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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 June 2010

Fighting council cuts: Planning for united strikes in Kirklees

LOCAL GOVERNMENT jobs and services are under attack. Local councils will have 2 billion less in grants from central government after the first 6 billion Con-Dem government cutbacks. The threat is angering workers and service users.

Mike Forster and Jackie Grunsell

In Kirklees in Yorkshire, cuts announced months ago are already biting. Long before the Tories took office nationally, this Labour council, in coalition with the Lib Dems, voted through a 400 million cuts budget, potentially resulting in the loss of 2,000 jobs.

The council's attempts to encourage staff to leave through early retirement or voluntary redundancy failed to reach their 'target' so last week they served the unions with notice of compulsory redundancies, initially suggesting 140 jobs to go. They also want more volunteers to reach their target of 1,100 job losses within two years. Workers understand that more compulsory redundancies will follow.

The council has declared war on its own workforce. They are also about to impose pay cuts on around 1,200 staff through the single status deal. These are staff whose pay went down after a regrading exercise, but were reassured their pay would be protected. The council then withdrew that commitment last year and only offered a year's protection, which runs out this month.

Hit with a double whammy, council workers voted in favour of taking strike action and demanded that Unison organises a formal ballot. However, feelings hardened in recent weeks and a mass meeting of stewards endorsed a programme of strikes in the event of a 'yes' vote, starting with a five day strike, followed by all out action to push the council back.

Organising action

Sensing war is in the air, the first post-election meeting of our local Save Our Services (SOS) group was packed out. Leading stewards and branch officials from Unite, NUT and Unison painted a grim picture of cuts already imposed but the need for a determined fightback dominated the meeting.

A day of action was organised for 11 June, then a mass public rally on 21 June coinciding with the government's budget week. This should galvanise public support for united strike action over the summer.

Our only choice now is to fight. At a strike meeting, one Unison member said she hated striking, but it had to be done, and argued for an extension of strike days to hit the council hard. "It's better to lose a lot of pay and win than lose a bit of pay and lose. If we have to, we have to stay on strike for as long as it takes."

A strike committee is being formed. This will have to ensure that clear and determined battle lines are drawn up to defeat these cuts.

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