Good turnout for local government strike day

Submitted by AWL on 30 March, 2006 - 12:36

Snippets from the local government unions’ strike day on 28 March, when over a million workers struck against planned cuts in the local government pension scheme.

The unions’ next plans now are for a week of rolling strike action starting 24 April. The rolling action will be based on geographical areas, with all out strike action in different areas on different days of the week.

They also plan selective strikes by meat hygiene workers.

The unions met the Government for new talks on 29 March, but no reports from that are available yet.

DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY

A mass picket of 300 people took place outside the council offices in Dumfries. All council workplaces were affected, and 30 schools were closed. Education, health, and social care workers took part in the protest. There were banners from Unison, TGWU, GMB, and the FBU.

The Workers' Liberty bulletin went down well, with rank and file workers agreeing that the strike shouldn't just be about defending the pensions of existing workers. "It's not just about my pension. The young ones should have decent pensions too", said a nursery worker. "It is our money. They shouldn't be able to take it from us".

The Dumfries and District Trades Council hosted a rally. The speakers mainly concentrated on attacking the Scottish Executive and saying that local government should get the same deal as other public sector workers.

Despite the fact that the speakers didn't call for a reversal of current union policy, or for a campaign for a full pension at 60 for all workers, the mood was very positive. Everyone thought the day strike had been a success and was determined to continue with future strikes in order to win their demands. Elaine

LAMBETH

I went down to the picket line outside Lambeth Town Hall, and there was around 60-70 people there. Mostly Unison workers. It was definitely good to see many women there - mostly from local schools. Unfortunately, there was no rally/speeches and people went off to the big rally in Westminster.

I picked up a definite mood that people were up for more action on this issue. One worker told me how it should have happened before the general election - ain’t that true. Faz

LEICESTER

In Leicester, there were picket lines, respectable in size at many workplaces, including some at smaller council offices (Oadby and Wigston Borough Council offices, for instance, not known for active trade unionism) and FE colleges, etc. 50 schools at least were closed in the county. Pickets reported good support, handfuls working (including small numbers of union members) but the vast majority of people were striking - way above the proportion who actually participated in the ballot.

There was a lunchtime rally in Leicester's Town Hall Square. About a thousand came to it - small in comparison to the numbers on strike, but bigger than anything comparable in the last five years at least. Regional union officials and local branch officers spoke, and all talked about the next steps of the campaign. UNISON regional officers repeatedly said "we can't afford to back down on this" and similar remarks.

Apparently the strike was also strong in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, less strong in Northamptonshire, which the UNISON regional officials didn't seem hugely surprised by.

We leafleted and sold seven papers on the rally. Gave out 300 or so of our bulletin, which went down well. People seemed to be giving thought to the question of tactics for the next stages of the dispute (i.e. not leaving it entirely in the minds of the officials) although they clearly weren't expecting the union to ask them.

The idea of a general levy to support selective action was popular, the idea of stepping up the all-out action to two or three days less so. Several people talked about the need for the unions to keep recruiting, as people in their workplaces who were new to it all still didn't necessarily get the point. In other words, even some who were working today weren't deliberately scabbing, just slow on the uptake or had never been asked to join the union...

I think we need an AWL 'post-strike' bulletin fairly soon, developing some arguments around what the next steps should be, how the unions should organise, taking up the question of the donations to the Labour Party and pushing again for the unions to go on the offensive, and bring the other sections of the public sector back into the dispute.

People I spoke to, for instance, didn't understand that under the NHS pension scheme, everyone can retire at 60 currently, regardless of how many years service they have, unlike in the LGPS, where the 85 year rule means you can't retire at 60 unless you've got 25 years' service. We should argue for a positive campaign to unite all public sector workers for the best of all the schemes to apply to everyone.
Nick

I don't think there were quite 1000 at the rally. County Hall had a quarter of staff going in, I think, despite five small picket lines. Fire authority did not have a picket line. Police branch had reasonable turnout. Base for housing repairs had lively pickets with some people going in . Some activists defensive about numbers going in. Social services seems to be strong in attending rally.
Chris

LEEDS

Only four (two of them managers) of about 80 staff in the two campus libraries went into work Tues. We did a lot of work before the day signing up temporary members of staff who had been reluctant to join before the strike was called. There was a lot of support for the strike but few members turned up to picket. There were small pickets at all the local government buildings and at the met university. Local government pickets I spoke to said about 100 of 900 staff had gone in.

Very positive response from Natfhe staff and students (who brought us out cups of tea and biscuits). Agreement amongst members that Natfhe and Unison in HE should be coordinating their action even if it is on different issues-not mirrored nationally in pay negotiations where Unison went to negotiations yesterday and Natfhe/AUT didn't.

