Hundreds of people attended the protest that took place on Friday 13th July in Victoria Square to protest Donald Trump’s visit to the UK. With a mix of all ages and backgrounds, there were students, workers and trade unionists present.
Birmingham Socialist Students and Birmingham Young Socialists took a leading role in the protest, engaging with young people at the 12pm walk out and protest and getting great responses. People were encouraged to write down their reasons for protesting or walking out on posters which were made into an anti-Trump wall, with contributions from many people, who recognised both Trumps words and actions as damaging to working class people.
Many times when asked to pick a reason they were protesting Trump people responded with “where do I start?”, showing just how strongly people oppose Trump and his policies, also reflected in the numbers who turned out to the lively 5pm protest. Although other left groups were present, we were the only group putting forward class politics on the day and calling for an end to not just the Trump presidency, but also to the Tory government who welcomed him here. Our stall received a great response of support from protesters and passers by who identified with our message of opposition to the racism and sexism of Trump and his party and the fight to improve the lives of the working class in both the US and the UK.
Workers and members of Unite the union have successfully balloted and started strike action at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) across multiple sites in the country. We at the Socialist Party here in Birmingham visited and supported the local picket line at the Colmore Row office in the city centre.
Unite members are on strike in protest at years of real-terms pay cuts and pay inequality. Broken down the main grievances expressed by the membership are…
• 2 years frozen pay, increases capped for 8 years at 1%, while inflation is over 3%
• Gender pay disparity
• Discriminatory pay setting practices
• No pay progression mechanism
• AND STILL NO PAY NEGOTIATIONS!
Any one of these issues on their own is enough to start organising in the workplace but with several attacks on workers’ pay and conditions it’s absolutely justified and vitally necessary to take direct action to fight back and pressure management in overturning all these appalling attacks HCA workers have had to deal with for so long.
However management have expressed very clearly they have no desire in rectifying these issues. Unite reps described management’s behaviour as a disgrace. Instead of listening to members’ concerns, they turned up to pay meetings with no interest in resolving the dispute, and the CEO hasn’t turned up to any of the emergency pay meetings.
Anyone who has had the misfortune to experience similar issues in their workplace will know going on strike is the last choice as it puts workers in a precarious situation and at risk when thinking of living costs of housing, transport, family dependants and a society where so many workers live pay check to pay check. However when managers completely stonewall union reps from serious negotiations and collective bargaining workers must be prepared to stand up for their rights and say enough is enough!
To rub insult into injury management consultants are on inflated fees, but the rest don’t even get pay rises covering the cost of inflation. All while staff are struggling financially, especially for female members of staff who are doubly attacked with a gender pay gap existing within the workplace as outlined in a report produced by HCA themselves! The employer is happy to identify pay discrimination but do nothing about it, shame on them.
However despite all this spirits were high and socialist party members received a warm welcome to join and support the picket line by handing out strike materials and talking to workers as they went into the office building where HCA is based and having conversations with members of the public passing by with great amounts of sympathy and support being expressed.
Despite being the biggest union recognised in HCA, Unite is not the only union representing workers in HCA as there is also PCS who are currently deciding / taking a ballot whether to join the strike but have expressed fraternal support. We at the Socialist Party urge PCS members to vote yes for strike action and join shoulder to shoulder with Unite members to increase strength in numbers and combat all the same attacks ALL HCA staff are dealing with.
Even though we want the management to see sense and re-open and have serious negotiations with Unite reps we at the Socialist party are fully prepared to back striking HCA workers to the hilt and offer all practical, political and industrial support as needs be to see all these attacks reversed and consigned to the dustbin of history.
On Thursday 5th July, nearly 100 local residents and trade unionists came out to celebrate the 70th anniversary of The NHS being founded by protesting outside the half-built Midland Metropolitan Hospital in Smethwick.
The hospital was planned to replace both Sandwell and City Hospitals, meaning fewer beds and health workers covering West Birmingham and Sandwell. The £350m PFI (Private Finance Initiative) contract to build and manage the hospital was handed to Carillion, who went bust earlier this year.
The result was construction workers being laid off overnight as work was paused on a hospital that was originally scheduled to open later this year. It’s now expected that it won’t be completed until at least 2022, with medium to long term planning of services left in limbo.
As speakers at the protest pointed out, when the prestige Paradise office and retail development in Birmingham City Centre hit the buffers in the wake of Carillion’s bankruptcy, a new contractor for the building works was found. If that’s doable for a project that will help big businesses in the city, why not for services used by local residents?
It’s welcome that Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to scrap PFI contracts if Labour is elected. To truly end the rip off and make the money available for spending on frontline services, this should be done without compensation to large shareholders. Labour councils, such as those in Birmingham and Sandwell, should act now and use their supervisory powers over local NHS trusts to halt and reverse privatisation plans, so we can return the NHS to the publicly owned and publicly run service that it was when it was founded.
