Tower Hamlets council in east London is planning on privatising its resources department, meaning that 800 workers will be transferred out of council employment and become employees of a private company.
The attack comes in the context of a rapidly accelerating pace of cuts across the borough; the council is also planning to devolve the payment of severance packages down to individual schools, meaning that if a given school feels itself unable to pay out then it will have the power not to do so. Some schools have also started transferring out the employment of their cleaning staff to tin-pot private firms with very little proper negotiation or consultation. In other schools, head-teachers have decided to make smaller-scale redundancies which involve things like the removal of part-time working agreements. In the past, the schools human resources department at the council might’ve been inclined to work with the unions and help workers out on an issue like this, but they’ve been slashed to ribbons themselves so more and more schools are using private HR firms who have no inclination whatsoever to deal or consult with the unions.
The council’s cuts budget has given a green light to bosses across local government and education to make whatever cuts they like. Things are moving extremely fast in terms of cuts, and all the protections workers have fought for in the past are under real threat. Unions will have to gear up to fight back.
Currently the process for initiating any industrial action is very drawn-out. Even if the Unison regional office sanctions a ballot (which it invariably attempts to avoid doing), the process takes far longer than the current pace of events allows. A much greater level of rank-and-file organisation is needed — meetings in workplaces, regular industrial bulletins, cross-union shop stewards’ meetings and regular activist training led from the workplaces by reps.
Workers cannot allow the regional bureaucracies of the unions to set the pace of our fightback.