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.
By an RMT and Socialist Party member in Birmingham
London Midland will vanish from the face of the earth at 1.59am on 10 December.
My train operating company is being taken over by a consortium of companies headed by Abellio which is the foreign arm of the Dutch state railway. Abellio also runs Scotrail, Greater Anglia and Merseyrail.
What has been known as London Midland will be split into two new identities: ‘West Midlands Trains’ and ‘London Northwestern’.
Millions of pounds have been spent by both Govia, the outgoing owner, and Abellio in bidding for the franchise and millions will be spent by the state subsidising the operation going forward.
Abellio will of course be taking its cut and will send profits back to the Netherlands. 75% of Britain’s rail operators are foreign owned today.
All of our trains will be repainted with new livery, stations will get new signage with a new logo and staff will be given new uniforms.
We have been instructed to remove all posters, stationery, umbrellas, mousemats and even LondonMidland branded mugs from kitchens.
There is an atmosphere of trepidation caused by the transition, which is not helped by the woeful lack of information provided to staff regarding their future employment.
We have already been told that some work currently done by our customer relations team in Birmingham will be transferred to a site in Scotland from day one of the new franchise. All grades and departments should be prepared for attack by the new owners.
At all three companies workers have taken strike action against the firm’s attempts to force through driver-only operation to get rid of guards.
London Midland has so far utterly failed to engage with its recognised trade unions in any meaningful way and unions are now threatening legal action for failure to comply with TUPE regulations such as allowing reps to meet and consult members during work time. We are being kept in the dark and we are angry about it.
Abellio need to know that we are ready for a fight. As far as we are concerned they are just another bunch of spivs on the railway gravy-train who are fundamentally no different to the last bunch.
We are ready to fight to defend our jobs and conditions, for safety and against driver only operation.
The RMT has been here since long before this group of bandits and we will still be here when they’ve gone.
The Socialist party calls for renationalisation of the rail industry in the West Midlands and throughout the UK – not a penny more for the fat-cat profiteers!
The Socialist Party salutes the marvellous campaign of Birmingham’s bin workers. Birmingham council have backed down in their battle with the city’s bin workers on the eve of a High Court hearing to determine whether their 106 threatened redundancies were lawful.
The council have agreed to withdraw the redundancies and give the affected workers new job titles and duties. They will now be promoting recycling among residents but still be working on bin lorries and maintaining their current grade, pay and conditions.
In addition a victimised shop steward will be reinstated, unions will be included in a forum on future changes to the waste management service, and there will be no changes for at least 15 months. The concession the union has made is to agree to a five-day working week but there will be no increase in working hours.
The scale of this victory, after 12 weeks of action, can’t be underestimated – a hard-nosed Blairite council hiding behind a union bashing chief executive have been totally humiliated.
The council, who said that these cuts were an economic necessity have been forced to eat their words and have also agreed to pay Unite the Union’s legal costs. They have spent £6 million of public money in an attempt to break the union.
No doubt this last minute climb down was a recognition that they faced losing the case and incurring even more disdain from the public by wasting even more of their money on a campaign that never had widespread public support.
After a vigorous meeting of bin workers on 25 November, the deal was accepted. The deal only lasts until April 2019 – the workforce having zero trust in the council – are well aware of what might come then. ‘Victory, prepare for the next battle’ seemed to be the watchword.
The victory is also significant because the attack on ‘Grade 3’ positions in the bins is widely understood to be preparation for attacks on ‘Grade 3’ positions and pay across the entire council workforce.
The bins dispute has exposed the sorry role of Labour councillors making Tory cuts. The battle to drive Blairite councillors from the Labour Party continues and the battle to ensure Labour councillors don’t just complain about making cuts rather than fighting them needs to be stepped up. Many bin workers have shown enthusiasm for challenging Labour councillors who have attacked them if they stand in next May’s elections.
Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary, who played a significant ‘hands on’ role in the strike action declared at Labour’s 2017 conference: “Birmingham’s Labour run council was imposing austerity on staff and reneged on a deal to the end the strike. It is not good enough for Labour councillors to hide behind talk of Tory budgets”.
