Friday, 18 July 2008

Reports from the Local Government strike in Wales

Socialist Party Wales members visited dozens of picket lines across Wales offering solidarity and support and receiving a warm welcome for our special public sector leaflet as well as selling our paper to many of the pickets.


The strike in South West Wales was solid and our members reported overwhelming support for the action.
Alec Thraves reports:

Pickets at the County Hall, Guildhall, Refuse depot, Building maintenance, social services, the Grand theatre and others all reported just a handful, of mainly non union members, crossing the picket lines.
Clive Williams, UNISON shop steward for the Housing Department of the City and County of Swansea said: - “My colleagues ask me – Do I think this dispute is winnable? I reply, yes I do think it is winnable but it depends on the tactics of the trade union leadership. There are two factors I would like to highlight:-Firstly, the Labour Party has to be taught a lesson and that is you don’t bite the hand that feeds you! The Labour party is funded by the trade union movement and that funding must stop because we aren’t get anything in return for the money we are paying out, so that link must be broken.Secondly, when industrial action is being considered, the leadership of the public sector trade unions should carry out a ballot simultaneously with a recommendation for strike action and if that happens then success will be very likely. Today’s action has seen 99% out on strike and the few who have gone in have been insignificant”!
40 copies of the Socialist were sold in Swansea city centre at a lunch time stall supporting the council workers.

The main council building had a lively picket with hardly anyone going in and similarly at the leisure centre.Mark Evans, UNISON, Assistant Branch Secretary of Carmarthenshire County Branch, with 4000 members spread across Carmarthen, Llanelli and the Amman Valley told the Socialist that the strike had been solid with the most number of pickets ever!“The GMB refuse depots have been picketed with no one crossing the picket line, whilst pickets at other council premises were solid, upbeat and reported that very few staff have gone into work. Our shop stewards discussed the excellent response today but felt that 2 days would not be enough to win our demand and that in September we expect an escalation of the dispute. There is a great deal of enthusiasm for joint action with other public sector workers”.


Report by Ross Saunders Cardiff UNISON Schools Convenor (personal capacity)

Thousands of Unison members went on strike in Cardiff and the rest of South East Wales today against a pay offer that amounts, yet again, to real-terms pay cuts. Many schools and Council workplaces were shut, with a number of lively picketlines outside those that management refused to close. Postal workers refused to deliver the mail and many members of GMB and other unions refused to cross the picketline in solidarity.
Council management have been condemned in the press for risking unsafe working practices in order to try and hide the impact caused by the strike. They forced Butetown tunnels, a series of covered dual carriageways, open with a small crew of 3 untrained scabs. Every 12 hours 40,000 cars travel through the tunnel, which is usually staffed by 20 skilled technicians, all UNISON members out on strike.
There was a feeling of grim determination on the picketlines I visited. Local Government workers are the most lowly-paid in the whole of the services sector, and UNISON organises some of the worst off of these - including the care-workers, teaching assistants and cleaners. Pickets said that, despite the financial sacrifice, they were glad they were taking action against attacks on their pay, working conditions and the quality of the services they provide.
Labour Assembly Member Carwyn Jones spoke at UNISON, saying he thought it was unfair for some to have to suffer "pay restraint" and not others. The irony was not lost on the members who listened to him speak from the platform, which was decorated with placards, including one pointint out Assembly Members had themselves just accepted an 8% rise in their already inflated earnings.

Report by Mariam Kamish
Cardiff County Unison strikers at County Hall have been very effective. They've stood in the road, stopping every car, with a polite but firm, "May I ask you not to cross the picketline?" As a result, even most managers have felt the need to explain themselves. Delivery vans have turned back and not attempted to cross the picketline. About 30 strikers were on the picketlines at County Hall at some point during the day.People crossing (other than management) were those with exemptions from the union, because they were about to retire (and days off would count against their pensions) and temps. Temps were encouraged to join the union and assured that - management threats not withstanding - they would not have action taken against them for taking part.Management had sent out an email warning staff that they would be in breach of their contract if they didn't belong to the union, but respected the picketline. Pickets explained that all strikers were "in breach of their contracts", but were covered by provisions for legal strike action.The second day, the small numbers going into work - including management - were greatly reduced. An excellent result.

Pickets at the Council buildings in Bridgend town centre reported that the strike was solid with fewworkers turning up. Bernard Roome, CWU National Executive member, spoke to them and gave solidarity and support from the communication workers union.


Geoff Jones
Powys Council headquarters was closed and picketed. Schools and librarieswere also closed. Workers in rural Wales have been particularly hit by rising fuel costs. One striker who has to travel around the county as part of her job commented that Powys' mileage allowance now did not cover the cost of fuel so that she was subsidising the Council.


Ruthin, Denbighshire
Liz Cowell
Strikers from across Denbighshire converged at Ruthin for a lunchtime rally calling for Fair Pay; many wore T shirts emblazoned with the slogan "I'd rather be skint than a scab". Many reported support from the public and as the rally progressed many passing vehicles sounded their horns in solidaritory. The majority of strikers highlighted that the Welsh Assembly Members had no shame in awarding themselves an 8% pay increase (double the rate of inflation), while expecting ordinary workers to accept 2% (half the rate of inflation) - irony gone mad.The UNISON/UNITE strikers chanted ,"What are you going to spend your £3 rise on?"" A gallon of petrol" came the reply from the crowd. Other demands raised were "We want the John Lewis list and Money for bread and milk".Several raised the point that while striking for a pay rise to keep up with inflation they were also there protesting at cut backs in their departments - resulting in worsening services for vulnerable people and extra workloads for the staff. The speakers at the rally commented that council workers have worked so well that they have doubled the government's target for efficiency savings, meaning that Conwy council has £3Million of unallocated funds and Denbighshire £5Million. In the Strikers own words this would be more than enough to meet the unions pay demand in full.

Iain Dalton
Socialist Party members visted the picket line at the Town Hall in Bangor (Almost all other council run buildings were simply closed for the day). The picketers described their anger at seeing the farce of MPs expenses whilst they were being forced to put up with a miserable below-inflation pay increase. On the Thursday, members visited several picket lines in Caenarfon where news had just come in of all the GMB members (who are not on strike) refusing to cross the picket lines at some workplaces in the south of Gwynedd in a show of solidarity with their striking fellow workers. The mood was one of determination, particularly after finally actually taking action after years of below inflation pay increases and workers on the picket lines discussed what could be done to make future action even more successful.

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