Hundreds of care workers in Birmingham have been striking over the past year against attacks on local services. Labour councils must refuse to implement Tory cuts and instead lead a fightback against austerity.
The last year has seen 286 homecare workers in Birmingham repeatedly take strike action against the local council. The dispute was first sparked in December 2017 after Birmingham City Council proposed a new rota system.
The homecare workers provide an enablement service for six weeks following patient discharge from hospital, giving support to ensure that they can live safely in their homes.
Social care services have already been cut by 48% in 2017. And now the Labour-led council insists that the budget for social care in the city must be reduced by a further £3 million to make up for reduced central government funding.
Meanwhile, despite already swimming in debt, the council spent £12 million this year on hiring external consultants to discuss how to merge adult social care services.
Their strategy to claw back money involves offering homecare workers new contracts of 22.75, 21, or 14 hours a week. The only other alternative to this is redundancy.
Currently, 60% of the homecare workers work either full-time or over thirty hours a week. Since 2012, many have already been forced into taking second jobs after the (then-Tory) council removed pay for weekend working.
Not only do these new contracts potentially reduce homecare workers’ wages even further, but the hours and irregular shift patterns make finding second jobs almost impossible for those who have to resort this – second jobs that, according to the workers’ current contracts, have to gain the approval of the council. The hours offered also make the workers ineligible for claiming universal credit or working tax credits.
The Birmingham homecare workers have not taken these attacks lying down. After an initial 97.3% vote in favour of strike action, they have walked out 46 times in the last year. They have staged numerous pickets on high streets across Birmingham and outside council offices, braving all manner of weather in the process.
The care workers have held several rallies in the city centre, and they led the protest outside the Conservative Party conference held in Birmingham in September of this year. Notably, they have received support and solidarity from across the UK.
The current demand of the workers is to avoid the proposed cuts through the creation of a ‘needs budget’. This approach requires Birmingham City Council to spend their reserves and go even deeper into debt in order to avoid making cuts.
Clearly the council’s current policy of austerity and attacks is entirely bankrupt. But a ‘needs budget’ is not a real solution for defending against the cuts facing the homecare workers – and countless others providing local public services.
Labour councils should be defying the Tories and their programme of cuts. Instead of providing a ‘dented shield’ against Tory attacks, Labour-controlled councils should be setting illegal budgets. If and when central government threatens to send in commissioners, Labour and the unions must mobilise and organise workers to come out in defence of public services.
Defy Tory austerity
Unfortunately, the City Council continues to put its concerns over debt ahead of some of the most vulnerable people in Birmingham. This has involved going so far as to recently locking protesting homecare workers out of the Council House in order to avoid facing the issue, despite earlier agreeing to two workers attending the cabinet meeting.
The homecare workers are standing firm and have voted to continue their strike into the New Year. But it is important that the correct demands are raised in this struggle.
Only a complete defiance of the Tory government will ensure that cuts are not simply rescheduled for a late date. We need a socialist Labour government to finally put an end to austerity and the race to the bottom in the care industry.