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Birmingham: Front line in the fight against cuts
Sometimes the bosses hesitate before attacking workers. Sometimes they proceed slowly. And sometimes they rush to strike a devastating blow. Birmingham City Council struck just such a blow last week when every one of its 26,000 employees was told that their job was on the line unless they accepted reduced pay and conditions.
Birmingham Socialist Party members
The council's move is part of a drive to slash costs in the face of brutal government funding cuts of £330 million.
Birmingham council workers strike on 5 February 2008, photo S O'Neill
Any council worker who refuses to accept a new contract faces being sacked without compensation, and then may or may not be re-employed on forcibly reduced terms and conditions.
Chief Executive Stephen 'Hatchet' Hughes made it clear that he would stand for no opposition to the cuts.
'Tinkering round the edges doesn't work in this context', he stated, 'we have to work out a plan and be ruthless in implementing it'.
The Tory-Liberal administration in the city has had no qualms about following the lead of its Tory-Liberal counterpart in parliament, having already announced 2,000 redundancies earlier in the year, along with cuts and closures in services such as care homes, nurseries, child protection and mental health support.
Birmingham, which was once known as the 'city of a thousand-and-one trades', has seen its manufacturing industry reduced to a rump over recent years, leaving behind a wasteland of derelict industrial sites, run-down council estates and under-resourced public services.
Skilled jobs have evaporated and a job in the public sector has become the only decent avenue open to workers as an alternative to a 'McJob' in the service industry.
If the council bosses casualise the jobs of their 26,000 workers, it will have an impact far beyond local government.
The families of the workers will be affected, along with private sector workers who supply and support the council.
People who depend heavily on public services, such as the elderly, youth and parents with young children will be hit hardest of all, in a city where homelessness has already increased 140% this year.
Birmingham Council workers on strike, 24 April 2008, photo S. O Neill
The 'phoney war' between the classes in Birmingham is over - the bosses have declared open class war.
Workers in Birmingham and the West Midlands will not take this lying down. They will expect a fighting response from the trade union leaders to defend their terms and conditions and all public services in the region.
Coordinated action by the city's trade unions can defeat these cuts, with industrial action by council workers backed up by solidarity action from workers elsewhere in the public and private sectors.
Unions should unite to call a massive demonstration in Birmingham to defend public services, leading to a city wide public sector strike if necessary.
The spivs and speculators in the banks and stock exchanges caused this recession by gambling away billions.
We say: let the rich pay the price for the crisis, not the workers!
Solidarity with Birmingham City Council workers!