About a thousand at the rally, gave out the leaflet but not really a lot of engagement with us (or the SWP who were thin on the ground). I thought Phil Woolas sounded like he was preparing for a bit of a government climb down on Newsnight - maybe I was feeling too up beat after a good day’s strike. Can someone explain to me the government’s argument that this scheme is discriminatory, on what grounds?
Lesley

General turnout in the City Council was equally good, but some areas you might expect were not closed. Each trade union obviously wanted to speak. The only one to get a really negative reaction was the GMB who read a message of support from the local Labour group and called on a vote from them in the local elections. This was generally seen as being somewhat two-faced and opportunistic.

Mark Neville and his partner Jane, who are social workers in Wakefield and North Yorkshire respectively, both reported a good turnout and atmosphere on their picket lines. OK, it wasn't as exciting as France, but it seems to have been really quite a successful days action.
Mike

LEWISHAM

A number of primary schools were partly closed, i.e. open 'til lunchtime or staggered closing throughout the day - don't know of any totally closed. A not very strong picket line at the main council offices in Catford, none at the FE despite threats of one (though they may had one first thing I suppose, no one there by 10am). Only two people striking in my work place two or three miles from main council offices (only two Unison members out of 29 staff).

Main library open but some staff striking, local library open (only ever two staff and both were there). Some admin staff at Southwark college on strike, no picket line.

Gave bulletin to school staff at two schools (third school I work with had no strikers). Also met with NUT member from local secondary school and he said their school was unaffected - seems to be poorly unionised amongst non-teaching staff. The other local secondary school, opposite where I live, appeared unaffected, certainly no picket line. The local academy, I'm told had no strikers, though that's hardly surprising.

The people I spoke to appear to have little faith that they can win any concessions but feel they have no choice to make a stand and at the moment feel they've nothing to lose, no one was over excited by the claims that this is the biggest strike since 1926.
Jill

NEWCASTLE

In Newcastle the strike was solid. - metro shut for 24 hours - Tyne Tunnel shut for 24 hours - all schools bar one (a Catholic secondary) were shut (there are approximately 90 schools in Newcastle). All 20 libraries were shut (with central one open just for 10 staff with exemptions and closed to public - four scabs went in) - all housing offices shut.... Northumbria university was shut. The mood was quite upbeat and angry with New Labour.... but perhaps also cynical about the leadership.

I had discussions with members about the need not to divide us with some compromise, but regional and national publicity and speeches on rally were to get the same shoddy compromise as other public sector workers i.e. protection for existing workers.

I think we need to encourage branches and regions to start signing people up for commitments to donations if we take selective action. I think people wouldn't want to hand money over in advance. But if we get people to agree to give £10, £20 or £30 donations to a levy the week that selective action is organised, then we can say at branches... we've got a commitment of £10,000 so we can afford to call 40 workers out for five days or whatever... it will make it harder for fulltimers to say we haven't got the money....

Also it means we have to get back out speaking to those 1000 members who have signed up for the levy. Ed

NORWICH

At its height the rally in Norwich city centre numbered about 250 people, mostly from Unison to judge by the placards. The Norwich Trades Council banner was there, along with a couple of Unison branch banners.

I gave out our leaflet and spoke to Learning Support Assistants, social workers, drivers, City Hall workers and others, some from as far away as Yarmouth. The mood was good-humoured but I wouldn't describe it as militant. There were speakers (local secretaries/chairs or regional reps) from Unison, GMB, NAPO (Probation Officers: first strike in 23 years) and the leader of Norwich City Council Labour group.

A letter of support was received from Ian Gibson, MP. Red Flags, a local band, played after the speeches. The biggest cheer was for the assertion that this was the biggest “women's strike” ever.

A Local Government Association meeting in the nearby Assembly Halls, addressed by David Lammie, was picketed in the morning. Lammie drove through the line in a cab. Some of the LGA delegates appeared during the rally and were given ironic cheers as they walked past.

I sold nine papers. Didn't see any sign of links with unions such as FBU or PCS, and none of the speeches made the point about the need to widen solidarity, or to campaign for decent pensions/retirement at 60 for all workers (i.e. private as well as public sector).

Across the county a number of schools were shut (or open only to specific year-groups); Norwich City Hall was barely functioning; the prestigious Millennium Library, outside which the rally was held, was open ground-floor only thanks to senior staff.

I spoke to a GMB official who said ports had been hit. No parking-tickets were being given out in Norwich, and the car-parks were all open for free.

