Tower Hamlets workers can win

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2020 - 7:36 Author: Sacha Ismail
Tower Hamlets strike

Members of the public services union Unison in Tower Hamlets council, East London, had good support again for a strike on 15-17 July, following another on 3-6-7 July.

We understand that the local Unison branch is pressing the union nationally to approve a longer strike, and a reballot if the council will not concede before the validity of the current ballot expires on 22 August.

Tower Hamlets Unison’s adult social care convener Amina Patel told us:

“The fight is very much continuing and we need to keep the momentum up. We’re calling on all Tower Hamlets councillors, on all Labour MPs but most of all on union branches and activists across the country to show solidarity. Our members are feeling determined; this is a fight we can win.”

If the council, a Labour council, succeeds in imposing its “Tower Rewards” programme of reduced terms and conditions on its workforce, then it will compound the impact of pandemic and slump on the livelihoods of thousands of workers and their families. It will increase the risk of similar attacks on workers in other councils and of accelerated cuts in jobs and services.

Even after the Tower Hamlets workers have beaten back some of the council’s proposals, they still face:

• Severe cuts to severance pay (and some councils intend major job cuts after lockdown)

• Reducing starting salaries for many workers

• A substantially reduced flexible working scheme

• Severe cuts to travel allowances

• Night work supplements starting later

• Making protections around disciplinary and grievance procedures non-contractual

• Limiting payment for travel time and compensation for travel costs.

For more detail see here

Women and BME workers are being hit hardest. All this from a council and Mayor not short on rhetoric about their support for key workers in the pandemic and for the Black Lives Matter cause.

If Tower Hamlets council’s attack has much wider implications, so does its workers’ resistance.

The Tower Hamlets workers and their Unison branch have hit back solidly, with six days of strike action so far and an energetic campaign that has rallied a lot of support. That has included multiple covid-distanced but well-attended picket lines, several large online rallies with strikers and high profile labour movement speakers, and numerous videos and messages of solidarity.

Both CLPs in the borough, Bethnal Green and Bow and Poplar and Limehouse, have come out in support of the strike, as has local Labour MP Apsana Begum. Rally speakers have included high profile Labour figures such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott. Over 1,300 Labour and trade union members have signed a statement of support.

Eleven Labour councillors have come out against Tower Rewards and in support of the workers, and many others are reported by local Labour activists to be unhappy and increasingly restive. It sounds as if Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs is under growing pressure.

The Tower Hamlets dispute has sparked discussion about some important issues for the labour movement.

• Council cuts. Faced with a new wave of cuts after the pandemic, what will Labour councils do? Attack their communities and workforces or help lead a fightback?

• The anti-union laws. Tower Hamlets council has repeatedly used various aspects of the Tory anti-union laws to attack and seek to undermine the strike.

• The Labour left and workers’ struggles. On the initiative of Momentum Internationalist supporters, the new Momentum National Coordinating Group has backed the strike. But the Momentum office machine is evidently reluctant to do much about it.

Please send a message of support from your union branch, Labour Party, other organisation or from yourself as an individual. You can make a donation on the same page: bit.ly/TowerSolidarity. Regular updates at towerhamlets.unison.site and their latest bulletin here. For a longer interview with Amina Patel see here.

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