Local government and education workers who are members of Unison and the National Union of Teachers are likely to strike together on 30 March against education cuts planned by Tower Hamlets council.
The NUT ballot returned an 85% vote for discontinuous strike action. The Unison ballot is in progress, after many false starts due to Unison Regional Office being over cautious about the legalities.
The NUT ballot asked members to vote, first, for a one-day protest strike, and, second, for discontinuous action should it be necessary in months to come. 85% of people voted yes to the first question, and 73% yes in response to the second; overall turnout was 39%.
Considering that so far in Tower Hamlets the cuts have only hit central services, a self-contained unit that provides floating support for schools, teachers and pupils, and therefore the vast majority of those balloted are yet not seeing any major cutbacks in their own schools, this is a really positive outcome.
A positive result in the Unison ballot would allow teachers and support staff to walk-out side by side — an important show of solidarity, since it is support staff that are increasingly in the most vulnerable positions.
Tower Hamlets is the first council where united union action is a prospect against the cuts. It should be the template for other areas fighting both the Con-Dem government’s attacks on public services and the local councils who are passing them on without a murmur.
Lutfur Rahman, the independent Mayor, campaigned for the position against Labour on a distinctly anti-cuts platform. The independent councillors who left Labour with him in disgust at the way the Labour Party bureaucratically removed Rahman as their candidate also made a lot of rhetoric opposing the slashing of public services by the Government.
But it is they who are introducing cuts of over £70 million, threatening the jobs of up to 500 local government workers and teachers.
They wring their hands and claim they wish they did not have to do it. It’s not their fault. The government made them do it.
But they very quickly fall into justification for their actions. One independent councillor told the council cabinet last month that the closure of Junior Youth Service after-school clubs to non-working parents will give those parents an opportunity to spend quality time with their kids!
Labour councillors show no sign of standing on principle against the passing on of the government’s attacks to local people either. While they debate in the council chamber about how best to minimise the effect of the cuts, how to make jobs disappear through natural wastage rather than compulsory redundancy,
Canary Wharf can be seen through the council chamber windows where bankers discuss how big they can make the bonuses of their senior directors without making life too difficult for the government who best represents their wishes.
The workers’ voice must be heard. On 26 March the TUC demonstration gives workers the opportunity to demand of their leaderships that they bring all the trade unions out against these attacks in co-ordinated action across the whole public sector.
On 30 March in Tower Hamlets, we can start the ball rolling. One day in one borough will not be enough, but it could provide a spark to set other battles off in other areas.
A demonstration and rally that brings together workers, students, parents and the community is being planned. A one-day protest strike is a good start but it won’t stop the cuts. The real test will be how we develop the struggle after 31 March.