Despite the rally being held directly outside the offices of BBC Norwich, the local BBC TV news completely failed to mention the rally, far less show any pictures. Anglia news was marginally more positive. The local news coverage I read or heard was fairly negative.
Pat

NORTH LONDON

Jean:

A good day. 1500 at Westminster Central Hall rally. Lively, some heckling. Good responses on the picket lines, too. Arguments about solidarity. Union leadership asking only for what the other public sector workers got, i.e. protection for existing staff and not for future workers, but they said that in a militant way. Negotiations are due tomorrow. I sold quite a few papers, and got interest in the WL bulletins. Tower Hamlets Unison has recruited 60-plus people in the run-up to the strike. A lot of schools closed because NUT members said they would refuse to cross picket lines.

Dan

A dozen pickets outside Romford Central Library, more outside Romford Town Hall and outside other council offices - biggest picket lines in Romford for ages. Our bulletin seemed to go down well. 100-odd at lunchtime rally in Havering.

Janine
18 schools closed in Hackney, four partly closed. About 150 at Town Hall rally.

Robin

Westminster - seven schools closed. At my school, 12 of us were out on strike, about half the relevant workforce. The first industrial action at the school for a long while. 18 people signed a letter saying that they would not cross a picket line on a second strike. But the school administration is being very threatening. Unison wasn't very helpful to its members in schools. I found the Westminster rally dull. Would a petition have been a better intervention than a leaflet?

Matt

Some schools were shut in Waltham Forest. Some pickets at Leyton Town Hall but difficult to get into conversation because of an SWPer there who insisted on arguing about the Muhammad cartoons.

Jean

Using agency workers against strikes is supposed to be illegal, but the problem is often large numbers of agency workers there permanently, not just on strike days. There’s also a problem with contracted-out workers, e.g. in PFI schools the premises staff are not council employees.

Joint committees? We had joint committee meetings in Tower Hamlets. They were just ad hoc. I proposed it be made permanent, but they were reluctant. In fact the “joint” committee was almost all Unison. I got a relatively well-attended meeting of schools stewards, but again almost all Unison. Trouble is, we’re moving from a very low base in workplace/ steward/ activist organisation, and a low union density.

What next? Everybody I spoke to over the days running up to the strike assumed that it was only the first bit of action in a long campaign. Unison will be doing selective action for a week or two weeks at a time by key groups of workers.

SALFORD

The Salford strike was good on turn out - 96% (if you deduct people on pre-agreed leave, sick etc), apparently, including 57 schools shut, and 43 with reduced services, out of 102. Which is much better than last time, when all the grant/church schools were unaffected.

Unfortunately the lunch time rally was dire. There wasn't one in Manchester, so we had one at Salford Civic Centre. It started early, and lasted all of four minutes, with one speech. The poor turn out wasn't helped by the fact most people turned up after it was over and all the union “leadership” had packed up and left! Beth

SHEFFIELD

A lot of schools closed, some through NUT solidarity. At least 19 schools in Sheffield closed with several more partially closed according to the press. Fire service and police station both had picket lines on. Libraries closed, public toilets closed. Rally in city centre was 400 or more strong and there was quite a buzz but unfortunately the unions hadn't organised a decent PA, and the megaphone wasn't working well, so no-one could hear the speeches.

Barnsley had a smallish march (around 100) as unfortunately the unions hadn't organised any official rally. In Doncaster the rally was around 1000 strong. In Rotherham no rally but a well attended photo-call.

In South Yorkshire probation we estimate that well over 400 Unison and NAPO members came out on strike (with a handful of members going in - mainly very early before picket lines set up - deliberately). Very solid and picket lines quite well attended - though much better attended by NAPO members than Unison.

Post refused to deliver in Sheffield but not in Barnsley. We handed out quite a few leaflets to passing members of the public from our picket line and got a very supportive response - especially from pensioners.

Talking to other stewards, the feeling seems to be that members will turn out again for single day but much less appetite for two days.

Selective action is quite popular but we need to get moving on this fast so as not to lose too much momentum. Caroline.

STAFFORD

There was a rally in Market Square, on the picket line with about 200 people, all quite enthusiastic and determined. Some local reps spoke and everyone dispersed an hour before the rally was supposed to end, because of the awful weather and because the reps had clearly never organised a major event before. No-one from any other left group was there. ITV filmed us and we were on the Midlands news. Apparently most of the libraries and council offices were shut although only two schools closed. Mike

WEST MIDLANDS

Over 2,000 people attended West Midlands Rally in Birmingham. Good vocal rally.

200 Worcester rally; 200 Hereford rally; 350 Stafford rally. Helen

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