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Council workers in Cheshire strike against attacks on pay
Staff from Cheshire West and Chester Council were left with no choice but to take industrial action in protest over unfair changes to the terms and conditions of their contracts.
The changes, imposed upon them by the Tory-controlled council, include the removal of pay enhancements for staff working weekends, overtime and bank holidays, as well as a reduction in the pay rate for working nights.
Members of Unite, Unison and GMB have described the changes as "savage cuts" and claimed that they will take "£4 million a year out of the pocket of council staff".
On top of a three year pay freeze, council staff, 70% of whom earn less than £21,000 a year, have now been hit with pay cuts of up to 10%.
This from Cheshire West and Chester councillors who, between 1st April 2011 and 1st April 2012, were paid £1,166,513.34 in total cumulative allowances!
In order to enforce the new terms and conditions, the council threatened its staff with dismissal if they failed to sign the contracts within 90 days.
The recent industrial action followed a three hour strike on Valentine's Day as well as several rounds of strikes in early Spring.
For two successive Saturdays at the end of March library staff walked out and strike action successfully took place in Chester, Winsford, Northwich, Ellesmere Port and Neston.
Socialist Party members and anti-cuts activists joined council trade union members in leafleting and collecting petition signatures on the picket line outside Chester library.
The response from the public was extremely positive, with many people choosing not to cross the picket line, in support of the striking library staff.
The action continued over the Easter bank holiday weekend as staff from various council departments joined the strikes.
Threats, which had earlier been made by Cheshire West and Chester Council to take High Court action in order to stop its workforce from striking, were withdrawn, though the council did deploy managers (earning between £40,000 and £50,000 a year) to attempt to break the strikes.
Reports from Northwich Library on Saturday 7 April state that two managers were deployed that day to work alongside casual staff.
However, upon arriving at the library, and following a discussion with the striking staff, the casual staff refused to cross the picket line and the two managers were left to run the library on their own.
Chester and other libraries across Cheshire West were also picketed on 7 April and remained closed.
The most recent action took place last weekend, with council staff once again taking to the picket lines, supported by local Socialist Party members and anti-cuts activists.
Services that were affected by the action included: residential care, parking enforcement, libraries, markets and street cleaning.
In relation to this, Unison felt it important to stress that: "Striking is a last resort for all our members but due to the obstinacy of the council refusing to discuss a solution we have been forced to do this".
Cheshire West and Chester councillors have called a meeting at the end of this month to further discuss the on-going dispute. However, the mood amongst the striking staff remains angry and defiant, with council employee Ian Clay stating: "The fight will go on!"
Anna Vickery, Chester Socialist Party
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 17 May 2012 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.