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Workers escalate year-long strike

Workers in Hackney's libraries have been on strike for over a year - in fact, every Saturday since 24th November 2001. They are calling for mass pickets of Hackney Central, Stoke Newington and Shoreditch Libraries to prevent scab labour recruited by the Labour-controlled Council from opening them. These pickets will take place on the first Saturday the scabs are called in, probably 7th December, and on each subsequent Saturday until they are withdrawn.

Hackney Council has declared Saturday to be a regular working day for which regular pay rates will apply. Library workers have struck for the restoration of Saturday-enhanced pay, part of the nationally-agreed terms and conditions (the Green Book) included in workers' contracts, but which has been unilaterally withdrawn by the Council, who falsely claim that it is a “premium payment” abolished as part of Single Status. However, under Single Status the Green Book can only be varied by agreement. Needless to say, no such agreement has been reached, or indeed sought by the Council.

Library workers are poorly paid and rely on the additional half-day's pay (without London Weighting, being paid at national rates) for the Saturday they are required to work each fortnight to make ends meet. The fact that they have been able to sustain the action in the face of losing a whole day's pay each fortnight demonstrates their determination to win back what is rightfully theirs. This is in spite of the fact that the removal of Saturday-enhanced pay is the consequence of UNISON losing a corporate dispute. (See “Hackney showdown” in Catalyst #5 for the background.)

That determination is supported by strong organisation built up in the workplace, which goes beyond the usual trades union formula of electing a shop steward and relying on them to “lead” resistance to management. In contrast to this steward-based organisation, workers have been encouraged to tackle problems collectively themselves through direct action, rather than just asking their stewards to sort the problems out with management. This has made library workers the best organised in the Council.

The Council's response to the success of the strike in closing all the Borough's seven libraries on each Saturday for a year has been to hire scab labour to work only on Saturdays. In spite of the fact that they could re-open all seven libraries immediately simply by honouring workers' contracts, they have hired scabs at an undisclosed additional cost to re-open only three of them. Their determination to try and break UNISON is obvious.

The response of the workers was to organise a five day strike from Monday 25th November 2002, marking the Anniversary of the first Saturday's strike, and in support of the London Weighting claim. In addition, new timetables have been rejected and the scabs will be neither trained nor assisted by regular workers. Anyone who can make it is asked to support the Saturday pickets.

Local Government bosses across London and the country as a whole are watching the dispute closely, because if Hackney can get away with such a blatant breach of contracts and National Agreements, they will all want to try it. Hackney's library workers are showing all public service workers who don't work 9-5, Monday to Friday how to organise effectively and how to fight back. It is in everyone's interests that Hackney's library workers win this dispute; what are you going to do to support them?

For further information, contact: Hackney UNISON, 2 Hillman Street, LONDON, E8 1DY. (Tel. 0208 356 4071)

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