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Hackney Workers can win
OVER 5,000 Hackney council workers across dozens of separate workplaces came out on strike on 20 December against draconian cuts to jobs and services. They left the councillors and council chief "Mad Max" completely isolated and demonstrated who really runs the council services.
Bill Mullins, Socialist Party Industrial Organiser
The well-supported strike was organised by all the council unions including UNISON, TGWU and GMB. Ground maintenance workers, estate workers, white-collar workers in the town hall and other workplaces maintained pickets from early morning with hardly any scabbing except by a handful of managers.
Based on this massive show of support the joint shop stewards committee have a real chance of winning. At their last meeting, Brian Debus, chair of the UNISON branch and a Socialist Party member, moved for a three-day and a five-day strike in January. Then if the council refuse to back down, the shop stewards should prepare for an all-out strike.
Unfortunately the committee amended his resolution merely to call for "an escalation of the action" without saying how this could be achieved.
This does not match the mood of the workers, who are clearly looking for a plan to make the management back down. They know that a one-day strike was a warning shot to the council but will not be enough to make them retreat.
The council are issuing 90-day redundancy notices to all workers. This means they can issue new contracts of employment which worsen conditions for all council workers.
The new contracts will be based on the lowest possible national terms and conditions. Local agreements will be wiped out, including the Hackney low-paid supplement of £40 per week. Long serving workers will see their holiday reduced by four days per year, paternity leave will be reduced from eleven days to six days. White-collar staff will be forced to work an extra hour per week without pay.
Hundreds of posts will be cut on top of the hundreds of temporary workers already sacked. Whole departments will be closed and the audit commission has demanded that the council privatise many more services.
A CRUCIAL question has developed over the control of negotiations. What has been won on the picket line can easily be lost over the negotiating table.
All negotiations should be subject to the shop stewards' and members' meetings. It is clear that some on the negotiating committee do not want this.
Already the negotiators have accepted that they will negotiate on the implementation of lower terms and conditions, instead of rejecting the council's demands outright. If they persist in breaking their mandate a resolution before the shop stewards' committee calls for the right of recall and the election of a new negotiating committee.
Refuse workers, including bin workers and street cleaners voted 91% to take strike action but the union did not call them out because their service was privatised whilst the ballot was taking place. TGWU leaders even sent a letter to other council workers who were planning to put pickets on the refuse depots, saying that to do so would risk the union being fined and made bankrupt!
The shop stewards must not accept this lying down. It was a weakness in the 20 December strike that whilst the strike was on, street cleaners and refuse trucks could be seen on the streets. Delegates should visit the refuse workers, who want to take part in the next strike, to ask them not to cross the picket line and then the shop stewards should organise pickets on the newly privatised depots on the next strike days.
This strike can be won with proper planning. Now is the time for such decisive action and planning.
In The Socialist 5 January 2001:
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