There were a number of key factors that led to the win. There was a high level of organisation provided by convenor Richard Beddows and the citywide reps, as well as a determined unity shown by the strikers throughout the action. The tactics that strikers opted for in this case – short, intermittent action of three one-hour stoppages each day involving a return back to depots on each stoppage – proved to be effective in creating maximum disruption. The approach also minimised the loss in striker’s pay and retained the fleet of bin wagons under the control of the striking workers. These tactics brought a predictable condemnation from the council.
Despite waste piling up across the city and the council’s media campaign targeting the strikers, the Birmingham public, tired of austerity and cuts to services, supported the bin workers according to regular surveys in the local press. Significantly, not one of the nine Labour MPs in the city declared their support for the striker’s case but instead waited weeks until seeing the public mood, before collectively writing to the council leadership demanding that the dispute be ‘sorted’.
Key too was the preparedness of Unite to throw all its resources behind winning this dispute in an industrial and political campaign against the ‘Blairite run’ Labour council who were prepared to go to extreme lengths to grind the workforce down. Council leader John Clancy was forced to resign having been stabbed in the back by his own cabinet colleagues following an attempt to broker a deal with Unite through conciliation service Acas.
During the action the bin workers received donations and letters of support from trade unionists and socialists from as far and wide as Mexico, Hong Kong and South Africa, along with picket line visits and donations from local union branches. In the course of the dispute, Richard Beddows was a key speaker at the National Shop Stewards Network rally in September and Howard Beckett addressed the closing event of Socialism 2017.
The victory is a vindication of the solid and determined stand taken by the bin workers and backed up every step along the way by Unite. Fighting back and militancy pay! Despite GMB and Unison being unwilling or unable to achieve coordinated strike action on the bins, Unite saw the action through to the end and are already reaping the rewards in increased membership and an enhanced reputation as a fighting trade union.
Having chosen to cut services rather than to campaign and fight to defend them, the council has put staff across the city on notice that they will be coming for them next in order to make the cuts demanded by the Tory government. Only by learning the lessons of this dispute and applying pressure to the local leaderships of Unison and the GMB to be part of strike action coordinated across the unions in the city can members of those unions hope to defend their jobs and the services that they provide.
The final word (for now) should go to two bin workers, speaking outside Saturday’s mass meeting:
“This was one fight we had to win, and win we did…UNITE are a force not to be messed with..Maybe they will think twice 14 months down the line”
“Our action has demonstrated to the working people of this country that you don’t have to take it, if you stand your ground you can prevail”
Today at a mass meeting, Birmingham’s refuse workers voted to accept a deal from the council which sees the threat of making 113 workers redundant removed. As well as an important example of what fighting union organisation can achieve, the deal will be a relief to those bin workers in the Grade 3 “leading hand” role who faced a choice between losing their job or taking a pay cut of up to £6000 a year.
After several weeks of strike action earlier this year, this victory also represents an important defeat for council bosses’ plans to smash the union and roll out downgrading of jobs and wages on a wider scale. Coming at the 11th hour before a high court hearing scheduled for Monday, the council has also agreed to cover the Unite union’s legal fees, and reinstate a victimised shop steward, as well as no increase in working hours (though the planned change from a four to five day week will go ahead).
With Birmingham’s Blairite-run council having fought tooth and nail to attempt to force through these attacks on the workforce, it’s clear that the battle to transform the Labour Party is far from over. Those councillors responsible for going back on the deal previously agreed this summer and spending £6m on a scab army to try and break the strike should stand aside, or be prepared to lose their seats in next May’s elections!
Monday 31st October, 7pm, Upstairs at The Old Royal, Church St, Birmingham City Centre
This month, Birmingham Socialist Party are holding a special public meeting to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution – the greatest event in human history!
It saw the overthrow of Tsarism and the abolition of capitalism with the workers taking power led by the Bolsheviks. Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party General Secretary, will be describing what took place in Russia in 1917, answering some of the common slanders directed against the revolution by the capitalist media, and the Stalinists as to what Lenin and Trotsky really stood for.
With capitalism currently in a deep crisis and socialism increasingly on the agenda in Britain, and around the world, we will be looking back at what happened in 1917 and what the lessons are for today’s struggles. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to ask questions, so don’t feel put off if you’re new to socialist ideas!