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Local services :: Libraries
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The Greenwich Unite 2050 branch, which represents many workers in south east London, has grown recently - not just in numbers of new recruits, but also qualitatively. Socialist Party members have been in the leadership of the branch since April 2011 and a number of important concessions have already been won.
Increased pay has been won for low-paid library and call centre workers by organising those workers to stand together and take action collectively.
Attempts to drastically cut the pay and conditions of cleaners, catering workers and drivers in passenger services have been forced back. Negotiations are taking place which may even mean a pay increase for some in this group.
When a small group of workers were handed compulsory redundancy notices, the branch campaigned against these. As a result, the amount of redundancy pay offered was doubled.
After a long battle with the council, on 16 February the branch held its first meeting on council premises with time off agreed for members to attend. The council had originally withdrawn this authorisation when the new branch leadership was elected. The 160 chairs that were set out were not enough. Many had to stand in the council's largest hall.
The meeting heard about the magnificent libraries campaign. Over 1,300 members of the public have signed the Unite survey cards opposing the transfer. Nearly 500 have signed petitions. Now, following a council decision to press ahead with the transfer despite the huge opposition, Unite members in libraries are preparing for strike action and a real victory is possible.
Many of the workers who are now activists in the Unite branch were previously members of Unison. However, the actions of the right-wing, witch-hunting leadership of Unison made it impossible for Greenwich Unison to defend its members effectively.
Socialist Party members who previously led the Unison branch made the difficult and painful decision to begin organising in Unite, while continuing to support Unison activists fighting to transform their union into an active campaigning body.
Had the move not been made, pay claims would not have been won, pay and conditions would not have been protected and workers facing disciplinary proceedings would have been sacked.
Unison's regional full-time officials now occupy the Greenwich Unison branch which is still in 'administration'. Over 1,000 members have left and neither branch meetings nor elections take place.
These unelected officials failed to prevent the privatisation of the council adventure and play service. They did not campaign, just writing a puny letter to councillors. When the unelected branch secretary and a regional Unison employee turned up to a council meeting to hand the letters to councillors, they missed the councillors and leafleted the Unite members instead!
There are major battles ahead in Greenwich. The council, encouraged by the witch-hunt in Unison, has taken an anti-union stance. Socialist Party member Onay Kasab has been elected as branch secretary of Unite. But, following his refusal to accept an offer of £32,000 to leave, the council has now decided to privatise the service where he works.
Not content with acting as austerity administrators for this viciously anti-working class Con-Dem government, Labour councillors will also viciously attack the trade unions, including privatising whole services and inflicting a collective punishment on other workers.
Unite members need to campaign against all cuts and to defend their fighting branch leadership. It is no accident that as well as attacking Onay's position, the council are targeting libraries. The parks department could be next - both departments are led by fighting socialists.
The fight put up by the library workers to defend pay, conditions and the service gives employers the best answer - we will organise and we will fight!
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Article dated 22 February 2012
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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