BARNET Unison members were in determined mood yesterday as they began their 24-hour strike against privatisation of all Barnet Council services.
The dispute involves social workers, coach escorts, drivers, occupational therapists, school catering staff, education welfare officers, library workers, children’s centre workers, street cleaning and refuse workers, all of whom have made it clear they want to remain employees of Barnet Council and don’t want to be outsourced.
Barnet Unison Branch Secretary John Burgess warned: ‘On Friday 2nd October 2015, Barnet Council published their devastating report on the future of the library service which reveals 46% of the workforce are to be sacked with redundancy payments costing £1.5 million.’
Unison notes that under this review the council is now proposing to cut the 634.5 staffed library hours a week to 188. Four libraries, Childs Hill, East Barnet, Mill Hill and South Friern will be run by volunteers. At 7am on the early morning picket outside Barnet House in Whetstone, Barnet Unison Branch Chair, Helen Davies, told News Line: ‘This is the sixth day of strike action.
‘We think we’ve got the depot closed down today. People are still really angry over potential cuts to their terms and conditions on the back of working harder and harder. Council leaders are pushing for the complete privatisation of all services. There are a lot of committee meetings between now and Christmas to start making decisions.
‘The education and skills contract will be awarded in December. This is for the LEA workers who provide services for schools like transport, special educational needs statements and psychology services. We’ve got protests on 12th October at the town hall. We are going to talk to members about further strike action with a potential strike date of 2nd November. We welcome donations and messages of support.’
Unison member Caroline said: ‘I work for social services. We work with some of the most vulnerable people. The Tories are attacking the most vulnerable. With the change in benefits, people with disabilities will find it harder. I also don’t like the policy of selling off social housing. We need affordable homes more than ever, especially in London. A general strike is a good idea. We should get rid of the Tories.’
There was a lively 30-strong picket at the council’s Mill Hill depot, where Mack told News Line: ‘We’re here because we want to keep this depot in-house. We want a fair crack of the whip. The majority of us live in the borough, so it’s beneficial to the borough to keep us here. The privatisation needs to stop. We’re here to show we won’t have it. The government are affecting people’s lives. They’re trying to cut wages when prices and rates keep going up. It’s like what they are talking about on the news, they are putting people below the poverty line. Everybody feels the same. Every time we have industrial action it doubles in size. I would definitely agree with a general strike to bring the government down.’
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell joined the picket. He told pickets: ‘If there’s no deal, industrial action is the only way.’ John McLoughlin, Tower Hamlets Unison Branch Secretary, brought a £100 donation and told the picket line: ‘Thatcher was thrown out of office. We have to make sure the Tories are thrown out of office before they destroy the Welfare State.’
John Burgess told the Mill Hill picket: ‘Our next strike will be on November 2nd, when the Tories debate the trade union bill. We are calling on everyone to go from the picket that day to join a mass lobby of MPs, called by the TUC.’