Last Friday February 5th members of the CYWU Unite trade union in Coventry staged another one-day strike to defend jobs and conditions and to try and stop the savage cuts being imposed on the Children and Youth Services budget.
The strike day was one of several that have taken place over the past few months. This one marked the end of a 90-day period where youth workers organised in CYWU are being forced to sign up to new contracts that will involve cuts in wages and hours as well as a loss of terms and conditions that had been established under the JNC. The end result could see some workers in this sector facing a drop in annual income of between £6,000 and £10,000!
These cuts are taking place against a backdrop of £10m of cuts involving up to 80 job losses in 2010/2011 as the city faces a projected £70m budget deficit over the next three years. The cuts also come on top of 190 job losses in February 2009 and a council tax rise of 3.7% in the face of a budget shortfall of £13m. The present cuts to the Children’s and Youth Services budget total £660,000.
The future looks bleak as Coventry joins other local authorities up and down the country that will face cuts in central government funding and a fall in council tax receipts and other income because of the recession. The attacks on CYWU members are only the tip of the iceberg as future cuts will be even more draconian as central government attempts to eliminate the national public deficit of almost £180bn, a deficit that has arisen from the economic crisis brought on by the casino style credit lending banking practices of the financial institutions.
This lending of money that they did not have, what Marx called “ficticious capital”, has brought about a crisis that working people are being asked to pay for. The labour movement must answer the lie being put about by those who own and control the mass media, a lie that says we are all in this together and we must all make sacrifices to resolve the crisis. In Coventry the lie is evident. Front line staff in youth services are seeing their conditions savaged and their wage packet cut so that many of them will end up working and claiming benefits as their income is so low. Yet at the top of society those in charge of the financial institutions are still receiving enormous bonuses for their “work”.
The cuts in Coventry are also taking place against a backdrop of high unemployment that doubled in 2009. One of Coventry’s Labour MPS, Jim Cunningham, stated in Parliament on January 20th that the West Midlands jobless rate stood at 10%, that it had the fastest rate of job-shedding in 2009 with a fall of 12% of jobs in manufacturing viz 2008 and that joblessness amongst 18-20 year olds stood at 32.2% .The JSA measurement of unemployment in Coventry stands at 12,000. We know that is an underestimate because if the JSA figure alone was used, the national figure would be 1.61 m when the actual figure is 2.45m.
This backdrop of joblessness, hopelessness and rising urban tensions has also brought forth warnings that the inner cities could explode along the lines of the social upheavals that happened in places like Birmingham in the early 1980s. Since then it has been youth workers in the CYWU who have shouldered the responsibility of working with young people in inner cities to try and create conditions where such an outbreak of social tensions can be minimised. And now they too are under attack. It is just like cutting fire services when underground fires are breaking out all around!
On the picket line I spoke to David Cairns, Senior Steward for CYWU Unite, representing the youth workers on strike. This is what he had to say:
“For the past 12 weeks we have had a number of day strikes. During the last one we also had a petition going to the full council asking them to look at the issues once again in relation to cutting the pay and conditions of part-time youth workers. On three occasions now we have tried to lodge a dispute with the council which they have not recognised on the basis that they had a report drawn up by Price Waterhouse Cooper to cut the services. How they were going to do that was by cutting the part-time hours of work and training. These workers have sessional contracts of between 2 and 4 sessions per week or more substantial part time contract working on projects. The cuts would mean a wage drop of 25% to 50% off annual earnings. In some cases this could be as much as £10,000 per year, a substantial drop in pay. At the moment youth workers may earn between £5,000 and £26,000 per year dependant on hours and sessions worked. This is a huge cut.
From our part we did put in some proposals to try and resolve the issues. We proposed that they cut 3 of the 6 senior management posts in order to defend front-line services as these managers are on salaries of between £50,000 and £60,000 plus on costs. We also said that as they were outsourcing some of the youth work there was no need to have so many managers. There would therefore be less staff and therefore less managing to do. Our proposals were ignored on the basis that such proposals were not part of the remit of the council’s proposals. We think that this is wrong as the outcome of the proposals means that staff will be faced with dismissal notices and then re-engaged on inferior terms and conditions.
