Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Merry Xmas in Local Government?

The festive period has long been a period of mixed fortunes for workers in local government.

Years ago, when budget cuts came predictably in an annual round at the start of each financial year, Xmas would be the time when three month redundancy notices might be issued to the entire workforce along with the mince pies.

Nowadays, cuts, redundancies and reorganisations can leap out at you at almost any time (although, of course, if you don’t like a reorganisation you can always console yourself that another one will be along within no more than another couple of years…)

As I tidy my desk (well, attempt to tidy my desk) before the holiday as a UNISON Branch Secretary in one of the Labour controlled London boroughs on the sharp end of spending reductions driven forward by the Tory Government, hundreds of my colleagues are wondering whether or not to express an interest in “voluntary” severance.

The festive Hobson’s Choice is between an enhanced offer available for a short time or running the risk of redundancy on less favourable terms later in the New Year. My employer shed 30% of its employees in the last Parliament and now faces an even greater proportionate reduction over the next few years.

Local government workers remain the largest single unionised workforce in the entire economy, yet we include in our ranks the lowest paid public servants and – as the fiasco of the 2014 pay campaign sadly showed – we would be unwise to pin too much hope upon a national solution to our pressing local problems.

I do hope that 2016 will be the year in which we will take successful national strike action against the employers’ risible 1%-a-year two year pay offer. However my plausible hope is that workers will fight back locally, as UNISON members in Lambeth Libraries will if, as I hope they do, they vote “YES” in their official strike ballot.

If you are a local government worker, I wish you a Merry Xmas. As for a Happy New Year, as ever, I think that is in our own hands. No one else will defend local government workers if we do not stand up for ourselves.

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