Birmingham boosts workers' fightback

Wednesday 05 January 2011

by John Millington, Campaigns Reporter, Morning Star

Britain’s industrial fightback against the government austerity drive will receive a huge boost today as Birmingham’s council workers take to the streets in protest against cuts.

Workers at Birmingham Connexions service, which assists the young and vulnerable to access, work and training opportunities, will demonstrate outside the company’s HQ tomorrow at 12.30pm.

And public-sector union Unison, which represents 70 per cent of the Connexions workers, will begin the industrial action at 1pm in opposition to the 24 per cent job cuts announced by the Tory-run council.

It is the first industrial action in the country’s biggest local authority directly in opposition to spending cuts across the public sector since the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.

Connexions Unison convener John Griffin said:

“We are taking this action as a last resort. Managers have closed consultations on avoiding job losses, despite the need for Connexions to provide careers advisers for the new All Age Careers Service. The city council has some alternatives that could avoid compulsory redundancies. This, with plans to cut the education maintenance allowance, is part of a massive attack on young people who need the most help to stay in education or training.”

The action against the cuts follows Birmingham refuse collectors’ refusal to bow to “management bullying” by declaring another two days strike action, which will take place on January 13 and 14.

Following intense negotiations with council employers, Unite and GMB unions accused them of trying to bully members back to work and unnecessarily escalating the dispute.

A walkout will add to the disruption to refuse services caused by cold weather, adding to collection workers’ decision to work to rule from last December.

Originally the council was attempting to cut pay by £4,000 a year under the guise of equalising pay between men and women in the council. But now the council is attempting to change the method of pay from contracted hours to paying by the amount of waste each refuse collector manages to collect.

Unite West Midlands regional secretary Gerrard Coyne said: “Our members have no choice other than further strike action. Rather than acting in the best interests of the people of Birmingham this council seems hell-bent on making the dispute even worse.”

Unite regional officer Lynne Shakespeare pointed out the council was wasting valuable public resources on trying to break the strike.

“The council recruited 200 casual staff to break the strike, it has cost the council £20,000 just to provide work-wear for them, before any wages and dust wagons are paid for,” she said.

“The council has claimed that its lead council officer Cllr Rudge has met the unions 22 times. As the Unite lead negotiator I can confirm that I’ve not met him once.”

Unison assistant general secretary Roger McKenzie called on Birmingham City Council to ignore the “ideological dogma of the government and listen to its own employees.”

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