The way that the situation has been handled by the council is disgusting. When we dealt with the issue of single-status in this authority, we were able to arrive at an agreement with the council. We ended up with a 5-year protection agreement. And that agreement mainly involved male workers. In this dispute it is mainly female workers who are involved working on these part-time sessions and a lot of the workers are single parents receiving some benefits. The new proposals will seriously affect their wage packets and benefit entitlements. There are about 60 members affected out of 80 part time staff. The sessional rate at the moment is about £8.50 an hour even for unsocial evening and weekend working. All work is done at a flat rate.
At the moment we have not planned our next day of action as we are seeking a meeting with the council to try and resolve the issue. So far we have had no communication from them asking for us to sit down and talk, despite us asking for them to go away and think about their proposals and then come back to the negotiating table. So far there has been no response.
At the moment we have a Tory-controlled council. When single status was being discussed the council was Labour controlled and we had more chances to sit down and negotiate. We had a more sympathetic response. So far the Tory councillors have listened to us but have not heard what we are saying. They have not considered the impact of their proposals on these workers and are simply pushing them through.
With a £70 million cuts package in the offing this is the first review. If this is the way they are going to deal with such reviews, we know what we can expect in the future. The effects of such cuts on the workers will be ignored and the cuts will be pushed through and the industrial relations structures that exist in the council will also be ignored. If Labour were in charge here in Coventry, at least they would talk as they would understand some of the problems. They supported our petition that went to the last Council session. And Labour did ask for the proposal to be sent back for reconsideration and we are now awaiting the outcome.
As we can see from the members on the picket line there is enthusiasm and determination to win this dispute. Today we have had a rolling programme of members on the picket line from 11.30am to 2pm with all members playing a part. “
David, like me, is a member of the Labour Party. And the way that these cuts packages are being presented can put some LP members in a difficult position. The minority Labour Group in Coventry did try to put forward an alternative proposal to the Tories, but it was rejected. The end result was that Labour ended up voting for the Tories’ cuts package! Some LP members will try to defend that but it is a difficult thing to defend.
AT THE END OF THE DAY THE CHOICE IS WHETHER WORKERS ARE GOING TO PAY FOR THIS CRISIS WITH CUTS IN WAGES, TERMS AND CONDITIONS AND IN SOCIAL SERVICES AT A LOCAL LEVEL OR WHETHER LABOUR LOCALLY AND NATIONALLY IS GOING TO DEFEND THOSE WHO THEY SHOULD BE REPRESENTING, THE WORKING CLASS. IN THE ABSENCE OF A SOCIALIST SOLUTION TO THE CRISIS, LABOUR ADOPTS A CAPITALIST RESPONSE TO THE CRISIS. THIS RESPONSE MEANS THAT THE CAPITALISTS DON’T PAY FOR THE CRISIS THAT THEIR SYSTEM CAUSED. IF THEY DON’T PAY, THE WORKERS HAVE TO.
The local elections in May will give Labour the chance to regain control of local councils such as Coventry. Given the national mood of almost universal dislike for Labour, at the moment it is unlikely that Labour will be successful locally. It has taken the Labour government 13 years to earn the same level of hatred that it took the Tories 19 years to achieve. That in itself is a condemnation of Labour policies that have alienated large swathes of traditional Labour support. And this support is not for the most part going to other parties. This support at staying at home and watching and saying a plague on all your houses. This support is not going to the myriad of small so-called socialist parties and election coalitions that present themselves as alternative working class parties. There is no shortcut to working in the Labour Party and the Trade Unions, the traditional mass organisations of the working class, to reclaim them for socialism.
At the moment here in Coventry CYWU Unite members are in the front line. In the near future they will be joined by many more groups of workers who will face similar battles to defend past gains. The success of the CYWU will give succour to their members and to other groups of workers that it is possible to win with enthusiasm and determination, but that similar attacks will be made on terms and conditions until we who create the wealth in society, the working class, take ownership and control of what we create. That will take socialist policies.