Barnet Unison strike Barnet Unison strike. Photo: Pete Webster

Unison workers in Barnet are standing up to an intransigent council management in a dispute that has implications for public services across the country, reports Pete Webster

Mental-health social workers began a two-week strike on Monday in their ongoing struggle with Labour-controlled Barnet Council in north-west London. This follows on from 27 other strike days since last year. The Unison members are demanding that Barnet come to the table to negotiate a solution that will improve recruitment procedures and enhance retainer rates.

As in many other services, workers here have been pushed to take on more case work as vacancy and turnover rates are high; not surprising given the incredibly stressful nature of the job. Service users, often in crisis themselves, also suffer as a result of under resourcing.

Previously, discussions at Acas had come to nothing despite a viable proposal from Unison. However, rather than come back to the table, Barnet bosses decided to reject any further talks, and last week the Director of Adult Social Care informed the union that he had engaged the services of agency workers supplied by Flex 360 to effectively scab on the strike. Unfortunately for him, the agency pulled out of the deal and his scab workforce never materialised.

There is some concern that the council is unwilling to negotiate and is determined to intimidate strikers and break the union. Branch Secretary, John Burgess, said, ‘In 28 years of being a Barnet Unison rep I have never experienced the amount of anti-union rhetoric coming from senior management. Unison has reached out several times to offer to resolve the dispute only to be met with machismo style management which has no place in the workplace and especially a workplace which is now a Labour controlled council. My message to the council is stop the bullying and come back with an offer which our members would be prepared to accept.’

Despite the harassment, the strikers are determined to see it through and a further three-week strike will commence on 13 May in the absence of any progress. The picket line was well supported and solidarity speeches given by strikers, trades-council delegates from across London and local activists. Libby Nolan, Unison President, John Hendry KC and John McDonnell MP also spoke.

This is a crucial battle not only here in Barnet but across the country. Many local authorities are facing bankruptcy and this will only lead to a bonfire of the already meagre facilities for people and will also hit workers hard as councils seek to reduce costs.

As we can see from the proposals by Birmingham City Council, there will be a scorched earth policy for services, but only if we let them get away with it. That’s why it’s important to link up the struggles that will develop as council budgets are implemented. The fight is on.

Send messages of support to [email protected]

Before you go

Counterfire is growing faster than ever before

We need to raise £20,000 as we are having to expand operations. We are moving to a bigger, better central office, upping our print run and distribution, buying a new printer, new computers and employing more staff.

Please give generously.

Tagged under: