I went and supported the Barnet council Unison picket at North London Business Park this morning. They were responding to short notice that the council planned to bring in agency staff today (Saturday 6 August). The task: to work on the backlog in Revenue and Benefits.
The backlog has two sources:
1. the new computer system failing to work properly in the springThere are around 140 [I initially put 80] staff in Revs and Bens. 53 temps have been working alongside them since the spring; Barnet council is retaining their services, now, probably, mainly to use them to undermine Unison's industrial action.
2. the current work-to-rule by permanent staff objecting to being transfered to the private sector as part of the One Barnet (outsourcing) Programme (OBP).
News of Unison's hastily organised early morning picket had the effect of making the council think twice - or the agency workers themselves. 44 people had signed up to come in and work; in the event, no agency staff came to work and only five permanent staff who have not been supporting the industrial action.
I spoke to a couple of them. They had feeble excuses for letting down their colleagues - and potentially cutting their own throats into the bargain. "I've got a mortgage, and a family to support." Obviously the guy who said that is not unique in this - everyone taking action is in the same boat. The difference is that most people recognise that working in the private sector is likely to mean lower wages, and reduced sickness and holiday pay, and are prepared to resist it.
Such freeloaders do annoy me: they are quite happy to take all the benefits that have been achieved by trade union action over the years, but not to put in any of the effort made to get it.
One of the other scabs - sorry, I have to use the word, it's not nice but that is the word that the English language has found for people who rat on their workmates in this way - said that she respected the people picketing, but...
She doesn't respect them at all! She was sticking two fingers up to them today and deserves the cold shoulder on Monday. I hope she gets it. I'm sorry to sound harsh, but industrial action is not easy and sometimes you have to decide which side you are on. Right now, she is on the side of the privatisers and the union busters.
It felt strange to be witnessing a real picket line in Barnet, but Barnet's pursuit of the easyCouncil holy grail was always likely to lead to this - given the pig-headedness of its bungling Tory administration it was likely to. I don't think it will be the last picket line. Let's hope they are all as successful as this was!