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No future with care company Future Directions
Dozens of North West Unison union activists descended on Rochdale on the Bank Holiday weekend to support Unison members at Future Directions, a 'social care' company.
The 114 employees support people with learning disabilities in their own homes, and used to work for the council.
Privatised and run by a charity since 2006, in October last year the business was bought by Future Directions, a private company 100% owned by Calderstones NHS Trust (work that one out!).
Ever since, they have been battling to maintain conditions of service against an all-out onslaught - holidays down from eight to four weeks, no sick pay for the first three days and only for one month, no premium rates, you name it, the company wants everything.
Unison ballotted for three-day strike action to take place over the Bank Holiday weekend, and the workers responded with enthusiasm: 72% voted, 95+% voted to strike and the three-day Bank Holiday was selected.
Calderstone's NHS tried to get its own workers to scab over the weekend by offering to pay the very premium rates they want to deny their own staff! Prompt contact with Calderstone's Unison branch scotched that one.
Then, on the day before the strike was due to start - Saturday 25th May - the company gave notice it was seeking an injunction.
Set for a Manchester court at 1.00pm, the hearing was then transferred to Chester, giving the union the run-around.
The injunction to stop the strike was granted, on the same grounds that injunctions have been used against the RMT union, ie that the union had failed to supply the full details of the strikers' workplaces, which are of course the clients' homes.
Needless to say the management knew exactly where staff worked because they had demanded an exemption in every single client's case (several were agreed, including in the case of a terminally ill client).
So what should have been a strike rally nevertheless went ahead with workers who were off-shift, in brilliant sunshine and with big support from other branches.
Angela, who has worked for the service for 20 years, commented: "They say they have the experience but we're the only ones with the experience.
We are like family members to our clients. I travelled with one to visit his parents in France where they now live. We won't go down without a fight".
John Morrison, Unison steward, echoed her confidence: "We believe we will get our way".
This is a must-win dispute for Unison in the North West. A victory here would give heart to other care workers and to those still battling against privatisation. We haven't heard the last from the workers at Future Directions.
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 28 May 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.