So – we know Southampton council workers are striking and working to rule as Unison and Unite finally permit local government members to take action against the government’s horrific job and service cuts, plans to mass-privatise services and so on.
Other Unite and Unison members at other councils are starting to follow suit – hopefully a sign that action is starting to spread and that Unison general secretary Dave Prentis means it when he says his members will be kicking up rough this autumn. We’ve heard fighting talk from Prentis before, of course, but who knows? – this time, he might have to do more than talk. Which will be a bit late for the thousands of people who have already lost jobs and services, but, you know – better really, really late than never, etc.
At Barnet council, staff are already working to rule in environmental health, highways (four departments), land charges, registrars, building control, revenues and benefits (which has got to worry the council – revenues is council tax collection), and cemeteries and crematoria. Workers in regulatory services have been working to rule for 13 weeks.
Council workers at Somerset county council have also just voted to work to rule in protest at savage council cuts to redundancy payments – exactly the sort of assault on salaries and terms and conditions that has so angered Southampton staff. Lincolnshire county council staff voted to work to rule last month.
These are small actions, of course, but they’re worth noting. They may just be bigger than they seem. Industrial action is notoriously difficult to take in the UK and Unison is notoriously strike-shy (and aggressive towards activists who want real action) – Prentis still seems to hope negotiations will save pensions. He’s dreaming – which is why small work-to-rule actions could be important. Services might be saved if those actions ignite.