Monday, 6 February 2012

People of the year 2011 - Barnet Unison strikers

I chose my people of the year 2011 a while ago - in 2011, in fact! But I haven't had time to write a post until now. However, this week is an apt week to do it!

My people of 2011 are the up to 400 Barnet council Unison members who took strike action in 2011.

I should be careful what description I give of the reason for their strike action, because they are careful: it is illegal to undertake a political strike. If the Unison branch struck against having their jobs privatised - as well they might - their union could be fined for an illegal strike.

Their strike then is about the 'identity of the employer', or some such formulation. It concerns the terms under which they will be transferred to a private sector employer if the 'One Barnet' mass outsourcing project goes ahead. Naturally, the strikers want terms no worse than the ones they are currently on.

That is an eminently reasonable demand! When you go for a job, you read the job advert and discuss the terms in the interview and sign a contract with those terms. If the employer wants to reduce them, s/he should have a fight on their hands!

The One Barnet project threatens, ultimately, to transfer the vast majority of Barnet council employees out of direct council employment into private sector employment. Private sector employers will, sooner or later, seek to reduce the pay or terms of employment of their new employees. They might make people redundant.

In theory, all of this saves Barnet council money, because the private sector company offers to provide services more cheaply than the council can.

You don't have to be an economics whizz to see how this works. The private company offers to save the council money, but itself wants to make a profit. Where does the squeeze come? On the workers - and also on the quality of the services!

Support staff for the soon-to-be-privatised parking service in Barnet have been told they can keep their jobs - if they are prepared to travel to Croydon to do them. The annual travel card will cost them £2220.

NSL, who have won the £25 million contract, recently lost at an employment tribunal brought by a former employee. Nutsville blog has all the detail on this case, but here is one of the summary findings of the judges:
The real reasons for the Claimant’s dismissal were (i) his opposition to the Respondent’s clandestine quota system relating to the issuing of parking contravention notices, and (ii) his trade union activities...
What a pleasant company to work for!

The Barnet Unison members who have been on strike so far are those working in the services first up for privatisation: parking, revenues and benefits, development and regulatory services...

As more council services come into scope for privatisation, more council workers are likely to take industrial action. None of them does it lightly. There is a price to pay: lost wages; stress; friction with management. Taking industrial action, and striking in particular, requires people to break from their usual routine; to take on unaccustomed roles. They might have to take issue with managers who are more used to being in charge. They might have uncomfortable experiences with workmates who don't take part in the action.

But they also can gain confidence and find talents they didn't know they had. Most people are changed by taking industrial action, almost always for the better! It can be a difficult but a positive experience.

Most important, it is the only way, when you are faced with an assault from managers who won't back down, to fight for yourself and your colleagues - and, often, the people you serve.

Barnet Unison members are fighting for their jobs, in many cases for their professional pride, and also for the quality of Barnet council services. Barnet residents have every reason to get behind them and give them our support! For this reason, Barnet Unison strikers are my people of the year 2011, and probably of 2012 as well!

Barnet Unison members will strike this Thursday 9 February. Please visit them to lend support on their pickets at North London Business Park, Barnet House and Mill Hill depot, from 8-10am. The strikers are then going to do some community work in the borough, among other activities... Visit the union's website here.

1 comment:

working class hero said...

excellent article about the strikers, and thanks so much for believing that we are doing the right thing! the only thing!

keep up the good work!

all the best