The battle for equal and fair pay in local government is coming to a head in Birmingham council.
Over 20,000 workers in the GMB, Unison, Unite and Ucatt unions are set to take their second day of strike action on Tuesday of next week.
They are fighting the imposition of a rotten single status deal which would see many workers facing devastating pay cuts.
Valerie Broom, Unison regional secretary, said, “We had hoped by this stage that Birmingham council would have returned to the negotiating table, but in fact we have had nothing but a deafening silence.”
Workers held a brilliant strike and rally on 5 February. Management responded with intimidation, handing thousands of workers a disgraceful ultimatum – accept your new contract or lose your job.
The warning letters were sent to 9,000 workers who have either rejected or not replied to their new terms and conditions.
The letter, from council human resources director Andy Albon, says, “On 31 March you must decide if you are willing to accept the new contract and attend work.” It continues, “If you choose not to accept the offer and do not attend work then you will no longer be considered an employee of Birmingham City Council.”
Steve Foster, chair of the council trade unions’ joint committee, said, “This letter – and the way it is written – is trying to scare people into signing.
“The council claim more than half have accepted the contract but that is only under this kind of duress.”
Bizarrely, only about 20,000 of the 40,000 workers affected by the pay and grading review have been told exactly how their pay will be altered or sent new contracts to sign.
Single status deals were supposed to bring equal pay for low paid women. Instead, many women face pay cuts. The Birmingham deal would mean 110 women losing more than £10,000 a year, and across the council there are twice as many women as men facing pay cuts.
In the run-up to the last strike, the council tried unsuccessfully to split refuse workers off from the dispute. This time the council has attempted to pressurise teaching assistants into not striking.
Birmingham Unison branch secretary Caroline Johnson, said, “A lot of teaching assistants are Unison members and are part of this dispute. As a mother myself, I have sympathy for parents who may be affected by the strike. But I care for children’s education and if people are angry at work, they cannot give of their best.”
Birmingham council is run by a Tory/Liberal coalition, but many Labour-run councils are pushing through equally vicious single status attacks.
Up and down Britain council workers are being saddled with Gordon Brown’s public sector pay freeze and at the same time face councils using single status to attack them.
Many councils are targeting key groups of workers in order to soften them up for privatisation.
Unfortunately, the lack of a national focus so far has left many workers across Britian isolated, and some feel they have no choice but to resort to the courts to get decent pay.
The fight in Birmingham can turn this around.
There needs to be a national fight against the attacks in local government. For instance, that means demanding the right to discuss single status in union meetings and conferences.
But more urgently it means building support and solidarity for the fight in Birmingham.
Join the strike rally, Tuesday 26 February, 12 noon, Victoria Square. Messages of support to Birmingham Unison, c/o 3rd Floor, Albany House, 31 Hurst St, Birmingham B5 4BD