Congratulations on becoming a firefighter – now go and pick up a hospital patient and cross your fingers that no one needs a fire put out while you’re at it.’ That is the future planned for firefighters by the Labour-led West Midlands Fire Authority, but a future that won’t be accepted by firefighters and emergency control operators, who are now balloting for strike action.
The planned contracts would mean new firefighters having to take on non-fire service duties – like those you’d expect NHS workers to be employed to do. In fact, it’s already happening – loss-making ‘care contacts’ signed by the Fire Authority have already taken fire staff and engines off front line duties.
These changes come under an anti-union, bullying management that are also introducing flexible working – that’s flexible for the bosses of course, changing working hours on short notice. Dial-a-firefighter: the gig economy for trained emergency staff, implemented by a Labour-led Fire Authority which is also suspending employees for union campaigning. No wonder FBU union members have had enough!
On 30 April, the day before balloting began, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack spoke to many union members at meetings in Solihull and Dudley. Socialist Party members gave support to firefighters at the Solihull meeting, who were glad to hear that anti-cuts TUSC candidates were standing against right-wing, anti-union, anti-Corbyn Labour councillors – the sort that lead the county’s Fire Authority. Ten copies of the Socialist were sold.
Last year saw Birmingham’s bin workers take strike action to stop job cuts and savage pay cuts attempted by the city’s Labour council – again showing that organised, hard fought action can win. As one person going into the meeting said: “This could be the 2018 Birmingham bins.”
Not even the snow could keep away pickets and their supporters from demonstrating outside Birmingham City Council house this Saturday. Socialist Party and Socialist Students members joined over one hundred people gathered at Victoria Square to stand up to the latest council attacks against the Homecare workers, including redundancies and ridiculous shift changes that make workers lives more difficult, make the job unsustainable for many, and are therefore detrimental to the service users as well.
There were many different trade union speakers, with one woman saying how the home-care workers did not want redundancies, that they loved their job and the care they provided, however they demand fair pay and more practical and sociable working hours. The speakers were followed by a short march around the city centre.
When speaking to unison stewards and striking home-carers, many expressed how happy they were to see so much student support. There were calls for a ‘people’s budget’ and for the labour councils to finally reflect the labour leadership that gained so much support from workers and students over summer, and to stand up to the brutal tory austerity.
It’s time for the council to put their words into action and to defend our public services and workers. Our support and general anti-austerity message was well received and, despite the extreme weather, there was a positive and passionate vibe from strikers and supporters, all agree it’s time for our second city to stand up to the labour council who refuse to stand up for us!
On 20 January, Birmingham home care staff will be taking strike action against their employer Birmingham City Council – a Labour council.
The Blairite Birmingham City Council is making quite a name for itself having only recently suffered a defeat to the Birmingham bin workers after their 12-week strike action which brought down the then council leader John Clancy. Now other council workers are taking a fight to its doors.
The strike is over changes to the home carers’ working patterns where they will have to work three split shifts during the day: 7am-10am, 12pm-2pm and 4pm-10pm.
These home care workers are lone workers travelling from their homes to the service users’ houses, many by public transport, to provide six weeks of care for people who have just left hospital.
These unrealistic and exhausting working patterns will become a barrier to many of the workers who will no doubt be forced to leave their jobs.
These new patterns are just one of many ways the Labour council is unravelling its social care for the people of Birmingham, a city with a population of 1.1 million.
In 2010 there was a social care workforce of over 7,000 compared to less than 2,000 today, with the council looking to make a further 40% of the home care staff redundant.
By continuing to run the service into the ground it will make it easier for the council to scrap the care altogether and leave the local community to depend on the private sector – a sector which is profit driven at the expense of both the workers and service users.
Fight for funding
Unison, which has balloted the home carers, rightly points out that central government has cut the funding for local councils but the union fails to place blame at the local Labour council too.
After the massive backing of Corbyn’s anti-austerity manifesto in last summer’s general election, local Labour councils are in a better position, now more than ever, to fight against austerity and refuse to carry out a single cut.
They would have the backing of the local community, workers and trade unions. Yet what does Birmingham council do? It does the Tories’ bidding and carrys out devastating cuts without putting up the tiniest bit of fight.
In the 1980s, Militant, the Socialist Party’s predecessor, had city councillors in Liverpool who defied Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher and refused to implement cuts.
Instead they fought for more funding from central government, built council houses and created jobs.
It would not be hard for Birmingham council to do the same and potentially topple the current weak and divided Tory government, yet this is unlikely to happen while the council is a Blairite stronghold following the same ideology as the Tories.
Birmingham home carers will be striking from 11am to 2.30pm on Saturday 20 January with a strike rally being held outside Birmingham council house at 12pm.
The strike will be seen as more than just about their working patterns but also a fight to defend public services and the service users they care for.
On the 10th of January 2018 Birmingham Socialist Party activists attended the first and last public budget ‘consultation’ meeting of Birmingham City Council.
