Neath Port Talbot Council Cuts
31st October 2012
UNISON local government branch member in Wales
Yesterday I read a headline for the South Wales Evening Post: "Strike Fears Over Council Budget" about Neath Port Talbot Council. This Labour Council in 2010 pioneered the use of 188 notices (90 day notice of termination of contracts) to drive through reductions in terms and conditions. Incredibly the local authority unions, with UNISON in the lead, agreed an average across the board 2% pay cut, on top of the already existing pay freeze and the now all too common, loss of shift and unsocial hours allowances, introduction of car parking charges, etc. As if to show there was no hard feelings towards the Labour councillors that had used the threat of mass sackings to tear up members' nationally agreed terms and conditions, UNISON provided them with transport to the March 2011 TUC anti-cuts march.
Socialist Party members pointed out at the time that Councils like NPT would not be able to fill the black holes in their finances by tinkering around the edges of terms and conditions or by introducing car-parking charges and that unions' concession bargaining would simply mean them coming back for more each year. Instead we argued for the local authority unions to organise an all-Wales response to the threat to tear up national terms and conditions to back up locally agreed strike action.
The unions accepted the cuts and the issuing of 188 notices has now become a weapon of first resort for local authorities to attack terms and conditions across the country. As we predicted, the Council is now coming back for more in NPT, trying to identify a further £2 million of 'savings' from the staffing budget in redundancies (although the authority claims not compulsory) and further attacks on conditions. This is part of a raft of measures which also includes cut services and increased council tax. Union members have already seen a drastic decline in take-home pay, the UNISON branch secretary points out in the article, members have suffered a 13% real-terms cut in wages in recent years.
So what of the headline in yesterday's paper? Have our union leaders finally learnt that weakness in the face of aggression just invites more attacks? Sadly no, at least as far as my union, UNISON, is concerned. While admitting that members might be angry or desperate enough to want to take strike action, it's clear that the won't get any sort of combative lead from their branch as the branch chair said "the union accepted Neath Port Talbot had to make the savings because of the austerity measures filtering down from the UK government".
UNISON local government members need a fighting leadership at local and national level as well as councillors who will fight the Tories not throw their hands up, say there's nothing they can do and implement their cuts for them. We should be linking with service users angry at cut services and supporting only candidates committed to fighting all cuts, such as TUSC.