.)

Unfortunately, attempts to reach a compromise with HSA have failed. Stewards offered them first choice of seat. Originally HSA insisted they wanted to stand Mitch Dublin in Northwold ward. Mitch is an SWP member and ex-council worker, now working for the private waste management company with the council contract.

The stewards then offered to stand in Queensbridge. When HSA changed its mind and argued for Mitch to be the candidate in Queensbridge, the stewards conceded and agreed to stand in Northwold.

The stewards also offered to put a statement of support for alliance candidates in other wards on their leaflets, provided this was approved by the stewards’ conference. But HSA would not make any concessions.

The stewards were told that if a council worker wanted to stand as a candidate, this had to be under the banner of HSA.

The stewards decided to go ahead with standing an anti-cuts candidate and attended the HSA selection meeting on 9 May. But their arguments were ignored.

John Page, UNISON branch secretary, was prevented from finishing his speech. Shamefully the alliance meeting, overwhelmingly composed of SWP members, voted to stand against the stewards-backed candidate.

But 27 convenors, stewards and branch officers, including John Page and Brian Debus, UNISON branch secretary and chair support Glenn. (see box below).

A further 96 council workers signed a petition in support of Glenn at the mass meeting on 14 May.

What happened when

1 February

UNISON branch AGM passes motion calling on members not to pay into the union political fund.

19 April

Stewards conference agree to stand an anti-cuts candidate on 7 June, in one of the three council by-elections.

1 May

One-day strike of council workers. Anti-cuts candidate endorsed at mass meeting.

9 May

Hackney Socialist Alliance selection meeting decides to stand in all three ward by-elections. This means standing against the anti-cuts candidate, Glenn Kelly, in Northwold ward.

10 May

Stewards’ conference back selective action against new contracts. 16 stewards and convenors, a majority of the meeting, endorse Glenn Kelly as candidate, making 27 in total.

12 May

Socialist Alliance national executive backs Hackney SA’s decision to stand against Glenn Kelly, the anti-cuts candidate.

14 May

400 at UNISON mass meeting, which agrees to continue the fight against attacks on pay and conditions. 96 more council workers sign the petition in Glenn’s support.

The stewards and convenors supporting Glenn Kelly’s candidature

Brian Debus, UNISON chair, John Page, UNISON branch secretary, Jude Ritchie, education convenor, Steve Edwards, TGWU convenor, Louise Jackson, Social Services convenor. Khadija Wurie, convenor, Dalston Neighbourhood Office.

Stewards: Ricky Jones, education; Carlene Edwards, libraries; Chris Stone, Len Stephenson and Linda Challenger social services; Tony Hunt, Corporate Health and Safety; Kudu Omogbai, Dalston Housing Office; Daphne Ramsey, Policy/regeneration/communications.

Maya Vinobhai, Lindon House Nursery; Shirley Connors, Facilities, Management Services; Derek Fergus, Licensing; Sam Jess, CSSU; Clive Rattray, Trowbridge Day Centre; Sue O’Connor, Central Dept Estate Cleaner; Dorothy Plashett and Gary Chaplin Libraries; Nkrumah Maison, Housing; Joe Kirlew, Keltan House; Will Leng, Kay Adams and Jean Webster.