Workers' Liberty #59


Solidarity reborn!

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 stunned.

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 proposals.

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 Unison office.

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 excitement.

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 picket.

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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