Council workers in Tower Hamlets are starting three days of strike action this week, in response to attempts to impose worse conditions on staff. The whole labour movement must fight these attacks.

Council workers in Tower Hamlets are starting three days of strike action this week, in response to attempts to impose worse conditions on staff. The whole labour movement must fight these attacks.

UNISON members in Tower Hamlets, East London, are set to go on strike after the local council announced a new outrageous contract attacking workers’ conditions.

Ironically, the council called this new contract ‘Tower Rewards’ – although staff and unions have rebranded it the ‘Tower Robbery’.

The new contract cuts down a range of allowances, slashes severance, reduces the current flexi-scheme, and extends some grades backwards (entry points for Scale 6 to SO2), to name but a few of the detrimental changes.

Union-busting

This latest vicious attack comes after years of austerity. Local councils have already suffered from massive underfunding, and public sector workers have seen an approximately 25% reduction in real wages.

This is apparently the way that a Labour council has of thanking the workforce for the essential work they have done supporting the community through the COVID-19 crisis.

Tower Hamlets council initially came up with the proposed scheme last year. The unions made it clear at the time that they didn’t agree with the new terms. As a result, the council forcibly imposed the new terms.

Using aggressive union-busting tactics, the council announced that all council workers would be sacked, and that they would be re-hired on the new terms in early April.

Support for strikes

Tower hamlets protestsThe union ballot for strike action was overwhelmingly supported by members. 98% of union members in schools and 90% in councils voted in favour, in a ballot that closed on 21 February.

The council scandalously took the unions to court, attempting to get an injunction against the strike, citing ‘technicalities’. This provoked an outrage against this blatant attempt to use Tory anti-trade union laws against the movement. The council was forced to backtrack.

The strike action was then temporarily suspended, however, due to the pandemic. After a campaign among local Labour Party members and the community, the council agreed to postpone the forcible implementation of the new terms – first to June, and then now to July.

As a result, UNISON has now called for strike action for 3rd, 6th and 7th July. Virtual pickets are available on the day, as well as strategically placed physical picket lines.

Blatant attack

In response to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tower Hamlets management have made many pronouncements about their commitment to equality. However, they have refused to provide accurate equalities data on the affected grades when asked.

No doubt this information would probably show how the staff members affected are disproportionately women and BAME workers.

Imposing worse conditions on workers by sacking them and re-engaging them are the kind of tactics associated with an arrogant profit-seeking boss.

Local residents and activists must support the workers of Tower Hamlets in their fight to stop the imposition of this outrageous new contract. We must oppose this blatant attack on workers’ conditions.

Fightback

Most importantly, the whole of the labour movement – the Labour Party and the trade unions – must mobilise in support of the Tower Hamlets workers. Pressure must be brought to bear on the council to stop and reverse these attacks.

If these conditions are allowed to be imposed now, what will come next?

Local council budgets across the country have been gutted: first by a decade of austerity after the 2008 crash; and now by the pandemic. Councils everywhere are bracing themselves for a tsunami of cuts. Many are already running on empty.

It is the working class who will be asked to pay, both in terms of further attacks on council workers and on public services that have already been cut to the bone.

The labour movement must organise and fight back. The ‘dented shield’ won’t work. We need to make the bosses pay for this crisis.