Unite members working in the attendance and welfare section at Lewisham council took strike action on 12 March to protest against plans to outsource the service by stealth.
The council plan is to cut the staffing by 50% and suggests that schools buy in the service – while also admitting that schools will be able to buy in from private providers if they wish.
The strikers made sure their presence was felt by picketing and protesting outside the main council building, which obviously spooked the employer. This was illustrated by the human resources officer who came out and asked the regional officer how many people were on the protest – he replied that she should count the numbers herself. She then replied that only those who voted to strike should be on strike – she was of course corrected on this point. However, not taking the hint, she then stated that only those who voted to strike could stand on the picket line! At this point, the regional officer questioned her HR qualifications, leading to her making a quick exit!
The council has claimed that no schools have expressed opposition to the plans – but when questioned, it was also admitted that no schools have agreed to buy in! Yet the council is intending to go ahead and cut staffing without getting buy in first of all. In meetings, managers have even admitted that the plans are not dependent on getting buy in, which gives the game away – this is a straight forward cut to the service. The impact will be devastating.
At present, the council has an excellent record in combatting truancy with an emphasis on early prevention work. This will disappear and the emphasis will be on prosecuting parents – a case of stable doors and horses bolting. Workers across the council have seen Unite in action and as a result have been joining the union in big numbers. The patient recruitment campaign has so far gained 107 new members, with significant numbers joining since the attendance and welfare campaign started.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab stated “This is the first time in 23 years that workers at Lewisham have taken strike action that is not part of a national strike campaign – it is a warning of our intention, our seriousness, to win a fair deal for local government.”