Low paid women workers are taking on Kirklees council and picketing out other workers says Sadie Robinson
Women admin workers in west Yorkshire struck for three days last week—and convinced other workers to come out and support them.
The group of 435 workers in the Unison union work in departments across Labour-run Kirklees council. They are fighting to stop compulsory redundancies and to defend pay.
Gemma Shearing is a Unison steward in Kirklees.
She told Socialist Worker, “We are some of the lowest paid workers in the council and these attacks have been going on for two years.
“Management are talking to us —but they’re just going over the same thing all the time. They aren’t negotiating.”
Some 92 percent of the workers are women. Many are low-paid and work part time. They don’t fit the stereotype of what strong trade unionists look like. Yet their struggle has had an impact across the council.
Last week strikers picketed a council bin depot in Huddersfield and convinced workers to refuse to cross their picket line.
Philip, a sweeper, told Socialist Worker that he supported the strikers because all workers were in the same boat. “We’ve had no pay rise for four years and the cost of
everything is going up,” he said.
“Every month you get to the third week and you’re into your
It’s taking the morale out of people.”
Strikers also picketed a council computer centre. Out of 76 people who work there only four went into work.
Those refusing to cross were in the Unison and Unite unions. A local Unite official had circulated a letter advising Unite members not to cross Unison picket lines.
Sue has been in her admin job at the council for six years. Her bosses have told her that her job isn’t under threat—but she joined picket lines to support her colleagues.
Sue said, “The council has said it needs to lose admin workers. The atmosphere has been awful and it’s made lots of people leave.
“That makes it harder for the people who are left. Three years ago we were rated a four-star council. Now we’re like a market stall.”
Striker Jean pointed to the chaos caused by the cuts. She said, “We work in the social work department. Every report on social work says we need more admin staff to free up social workers to do their job.”
She added, “They think we’re an easy target as lots of people are part time so they think we can’t afford to strike. But they’re wrong.”
The union is due to have talks with management on Monday of next week. If they fail, Unison says it will hold a branch-wide ballot for strikes.
The strike and solidarity action has shown that workers can win this dispute.
Send messages of support and donations to Kirklees Unison, 4 New North Parade, Huddersfield, HD1 5JP. Phone 01484 511826