Workers' Liberty #59
Diary of a Wandsworth striker
- Mid September:
- Find out that our Tory council is planning a scheme under
which all council workers will have to pay for days off sick by "payback"
(losing wages) or "workback" (doing extra work). Union activists are a bit
- 22 September:
- Councillor Heaster does countless radio and TV interviews
announcing his intention to stop "serial sickies". An article in the Daily
Mail calls us "cheats" and "skivers". Petition is circulated and hundreds
sign within two days. Some of us meet Councillor Heaster. Smarmily he tells
us that he wants to reach agreement and that some staff would welcome the
- 23 September:
- Office buzzing with anger. A colleague tells me, shaking with
emotion, that he has hardly had any days off sick for 20 years until this
year when he had an operation. Yet now councillors insult him.
- Late September:
- Our union, Unison, puts out material to build for a special meeting.
Wandsworth Council has the lowest sickness level of any London borough.
- 5 October:
- Massive turnout for Unison meeting. Meeting votes overwhelmingly
to ballot immediately for one-day strike action. Takes hardened activists
like myself by (pleasant) surprise. Real feeling of solidarity and a sense
that on this issue, unlike reorganisations and cuts, we are all in it
together and can win.
- All my colleagues, including non-unionists, keep asking if the
union will be striking. One tells me that he was thinking of resigning from
Unison because it didn't fight back. He is not leaving now.
- 14 October:
- Over 250 people turn up to a joint union meeting. It's the
biggest meeting in over 10 years. A great feeling. The strategy of
balloting for one-day strike action is agreed unanimously. Meeting told
that Councillors talked contemptuously about "Monday and Friday" sickies
and "duvet sick days".
- Try hard to recruit more members. Some say no because of the money.
I feel that some are so defeated that they think the council can not
be swayed. Generally, though, application forms are flooding into the
- Mid October:
- Countless discussions with regional officer and other unions
about timetable for ballot. Eventually push it forward to what we want.
However GMB don't get around to balloting. Speak at shop meetings to gee up
support for yes vote in ballot.
- 22 October:
- Notice sent to employers. We are going to ballot! Leaflet town
hall a couple of times in the morning. The response is encouraging.
- 29 October:
- Ballot forms sent out.
- 30 October:
- Receive my ballot on Saturday morning; vote and post within the hour.
- Early November:
- Some members haven't received ballot forms. Try to sort it
out. Most say they have voted within the first week.
- 15 November:
- Branch secretary keeps ringing to get ballot result. Told to
wait till after lunch. We get a 80% yes vote on a 45% return. Relief and
- We are going on strike.
- 16 November:
- Another big Unison branch meeting.
- Despite management withdrawing their proposals from the committee meeting
on 24 November, the feeling is such that we vote to go on strike next week.
- 17 November:
- Send notice to employer. Start organising for pickets and
rally for strike day. Constant discussion in office about the strike. Keep
being asked which picket line I'll be on. One member who has only come to
one meeting in the last few years asks me what time he has to turn up to
- 24 November:
- In the week up to today's strike over 127 people have joined
Unison. Turn up to picket at 7.30 am. Town Hall seems very quiet all
morning. Big pickets in Social Services and Housing. Apparently nine out of
ten libraries are closed. Must be over 1,000 members taking action and many
more taking annual leave or off sick. Over 200 at lunchtime rally. Unison
regional convenor Geoff Martin is well received when he talks about a
united London-wide campaign.
- 25 November:
- Back to work. One non-member clapped me for taking strike
action. Told her she should be joining me in Unison.
- 29 November:
- Management write down their "options". It is as Unison said -
the worst case. They are now talking about taking away annual leave.
Members are asking, what action will we take next?
- 1 December:
- Unison Annual General Meeting votes to ballot again for further
strike action ballot starting before Xmas. The struggle continues!
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