The Socialist 21 February 2008 |
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Council workers demand:
'No wage cuts! Fund equal pay'
Birmingham council workers strike on 5 February 2008, photo S O'Neill
"No pay cuts!" "Equal pay for women, now!" That's what Birmingham council workers will be saying as they strike for the second time on 26 February. Tens of thousands of members of GMB, Amicus, TGWU, UCATT and Unison struck on 5 February and hopes are that the action will be as effective and vibrant again.
Dave Griffiths, West Midlands Socialist Party
Council bosses continue to threaten workers, sending letters promising they will be sacked if they don't sign new contracts that will mean pay cuts for thousands and worse conditions for thousands more. The council is planning to impose the 'deal' on 31 March.
After years of failing to pay women equally, the council claims to be implementing 'single status' - equal pay - but instead they are stealing from some groups of workers - (usually women!) - to pay other groups.
No wonder 3,000 people have joined Unison alone as a result of the unions' fighting back against the council and government's attack.
The government? Yes, we know about the Tory/Liberal bullies at the Council House. But standing behind the policy of pay cuts and breaking up of national conditions of service stands the Labour government, who refuse to fund equal pay.
Tens of thousands of other local authority workers face similar attacks in the coming months, and this needs a strong response. Union organisers in Birmingham, through hundreds of meetings, have worked hard to unify the workforce to fight back.
Birmingham council workers strike on 5 February 2008. Photo S O'Neill
From a situation where cooks blamed bin-workers' bonuses for their low pay, or street cleaners facing huge pay cuts blamed scandalously low-paid women carers, members have now been unified for this battle, despite many attempts by the employers to divide the workforce.
Organisers want a more combative approach from the trade union tops. But instead of widening the fight against these pay cutting plans, national unions will not even allow debate of these issues because of 'the threat of litigation'. But in the words of one local organiser: "If Birmingham branch had followed national union advice we'd have lost the dispute by now"!
As it is, Birmingham workers are fighting back, but like many around the country, they are being left to fight authority by authority against a national attack.
On 16 February, at a Birmingham trade union council rally to defend public services, firefighters' union leader Matt Wrack supported the workers and exposed the rottenness of the "boss class" assault on workers and services.
He said that 4,200 city bankers (yes, the ones who've helped to scupper the economy) got Christmas bonuses of over £1 million each, totalling more than the entire budget of the fire and rescue service.
Scandalously low-paid workers are forced to defend their pay while billionaires 'worth' £126 billion, paid tax at a rate of 0.2%.
"The government has worshipped the market for ten years. They have worshipped a monster, so they shouldn't be surprised when it's monstrous", he said.
Birmingham council workers, together with other such workers nationwide, need combative trade unions prepared to fight for them. And given that all establishment parties have tried to impose such rotten 'deals' and the local Evening Mail continues to side with the bosses, workers also need a political voice to speak up for their case and whose priority is millions of working people and their services, not the fat-cat billionaires.
The trade unions need to be acting on that issue as well.