It had been decided by cabinet members that only one public meeting would suffice and it was to be held at the council house in the city centre. It goes without saying that this caused a barrier for many residents of Birmingham to potentially attend this consultation and have their concerns and voice’s heard due to several factors such as mobility issues, work shifts, family obligations etc.
So seeing how important this new budget is and how it is going to detrimentally affect the people of Birmingham through massive funding reductions to their public services you would think cabinet members of the council would want to inform and engage as many residents as possible by holding several local community based meetings in order to enable as many people to attend.
Apparently this was not done as internal council statistics & experience showed more people engaged via social media and on-line surveys. This was not believed by anyone in attendance. In truth this was no ‘consultation’ as cabinet members had decided long before to pass the cuts and it was easier to hold one big rubber-stamp meeting in the convenience of their own offices so a box could be ticked and they could just continue with business as usual.
This impression was only strengthened by the use of language and tone by council leader Ian Ward, who during his introduction of the budget meeting came across as if he was just going through the motions and was already defeated. There was no talk of a fightback and a programme of resistance, but instead that the council had exhausted its ‘’lobbying options’’. An excuse that is not good enough when it comes to the living standards of working-class people in this city.
Despite this many people showed up and members of the audience made the crucial points of how these cuts would only bring misery and compound the many social issues in Birmingham such as the growing number of people becoming homeless and youth unemployment. Specifically campaigners from local nurseries and homecare workers who are currently seeing their funding cut relayed to council how the vital services they provide are a lifeline for many families in the city, especially for those from lower income backgrounds. It’s not speculation but fact that if funding is cut, contact time reduced and staff made redundant we will see the already growing levels of deprivation in this city skyrocket.
There were two main themes I saw being the most stark when it came to this Labour council doing the Tories’ dirty work, those being the question of why are these cuts being made in the first place and is there no alternative?
These large-scale cuts kicked off over 10 years ago, following from a financial crisis caused by greedy bankers speculating away the nations wealth. But instead of them and their friends in the Conservative party paying for their mistake it was shifted onto normal working-class people, instead of cutting from the top who could afford it the cuts were targeted at the bottom attacking our schools, jobs and public services whilst the very same bankers got pay-rises and corporations hide billions in tax evasion.
With this in mind it is understandable that members of the audience, many of whom have experienced first-hand how devastating these cuts are, to have Labour representatives which is meant to be a party to defend the working-class to meekly say that the £750m+ worth of cuts made from 2010 up to 2022 has been done with a heavy heart is not legitimate excuse.
As members of the Socialist Party Bill Murray & Eamon Flynn raised, these cuts are a political choice not a practical necessity, especially seeing how Britain is one of the wealthiest countries on the face of planet. These members raised the points how the much welcomed anti-austerity politics coming from the top of Labour party from a select few such as Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell needs to start being reflected on the ground by Labour councils.
This could be done if these Labour councils spearheaded a mass campaign of refusing to implement the cuts using council reserves to ward of any austerity in the short term using it as a springboard to mobilise working-class communities against the closure of their public services and to win back the funding cut by central government over the last eight years. This could draw inspiration from previous victories such as the heroic battle that took place in Liverpool in the 1980’s where the Militant Labour council (precursor of the Socialist Party) instead of passing the cuts mobilised a grass roots campaign across the city including activists, students, trade unions resulting in more homes, schools and public services being built . This was a huge victory against the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, at the hight of her power – so why is Birmingham Labour council so scared of the weak and wobbly Theresa May at her weakest alongside a fractured Tory party?
This was not only raised by SP members but by trade unionists including representatives from the newly formed National Education Union stating that if this council actually fought against these cuts, by demanding the money from this government to set up a real peoples budget that saw no reduction in public service spending, then alongside several other unions they would back and practically assist in the building of such a campaign.
It’s time this council started actually taking the fight to the Tories instead of fellow workers, like we saw with appalling attacks on the working conditions of the bin workers. We were told in these tough times not a single penny could be wasted so why did this Labour Council waste over £6 million in the hiring of a scab army and legal procedures to undermine industrial action whilst it would of just took £300,000 to settle the dispute and maintain all the grade 3 health & safety staff. Pick your battles BCC!
However despite the many offers of support and ideas to build this campaign when it came to the end of the meeting all the cabinet members present (except councillor Trickett who had left earlier for another engagement and spent the majority of the meeting looking at her phone) stated a plethora of cop-out excuses and small violin sympathies why their ‘hands were tied’. Yet still at the end of every reply each one of them emphasised that we need to make sure we vote for them come next local election, trying to convince members of the audience they had their best interest at heart by using semi-agitational language whilst referring to the Tories.
However if they are not prepared to fight against the cuts then they should step down and let some of the new layers of Corbyn-inspired / anti-cuts Labour campaigners run for their position instead. Otherwise, when it comes to the local elections in May how can they honestly expect working-class people to vote for the axemen of their services? Instead they will find anti-cuts candidates outside the Labour party standing against them in order to provide a platform for a anti-austerity message and campaign to reach new layers of workers in Birmingham and across the country.