For a year and a half Labour-run Tower Hamlets’ 4,000 council workers have been eager to resist plans by council bosses to impose dreadful new contracts on the entire workforce.
Back at the beginning of the lockdown, after staff had balloted in favour of industrial action over the matter, Unison announced that a strike planned to take place on 24 March would be suspended in light of the pandemic.
At first, council bosses appeared to be rewarding this act of dubious magnanimity when they announced that they in turn would put the imposition of new contracts on hold pending the health emergency. A union spokesman suggested in response that the new contracts “can be put on hold and discussed again when we have got through the Covid-19 crisis, when priorities may well look different”.
So the strike was duly called off, only for workers to find that the duplicitous council bosses had decided to impose the new contracts after all – in the middle of the pandemic and without any consultation on 6 July. Their means of achieving this has been to sacking all 4,000 workers, forcing them all to reapply for their jobs on hugely inferior terms of employment.
The new contracts will disproportionately affect the lowest-paid staff, since they involve cuts to travel allowances and out-of-hours pay, among other things. They also include big cuts to redundancy pay, making it perfectly clear to all that large-scale redundancies are to be expected before too long.
Among the council workers, of course, are many of those key workers who have been proving their vital importance in keeping society running during the pandemic, maintaining what little remains of Britain’s fraying social services, from environmental and public health bodies to children’s and disabled people’s services.
Fed up with the shabby treatment they are receiveing from their Labour council employers, staff walked out on 3, 6 and 7 July and are manning picket lines again this week from Wednesday to Friday (15, 16 and 17 July).
As the furlough scheme comes to an end, our rulers are seriously ramping up their attacks on jobs, pay and pensions, desperate to save their tottering system by shifting the burden of the economic crisis onto the backs of the poor.
Workers must recognise our common interest and stand together in the face of these attacks. Only a united working class will be capable of pushing back against the concerted efforts of the bosses to make us pay for the failings of the capitalist economic system.
Full support to all workers in struggle against lay-offs and pay cuts! Support the Tower Hamlets strikers!