Unite and PCS join forces to fight ‘coalition savagery’

PCS contingent on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration against cuts on March 26
PCS contingent on the 500,000-strong TUC demonstration against cuts on March 26

TWO million workers in the UK are joining together to fend off savage attacks on working people and their families.

That was the message from Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, the country’s biggest union when he addressed the conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union, one of the country’s largest public sector unions and whose workers are at the front line of government cuts on Friday May 20th.

Both unions have signed a historic accord committing to coordinated action in workplaces up and down the country, in the first instance to defend support services in Ministry of Defence bases and prisons, areas already in the front line of coalition cuts.

Unite says that as part of the strategy to stop the cuts it is prepared to ballot its members for coordinated industrial action.

Len McCluskey warned that government’s ideological mania for outsourcing puts services at risk while pensions’ proposals could impoverish hundreds of thousands as the government raids workers’ retirement pots.

Such is the severity of the coalition assault on jobs, wages and the welfare state, prodded on by an ascendant business lobby, workers must become similarly organised if they are to save jobs, communities and services – and coordinated industrial action to make the government see sense cannot be ruled out.

Among the first areas earmarked for possible common action by Unite and the PCS are the Ministry of Defence, the prison services and government drivers.

The accord will begin to take effect next month when Unite’s members at key MoD bases respond to strike action by PCS members on June 30th, including a show of support expected by hundreds of workers at one base, Donnington.

Ahead of this, Unite will assemble representatives from around 100 key MoD bases to discuss strategic responses to threats to the support both unions’ members provide to the army, navy and Royal Air Force with industrial and direct action by workers both a possibility.

Len McCluskey also urged the union movement to redouble its efforts, following on from the massive march against the cuts in spring this year, to communicate the alternative to the coalition’s deception that horrific attacks on public spending are the only response to the global economic downturn.

Addressing the PCS conference, McCluskey said: ‘The alliance – the unity – between Unite and PCS can and must be a major force for progress. We face challenges greater than for a generation.

‘This Con-Dem coalition has thrown down the gauntlet to the entire working class and to everyone who believes in a civilised society. Its aim is to dismantle everything and anything of our social gains which Thatcher may have not got round to in the 1980s.

‘Working people – our families, our communities – did not create this crisis. Our public sector, supporting the most vulnerable in our society, did not create this crisis. Nor did our pay, our pensions, our services.

‘We did not create it. And we are not going to pay for it.

‘This agreement between PCS and Unite starts to spell out the basic elements of a progressive and socially just economic alternative to the government’s plans. And it commits our two unions to dispel the myth that there is no alternative to the Cameron-Osborne strategy.

‘We will build up to still broader action, if needs be, later in the year. To be absolutely clear, we will be balloting our members, coordinating our actions with yours and with other unions and building broad and effective community support to stop this government’s agenda in its tracks.’

Some 28,000 Unite workers are employed at MoD bases around the UK, including those at Plymouth, Bristol, Lossiemouth and Kinloss.

The workers provide a range of support services to the armed forces, from vehicle maintenance to guards for the bases.

They also represent the MoD firefighters who are threatened with the possibility of being outsourced to a private sector provider. Without these workers, many bases will be non-operational.

A similar situation exists within the prison service where Unite represents some 3,000 ancillary workers essential to the safe running of the prisons.

• Southampton city council workers are to take industrial action

Council workers will take industrial action from Monday 23 May against their employer Southampton city council which is sacking thousands of workers and re-engaging them on substantially lower terms and conditions.

The unions involved in the dispute are Unite and Unison. The workers consist of care workers, street cleaners, refuse collectors, social workers, parking enforcement officers, building trades and a range of different services throughout the whole council.

The actions of the council will affect 4,300 employees. The council intends to sack workers then re-employ them on July 11 on substantially lower terms and conditions.

Industrial action will begin just after midnight 23 May, consisting of targeted or selected strike action and action short of strike.

108 refuse workers will take full strike action for a week starting on Monday 23 and ending on 27 May. The remaining workers taking part in industrial action will take action short of a strike consisting of a work to rule, an overtime ban, no private car use to provide services and no mobile phone use as well as other actions.

The union’s joint strike committee will meet on Monday to consider future action.

Rather than negotiate with the union to resolve the dispute, Cllr Royston Smith the Conservative leader of Southampton City Council would rather tour the country addressing Conservatives and distributing scare stories to the press.

Unite assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail who will be in Southampton on Monday showing her support for the staff taking industrial action said: ‘The tactic being deployed by Southampton City Council is possible because UK employment law reinforces the medieval “master-servant” principle that has no place in the 21st Century.

‘Our members are standing up for basic human rights . The actions of Southampton city council should be condemned by all decent people.’

Mark Wood, Unite Convenor at Southampton City Council said: ‘This action along with the possibility of more planned strikes throughout the summer months will cause major disruption, but it does not have to be this way. Unite and Unison have offered talks using the conciliation service ACAS but rather than engaging in dialogue with the unions the council have been posturing in the local press.

‘Council employees have been given no option but to take this action by an unreasonable employer more intent on breaking their will than working together and it’s the public of Southampton who will suffer.’

Ian Woodland, Unite regional officer, said: ‘Rather than engage in proper negotiations, the leader of the council prefers to drip feed his political point of view to the press and ignore the concerns of his employees.

‘These attacks on our members’ terms and conditions are being driven by a personal political agenda. The Tories have wanted to attack our member’s terms and conditions ever since they won control of the council in 2008. Our members are united, angry and determined.’

A picket will be held outside the town depot, Albert Road from 5.30am on the morning of the 23 May and will continue through the week. A picket will also be held outside 1 Guildhall Square, Southampton from 7.30am on Monday 23 May.